I turned to Daisies the day after the Boston Women’s March. After a day of so many women’s voices and power, it seemed like the time for kick-ass cinema directed and performed by kick-ass women. Probably the best-known scene in Daisies is the disastrous ending feast: after a long hour of energetic onscreen excess, Marie and Marie plow through a picture-perfect banquet, eating like vacuum cleaners as they go down the length of the great table. Their feet crush extravagant pastries. They savor cookies and syrups and then dance through the enormous dining room hoisting great silver plates. They pelt each other with fistfuls of cake, bowl over champagne glasses, and parade through the ruin wrapped in gossamer curtains, high heels puncturing roast birds and delicate swan boats.
Then, the chandelier falls. Suddenly, bombs drop. And the dedication rolls across screen: “To everyone soured by a spoiled patch of lettuce—only!”
Vera Chytilova’s Daisies is a one-of-a-kind extravaganza of a movie: a slew of jump cuts and visual effects and abstraction, a playful milestone of the avant-garde Czech New Wave movement of the 1960s. Daisies follows two teenage girls, both named Marie, as they run rampant through their garish and careless days. The whole of the movie is senseless and smooth and brave: The girls don’t seem to have a real world to inhabit, and while most of the plot is largely only symbolic the two Maries live sweetly and for the most part without consequences. The girls dress provocatively and wear enormous smears of makeup, rocket from scene to scene purely in pursuit of pleasure and don’t fear anything at all. It’s perfect, wild, and brutal.
You are never allowed to get orientated. You only have to rush along with the thrill of a movie whose conventions and boundaries have fallen gleefully by the wayside. The movie is a tumble of scenes loosely linked hand in hand, like the two Maries dancing around an idyllic tree in the film. It’s beautiful and destructive and entirely unapologetic. All its technical tricks on display, with bizarre and unmotivated effects whirling the images on screen out of control.
In short, it’s a delight.
More than that, though, it is a rancorous, striking, and unrepentant film about two young, sexual women taking pleasure in their world—a world seemingly without roots and without obstacles. Remember, this is under Czechoslovakia’s communist government—which eventually banned Daisies for its display of excess and “wanton” behavior. The film also suffers—or benefits from—a barrage of interpretations. Owen Hatherley wrote that “the film could be interpreted easily enough as Stalinist, consumerist, sexist, feminist, or Anarchist, depending on one’s prejudice… More precisely, the director herself described it as being about ‘destruction or the desire to destroy.’”
After the Women’s March, when I retreated to movies starring women and crafted by women, I landed back at Daisies. A world turned on its head felt familiar. At least with Daisies, you could laugh at the mayhem and senselessness contained on the screen. What was unfamiliar, though, was Daisies’ clear and transcendent joy. There’s the sense of having nothing to fear. That joy, after the past two weeks—in a rush of far-right power including the enactment of Trump’s travel ban, feels suddenly like the most surreal part of the movie.
But of course, in the movie, there is definitely something to fear. The threat is always off screen. In the frame, the extravaganza continues. Splendor is everywhere. It’s easy, after enough dizzy and beautiful scenery, to forget the film actually did open with war footage. It closes that way too, the dining room, its desecrated banquet, and the girls all destroyed, either by a falling chandelier or by a barrage of sudden bombs.
2016 fell in love with escapist movies for obvious reasons. There was and still is a lot to escape from. What Daisies shows is, in part, the danger of escapism, as I re-watch it in 2017 with my backpack stocked with accumulating protest signs from rally after rally. Daisies is full of danger—you shouldn’t play with scissors, shouldn’t sit in the open window, shouldn’t steal, shouldn’t cause a violent scene in public. But when the world can’t touch you, as it can’t touch the two Maries, what shouldn’t you do? It’s all wish fulfillment, from beginning to end. That is, from bomb blast to bomb blast.
But the consequences aren’t really erased. The bombs are still going to fall, and the girls are still going to die. The two Maries seem precisely the opposite of all the fear and worry that I’d felt in the Women’s March. My feet were tired, my ears numb, and my gut very tight. Despite all the energy and hope of the day, I still felt powerless. A huge demonstration around the world, and it could all be dismissed in one Tweet. It seemed to make about as much sense as Daisies’ random decisions to change from black and white to color mid-scene.
The girls choose their reality, consuming food and liquor endlessly at restaurants and dinners. There’s a tempting kind of magic about it: you can simply shut out the reality you don’t want to experience. No one else around them lives as carelessly and senselessly as they do: everyone around them seems to beg for order and normalcy. But faced with uncertainty and an undefined sense of crisis, the two Maries simply shut it out.
The Marie’s reality is rather like an echo chamber: it only listens to its own logic. Nothing else penetrates. It’s a privilege we’re all too familiar with today: We curate our news sources via websites and apps, by who we follow on social media, by what we choose to believe is true or dismiss as fake news. We can all inhabit different, self-willed realities—as dissimilar from one another as the Maries’ from those people around them, who the girls frighten and confuse.
After a long day of marching and chanting, of anger and fear, of a determination to change the world around us, it is so easy to think only of looking away and allowing my own life to rush on in its own path until it is personally disrupted. But that’s the domain of those who like to say “let’s wait and see,” which I hear as “he hasn’t done anything to me yet.” And as full of glee and light as Daisies is, it is impossible to ignore the tangled sense of danger around its edges.
The other shoe must surely drop. And in the end, from that other world the girls don’t look at, the bombs do fall.