MOVIEmeter
SEE RANK
Up 13,350 this week

Tarnation (2003)

7.2
Your rating:
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 -/10 X  
Ratings: 7.2/10 from 5,275 users   Metascore: 87/100
Reviews: 113 user | 114 critic | 32 from Metacritic.com

Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette's documentary on growing up with his schizophrenic mother -- a mixture of snapshots, Super-8, answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, and more -- culled from 19 years of his life.

Director:

0Check in
0Share...

User Lists

Related lists from IMDb users

a list of 29 titles
created 28 Sep 2010
 
a list of 35 titles
created 26 Jun 2011
 
a list of 31 titles
created 15 Sep 2011
 
a list of 37 titles
created 09 May 2012
 
a list of 32 titles
created 7 months ago
 

Connect with IMDb


Share this Rating

Title: Tarnation (2003)

Tarnation (2003) on IMDb 7.2/10

Want to share IMDb's rating on your own site? Use the HTML below.

Take The Quiz!

Test your knowledge of Tarnation.
9 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »

Videos

Photos

Learn more

People who liked this also liked... 

Spellbound (2002)
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

Spellbound follows eight teenagers on their quest to win the 1999 National Spelling Bee.

Director: Jeffrey Blitz
Stars: Angela Arenivar, Ubaldo Arenivar, Jorge Arenivar
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

A documentary on Al Gore's campaign to make the issue of global warming a recognized problem worldwide.

Director: Davis Guggenheim
Stars: Al Gore, Billy West, George Bush
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

Film-maker Werner Herzog travels to the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, looking to capture the continent's beauty and investigate the characters living there.

Director: Werner Herzog
Stars: Werner Herzog, Scott Rowland, Stefan Pashov
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

About a filmmaker not only revisiting, but also recreating (not in a conventional sense) one of his first films, The Perfect Human / Det perfekte menneske (1967)

Directors: Jørgen Leth, Lars von Trier
Stars: Claus Nissen, Majken Algren Nielsen, Daniel Hernandez Rodriguez
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

Two documentary filmmakers chronicle their time in Sonagchi, Calcutta and the relationships they developed with children of prostitutes who work the city's notorious red light district.

Directors: Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman
Stars: Kochi, Avijit Halder, Shanti Das
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

Kirby Dick's exposé about the American movie ratings board.

Director: Kirby Dick
Stars: Kirby Dick, Kimberly Peirce, Darren Aronofsky
Food, Inc. (2008)
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

An unflattering look inside America's corporate controlled food industry.

Director: Robert Kenner
Stars: Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Richard Lobb
Documentary | History | War
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

The remarkable story of The Weather Underground, radical activists of the 1970s, and of radical politics at its best and most disastrous.

Directors: Sam Green, Bill Siegel
Stars: Lili Taylor, Pamela Z, Jim Lange
The Imposter (2012)
Documentary | Biography
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  

A documentary centered on a young Frenchman who claims to a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son who has been missing for 3 years.

Director: Bart Layton
Stars: Adam O'Brian, Anna Ruben, Cathy Dresbach
The Cove (2009)
Documentary | Crime
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  

Using state-of-the-art equipment, a group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry, infiltrate a cove near Taijii, Japan to expose both a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health.

Director: Louie Psihoyos
Stars: Richard O'Barry, Louie Psihoyos, Hardy Jones
Control Room (2004)
Documentary
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

A documentary on perception of the United States's war with Iraq, with an emphasis on Al Jazeera's coverage.

Director: Jehane Noujaim
Stars: Samir Khader, Josh Rushing, George W. Bush
The Yes Men (2003)
Documentary | Comedy
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

Anti-corporate activists travel from conference to conference, impersonating member of the World Trade Organization.

Directors: Dan Ollman, Sarah Price, and 1 more credit »
Stars: Andreas Bichlbauer, Mike Bonanno, Andy Bichlbaum
Edit

Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Renee Leblanc ...
Herself
...
Himself
Adolph Davis ...
Himself
Rosemary Davis ...
Herself
David Sanin Paz ...
Himself
Joshua Williams ...
Himself
Michael Cox ...
David Leblanc ...
Himself
Stacey Mowery ...
Herself
Michael Mouton ...
Himself
Greg Ayres ...
Himself (as Bam-Bam)
Vanda Stovall ...
Herself
Dagon James ...
Himself
Vivian Kalinov ...
Herself (as Girl in Student Film)
Steve Caouette ...
Himself
Edit

Storyline

Part documentary, part narrative fiction, part home movie, and part acid trip. A psychedelic whirlwind of snapshots, Super-8 home movies, old answering machine messages, video diaries, early short films, snippets of '80s pop culture, and dramatic reenactments to create an epic portrait of an American family travesty. The story begins in 2003 when Jonathan learns that his schizophrenic mother, Renee, has overdosed on her lithium medication. He is catapulted back into his real and horrifying family legacy of rape, abandonment, promiscuity, drug addiction, child abuse, and psychosis. As he grows up on camera, he finds the escapist balm of musical theater and B horror flicks and reconnects to life through a queer chosen family. Then a look into the future shows Jonathan as he confronts the symbiotic and almost unbearable love he shares with his beautiful and tragically damaged mother. Written by Sujit R. Varma

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Your greatest creation is the life you lead


Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »
Edit

Details

Official Sites:

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

10 November 2004 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Tarnation  »

Box Office

Budget:

$218 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$12,740 (USA) (8 October 2004)

Gross:

$592,014 (USA) (27 May 2005)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

|

Sound Mix:

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
Edit

Did You Know?

Trivia

The original cut of the film ran over 2 hrs. and 40 minutes long. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Renee Leblanc: [singing] This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
See more »

Connections

Features Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971) See more »

Soundtracks

The Ballad of Lucy Jordan
Written by Shel Siverstein
Performed by Marianne Faithfull
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.

User Reviews

 
Tarnation: Entirely Selfish Waffle

Recommended by a friend as an interesting look at an odd character, I came to Tarnation not sure of what to expect. Reviewers' opinions seemed divided, classifying it as some sort of an experimental documentary. Always on the lookout for something new and original, I was hoping for the best.

Discovering that his mentally unwell mother has overdosed on lithium, Jonathan Caouette journeys back through the lifetime of home video he has shot, reconstructing and reevaluating the unusual story of his life and that of his family.

Beginning with the aforementioned discovery before turning back the clock and examining Caouette's life from conception to present, Tarnation presents a comprehensive life portrait of its subject, as documented by that very same subject. Therein, one supposes, lies the problem. The first thirty minutes of the film, taking us up to Caouette's mid-teenage years, exhibit immediately the experimental nature of it all: rapid-pace, elliptical editing; expressionistic usage of music. A collection of images and videos supplemented with multi-coloured captions informs us of the difficult early life of Caouette and his single mother, a woman deeply affected by electroshock therapy in her youth. The way in which the footage and pictures are combined is a testament to the darkness of childhood, be it jaded by misfortune or not. We are given an intimate glance into the psyche of youth: the fears, anguishes, and weaknesses which characterise it. For as long as this lasts, the film is entirely captivating and alarmingly disquieting, a fascinating examination of mental trauma and the effect it has upon us in our formative years. Once we exit his childhood, however, we begin to see Caouette and his film for what they really are. Fortunately for him, he escapes childhood relatively unscathed, a perfectly normal and functional person, his fate far removed from the sad one accorded his mother, herself left to a life of wild mood swings and delusional paranoia. The film has been publicised as a chronicle of this mother-son relationship "torn apart by dysfunction and reunited through the power of love", but in actuality Caouette's mother is a secondary character. We do not see how these people join together to form a family despite their problems. We do not see an inquisition into the causes and effects of mental illness. We do not see the depth and darkness suggested by the first half hour. What we do see, in abundance, is further footage of Caouette dancing, making faces, setting up cameras, looking at cameras, watching things, and occasionally taking out his genitals. It is a steep drop from the intelligent and almost moving beginning of the film to the self-serving, self-involved, entirely selfish waffle that follows. It's not awful, and the film has the sense to conclude with something of a meaningful moment, but there are no fewer than forty-five minutes of nonsense; of Caouette showing himself off for the camera. I take offence to being lured into a film under the pretense of exploring a serious issue and being faced instead with an average adult showing me all his home videos. Why should this interest me anymore than anyone else's life? Because his mother has mental issues? Her only purpose is to show how difficult Caouette's life can be, and his fears of what he might one day become. He employs his mother's illness as an excuse to have us listen to his life story, and I for one find that shameful.

Faltering tremendously after its first thirty minutes, Tarnation does at least start strong, promising an intimate portrait of the psychological impact of a traumatic upbringing and the implications of dealing with familial mental health problems. It descends all too readily into an ego-inflammatory adulation of its subject—perhaps unsurprising, given that filmmaker and subject are one and the same. The best recommendation I can give is to turn it off after thirty minutes and pretend it's a short, because those thirty minutes exhibit interesting, harrowing, well-made, and well-worthy documentary filmmaking.


5 of 8 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

Message Boards

Recent Posts
How Far Did You Get Before You Turned Off? leopoldfrank
MUSIC IN TARNATION cinevore-team
Smoke And Mirrors, He Should Be Ashamed of Himself johnathan_dempsey
too hard on his grandparents? teejay6682
Distribution nikki1467
Masterpiece StruttingRooster
Discuss Tarnation (2003) on the IMDb message boards »

Contribute to This Page