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Film / Cowards Bend the Knee

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Cowards Bend the Knee—full title, Cowards Bend the Knee, or, The Blue Hands—is a 2003 film by Guy Maddin.

"Guy Maddin" (actually played by actor Darcy Fehr) is a hockey player in Winnipeg in a deliberately vague time setting that appears to be sometime around the Depression. Guy has knocked up his girlfriend, Veronica, so he takes her to a Back-Alley Doctor that operates out of a bordello. The operation is just underway when Guy is distracted by the appearance of gorgeous Meta, who lives at the bordello. Guy leaves with Meta, while Veronica, now abandoned, dies.

Meta uses her feminine charms to enlist Guy in a revenge plot. It seems that Meta's mother Liliom, owner of the bordello, murdered Meta's father Chas. Meta insists that Guy kill Liliom and Liliom's partner in crime, her lover Shaky, who is also Guy's hockey teammate. Further, Meta specifies that Guy must kill Liliom and Shaky with Chas's severed hands, which will be attached to his arms.



  • Back-Alley Doctor: Veronica dies after getting an illegal abortion from a doctor who operates out of Liliom's brothel.
  • Blind People Wear Sunglasses: Meta's blind grandmother wears the standard round, dark sunglasses.
  • Boy Meets Ghoul: After Veronica dies her ghost returns to the bordello. Guy, who has completely forgotten living Veronica, falls in love with Ghost Veronica immediately.
  • Either/Or Title: Cowards Bend the Knee, or, The Blue Hands. Chas's hands were turned blue by the shampoo he uses—the bordello is a hair salon during the day and Chas is a hairdresser.
  • Erotic Eating: The very good-looking Meta attracts Guy's attention when she dips her finger in a bowl of sugar, and then licks it.
  • Fan Disservice: There's a lot of bizarre sexual imagery in Guy Maddin films, but none weirder than this film and the scene where Guy fists Liliom.
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  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: Pretty much literally in the case of Meta, who exposes her lovely breasts for Guy but won't let him touch them until after Guy agrees to the revenge plot and get a hand transplant.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Not one but two homoerotic scenes showing hockey players stark naked in the showers after a game.
  • Police Are Useless: Taken to the extreme in a scene where Guy strangles a police officer to death right in the middle of the squad room, while all the other cops doing paperwork don't even notice.
  • Repeat Cut: Used several times, sometimes for obviously important moments like when Meta swats Guy's hands away from her breasts, and sometimes randomly like when there's a repeated shot of Guy's father shanking his hand after Guy's team wins a game.
  • Retraux: A silent movie shot with grainy 8mm cameras, with title cards for dialogue.
  • Shower Scene: Two different scenes of naked hockey players taking showers.
  • Silence Is Golden: A silent film, complete with title cards.
  • Stylistic Suck: Shot on a budget of $30,000, in black-and-white with crude Super 8 cameras.
  • Title Drop: The ending has a title card in which Maddin Sr. says that the wax museum is filled with hockey players who were cowards, terrified of the responsibility of being husbands and fathers. Then there's a cut to a shot of Guy on one knee, now part of the exhibition.
  • Wax Museum Morgue: It's revealed that the exhibit of wax dummies of Winnipeg Maroons hockey players actually features living hockey players, who appear to have been put in some sort of suspended animation.