(Film tagline: 'He Was Her Dream And Her Obsession. Her Son... And Her Lover')
This is the film version of Dennis Potter's TV Play, 'Schmoedipus'. Set in small town America, Linda (Theresa Russell) is a bored housewife, neglected by her model-railway enthusiast husband (Christopher Lloyd). In walks Marty (Gary Oldman), a mysterious young man who's travelled all the way from Britain to be reunited with Linda, who he claims is his birth mother. Their relationship becomes increasingly perverse and surreal.
The Freudian kinkery starts before we even see the son as Linda's bedroom is filled with creepy china dolls. She permanently sounds dumb but suddenly has lapses of infantilism where she tries to seduce her husband by speaking in baby talk and calling him 'Daddy', which understandably freaks him out. Marty also speaks in demented baby talk and the Oedipal fantasy begins.
Potter isn't really a plotter; there's quite clearly not a fifteen year age gap between Marty and Linda so there's no doubt that he isn't her son. The flashbacks to Linda’s youth are set in the sixties which doesn’t work with the film’s chronology as it’s ostensibly set in the present day. Things which would be dismissed as lazy or clumsy storytelling in other writers are ‘allowable’ because Potter’s blurring of fantasy and reality enables easy cop-out.
Marty is quite quickly revealed as a product of Linda's imagination so there's little left for him to do but wail like a baby, have toddler tantrums and seduce his mother (all at once). Potter established the 'adults playing children' gimmick in ‘Blue Remembered Hills’, which I haven’t seen but by god it is grating here. Russell hams it up like she’s in a duff Tennessee Williams play with a Southern accent dialled up to 11, but Oldman isn’t exactly subtle. The truth is, for all the cod-psychological interpretations, there isn’t any substance underneath. It’s just people being weird, for the sake of being weird and mad.
The symbolism is clunky and obvious- the toy trains whizzing around on tracks representing Linda’s warped mind, the china dolls, the childhood trauma warped into sexual fantasy- and this, along with Potter’s usual trick of throwing in some retro music (actually one of the best parts as it includes the song ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’, where the film’s title comes from). It could have been an intriguing and disturbing art film, or a funny trashy B-movie, and we get a few glimpses of both possibilities but there's basic screenplay flaws.