Tilda Swinton in Erick Zonac's 'Julia' (Magnolia Pictures)

If an alcoholic wreck ever looks you in the eye and says, "Trust me," one word of advice: Don't, especially if her name is Julia Harris. Even if that clear-eyed glint appears genuinely sincere, and a wave of empathy impulsively washes over you for the magnificent woman who may still be residing deep within her soul, try to resist, because Julia will let you down every single time, the same way she's let herself down for her entire life.

Of course, when Julia is careening out of control in the person of Tilda Swinton, it's a much dicier proposition to turn your back on her. Swinton gives another odd, strangely magnetic performance in Julia, directed by Erick Zonca (The Dreamlife of Angels), which opened yesterday in New York. She's alternately a repulsive leech and a charming sexual creature, driven by her primal desires. She resembles a giant bug with corrosive acid running through her veins, like the Queen in Aliens; instead of defending her young, she's defending herself and her own warped view of priorities.

"Wreck" is an apt description for her character: her physical appearance is ravaged by neglect and alcoholism; her mental capacity is damaged to the point she can barely think straight; and her emotional stability is fried as though she were in a high-speed collision, bleeding out on the highway with all her parts scattered to the wind.

So why does she inspire such a strong impulse to embrace her warmly?