Raising Cain: What If it Were About Abel?

03/27/2013 4:00 AM |

Raising Cain (1992)
Directed by Brian De Palma
March 29-30 at Nitehawk

After reading about writer/director De Palma’s reservations, it’s impossible to rewatch the theatrical cut of Raising Cain without projecting a divergent supra-narrative onto its already labyrinthine plot. As Peet Gelderblom elaborates in his compelling video essay, De Palma originally intended the film to foreground its female protagonist/lead victim’s perspective. But to make Cain‘s story more linear (and probably comprehensible), De Palma instead begins his story with Carter (John Lithgow), a deeply troubled man that suffers from multiple personality disorder. The movie does however wind up being about Jenny (Lolita Davidovich, wow wow!), Carter’s wife, and her need to love a more stable partner. She assumes that Carter is the lover and provider that Jenny’s new partner Jack (Steven Bauer) appears to be, but he’s not, as is apparent whenever Cain, Carter’s maniacal twin persona, or Carter’s parents (all Lithgow, in one of his best scene-devouring performances), appear.

In light of Gelderblom’s speculative new cut of Raising Cain, you can’t help but wonder: what if De Palma’s film were all about Jenny? This version is striking, though ultimately superfluous. With a number of characteristically teasing references to Psycho, like the sinking of Carter’s family car and psychologist Dr. Lynn Waldheim’s (Frances Sternhagen!) long-winded diagnosis of Carter’s problems, De Palma’s movie becomes about reversals of fortune. Starting with Carter’s story and ending with Jenny’s is an exciting and even essential way to show how crowded the film’s narrative is. Jenny’s story isn’t defined by a singular split personality but rather several hypertrophic splits.