Quick-Thoughts: Robert Altman’s Three Women (1977)

Screened at The New Beverly

“I rather face a thousand crazy savages than one woman who’s learned how to shoot.”

Rodarte founders Kate and Laura Mulleavy once described Three Women as a film that doesn’t rely on logic despite it being logical, which to me epitomizes Robert Altman’s one-of-a-kind knack for making movies that narratively soar both literally on their own but also figuratively on their own as well. 

As relaxing and plush as it can be to sink into this town’s environment, there appears to be some burnout lurking in every crevice of its seemingly haunted yet totally populated and outwardly breezy essence, Altman again proving himself a cinematic genius when it comes to getting you to remember his infectiously lived-in settings that quietly deconstruct the hidden within the casual. What can comfortably be seen as a simple coming of age story about a young woman learning to adapt and a slightly older woman learning to adapt to her is actually open to so much more psychological reading, particularly in regards to how these interactions inspire personal identity.

How is it possible to ever know ourselves when personality upon personality runs into us everyday in society to do it for us, inciting us to idolize, inciting us to compete, inciting us to submit, inciting us to infantilize? Is identity simply made up of us running into distinct personas by chance that register into our own combination, yet a combination that could be rigged and particularly formatted based on how we’re born? Altman’s film here is therefore often presented as a comedy on the self-perceived appearance, but then it incrementally becomes a tragedy on this appearance’s conditions too, as if the eerie recurring score that slithers between supposedly unquestionable moments couldn’t tell you otherwise. 

Three women is underselling it; there are but hundreds populating in each, and the three are but merely the most broad and socially expected, pressured, etc. of segments in this husband + wife perspective of a woman’s timeline. In the less literal sense, they are the ecdysis of their most basic life: dream as the child, become — or at least think you’ve become — as the desired adult, and reconsider the child through birth. It’s propagated negatively by the validation of men, validation of repeating, embodiment of media and idolization that foresees such. Apotheosis then validates the child’s aspiration, projection validating the adult’s superiority complex of being lusted for, and birth validating their signs of reminiscence. It’s a real life horror of human instinct, of generational indulgence, but eventually it comes to a monotonous release of equilibrium and acceptance towards the three stages, if you can call that a release though and maybe more so an imprisonment of disappointment. Christ, welcome to the California dream.

Essentially, the entire plot allegorizes this train of thought, where highly dramatic moments often signify clear transitions into each character’s new stage, but in its most literal sense, it also works as a plausible example to real life that confirms their existence. The film is clearly contrived to have distinct symbolics, but the symbolics in a sense work their way into our own reality. They are there, destined to happen in this structuring of fiction, but isn’t life already destined of certain things based on how we are socially and culturally identified, expected, or controlled as? Three Women doesn’t need to rely on logic during even its theatrical incidents because life itself can sometimes be such given the drastic changes in persona that we’re essentially forced to go through, therefore making its place in the film seem logical even if appearing a bit prophesied – the world simply operates at that, and the movie is compressing that knowledge into a tight two hours.

Also, shoutout to this movie for featuring what’s essentially a feminine existential crisis version of the 2001 (1968) stargate sequence, and then it’s immediately followed by another masterfully vehement sequence and by that point I was like yeah this film is hitting the f**k out of me alright. Another Altman masterpiece go figure.

Verdict: A+

All-Time Favorites, Robert Altman Ranked

“Three Women” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

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