Cathryn (Susannah York) lives in Ireland with her American husband Hugh (René Auberjonois). She's writing a children's book while he's frequently away on business. When he's home, they socialize with their old friend Marcel (Hugh Millais) and his teenage daughter Susannah (Cathryn Harrison).
Any attempt to explain the story beyond that runs into some complications, because this is a major Mind Screw of a film. Cathryn's relationship to reality isn't very close to begin with, and it gets more and more tenuous as the film goes along. For example, she keeps encountering René (Marcel Bozzuffi), an old lover who may or may not be dead. As events grow more tense, Cathryn is forced to confront her personal demons as she finally sorts out reality from hallucination.
Or maybe not.
One of the few films Altman wrote by himself, it remains a little-seen but fascinating curio in his vast filmography.
This film provides examples of:
- Ambiguous Ending: Inverted! It's the ending that's fairly clear: Cathryn killed Hugh. Everything leading up to it, however...
- Fauxlosophic Narration: Cathryn reads from the book she's writing.
- Fun with Homophones: "Hugh" and "you" sound alike, which becomes important.
- Imaginary Friend: Cathryn asks Susannah what she'd do if she didn't have a friend. Susannah says she would just make one up.
- One possible interpretation of the ending is that Susannah was Cathryn's actual imaginary friend when she was younger, and the woman who looks and sounds like Cathryn that confronts Cathryn in the shower is a grown-up Susannah.
- In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: The on-screen title is Robert Altman's Images.
- In the Style of...: Altman readily acknowledged that this film was inspired by the work of Ingmar Bergman.
- Loss of Identity: Going along with her clashing perceptions of reality, Cathryn seems to be unsure of exactly who she is.
- Match Cut: Several, most notably from the shower to the waterfall at the end.
- Mind Screw: Hell, the characters seem perplexed by what's happening; even after the film ends you'll still have lots of questions.
- Motifs: Wind chimes and mirrors.
- Split Personality: Cathryn is gradually revealed to be suffering from one.
- Spiritual Successor:
- To That Cold Day in the Park, and Spiritual Predecessor of 3 Women.
- Graeme Clifford, who edited this film, went on to edit the stylistically similar Don't Look Now.
- Altman later directed the film adaptation of Sam Shepard's Fool for Love, which similarly involves characters who drift between reality and hallucination as they're forced to answer to the chaos in their lives.
- Wham Line: "Not me, Cathryn, not me."