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


Jonathan Caouette
9 wins & 12 nominations. See more awards »





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


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

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Your greatest creation is the life you lead


Unrated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


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


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


Features The Bugaloos (1970) See more »


Now Many Times
Written by Oscar Franf, George Soulé and Terry Woodford
Performed by Mavis Staples
See more »

User Reviews

One of the best 5 if not THE best film of the year
9 December 2004 | by jsemoviemanSee all my reviews

Tarnation NR(language, disturbing violent and sexual images) ****/out of 4

Tarnation could possibly be the best film of the year. It is unique, original, disturbing, one of a kind, sad, heartbreaking, powerful, inspiring, and completely mesmerizing.

The film is not for the squeamish because of intense the subject matter, as well as the bizarre images. It is truly remarkable that Jonathan Caouette took his whole life in home video format and narrowed it down to 90 minutes. The editing techniques force the viewer to get sucked into the mind and life of a schizophrenic person.

Being taken through the early days of Caouette is very hard to watch. With a mentally ill mother going through shock treatments, he went from many foster homes to living with his grandparents(mentally ill grandma). Caouette became involved with drugs, cross-dressing, homosexuality, suicide, and film-making...and all this time he had a video camera by his side.

For its $218 budget, its editing being done on iMovie, and its tragic humane story, it's truly a shame that "Tarnation" is another indie film that is really destined to be remember forever and ever.

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Official Sites:

official website





Release Date:

10 November 2004 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

Tarnation See more »


Box Office


$220 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$12,740, 10 October 2004

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby SR


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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