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Film Review: Raising Cain (1992)

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SYNOPSIS:

The oncologist wife of a prominent child psychologist suspects her husband has an unhealthy scientific obsession with their child, unaware of what – or who – is really going on inside his head.

REVIEW:

Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain is a classic as far as I’m concerned. A film that, once you pop it on, is like slipping on your most comfortable slippers or having a warm bath. It’s just so embracing and familiar; the simple tale of a man with multiple personality disorder, and the abusive father who fostered his abuse. As Angela Lansbury would attest to, a tale as old as time.

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Okay, admittedly it’s a bit more than that. And for the purposes of those who have yet to see it, let’s go over the bare facts. John Lithgow plays Dr Carter Nix, a child psychologist who has taken time off from his career in order to raise his daughter, whilst his wife Jenny (Lolita Davidovich) continues to work. Unbeknownst to Jenny, Carter kidnaps children on behalf of his domineering and abusive father. When Carter’s fear or morality gets in the way of duties, his alternate personality, Cain, takes over. Cain is like the spoilt brat to Carter’s golden child; constantly vying for his father’s attention and never getting it. As a performance, Lithgow plays him like a young Jack Nicholson with a constant swagger and sneer. In fact, Cain is perhaps the closest we’d get to what Lithgow’s performance as the Joker would look like.

So, whilst Carter and Cain clean up the playgrounds, Jenny has started an affair with former lover, Jack (Jack Dante), a widower to one of Jenny’s former patients. Nope, nothing unethical there. Just pure, clean love undisturbed by a malpractice suit. Jenny doesn’t want to cheat on Carter, but seeing as he’s a bit of a drip who obsessively watches their daughter you don’t really blame her. Things grow even more complicated when Jenny suspects Carter knows about the affair. And as an audience, we know that is Carter knows then Cain knows.

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Now, if you’re up to date with IndieWire, you may have heard about the video essay on Raising Cain from Peet Gelderblom. Gelderblom had a straightforward mission: edit Raising Cain so that it was more in line with De Palma’s original intentions. De Palma always saw Raising Cain to be, initially, about Jenny. Those who have seen the original Raising Cian will know that Carter’s ‘foibles’ are brought right to the front with the flustered doctor almost screwing up a kidnapping, when he ‘brother’ comes to his rescue. After an exhilarating and tense start, in which we’re also introduced to Carter’s father (Lithgow in layers of makeup), the follows Jenny as she restarts her old love affair. After Carter’s introduction, it does seem a little tame and, for today’s modern audiences, the change in tone may be off putting.

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In Gelderblom’s version, Jenny becomes the focus of the film. She’s the first person we meet, with her husband merely a wet flannel she loves and puts up with in equal measure. And here come white knight Jack looking for love in all the wrong places. When her husband tries to murder her in her bed once night, the film ‘rewinds’ to tell us Carter’s version of events.

If you’re already familiar with Raising Cain, then the changes certainly don’t detract from the original. This is a now a more experimental film that plays with time and perspective. Is it an improvement? In a way, yes. The gear change from Carter’s torment to Jenny’s love story doesn’t feel as jarring; the story grows organically rather than forced into a mold that predetermines what audiences want.

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It doesn’t fix all the problems though. Davidovich is woefully miscast and appears to be utterly bored from beginning to end. There’s still that scene in the hospital with Jack and Jenny that is so overwrought with the music, pacing and Jenny’s narration that the film swerves dangerously towards to a comedy. However, we still have Lithgow’s wonderful performance(s), which is only heightened when he performs alongside Frances Sternhagen playing Dr Waldheim, a former colleague of Carter’s father.

And what does De Palma think of all this? Well, he’s pretty keen on it. So keen in fact, it’s now the official director’s cut and is available alongside the original theatrical cut on Blu-ray. Check it out and decide for yourself.

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Bonus Features

DISC ONE:

      • Theatrical Version Of The Film
      • NEW Interviews With Actors John Lithgow, Steven Bauer, Gregg Henry, Tom Bower, Mel Harris And Editor Paul Hirsch
      • Original Theatrical Trailer

DISC TWO:

    • Director’s Cut Of The Film Featuring Scenes Reordered As Originally Intended
    • NEW Changing Cain: Brian De Palma’s Cult Classic Restored Featurette
    • NEW Raising Cain Re-Cut – A Video Essay By Peet Gelderblom

Raising Cain is now available on bluray per shout Factory

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