Bad Timing is seen in flashback after a traumatic incident sends young American girl Milena Flaherty (Theresa Russell) to an emergency room in Vienna in the wee early hours of the morning with an overdose of prescription drugs which advances into a coma.
Milena was distraught over her stormy relationship with Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel), a doctor of psychology with a jealous streak that has turned dangerous.
When police Inspector Netusil (Harvey Keitel) checks up, he finds evidence suggesting that hours passed between the time that Linden received Milena’s distress call, and when he finally summoned an ambulance. What is the uncooperative Linden hiding?
Director Nic Roeg doesn’t use flashbacks in the normal sense but adapts film grammar to express a flowing state of consciousness. Entire scenes are warped by a character’s subjectivity, and Roeg also elects to change subjective viewpoints when he shows Milena’s backstory with her sad Czechoslovakian husband Stefan Vognic (Denholm Elliott).
Lest we think her a helpless victim in this psychosexual drama, we see Milena toying with Stefan’s affections. She pretends to be concerned when she’s actually amused by her ability to walk away from a man so hopelessly in love with her. Milena cherishes her sexual freedom, whereas Alex Linden is rooted in the need to possess her, to make her exclusively his.
The missing two hours that put Milena’s life in danger reveal the malignancy of this pairing. Bristling at what he thinks is Milena’s manipulation, Alex dawdles before bothering to answer her call for help.
Finding her insensate and helpless, he seizes the opportunity to take from her what he thinks he deserves. The rape scene that follows is as explicit and disturbing as non-porno movies get.
Bad Timing goes beyond normal definitions of what is controversial. Those viewers inclined to see any portrayal of sex as inappropriate will be outraged.
Adding gore to the mix, the graphic emergency-room scenes of Milena’s tracheotomy are potentially more disturbing than the effects in most horror films.
Dr Alex Linden