Instead, the film goes on to explore the blurry lines between authorship and exploitation in art. As the theatre troupe prepare their show, Regina shifts the subject matter from a story about prisoners to a devised piece that draws from and reenacts Madeline’s own struggles and relationships. What at first feels like a potentially therapeutic catharsis for the teen quickly descends into queasy appropriation. The title frames Madeline as a sort of Russian doll, full of inner twists and turns that she can’t quite reckon with. As an audience, we’re constantly uncomfortably close to her due to the sounds of breathing and body gurgles, and the way camera veers off to focus on banal details in the same way that eyes do. Sounds of other events or oncoming scenes bleed into the present like memories, as though we’re experiencing the narrative from Madeline’s perspective looking back.
It’s a bold and uncomfortable look at a character and director Josephine Decker’s own creative process, which often hinges on improvisation and real-life details from her collaborators as the basis for her scripts. 'Madeline’s Madeline' may raise more questions than it definitively answers, but it remains an entertaining and experimental piece with strong performances and a wonderfully strange dance sequence as its triumphant climax.