In the back story Lady Port-Huntley cheated on Fyodor with Chester and lost her legs as the result of a car accident that happened when she was going down on Chester while he was driving and Fyodor stepped into the road. Fyodor, drunkenly seeing double, pulled out his hacksaw to operate on the roadside and removed the wrong leg. Currently, in 1933, Chester has shown up in Winnipeg with the amnesiac Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros) who doesn't remember her marriage to Roderick and who wanders around following the promptings of her tapeworm.
I could go on, but this probably gives you a sense of how deranged the story is. The movie is not, however, an escape from narrative logic, a descent into deeper compulsions and obsessions, as David Lynch's movies are. It's an amplified simulacrum of corny old-Hollywood family dramas overwritten and acted with no investment in its own credibility. McKinney, a graduate of The Kids in the Hall comedy troupe, in particular, announces every line as if reading it off a poster. There's no attempt at authentic realism.
According to this June 2003 interview in ArtForum, the script by the English novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (author of The Remains of the Day) was a political allegory about the way Third World countries have to present themselves as appealing charity cases in order to get international aid. Thankfully this editorial intent masquerading as a story doesn't come across at all. (The most amusing jab at America is the way Chester hires all the losing countries' musicians for his show so that by the end there's a melting-pot orchestra on the stage.) Believe me, you won't feel lectured to by this movie. Maddin is possibly the giddiest, most accessible of all experimental filmmakers.
It's not that Maddin is an escapist. Elsewhere in the ArtForum interview he says of the (shopworn) amnesia device:
Forgetfulness is a kind of anesthetic for the painful life we all live. We're forced constantly to think about the shameful things we've done, the painful things that have happened to us. We owe most of the feelings we have, as sensate beings, to shoddy memories. The sheer erratic nature of memory keeps life a Luna Park.
The movie is full of "painful" family conflict and shocking action, and Maddin knows how to ride the drama up and down these peaks. I actually gasped at Chester and Lady Port-Huntley's final encounter, but at the same time the movie stays true to Maddin's claim, "I just try and put things into forms that will be fun, and if anything, it feels just too good to blurt out the truth."