Monday, 14 May 2012
Delusions, split realities, multiple personalities; the erection and dismantling of psychosis, or something like it, is the most notable preoccupation in modern cinema.
Trapped in a room, stuck in a cave, tortured by visions, something's amiss, all is askew, zombies, monsters, killers, they're after you. Our heroes and heroines are men and women in trouble. Or everything's OK...until the wallpaper begins to peel.
The major questions in these films are 'what is happening?', 'what is real?' and even 'who am I?'. What is dream and what is reality in Inception? What is imagined in The Ward, Bug or Take Shelter? What is damaged? You, the world, or both?
The intensification of disorientation and misinterpretation of experience reach awakening and we see, finally, how much was delusion. We understand that an illusion had been constructed, Switchblade Romance, The Uninvited, that falls when the fake expands to bursting or fades to natural end. We see the lies beneath the crises, twisted adventures. We see how visions of happiness were always only that - visions.
The world was never out there but in here, in the mind. But what triggered delusion? The heart of all of these films, 1408, Triangle, is trauma. Trauma that forces a break from reality. In mental collapse pain is moved to another level and manifest in horrific metaphor. Elsewhere involuntary 'coping mechanisms' kick in where a happier narrative, Mulholland Drive, Dream House, masks and abstracts suffering, a Bougereau painted on top of a Bacon.
A dead daughter, a dead husband, a dead wife, guilt over murder, Shutter Island, Mulholland Drive, obsessive jealousy, loss and fear of loss, this trauma is a boomerang. These stories emanate from it (many of these films have a pre-delusion section in which we are obliquely 'told' what provokes it) and return to it. The tendency of the puzzle-story is that the completed jigsaw should reveal something terrible, even worse than what may have been suffered in the unreality. Yet that terrible, by its very human nature, in conjunction with the clarity of revelation, has an uplifting dolorous call - grief is love in death's grip.
Trauma has its foot in the door preventing The End's storybook closure. Because these loves live forever so must trauma. Trauma distorts reality. The truth is impossible to accept. You become new people playing different or multiple roles (where they are effectively opposing themselves) in dumbly detached and remotely twinned realities.
Stories are not going to save you (apart from in Sucker Punch, where stories are under partial conscious control) but they do, incidentally, help. Truth and understanding wait where they have led you, where they have finally failed.
Three trends of 21st Century cinema that come together in the new cinema of the broken are the puzzle narrative, the twist and unresolved ambiguity.
The puzzle narrative gained strength at the end of the last century with the success of Memento and The Usual Suspects. The revelatory twist that overturns what we have been led to believe achieved especial popularity, likewise at the end of the 1990s, on the back of The Sixth Sense and Fight Club. Ambiguity, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Lost in Translation, letting the audience write the last page, is a directorial tic still emerging.
What brought these trends together, apart from the popularity of each? I don't know. Perhaps the traumatic events in the United States of America in 2001 have obliquely and subconsciously been depicted with the freshly forceful modes of storytelling to which they are peculiarly suited. Puzzles, twists and ambiguity lend themselves to confusion, paranoia, cruelty, sadness and cold brutish reality.
There's no way out. It doesn't seem real. It's just like a film. Like a dream.
Posted by Stephen Russell-Gebbett at 10:53