All entries for Wednesday 01 March 2006
March 01, 2006
What would people say to the idea that reaching a sufficient interpretation of the film is dependent upon a few pivotal factors: namely, our readings of The Zone/The Room, the Stalker and the daughter (notably at the end)? There are so many conflicting ideas buzzing around in my head regarding each, and I can't help but feel that it's their contradictory elements that negate the ideal of a perfect analysis to complement the film in its entirety.
What exactly does The Room represent? It's stated that it grants our deepest subconscious wish – however, we're also told that this can be as devastating as it is enlightening via the story of Porcupine. It seems to act as an almighty force that exposes our true human nature, possessing an ominous Judgement Day-like aura about it. It’s the embodiment of our innermost desires. Assuming this to work as fact, this would suggest that a pervasive theme of the film is that of self-confrontation. Dare we take the plunge, like Porcupine did? Are we courageous enough to face our true selves? Following this reading, the fact that none of the characters ARE willing to face their true self speaks volumes.
It's at this point that I think we should note that Tarkovsky actually takes his audience beyond an important threshold. Whlist the characters dare not make the metaphorical leap, Tarkovsky's camera glides backwards into what we presume to be The Room at a crucial moment. Is he then inviting his audience to partake the risk that his characters aren't capable of doing? It's an interesting question to consider, IMO.
Essentially, the mystery of The Room is omnipresent and continues to exist because our protagonists fail to enter its confines. Why is that? There seems to be a more rational explanation alluded to here. Could it be that The Room has no powers at all? The theory of The Zone acting as a nuclear accident site seems perfectly plausible (particularly in what is meant to be a "sci-fi" film). Now if we assume this to be the case then the implications on how we view the rest of the text are profound. Not only would this provide a logical explanation regarding the daughter, but it also introduces a political subtext to the film. Furthermore, there's a bitter and brutal irony in the indication that our protagonists (or, at least, the Stalker) are seeking hope by entering the very midst of a disaster.
This latter point is an intriguing one to consider, particularly with regards to the Stalker’s motivation within all this. Tarkovsky’s camera finds immense visual beauty in the destruction that forms the backdrop to the film – but it is destruction nonetheless. The central trio live in a ghastly industrial wasteland, and the ideal of The Zone (where dreams come true?) is no better. It’s littered with syringes, broken glass and weapons (a clear metaphor, but for what? Humanity? The mind?) In such a bleak world then, can we possibly blame the Stalker for attempting to find a glimmer of hope?
As the title character, are we meant to empathise with the Stalker? He remains enigmatic for much of the film, but when he finally suffers from a cathartic “breakdown” moment, it’s difficult not to feel for him. Moreover, in the despondent visual world that Tarkovsky creates for us, the Stalker serves to act as a guide for the viewer as well as the other characters – he’s all we have. The Stalker tries to act as a “prophet” for the intellectuals, but although his failure initially sides us with the character, one has to wonder – is Tarkovsky really trying to portray him as such a saint-like figure?
The Stalker is the only one of the lead characters in touch with his inner, spiritual self. This isn’t, however, necessarily a good thing. He listens to heart over mind, and subsequently seems something of a paranoid wreck. His incessant zigzagging across The Zone’s terrain creates difficulties which need not exist – as highlighted most significantly with the Professor’s “knapsack” incident. He creates unnecessary barriers for himself and others. Why? Could it be that he’s afraid of The Room himself, in spite of making several prior journeys? He seems to be disillusioned by The Zone. Tantalisingly, we’re told that his entire belief in The Zone/Room rests entirely upon the word of his mentor, Porcupine (a figure who probably needs more exploration). The parallels with the major organised religions of the world are obvious. As a result of these teachings, the Stalker desperately attempts to deify something that might not exist. Again, the real-world inferences are all-too evident.
Both before and after the expedition, the effects of the Stalker’s decision on his family are shown to the audience. This seems to further cement the notion that the Stalker is most definitely not intended as a sympathetic character. Especially notable is the journey’s aftermath where, upon his failure to transfer his religiosity onto others, he chooses to wallow in his own miserable self-pity instead of appreciating a wife who genuinely loves him.
Whilst trawling through the Net, I found this quote from the filmmaker himself:
“My function is to make whoever sees my films aware of his need to love and to give his love, and aware that beauty is summoning him.”
Can we assume that by damning the Stalker, Tarkovsky is trying to make us aware of what we shouldn’t be doing? Alternatively, one could view the Stalker as attempting to “give” love by the way he tries to transpose his faith (“hope”) onto others? I’m sure there are other explanations.
Anyway, the comments regarding his family finally bring me to his daughter and the film’s ambiguous conclusion. Earlier in the film we’re made aware that the daughter is deformed, probably as a result of her father’s exposure to The Zone, but it is in the final scene that we’re made aware of something else: her telekinesis. She’s been empowered, as if to make up for her loss. Is this as a result of the nuclear accident? Or is it as a result of the supernatural? Of course, who’s to say it’s got anything to do with The Zone? Perhaps her ability exists as a result of her own strength of belief, implying a stronger will than her father.
Conveniently, there are three glasses on the table during this final scene. Do these glasses represent the three central characters of the film, and their ideologies? If so, then does the glass that the daughter pushes off represent her father and his loss of faith? Accordingly, does this imply that his loss of faith is caused by the will of his daughter? The complexities of this single scene are numerous. At the end of the day though, I feel the daughter represents two things. One is new hope – she appears to represents the future, and something more positive, hence the fact that she is always filmed in colour (except at the beginning, when we only glimpse her in long-shot). Second, and perhaps most definitively, she is a conundrum – a fundamental mystery of life. We try to rationalise and understand her, but why should we? She deserves the right to exist as an individual being. I find this idea the most fitting, for in a film that overtly deals with spirituality and that which is mystical, it serves as a candid reminder that, ultimately, we’re only human – and there are some concepts and ideas that are beyond mere human comprehension.
Um, dunno why the other "last five" thing is saying 28th Feb when it was actually posted 2 weeks ago? Anyway, quick comments on the most recent quintet:
- EDIT: I should mention that I viewed Brokeback Mountain for a second time during this period, and unsurprisingly found it an even richer (and heartbreaking) experience this time around. Brilliant film, I'll delve into my thoughts about it at some point soon.
THE NEW WORLD (Terrence Malick; 2005)
3½ stars (out of 5)
The Thin Red Line is one of my favourite films, and by far and away the best war film ever made. So I can't really be blamed for highly anticipating The New World – I persisted through my suffering from a complete lack of sleep the night before in order to see it.
I think it lived up to expectations. I certainly wasn't anticipating a conventional love story and/or retelling of the conquest of America from a director like Malick. The film works as a moody meditation, establishing a sensuous rhythm that deftly explores the delicate nature of colonialism and cultural identity. Even the supposedly central romance is a means by which Malick exposes the conflicts between man and his other, as well as man and nature.
As seems characteristic of Malick films, the environment is as active a part of the narrative as the characters themselves. Note how the Westerners – when faced with a paradise – feel the need to construct, mould and shape it instead of revelling in it. This idea is reinforced when Pocahontas/Rebecca visits her own "New World" (England) and finds herself in an expansive garden – beautiful yes, but essentially artificial.
The New World is by no means flawless, however. I'm not quite sure what to make of it yet, and it certainly requires a second viewing. The initial portrayal of Jamestown and its settlers was too exaggerated for my tastes, and Colin Farrell is as wooden as ever (contrastingly, newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher gives what might be the best female performance that I've seen all year). Furthermore, the consistent use of voiceover occasionally grates - something that never occurred in The Thin Red Line which used it to far greater excess.
Anyway, I'm starting to ramble. Like I say, The New World is a movie that needs to be seen again to truly come to terms with all its themes and ideas. My incoherent thoughts do it no justice, and perhaps one day I'll write a proper review on it. But either way, it's definitely worth a viewing, for a taste of something a little different. Regardless of what you think about the staples of acting/directing/writing, you won't be able to deny that it's one heck of a pretty movie.
NASHVILLE (Robert Altman; 1975)
4½ stars (out of 5)
So I attended a Robert Altman talk at the Arts Centre on Saturday, led by David Thompson (head of BBC Films, no less). The talk itself wasn't THAT informative, and didn't tell me anything that I didn't know already about Altman's directorial style. There were some cool tidbits of information though – e.g. Altman's favourite film is apparently Persona , which shows that the guy has fucking AWESOME taste. Also, Thompson succeeded in making me like him in spite of the fact that he's responsible for Billy Elliot , so I guess that's a positive?
Anyway, what WAS interesting was the film screening that followed the talk – Altman's Nashville. I had the chance to see this 4/5 years ago, but fell asleep after 30 minutes. I now realise that I was an IDIOT for doing so.
Nashville is marvellous. Altman seamlessly navigates his way through various (there are 24 'main' characters) intersecting strands of Nashville life, never once losing his audience's interest amidst all this chaos. His freewheelin' approach to the film suits it perfectly, as he skillfully manages to criticise various aspects of Americana (most significantly: politics and showbiz) with a truly adroit touch.
Moreover, I found the film VERY entertaining. Its satirical streak worked a charm and there were several moments of inspired comedy interlaced within the text. What surprised me the most, however, were the moments of unexpected poignancy. The use of song particularly helped out here – the performances of "I'm Easy" and "It Don't Worry Me" led to some genuinely touching moments.
Throughout all this, Altman's direction of his actors remains top-notch and he extracts uniformly brilliant performances from his superb ensemble. I particularly loved Lily Tomlin, Keenan Wynn, Geraldine Chaplin and Gwen Welles.
Nashville really lives up to its reputation as one of the finest films of its decade, and I'm mighty pissed off that I didn't relish the first opportunity that I had to view it.
STALKER (Andrei Tarkovsky; 1979)
5 stars (out of 5)
Ok, so this might have been my most amazing film experience since I saw Dogville at the cinema a couple of years ago. I don't want to descend into hyperboles, because Tarkovsky deserves a lot better. One day, I'll write an essay detailing my thoughts on this. Seriously, this has caused me to reassess my views on cinema. It's astonishing. See it if you ever have the opportunity to do so…
CACHÉ (Michael Haneke; 2005)
4 stars (out of 5)
Marketed as a typical thriller, Haneke's brilliant Caché is anything but. It loosely hides behind the thin veil of the thriller genre – and it most definitely succeeds in creating tension – but the reason it works so brilliantly arises from the multiplicity of its subtexts, which together form a series of scathing observations on contemporary French society.
Haneke COMPLETELY confounds his audience's expectations with this. There's brutality, but it's lost in a sea of ambiguity. The concept of the "gaze" is masterfully played with throughout the film, leaving us in a constant state of bewilderment and unease regarding the perspective that we're viewing the film from. Indeed, I'd argue that the fundamental element of the film's success in creating suspense is due to the transposition of the audience into the realm of the real unknown. Attempts to rationalise the text are continually thwarted, eventually leading to suspicions regarding the film's central characters – and you KNOW something's wrong when you're questioning the motivations of your leads.
Underneath all this there's a commentary on race relations within France (particularly resonant considering recent events). Moreover, there's an assessment of the role of the media and celebrity, and there might even be a far-fetched parallel to the Bush administration.
I don't want to give too much away in what's meant to be a quick summary, but seriously, this is a terrific film – watch it and love it.
LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES (Jean-Pierre Melville; 1950)
4 stars (out of 5)
This was my first experience of Melville – and it's kind of cheating, for it's a world away from his typical crime thrillers, and it was Jean Cocteau (creator of the masterwork that is La Belle et la bête , and the great Orphée ) who proved the "lure" for me anyway.
Nonetheless, I'm glad that I watched it. The film fascinatingly investigates the nature of a particularly obsessive sibling relationship that verges on the incestuous. Our two leads are deplorable, but the vicious psychological games that they play on both each other and innocent bystanders makes for magnetic viewing. The film boasts some great shotmaking too, and thus makes me optimistic about Melville's other films.
I would write more but I'm tired. Ah well! These "quick thoughts" really need to be… well, quicker.