Thoughts On


Shorts #107

Today's shorts: Suspicion (1941), Super Dark Times (2017), I Am Not A Witch (2017), 6 Underground (2019), Doctor Sleep (2019), The Gentleman (2020), Cats (2019), Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Hitchcock was always at his best when a sense of comedy and an explicit ambiguity pervaded his narrative.

Suspicion is as twisted as it is immersive. A pathological, psychologically driven thriller that could be compared to Mildred Pierce, this leaves us trapped in an unpalpable Freudian complex. The melodrama is tantalising, absurd and truly brilliant. Punchy, funny, suave and ballsy, this is one of my favourite Hitchcock films.

Incredible. Absolutely phenomenal.

Haptics are off the charts. Crisply textured, dense, twisted, funny, exuding photogenie, ingeniously shot, authentic as it gets... a perfect film. Incredible. I'm so grateful to have watched this.

I Am Not A Witch constructs a narrative with impressionist obfuscation, which is to say, through its structure, this is as confounding as our character is confused. Without reason and clarity, this puts into combat chance and coincidence with corruption and superstitious oppression by using an accusation of witchcraft to highlight those elements of nature - human nature, and the nature of the unfolding of life - that appear simultaneously consciously sadistic and benevolently bitter. It is hard to put into words the intent of this film beyond this, but it is not hard to recommend it.

I have a soft spot for Bay productions. I have seen this twice already. It is as clunky and unfunny as it is engaging and ludicrously joyful. No one is in great artistic form; the comedic acting is... fine... the sound design and soundtrack are... something to behold... the brutal CGI is... maybe respectable... the direction is intensely incoherent... and the cinematography is lush... in an epileptic kind of way. Seen alone and late at night, this is full of giggles and smiles. The magnet scene is ridiculous. Let's not make mention of the politics.

Really rather good.

Doctor Sleep holds its own as a sequel to Kubrick's behemoth. It is far more articulate and self-exploratory than the former film, and this lends it a unique edge. The Shining is an incredibly ambiguous descent into a hell of a questionably supernatural character. Doctor Sleep focuses on the downplayed supernatural elements of The Shining, simultaneously illuminating and expanding upon the previous narrative in a highly fascinating way. Though at moments a bit too intense (Stephen King horror adaptations really seem to want to push the line in regards to the depiction of child abuse and violence around adolescents these days), Doctor Sleep is a great companion piece to a classic that has not been impinged upon. I need to watch this again.

I'll say this for now and leave it at that... if I had a choice of re-watching either The Gentleman or The Irishman, I'd go for The Gentlemen 9 times out of 10.

Never have I been transported by a film like I was by Cats. I do not mean to suggest that this is either a good or bad quality of this incredibly strange... artefact... but every time I hear the ominous and anxious soundtrack of this film, I feel myself being sucked back into something like an undesirable psychedelic experience. Watching Cats, I truly found myself going places. Where I went, I do not know. What happened there, I cannot tell you. It was a strange and draining place, as meaningless as it was irritating. Self importantly inane, Cats is an incredible wonder. In 20 years, the world will look back with wonder. I hope it does.

Truly phenomenal. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is the definition of sensuous; it masterfully establishes distance between characters before breaking this down and again building this up again. This oscillation between near and far, metaphorically, physically and existentially, manifest a purely powerful sensuality that I cannot recall any other film conjuring in such an impactful manner.

The cinematography and framing are simple and stunning; the way in which faces and eyes sit on the screen--truly overwhelming. And then imbued into this is an intricate story of the gaze, of memory and reality, freedom and fate. Incredibly nuanced, incredibly affective, masterfully directed by Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is magic.


Cinema & Synchronicity

Thoughts On: Jungian Film Theory

A consideration of the contingency and chance significance of meaning in artistic mediums.

Art finds you as much as you find it. I have been interested of late in a wider conception of cinematic and artistic meaning under a Jungian lens. It is fascinating to think of meaning as related to primordial imagery, the unknown symbol and archetypal patterns in space and time, but there is a reality one has to face when pondering the universal nature of meaning and knowledge. Not everyone feels meaning equally. What's more, our sensitivity to meaning is constantly shifting. One year you may hate a certain filmmaker, or for that case, love another. The next, you may love the former and hate the latter. Things change; meaning shifts. Think of the shows and films you watched as a kid. The quality and depth of those works is radically different to a matured self. I am often taken aback by the material that my younger family members consume on YouTube: creepy adults playing with ponies and barbies, even weirder goons dressing up as Disney and Marvel characters and prancing about in completely nonsensical narratives... I'm sure you understand what I am alluding to. Let us not get lost. Let us consider as an extension of this the first time a piece of work hits you and moves you notably with its meaning. How and why does this happen? Research into more obscure Jungian concepts has presented me with some interesting ways in which to think of this question.

So much of Jungian thought coalesces in a concept he devises (and in part appropriates) from alchemical thought and, most importantly, Taoist philosophy. This concept is the unus mundus. The term is Latin and translates to 'one world'. Understanding this term and its significance is rather simple. Carl Jung, psychoanalyst (and, seen from a certain perspective, philosopher) shared with other psychoanalyst the assumption of there existing an unconscious faction of the mind. Where Freud is commonly thought to have split the mind into two distinct layers (unconscious and conscious) with a buffer zone between them (pre-conscious), Jung split the mind into three distinct layers: consciousness, personal unconsciousness and collective unconsciousness. Important to make note of is the collective unconscious. It must be thought of in somewhat biological terms. Humans all are unique; they have unique bodies. However, part of what makes the body identifiably human are certain universal elements, such as organs. We are all unique biological constructions, but all have in common a heart, liver, intestine, etc. Jung assumed the same of the mind. He assumed that we all have unique unconsciousnesses (quite like Freud), but also universal components quite like organs. He called these common components - these organs we all have - 'archetypes'. Archetypes, according to Jung, are primordial images that represent basic concepts that pre-exist humanity. Two example are found in anima and animus, the idea of male and female. To Jung, these ideas, or archetypes, exist in the unconsciousness of humanity - thus, they are said to exist in a 'collective unconscious'. We are not all connected to this abstract cloud of thought and emotion, but, as said, all have in common these organ-like thought-systems. Important to note before moving on is that the archetypes were not knowable, definable entities; they could possibly be intuited, but the only real evidence for their existence lies in patterns through human history (as may be traced in art).

Jung's conception of mind is related to the unus mundus, or one world, theory because he considered the different levels of the mind to be different worlds in and of themselves. They, possible in a metaphorical sense, are abstractions from different dimensions in space and time. In such a case, the conscious realm is thought to be very different from the world of the personal unconscious, and equally different from the archetypal universe. What forces materialise these different modes of perception - or, as we have been calling them, different modes of reality - is not known. However, Jung asserts that, despite the separation between these distinct realms, they all have roots in one unified system. This unified system is the unus mundus: one world that contains many.

Jung built these assumptions from experiencing overlaps between these distinct worlds. He recounts one particular story. One day, when dealing with a difficult patient, he started dream analysis. The patient tells of a dream about a scarab - a beetle. As Jung tries to analyse the dream, an insect begins tapping on his window: a beetle that he opens the window to, catches, and presents to his patient. Jung considered this a coincidentally meaningful event. It is meaningful as two archetypal events or images manifested themselves together in space and time. But, of course, the telling of the patient's dream has no physical and real correlation to the appearance of a beetle. What relates the two events is the mind and its ability to assign meaning. Jung considers this chance and coincidence, but not merely so: this chance and coincidence has meaning. It represents a resonation between the archetypal and physical world available to the conscious mind. Maybe many of us have stories of such meaningful coincidences that cannot be explained too easily. Yet, I concede also that, to the sceptic, this appears to be nonsense that qualifies nothing scientific in nature. In fact, I lean toward the sceptic when reading Jung's account of what he terms 'synchronicity', as he attempts to use his theory as evidence explaining the ESP (extra-sensual perception) and clairvoyance (communicating with the dead, and other oddities). I'm sure most will remember the ESP test, or card game that is played in the beginning of Ghostbusters. This is a reference to a real experiment performed in the 30s by Karl Zener and J.B Rhine, that seemingly proved the existence of certain individuals with extraordinary ESP abilities. The experiment, many suggest, was bogus and has never been successfully replicated and so is has been conclusively deemed unscientific. This is the side of unus mundus theory and the theory of synchronicity that can be disavowed at present. I believe the true application for these theories lies in art and cinematic theory.

Synchronicity describes moments where our body and mind assign absolute significance and meaning to a seemingly random or chance event. I think this happens all the time in highly unsensational ways. As discussed, the meaning we assign to films, to drama and action in the cinema, is entirely contingent on our existential and psychological composition. This composition of self is always shifting, and so one can often find themselves at a loss of words when they are suddenly struck by the meaning within a certain artwork. There is a fear and melancholy about this, too. Films may lose their meaning to us; they slip into nostalgia and irrelevance, and maybe reemerge as suddenly significant one day, but meaning in the body shifts; it is certainly not constant. I thus propose that great experiences of meaning in the cinema are rather coincidental. That is why they are precious. They are sublime as we do not comprehend their emergence and fear the mortality of the moment.

This happens to me every now and then. Most recently, it happened to me not in a cinematic context, but when listening to music. Music was playing (somewhat randomly) on YouTube. YouTube, of course, is fuelled by algorithm and big brother Google's ever-watching eye, and so the chances of me liking a 'randomly selected' song are statistically increased. Nonetheless, a song started to play - and I really liked it. I liked its feel and tone, it resonated with a personal sense of self I held at that moment. The song finished - a few hours later, I found it again. I kept listening to it. I had an urge to write about it. I read the song's lyrics. The song started to resonate and speak to my conscious conception of the unconscious activity I am experiencing in my life at present. How coincidental that the song perfectly expressed something I felt, and, in reading its lyrics, illuminated the mechanisms of my present emotions. This is not a sensational coincidence, but it is not a highly likely event. But, more important than this, it was a meaningful event that resonated with the unconscious factions of my self. I think this must be called artistic synchronicity; in cinema, let us call it cinematic synchronicity. Let us use this term to put into language and analyse meaning and significant cinematic experiences. After all, let us all recognise that there are varying classes and types of meaning in the cinema. Synchronicity seems to be a mechanism of discrimination whereby we can distinguish a smart film from a poetic and deeply resonant work. Who knows if the work will remain as such, but the moment existed in space and time, and how beautiful that is. Cinematic synchronicity. My last experience of this came in Sam Mendes' 1917. What a tremendous film.

Before coming to a close, I must mention that this theory does not necessarily posit that all films are relative, empty and essentially equal. The quality of a film indeed impacts the chances that it will resonate in the primordial mind. Alas, there is so much more than primordial material laced into a cinematic space that the translation becomes ever more contingent. And, most importantly, however good a film may be, the body and mind may not be receptive to it at a given time - or, to the opposite, may be particularly sensitive to it at another. For this reason, for the fact that there are so many factors about this true and deep resignation between image and unconscious, I think it is only sensible to consider events of profound affect to be somewhat rare and, to a significant degree, chance. Thus the necessity of synchronicity as a concept in the theoristation and structuring of meaning in cinema.

I bring this concept of synchronicity into the realm of film theory because I believe it allows us to understand all the better what cinema really is. I hold the assumption that cinema is made, in large part, for the communication of meaning. With synchronicity, this vision shifts ever so slightly. Cinema grounds one in the unus mundus with its evocation of meaning. This, for now, is what I conceive to be the ultimate goal of cinema. It unifies the various realms we may experience in life. It puts into conversation consciousness and unconsciousness, expressing the profundity of the collective unconscious as to ground one in harmony and the way of things. In this sense, cinema is a construct, or a materialised space, in which the chance of synchronicity is increased. The dramatisation of life in various modes presents one with actions and events of archetypal significance. The significant happenings are presented as to produce a synchronistic immersion in meaning that dissolves self into absolute unity: the unus mundus. Such is something of a fabrication or simulation, but this movement into an intermittently immortalised state of harmony and an alignment of an illusive Tao seems to me to be what cinema is constructed for.


The Matrix - The Ecstatic Reprieve Of The Loss Of Contemporaneity: The Matrix Conundrum

Thoughts On: The Matrix (1999)

An average man attempts to liberate himself from a simulated reality.

Not long ago, I saw in a cinema the restored version of The Matrix. I forgot how good this film is. I truly did. For years and years, I watched this on VHS and DVD, constantly enamoured by its depth and spectacle. The older the film gets, the more enticing it becomes. Such has much to do with it falling into what is now a rather distant epoch of film history. The 90s, when looking back through the history of film, seems like a moment ago. But, now we are entering a new decade, it is becoming ever more pronounced how 'old' certain films are. Not many years ago, I wouldn't think twice when considering the likes of Fight Club, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park and other incredibly popular 90s films contemporary. Now, in the 20s, we have to think twice. Whilst these films sit on the edge of what is currently modern cinema, they exist in a very different world; specifically, a world not yet profoundly impacted by the internet and digital technology. Films of this era, Jurassic Park and Fight Club as just two examples, certainly foreshadow to some degree modern digital cinema, but the cinematic culture of the present has changed immeasurably. Before getting too lost in this topic, its significance in regards to The Matrix is the reprieve a film garners when escaping contemporaneity. When a film is no longer contemporary, its social relevance becomes historical and its technological and aesthetic achievements conventional. This signifies a key transformation that a cinematic work takes at it ages, and we do not pay much attention to this. We all know films age, but how does this effect how we watch them, and more importantly, how they project their meaning?

When a film becomes 'old' - I use this term to simply colloquially convey the point that a film loses its contemporaneity - its sociopolitical stakes are lessened to a significant degree. In fact, they move out of a realm of commentary and debate, and into the realm of relative novelty. If we consider, then, the discourse that The Matrix engages on technology, individuality, free will and even identity, we find it of lesser relevance. It is not that the thematic discourse is entirely irrelevant and insubstantial just because the film has aged, rather, the object of the film's (conscious, outward) discourse - the culture of the late 90s - no longer exists. This has many consequences. Primary among them is insurmountably of the lost and unknowable. A contemporary film suffers (or maybe gains) from the fact that the people living in its presence think they know what is going on. Sensations of the 'zeitgeist' pull us into (semi)consciously perturbed states when engaging a film with clear political and social commentary; we feel the film speak to us, or to a place and time we know and so have some view of, and so our reaction to its commentary is volatile. When a film ages, this volatility in the audience dissipates as they have distance, and furthermore, the unknowablity of a time and place becomes more inherently acceptable. When one then reads, for example, a book such as Jane Eyre, its social commentary is historically novel and intriguing. We feel we peep into a time and place lost almost entirely. The book may stir us on the level of its social and political discourse, as any art will stir us, when we choose to identify with the time and place that formulate the object of its discourse. But, this may not be a natural reaction. Thus, the novelty of such a book's social commentary, and thus the necessity of research. One does not necessarily have to be a student of film and history to engage a contemporary film's political discourse if they are somewhat aware of current events. But, to better understand that element of, for example, Casablanca, one does require research or to be something of a student of film and history. Without this, the nationalist and isolationist elements of the film - its commentary on the American involvement in WWII - may not be at all registered, let alone stir and affect the spectator.

Without dwelling on sociopolitical stakes, one can also see a film becoming 'conventionalised' when it gets old. In the case of The Matrix, its special effects and digital technology cannot count, now, as good or bad CGI. The special effects are simply the effects of the time. You could argue that it takes a student of film to accept this. It is difficult to assert, but, when someone looks back on the 1933 King Kong, do they see hilariously bad special effects, or the technological aesthetics of the time? I think many would be able to accept that this is what a 30s film is like and likely enjoy the movie on this basis, but it does not take much imagination to envisage someone refusing to watch the film because it is old and the special effects are terrible. You would certainly frown on a student of film if they made such a comment. That said, this subject is wider than technology. With epochal distance, the aesthetics, cinematic language, acting, cinematography, etc. all are retired from being exclamatory statements of the cutting edge and the avant-garde. 'What we should do', and 'how things should be', become, 'what they did'. Again, certain stakes are taken away. But, more accessible and pertinent than sociopolitical commentary, the aesthetics of an old film are less likely to be considered mere spectacle, and more so a convention or formal strategy worth attention and study. Beyond this, the conventionalisation of aesthetic makes a film style acceptable and not worth so much critique - study, yes, critique, no: what is the point of critiquing a 30 year old film if it will have little direct impact on how film aesthetics will continue to evolve? Again, old films are subsumed in novelty of a certain kind. But, I believe this is a positive phenomena. Not only are old films more acceptable and less charged (due to a lack of cultural relevance), but they emphasise they unknown.

We do not know what a film is when we see it. It is all too common for us to act as if this is the case when we watch, for example, the latest Star Wars film. But, what exactly is The Last Jedi? I can certainly offer a long list of answers, but, all things said, no one knows. All phenomena, especially popular phenomena, exist in a network of interdependent relationships so vast and incomprehensible that anyone who has even the slightest respect for this fact, would not dare to assert that something may be known, labelled and defined in its totality. So, whilst The Last Jedi is clearly related to the contemporary trend of cinematic universes and has its ties to contemporary debates of identity and representation and whilst it takes of advantage of the latest digital technology, the film is much more than these component parts. Looking back on a film such as The Matrix, this becomes ever more acceptable - or at least it should be. With distance, we can look back on trends of the cinematic culture of the 90s and make more sophisticated assessments of what was going on in and around the time of the film's release. More important than this, however, is the fact that... is there much of a point in doing this? There is certainly not no point in remapping film history as time goes by, but, I mean to speak to the sociopolitical element of old films. How much does this really matter? The mechanisms for its evocation are always fascinating, but the substance of the commentary matters not. It falls on deaf ears in some respects. What resonates are those inherent and deep parts of the cinema that live on always. Old films bare enhanced primordial imagery and archetypes for the fact that the unconscious receptors of the unknown are more sensitive when conscious cognition of various commentary is dampened and dull. Of course consciousness still presents its challenges in people assuming that they can know a time, place and its phenomenon, but let us not get lost. The subject is far more vast and complex than I have let on, but there is a reprieve in the loss of contemporaneity, one that, I think, allows a film to really just be a film in some respects.

Digression over, I have been thinking about The Matrix quite a bit of recent - as something of a consequence to it now being an old movie you could suggest. Suddenly it has become apparent to me that so much of the trilogy is found in one shot:

When Neo becomes the one, he sees the Matrix as it is. He sees not a coherent system of textures and physical boundaries, but mere fluctuations in the density of varying code. As Morpheus alludes to earlier in the film, once this situation can be understood, once the rules of the Matrix can be recognised as just this (rules), then this situation and its rules can be bent and overcome. Before falling into this, let us take a step back and ask of the physical world. Is the 'real world' so dissimilar to the Matrix if it too can be understood as a flux of energy with varying momentum and density? This is what varying philosophical systems emphasise. Taoism can be taken as one example. Qi, or chi, is a key Taoist concept that relates all matter and energy to Tao - a preeminent nature or way of things. In a rough Taoist cosmology, as the universe moved from a state of wuji (a primordial, empty universe) to taiji (the universe split into its yin-yang elements), yuanqi (original qi) becomes differentiated qi and continuously transforms in accordance to Tao. Whilst Tao can never be known and named, qi is encoded by it. All that is may then be understood by various principals of Tao - yin-yang being the most famous. It is for this reason that there exists the following logic in one of the most famous verses from a Taoist text:

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt that I was a butterfly, flitting around and enjoying myself. I had no idea I was Chuang Tzu. Then suddenly I woke up and was Chuang Tzu again. But I could not tell, had I been Chuang Tzu dreaming I was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming I was now Chuang Tzu. However, there must be some sort of difference between Chuang Tzu and a butterfly! We call this the transformation of things.

Seeing the world as a composition of vaguely differentiated qi, it becomes very hard to know what is self and what is other or to assert the boundaries between transforming and transformed. For this reason, there is a real argument for taking the blue pill. What is the difference between the Matrix and the real world in these circumstances - even when one knows they exist in a coded realm? This question is only not rhetorical when will enters the picture. The Matrix constructs Neo's character on the assertion that one can believe that they can be in control of their life and overcome fate. Realising the Matrix's coding and knowing that robots constructed it is an affront to will for Neo. It is upon the assumption that there exists an essential, inherent will of humanity that humans - or the human essence - are framed as transcendent of the Matrix. That means that it is because of human will that, when the Matrix is understood as it really is, that it can be bent and manipulated. This is a fascinating assumption. If we could put on Matrix goggles on in the real world and see atoms and energy as mere coding, would human will be able to overcome it? This sounds like a silly question if we map the happenings of The Matrix onto this hypothetical; no we wouldn't be able to be physically stronger, faster and fly if we simply saw and comprehended nature as a code like Neo. But, if one steps back a moment, they will quickly see that this is in fact history. Understanding physics and biology has made humans stronger and faster, and, of course, we can fly. We use machines and tools to do this, true. But, the relationship between science and technological evolution can be read as a matter of will and an indication that the conscious self transcends reality. In the same way that Neo sought to break out of the Matrix by seeing it for what it really is, so do humans seek to transcend their reality with science. In doing so, will we return to where we came from? Will we escape a constructed Matrix?

Let us not go too far with this extrapolation as it emerges only from the thematic assertions around Neo as a hero archetype. Whilst the will is affirmed in many of its aspects through The Matrix, its origins are never questioned. Thus the importance of belief. Characters are motivated, most fundamentally, by an inner force that they assign their identity to and take possession of. But, who is to say that will is ours? Who can deny that the true Matrix is consciousness; the system of code reception that we are bound to act by? In Buddhist philosophy, self is considered to not exist under such logic; as much as reality is a system of energy and matter, so is the body, and as a result, to equal degrees, the body and reality are considered to have no real quality or character that is essential and independently--transcendentally or immanently--material. Such formulates the true conundrum at the base of The Matrix. Humans are shown to follow their will as to seek liberation. But this liberation is mere belief. And by belief, I mean to say that the unknowable is transformed into self. Therefore, the human is defined by a yearning for the unknown comprehended by self. But this yearning can be fulfilled in both the Matrix and real world--all upon belief. So, what is the difference between the real world and the Matrix. This rhetorical question is why the Matrix is never truly destroyed, but rebooted in the end of the trilogy. The people of Zion are simply allowed to live, and the subjects that want to leave the Matrix are allowed to. But, what has changed? The Matrix still exists for those who accept it and those who do not still live under ground. What is the importance of freedom in this case if not for the satisfaction of the belief in will? This is the conundrum,

What is really of interest here is the revelation that the Matrix and the machines are much like humanity and humans. They seek to transcend their own confines: this is what the Smith program represents. Neo helps the machines destroy Smith because he is the only way in which humanity may live on in and beyond the Matrix. What makes him the villain here is then his archetypal desire to own all; to validate his identification with all matter. So whilst humans and machines are shown to inherently identify with their own will or programming, they share a moral refusal to identify with all materiality and seek to control the entire world. What does this mean? It is hard to assert that this means anything of particular substance. It seems to suggest that sentient beings are bound by both the Freudian will to survive and the drive to die. The Matrix then ultimately only asserts a seemingly insurmountable conundrum: the belief in will. It frames this as the fundament and destroyer of a self capable of only intermittent peace.

But, of course, this is not all that The Matrix is about. Let us no forget that Neo only became the One because Trinity loved him. The implications of this provide an alternative way of thinking of The Matrix, framing the narrative on the principal of unity rather than will and self. But, maybe we can explore this further another time. For now, what are your thoughts on The Matrix now that it really is an old film?


Dancer In The Dark - Shit On A Silver Platter

Quick Thoughts: Dancer in the Dark (2000)

An immigrant mother with a passion for musicals falls into life's contingent viciousness.

I have a strong bias against Lars von Trier. With no particular reason at all, I think he's a vile creature, scum straight from the belly of a sewer, green like mucus, pungent like bile, thick in the head like bog mulch. He seems intent on making the cinema a place of misery and dimness, an ugly space, dismal and grey like his spirit, angst and dry like his heart, repulsive and retch-worthy like his smug face. I say this because he knows how to construct a great plot and preserve truly affective moments in a narrative. It is though he crouched one day in his wet cave and leafed through Poetics, taking from Aristotle the assertion that it is a succession of drama, of actions - the plot - that is primary in the constriction of narrative and tragedy, and decided to test this notion as rigorously as humanly possible. There is an undeniable poetry about, in particular, a von Trier work like The Idiots. It is a miresome plague of an aesthetic work, but intentionally so. This intent has no correlation to the telling of a story, but it certainly does not hinder completely the expressions of a tragic character arc. Dancer in the Dark shares this. I have tried to get through this film before, but shut it off soon after it started. Like Breaking the Waves, but maybe less intensely, the film repulsed me, making me feel physically sick and numbingly bored at the same time. Attempting to watch Dancer in the Dark with a stronger stomach, I pushed through the profound jank refusing to sigh or hold my face in my hands, trusting that--as always--something would shine through the drudgery. And it does.

I would certainly not hold Dancer in the Dark in as high a regard as The Idiots, or even the more recent, The House That Jack Built, as it doesn't achieve much in the way of character and merely masturbates with its bending of musical conventions. But, this is a film that manages to capture a queer condition; earnest yearning and honest desire. It is difficult to articulate precisely the consequences of this condition, but it is this that grabs hold of the spectator as they stare in derangement at the idiosyncrasies of the von Trier aesthetic. Try it if you haven't already, if you can.


8 Women - A Bipolar Whodunit

Quick Thoughts: 8 Femmes (2002)

A family's patriarch's death exposes the absurd drama binding them all.

Sense prevents me from calling François Ozon the French Pedro Almodóvar, but there is certainly much in the comparison between the two filmmaker's styles. Most obviously, both embrace the pastiche and camp as a means of abrasively exploring female narratives. 8 Women then feels quite like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown or What Have I Done to Deserve This. The success and limitations of each of these films lie in their outlandish presentation of females defined by extreme emotion and eccentric violence. Meandering through a dense whodunit plot, 8 Women is as nonchalant as it is melodramatic. Its construction of comedic moments and humorous caricatures is entertaining and its constant plot reversals and reveals are dizzying. This all lends to the construction of a bipolar explosion of ego and passion under an existential proposition of love. The end goal of this, however, is questionable. Seen as a film about there being 'no happy love,' 8 Women could be read as a satire with pessimistic assertions; its only positive element being the tumultuous, seemingly unbreakable bond between various women. With the promise of love reduced to a lie producing constant misery, this presents a melodrama with no happy ending, no harmonious construction about it. This conventional inversion has its impact, but little logic. The absurdity built into 8 Women leaves one hesitant to have a positive opinion on its successes for fear of appearing too much of an optimist. And, yet, engaging its social critique and fingering through its endless cultural references seems tiring. 8 Women is an engaging film to be lost in, shockingly choppy and dry as it can be, but becomes something of a lump to talk about and figure through.