Pretty much everyone has seen the weird girl at school growing up, the kind of loner girl that you catch a sight of trying to indiscreetly (or not so indiscreetly) take sniffs of her underarm or nervously laughing at the boisterous behavior of a group of wild buck Negroes. These peculiar women are usually on an even lower social status level than that of the nerdy guy because at least people try to fuck with geeks guys for the hell of it. Maybe if the ugly girl is lucky, she might catch the fancy of an absurdly ugly sexual deviant who has an interest in defiling her because at least with her, he might be able to get away with whatever he wants. In Robert Altman’s 3 Women one loser girl finds her love while starting a job at a depressing old folks home in the form of another loser girl who is a little more socially ambitious. Sissy Spacek plays Pinky Rose, a nice woman-girl who seems very excited about the thought of actually having a female friend. Shelley Duvall plays Millie, the object of Pinky Rose’s social desire. Throughout the film, Pinky Rose starts turning into Millie (in character), making for one creature-like union.
The third woman in 3 Women is a bizarre freak of a woman who paints fantastic murals in a small abandoned desert community. Despite her lack of character and speech in the film, her sometimes monstrous and grotesque paintings radiate a certain atmosphere that emotionally drives the film. Millie instantly takes a liking to the third woman after seeing her artwork which angers the pseudo-pretentious Pinky Rose. By the end of 3 Women all 3 women become one. Unsurprisingly, the often ambiguous Robert Altman has no concrete meaning for the end of the film. 3 Women has been compared to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona for good reason, for both films express a sort of naturalistic horror in the form of females interacting emotionally and unconsciously becoming one in a way. With 3 Women, no one can argue that Robert Altman never made a great horror flick.
Robert Altman made a lot of great films with a lot great acting performances which makes it unfortunate that he is best known for MASH. A film like 3 Women makes MASH look glaringly like the laughably overrated cynical anti-war romp that it is. 3 Women will mostly leave (for better or for worse) a feeling of disgust on the viewer when the film is over, but that sort of disgust is what makes one remember the emotional power of cinema. Even after having nightmares featuring Shelley Duvall in the nude not long after seeing 3 Women, I still feel that I invested my time wisely in viewing the film.