Brian De Palma has made a living out of dealing with characters who suffer from particular kinds of psychoses. Carrie found an evil in humanity’s harsh judgment of others who seem different; Dressed to Kill deals with sexual, almost primitive psychological frustrations; and Raising Cain finds De Palma exploring the irrational decisions of its characters and the upbringings that shape them. Though De Palma’s theme is similarly centralized on the characters and their personal issues, the structure of Raising Cain varies significantly from some of his other films in that he presents a much more fragmented and often dream-like series of vignettes, consistently forcing the viewer to question the reality that is being presented. In short, Raising Cain twists the viewer around, documenting how manipulation can impact understanding much like the main character’s father has done to his child.
Note: For this part of the review, I will be referring to the original theatrical cut. Further along will be a section on the recut that Scream Factory includes as part of this release.
John Lithgow stars as Carter, a prominent child psychologist who has given up part of his career to study children, including his own, quite closely. It’s caused some problems with his wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich), though, who has noticed Carter’s clingy attitude and lack of sexual energy. When she meets her old fling Jack (Steven Bauer), she realizes that her relationship with him has never really dissipated. Of course, Carter’s not very happy with seeing his wife with another man, but his psychosis doesn’t really stem from this; it’s actually the result of years of psychological trauma inflicted on him by his father Dr. Nix (also Lithgow), studying the effects of multiple personalities.
Lithgow has a lot to carry in Raising Cain, tasked with playing three large roles and two slighter ones. He does a great job with his parts, though, alternating between the timid Carter and the badass Cain in a way that often does manage to trick the viewer into thinking that they’re two different twins. While that’s part of De Palma’s intention, it’s not imperative that the viewer completely believe that Carter and Cain aren’t the same person; in fact, it almost seems as though Raising Cain prefers to let that question linger, often offering up hints at multiple personalities and then waving it away during scenes where Carter and Cain seem to interact with each other. That keeps the viewer wondering whether anything they’ve seen is reliable, and it’s part of Raising Cain‘s strengths.
But I’d argue that the duality between Cain and Carter isn’t even the most interesting aspect of the film, an issue that, in the theatrical cut, certainly limits the film’s flow; while Lithgow does a good job with his characters, it’s difficult for the audience to relate to him, especially when De Palma opens with a particularly brutal attack on a woman while her child (and Carter’s) sleeps in the back seat. The more promising exploration of character drama occurs when Carter’s wife Jenny enters the film, because her difficult position dealing with an aloof but seemingly loving husband and an unrequited love interest signals an interesting dynamic within the film. It sets up Carter’s eventual mental disintegration, but it also creates some of the best moments in the film.
That’s because it gives De Palma the chance to mess with viewers’ heads even more, particularly with a dream sequence within a dream sequence that, for long stretches, blurs the line between reality and imagination. While it’s often difficult to get away with dream sequences without the audience feeling cheated into an inauthentic emotion, De Palma succeeds by continually manipulating the viewer and his character, to a point where even Jenny isn’t sure what’s occurred and what hasn’t. It ties in nicely to Carter’s psychologic disturbances too, though, because it shows that not everyone has to have explicit psychoses; the tricks of the human mind can be subtle as well.
Raising Cain‘s cinematography is another strong point, with an amazing long take that works through an entire building in one continuous shot. He uses multiple camera angles to throw the viewer off-balance. Everything has been blocked out, from the imagery to the small, seemingly innocuous details; a previously mentioned wig becomes an important plot development, and sharp pointy objects eventually become a threat. De Palma’s references are a little too obvious, but it’s still nice to see that Raising Cain incorporates heavy foreshadowing into its plot.
The film’s overall story takes quite a few risks, stretching believability in some instances. It’s focus, also, wavers a bit too often, especially in the latter portion of the film as a criminal investigation begins. De Palma clearly had difficulties determining whether Jenny or Carter was more interesting to follow; unfortunately, that means that Raising Cain too often doesn’t make a decision, leaving both of their stories a little underdeveloped.
That leads us to the recut included as a second disc, though; Peet Gelderblom, the fan responsible for reediting Raising Cain using De Palma’s original script before he reordered scenes, has shifted some large chunks of the film to flow better. In truth, the two major changes do add a new element to Raising Cain: by swapping the opening of the theatrical cut with Jenny’s affair, Gelderblom crafts Jenny as the film’s new main character, and also keeps the viewer from knowing Carter’s secret too early. It works much better, and the recut is marginally better than De Palma’s theatrical cut; however, the eventual conclusion is largely the same, and the recut isn’t technically necessary for viewers to understand De Palma’s film any better.
No matter the cut you watch, Raising Cain is a good film with a lot of excellent psychological manipulation. Lithgow and Davidovich both do a great job in their roles, and they’re aided by some excellent supporting actors as well. And Raising Cain is often tense, at times even scary (thinking of one specific moment where a dying woman witnesses her husband cheating on her), with enough winding storyline to keep the viewer questioning reality. De Palma finds success even as his characters fall apart.
Click page 2 for special features review.