Joe Badon is an independent filmmaker based in New Orleans who made one of the most mind expanding films of recent years with the brilliantly insane film “Sister Tempest (2020).” “Sister Tempest” was a brilliant masterpiece of surrealistic cinema that was like a cross between John Waters and David Lynch. Badon’s debut film “The God Inside My Ear (2018)” was equally bonkers. Now, Badon’s back with the wonderfully weird film “The Wheel of Heaven.”

“The Wheel of Heaven” is a five part miniseries that makes up one film. It is structured as a sort of 1960s style Christmas television special, opening with a prologue involving dinosaurs and a creepy television host called Uncle Bobbo (Vincent Stalba), and intercut throughout with clever television commercial segments. The central protagonist of “The Wheel of Heaven” is an auto mechanic named Marge Corn (Kali Russell), whose story is told through multiple characters in a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure narrative structure, cutting back and forth between various alternate characters and storylines, with Russell playing all the multiple manifestations of Marge’s characters.

Among the characters that Russell plays are the captain of an intergalactic spaceship doing battle with Doctor Universe (Jeff Pearson), and a damsel in distress in a 1950’s style horror film, where she is being pursued by her evil twin in the guise of Santa Clause, and later by a perverted vampire. As crazy as this plot synopsis sounds, it gets even stranger when one starts to examine the construction of Badon’s smorgasbord of creative anarchy.

Throughout “The Wheel of Heaven,” Badon continuously breaks the fourth wall of the narrative, bringing us into a Godardian behind the scenes pastiche of a benign looking filmmaker (Joe Badon himself) giving directions to his obliging cast and crew. Although Badon has a friendly Mr. Rogers’-like appearance in these scenes, his normal exterior hides a wacky, unhinged mind. This eccentricity is best revealed in the brilliantly insane line-readings of Marge in her spaceship, as her bug-eyed and manic appearance makes her look like she’s channeling the spirit of William Shatner while he’s high on crack. We also see Marge being berated by her boss at the auto shop she works at to stop smoking, while he continuously comments on her breasts.

With the labyrinthine plot of “The Wheel of Heaven,” Badon wrangles his love of horror films, surrealism, and campy science fiction television shows and films from the 1950s and 1960s into the fragmented structure of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The result is a wildly exhilarating ride through the mind of a truly unique cinematic mind. The cinematic influences of “The Wheel of Heaven” are wildly diverse, with the intergalactic spaceship scenes resembling “Star Trek” on acid, a brief but memorable homage to David Lynch’s “Inland Empire,” and a deranged costume party reminiscent of the equally insane party scene from Macoto Tezuka’s “The Legend of the Stardust Brothers.”

“The Wheel of Heaven” is best appreciated if one doesn’t try to view it through the lens of logic and traditional narrative film expectations. Yes, there is a coherent story within the seemingly chaotic, multiple narratives of “The Wheel of Heaven,” but Badon isn’t here to comfort and spoon-feed the viewer. Like the best works of art, one has to let go of preconceived notions of cinematic perception when watching “The Wheel of Heaven,” and learn to view film from a new perspective.

What Badon is trying to accomplish with his Choose Your Own Adventure-like, fragmented narrative is to replicate the irrational, free-flowing nature of the dream-state. When one dreams, you are liberated from the confines of the everyday world, and allowed to transcend the limits of space and time; it is this boundless state of being that Badon is recreating in his exhilarating film. If the viewer is willing to open up their minds, they will be in for one heck of a wildly liberating ride with “The Wheel of Heaven.”



  • Film Review: "The Wheel of Heaven"