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Altman's Dream Film May Give You Nightmares
evanston_dad14 August 2007
Altman made a lot of films that are obscure and deserve to remain so ("Quintet"), but he also made a lot of films that are obscure but deserve to be seen, and "3 Women" is one of those. It's one of the most fascinating films Altman created, and that's really saying something from a director who was able to make even his bad films fascinating.

Altman claimed that "3 Women" was inspired by a dream he had while his wife was lying ill in a hospital, and the film does indeed work on its audience the way a dream does. It resists literal interpretation, and will probably frustrate any viewer who insists upon tidiness in their movies. It communicates its messages instead through pervasive imagery and tone -- it's not "about" something as much as it's about making you FEEL something, and it does that expertly. This movie will stick in your mind and haunt you long after you've seen it.

If I were forced to explain the film's plot, it would go something like this: Shelley Duvall plays Millie, a rather foolish woman who works in a geriatric physical therapy center, and whose roommate has just moved out to live with her boyfriend. Sissy Spacek plays Pinkie, newly hired at the center and put under Millie's direction. Millie is a pathetic character -- she yammers on endlessly about ridiculously trivial things (like how to make tuna melts) and doesn't realize that everyone around her either ignores her or makes fun of her. But Pinkie nevertheless becomes enamored of her and moves in with her. The third woman of the title is Willie, a reclusive artist who owns both the apartment complex in which Millie and Pinkie live, and a saloon that resembles something from a ghost town. She paints murals of strange-looking mythological creatures engaged in violent and sexual acts. These images recur throughout the film, as do images of water. Everything up to this point in the movie is dealt with in a fairly straightforward manner. But then Pinkie has an accident, and when she wakes up, she's become a different person, causing Millie's hold on reality, already tenuous, to unravel. At this point, the film becomes reminiscent of films like "Persona" and "Mulholland Drive," in which seemingly separate female characters merge into different facets of one female personality.

The ending is creepy and chilling in ways that are hard to define. The whole film has violent undertones -- the lone male character in the film is a lout and vaguely predatory; all of the women at various moments seem to be holding back a barely suppressed rage. Altman uses his camera in his characteristically expert manner to shape our perceptions about what we are seeing, and he uses other parts of his mise-en-scene, like color (Millie's favorite colors are yellow and purple, and look for them in the art direction), to bring a slightly surreal quality to even the most mundane of locations.

I've always thought that Shelley Duvall was an underrated actress, and she gives one of her best performances as Millie (and almost looks pretty for a change). Sissy Spacek is tremendous as well, and shows a remarkable range as Pinkie. Both of these actresses do wonderful things with tough roles, and even if we sometimes feel like we're on uneven footing because of the movie's enigmatic nature, the actresses are so assured in their parts that we can rely on them to guide us through it.

Altman directed a quartet of "dream" films that all revolve around the psychological and emotional crises of women: "That Cold Day in the Park" (1969); "Images" (1972); "Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" (1982); and "3 Women." I've not seen "That Cold Day..", but of the other three, though all of them have qualities to recommend them, "3 Women" is easily the best.

Grade: A
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Altman's best movie
matt-20121 February 1999
Put together a top-shelf Raymond Carver story and the last two reels of 2001 and you have a dim idea of the unique genius of Altman's 1977 masterpiece, probably the most original movie ever made within the studio system. Shelley Duvall is a practiced flirt and would-be social butterfly, oblivious to the total failure of her Donna Reed mystique, and Sissy Spacek is the childlike tag-along who idolizes her. That's all I'll say about the story, which makes turns you couldn't have guessed at in ways that can't be summarized. Humane, funny, staggeringly strange and deeply creepy, THREE WOMEN defines certain social strata and modes of interaction that you've never seen in a movie before or since--and then goes out on a mystical limb that makes the last third of APOCALYPSE NOW look prosaic. With all due respect to NASHVILLE, MCCABE and many others, Altman never made a better film.
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1 + 1 +1 = ?
Galina11 July 2006
I've wanted to see Robert Altman's "3 Women"(1977) for long time and finally saw it last night. The references to one of my all time favorites, Ingmar Bergman's "Persona" are obvious: two young women, the main characters (seemingly meek, childlike Pinky and outgoing and seemingly popular but in reality a sad loser Millie seem almost to exchange identities, or to become one in a desperate search for connection and sense of belonging but "3 Women" is memorable and haunting on its own terms. It makes you think long time after it's over. As a matter of fact, I am still thinking about it. I think that it is an incredible work of an extraordinary master. As always in his best films, Robert Altman is terrific - innovative, iconoclastic, free-spirited, unconventional, and truly original. He is a great humanist who sees through his characters but never makes fun of them and he understands them. Under his directing, Shelly Duvall and Sissy Spacec gave two astonishing performances. They were both great but Duvall was a revelation. She adapted the loquacious Millie's personality and become the character. Altman had discovered Duvall at one of the malls in Texas where she was selling cosmetics and given her roles in his six films. I want also to mention the eerie music, the dreamy and uneasy atmosphere of something sinister ready to happen, the scary and mesmerizing murals on the bottom of the pool that the third woman, silent and mysterious, tired and wise Willie (Janice Rule) was painting. Altman did not try to trick or confuse me, and the story seems to be simple one but I am not sure that I understood everything, especially the enigmatic ending. Altman was aware of the effect of his movie to the viewers and in his commentary he says that he sees the film as a painting and that the audience should feel it but not understand it. In this regard it also reminds of "Un chien andalou" (1929) which was supposed to be experienced directly and not analyzed by the viewers.

"3 Women" is another great film by one of the best American film directors. I've never seen a bad film from Robert Altman.

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Mix Drama with Black Comedy with Bizarre with Fantasy = Wonderful
Enrique Sanchez21 July 1999
Indeed, few movies can haunt you 40 years after you've first seen them. Not only that, even after you've seen them 20 times, still leaving you with a desire to see them again and again? 3 Women is just such a movie. From it's haunting Gerald Busby score, to Bodhi Wind's arresting murals, to the captivating performances by Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek to Robert Altman's deft writing and direction. This is a movie which will haunt you and fascinate you.

I knew this movie was no ordinary movie when I seemed to be the only one in that 1977 audience who caught onto Shelley's disobedient skirt. Things began to appear slanted just off center - you just didn't know how off center they were. And that was and is the magic of this film. You never know what utter ridiculous impossibility of life will take hold of you and bring you through such a unusual journey.

Even as the credits start to roll, you begin to wonder: what have I just witnessed? what does this mean? why does it leave me wanting for answers?

Only after you've seen it as many times as I have do you stop asking those questions and accept all of these occurrences as another window in the mind of a genius, which is Robert Altman. With all due respect to Nashville, this is his pinnacle of achievement.
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Avant-guard film about female friendships.
sonya9002812 October 2008
Three Women was another Robert Altman masterpiece. His films have always deeply explored the frailties, of the human personality. And Three Women is typical of Altman's deftness, regarding intense characterizations.

This film takes place in the late 70s, in a remote California town. It revolves around three very different female characters, and the effects that each of them has on each other's lives.

Shelley Duvall is cast as Millie. Millie is an intensely garrulous woman. She's obsessed with talking about recipes, that she garners from women's magazines. She annoys those around her, with her constant chatter about her 'latest recipe'.

Millie also desperately wants to impress her male acquaintances. Men seem to mostly shun Millie though, which doesn't stop her from trying to gain their attention.

Millie has a dead-end job, working as a nurse's aid in a nursing home. Her supervisors are brusque, and unsympathetic. She tries to be friendly and helpful, but this often causes her more problems with her bosses.

Pinky (played by the very talented Sissy Spacek) moves to Millie's town. She needs a job and is hired as a nurse's aid, at the same nursing home that Millie works at. Millie is assigned to train Pinky in her new job duties. Pinky soon becomes quite attached to Millie.

Finally, Millie has someone around (Pinky), who actually admires her. When Millie posts a notice on the bulletin board at work , indicating that she seeks a roommate, Pinky is only to happy to get the chance to room with Millie. Pinky then moves into Millie's apartment. Though Millie's apartment has a tacky, garish quality, Pinky expresses how sublime she thinks it is.

One afternoon after work, Millie asks Pinky to go with her to a run-down bar. Pinky meets Millie's friend Edgar, who has set-up a shooting rink out back. He constantly practices shooting there, and invites Millie and Pinky to participate. Edgar is a sophomoric, macho-type, who drinks heavily. He also likes to show-off his marksmanship skills.

Millie also introduces Pinky to Willie, who happens to be Edgar's artist girlfriend. Willie is always painting monstrous, sexually explicit creatures around the bar. Pinky is, inexplicably, mesmerized by Willie's offbeat paintings.

Willie has a haunting, remote presence. She mostly watches everyone else from afar, while being intensely involved with her artwork. Willie also happens to live in the same apartment building, as Millie and Pinky. Her disturbing paintings, adorn the bottom of the swimming pool located there.

Basically, the film doesn't have much of a plot. At least not in the traditional, linear manner that audiences are accustomed to. Instead, Altman chose to focus on the psychological aspects of the relationship between the three woman, and how this changes over time.

The friendship between Pinky and Millie becomes tumultuous, for no obvious reason. Willie is the ethereal, mysterious woman of the three. She doesn't interact much with Millie and Pinky throughout the film. Willie's artwork is so hypnotic to Pinky though, that it has a horrible effect on Pinky's psyche, resulting in tragic consequences. The viewer is left to try and fathom why.

All three women in the film, are social misfits. And they each struggle pathetically to function in the alienating, urban environment that they inhabit. Altman did a marvelous job, highlighting the emotional turmoil that the women inflict on each other, during the course of the film.

This is a film that will leave a deep impression, regarding the dynamics of women's friendships in modern life. But don't expect a neat and tidy conclusion, to the conflicts between the three women. More than any film I've ever seen, this one is vastly open to viewer interpretation.
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Altman's second best?
zetes28 May 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Three Women is an utterly fascinating film, and, by my calculations, is Altman's second best after Nashville, which few films can beat. However, whereas I am so familiar with Nashville that I am actually arrogant enough to believe I can understand it, Three Women does not inspire that sort of confidence in me. I have no clue what exactly it is about.

Basically, it is one of those movies where a woman, Pinky, admires her roommate Millie so much that she wishes to emulate her in every way, apparently even trying to steal her identity. In doing so, she freaks her roommate out, as can certainly be expected. She also freaks the audience out. It isn't all just a bunch of shivering, though. This movie contains a lot of humor which can only be called 'Altmanesque.' The great irony is that Pinky's object of admire is nothing but a bag of hot air. Millie is such a loser. At the film's opening, she is training Pinky for her new job at the nursing home. To any normal person, two weeks into the job, you'd be amazed at how much a moron the person is who showed you the ropes. She brags about men whom she rejects, but all the hot dates she claims to be going on never come to fruition. Millie also overreacts to Pinky's actions, yelling at her for very petty transgressions. When Millie does something that is grossly irresponsible and morally wrong, she attacks Pinky for judging those actions. Meanwhile, Pinky is creepily reciting passages from Millie's diary with the passion of a high school drama student.

Taking Ingmar Bergman's Persona as its major inspiration, around halfway through the film, after Pinky has an accident and goes into a coma, the two women begin to switch roles. Millie becomes the passive and protective roommate while Pinky becomes the aggressive vixen. Actually, Pinky becomes the mythic version of Millie.

But I have purposely left out the third woman of the title. I really am not sure about her, or the climax and the ending, in which she plays a major part. Her name is Willie, a pregnant woman married to a man named Edgar (who will, through the course of the film, also sleep with both Millie and Pinky). They run a bar where Millie likes to hang out, and they also live in the same apartment complex as Millie and Pinky. Edgar is an outgoing joker, and has no problem sleeping around on his wife. Willie is mostly silent, which is why she is easy to forget in the proceedings. She paints in a Native American style all over the bar and the apartment complex. She does so seemingly because she is compelled to. She despises complements about them. Throughout the film, her paintings comment on the situation between Millie and Pinky (they're used in a masterful fashion, but the pan-and-scan version that I saw on TV (it was also edited for time and content, dag nabbit) screws this up a bit). I don't know if she serves much more of a purpose than that for most of the film.

It is the ending which is especially peculiar, and it also most effectively channels Persona. Pinky has convinced Millie that she ought to have their apartment's master bedroom to herself (and Millie ought to sleep in the living room). Pinky has a surreal dream, which is punctuated by the camera's filming through a fish tank whose blue waters are undulating like a snake, in which she goes through the events of the past few months. She becomes frightened, and, much as Elisabeth Volger does in Persona, she wanders into Millie's bedroom. Here, though, she wakes Millie up, asking if she would mind sharing a bed tonight. As they try to sleep, Edgar wanders into their apartment, drunk off his rocker and spouting that Willie is giving birth all alone. Millie and Pinky race to her side. Millie tells Pinky to drive away and fetch a doctor, while she herself helps Willie deliver the child. Pinky, fascinated or frightened (she had earlier expressed fear about being pregnant herself), just stands there and stares. When the child is born, it is still. Willie cries in her bed, and Millie smacks Pinky for not getting a doctor.

The next scene takes place at a restaurant where Pinky is apparently a waitress. She bizarrely refers to Millie as her mother. We find out that Edgar accidentally killed himself with his gun, but the audience suspects differently (all three women had individual scenes where they shot at targets at the bar; they also all have reason to despise him). Millie and Pinky then leave the restaurant and walk back to their house, where Willie sits on a porch swing. Pinky talks to her as if they were sisters. They appear to be living together as a family.

Who else could end a film like that besides Altman? I've only lately come to notice this, but his endings are always enormously original. I just lately saw his latest film, Dr. T and the Women, which many people hated because of the ending. I cringe imagining what they would do with this one. If anyone has any ideas, please contact me. I will have to watch it again. Perhaps soon they will release it on DVD where I can watch it in its true form. 10/10.
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Altman breaks form . . .
visene20 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
. . . which is a really good thing in this case.

If you've seen other Altman films, you know that he uses a very spontaneous, documentary style that glances here and there, picking up little bits of dialog and character. He lets the story, whatever it is, evolve naturally and doesn't force it.

In this film, things work a little differently. There is a fairly tight, classical story, sort of, even though a couple of big pieces are missing. Moreover, there is a very strong sense of symbolism in almost every shot, from Shelley Duval's first appearance, where she is pictured as a "new woman" displacing an older generation, to the scene where Sissy Spacek playfully puts a noose around her neck, foreshadowing her suicide attempt.

But here's the miracle: even though there's a lot of symbolism, the style still feels very loose and spontaneous and open, just like other Altman films. How this is possible, I don't know, but it's quite an accomplishment--almost unique in cinema, I think, in the way that each frame is simultaneously closed & symbolic but also open & realistic. Really, you have to see it to believe it.

Best of all, the story, which concerns three very different women, is perfectly suited to the style. This is a fable about the way women's identities are changing (or not) and it asks the right questions without giving clear answers.

Actingwise, the real treat here is Shelley Duval as the "new woman," the Cosmo girl, plastic and fake and shallow and miserable and somehow, at the same time, horribly and hilariously alive. You will not forget her, or the double-sided, real/symbolic world she moves in.
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Psychological Study of Human Stability
MuzikNFilm9 December 2004
We are all on the brink. Many of us have endearing qualities that are lacking in others and vice versa. Do we question ourselves or do we change drastically? Can we become better people or are we doomed with our very own dismal personality traits? These are the questions that the film, 3 Women, examines.

I saw this film as a 14 year old boy with no preconceptions. It made me feel like there were imposter's as well as identity thieves among us all. I even became suspicious of people who I considered to be my allies! A truly, classic piece of cinema paranoia (in the tradition of Polanski's The Tenant). Except in this case, there is no illusion. Just one ,blatant, slap in the face after another. When you watch this film, it will literally shed it's skin and reveal something that is spookily real and very threatening, without all the supernatural riff-raff and far-fetched plot. This is a film about REAL characters and REAL development. The ending can be summed up by the scene which precedes it, in which the three women are brought together by a rather tragic incident, as this breathes new "life" into their bleak, sometimes dusty environments. "One woman became two..Two became three...3 Women became One."
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Altman makes his own "Persona"...
Benedict_Cumberbatch24 June 2008
...and creates something even more fascinating than Bergman's film. Although they're not exactly equally themed films, the theme of female identity-swapping is similar in both. "3 Women" is a dark, allegorical and poignant study of loneliness and search for identity. Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) is a shy Texan girl who idolizes her pathetic co-worker Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall), a young woman who's ignored by everybody around her - except Pinky. Pinky soon becomes Millie's new roommate, but their friendship doesn't make Millie feel any less ostracized by her peers, and an extreme act of Pinky will turn everything upside down.

Sissy Spacek, right after the huge hit "Carrie", delivered another unforgettable performance. That's no surprise considering Spacek is one of the finest American actresses of all time; the real surprise here is Shelley Duvall, who usually got small roles in great films and never was considered a great actress. When she had a big role in a Kubrick film (the now classic "The Shining"), everybody hated her, and unfortunately that's what most people remember her for (which is unfair, since she was okay in my books; come on, you'd also act hysterical if your husband was chasing you and your son with an axe!). However, 3 years before "The Shining", Duvall gave a mesmerizing, wonderfully nuanced performance as the pathetic Millie, a cross between Blanche DuBois and Pollyanna. A character that could've been annoying if played by a less talented actress, but that became fascinating in Duvall's body. We all know or met people like Millie at least once in our lives, and at moments you just wish you could give her a hug.

"3 Women" is one of Robert Altman's best, and, consequently, one of the best films of all time. The man who knew how to make ensemble dramas like no other (Nashville, Short Cuts, The Player, Gosford Park, etc.) was also brilliant at creating intimate portraits/character studies. 1 woman became 2/2 women became 3/3 women became 1, which can be summed up by: Birth, growing up, awakening, and (in)stability. The artist, his art, perception, film, and life themselves. 10/10.
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Probably the best movie you won't be able to understand (contains mild spoilers)
kdufre009 September 2001
Warning: Spoilers
I haven't seen all of Robert Altman's films, but I can easily say that he is one of the greatest innovators when it comes to character-driven films, as seen in his large ensemble pieces from "Nashville" to "Short Cuts." Perhaps the reason why so many actors like to work with Altman is because he gives them free-rein in the composition of their characters. Altman's ability to capture the actor's talent of creating a character from the inside out is no less present in his 1977 drama "3 Women", a buried treasure of a film starring Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek. "3 Women" is definitely a character-driven film, as there is virtually no plot to speak of. To enjoy this film is to be enamoured of Duvall and Spacek's performances, as well as Altman's daring and uncompromised vision.

Duvall plays Millie Lammoreaux, a young woman living in a barren California desert town whose delusions of grandeur place her in a fantasy world full of social gatherings, dinner parties, and gentleman callers. Whether she is at the nursing homes where she works or the residential motel where she lives, she carries on as if she were the cat's meow, oblivious to the fact that her incessant ramblings about everything from her favorite food recipes to hula dancing lessons are falling on deaf, in not unkind, ears. Because of her endearing qualities however, Millie is a loveable misfit. The way she always slams her car door on the hem of her skirt says so much about her character.

Spacek plays Pinky Rose, a new employee at the nursing home who takes an immediate liking to Millie and soon becomes her roommate. A childlike waif, Pinky emulates Millie in the same way a 6-year-old girl looks up to her big sister. While she completely feeds Millie's self-absorption, she also turns Millie's life upside down when she takes on her identity, borrowing her clothes and copying down her social security number.

The third woman in "3 Women" is Willie Hart (played by Janice Rule), a sullen, pregnant woman who spends her time painting disturbing murals inside empty swimming pools. She is also married to Edgar (played by Robert Fortier), a drunken lout whose claim to fame as a former stunt double in famous Wyatt Earp westerns makes him a figure of admiration at the motel. The weirdness sets in when Millie invites Edgar over for an adulterous fling, causing a dejected Pinky to jump into the motel's swimming pool from a second story landing, putting her in a coma. This event is the first major plot point in "3 Women". as it spins the storyline in a completely new direction. Pinky wakes up from the coma, rejects her parents who have traveled all the way from Texas to see her, and turns into a surly beer-swilling, gum-chewing tramp. Overcome with guilt, Millie also changes into a different person. Her inflated ego disappears, she becomes more passive, and she caters to Pinky even while Pinky bullies her and treats her with complete disrespect.

"3 Women" has undoubtedly inspired wonder in whoever has seen it. The tone of the film is extremely strange and dreamlike and is filled with many symbols that defy the viewer who tries to make heads or tails of them. There are also many archetypal, mythical figures in "3 Women" that seem to come right out of a Jungian dream analysis book. For instance, Pinky's fixation with Polly and Peggy, two twins who work at the nursing home with her and Millie, figures prominently in the film right down to its climactic dream sequence. At one point in the movie, Pinky muses, "Do you think they know which one they are?...Maybe they switch back and forth. One day Peggy's Polly, and another day Polly's Peggy." Janice Rule's Willie also seems to be an archetype, the mother figure.

Altman doesn't attempt to explain any of the weird connections in "3 Women." Every time I watch this film, I find myself confounded by the same questions: why are the twins so aloof? why is Millie and Pinky's supervisor so unrelentingly bitchy? why is Pinky twice shown taking off her underwear from underneath her skirt? The list goes on. Altman does provide a few rhyming scenes in the film as well. One such scene is one in which nice Pinky is sitting in a deserted bar and is spat upon by a hideous wall ornament in the figure of a wizened old woman, named "Dirty Gertie", whose mechanical laugh accompanies Willie's entrance into the scene. This scene prefigures a later scene in which bad Pinky mischievously spits beer at Edgar and then proceeds to cackle in an exaggerated fashion.

It is a shame that "3 Women" is not available on home video or DVD. I happened to catch it on the cable network known as WE (Women's Entertainment) and was so intrigued by it that I looked up the next time it was playing so that I could record it. It is a wonderfully unusual film and Duvall and Spacek are up to task. The role of Millie Lammoreaux is a career best for Duvall. She has never played such a rich character before or after "3 Women." This is also my personal favorite Spacek performance. The spookiness of her performance here rivals her performance in "Carrie." She deftly portrays both Pinkys with equally terrific conviction. And Altman is to be commended (even 24 years after the fact) for bringing such a refreshingly unconventional story to the screen. "3 Women" is arguably the best and most mystifying film that I don't think I will ever understand.
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And Now For Something Completely Different
SheBear22 September 2004
3 Women is a seriously strange mood study that plays like a languid nightmare. It is an abstract and unusual film, loaded with symbolism. The logic, if there is any, is dream logic. Everything is open to interpretation. There is no sense to be made of it so don't even try.

The first half of the film is slow and aimless but things get very interesting once Pinky (brilliantly acted by Sissy Spacek) hits her head. Pinky sort of becomes Millie (Shelley Duvall) and Millie sort of becomes Pinky and they both sort of become the dream of Willie (Janice Rule) or maybe they don't. Listening to director Robert Altman's commentary on the DVD is revealing. He says that he sees the film as a painting and that the audience should feel it but not understand it.

The references to Persona are obvious but while watching 3 Women I was reminded of another haunting and puzzling film- Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Mysterious and deeply Freudian, 3 Women is one truly unique work so sit back and marvel at the inexplicable.
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"Uh oh! Here comes Thoroughly Modern Millie..."
moonspinner5512 April 2001
Playing would-be social butterfly Millie in Robert Altman's often-inscrutable "3 Women", Shelley Duvall creates an amazing, amusing, totally original character. Millie fancies herself a great caregiver at a job where others regard her as nothing; she talks about her neighbors and activities as if she's Sally Bowles, when actually nobody notices her. She's pathetic, but Duvall makes her funny and quirky (and Altman is careful not to make too much fun of her). Sissy Spacek as roommate Pinky is also fine in a less-showy, less-complex role, but her transformation in the second-half shows off her range. The film is slow but not dull, confusing but not off-putting (despite fuzzy cinematography). The one thing I really objected to was the ending, which plays like Greek tragedy mixed with Tennessee Williams. Nobody has dared to make another film like "3 Women". Altman-protégé Alan Rudolph captured some of its eccentric quality in "Welcome to L.A.", but his script wasn't clever enough. The writing here may seem simple, but this turns out to be deceptive: the dialogue is pungent with the ring of absurd truth. It took me a while to reconcile my feelings for this film. As soon as I decided how I felt about it, I couldn't wait to see it again. *** from ****
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Shock of the Familiar
Ron in LA1 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is a dreamy and at the same time intensely realistic film about the life of one or two or three women living empty, lonely lives in a small California desert town. If you have not already seen it, and if you like any films by Ingmar Bergman or Robert Altman or David Lynch, then stop reading this or any other review and see the film for yourself.

The fun of a movie like this, that is so realistic that it has no "correct" interpretation and even the movie's director and writer is not entirely sure what it "means," is to come up with your own theories and share with others who saw the film. My theory is that the three women are all separate individuals, who are alike in the sense that we are all one, but who are not alike in the way female characters/actresses are the same person in Persona, That Obscure Object of Desire, or Mulholland Drive. The sweet old couple really are Pinky's parents, and the suicide attempt leaves Pinky with amnesia, which is why she forgets her parents and confuses herself with Millie as she tries to reconstruct her life. Poor old Edgar gets shot by one of the women, or maybe all three, who make it look like an accident. It makes no sense for his body to be hidden in the tires, as that would not be an effective way of hiding him, the stench would attract attention, and the staged accident is consistent with a traditional body disposal. But maybe it is his body, just because stuff that happens in real life often makes no sense.

The real fun of this movie for me was the shock of the familiar, in picking out the tacky details of real life circa 1977. I was 20 when the film came out, and yes I do remember making shrimp cocktails, and cooking pigs-in-a-blanket like it was a new gourmet treat, and sorting out Sociables crackers eating the broken ones and saving the whole ones for company with canned cheese squirted on. I even had one of those silly laugh-toys (not a hag face, just a little box in a felt bag) that made the laughing sound and cracked everyone up. I didn't smoke Trues or drive a Ford Pinto, but I was around others who did.

And the Shelly Duvall character, with the heart of gold who lies constantly to try to make herself more interesting and who tries so hard to make everything perfect she annoys all the people she is trying to befriend? Too real.
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My Interpretation of 3 Women
brent0509-933-77762730 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I have seen this brilliant masterpiece twice and in one particular scene, just as dreamlike as it truly is, a total vision of the two central characters, played perfectly astonishingly well and with a dash of campy perfection, by Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek, that these women were, again, in my opinion, the same person.

With the fact that almost everyone seems to be ignoring Millie (Duvall), in some scenes, to a point where they are being downright rude and disrespectful to and about her, makes me believe her isolation and constant need for perfection (her apartment, her hair, her coordinated clothing, her endless chatter of the latest appliances and recipes) and constant strive for wanting to be the best Hostess on the Planet, I believe she created Pinky (Spacek), who also had the name, Mildred, in her private fantasy life, who is a total contrast of her.

The idea came so fast to me, maybe too fast, to understand it all but I felt the need to jot it down. I want to believe Millie is aware of co-workers and neighbors ignoring her and openly being disinterested in what she is saying but I wonder if it is because the "perfect" side of these characters is really not there.

Well, this is only my interpretation of a person who is isolated and has created her own fantasy life of a single career woman, who has a lavishly styled pad, goes to the local bar to relax, and sits poolside for some sun, yet is completely and utterly lonely.

My only missing piece to this puzzle would be the third woman, played by Janice Rule, as the mysterious Artist and Bartender, and if in fact Millie and Pinky are pieces of her Creations and the constant maternal nurturing that overlaps with these three women, throughout the film.

It is, hands down, the best character study piece I have ever encountered and is brilliantly acted by all central players involved.
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Altman's hypnosis
Pranavist12 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Film-makers seldom go for the character driven movies as there is a high possibility of getting rejected by the audiences. Apparently Altman's risky attempt has been acclaimed because of the emotional spectrum being projected throughout this movie. If you are looking for an intellectual content in this movie, you will be disappointed. I presume that the director may be following a postmodern approach in order to prevent us from logical thinking. Like an anomaly this movie has a linear screenplay. So that the viewers would not be spending much time, thinking of it's chronological order. So basically the director's intention is to hypnotize the viewers with a relaxed mood and that's what makes it special from the other character driven movies.

It's an irrefutable fact that Robert Altman was inspired by the movie Persona (Ingmar Bergman) to make this movie. Also the movies like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive belong to the same category. Three of them acted really well, out of which Sissy Spacek's performance is outstanding. And the cinematography is mediocre with the normal camera movements.

Three of them have very different personae. Pinky was a timid and immature girl. Her personality was rather submissive. She finds it awkward to interact with her colleagues. Eventually Millie was instructed to take care of Pinky. And they become roommates. Pinky thinks Millie is perfect and gradually she observes Millie. Pinky even tries to read Millie's diary secretly. Along with their friendship they trade their personae gradually. Millie introduces owners of her apartment, Willie and Edgar. Their personality was mutually exclusive. Edgar was a complete extrovert but Willie was always silent. She never talks to someone. The rest of the events seems like a dream sequence and it's difficult to find an explanation for it.

We can find that the three women Millie, Pinky and Willie shared something common.

1) Three of them were betrayed by Edgar; Edgar was the husband of Willie and boyfriend of both Millie and Pinky.

2) They were metaphorically represented as daemons in Willie's pictures near the swimming pool in their apartment.

3) Although they were the slaves of Edgar, they betrayed in a triangular way as well; Willie --> Millie (bar); Millie --> Pinky (apartment); Pinky --> Willie (Willie's home)

Eventually we can find that their minds complete each other according to the Freudian concept of psychoanalysis(Id, Ego and Super-ego). There is no intellectual conclusion in the world of emotions. It is meant to experience the emotional spectra produced by the director. It makes different impacts on each viewers and that cannot be expressed but only felt. Certainly I'm looking forward to watch the other movies of this genius.
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Altman at his best.
yb777-15 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
One of the best movies I've ever seen.It's closeness to Bergman's "Persona" is strongly felt,though both films are very individual pieces of art of two very different artists.It's a movie that leaves you thinking about it long after you finished watching it.One of it's strongest sides is a wonderful music that comes back to my mind every time I think about the film's disturbing images.The acting is excellent,especially by Spacek and Duvall and the operator's work is gorgeous. The film is about two common,mediocre,untalented(one,Millie,pretentious and pathetic and another one,Pinky,a grown-up infant who needs constant support and care)young women doing simple jobs in the Old Men's House(this is what they know and can do)and much older,quiet,reclusive but gifted artist Willie who paints beautiful murals describing strange male and female creatures in violent and sexual acts.I think these paintings are the key to understanding what kind of psychological relations Willie has with the outer world.This explains her estrangement and almost total silence during the film,giving preference to her wordless expression in an artful manner of her inner state and attitude towards the world.Actually this silent woman fells as a victim to the three other main characters - first losing her unfaithful,hard drinking friend-husband(?) Edgar as both Millie and then "new" Pinky in turn sleep with him(though both know very well that Willie is expecting a child)and then her baby when Pinky having been sent to call a doctor,just watches indifferently(this indifference is especially strongly felt after the Millie's "bloody" slap) as Millie is hopelessly trying to help Willie and finally fails. The ultimate expression of this unbearable cruelty of being is the dead-born baby,who "refuses to be born alive" into such a world.The end is open to interpretations:it may be easy to understand why Edgar could have been killed by Willie(though it is never revealed who did it),but it would be strange to discover that it is Pinky and Millie who actually did it(NOBODY FORCED them to sleep with Edgar and cause pain to Willie!). Love,depression,envy(What does Pinky think when she watches Willie painting?),psychological violence and hidden hatred are all interrelated in this superb human drama of an exceptionally talented film director.If you like cinema as an art,you won't regret watching it.Highly recommended.
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3 Women
Edgar Soberon Torchia30 June 2002
I saw "3 Women" in 1977. I went back to the cinema and saw it two more times, before I wrote a review. Though I have seen it many other times since then, today I do not recall every detail. Nevertheless I remember its story dealt with three women whose solidarity allows them to survive in a world dominated by insensitive men. Two of these women move the story, the third one does not have a direct influence on the events, but she is a key figure. There is no puzzle here, no enigma to decipher. It may be based on Robert Altman's dream, it may have a dream sequence, but it is quite linear and direct, with little relation to dreams' structure (or lack of it). I say this today but after finding my review in my files, I think it's ironic and makes me laugh at myself. By 1977 I had not read Susan Sontag's "Against Interpretation" yet and I was trying to decipher what the butter meant in "Last Tango in Paris". But I must admit that I find interesting some of the research I did and a few interpretations I made. I found then various leitmotivs in the movie: first, the grotesquely erotic murals painted and shot at by Willie (Janice Rule), that illustrate the oppressive situation of woman in phallocratic societies; water, which (according to French philosopher Dane Rudhyar) stands for collective consciousness and astral world, a symbol that for me tacitly connected the three women (and that has played an important role in other Altman films: "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", "Streamers", "Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean", "The Gingerbread Man", "Dr. T & the Women", frozen in "Quintet", and even in "HealtH", "Popeye" and "O.C. and Stiggs"); the image of twins Peggy and Polly, duplicated in Alcira and Doris, mirroring the Millie-Pinky duplicity; and the clinic, as a metaphor of social and moral decay while its members attempt at efficiency. It may sound crazy but I even made a connection between the pool of the boarding house (owned by Willie) and a woman's womb (Willie's), where the temporary symbiosis of Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) into Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall) takes place. Today I consider all these more hints than cryptic data, and sometimes they are even too obvious –as the line when Millie says something like "Sometimes Peggy can be Polly, and Polly can be Peggy", gun-crazy Edgar as a symbol of sexual inadequacy and male authoritarianism, and the delivery of the dead child as a metaphor of the sterility of this kind of relationship between men and women. As I remember it today, it is a sad story of female bonding as a means of survival in a consumerist society, narrated in a beautiful cinematic style, with remarkable performances by all. (Funny, although Duvall had won the Best Actress Palm d'Or in Cannes, in my review the one who impressed me the most was Rule, because she was able to transmit so much with less than a dozen of lines). By far, it's my favorite Robert Altman movie and one of his masterpieces.
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3 WOMEN (Robert Altman, 1977) ***
MARIO GAUCI4 July 2008
I’ve had the Criterion DVD of this for quite some time before I finally managed to sit down and watch it. The film came at the tail-end of director Altman’s most creative period, and it’s not one that can be easily categorized – much like his earlier (and equally demanding) IMAGES (1972); incidentally, both are original screenplays by Altman himself and are essentially dream-like and rambling, thus leaving room for (respectively) various interpretations and much improvisation.

Anyway, the ‘narrative’ concerns the odd relationship between the titular figures: Sissy Spacek is the inexperienced and reticent type; at her new work-place, an old folks’ home, she meets Shelley Duvall who, on the other hand, is worldly and garrulous – but no less lonely; Janice Rule, then, is a bohemian artist whom they occasionally cross paths with (her strange designs adorn the floor of the pool at the apartment house where the other two live). For the first 90 minutes or so, there’s hardly any plot: we see Spacek and Duvall at their work routine (where they’re pretty much ignored by their co-workers), then bonding when the former moves in with the latter (again, their neighbors aren’t very friendly), and occasionally visiting the bar out in the desert (complete with motor-track and shooting-range) owned by Rule and her husband. Eventually, however, the two grow apart as Duvall begins to find Spacek’s maladroit ways a nuisance – the last straw is reached when Duvall comes home with Rule’s husband on her arms and unceremoniously shifts Spacek into the guest room: the latter takes this dismissal badly and attempts suicide in the pool!

It’s here that the film really starts to get weird: when Spacek finally comes to, she’s a totally different person – assertive and sensual, she basically takes up the characteristics that had previously been Duvall’s, by which the latter is confused and becomes the one to feel awkward! Nevertheless, she tries to help by sending for Spacek’s parents in Texas so that they can be near her: however, her room-mate doesn’t appreciate the gesture as, apparently, being struck by temporary amnesia, she claims not to know them! Later, Rule’s husband turns up once again at their apartment – having deserted his pregnant wife; Duvall, however, grabs Spacek and goes to Rule’s aid – Duvall asks Spacek to fetch a doctor, but the latter seems dumb-founded by all of this…so that the baby emerges still-born! Following this is a quite extraordinary surreal dream sequence, which leads us into the finale – where Spacek is tending bar at Rule’s place: when a patron appears, she calls on to her mother Duvall(!); it transpires that the latter is taking care of Spacek and Rule who, for some reason, seem to have regressed to a child-like state!

The script provides an interesting analogy between the protagonists’ character names: Spacek, called Pinky throughout, is really named Mildred; Duvall is Millie, which is short for Mildred; while Rule’s character is referred to as Willie (probably a diminutive of Wilhelmina) and which, of course, rhymes with Millie! Incidentally, the presence of the twins (co-workers of Spacek and Duvall) anticipates the film’s later personality switch a' la PERSONA (1966) and PERFORMANCE (1970). Comedy, though of the neurotic kind one usually associates with Woody Allen, is present during the course of the film – such as the neighbor Duvall fancies but whom she rejects due to his persistent flu, and ex-film director John Cromwell’s appearance as Spacek’s senile father. While the general apathy shown towards Spacek and Duvall also raises a nervous chuckle, it seems exaggerated to me – for instance, after Spacek’s spell in hospital, Duvall asks her superiors if she can come back to work…but they maintain to not even recall her (though, admittedly, this ties up with Spacek’s own earlier ‘rejection’ of her parents)! Despite the emphasis Altman places on the murals (painted by one Bodhi Wind), no explanation is given regarding their harrowing nature other than the fact that they’re the handiwork of the eccentric Rule, so that their point remains obscure to the last.

I would’ve liked to listen to Atman’s accompanying Audio Commentary – however, as I’ve explained elsewhere, I’ve been forced to by-pass such lengthy supplements for the time being…and, in any case, from past experience I’d say that his observations seemed to be just as aloof as the films themselves!
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I just don't get it. I feel like I should, but I just don't.
chersull_9923 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I picked up this DVD from the public library, mainly because it is part of the Criterion Collection, which usually represents pretty good films. But egads! I'm sorry, but adding spastic flute music and very, VERY long fades of bad art work do not a good movie make. It just drrrrraaaaaaggggggggggggggggggged, and I felt like Robert Altman was thinking, let's make the worst movie we can, add some unbelievably pretentious and overblown "arty" elements to it, and see how many sheep out there we can get to say "oooooooo, wow, it's AMAZING! So cutting edge. So cryptic." Guys....it's awful! I usually can live without violence in movies, but when Spacek did a header into the pool, I cheered out loud. However, what followed seemed like an hour of hospital room coma scenes and I thought, my GOD, it has to get better. And that's what kept me watching, as I think is the case with many folks out there. We need to just find the ability to chuckle at ourselves a bit and say "ok, Altman got me on this one." Don't watch it again and again, searching for the meaning in it all. In the literature included with the DVD there is a statement, something like, "It was Altman's goal to shoot the entire movie with no screenplay." That explains why we see, literally 45 seconds of footage of a person walking from a car into a bar. Just walking. Nothing's going to fall on his head. Nothing's going to happen. He's just walking. Still walking. Anyway, if you want to watch a good movie about dysfunctional relationships and women, rent "The Hours".
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Case of mistaken identity
sunznc6 February 2007
This is exactly what the film is about. Someone who doesn't really know who they are-yet. Someone who is desperately seeking someone to pattern their life after. Who is your inspiration? Who is your idol? If you have no one and are in an area where there are few inspiring people then you pick the least threatening. And this is sort of what the story is about. Someone who is a blank slate and looking to fill in the space. Excellent film! I've watched it probably 50 times in my life. It is fascinating with low key performances by Sissy Spacek and Shelly Duval.

Watch it!!
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Altman's commentary is riveting
jungophile20 April 2005
I don't feel I can add anything to the excellent commentary by the other reviewers for "3 Women"; I just want to urge film lovers of all stripes to check out Altman't commentary on the Criterion DVD. In the liner notes, they refer to it as "wide-ranging;" it IS that, and expansive, too. It is almost as if Altman was saying to himself, "Well, I'm not going to be around much longer, so I am going to speak my peace about how I feel about film-making and let it all hang out". For the true aficionado, this is as good as it gets. You'll want to savor it in chunks it is so thought-provoking. Not only does Altman reveal all the hidden meanings of the film, he explains at length (with copious examples) the philosophy of his art. It shed light on my previous encounters with Altman's "difficult" style; highly recommended.
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Character study meets Rod Serling
abbywts11 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The first half of the movie is like a quirky character study. This part was intriguing, if strange and cringe-inducing. Millie is a woman who thinks she's in the center of life, but in reality is far from it. In scene after scene she is ignored, or made fun of behind her back. A naive Pinky (whose real name is also Mildred, while Millie is short for Mildred), comes into her life first as workmates, then roommates. Probably due to her limited experience she thinks Millie is just wonderful, while Millie sees her as first a convenience, then a nuisance.

Then, the movie turns into the Twilight Zone. Here's where it all falls apart. After a vulgar browbeating by Millie, Pinky attempts suicide and, possibly due to brain damage from the attempt, changes personality and has problems remembering her past. The new personality is what Millie thinks she is, but this time it's real. A brash, confident, and actually nasty, self-obsessed person-and very popular. In a dream, remnants of Pinky's memory come back to her, and she starts to revert to her former self, or some amalgam of the two personalities. The final scene makes it seem as if the entire episode might have been the dream of the third woman, Willie (get it, the names are so similar, ha ha). Here, Millie is the mother to Pinky, and Willie may be the grandma or Millie's sister. Did it happen? Did they kill Edgar, the ne'er do well who was involved with all three, and just create some alternative family? Who knows. And more importantly, who cares?

I normally don't give any mention to music, unless it's really bad or really good. Here, it's the former. Terrible, spitty flute playing tries to make this seem arty, but is just annoying and out of character for the scenes.

This is an utterly forgettable experience, with no concern whatsoever for any deeper meaning. The acting is the only saving grace here. Shelley Duvall is both pathetic and creepy, while strangely engaging. Sissy Spacek really makes the character shine with tiny expressions that convey very well. She's believable both as a simpleton and a sophisticate. It is original, however, I'll give it that. Overall, unsatisfying and irrelevant.
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Watch it for Spacek and Duvall, forget the rest
bmacv7 January 2002
Revisiting Robert Altman's 3 Women a quarter-century after its release is more than an exercise in nostalgia. The movie's worst faults -- its oneiric aimlessness, its pretensions toward some sort of feminist metaphysics -- seem really not to matter that much. And its best parts -- Shelly Duvall and Sissy Spacek and the interplay between them -- have stayed fresh as new paint. Has either of these actresses ever surpassed the natural, intuitive work Altman here inspired them to produce? These two-girls-sharing cook up a relationship as messy and powerful as lovers.

Duvall, the clueless airhead who nonetheless gives herself airs, discovers an almost aching pathos when she finds Spacek slipping away from her. The ingrown, dependent Spacek seems to have been raised in a colony of sponges; when she starts reddening her lips and nails, and returning Duvall's haughty contempt, she's frightening and feral. Sharp as the comedy in 3 Women is, it bespeaks an almost insupportable sadness, so when Altman shifts into the minor mode and commences playing fortissimo, it's redundant, and a miscalculation. He's already shown us all there is to see. The rest is just obscurantist mood-spinning.

Note to film buffs: the actor playing Spacek's elderly dad is John Cromwell (also the bishop in Altman's A Wedding), the director of Dead Reckoning, Caged, and The Racket.
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David Lynch - lesbian sex + an intended meaning.
Polaris_DiB23 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
There are two types of film in the world: those you figure out, and those that take you along in directions you cannot understand initially. This, of course, is the latter (else I wouldn't be mentioning it), a film in which the viewer is not worthy of the first watch and certainly requires a second.

Based on the director's dream, 3 Women is a film about multiple identities and Primal Scene. Two women, played perfectly by Shelly Duvall and Sissy Spacek, struggle desperately for identity while a third, played by Janice Rule, entangles their imaginations with her primal and haunting art. As the women's personalities grow closer and simultaneously conflict with each other's developing personalities, the loud and noisy world of men begins to lose its necessity for their existence, and they begin to violently reject it, only in the most subconscious way.

This is a film for symbolism. Colors, water, desert, advertising, everything is used for multiple, layered effect. Nothing is supposed to be taken merely by face value, and indeed it can't, because afterall, the haunting rhythm of the soundtrack will keep the viewer's heart racing even when it seems nothing particularly sinister is on the screen.

Definitely a film for people who get into weird, abstract cinema and deep, didactic exposition.

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