Chemical Wedding was the second directorial outing for Julian Doyle, better known as a second-unit director and editor who worked on the various Monty Python films and on films individually directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. Doyle has directed and written two other films Love Potion (1987), a Gothic horror set in a drug rehab program, and Twilight of the Gods (2013), which has a similar plot to Chemical Wedding and features the ghost of Richard Wagner, although neither of these are widely available. The name that caused me to do a massive double take was co-writer Bruce Dickinson who is none other than the lead singer of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden. The film comes with such a well-read and academically literate range of references that I had to first check out it was not someone else with the same name but then realised I was making assumptions about something a heavy metal bandsman would write.
Chemical Wedding is a film that quickly boggles the mind. We have an intro set in 1947 where we meet an aging but still rancorous Crowley (played by John Shrapnel who looks surprisingly similar to the real Crowley). The film then bewilderingly leaps forward in time to present-day Cambridge into the midst of quantum physics experiments, prototypic virtual reality experiments, secret Freemason conspiracies and general all-around lunacy. There is also Simon Callow who lets all stops go playing an academic known as Oliver Haddo, which was the name given to the black sorcerer that was based on Crowley in the classic silent film The Magician (1926). (Many of the characters throughout the film are named after Crowley associates).
A good many audiences hated Chemical Wedding, I can understand why but I actually loved its madcap melange of just about every idea under the sun. It seems to spill over with ideas and divergences at every opportunity occult interpretations of Shakespeares A Midsummer Nights Dream (c1595), sly jokes about The Copenhagen Interpretation in physics, an academic tribunal with Simon Callow madly quoting actual Bible verses with less than wholesome interpretations put on them in ways that make your jaw drop, Callow delivering filthy Shakespearean wordplay, references to Mediaeval lovers Abelard and Heloise, even the backdrop of the contested 2000 Florida election between Bush and Gore (which does lead to a cutely sardonic coda playing on the many worlds interpretation in physics). This is one of the first genre scripts I have watched in some time that readily communicates its sheer intelligence and the pleasure it takes in showing it actually reads history and all manner of other topics. It does come off somewhat as the equivalent of a mad conspiracy theorist finding secret interpretations in everything you can name but the results are entirely pleasurable up against the majority of utterly processed genre material that gets reviewed on this site.
Some of this eventually starts to overbalance into nutty plotting like the idea that a Virtual Reality simulation can somehow open up quantum realms exactly what it does is unclear, although Simon Callows professor returns from the astral plane possessed by Crowleys spirit, while the climax somehow involves Kal Webber opening a black hole in Virtual Reality and being able to physically teleport through it. Simon Callow dominates the show with an outrageously over-the-top performance be it he urinating on his students or seemingly doing an Oscar Wilde strutting about town dressed in a purple velvet suit and conducting liaisons with men in public bathrooms. The most entertainingly over the top scene is one where he is beaten with a stick by Jud Charlton at the same time as chanting a ritual and jerking off, which results in a fax emerging in the student newspaper offices covered in jism.
(Nominee for Best Original Screenplay at this sites Best of 2008 Awards).