Perspectival truth in Stories We Tell and Waltz with Bashir

This is an excerpt.

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During an interview in Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell (2013), Harry – Sarah’s biological father – says: “The crucial function of art is to tell the truth. To find the truth in a certain situation.” How then, does one define truth?Postmodernists like Foucault insist that there is no truth or objective reality (1), however for the purpose of this essay I will examine the films in relation to Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of perspectival truthfulness. For Nietzsche, all truth is perspectival (2), and it is only through exploration of a multiplicity of perspectives that we can come to the most truthful interpretation. This essay examines the ways in which Ari Folman’s animated documentary Waltz with Bashir (2008) and Polley’s Stories We Tell use factual and fictional strategies in pursuit of perspectival truthfulness.

Waltz with Bashir merges factual sound with factical animation to depict the perspectival truth of the 1982 Lebanon War. Martin Heidegger (3) uses the terms ‘factual’ to describe physical existence and ‘factical’ to describe elements beyond actual verification, both of which combine to create our experience of reality. An example of the way Folman’s film presents this dichotomy is in the scene in which Ari arrives at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport. As the Hercules army helicopter lands, we see passenger planes parked beside soldiers and military vehicles. Over the buzz of activity, we hear Folman’s voiceover. He describes his excitement at being there and we feel his wonder as he looks up at the departures board, and passes duty-free stores advertising alcohol, jewellery and tobacco. Then, Folman’s voiceover says, “I suddenly realise what’s going on”, and the camera zooms back through the dirty terminal window; symbolising the move from Folman’s fantasy to traumatic reality. The world has changed. Planes are “bombed-out shells”, the stores are looted and empty, and the departures board hasn’t been changed for months.

As Folman – and the audience – make this realisation, the sound of bombing, shelling and gunfire assault the senses. The scene culminates in a close-up of Folman’s puzzled face. What is shown in this scene is both factual and factical, the two elements connecting to produce an experiential truth of Folman’s experience. This collides with Dudley Andrew’s (4) concept of cinema as a “hyper-natural object where truth exists only in the experiencing of it.” Here, as in memory, animation allows both fact and fiction to coexist. Landesman and Bendor (5) explain that it is precisely “its innovative animation and mixing of fantasy and reality” that allows Waltz with Bashir to provide a sense of reality. Folman’s fantasy at the airport is as real to him as his memory and it is through this perspective that we find the truth of his experience. The juxtaposes uses factical animation and factual sound to emphasise experience over objective reality; in other words, to explore perspectival truth rather than an objective reality.

Similarly, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell uses conflicting interviews to express the plurality of truth possible within a singular experience. Polley’s thesis exists in the film’s title. While there is a singular story – Diane Polley’s extramarital affair that resulted in Sarah’s birth – there are multiple versions of it being told. In engaging with the ‘facts’ of her brothers, sisters, biological and non-biological father as well as others through what Anderst (6) refers to as a “choral autobiography”, Polley’s film rejects objective truth in favour of an imperfect collection of many truths. As Nietzsche (7) wrote in The Dawn of Day: “Never to be able to see into things out of any other eyes but these?… that perhaps means: the impossibility of knowledge!” Polley pursues knowledge through multiple perspectives and in doing so, acknowledges the factual and factical elements of memory. Take, for example, the deceptively simple scene in which Michael recites Diane’s abortion plans. There are multiple characters within the scene: Michael as omniscient storyteller and interview subject (he is credited as both), Diane’s brother Bob and friend Pixie, John, Harry, and Rebecca Jenkins – the actress playing Diane in the film’s re-enactments. Barring Jenkins (who remains the silent puppet of others’ truths), each hold a different interpretation of the event. Michael insists that Diane wanted an abortion for financial reasons, Bob says she was concerned about Down syndrome and John remembers that she was “excited”. Later Harry – who is the biological father – says that she was “elated”.

The interviews within the scene are interspersed with factical re-enactments based on individual memories and filmed to resemble home video footage. There is actual home video footage too, though it is near impossible to discern from the fictional. The only verifiable element within the scene is that Diane had the baby; all else is hearsay, conjecture, interpretation. Perhaps all the characters are telling the truth about their Diane. Diane the mother, the wife, the mistress, the friend. I concur with Anderst (8) when she says that by allowing fact and fiction to coexist, Polley “erases the distinction between the two”. By allowing fact and fiction to exist in such proximity without giving precedence to any one interpretation, Polley’s documentary posits that singular truth is impossible to achieve and what most thoroughly presents truth is a chorus of perspectival experiences.

Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir and Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell utilise strategies of truth and fiction to present unique experiences in the documentary genre. Folman uses the juxtaposition of animation and sound to present factical and factual, fantasy and memory, to come to a perspectival truth through individual and collective experience. This is exemplified in the jarring moment of comprehension at Beirut International Airport. In Polley’s film, she uses a “choral autobiography” in order to express the elasticity of memory and reality and come to terms with Nietzsche’s perspectival truth as the best possible state of truth. Both films posit that truth is something that transcends fact and fiction, fantasy and reality. Absolute truth cannot be reached; it is through embracing many different perspectives that something approximating truth perspectival truth – can be reached, and it is through experiencing cinema that such a state can be achieved.

Works Cited

  1. Iannone, C. (2017). Postmodern Truth?. Academic Questions, 30(2), 129-133.
  2. Mitcheson, K. (2013). Perspectivism in Nietzsche and Herzog: The Documentary Film as a Perspectival Truth Practice. Film-Philosophy, 17(1), 348-366.
  3. Heidegger, M. (1996). Being and time: A translation of Sein und Zeit. SUNY press.
  4. Andrew, J. D. (1976). The major film theories: An introduction. Oxford University Press.
  5. Landesman, O., & Bendor, R. (2011). Animated Recollection and Spectatorial Experience in Waltz with Bashir. Animation, 6(3), 353-370.
  6. Anderst, L. (2013). Memory’s Chorus: Stories We Tell and Sarah Polley’s Theory of Autobiography. Senses of Cinema, 69, 1.
  7. Nietzsche, F., & Kennedy J.M. (Director). (2012) The Dawn of Day. Courier Corporation.
  8. Anderst, L. (2013). Memory’s Chorus: Stories We Tell and Sarah Polley’s Theory of Autobiography. Senses of Cinema, 69, 1.

‘Thelma and Louise’ and the feminisation of the road

Whether represented as the voyage of Dante and Virgil in The Divine Comedy, or the countercultural mavericks of Kerouac’s On the Road, journey narratives have long been a vehicle for cultural critique and individual transformation. Road movies are an evolution of such literary forebears. The genre sets the liberation of the open road against the “oppression of hegemonic norms” and through an historic absence of females, traditionally promotes a “male escapist fantasy linking masculinity and technology” (Cohan et al. 1997, p.2). Ridley Scott’s 1991 feminist road film, Thelma and Louise, subverted such phallocentric representations. By examining two distinct elements of the film’s genre iconography – the highway and camerawork – I will argue that Thelma and Louise offers a feminist perspective in an attempt to transform the classical archetype into a feminist narrative that emphasises female agency.

In Thelma and Louise, the two women violate the culturally coded masculinity of the highway by enacting their female agency. For Lederman (2002), highways symbolise moving beyond the familiar, as well as crossing borders, making them a central feature of the genre’s mise en scène (p.14). When Thelma, a malcontent housewife, and Louise, a weathered waitress, decide to leave their men and go away on a fishing trip, they leave the safety of conformity for the uncertainty of rebellion. One senses that at least Thelma recognises this junction: she brings Daryll’s gun, suggesting that she realises the danger of the highway, particularly for females. When Louise asks her why she brought the weapon, Thelma responds, “the psycho killers,” a fear she previously revealed when packing the car, and a sign that she understands that “for women who travel alone, the stakes are modified” (Dargis 1993, p.87).

As the women traverse the open road, each transgression is paralleled by a literal and metaphysical change. This is symbolised in Thelma and Louise’s clothing, which is “saturated with meaning” (Dargis 1993, p.90). They may drive out of town in virginal white dresses, but by the end of the film they have tossed their lipstick and bras to adopt the hats, cut-off sleeves and flashy sunglasses of outlaws. With power and freedom comes behavioural and aesthetic mimicry of the codified male – they ride the open road, shoot the bad guy, stage a robbery, and dodge police, while their men stay at home domesticated (Daryl) or craving domestication (Jimmy). But this dramatic transformation can’t be read as an asinine gender swap. Just like Ripley in Aliens (1987), it is an example of femininity being reconstructed on screen. By altering the filmic image of femaleness, Scott stresses the body’s “constructed character as costume” (Collins et al. 2012, p.127) and reminds audiences that gender identity isn’t something we possess, it’s something we perform. By showing the unique threat that women face on the unfamiliar road and how Thelma and Louise evolve to conquer it, the film rewrites the traditional manliness of the highway.

Thelma and Louise also subtly offers a feminist perspective through its soundtrack. The most iconic of road movie iconography, the genre uses music to express the thrill of driving as well as accompany the heroes and the viewer on the journey. Healey (1995) stresses that in Thelma and Louise songs and lyrics are stressed to heighten emotion, include the viewer more intimately in the film, and supplement on-screen action (p.104). In the film, the songs are used as an extension of the scene’s setting – often as part of the diegetic sound through a car radio or jukebox. Scott and music director Hans Zimmer use the soundtrack to offer a female perspective in contrast to the blaring rock ‘n’ roll synonymous with the genre’s chauvinist past.

Take, for example, “Little Honey”, a song by Kelly Willis playing in the background of the first scene while Louise moves about the diner. It is about a woman attempting to “get something clear” about her man’s lack of fidelity and portrays a female in an imbalanced position relative to her man. This mirrors the position of both women – Louise is locked in a standoff with Jimmy over developing their relationship and Thelma is in a dismal marriage with her tyrannical, unfaithful, husband Daryll. Thelma makes the lyrics, “you’re comin’ home tomorrow to an empty room” literal by going away without telling Daryll. Fittingly, in their phone call, she refers to him twice as “hon,” a shortening of “honey”. A correlation is drawn between the metaphorical woman of Willis’ song and the perspectives of Thelma and Louise in the film.

No place is the connection between cinematic image and soundtrack more evident than the scene when Louise leaves Thelma with Harlan and Charlie Sexton’s “Badlands” plays. In cinematic parlance “badlands” denotes the brutal violence of Terence Malick’s 1973 film of the same name. Badlands are hopeless realms (both physical and psychological) where chaos and disorder reign, a lawless state where “one false step and you’ll be cut down”. The song’s garbled chorus and forceful guitar foreshadow the danger that Thelma is about to face as Harlan attempts to rape her in the parking lot. It is Louise that cuts down the misogynist Harlan, repudiating the male figure of Charlie Sexton’s song. In Thelma and Louise that show the agency and delve into the badlands.

I have argued that Thelma and Louise is a film that re-interprets codified norms of the road movie genre to offer a feminist narrative. An innovative way that his is achieved, rather than through a tame and asinine gender swap, is through encoding femininity into the traditionally masculine genre iconography – the highway and soundtrack in particular. The highway comes with unique danger for females, which the women evolve to conquer, symbolised through their cosmetic and physical changes. The soundtrack not only accompanies narrative events, it aligns with the women and functions to foreshadow elements of the plot. Before Thelma and Louise, the road was reserved for swaggering outlaws like Easy Rider’s Wyatt and Billy, but through offering a feminist perspective, the film showed audiences that it can be a place for a waitress and a housewife too.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Forces Old Fans to Abandon Ship

I’m sick of criticism being disregarded as not “getting it”. I get Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and I don’t like it.

This contains spoilers, so please don’t read it unless you’ve watched the film.


You know what’s tiresome? Being disregarded as a “super geek” when you critique something from a property you love. It’s a discourse I’ve seen with worrying regularity on numerous forums and comment sections in the hours since watching Star Wars: The Last JediI’m sick of it and I’m sure you are too.

‘Critics’ and ‘reviewers’ are quick to expound, by using a litany of condescending synonyms, just how incorrect anyone who disagrees with them is. Geek. Nerd. Fanboy. It’s frustrating. Being a ‘fan’ is looked upon with the derision and disdain with which Darth Vader sees the ‘Rebel scum’. Although, if the original films were made today, Vader would more likely be force-choking on his own tears over blowing up Alderaan than tormenting rebellion soldiers.

But what would I know, I’m just a meagre *hushed whisper* fan.

And critics will say:

  • Let go of your prejudice, Rian Johnson is challenging what a Star Wars film is — don’t you get it?
  • Humour and jokes and gags, oh my! It doesn’t take itself too seriously, neither should you.
  • Abandoning previously established traits of beloved characters isn’t wrong, it’s maturing the series.
  • Rian Johnson and his band of merry Disney executives subverted fan theories and resolved elements from The Force Awakens in unexpected ways that provided thrilling twists.
  • Fans are holding on to the past. Disney is all about Tomorrowland, propelling relentlessly forward like Princess Leia flying through outer space in her best Mary Poppins impression.
  • Anyway, you don’t even dislike it, you just don’t understand it.

Themes and Politics, A Star Wars Story

Before I go any further, let’s first discard this pretentious myth of Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s depth, underlying themes and, the favourite buzzword of faceless avatars on Twitter, politics.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a mass-produced, popular film that is a part of the most popular franchise in history. It is the definition of mainstream. There are no gold medals for critics spouting that we don’t “get it”. Its themes, metaphors, and allegories are explored with the subtlety of Kylo Ren’s tantrums. I get it, I really do. I just don’t like it — and since when are films judged on what they’re trying to say, they’re judged on how well they bloody say it.

Force Awakens, Force Ashmakens

One of the early scenes sees the continuation of The Force Awakens’ fantastic final shot, where Rey travels to Ahch-To and offers exiled Jedi master Luke Skywalker his lightsaber. A relic of his past. And Obi-Wan’s. And Anakin’s. A grand moment that spouted two-years of rumour and fan theories — all discarded as Luke inspects the lightsaber for a few seconds, before casually tossing it over his shoulder. It felt like a Saturday Night Live sketch. Where’s Matt, the radar Technician? If you listen close enough you can hear the canned laughter.

The message is clear: toss away your preconceptions. Discard everything you thought you knew. This speeder is going in a new direction. Buckle up. I mean, why satisfy fans that have waited for a two-year payoff? Why not dispose of the entire climax of Episode VII with a lazy flick of the wrist.

Out with the old, in with the new

Luke Skywalker, one of the most iconic characters in pop culture history. A bastion of reckless optimism, the farm boy who rose to Jedi Knight and saved the galaxy, is now more Scrooge than Skywalker. He’s a curmudgeon who has lost all faith in the galaxy, in the Jedi, in himself. And lost his memory too.

He’s an old man in self-imposed exile, approached by a wannabe hero who pleads with him to join the rebellion against an evil empire led by Luke’s former pupil.

You would be forgiven for thinking that ol’ Lukey boy might notice some parallels between his current predicament and that of Obi-Wan thirty years earlier. You‘d be wrong. Maybe his time training with Yoda on Dagobah is fresher? Nope. Apparently Luke isn’t one to learn from the past. He’s too haunted by his failure that gave rise to Kylo Ren, and boy does he let you know it. Through at least three flashbacks, and a performance made up of brooding close-ups and whining — the later being the only trait remotely close to the Luke we all know and love.

Eventually, he relents. He will train Rey. We only see one such session, where he trains her in ‘reaching out’ with the force. It just so happens that she reaches out and latches on to the ‘Dark Side’ of the force. Luke’s only seen this happen once before. With Kylo Ren. He “wasn’t scared enough then”, and is now. Eery — and never again explored.

On the island is an ancient tree containing the biblical texts of the Jedi religion. Luke decides to destroy said tree and books. Giggling force ghost Yoda, who resembles the wise, deceptively senile muppet from The Empire Strikes Back, pops in to assist Luke via a strike of lightning. The tree goes up in flames. The archaic ways of the Jedi are destroyed. The way is paved for a new generation of the Jedi Order to be built. (Except its not, it’s later revealed that Rey had the books all along, which undermines the precious theme).

It is no mistake this destruction takes place in flames. Again, we see this theme of the passing of the torch. The old generation is burnt, and the new shall be forged from the ashes. Johnson uses Yoda to suit his agenda. If Luke burns down what remains of the Jedi religion, it is the action of a bitter old man, but Yoda is the wisest being in Star Wars. If he approves, then it must be right.

This is what Johnson sees himself as doing — burning what we know aboutStar Wars to the ground, in order to build it anew from the ashes. He sees fans as those who grip desperately to the old ways of the Jedi, and himself as the Yoda figure, who must destroy what we previously knew to allow something new to rise from the smouldering embers.

Unfortunately, it’s not a fierce, beautiful phoenix that rises from the smouldering flames; it’s a Porg. A walking plush toy mandated by the powers-that-be at Disney to hit sales targets and sell toys. Signifying a future of films cooked up with one eye on the camera, another on the boardroom. Films that are full of danger that, like a mirage, is never quite realised. Inhabited by cute and cuddly characters with a veneer of substance that shatters like Captain Phasma’s helmet at the slightest glancing blow.

A Failure of a Film About Failing Heroes

This movie is a movie about failure. Hopes are dashed, plans foiled, allies fail to answer the call and our heroes constantly disappoint. Poe’s hare-brained bombing run results in thousands of casualties. A side-quest involving Finn and newcomer Rose not only plays out like a filler episode of Star Wars Rebelsbut actively works against the overall plan of Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), whose scheme is like if the English Army evacuating Dunkirk only returned to shore with a boatful of soldiers. Rey doesn’t turn Kylo to the light side. Snoke can’t control his pupil. Heck, even the rebellion gas tanks fail, in a plot point that makes one crave the comparatively enthralling taxation levies and Trade Federation blockade of the prequels. There’s no hope of the rebellion defeating the First Order in The Last Jedi — they’re doing all they can to get out alive.

Jacob Hall has an explanation, via SlashFilm:

Maybe it’s dangerous to worship our heroes to the point of idolatry, to convince ourselves that they can never do wrong, never make mistakes, and never let their hubris create monsters that threaten a new generation.

I agree. Blindly following heroes in the real world can be dangerous. Often you set yourself up for disappointment when it’s inevitably revealed that your favourite writer, actor, sports star or cosmologist isn’t perfect. They make mistakes. They’re human. But — is Star Wars, an epic fantasy space-opera full of silly creatures and Buddhist space samurai really the right vessel to explore that message? I don’t think so.

On Rian Johnson’s new Disneyland ride — oops I mean film — there is no room for heroes. Legends. Good vs. Evil. It’s a politically correct campus safe space where there is no ‘bad guy’. He’s just misunderstood. A place where there is a horrendous twenty-minute segway to a casino for a brisque critique of unregulated capitalism. A place full of creatures stolen from Pokemon concept art, of Marvel-esque one-liners and quips which break the modicum of tension built, where the protagonist is saved at the last second in the clutches of certain death. In other words — a Marvel movie with a Star Wars coat of paint.

There is a visually stunning moment where Laura Dern’s lavender-haired Admiral, the worst Star Wars character of all time, stays behind and sacrifices herself in a kamikaze hyper-speed jump into the First Order command ship. It was a moment that could have held real gravitas — wasn’t it that no one gives a shit about Admiral Holdo. Meanwhile, off-screen, goddamn Admiral Ackbar is killed with barely a cursory mention in a line of dialogue. If that doesn’t sum up the entire mindset of the film then I don’t know what does.

Playing with expectations? No, sabotaging them

The Last Jedi knows our expectations. It was made with full awareness of the questions circulating around the internet: Who are Rey’s parents? Who’s Snoke? Who the hell are the Knights of Ren? What will Luke do when he receives his lightsaber? Will he train Rey? Can Kylo be redeemed? And a trillion others. People who act like fandom invented these questions are ridiculous — ‘they’ JJ Abrams and co., set the expectations, then proceeded to shatter them.

Johnson had no responsibility to answer ALL these questions, but he did have to answer some, if not most. And of course, potential answers have been theorised and debated for two-years since the release of The Force Awakens — from Rey being a clone of Jar Jar Binks to Luke using his lightsaber as a flute. What no-one, no-one, expected, was for Rian Johnson to write down all the unresolved questions on a napkin, stand from his exclusive table in a Hollywood restaurant, walk to the toilet, napkin in hand, and proceed to wipe his arse with the question-covered napkin. But that’s what he did, and masqueraded the resolutions as ‘twists’It’s a tad easier to craft a twist when you know what everyone is waiting for and intentionally take a complete right turn.

Supreme Leader Joke

Supreme Leader Snoke is a somewhat Marvel-esque figure of ominous power, who rules with seemingly limitless power and is shrouded in mystery. Signs were promising early in The Last Jedi. He sat in his blood-red throne room straight out of Dario Argento’s wet dream, surrounded by guards in lobster-style armour inspired by The Imperial Guard. He’s powerful enough to force-drag General Hux from within a hologram, create a mental bridge between Kylo and Rey, and when his plan comes to fruition and Rey is brought to his chambers, control her with the flick of a decayed, sinewy finger.

But, as Luke Skywalker says early in the film, “This isn’t going to go the way you think.” One assumes that Snoke will be the big bad guy until the third film where he is eventually overthrown. Ol’ trickster Rian has other plans. Instead of executing Rey, Kylo uses the force to operate the lightsaber laying on the arm of Snoke’s chair and cuts him in half. Dun. Dun. Dun! Then proceeds the only real lightsaber battle of the film which plays out like a piece of fan fiction or a multiplayer match in Star Wars Battlefront II. Kylo and Rey fight side by side and slaughter Snoke’s guard, in an action-scene that would make the Arrow choreographers wince in dismay. Snoke becomes an insignificant, minor distraction. A joke.

Which ties into the theme of unceremonious failure. All-powerful Snoke is killed by his inconsistent, morally torn and endlessly angsty protege. Bla, bla, bla, death doesn’t care who you are, what your story is, it comes upon you with the same might whether you are a king or a pauper etc. Boring. How about this: They spent one-and-a-half films setting up an Emperor-like, omnipotent, supreme villain — who was killed with the ease of a protocol droid. Oh — except that would be harder — BB8 has proven to be the most overpowered character in Star Wars history.

A Rogue Squadron of Other Issues

In the interest of not overstaying my welcome, allow me to breeze over some other major issues.

  • a bumbling General Hux who goes from delivering one of the most menacing speeches of the series to being a bumbling buffoon and the victim of a ‘your mumma’ joke courtesy of Poe Dameron.
  • Finn facing certain death and a worthy sacrifice (one I was cheering for), only to be saved at the last moment. Then, in the most on-the-nose scene since Anakin and Padmé discussing sand, being kissed by his saviour.
  • Captain Phasma returning in an encore performance of equal parts disappointment and shiny armour. Oh, and she’s called “chrome dome” by Finn. Someone, please take the pen away from Mr Johnson.
  • Or what about DJ, the Lando stand-in, who chops and changes between being good and bad so many times that even Rian Johnson loses track. When an AT-ST shoots at a band of stormtroopers to save Finn, I was certain that it would be the stuttering Codebreaker back to save the day. But it’s BB8. Again. And you thought Rey was a Mary Sue.
  • And how could anyone ever forget the ultimate twist, from our Lord and Saviour Rian Johnson, when Princess Leia seems to be dead in space after being blown from the cockpit of her ship, before returning to life and flying back into the hold like a force-wielding Mary Poppins. It’s the most unintentionally funny scene in the history of cinema. It’s the moment in a normal movie where you walk out of the theatre. I can’t believe a group of people sat down to watch the dailies, and actually gave that the nod of approval. “Yep, you nailed that one out of the park, Rian.”
  • Or that the entire plot revolves around Admiral Holdo intentionally withholding her strategy from the rebellion. If she simply tells Poe her plan, not only is Finn’s quest obsolete, thousands of lives are saved.
  • An oddly inconsistent tone. Characters constantly face death and make inappropriate jokes which drain scenes of any tension. Not to mention the litany of nonsensical decisions characters make — mainly, why the hell does Luke invent the hardest possible way to fish???
  • It’s the longest Star Wars movie and doesn’t it feel like it. God. It makes attacks of the Clones feel like a YouTube short.
  • I can forgive Rey’s rapid rise to power in The Force Awakens. But in The Last Jedi, Rey wields both a lightsaber and the force with prowess that makes a joke of, y’know, the training and hard work required to be a Jedi. She continues to be a character of limitless power who can do no wrong.Did anyone else find it weird when she knocked that creatures wheelbarrow over, destroying his days work, and didn’t apologise?The climax of the film sees her displace a mountain of debris with the force to open an escape route for the rebellion — it took weeks, if not months of training with Yoda for Luke to be able to lift a rock.
  • The plot doesn’t advance. Characters and factions are the exact same place they were in after The Force Awakens, and the rebellion is somehow WORSE OFF after destroying Starkiller Base in the previous instalment.
  • Argh! And I almost forgot. That cringe-inducing Maz Kanata hologram, who apparently travels with a camera crew while she fights. And I’m fairly certain she doesn’t actually know Poe. Another integral character reduced to a cardboard cutout to deliver a quest and a quip — the Marvel formula.
  • I really like Adam Driver (watch Patterson), and try really hard to like Kylo Ren, but he feels like Peter Parker corrupted by the symbiote in Spiderman-3. A petulant, emo child who listens to Good Charlotte and Green Day on the Walkman his mum bought him.

If it’s so bad, what’s with the critical reception?

I… I… I don’t know. I really don’t think that Disney pays off critics, as people love to declare on social media. I do, however, believe that critics and reviewers being given early access to the film and being understandably excited to watch it plays a part. They attend a premiere full of realistic cosplay, surrounded by peers and stars and alcohol and with the knowledge of how exclusive the event is. Few would be able to resist the pomp and ceremony.

I just can’t see how plot holes, poor writing, and jokes more suited to the Big Bang Theory than Star Wars has largely avoided the critical gaze. Criticism is met with cries of misunderstanding and condescension. Rian Johnson is a decent filmmaker — Looper was okay, Brick less so — and I can’t imagine how difficult it is making a film with the scope of The Last Jedi. But it’s not my job, it’s his. And through egotism and, attempts to subvert expectations rather than entertain, he failed in every way to make a compelling Star Wars movie.

But what would I know, I’m just a meagre *hushed whisper* fan.

 

 

 

 

Wind As The Embodiment Of Evil In ‘The Exorcist’

Wind in the mis-en-scène represents the demon Pazuzu.

Laced with brutal scenes and confronting obscenities, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist transcends the horror genre and is ‘one of the most celebrated horror films of all time’ (Jones 2012, p. 99). It has proven to be a film of thematic and critical duality, with underlying themes and ideas that deeply affected audiences at its release in 1973, and continue to do so 43 years later. Mise-­en­scène is an expression of such cinematic themes, which Rohdie (2006, p.5) defines as ‘rendering of emotion and expression by decor, performance, movements and gestures, settings and the use of the camera and lighting’. Filmmakers ‘carefully choreograph’ (Smith 200, p.123) what they want to appear in their films and mise­-en-­scène is a part of this choreography, assisting the director in shaping understanding of the film by using certain visual cues and symbolism. In The Exorcist, Friedkin uses wind as an invisible embodiment of the ‘demon or evil spirit’ (Medhurst 1978, p. 75) in the mise­en­-scène in order to represent the evil within Regan, and associate her with evil.

The director uses wind as a part of the films mise-­en-­scène to represent the demon which inhabits Regan. From the opening scene at the archaeological dig site, Friedkin creates an ‘eerie, chilling aura’ (Medhurst 1978, p.78) which indicates that the wind may be something more than it seems. If one looks outside the context of the film, it can be seen that the wind is intimately connected with the ancient statue Father Merrin looks upon at the films beginning. The wind carries the spirit of the god ‘Pazuzu, demon of the southwest wind’ (Blatty 1974, p.132). While the name is never mentioned within the film, interestingly through intertextuality one can see the intimate relationship between the demon and wind.

Hence, as Medhurst (1978, p.79) explains, it is a demonic or evil spirit that the wind depicts and which the audience tracks through the auteurs lense from the archaeological dig to Regan MacNeil’s bedroom. One can then come to the assumption that ‘if the wind is equal to an evil spirit, and the wind is linked with Regan, then Regan personifies an evil spirit’ (Medhurst 1978, p.80). From this point forward Regan embodies the spirit of evil which had earlier been associated with the wind. Nearing the film’s climax the mise­en­scène of Regan’s room suggests that Regan’s evil is at its most potent, as the cold draft is so severe during the exorcism that both Father Merrin and Damien are ‘bundled in coats and exhaling steam columns’ (Creed 1993, p.78).

Once the evil is passed on to Regan through the wind, it is of equal importance how the mise-­en-­scène portrays that evil, and how the evil is defined within the little girl. A key element of the representation is the performance by Linda Blair. Both Blair’s physical performance and the transformation of Regan’s appearance provide a series of ‘performance queues through which the narrative is articulated’ (Taylor 2007, p.15). Clover (1992, p.80) explores how her skin explodes with oozing blistery sores, she urinates on the carpet, spews green bile, bleeds from her genitals and she masturbates with a crucifix. What violates our expectations and terrifies audiences is that ‘these senseless acts come from a tender little girl’ (Saks 1974, p.86). The mise-­en-­scène of the movements and gestures performed by Blair intimately and confrontingly explore the evil’s corruption of Regan’s body.

The clearest confirmation of the demon’s embodiment as wind comes at the film’s climax. As Damien exclaims “take me, come into me!”, Friedkin cuts to the window showing the billowing wind entering precisely as the evil proceeds to transfer to Damien’s body, leading to his demise. In a direct Christian allegory, Karass ‘chooses death so that another might have life’ (Medhurst 1978, p.85). It is a common misconception that evil forces Karras out the window, though Blatty testifies that regardless of any unintended ambiguity, the finale is ‘a triumph for Karras’ (Elliot 1974, p.66). Thus, in perhaps the most overhanded example of the wind as evil in the mise-­en-­scène, Friedkin makes it apparent that the wind billowing through the window marks the transfer of evil between Regan to Damien. It’s important to note the mise­-en-­scène of Damien’s body as he lay dying. The air is still, not a hint of wind troubles the night as paramedics rush to his lifeless corpse.

In adapting William Peter Blatty’s original novel, Friedkin brought his auteurial eye to the project to create a masterpiece of modern filmmaking. Through his masterful use of mise-­en-­scène in particular, Friedkin helps shape the audience’s understanding of the film through almost imperceptible visual cues and symbolism. The mise­-en­-scène of the wind image as a literal and figurative spirit of evil associates Regan symbolically with the appearance of evil, and is an integral part of the film’s imagery. While the physical mise-­en­scène performed by Linda Blair ensures that the film terrifies and unnerves audiences with her physical manifestation of evil to this day.

 

References:

Blatty, W 1974, “There is a Goodness in The Exorcist,” America, 23 February, 132.

Clover, C 1992, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, Princeton University Press, New Jersey. 76­82.

Creed, B 1993, The Monstrous­feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Routledge, Oxon, 70­79.

Elliott, O 1974, “The Exorcist Frenzy,”. Newsweek, 11 February, 60.

Jones, M 2012, “Shock horror: Genre, audience and the anatomy of fear,” Screen Education, №65, Autumn, 96­99

Medhurst, M 1978, “Image and ambiguity: A rhetorical approach to The Exorcist,” Southern Speech Communication Journal, Vol. 44, Iss. 1. 70­85.

Saks, M 1974, “The Exorcist Film Review,” Society, May 1974, Volume 11, Iss. 4, pp 86­87

Smith, G 2001, “It’s Just a Movie”: A Teaching Essay for Introductory Media Classes,” Cinema Journal, Vol. 41, Iss. 1, Fall, 127­134.

Taylor, A 2007, “Twilight of the Idols: Performance, Melodramatic Villainy and Sunset Boulevard,” Journal of Film & Video, Vol. 59, №2, Summer, 13­31.

Rohdie, S 2006, “Studies,” Screening the Past, Iss. 19, March, 4­10.

How ‘Cache’ Negotiates History, Race and Colonialism

Michael Haneke explores France’s postcolonial past and issues of collective trauma and memory.

Austrian director Michael Haneke explains that his 2005 film Caché is “a tale of morality dealing with how one lives with guilt. Do I accept it? And if I don’t what do I do? And if I do, what do I do?”. Cache explores the disruption of Georges and Anne Laurent’s bourgeois life by mysterious videotapes, though it quickly becomes apparent that the story is an allegory addressing what historian Jean-­Luc Einaudi termed the ‘Battle of Paris,’ the police pogrom on 17 October 1961 of hundreds of Algerians participating in a peaceful demonstration in opposition to the French occupation of Algeria. Haneke uses this historical event that has been wiped from the French collective memory to frame his exploration of racism, violence and guilt in a postcolonial context from the point of view of the privileged white middle class. This essay argues that Haneke purposefully does not suggest solutions to the ingrained postcolonial guilt that France suffers from. Instead, he uses the character of Georges who incarnates postcolonial France to investigate the French colonial past and postcolonial future, to ask questions concerned with memory, forgetting, and dealing with trauma; on both a personal and national level.

Georges’ refusal to accept responsibility for his actions against Majid as a child acts as a parallel with current postcolonial France, who Ezra and Sillars explain is ‘neither wholly responsible for, nor wholly untainted by, past events’. The film establishes two central lies, perpetrated by George at the age of six: telling Majid that George’s father insisted that he behead the rooster (let us not forget that the rooster is the symbol of France), and telling his father that he’d seen Majid coughing up blood at night, a symptom of tuberculosis. These lies lead to Georges’s parents deciding not to adopt Majid, and he is sent away to an orphanage. These lies resurface when childlike drawings of these events are attached to the voyeuristic videotapes being sent to the home of Georges and Anne.

Wood argues that the lies of Georges have been transformed into an emblem of French colonial guilt, which ‘has turned from personal to symbolic.’ While to an extent she is correct, in no society can a six -year­-old be legally or ethically held responsible for his actions, and his motivation is clearly an ordinary if unsavoury childhood impulse. Surely France’s negligence of its past wrongdoings cannot be related to the plight of a six-­year-old child? A more accurate analysis is that it is not the fact that Georges lied as a child, it is his refusal as an adult to acknowledge the shattering effects of his earlier actions that is the true ‘crime’ committed.

In the film, Georges verbally announces ‘I refuse to have a bad conscience,’ an outright protest against accepting responsibility for his past actions. But his ultimate act of refusal happens in the final scenes. He retreats into his bedroom, taking two tablets (or cachets, a play on words with the film’s title), before closing his thick curtains to the outside world, and metaphorically, to the past.

Haneke uses Georges’s refusal to accept responsibility for past actions as a metaphor for France’s similar refusal in regards to the Algerian War. In December of 2005, French President Chirac rejected calls that he should apologise for acts of torture committed during the Algerian War of Independence. Human rights scholar Elazar Barkan explains that the recognition of historical injustices is crucial in establishing the first step to “validate… victims’ memory and identity,” in order to “transform the trauma of victimisation into a process of mourning and to allow for rebuilding.” The parallels between Georges and postcolonial France are uncanny. Georges clearly serves as an allegory for France’s post-colonial guilt, denial, and refusal to accept traumatic events in its past which restrict the ability to rebuild.

The aesthetic, stylistic and narrative components of Caché entice us to identify with Georges, and forces audiences to become complicit with the guilt and simultaneously see the error in his personal qualities. As a crime thriller, it encourages us to look for clues to discover who sent the tapes and from the first shot inside Anne and Georges’s home positions audiences with our ‘victim’ Georges. The sequence, filmed in a single take, lasts three minutes. The camera is mobile, but insists on sticking with Georges which aligns audiences with his actions and thoughts. The camera pans only when he moves across the kitchen, is static when he stands still, and follows closely behind his head and shoulders as he moves from dining room to kitchen. As Haneke’s camera puts importance on Georges over Anne and Pierrot, suspense is created. We become further embroiled in the detail of the family’s life, and in Georges’ involvement in the tapes. It soon becomes evident that Georges is not the innocent victim so often depicted within the genre.

As explored earlier, Georges is not a sympathetic character, though Caché ensures that we identify with him as the protagonist. Repeatedly, we are kept at a distance by the central character’s evasiveness, though there is the undeniable feeling of being drawn to him. This brings tension to the audience and adds to the film’s unsettling tone. Audiences have no choice but to witness and identify with George’s denial and refusal to feel guilty. Yet we can simultaneously see the error in these qualities and acknowledge our own complicity in the denial.

The aesthetic of the film also links contemporary racial tension and ideological tensions. This point is quite clearly conveyed when Georges runs into the black cyclist. His violently assertive and confrontational reaction to this minor incident alludes rather heavy-handedly to France’s modern treatment of different races. Georges is eager to pass the blame onto the black cyclist, and does not accept his part in the incident. Parallels to the grander themes of the story are clear.

Haneke explains that he uses this audience alignment to promote change audiences, as he emphasises the relationship between the repression of historical memory, and its relationship to the repression of personal memories. Georges is unable or unwilling to see himself in any role other than the victim, and this sentiment is paralleled when one sees Georges as an allegorical figure representing postcolonial France. We also see the racial and ideological tensions when Georges collides with the cyclist, and the scene where he ignores the global news. Positioning the audience with Georges simultaneously positions them with France, and as audiences become disconcerted and acknowledge complicity in both Georges and France’s racial xenophobia and denial of historical events, they can come to understand the implications of their own personal and cultural denial.

Caché reinforces the colonial ideals of what Celik calls ‘saving the natives,’ particularly during the traumatic scene of Majid’s suicide. Postcolonial theorist Frantz Fanon recalls the trope of the untutored, suicidal and confused “native children” unable to prevent themselves from self-­harm. Fanon underscores the troublesome logic of the colonizer, who “imposes his power on the native through the claim that his absence rather than his presence will cause the native to revert back to beastiality.” From Fanon’s description and Majid’s suicide, it could be said that in killing Majid, Haneke implies that the effects of post-colonialism are similar to the effects of colonialism. Celik explains that ‘it is again the presence not the absence, of colonial conditions, of a colonial gaze, that leads to violence.” Therefore in the suicide scene, Georges’ very presence is the catalyst for violence, much like the colonial presence of France in Algeria.

Majid’s suicide, then, can be seen as a protest of the colonialist ideals in French society. Majid rebels against these ideals by slitting his throat in front of Georges, creating a physical wound that Georges is unable to ignore, deny or forget. There is no hiding from this wound like Georges hides from the psychological wounds of his past. This wound is also one that reaches out to the spectator. This is the single most shocking cinematic moment I have seen, and this Haneke’s intention. The director uses Majid’s suicide in such an explicit way as to force viewers to face their own buried past, as Georges must view his with Majid, and as France must view its own memories of 17 October 1961.

The scene is bloody and disturbing. As Georges leaves the static frame we, as the audience, are left to our own devices to register what has taken place. The symbol and visual imagery of blood splattered across the wall is the same that adorns the film’s poster, which evokes the bleeding nation. Haneke admits it symbolises the history of violence that has, until recently, been ‘repressed in the French collective conscious’. Though interestingly Paul Gilroy has issues with Majid’s suicide, seeing it as “an exclusively aesthetic event, devoid of all meaning apart from what it communicates about Georges.” I disagree.

Much like the hidden of the title is not the point of the film, the suicide is not about Georges, it is about the audience. Before slitting his throat, Majid says to Georges, ‘Je voulais que tu sois present’ (I wanted you to be present). Just as Majid wants Georges to be present, Haneke desires that the audience be present, and to a greater extent that society be present. He wants people to be affected by the horror of the act he represents. Caché demands that we become not just passive observers, but active participants. Haneke uses the suicide of Majid to force both Georges and the audience to bear witness to the effects of colonial and post-colonial society, to recognise and bear witness to cultural trauma in order to promote change.

This idea of change becomes prevalent as the credits roll. During the last scene, we see Pierrot and Majid’s sons, two characters that have no right knowing each other. They share a conversation on the school steps. Interpretations of this moment are boundless, with no concrete truth. ­ Did they create the tapes? Wood (2006, p.40) asks if this final revelation is a sign that Georges’ punishment has only just begun? Perhaps the question is ‘do you believe that change is possible?’ While Haneke is known for his pessimistic views of society, undoubtedly the scene can be read as hinting towards the possibility of collaboration and renewal in younger generations.Though my personal preference would be this optimistic view, it does not seem to fit in such a sombre film. While the subject evades one true answer, it is interesting to note that the meeting only takes place after Majid’s death. Does the past need to be buried to open the way to future? The film offers no easy resolutions and chooses to leave things in suspense. Possibly the importance of the ending isn’t in the answer. It stays unresolved, much like France’s postcolonial guilt.

In an interview with Cineaste, Haneke uses the extended metaphor of a ski jump to explain his films relationship with audiences.

“A film ought to be like a ski jump, but it is the viewer who must do the jumping. To enable the viewer to do so, the jump has to be constructed in a certain way that lets the viewer fly.”

This succinctly summarises the brilliance of Michael Haneke’s cinema and the brilliance of Caché. Audiences initially identify with the bourgeois couple Georges and Anne, though steadily begin to feel guilty at their alliance with this clearly immoral man and finally realisation dawns. Audiences recognise their moral duty that Georges neglects to accept.

In the same interview, Haneke explains that as an artist, the only thing you can do is thematize things, not suggest solutions. Perhaps frustratingly so for some, that is what Haneke achieves with Caché. While only mentioning the events of October 17, 1961, once, through the allegorical figure of Georges, Caché manages to investigate France’s colonial past and postcolonial future. The film is concerned with memory, forgetting, and dealing with trauma; on both a personal and national level. As much as Georges is an allegory for France, France is an allegory for all colonial countries. No viewer is free from the themes explored by Haneke. Caché succeeds in forcing audiences to bear witness to personal and cultural trauma. It reminds us that in order to stop the cycle of violence, racial disharmony, and guilt, we cannot close our curtains to the world like Georges. ­We must face our historical and personal trauma in order to begin the process of rebuilding.

References:

“Algeria: Chirac Rejects ‘Torture Apology,’” December 15, 2000.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/1071504.stm

Celik, Ipek A. “”I Wanted You to Be Present”: Guilt and the History of Violence in Michael Haneke’s Caché.” Cinema Journal 50.1 (2010): 5-9­80.

Chow, Vance.”Trapped Beneath the Surface: ‘Hidden’.” Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine 149 (2006): 60-­63.

David Kaye, U.S. Department of State, Richard B. Bilder. “The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices. By Elazar Barkan.” American Journal of International Law 95 (2001): 744­-997.

Einaudi, Jean.­L. (1991) La Bataille de Paris  , 17 Octobre 1961, Seuil, Paris.

Ezra, Elizabeth, and Sillars, Jane. “ Hidden in plain sight: bringing terror home” (2007): Screen Vol. 48, P. 215­-221.

Fanon, Franz. The Wretched of the Earth (Les damnés de le terre  , 1961), trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1963), 211.

Gilroy, Paul. “Shooting Crabs in a Barrel.” Screen 48.2 (2007): 233-­35.

Haneke, Michael. (2003) ‘The world that is known: an interview with Michael Haneke,’ by Christopher Sharrett, Cineaste, V ol. 28, no. 3, pp. 28-­31.

Haneke, Michael. (2005) ‘Collective guilt and individual responsibility: an interview with Michael Haneke,’ by Portron, R., Cineaste  , vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 50-­51.

Hubner, Laura. “Tension, Transition and Tone in Michael Haneke’s Caché. “ Studies in European Cinema 9. (2012): 99­-108.

Mcfadden, Cybelle H. “Franco­-Algerian Transcultural Tension and National Allegories.” South Atlantic Review 74.2 (2009): 112-­28.

Price, Brian, and Rhodes, John David. On Michael Haneke / Edited by Brian Price and John David Rhodes. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2010.

Virtue, Nancy. E. “Memory, Trauma, and the French­Algerian War: Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005).” Modern & Contemporary France 19.3 (2011): 281­96.

Wood, Robin. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Robin Wood on Michael Haneke’s Cache.(FILM).” Art forum International 44.5 (2006): 35.