As a person living in Wisconsin, I had to wonder if the book ["Wisconsin Death Trip"] was picking on us, or, no I didn't really, because there is always the out for us here in Madison to say Madison is an island of difference within the state. But I knew this film was well regarded, and when I saw yesterday that it had arrived in the mail, I immediately sat down and watched it through. It was quite beautiful and original visually and quite moving and full of fascinating characters (like Mary Sweeney, a cocaine-sniffing woman with a mania for breaking glass).To show the dark side to Wisconsin is to say something about the dark side of humanity.
One could see the film as expressing the idea that in bad economic times, in desolate places, people go mad with despair. Or one could see it as saying that in some very specific times in very specific places, people just go off-the-scale weird.
Here's my interpretation. We tend to think of Wisconsin as a notably healthy, wholesome place. (Notice the characters in movies who say they are from Wisconsin: Annie Hall, Jack Dawson in Titanic, etc., etc.) So I am thinking: to show the dark side to Wisconsin is to say something about the dark side of humanity. This story of Black River Falls in the last decade of the nineteenth century is (as presented through the film, if not the book) a universal story of passion and violence and death and madness.
In May 2010, someone asked me to make a list of favorite movies, and I included "Wisconsin Death Trip." In the comments:
Meade said...Ha. We are living it, baby.
I've seen 15 off your list. Of those 15, 7 were with you. I'd watch any of them with you again plus any of the ones I haven't seen yet. But don't ask me to watch "Wisconsin Death Trip" again. I found it disturbing.
Ann Althouse said...
We don't need to watch it again. We are living it, baby.