A shootout, a retreat, and a holing up of gangsters in their leader's home starts off Guy Maddin's version of the Odyssey. In this instance, that means there's a character named Ulysses and he has to do some stuff to get to his wife. Oh, and there's a cyclops.
In reality, Keyhole is a gangster-ghost-love story about the lives of a house. It is a movie about memories and how the everyday objects around us evoke them. It is about longing, and it is rarely what you think.
Ulysses (Jason Patric) returns to his old home, troupe of straight-outta-noir gangsters in tow, a few gun molls, a captive tied to a chair, and a beautiful blind guide who happens to be drowning. They set up camp in the living room, hoping the cops don't show up, and start fighting amongst themselves. Ulysses needs to find his wife, Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) , who is upstairs somewhere, but his memory is fuzzy. The fact there are ghosts screaming and wandering amongst them is almost secondary.
Meanwhile, Hyacinth is lounging in her bed, with her lover in the corner and her naked father chained to the bedpost, warning of Ulysses' search for her.
The story of Hyacinth and Ulysses' past is slowly narrated to us as the search continues. His blind, drowning guide reminds him of past events so that he can discover which items he must present to his wife to speak with her. He sends his minions out to find these lost artifacts, which he presents at the keyhole of every room he enters. Hyacinth says she will pretend he isn't there, and each door opened reveals another element of their past.
In the meantime, the gangsters downstairs are renovating a room for the boss while simultaneously planning their mutiny against him and rebuilding an electric chair Ulysses' son had built years earlier. Eventually, this all comes together. Of course, nothing is quite as it seems.
Over all of this is Maddin's trademark style. Black and white, changes in media, obfuscated symbolism, and overt, slightly unsettling atypical sexuality are all there as expected. However, Keyhole is, like the house it portrays, a story of layers. Years of memories painted over even older ones. Ancient damage is plastered over and remade again and again. For every person who passes through the doors of a home, the memories are different. Even ghosts have their ghosts that haunt them, and we all react differently to them. Even the perspective we believe we know can change subtly and dramatically. And sometimes, these memories are all that is left behind for us.