A Woman Under the Influence is considered to be one of Cassavete’s masterpieces, winning two Oscar’s nominations, and produced with an extremely low budget, it is a perfect example of what an independent director might want to achieve. It tells the story of a dysfunctional family; it paints us the portrait of a woman going mad and how the people surrounding her can be just as crazy when it comes to dealing with her.
The way Cassavetes displays every character’s experience is very detailed and gut wrenching, to the point when we know it could not possibly be reality, but a psychodrama meant to question the meaning of reality and people’s role in a social setting. The dynamic is very clear, we, as an audience, are meant to question and contrast the difference between the character’s real self and their ideal selves, whether it is their role in the family, in their marriage, as relatives, as men, women, or simple human beings. It takes normal conflicts we could find in any type of relationship and exploits them so they become uncomfortably exponential of what they represent.
We can divide the film in two parts, before Mabel is institutionalized, and when she comes back six months later. She is the center of the conflict in this movie. The one of whom everyone is demanding, and who she herself demands understanding from. The main relationship is centered between her and her husband Nick. She is constantly looking at Nick for approval, for him to define who she is and what she is worth, it is obvious that she will act however he wishes she would act. There is a specific moment when he yells at her “just be yourself”, it makes the audience uncomfortable because we never find out what her true self really is. Is it the submissive wife willing to abide by all of her husbands orders? Is it the woman with the erratic and childish behavior? The moment we come closer to figure out who she is is when she pleads her husband, in front of everyone in the table, to listen to her, to understand, and to stand by her side.
We can be sure that she has self-steam issues and is very insecure, we cannot, however, assume that