“self”

–       The graters trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he never existed – this is the beginning of the lengthy monolog murder suspect tells the interrogator in police.  The most of the victims are dead, and only survival naturally is the prime suspect in this horrific and mysterious mass murder.

The whole “trick” here is that main suspect is given the opportunity to be a storyteller. He is given the exclusive position to create his own narrative. Thus he creates character of the murderer so horrific, of such mythical and grand proportions that nobody would identify him, crippled and miserable little man with actual criminal. Nobody would identify horrifying and nightmarish picture he draw with him just because he didn’t correspond to common perceptions we usually attribute to such criminals as they enter our imagination, therefore our culture.

So in this light the movie becomes not only a typical Hollywood thriller but also a good study case about owning one’s own narrative. Character of Kevin Spacey signifies impossibility to interact without holding the copyright of your narrative and even more than that, impossibility to interact with your own self without owning this “copyright”. In some sense living without this copyright would feel like living without a skin. It would have been traumatic and such a painful experience, enough to send you to mental hospital; there is only one way of “interaction” with “self” and Greeks had concrete manual for it. Remember the legend of Perseus who had to go till the end of the world to cut the head of gorgon medusa. One look at her and you would turn into stone. What he does is that he looks at her through his polished shield, meaning through the reflection, so he is able to see her without actually, directly looking at her. This is how he was able to behead the monster. No need to mention that this myth is pretty much inner trip of the hero into the dark side of his self, Gorgon Medusa can be his inner self, unknown, unconscious that hero has to concur, explore in order to fully realize himself.  Anyhow, this is how Greek culture resolved the problem of communicating with “self”. You do not look at it directly. The “self” should be should be reflected and this reflection is what gives you a necessary distance even from your own “self” or else you can be absorbed, annihilated… erased. Otherwise you can become absolute one with your self. There is a similar problem with Narcissus myth where this distance has been eliminated between him and his reflection and he collapses on himself, closes down in a perfect loop. So as we see Greeks ware quit aware of the possibility of such catastrophe and apparently possessed concrete method, technic of how to deal with “self”.

Very interesting edge to the subject of “self” gives movie The Exam (2009). Only the “self” here is placed on a sticking point between knowledge and its limits. Fellow competitors should answer one question correct answer to which will result in hiring for the very prestigious job. When the examiner leaves they find out that there is no question written on the paper in front of them, it’s just an empty paper.

Immediately they went on to test the paper on which the question supposedly should be formulated. Using all their knowledge, creativity and ingenuity to somehow unveil the supposedly imprinted question on the paper. When they exhausted this possibility, they’ll go ahead and interrogate each other’s psychology, motivations and past, which towards the end resulted in violence and even murder. (Interestingly cooperation and teamwork they assume from the very beginning ends up in violence)

In this case the whole setup of the examination room, whole form of the examination and most importantly the whole set of knowledge structures they are equipped: learned standards of being socialized, taking initiative in the group, team work, being in charge, being ruthless for reaching the goal, capacity to understand human psychology, knowledge in science and math, chemistry etc. basically everything that is being “positive knowledge” stood between them (competitors) and correct answer.

After all, the question wasn’t about being a leader in a difficult situation, or being smart and educated, knowing lots of things, or having done a good research prior to the examination, being able to be a team player… or to be so ruthless to even kill somebody for your job…. The question was, are you able to pill yourself off your own knowledge, because apparently sometimes even the knowledge can become obstacle, unnecessary junk or even the tool for control. Question was, do you dare to start from the position of known nothing or having nothing? (that is metaphorically expressed as an empty paper in the movie)

And for this to happen, only thing they should have done was to listen, listen closely… and this is what their (competitors) education, their cultural upbringing in general was incapable of doing.  They learned how to speak, but the same education system never bothered to teach how to LISTEN.

This incapacity was highlighted in the movie by the metaphor of the empty paper. Something that is so pure and simple that competitors didn’t now how to deal with. Would it be some complicated formula written on the paper, some very difficult scheme, code or something hidden inside the paper itself anything of this kind; there were enough resources in that room to crack that code. But there weren’t enough resources to deal with something so simple and almost pathetically rhetorical as empty paper.

All the characters in the movie are collection of characters cultivated by (pardon my French but…) neo-liberal economy. There is whole list of it in the movie: a leader character, very clever Asian (Indian) type of a guy, team builder personality, self confident well educated independent women etc.… shortly, these are the characters we cultivate and nourish in our education systems, in professional field… in fact, everywhere. They represent idea of modern man or women and modern mode of life. The mode of life that is in constant career building, restless run for being successful, that being an only criterion for self-gratification. These characters represent all the resources that neoliberal mode of life accumulated throughout decades. The movie EXAM just showed the shadowy part, side effect of that “economy”… the side effects that is not so much talked about, behind the stories of success and incredible achievements. The diagnoses, and a picture is quit serious, despites the fact that we got used to hear about advances of democratic societies, success of its educational and economic systems, capacity to create society that is more reasonable therefore less violent, that people in these societies talk to each other and resolve their differences via negotiation and compromise. Yes, they can sell this “success stories” to so called third world countries… (Which they successfully do by the way) but the fundamental impossibility to rationalize human existence is still unresolved and it’s just a big absurd to hope that any kind of political, social or economic structure can somehow “produce” reasonable man. This small experiment within the closed doors in the movie The Exam was successful to show it.

The main motif of many fairytales, folk and myths (in our collective, condensed memory) very often happened to be the main hero faced with impossible challenge, unsolved dilemma’s and paradoxes that are impossible to solve. They are mostly describing the collision, clash of human being with something beyond his knowledge capacity, beyond his reach, but after all that is what constitutes a human being and not the other way around, what he knows and what is within the reach of his knowledge. And I think this motif stands truth even in our times and no matter how advanced we think our civilization is we have to keep this element in complicated equations of our “economy”.

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Passion play 2010

Make no mistake the movie Passion play 2010 is not a ridiculous story about beautiful women with white wings. It is a movie about movies; it is a movie about movie industry. The main character is kidnapped, taken to desert and is about to get his head blown off by the shotgun, he closes his eyes in anticipation of this final shot. That’s where the director Mitch Glazer places his movie. The whole script develops within this moment, within this split of the second. For Mitch Glazer, with this gesture (closing the eyes) the main character enters the world of his imagination and dreams. This dreams and imaginations are not just passive act of dreaming but apparently according to the movie very active function of the culture.  The movie is critical analyzes of the industry as well as of the whole culture.

The story is simple; the main character in the movie played by Mickey Rourke, musician, and bohemian character of course, after having an affair with the wife of very influential gangster gets kidnapped, taken to some remote place. In the last moments before he dies he closes his eyes and sees this beautiful but at the same time very opportunistic dream. He dreams that he founds amazingly beautiful girl on the freak show, with real, beautiful white wings. He kidnaps her from the humiliating situation of being the highlight of a freak-show. Than he brings her to a gangster whose wife he seduces as a trade off for his life.

Only in the end you understand that the whole story is happening in his imagination during the split of the second before he gets shot. It is a dream production of a man who know that he’s dying – He keeps dreaming, keeps coming up with more and more spectacular stories to somehow extend this moment, when he should wake up, open his eyes and see that he is dead, moment when the movie is over.

Very interesting element is when he finally manages to wake up, open his eyes, come to terms with his death – Only when the women-angel falls in love with him, risks her life and jumps after him from the high building and caries him away in the sky… only than is he able to hear the final shot… But now he couldn’t care less because by that time he is already on the safe hands of his beloved angel who is flying him straight to heavens. This is the last frame of the movie… this is where he opens his eyes.

Through this imagination he able to open his eyes to his own death. Basically film shows that the problem can only be RESOLVED in a spectacular imagination. Deeper is the problem more spectacular imagination should get in order to find its resolution. And that’s where film gets so precise in describing the modus of a culture in neoliberal system. Where everything, practically everything translates and gets resolved into a spectacle. The close read of “Society of Spectacle” by Guy Debord explains spectacle for not only as a popular culture, every day circus of mass media etc. but the core function of capitalist society.

This function now a day’s is under tremendous acceleration. Culture and its icons getting more and more extravagant in their imaginative creations. No wonder why lady gaga became the biggest icon of our times. but this phenomena is not limited to celebrity culture… Even the visual arts, that has always been very disciplined and self aware of image production, now becomes more spectacular than ever.  In this sense it is indeed return of Baroque not as a style but rather as a culture of excess.

There is one more aspect in the movie, which analyzes certain values of  “western” society that we all share. It is about so much cultivated subject of uniqueness and authenticity. At some point Angel-women runs to a hospital for plastic surgery to remove her wings. Than you see the hysterical reaction of the Rourkes character persuading her to change her mind. He argues that “she is what she is”, “she is unique” and this is what is valued. But what he hides is that exactly her uniqueness is what makes hefty tradeoff with a gangster who is after his life. Her uniqueness is the only value that could delay gangster’s revenge.

So what we see here is that authenticity and uniqueness is literally, a currency within the economic exchanges. And this is a very straightforward reference to advertisings and commercials with the same appeal to the generation of young people, their sense of uniqueness and authenticity. And as is the case in the movie nobody is really going to tell them that they don’t really have any value but commercial value and that the idea of uniqueness and authenticity meters only as long as it feeds the driving engine of production and consumption.

127 Hours

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Media and especially electronic media is an extension of our central nervous system. That was the idea of Marshal McLuhan back in 60’s-70’s. imagine the outreach of the electronic media this days. So much so that for many people denied, or even delayed access to their electronic devices is indeed experienced as an amputation. This word – amputation – is also central to the movie 127 Hours (2008) by Danny Boyle, not only because of its narrative where character amputates his arm in order to survive but also relationship and role medium played in this psychological and mental journey. The movie is kind of diary of that relationship, very interesting diary in fact.

What happened was that young mountain climber became trapped alone in a Utah canyon for days after slipping on a loose rock and gets his arm locked between huge rocks. He is stuck there without food or any communication tools what so ever. Only companion he has is his video camera. To whom he talks, communicates etc during this 127 long hours.

As the time passes the camera becomes more and more important. It appears as a tool, as a function that clarifies that he still exists and more importantly that he is still relevant and not delusional in such high stressed situation. Shortly, video camera assumes the role of social element for him.

But on the flip side because of that substitution where camera takes the role of the social element he never really stays alone even in this hostile situation thus never really able to face hard decision he has to make in order to survive. Decision that unconsciously he must have known for some time already but was not able to admit to himself out loud. The role of the medium now appeared to postpone the problem and obscures the only solution he has left, the solution that is hanging in the air for 127 hours.

Only after the camera runs out of the battery is he able to see clear and simple truth: he must cut his arm off in order to survive. he is able to amputate his arm only after medium (in this case video camera) is amputated.

Perhaps it is relevant to end with one more McLuhan metaphor about myth of Narcissus, who collapses on himself because there is no longer a distance between him and the mirror, between the screen and himself, between him and his medium while closing the circle in a perfect loop.

The movie is just a story of one man’s survival, doesn’t really tries to go further than that, but I think exactly because of that it opens up the possibilities for lots of interpretations. Somehow it got me thinking that this sort of relationship between man and the medium has become the main mythology of our times and will be even more important in the future. And our culture can also close up in the same perfect loop as Narcissus myth describes unless we are able to keep the distance between our reflections and us, between our screens and us, between our faith in technology and our faith in ourselves.

Here I just leave you with some exerts from McLuhans essay:

Medical researchers like Hans Seyle and Adolphe Jonas hold that all extensions of ourselves, in sickness or in health, are attempts to maintain equilibrium. Any extension of ourselves they regard as “autoamputation

Narcissus as Narcosis”. In this subtitle he is recognizing, in a Joycean sense, that Narcissus comes from the word narcosis, which means to be “numb”. When one is considered Narcissistic, one does not recognize their own image and are blind from the mirror (or insight) from which external reality provides

Unless the area is located as the problem, our nervous system will protect itself from pain by producing a counter or balance of that pain in a form that is a representation of that offending pain, accordingly to where that pain derives from in the body. Many times we are unable to locate the discomfort and thereby the technology thats created from this is unseen as anything in our image, and thereby we remain numb to the problem.

Because technology then exists in the autoamputated state, as an exalted quality of ourselves, man then serves as a type of sex organ for these machines to continue their existence. It might be said, then, that machine has its own evolution or intelligence – not unlike our own, and not independent of us, but because of us. “Physiologically, man in the normal use of technology (or his variously extended body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology.”

Four Movies about Escape

(watch it from 1:49 minute)

This is the scene from the movie Dogfight (1991) byNancy Savoca. For me this is one of those moments when something so profound is articulated so easily. This scene in particular lays out in a most precise ways how social groups  and communities function.

Main operation of any social formation or society  appears to be getting rid of the truth and honesty from the social exchanges while at the same time rigorously argue for significance of the same truth, honesty and dignity.

The movie shows that Lie has a quality of glue in a social relationships, it sticks people together. It is this glue that bound this soldiers together and make them very close friends in this movie… Through this collective forgetfulness (or forgive-fulness) about each other they are able to bound. Berzin knows about Eddie that he didn’t slept with officers daughter but with lonely, ugly Rose, and even worse fell in love with her, on the contrary Eddie knows that Berzil didn’t win the Dogfight contest fairly and that he was cheating all the way through. And other two guys pretending to be asleep and not hear their conversation at all. Despites that nobody can deny that they are indeed very close friends I would say precisely because of that they have become even better friends.

… Whereas truth separates, destroys, disintegrates…  just take good old fashion example from the Bible. Take one of the first civil war that was recorded and written down on the paper. Moses comes down from mountain of Sinai, where he just received “Ultimate Truth” carved out in stone – The Ten Commandment. What he sees is that Nation that he left just month ago with a strong faith in ONE God now (very united apparently) worships golden cult.  He didn’t waste his time preaching piece and unity… he simply said who ever is on the side of truth take your arms and fight. Here is Moses possessing the words of GOD, the ultimate truth (Ten Commandments) in his hands, and his truth does not unite, but it separates… it provokes the civil war not piece. Fast forward couple of hundred years and same thing happens in New Testament.  We all know the famous words of Jesus:

–  “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.

“For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; “and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ Etc… etc…

Remember the story about the End of times, second coming? it is also marked with the same action of “separation”. When the lams will be separated from the goats, rights from wrong, lefts from the right.

Later, church founders wore smart enough to draw the “healthy” conclusions from their masters tragic faith and understood that they won’t be able to establish kingdom of God on Earth without considering this basic principle that is so well articulated in this scene of Dogfight:

–       You hit me with little, I buy it… I hit you with little you buy it… It doesn’t makes us idiots, that’s what makes us buddies. – Meaning, that’s what makes us Christians, that’s what makes us community, thats what makes us friends and  family. That’s what makes us leftists or rightists…

Any time this equilibrium is disturbed everything falls apart.  This is perhaps what Jean Baudrillard would call Transparency of Evil. He describes this crystal clear transparent membrane that surrounds everything and everybody, it is so transparent you can’t see it. It is as though it doesn’t exist, you do not drop the shadow on it, and it wouldn’t reflect you either.

Don’t worry I do not mean to bring an example from movie Matrix… But yes, the next movie is a futuristic genre movie and it is even older than Matrix.  I want to continue with movie that has the greatest title ever – Total Recall (1990) by Paul Verhoeven.

You have all seen it I assume, so I’m not going to make lengthy descriptions. Besides unforgettable imagery of tree-breasted women, which still dwells in my childhood’s erotic memory, there is one aspect in the movie that makes it worthy to watch again. Namely, how is the idea of REALITY sold to a main character in this movie. He should NOT remember who he really is. (Because he was revolutionary in past) so in order for the main character to forget his true identity system inserts him in new reality where he has beautiful wife, good friend, job etc… (in fact his wife is not just another women but Sharon Stone herself. A blond women as opposed to brunet freedom fighter, whom he is really in love but he doesn’t not remember that,… I didn’t saw this funny detail but my friend (woman) pointed it out to me saying: never overlook the blond and brunet dialectics in cinema)

The idea here is that your closest friends, your loved ones are the guards and agents of illusion, selling you the idea that our life is the REAL one, it is really “for real”. They are given to him as signifiers of reality. And in fact the main character is so totally surrounded by this REALITY that, only thing he has is his gut feeling that something is not quit right. There is almost no evidence for him to acknowledge this illusion surrounding him without him being perceived as nut case and crazy. In order for him to see through this absolute transparency of his ordinary life, his wife and friends, very advanced “futuristic” mode of life, shortly everything what he perceives as REALITY – he has to do one simple operation – Total Recall. This is the main plot in the movie; the rest is really just Hollywood freak-show.

And again, truth is becoming very destructive (in this case very Hollywood style destructive)…  so he (Mr Arnold himself) will go ahead and kills tones of people to get to this truth…

Total recall and Escape is the topic of another movie (not as old as the previews ones), that develops the idea of movie Total recall even further. The movie is called Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Mind 2004 by Michel Gondry it articulates method of Escape much further.

After the unsuccessful relationship couple breaks up and in willingness to forget the painful memories main-character goes to a doctor to erase all the memories of this relationship. While undergoing this procedure Jim Carrys character figures out that as painful as this memories are, they are essential for his identity as a person. But the procedures have already started and they are very advanced. Folder by folder doctor erases all the memories of his ex-girlfriend from every place they supposed to be stored in his brain. What patient experiences is utter destruction, the whole mental constriction of his REALITY is being destroyed. It is then when he comes up with brilliant idea to hide the memories of her in the places where no doctor would look for. In the places and memories where they not supposed to be. In childhood for example,…(for doctor would never guess that the memories of his ex-girlfriend would be stored as far back as 20 years ago), in the shameful episode of his life  when other kids forced him to kill the wounded pigeon and out of fear being seen as weak he smashes the bird with a hammer…. Many other episodes like this. basically, he is forced to hide the memories in his the innermost private sections of his personality.

And here the movie develops the idea of total recall even further, because Jim Carry’s character not only should recall who he really is like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall but never stay too long with one particular memory, one particular identity (He should never get too sentimental about it, if you like) because he might get caught. Here, the character should be constantly on run not to be erased completely. He should develop much more dynamic way of dealing with his own identity. One that reinvents, recreates and reinterprets everything again and again.  Only this way is it possible for him to make this Escape.

I think it’ll be nice to finish with the movie with successful escape, where the hero against all the odds reaches his horizon, and breaks through his transparency – this is the movie “The Truman Show” (1998) by Peter Weir. It corresponds reality show culture and in some sense us as a products of it.

It is an escape story and again friends, loved one are the ones who are the agents of so called REALITY for the main character. Truman is preconditioned be delusional, because all his life he lived in reality show, he was born in reality show after all. Once again only thing the main character has is his gut feeling that something is not quit right and some things doesn’t add up. I’m not going to talk about the whole movie, I just want to show you the final moment in the movie which is one of the most beautiful cinematographic scene ever. It is when after so much struggle to escape main character Truman finally reaches the edge of his world, reaches the horizon of his REALITY and at that moment the ship knocks on the wall and breaks it in. and suddenly the sky and a horizon that was so real for him for all his life becomes just a superficial wall painted as a cloudy sky and sun that always shone throughout his life was just very powerful studio projector.

I hope it is clear by now why did I group these movies together and why in this sequence. But anyway let me underline and quickly go through them. In the first movie Dogfight lie is glue for the social structures and possible root to escape, in second movie Total Recall character should recall himself, his “true identity” in order to escape and finally here in the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind not only that he should recall but never stay too long with it but be on the run all the time if he wants to Escape.

Escape here means to be one step ahead in order to succeed. It doesn’t mean to be wiser then everybody else, or stronger then everybody else. Because there is always someone stronger then you are and it is impossible to be wiser and smarter than everybody else. But you should be one step ahead in your own total recollection, in your self awareness and self-consciousness, only this way can you make a great escape from transparency of your REALITY or REALITIES around you. One step ahead means the ability to constantly invent and reinvent places where no system and no ideology can reach and penetrate. Places hidden or unknown not only to a grander systems watching over you and ideologies absorbing you but may be hidden and unknown even from you – and this is where PERSONAL really becomes POLITICAL.