by Jessie Landivar-Prescott
“Done your time, been in your place/I couldn't look you in the face and tell you that it turns me on/it makes my stomach turn/ I know, I know her” - Throwing Muses
Always Shine is the story about two young, blonde actresses who go on a best friends getaway trip to Big Sur. Very quickly into the film we see the screeching, see-sawing dynamic between the two main characters - Anna and Beth. Beth is establishing herself as a working actress with an agent, landing roles in horror movies; Anna is floundering, unable to get work, and seething with rage at her friend’s upward trajectory. One of the things I appreciated about this movie is that we get right into it. Here are two women; here’s the lack of friendship that they share; here’s each end of the archetypal feminine spectrum that they exist in; here’s the problem.
They resent the hell out of each other, that’s for sure. Beth’s disgust at Anna’s “desperate ugliness” and Anna’s rage at Beth’s “helpless routine” and rising star. Beth is the “wilting flower”, so passive that it’s uncomfortable and despite her nail-chewing, naive persona she shows us neon flashes of cunning. Anna, on the other end, is harsh; in her manner of speaking, she’s inquisitive to the point of relentless questioning which ends up turning people off and deeming her too intense. This fuels her rage at not finding success, which you quickly understand plays out in a repetitive cycle. Conversely, at every turn, Beth receives approval for being a soft-spoken doormat.
What is Takal saying? On a micro level, that the personality traits of each woman are actually manifesting her own journey. We are shown this via the insidious culture of Hollywood, how it claims women’s integrity and sexuality, how the male gaze will reward “agreeable” women with a pass through its gates. On a macro level, we are watching one of the plights of the feminine - the desperation for satisfaction that women internalize and reflect by applying personas in order to get what they want. The schisms inside of our internal worlds and how our own nature fights itself for its will to achieve satisfaction.
What does Anna want? What does Beth want? Is it the same thing? Are they actually one and the same person, representing, in the extreme, our opposite inner polarities that yield the power to destroy ourselves?
When the characters’ bickering reaches its expected boiling point we, the viewers, are led to believe that an enraged Anna has killed Beth in the woods near their vacation house.
For the remainder of the movie, we see Anna adopting Beth’s persona, wearing her clothes, affecting her mannerisms - basically assuming her identity. She immediately lands a boyfriend, is invited to a party and just as quickly begins to unravel psychologically, seeing Beth’s image taunting her everywhere she goes. Mirrors of her own aggression and fear following her at every turn. If we run with the idea that the two characters are representations of the split inside of one actual person, then it follows that what we are watching is the self-destruction of her psyche.
At the end of the movie, we see, through Anna’s (as Beth) crying eyes, Beth’s distraught boyfriend outside of the vacation house, a coroner wheeling away a body. Even though she’s literally standing on the periphery of the scene, it’s as if no one notices, no one sees her presence. The ending is left open for interpretation. With shades of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, an unnerving but enticing score by Michael Montes, a brilliant performance by Mackenzie Davis and beautiful but menacing scenery, I’d say watch this movie with a friend. This is a film that leaves room for discussion. So write to MJ with your thoughts on it!