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Tarnation (2003)

Unrated  |   |  Documentary, Biography  |  10 November 2004 (France)
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 5,571 users   Metascore: 87/100
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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


Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





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

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

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.
See more »


Features Ciao Manhattan (1972) See more »


Laser Beam
Written by Low
Performed by Low
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User Reviews

art or opinion?
29 July 2004 | by See all my reviews

After reviewing tarnation, I really think that there should of been some sort of biography attempt made by the director in order to explain more clearly. I must agree that this film shows bare emotions to the fullest extent. However, I got something a little different out of it, as I have met and had lengthly conversations with the director, John. I met John through John Cameron Mitchell at an audition in New York. I hung out with him recently in NY when I was visiting JCM as he co produced the flick to begin with.

I felt that the core of the film really lied within ourselves. What could be called everyday family situations where no one is really concerned how they go are essential to life and essential to this story. Many may think that this is a whimsical film about a boy taking care of his schizo mom. These everyday life situations I thought showed more of the human side we all tend to possess. Life may be full of thrill rides, but you have to wait in line to get on them, hence some of these scenes.

Overall, I think what John has created is a film too real for Hollywood and more importantly, more real than everyday life. Most people can't relate to real life as they don't live it themselves. In fact, it was even so for myself (lol). I did feel a little weird myself in the end.

Any movie where the director bares his soul in it's entirety is worth seeing to me.

11 of 21 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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How Far Did You Get Before You Turned Off? leopoldfrank
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