No Other, only Mommy (2014, by Xavier Dolan)

The Family: the father – a man, the mother – a woman, the child – a boy or a girl. And there it is. The norm, the normal family, the foundation of society, little bricks shaping the grand construction. The figure of the father, the authority. We know, without reading psychoanalysis, without knowing who Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan were, without reading, before we could even read, we knew that the father is the head of the family, the voice of reason, of authority. If we needed permission to do something we went to our father, if we got hurt we went to our mother to groom our wounds with her magical hands. Even though in my family I ran to my mother in both cases and mostly just laughed and played along with my father, I still knew that the father is, following an unwritten holy rule, the authority, not for me in particular, as this did not apply to my own situation, but in general.

If the father is the reason, which he should be in a “normal family”, then the mother has to be the heart. Father’s arms are strong and protective, mother’s arms are warm, caring, but weaker. Following this structure of an ideal family, one can see, if one can discern beyond the shiny smiles from the American advertisements over a new house, that the family members are subjected to the father’s convictions, and thus oppressed and repressed. The child who is forced to grow up following the father’s principles, fulfilling his demands and satisfying his desires in return to the breeding he has provided. But also the mother, who is bound to resign to her role as a wife and child carer.

This introduction is of use when bringing into discussion “Mommy”, Xavier Dolan’s film from 2014 in relation to Robin Wood’s theory on the figure of The Other in films. Wood applies his theory on the American horror film, identifying 8 forms in which The Other is presented in cinema: 1.Quite simply, other people. And taking into consideration than the normative image of normality is a middle class heterosexual white male, the other forms are not hard to guess. The most obvious other is the woman, seen by Jacques Lacan as the image of castration through the lack of phallus , which then leads Laura Mulvey (1975) to appropriate the concept of the gaze discussing it in the relation with the Hollywoodian films of the ’60s.

Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning (Mulvey 1975). Following Mulvey, the woman is not only the other for the male, but by being so is also the object of desire, tieing the gaze to the subject’s object of desire. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly. In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness. (Mulvey 1975). But Mulvey was contradicted by McGowan (2007) who stated that: the gaze compels our look because it appears to offer access to the unseen, to the reverse side of the visible; it promises the secret of the Other, but the secret exists only insofar as it remains hidden – the subject cannot uncover the secret of the gaze, and yet it marks the point at which the visual field takes the subject’s desire into account. The other is this terms is the unseen, is the disruptive element which makes the Symbolical order to tremble from its grounds, and this other seen in a film is exactly what makes the film to gaze back at its viewers, by making them feel guilty and ashamed for seeing something which is not supposed to be seen but is nevertheless what incites their curiosity. The other “others” numbered by Wood (2003) are: 3. the proletariat; 4. Other cultures; 5. Ethnic group within the culture; 6. Alternative ideologies or political systems; 7. Deviations from ideological sexual norms—notably bisexuality and homosexuality; 8. Children

The otherness is caused by escaping the surplus repression which should: makes us (if it works) into monogamous, heterosexual bourgeois patriarchal capitalists. If it works; if it doesn’t, the result is either a neurotic or a revolutionary (or both)… (Wood 1979)

“Mommy” is not a horror film, not even close. There are no monsters, only humans; real, convincing, deeply damaged humans, in an endless struggle with life and with the result following their own decision. The characters are not villains, they are no supernatural beings, no individuals with a shady past or secrets deeper than anyone else’s secrets, and yet the film is constructed around “the others”.

I started from Antoine Olivier Pilon’s character, Steve Després, considering him as the representant of the other in his status as a son, therefore a child, even though his age makes him fall in the teenager’s category. After further consideration, I find myself in the situation of stating that “Mommy” is a film on the others. Starting from the controversial figure of Xavier Dolan, the young, homosexual, Canadian director who refuses to collect the Queer Palm at Cannes in 2012 for his film Laurence Anyways, even the title of the film, “Mommy”, sketches the image of a family, but this family is automatically labeled as abnormal, as the mother is not the head of the family. Next is the relationship between the mother and her son. A dysfunctional, strange relationship, between a mature woman, with money and attitude problems and a teenager diagnosed with a psychological condition, whom she previously hospitalized into an institution. Female sexuality repression or the escape of it is suggested by Die’s look an attitude and by the means, she uses to convince a lawyer to help her with her son’s case. In Mulvey’s terms, the character would probably be an object of desire, and when she is no longer passive, she is no longer desirable.

The mother and son relationship is further reshaped to permit the entrance of a third character. Another woman, Kyla, another mother, who comes from a “normal family” where the father is the figure of authority, but whose son died and is left with speaking difficulties as a result of the trauma. Her role in her own family is suffocating, but she finds an escape in the dysfunctional relationship between Diane “Die” Després and her son.

Steve, a father orphan, a psychologically disturbed teenager, with anger issues and violent outbursts, with homosexual tendencies, suicide attempts and a seemingly Oedipus’ Complex, who is unable to show his affection without “crossing” the line, is most definitely every parent’s nightmare. And every parent is left wondering who is at fault. Is it Die for not raising her son right? Is it society for not giving Steve any chance? Is it a cumulus of unfortunate events which befell on this family? Is it the lack of paternal figure?

Furthermore, the characters belong to the working class. Even a bit lower as Diane gets fired and is unemployed until she finds a new job as a housemaid in a wealthy and luxurious mansion.

The film has, or at least had on me an enormous emotional impact because it makes “the others” so relatable, it shows that actually there is no other, there are only humans. The difficult role which Die has to shoulder as a single mother, the tragic decision she has to make in regards to her son’s health, and admitting that her love as a mother is not enough – opposed to Kyla’s background story as a grieving mother over the death of her son, having to deal with a crippled family in which the father is trying to hold everything together, and the glimpses of absolute and innocent happiness the 3 characters live together are the elements which make these characters more human than a “normal” individual and enhance the emotional effect.

The ideal ending imagined by Die is in antithesis with the real denouement; the utopic life of the “normal” as opposed to the unfortunate destiny of the other. When discussing the film in these terms, what else could the ending be, but a metaphor of oppression. Steve being submitted in a “lunatic asylum” is the way society deals with otherness, it casts them away, it hides them, it does not accept them.

Steve is a neurotic and a revolutionary at the same time, this being proved by his attempt of breaking free with an unspoken, but easy to discern result.

Reference:

http://www.blue-sunshine.com/tl_files/images/Week1-Wood-AmericanNightmare.pdf

McGowan, T (2007) Real Gaze [online] SUNY Press. Ithaca, US, 1-20. available from: <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/coventry/reader.action?docID=10575994> [19 November 2016]

Mulvey, L. (1999) “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP. pp. 833-844.

Wood, R. (1979) “An Introduction to the American Horror Film: I. Repression, the Other, the Monster,” American Nightmare. Toronto: Festival of Festivals.

Wood, R. (1979) “The American nightmare Horror in the 70s”

Looking for the fourth look in Cosmos… (by Andrzej Żuławski, 2015)

We go to the cinema, or not so much now that the “land of wonders”, the Internet, virtually houses almost anything that we could wish for, and films make no exception. Either way, in the dark of a grand cinema hall, or sheltered by the intimacy of our own private rooms in front of our own laptops, watching a film triggers a voyeuristic pleasure. The pleasure of seeing, of watching, of following without being seen, without our presence being noticed by the ones whom we are following.

The spectator is cast in the role of ‘invisible subject’, identifying itself to the camera as the punctual source of the look which constitutes the image along the lines of a monocular perspective. (Willemen 1994:99)

Like an innocent Peeping Tom, like the rich voyeur who’s watching Fellini’s Casanova defiling a pretended nun, and whose identity remains unknown, we follow, from the comfort of darkness, the characters in their undisturbed actions, pursuing heroic missions, falling in love, making love, trying to cope with daily burdens, descending into madness, reinventing themselves, forgiving, forgetting, moving on, growing up, getting old, dying, being killed or killing, saving lives. As long as our look isn’t acknowledged, we are safe. The film is pre-produced, pre-recorded, it cannot be affected by our reactions, it follows its course without interruption. I, as an individual, am totally aware of these facts. I can stare at a character for as long as I please, I can even pause the film and stare a little more, and the character would not be disturbed in any way, the character would not notice in spite of how insistent and disturbing my look is. This applies to the conventional films [which] tend to suppress all marks of the subject, of the [filmic] uttering (enunciation), so that the spectator may have the impression of being that subject but as an empty and absent subject, reduced to the mere faculty o vision. (Willemen 1994:100)

But what happens then if and when “the film looks back”? When the character turns his or her face to the camera, pierces the screen, and looks straight into the spectators’ eye? When the character hides himself/herself from the camera, in a bashful pose, trying to cover or to hide his/her own naked body, or a broken thing, even though no other human being is present at the scene?

It disturbs the viewer, it makes the viewer aware of the fact that he or she is peeping, it disrupts a little, for a moment, the comfort of the dark cinema hall. […]the viewer has to confront his or her sadistic voyeurism, the presence of the imagined look in the field of the other makes itself increasingly felt, producing a sense of shame at being caught in the act of voyeurism. By this time, the viewing subject has become the exhibitionist. (Willemen 1994:107) It negates the spectator’s privilege of seeing everything, knowing everything, which is nevertheless a privilege only simulated through the look of the camera, and its mastery, and it transforms it into a shared feature of both the viewers and the characters. As if the walls of Dogville would become transparent for the characters too, and they would be able to have the same vision as the spectator. The spectator’s special power of seeing through walls in Dogville, is however, so masterfully built, that the spectator totally ignores the simple fact that he/she is actually on the same level as the characters, as he/she, himself/herself, cannot see Dogville the way its villagers do, until the very end when the film allows its spectators to witness the dog’s “incarnation” and thus gives away only a glimpse of the true shape of Dogville’s universe. Some films don’t even give that glimpse away, one never sees the narrator in Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, although the characters look at him, interact with him, know him. He is a crucial part of the narrative, yet, the camera’s look, never follow the characters’ look, hence, never satisfies the spectator’s curiosity.

If Laura Mulvey identified three different looks, that of the spectators looking at the screen, that of the camera and the characters’ look (Mulvey 1969), Paul Willemen comes to add a fourth look, the most problematic, which, in contrast to the first three, does not emerge in every film and is not seen by every spectator. The fourth is the film’s look, the film which acknowledges its viewers and thus challenges them. The fourth look arises when the moving images on the screen show taboos, break stereotypes, and by doing so, inhibit, hinder and confuse the spectator (Goldsmith 1998). The film’s look upon its spectator comes with a feeling of uneasiness, with a discomfort. The rupture in the middle of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona is so abrupt that shocks the spectator, by demonstrating that the film itself knows something that should only be known by the spectator, the film knows that it is a construction, “a mechanism”; The film acts upon us, addressing us, viewing us, as we view it, until the film itself becomes a gaze, rather than something to be gazed upon (Dixon 1994:2).

I could find a few other examples out of the films I have watched and considered to “watched” me back, from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Martha to Michael Haneke’s Cache or Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, but the one I chose for a more detailed analysis is Andrzej Żuławski’s “swan song”, Cosmos. The film, Cosmos, as an entity, as a filmic organism, as a whole, looks back at its spectators, looked back at me. Firstly, as mostly every film out there, the film focuses on a character, the camera sets itself on the main character with whom the spectator is supposed to identify. Witold walking down a pathway through a forest. One sees him and understands, without caring about his name, that this is the individual around whom the narrative is going to weave itself. And even though a feeling of uneasiness is vaguely present from the beginning, the spectator is made to empathize with the main character, by portraying him as a student, who failed an exam, who was forced by his father to study law even though he wanted to become a writer, whose heart had been broken, and comes to clear his head in a bohemian, slightly rustic surrounding by the seaside. His frustration is understandable, his quirkiness is rather odd, but is for sure acceptable when knowing the circumstances. He is an artist after all…

Some strange events befall, a hanged bird appears and disappears, a hanged chicken near the house is remembered being seen a while ago. Events which seem to have a reasonable meaning, which awaits to be discovered. The spectator is thereby tricked into thinking that the main character, with whom he/she had previously empathized is in charge of putting together the pieces and solving the mystery. Nothing more false than this. From a personal point of view, and after watching the whole film and ruminating upon it for a certain period, the odd events’ only purpose is to suggest the idea of being watched by someone or something, whom neither the spectator, from its position nor the characters can see. It instills thus an unpleasant feeling of insecurity. But this is just the prelude of complete discomfort, of complete confusion. The character with whom the viewer is supposed to identify, becomes impossible to follow, understanding and identification are totally excluded, and the viewer is given no other character to identify with. The spectator finds himself/herself, after entering the filmic universe of Cosmos, utterly alone, with no anchor within the film. And the harder he/she tries to find a fulcrum to rely on, the more the film escapes through his/her fingers.

Cosmos does not break some stereotype about the world, does not show some taboo. It breaks the narrative, the logic, the idea of a film being a story, destroys the linear and fluent narrative, while still including short bits of something which might, by far, outline some kind story, and which are almost immediately followed by exaggerated, out of place actions, making the film even more distant.

The film turns its spectator from a voyeur into a part of the film, by confusing him/her until the point he/she asks himself/herself what is the film about, what is its whole purpose, why is he/she watching it, and then totally ignores the viewer. The evolution of the characters in Cosmos does not even raise the question of being or not being aware of the fact that they are being followed by the spectator, or even by the prankster who is hanging birds. The characters simply do not care if they are being watched, because they have an intrinsic world which cannot be deciphered only by looking at it, not even by a theoretical analysis.

The Cosmos’ universe, the film’s world is cryptic, is enclosed, runs by its own rules, is animated by its own reasons, or lack of reasons, and in can only be understood from within, a within which is impossible to touch, to even approach, by far, by the spectator; The difference between the two “worlds” is masterfully suggested through the brusque apparition of the enormous stains of mould which make the walls to shrivel at the corners of the rooms, which surprise the viewer and makes him/her curious about the causes, while the characters, unlike the ones from Dogville which aren’t aware of the sketched walls, observe the stains, but do not even bother to question them. The characters do not have the slightest desire to make themselves approachable, the film leaves no space for intruders, for individuals which do not already know the way things go. Hence, the spectator is not only unable to “step” into the Cosmos’ realm, but he/she is made more than clear that he/she is a total outsider with no chance of getting close, of getting in, leaving him/her feeling the whole, unmediated discomfort, frustration, confusion, and even pain of being forever just an outsider in search of a key which he cannot possibly find because of his own perception of that key.


References:

Dixon, W.W. (1994) It Looks at You. The Returned Gaze of the Cinema. Postmodern Culture. SUNNY series.

Goldsmith, B. (1998) To Be Outside and In-Between. Film-Philosophy. Australia: Griffith University.

Mulvey, L. (1999) “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP. pp. 833-844.

Willemen, P. (1994) Looks and Frictions: Essays in Cultural Studies and Film Theory. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press; London: British Film Institute. ISBN 0-85170-398-4 263 pp.

Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey

  • The paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the castrated woman to give order and meaning to its world.
  • Woman’s desire is subjected to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound, she can exist only ! in relation to castration and cannot transcend it.
  • Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.
  • The magic of the Hollywood style at its best (and of all the cinema which fell within its sphere of influence) arose, not exclusively, but in one important aspect, from its skilled and satisfying manipulation of visual pleasure

Continue reading “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey”

To Be Outside and In-Between, Ben Goldsmith

  • ‘Looks and frictions’ is an apposite title for a work of cultural studies and film studies scholarship, emphasising the latter’s visual preoccupation, the interest of both in observation, and the former’s fondness for frottage, placing theoretical frameworks over objects of study and tracing the indentations left. Significantly, both terms connote both closeness and distance, and implicitly acknowledge the outsideness of the critic or viewer in their engagement with the object of study.
  • As Morris cogently observes, Willemen’s great legacy and example is his putting of ‘how?’ questions — ‘political questions about particular social aims’ (3) — in to cultural studies.
  • Central to his work is the triad of producer, text, and viewer, considered in such a way that the socio-historical context of the production and the act of viewing (and criticism) are always privileged and foregrounded. His use of ‘inner speech’ and the concept of ‘the fourth look’ (perhaps his most significant contribution to film studies) work to elucidate the ways in which the interplay of the textual and the social involve and interpolate the viewer.

Continue reading “To Be Outside and In-Between, Ben Goldsmith”

When I’m walking a dark road, I am a girl who walks alone

I have an uneasy feeling when it comes to heights, but I’ll overcome that pretty fast. I have no problem with bugs, worms or other crawling insects, but I have a severe fear of spiders; an encounter with a veritable representative of their kind might leave me with a discomfort for the next few hours, and I totally hate, from the deep of my soul, public speaking. That exact and inevitable moment, when all the eyes are looking at me, my mind goes blank and all I can remember are 3 sentences learnt in kindergarten, but I’ll manage to successfully survive that.

Not even a crowded conference room, made of glass at an honorable height, and full of crawling spiders won’t scare me as much as darkness. COMPLETE ABSOLUTE SILENT DARKNESS. I’m a night person, I love the mysterious aura of a deep night, of the moon and the stars, the trembling shadows, the exaltation and uncertainty that comes with it, the way my hearing sharpens when I can’t see properly, the fantasies which begin to take shape when the colors and contours begin to fade, the teasing feeling that something’s always there. But I have a visceral fear of complete black, followed by complete silence. Blindness, the lack of any feeble shadow, of any frail trace of light, terrifies me, petrifies me. For me, there is no world without image, and Oedipus’ own punishment is by far the worst punishment I can imagine.

Kubrick’s Monolith and Lacan’s Gaze

Jacques Lacan’s psycho-analytical theory was highly used, quoted and related to film theory and film interpretation and analysis, and actually with the media in general. Film and media theory absorbed Lacan’s concepts and ideas and used them in its own relation with the spectator.

Films were discussed in psychoanalytical and Lacanian terms for quite a while now, starting from critics such as Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen, Colin MacCabe, Stephen Heath and the French Christian Metz, Jean-Louis Baudry, Jean-Louis Comolli. Laura Mulvey translated the Lacanian gaze in terms of cinematography, by identifying, in Hollywood cinema, a “male gaze”, which regarded the female counterpart as an object of desire, an object to stimulate fantasies, an object which was utterly different and could stand as “the other”. The male characters of films were subjects while the female ones were objectified, and the relation established between them was the one between the desirer and the object of desire, which was invested with such features as to facilitate and incite the existence of desire. The desire, as Mulvey says, exceeded the screen and was assimilated by the male spectator. Hence, the gaze was present within and outside the filmic realm[1], and positioned the spectator in the role of the child looking in the mirror. The viewer standing determinate a voyeuristic perspective, placing him on a different level from the cinematic narrative, a place of seeming mastery,[2] which gave him a false sense of power and authority over the film while his position was still passive.[3]

Todd MacGowan stresses, in Real Gaze, the errors made by Laura Mulvey in her depiction of the cinematographic gaze, and states that she deflected from the Lacanian meaning of the gaze, for the gaze is what is lost in the translation from the Real to Signification[4]. Is the object of desire which’s existence is only possible as long as it is intangible, unreachable, as long as it remains just the fuel of desire.

Gaze in Lacan’s later work refers to the uncanny sense that the object of our eye’s look or glance is somehow looking back at us of its own will. This uncanny feeling of being gazed at by the object of our look affects us in the same way as castration anxiety (reminding us of the lack at the heart of the symbolic order). We may believe that we are in control of our eye’s look; however, any feeling of scopophilic power is always undone by the fact that the materiality of existence (the Real) always exceeds and undercuts the meaning structures of the symbolic order.[5]

Resuming the above quote, I understand the gaze as an encounter with the real, which is lost forever once the mirror stage, and desired for the same amount of time by the subject. The split between the three Lacanian orders is so traumatic that any trace of it is erased from our conscious minds and all that remains is the forever impossible desire of going back to the primordial state, to the state previous to the symbolic structure and order of the world and of our own interior worlds. The encounter with the real subsequent to the mirror stage is, despite our craving for it, almost as traumatic as our split from it. The perspective of the gaze seen as the encounter of the subject with the real is crucial to my following argumentation on the function of the gaze in Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The gaze is present, as Todd MacGowan informs us, in films, more, it is a characteristic of films. As we, in our everyday life, on our daily routine, and in our conscious state avoid the traumatic interaction with the gaze, films as well as dreams enable our encounter with it, by neutralizing our power to consciously alter the narrative, it is in a way a forced encounter, which in the case of films we willingly put ourselves up for. He recognizes four ways in which the gaze is present in the films’ medium: films that make the gaze present through fantasy; films that sustain the gaze as a fundamental absence; films that obfuscate the gaze through a turn to fantasy; films that enact a traumatic encounter with the gaze.[6]

According to MacGowan’s study, any film can be discussed in “the gaze” terms, so how did I hinder my own work with the hazardous choice of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, with the mammoth film which 2001: A Space Odyssey is? I will simply state it. It was instinctual. Reading the paragraph quoted above about the object which looks back at us, the final scene with the character front in front with the monolith entity in a tacit dialogue came immediately to my mind.

MacGowan does include Kubrick’s cinematographic work in the first category of films depicting the gaze, by appealing to the fantastical dimension of his films, highlighting the coldness and intriguing lack of human affect which Kubrick’s films bring to the screen. The fantastical dimension in which the films are set enables Kubrick to bring into question the obscenity of the authority and with it the inconsistency of the symbolic order which governs our world. The understanding of these two issues leads the subject who acknowledges them to freedom.[7] But this is not the direction this essay is going to take. I have no interest in discussing the idea of authority or invoking the computer HAL 9000 as an obscene figure of authority.[8] I am more inclined to put the film in the fourth MacGowan’s category: films that enact a traumatic encounter with the gaze, but not through an escape in the fantastic realm of one’s fantasy as it happens for example in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but by actually introducing the gaze in the image, giving it an imagistic representation in the body of the black monolith.

fronts-n-1314-00-000192-wz-pyr

Jacques Lacan exemplified the presence, the encounter with the gaze with Hans Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors”. The 16th century interior in which the two characters are represented is violently disrupted by a figure in the middle, which at a first sight resembles nothing and puzzles the viewer. The figure of the skull floating randomly between the painting’s borders annihilates everything the painting otherwise depicts. All the symbols of power, arts and science are disavowed by the view of the skull, which stresses the futility of everything in the symbolic order. I am bringing this 16th century painting into discussion because I find the skull’s intrusion, given as an example of the power of the gaze by Lacan himself, similar to the presence of Kubrick’s black monolith in the middle of the white neoclassical room, as well as in the African Savannah. This element’s presence is uncanny. The monolith is there but viewed from a rational perspective, shaped by the rules of the symbolic world, it is not supposed to be there. The image is complete without it and its presence only bothers, stirs and makes the viewer uncomfortable, exactly as the skull in Holbein’s painting. But in contrast to the skull, the monolith has a neutral shape, cannot be read as an imagistic symbol for anything. It is a black block with no traces of features to trigger any kind of connotative meaning, in the middle of an image which would make perfect sense otherwise. Unlike the skull which is immediately read as a symbol of death, as a memento mori, the monolith stands for nothing but itself. One cannot pinpoint its nature or its purpose, its beginning or its end, the only fact that one can know is that the monolith exists, it is real and it is present. Furthermore, it is literally a foreign body, an extraterrestrial entity.

2001-a-space-odyssey-1968-movie-dr-david-bowman-dave-keir-dullea-monolith-jupiter-dying-in-front-of-bed-review

The monolith appears in Kubrick’s film four times. For me, the most memorable ones are the first and the last one, and I am going to concentrate on them, with a certain interest in the last. Both are long scenes deprived of words. The language is missing. In the first one, the encounter with the monolith marks, as the mirror stage, a change in the apes’ behaviour, a moment which marks an evolution from an arbitrary society to a hierarchized one in which the ones who hold more knowledge, also hold the power, and therefore can rule over the others.

In what concerns the last apparition, the monolith seems to force itself in the symbolic structure. The visual contrast between the white room and the black entity enforces the differences in the nature of the two. Bowman, the human subject is “trapped” in the room, he cannot escape the influence of the monolith. His behaviour does not change, but he involves in a silent dialogue with the monolith, a dialogue which is beyond words, which has no use or need for language. It is so powerful that defies language, and with it defies the worldly order and structure. The dialogue between the monolith and the character is out of reach for the spectator, but, nevertheless, the monolith’s power, the gaze, transcends the screen and proposes a different dialogue to every eyes which are set on it, because one cannot avoid the gaze. This scene is, at least for me, utterly uncomfortable, puzzling, and it has a sense of bizarre, of uncanny which lingers long after the film is over and which I cannot exactly put in words. It is not an easy scene to watch, it almost banishes the viewer but it attracts him with the same force.

 Maybe this is why there are so many controversies around the meaning of the black block and its role in the science-fiction film. Maybe the final encounter with the monolith is not meant to be deciphered like one would crack down a code, like it would be a conglomeration of symbols which read in the correct order and by the right pattern reflect the great truth. Maybe it is supposed to be felt, and it is itself an encounter with the great truth, with the big Other, an encounter with no need for words, or symbols, or meanings. Maybe it is so puzzling because of our need for structure, for meaning and because of our incapacity to accept the existence of non-sense and only of senses. It might just be a moment of freedom for the character and for the spectators.


[1]Sassatelli, R. (2011) ‘Interview with Laura Mulvey: Gender, Gaze and Technology in Film Culture’.

Theory, Culture & Society [online] 28(5), 123-143 available from <http://tcs.sagepub.com/content/28/5/123.full.pdf+html> [21 November 2016]

[2] McGowan, T (2007) ‘Introduction: From the Imaginary Look to the Real Gaze’. Real Gaze, [online] SUNY Press. Ithaca, US, 1-20. available from: <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/coventry/reader.action?docID=10575994> [19 November 2016].

[3] http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Independent-Film-Road-Movies/Psychoanalysis-CINEMA-AND-THE-MIRROR.html

[4]  McGowan, T.

[5] Felluga, D. (2011) ‘Modules on Lacan: On the Gaze.’ Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. available from <http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/psychoanalysis/lacangaze.html> [October 27, 2016]

[6] McGowan, T

[7] McGowan, T. ‘The Coldness of Kubrick’. Real Gaze. 43-49

[8] Ibidem.


 References

Felluga, D. (2011) ‘Modules on Lacan: On the Gaze.’ Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. available from <http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/psychoanalysis/lacangaze.html> [October 27, 2016]

Gallop, J. (1985) Reading Lacan, Cornell University Press. Ithaca and London

Lacan, J. (1998) The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. Vintage. London

McGowan, T (2007) Real Gaze [online] SUNY Press. Ithaca, US, 1-20. available from: <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/coventry/reader.action?docID=10575994> [19 November 2016]

Poole, R. (2001) ‘2001: A space odyssey’, History Today. 51(1), 39-45. available from: <http://search.proquest.com/docview/202814924/fulltextPDF/CEDD3629E57A4C92PQ/1?accountid=10286 > [20 November 2016]

Restuccia, FL (2003) ‘GRAHAM GREENE’S LACANIAN ENCORE: THE END OF THE AFFAIR’, Religion & The Arts. 7 (4), 369-387, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost. available from:<http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=e13a2101-0f29-4df3-b272-d6b33325beff%40sessionmgr4010&vid=1&hid=4114> [15 November 2016].

Sassatelli, R. (2011) ‘Interview with Laura Mulvey: Gender, Gaze and Technology in Film Culture’.

Theory, Culture & Society [online] 28(5), 123-143 available from <http://tcs.sagepub.com/content/28/5/123.full.pdf+html> [21 November 2016]

http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Independent-Film-Road-Movies/Psychoanalysis-CINEMA-AND-THE-MIRROR.html

 

The Coldness of Kubrick

  • chief characteristic of Kubrick films (for most critics) is their overwhelming coldness, the sense of distance that he creates between characters and between character and viewer
  • Kubrick’s universe seems to be an universe of structure, where human beings scarcely have a place; Kolker ” Kubrick uses his imagination to show that subjectivity is forever destroyed by monolithic, unchanging, dehumanized structures”
  • HAL 9000 computer displays more of the emotion that we associate with humanity than any of Kubrick’s other characters
  • Kubrick strikes us as cold precisely because his films so thoroughly immerse themselves in the realm of fantasy -> a realm beyond affect , beyond all emotional investment
  • fantasy is a structure, a structure that operates with the same mechanical coldness that we see in Kubrick’s films

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The real gaze: Film theory after Lacan, Todd McGowan

Introduction: From the Imaginary Look to the Real Gaze

The Emergence of Lacanian Film Theory

  • (the mirror stage) the wholeness of the body is seen in a way that it is not experienced.
  • link the illusory qualities of film to the process through which subjects enter into ideology and become subjected to the constraints of the social order.
  • Louis Althusser, early film theorist, who was a crucial bridge between Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage and the cinematic experience – he emphasized the social dimension of the kind of misrecognitions that followed from that of the mirror stage.
  • Christian Metz, Jean-Louis Baudry, Jean-Louis Comolli (french), Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen, Colin MacCabe, Stephen Heath (journal Screen) – first theorists to bring psychoanalytic concepts to bear on the study of cinema in a systematic form
  • the spectator inhabits the position of the child looking in the mirror -> a sense of mastery based on the position that the spectator occupies relative to the event on the screen
  • Christian Metz (The Imaginary Signifier) – the spectator is absent from the screen as perceived, but  present there as perceiver -> escapes the sense of real absence -> overcomes the sense of lack, endured by only the existence in the world

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GRAHAM GREENE’S LACANIAN ENCORE: THE END OF THE AFFAIR

[T]he sexual relationship cannot be written (ne peut pas s’écrire). Everything that is written stems from the fact that it will forever be impossible to write, as such, the sexual relationship. It is on that basis that there is a certain eVect of discourse, which is called writing

Lacan, Encore

  • Graham Greene’s late modernist novel The End of the AVair (1951) is a Lacanian text par excellence, a literary avatar of Lacan’s Encore: On Feminine Sexuality/The Limits of Love and Knowledge
  • This “inhuman love” would seem to be what Saint Teresa, as represented by Bernini’s statue in Rome, experiences but does not know
  • Lacan’s reasoning behind his notion of the impossibility of human Love will be laid out: Ž rst, in terms of his three orders of Love and in particular the gap between the love object and the objet a, or cause of desire, that dwells deceptively in the love object; and second, in terms of his idea of sexuation and the gap between the man and /the Woman.
  • Tying the unfeasibility of Love to the collapse of the sexual relation, which by no means detracts from desire, Lacan asserts that “love is impossible and the sexual relationship drops into the abyss of nonsense, which doesn’t in any way diminish the interest we must take in the Other”

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Screen Culture and Selves – week 3

Are we born the way we are? With all the data? With morality, religion, character, temperament, inclinations, sexual orientation, affinities or are we shaped by the environment, society, family?

Nature: temperament, talent, gender, race (although races as a concept are a society construct), gender (but not necessarily gender identification), sexuality, sexual orientation, some kind of morality sense ( https://youtu.be/FRvVFW85IcU )

Primordial instincts: breathing, eating, sleeping, pooping, sexuality 

Nurture: character, knowledge, religion, the image we present in front of the outer world

Structuralism (Saussure) -> nature vs nurture

Jacques Lacan -> link between Sigmund Freud and the structuralists

Freud: Conscious – Precocious – Subconscious        tripartite-personality

  • repression: fears are caused by something repressed

Saussure – We can only approach the world through language (Genie Willey chase: https://youtu.be/VjZolHCrC8E ), there are certain stages when certain things can be learnt

Claud Levi- Straus:

  • The Savage Mind
  • Man obeys laws that are inherent in the brain
  • Myths are not made by individuals but by the collective human consciousness
  • The savage mind had the same structures as the civilized mind
  • The human is the same everywhere – in relation to the centralization of structure
  • ‘Bricolage’ – the characteristic patterns of mythological thought
  • Reuse available materials in order to solve new problems

Structure is a need! Structures are nurture, but the desire for structure is nature