Tarnation (2003)

Unrated  |   |  Documentary, Biography  |  10 November 2004 (France)
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 5,611 users   Metascore: 87/100
Reviews: 114 user | 72 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.


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


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


Your greatest creation is the life you lead


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Release Date:

10 November 2004 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Kolastirio  »

Box Office


$218 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

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


$592,014 (USA) (27 May 2005)

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


It cost $218 to make but the budget rose to $400,000, once music and video clip royalties were included. See more »


[first lines]
Renee Leblanc: [singing] This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
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Features Heat (1972) See more »


Sesame Street Theme
Written by Joe Raposo, Jon Stone and Bruce Hart
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User Reviews

Lost in Tarnation
17 November 2004 | by (Paris) – See all my reviews

Tarnation is a neologism made from the words tarnished and damnation; that is also the name of a band. The trailer was disturbing and especially the tagline "this movie has saved my life". There is a lot of teenagers who are writing a diary and that is a bit surprising that this kind of movie has never be done before. I'm sure many people have made some kind of patchwork (photos, drawings, movies etc) but the work of Caouette is different. J Caouette had a plan : he wanted to be a director and this plot makes all the difference. This film is not kinky, is not defending Gay and Lesbian cause, is not a documentary about schizophrenia even if all that stuff are a part of the essence of the movie. I believe (but maybe I an wrong) that J Caouette wants to tell his own story of a boy who are fascinated by cinema. I loved this movie because many things had bounced in my heart during the screening. I am not gay, I don't want to work in the cinema business, my parents are not mentally insane but I understand the feelings of Caouette because all teenager has got pain in his heart : shame, fear, anxiety, neither an adult and a child etc. So I remembered memories of pain, tears and laughs. I remembered my own life. Tarnation is also a movie which leads hope and happiness to come. The cinematography is awesome, the music is good. Supported by Gus Van Sant and David Lynch, this movie is like a new born for the youg actor, director J Caouette. This man has got the rest of his life ahead. I think he will become a great actor/director. Go see this unique movie even if the first part of the movie is a bit violent and disturbing.

Gaël - Paris - France

my IMDb vote : 8/10

31 of 47 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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