Braid is likely the wildest horror movie you have never heard of. From first-time director Mitzi Peirone, Braid is a girly-hued bit of psychological madness. It is a ridiculous deep dive into the very weird and disturbed and a hyper-smart peek behind the curtain of femininity. A stylized jolt to the senses, this is one ambiguous film that makes you appreciate the headache you get from watching it.
Two women who clearly live on the shifting sands of society’s fringe Tilda(Sarah Hay) and Petula(Imogen Waterhouse), decide to visit old childhood friend Daphne(Madeline Brewer) in hopes of stealing her fortune to avoid a desperate situation. The rub is that to steal said funds, they must “play” Daphne’s game. It’s nonstop insanity almost from the first word, and Peirone’s obsessive focus on the unnatural drives the feeling of confusion and panic that permeates the film. Colored in too bright, too saturated, technicolor freakiness, it is a murderous unicorn you can’t help but stare at. Braid is as much a drug-fueled psychotic fantasy world as it is Ari Aster’s Midsommar minus the humor. That’s not to say the film needs it, just that this is a profoundly unsettling movie with a lot to say.
The ending of Braid explained
The biggest question all viewers are left with at the end beside, “WTF did I just watch?” is “What was real?” This question has many answers, each with its own merits. The bigger issue can be subdivided into several smaller quandaries. Are the girls themselves all real? Are the events we saw play out in gory detail real? Is the entire “game” a fantasy? To ascertain those answers look only at the rich symbolism in the girl’s roles, fully implemented colors and textures of the great house and the message behind even the rigid rules and torture of the game itself.
The game is complex in its simplicity. A mesmerizing funhouse Hall of Mirrors where every turn is designed to circle you back. It is designed with no real way out. With only three basic rules, it stands to reason the game should be played linearly with a straightforward conclusion. Those rules are both the structure of the game and the web that ensnares the girls. Unfortunately, the simplicity is a false flag for the game’s complexity. It can’t be won, and no one ever leaves.
1. Everyone Must Play
2. No Outsiders Allowed
3. Nobody Leaves
Through questionable flashbacks that may be memories or dreams, the three girls are all seen playing this same role-play game as young girls. Each girl has a part they play, with Tilda playing the daughter, Daphne the mother, and Petula the doctor/father figure. The girls rarely deviate from their assigned roles. Despite Tilda not liking to play the part of the child, she always does it. She often has to endure cruel and unfair punishment while Daphne gets to mete out justice as she sees fit.
As the dream/memory progresses over the course of Braid, an accident causes Daphne to fall out of the treehouse the girls play in. Notice the use of the word fall and not pushed as the sequence shows. To fully embrace this movie is to accept that there is only one woman who is either in a coma, in purgatory, or alone in the house and her psychosis. More on this later. The strict rules of the game are such that they isolate the girls from the outside world and ensnare them in their world of masochism. As the young women start to play the game again years later they assume their same roles with Tilda taking the brunt of the torture.
The Ego, Id, and Superego
Petula could represent the powerful side of the Doctor. As the Ego section of the trio, she is the persona chosen to show the world. It is the job of the Ego to ration fantasy from reality. The Ego controls the other two parts to use them for the best benefit of the whole. The Id and Superego seek control from the Ego just as Tilda and Daphne rebel against Petula as the movie goes on. She is the dominant force in everyday life. She is the clear leader in the relationship with Tilda at the beginning of the film. It is also her the homeless man near the train station says keeps coming back. The other two sides suppress her, but she rises to the top time and again.
The costume she wears as the Doctor is masculine and from another era. She is the dominatrix on the train, and she calls the shots at the beginning of the home invasion. It is interesting to note that Petula plays the Doctor as a man instead of a woman. Daphne’s make-believe world of marriage and child-rearing requires a male figure to play the Doctor.
Children are impulsive and selfish, just as Tilda is. She represents the Id. Sigmund Freud defines the part of our personality as the instinctive side. Whether acting the part or behaving naturally, she is the personality’s unbridled and often impetuous component. Her insolent behavior on the train and instant communication with the detective exhibit that. She has zero filter and no fear of the ramifications of talking to a police officer.
Finally, Daphne is the embodiment of all things feminine. She is the Superego. The Superego seeks perfection and is the moralizing component of the mind. Daphne longs for the ideal family and constantly judges the girls’ behavior both in and out of gameplay. She chooses to wear dated dresses reminiscent of ’60s homemakers, desperately hopes for a child, and assumes her position as homemaker and caregiver to Tilda. Daphne also takes great pleasure in dressing her hostages(dolls) in outfits that convey her traditional beliefs on womanhood. However, she is stunted in her views on feminity. Whether this is because of parents who reinforced that image or because of mental illness we don’t know.
Tilda and Petula are bound together at one point in Braid with their hair braided around each other and down their backs while in highly seductive white clothing. They are literally gagged by a symbol of the female gender while forced to express sexual arousal. These My Little Pony Dolls are literal Barbie Girls living in a Barbie World. The girls’ length of hair was seen many times as being much shorter so it stands to reason the scene was hallucinatory at best.
There is only one girl broken into three parts
Finally, it is distinctly possible there was only ever one girl in Braid. The young girl fell out of the treehouse all those years ago and has remained in a state of mental suspension for all these years. She may be split into three personalities that each war for control and escape. Daphne could have imagined her friend’s Drop Dead Fred-style to combat her lonely existence. Instead, she looked at the statue of three girls entwined in the gazebo and used that as a totem for a perfect group friendship.
As a young girl, she wanted to marry and have a child to care for and be loved by. When the real accident occurred removing her chance at motherhood, it caused a break with reality and the girls became more than imaginary and became a part of her personality. Similar to Identity, the parts make up the sum of her psyche. Everything that happened could also be a fabrication of a dying mind. A St. Elsewhere snow globe if you will. Daphne who looked fairly broken up as she lie bent below the treehouse is in a coma and the entire sequence is in her dream. The final electric synapses of a terminal mind. The final words give the most credence to this theory.
Dream forever – for time in dreams is frozen. Oh yes, sleep, may the night wash us over completely into that new day, into the new world. And may your dreams make your life. Tomorrow. The grave will open wide, when you shatter time’s spell.
It’s all in a child’s mind
Hints to the juvenile mind behind the fantasy are everywhere. A child’s diary written in crayon details the entire drug caper, the paint the girls are using is from the manufacturer Seigel which is the detective’s name, a dollhouse with a train set that runs continuously, the immature manner that adult Daphne makes Tilda’s sandwich, injuries come and go, the bizarre candies and confection meals that are constantly served, the policeman stuffed doll in the playroom, and Ring Around The Rosy being hummed all betray the youth of the imagination behind this world.
Why were two girls left at a hospital without their parents to be questioned by a cop? This would never have happened in reality, but a child’s mind would not know that. The continued stereotypical detective behavior that is all but ripped from every television procedural ever continues this superficial embodiment of police work. When Detective Seigel calls Tilda and Petula dangerous, however, Daphne defends them vigorously as she is defending herself. She needs them to be brilliant and good, or she is condemning herself. It is likely from the conversation between the detective and Daphne that the other two girls never existed and her parents have been trying to remove them since she was young. She is a lonely girl who manifested friends to love her.
Many clues are given about the true nature of the girls and their possible life or death. A grave with three girls lying in it foreshadows the suicides that were symbolic of the personality deaths and game reset. Petula is initially the only one to push the car, but one by one the other girls join and the car moves. This is the joining of the three parts that we witness as the girls in the bubble bath, and later the three suicides. Constant images of the young girls or the adult women in white gowns further emphasize the idea of innocence and angels.
Symbols and numbers in Braid
Symbols are everywhere in this complex movie. The number three, which appears everywhere, from the three neon pink X’s in the first apartment, three sconces on the bedroom wall, and the statue with three women entwined, means all or whole. This lends credence to the theory that the three women are actually the parts of one single woman. The number eight is the ever-changing date on the daily calendar; the train ticket cost is $80.00, and the drugs cost $80,000.00. At one point, Petula says Coco will be back for them in 48 hours, and they have 28 hours to find the safe. The number eight represents regeneration, infinity, and resurrection.
The use of the color green is strategically placed though out. Green symbolizes harmony, growth, and safety which is what Daphne says their home is. The outside world is chaos. In the trippy colorful scene, pink candles are seen in the halls. Magic practitioners believe pink candles can help with anxiety, depression, and self-healing.
Additionally, music plays a key with the song The Great Pretender written by Buck Ram being played in the background of a scene at the home of the detective sneakily pointing at the possibility that the detective is a part that is played as well. The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart is played during the pivotal third act. The opera split into four acts recounts a single day of madness as scheming and machinations occur to prevent love and sex in the palace of Count Almaviva. It continues the story that begins in the Barber of Seville. In the final act, the trickery is revealed just as the final act of Braid reveals its last secrets to the viewer.
The last questions to be answered involve the grandparents. If you believe the theory that there is just one girl, it is possible that the young girl initially invented the other girls as a way to deal with abuse in the house. The bizarre hooks from the ceiling, intense punishments that are part of the game, and remorseful presents of candies and cakes following torture are all possible indications that the young girl’s additional personalities were a result of abuse. The burn scars on Petula could be self-inflicted or further signs of abuse. It is doubtful the reality we see ever existed, so as such, no grandparents were harmed in the making of this movie. It is wish fulfillment at its best.
Braid is an intense feminist take on life, loss, and what it means to be happy. It is a beautifully shot and well-acted puzzler that is worth your time. I look for big things from Peirone in the future. Stream it on Amazon Prime now.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.