Munchausen (Ari Aster, 2013, USA)

Munchausen is a 2013 short film by Ari Aster. The film begins with a hand-stitched title card that is very reminiscent of the titles in Aster's later feature film Midsommar. We are introduced to a montage of a boy (Liam Aiken) in the middle of packing his childhood room for a package. His mother is played by veteran actress Bonnie Bedelia. As he drives off to the sound of sentimental classic Hollywood music, his mother follows him in an idyllic suburban neighborhood. 

The montage continues with the boy's college picturesque college experience - sports, debate club, etc. The entirely wordless montage culminates with the boys' graduation, and then a wedding proposal to a sweetheart (Rachel Brosnahan). This sickly sweet fantasy has seemed too good to be true from the beginning. And it is. We return to the mother, who has a flashback of poisoning her son's food before he goes off to college - hence providing the name of the film. The style here seems to be taken from 50s melodramas, with vivid colors that seem like something out of a Douglas Sirk film. Veteran character actor Richard Riehle appears as the boy's doctor. The boys' mother's poisoning gets progressively work, and further doctor visits occur. 

The film culminates with the boy's desperate plea, which leads soon after to his death - in a highly dramatic scene. Munchausen is the closest of Aster's early films to reach the kind of operatic intensity we would later see in Hereditary but more specifically in Midsommar. Also like Midsommar, the film takes a rather conventional tale of a mother's love and turns it into something deeply twisted. This sardonic playfulness, with an emotional core, is interesting from a cinematic perspective and shows that Aster had a storytelling talent before he went on to make his two feature films. 



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