Women have no wilderness in them,
They are provident instead
Content in the tight hot cell of their hearts
To eat dusty bread.
After filming McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Robert Altman said: "I'm trying to reach toward a picture, I don't think I'll ever succeed but somebody will, a picture that's totally emotional not narrative or intellectual where the audience walks out and can't tell anything about it except what they feel like the impact of a really great painting." Then Altman made Images, a dazzling and mysterious film about a woman living in the twilight zone between reality and unreality.
3 Women is another leg in this ambition filmmaker's journey toward a Liquid Cinema of the Emotions. Altman dreamed the genesis of the storyline: "two girls from Texas, dreaming of the good life, meet in a desert community, come to terms with the undercurrents in their lives and undergo a metamorphosis." The two girls are Millie (Shelley Duvall) and Pinky (Sissy Spacek) who work together at a rehabilitation center for the elderly. They become roommates. Milie is a lonely extrovert (she talks but no one listens) whereas Pinky is a shy pariah (nobody every notes her presence). They both hate tomatoes.
One day Pinky wonders about the twins at work: "Do you think they know which one they are?" After Pinky attempts suicide (Millie rejects her), the two girls reverse roles. Pinky had earlier used Millie's social security number at work as her identification.
The third woman in the film, Willie (Janice Rule), is a middle-aged artist who paints murals on the bottoms of pools. She and her philandering husband (Robert Fortier) own a bar and the motel where Millie and Pinkie live. She is pregnant. In front of the two girls, her child is born dead.
3 Women resides in the netherworld between dreaming and waking. Chuck Rosher's cinematography is graceful. Gerald Busby's music is ethereal; and Bodhi Wind's murals are basic as the film's intriguing hieroglyphics. The performances by Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Janice Rule teeter-totter like the film as a whole between too mannered and too spontaneous. But in the space between there is room for our emotional response to the film. I feel that Willie, Millie, and Mildred (Pinky's real name) are one. They are part of the wilderness within a creative and frustrated woman who happens to be an artist. She cannot give birth to a baby but her fantasies are proof that she is not content to live only in the hot cell of her heart. And she refuses to eat the dusty bread her husband leaves for her. As I left the theater I had a feeling akin to John Donne's:
Women are like the arts, forced unto none
Open to all searchers, unprized, if unknown