Similar in structure to Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee, Brand Upon the Brain is “a remembrance in twelve chapters” featuring Guy Maddin (Erik Steffen Maahs) returning to his childhood home—an orphanage his parents ran on a remote island; a gothic setting if ever there was one. Much of the tale is told in flashback, recalling the early days of young Guy (Sullivan Brown) and his Sis (Maya Lawson) who both experience crushes on teen detectives Chance and Wendy Hale (Katherine E. Scharhon). They’re embroiled in a mystery surrounding Guy and Sis’s parents and the immoral experiments being performed on the orphans.
This brooding tale of misbegotten love and overbearing parents is told in split second edits, cutting in the occasional flash of color into the beautiful black & white. The action on screen lives in a world of its own though it’s placed into another realm when screened. At various times and locations, Brand Upon the Brain has been narrated by the likes of Isabella Rosselini, Crispin Glover, Eli Wallach, and more. Scored with live music and foley, the film becomes a cinematic event that will morph into something quite different for home viewers.
Playing like an O’Henry version of Lord of the Flies, Brand Upon the Brain exemplifies Maddin’s brilliant cinema.