What we see in Peter Weirs’ The Truman Show is a literal manifestation of the Existential theory concerning “bad faith.” Though they are exceedingly different, there is nevertheless a correlation between Weir’s film and David Fincher’s Fight Club that we watched earlier in the semester. Both elaborate on the lives of individuals who are unconsciously, at least initially, leading lives of false existence in a world of complete simulation. In Fight Club “Jack,” Ed Norton, exists in an actual temporal space that resembles reality, though his life is dictated by a fictional doppelganger that his consciousness has constructed. In a similar fashion, Truman Burbank lives in the fictional town of Seahaven and his every move is guided and observed in a voyeuristic fashion by Christof who feels that the most effective way to capture “reality” is to construct the most elaborate fiction ever known. Though it might seem a “stretch” to make the connection, it is interesting to note that both Jack and Truman are in their thirtieth year when they began to truly become conscious that they are living a “simulated” or inauthentic life. Therefore, it doesn’t seem contrived that both films are commenting on the loss of the fictional reality that is experienced and lived before a certain level of adulthood. However, in my opinion this is where the similarities cease, because where one might argue that the conclusion of Fight Club appears somewhat liberating regarding Jack and the symbolic conclusion of his inauthentic existence, the conclusion of The Truman Show, where the audience sees Truman’s boat puncture the interior of the dome he has lived in for thirty years, there is a sense that little has been accomplished by entering into the real world. Despite the fact that the conclusion of the film shows audience members cheering and implies that Sylvia and he will be united, one gets the idea that Truman’s life hasn’t really just “begun” because he has entered the “real” world, but that it is ending because he is departing the purely symbolic realm. If there is no reality, but only an infinite array of simulated images, then an entrance into the real can only signify the end of an individual’s existence.
Battlestar Gallactica: Downloaded
In relation to the Battlestar Gallactica episode “Downloaded” Mark A. McCutcheon makes interesting argument regarding the Frankenstein myth as it is related to cybernetics, identifying them as “human-simulacrum models” (1-7). Watching as the fear surrounding the human/cyborg child Hera’s fate, one cannot help but recall Donna Haraway’s exposition of the cyborg as something that is “the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism,” and an entity that is bound in social revolution and constantly disrupting the binary between nature and industry (151). Yet, what is most interesting is not the fear that the cyborg engenders in their human counterparts, something that has been explored in science fiction countless times, but the relationship between cybernetics, meaning here constructed organic bodies, and Baudrillard’s conception of the hypperreal and its connection to symbolic death. The cyborgs, or Cylon models, like “Boomer” and “Six” are not unlike Baudrillard’s conception of the “image” which he refers to in the “four orders of simulation” as “reflection[s] of a profound reality” through their physical appearance, which is identical to humans, and the uneasy question regarding the existence of possible consciousness (Butterfield 3). But as the audiences witnesses in the first portion of the episode, the Cylons have the ability to replicate; they are incapable of death and the result of what would be a fatal accident for human results in the transition from one body to another with an identical organic frame. They are not merely simulations of biological creatures, but endless copies of an original simulation that pacifies, at least artificially, the Western fear of death. To pull outside of the text one can witness in the West’s fascination with copies, doppelgangers, and cyborgs not merely the desire to create life, but also to sustain it indefinitely. As Baudrillard illustrates, the West is terrified of the spectacle and possibility of death, but more importantly obsessed with imbuing death with meaning (8). Incidentally, the spectacle of death as viewed through artificial representation in films or that which we are exposed to through news broadcasts, is a way in which to cope with death. However, one could argue, especially in relation to “Downloaded,” that the science fiction trope of the cyborg as an infinite simulation that can die but nevertheless return is a cultural way of staving off death through the symbolic. The humans in “Downloaded,” an perhaps in all science fiction narratives that include Replicants, are at odds with their technological counterparts, not necessarily because they might signal extinction for humans, but because of their separation from the conventional viewpoint of what constitutes “real.” Without any connection to the “real” the cyborg cannot experience a “natural” death, but only a symbolic one that nevertheless results in replication.
Butterfield, Bradley. “The Baudrillard Symbolic, 9/11, and the War of Good and Evil.” Postmodern Culture 13.1: 2002. Print.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge: New York, 1991. Print.
Sita Sings the Blues:
Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues, though appearing somewhat benign in its appropriation of the Ramayana myth through the juxtaposition of animation, anachronistic music, and comedy, nevertheless presents a reevaluation of a patriarchal and misogynistic Indian myth through the lens of modern feminism. Ironically enough, and perhaps what has contributed to the controversy surrounding the film, is the way in which it takes part in act of comedic iconoclasm in relation to a sacred text of the Indian tradition. We see within the film traditional Hindu art during the retelling of the Ramayana myth, yet the audience’s attention is directed, through the comedic commentary, to the vast gender discrepancies that pervade the myth; arguably the most entertaining involves the satirical description of the way women’s bodies are viewed and depicted as nothing more than objects of sexual desire. However, the convergence of a comedic retelling of the traditional myth and having it revolve around the problems of gender succeeds in feminizing a male-centered culture. By taking the Ramayana and combining it with a modern narrative focusing on the affects of betrayal on Nina Paley herself it usurps the patriarchal cultural that the myth represents. Here Paley has successfully appropriated a sacred text so that it is no longer about the exploits of the male hero, Rama, but about the struggle of Sita. In this way the connection between a feminine and postcolonial reading of the text becomes emphasized so that India itself is transformed as a feminized body that has been constantly objectified by the West. Paley, despite what some criticism might claim, is not making a blasphemous statement of Eastern culture from an uninformed Western perspective, but illustrating the relationship between how cultures and gender are still perpetuated through the lens of binary oppositions.
Sukiyaki Western Django
In Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts Susan Hayward devotes an entire passage to the rise of Sergio Leone’s innovative “spaghetti western,” following the waning enthusiasm surrounding the John Wayne’s iconic films, and the way they serve as a deconstruction of the American vision of the untamed West (474). Hayward claims that a significant paradigm was engendered once the “western” had been appropriated by Europe and then returned home after being dissected and parodied appropriately (474). With this in mind, it is interesting what occurs when Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Sergio Corbucci’s Django, two hybrid “spaghetti westerns” that parody the violence surrounding the emergence of the United States, is appropriated by Takashi Miike in Sukiyaki Western Django. Within the movie there are the typical western themes, the destruction of the nuclear family that leaves traumatically altered lives in the its wake, the search for some seemingly indescribable amount of fortune that will cure all ills, and, most importantly, the theme of silence in relation to heroism that echoes of Eastwood’s “man with no name.” Whether it is “The Gunman” (Hideaki Ito) or “the man with no name” the element of silence seemingly always signifies the death of the “old” way of Western life, similar to the railroad in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. What is interesting is the convergence of themes of violence and revenge between a culture as ancient as Japan and one as relatively new as America, and how it reveals not only the inherent human traits of self-preservation, lust, and vehemence, but also an archaic Eastern culture fiercely clinging to nostalgia and a fledgling Western mindset attempting to assert its dominance through sheer force and brutality. The true capital or ultimate desire for the heroes and villains of each of these movies, usually represented by monetary fortune, is really each party desperately clinging to a past that is being abolished by modernization. The fight between the Genjis and the Heikis for control of the town buttressed ironically by mountains is a fight for nostalgia that is ultimately usurped by the “outsider” that we supposed to aid them in their endeavor. It is “The Gunman” (Hideaki Ito) who is supposed to be utilized in order to preserve the past, yet his coming ultimately signals the obliteration of a way of life; though possibly for the better, the societies have negotiated their own demise and it is as violent and unrelenting as the Gatling gun used in homage to the original Django.
Hayward, Susan. Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts, 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2000.
Being John Malkovich
Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich is a film that takes as its object the absurd premise of infiltrating and embodying the subjectivity of an individual, yet simultaneously comments on the fragmented identity of being in the postmodern age through a filmic discussion of the dichotomy between the social order and bodily control. Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a puppeteer that seemingly has no control over his socio-economic identity, though he ironically enough embodies a profession in which he dominates the body techniques of inanimate objects (Williams and Bendelow 49). Schwartz can be seen as a man prescribing to the practical and social uses of his own body; he occupies a conventional space where his entire being is defined by a socially prescribed manner (49). He has a banal function as file clerk at LesterCorp and is entrapped in a marriage devoid of pleasure with Lotte, his more innate desires transferred and expressed through the act of puppetry. The way in which Schwartz is able to challenge and rebel against the conventional structures of the period is to discover the “‘deterritorialised’ flows of desire,” not through a conscious revitalization of his own body, but through the embodiment of Malkovich’s consciousness and subjectivity (106). By infiltrating Malkovich’s head, literally, Schwartz is able to act on his desires Maxine (Catherine Keener) and we can see Lotte attending through her own transgender desires as well. Throughout the movie we see each of these characters disassociating themselves from the social order, or the herd instinct, by embodying Malkovich, who in this case because a manifestation of Deleuze and Guattari’s “desiring machine;” he is an empty shell which is controlled by the psyche of someone else who is no longer sublimated any narcissistic desires that the social order had previously forced them to repress (106). The purpose of Deleuze’s and Guattari’s commentary on the “desiring machine” is to overcome both societies’ grip on the individual and achieve a “non-dualist ontology of the body,” that is composed of “linkages and connections of the desiring machines” (107-8). Such linkages can be seen in the portals that lead into Malkovich’s head that enable other individuals uninhibited production, in this case unrestricted desire. In this way Malkovich becomes a rhizomatic entity comprised of numerous individual assemblages (108).
Williams, Simon J. and Gillian Bendelow, The Lived Body: Sociological Themes, Embodied Issues. London: Routledge, 1998.
One of the most prevalent aspects of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is the pervasive presence of the Other in relation to the act of voyeurism. When the audience watches Johnnie “Scottie” Ferguson, after he is hired by his friend Gavin Elster, follow Elster’s wife throughout San Francisco there is a sensation of both pleasure and suspense within the audience as we are able to embody Jimmy Stewart’s character and his growing fetish with Madeleine Elster. What is occurring here is the construction of both Madeleine’s makeup as an objectified subject of affection and obsession, as well as Ferguson’s character as the voyeur. Hitchcock makes use of the overt experience of the “split” woman in the transformation of Madeleine into Judy, but more important is the transformation of Ferguson. Following Madeline allows Ferguson to regain his masculinity by objectifying a female and by conquering his own shortcomings by being able to be in control once again of his identity (Rosenbladt 53). Just as there is a return in Madeleine’s character, the first “a Madonna, the other a whore,” there are differing aspects of Stewart’s character. At one instance he is the helpless ward of Midge, the stereotypical female friend who fantasizes over Ferguson, severely depressed and suffering from a debilitating case of acrophobia, yet on the other hand he is defined by an ultra-masculine role as a detective and protector of Madeleine (53). What ultimately shatters his psychological stability at the conclusion of the film is not the death of Madeleine/Judy but the realization that his entire subjectivity has been defined in relation to Other, but more importantly the way he internalized this Other as a victim in need of saving, was completely constructed and false. Though the film can be categorized as film noir in some respects, the search for truth here by the detective is undermined through his realization, and the audience’s as well, that the truth embodied by Novak’s character is complete man-made and baseless (Oliver 100).
Oliver Kelly, Benigno Trigo, Noir Anxiety. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
Rosenbladt, Bettina. “3 Doubles and Doubts in Hitchcock.” Hitchcock: Past and Future, ed. Richard Allen andSam Ishii-Gonzáles. London: Routledge, 2004.
Though representations of Freud’s uncanny, that “species of the frightening that goes back to what was once well known and had long been familiar,” are usually appropriated for the purposes of dread, as in the case Kafka’s numerous works, the concept of the uncanny and the Doppelganger can nevertheless be seen in David Fincher’s Fight Club as a liberating entity (Freud 124). A discussion of whether or not Brad Pitt’s character is the Doppelganger of Edward Norton’s Tyler Durden is rather transparent. Pitt represents for Norton the freedom and unconstrained human activity that he has repressed in a version of “bad faith” his entire life through an obsession with material possession. However, whereas many might perceive Pitt’s influence on Norton as detrimental, the final scene involving Tyler and Marla lends itself to the conception that the uncanny, along with making perception possible through the reiteration of negation, has access to the inherent and often perverse desires of the individual (Vardoulakis 105). In the bedroom scene between the two versions of Durden, Pitt explicitly lays out that he is precisely the ideal manifestation of Norton and that his actions, though destructive and anarchistic, are only those desires that Norton has sublimated his entire life. What is terrifying here is not only the ambivalence surrounding Pitt’s existence as a real person or Norton’s “omnipotence of thought,” meaning his ability to seemingly act through his unconsciousness, but a type of existential anguish (Freud 147). Here, Norton’s trepidation stems from the encounter between the limitations of his form life and the realization of the un-transcendable freedom he has as a human being (Warnock 98). What speaks most poignantly to the audience is the universality of the message of Fincher’s film and the possible, albeit perhaps horrific, liberating consequences of internalizing that which is uncanny.
Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny(1899)..Trans. David McLintock. London: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.
Vardoulakis, Dimitris. “The Return of Negation: The Doppelganger in Freud’s ‘The ‘Uncanny’’.” SubStance 35.2 (2006): 100-116. Project MUSE. Web. 14 Feb. 2011.
Warnock, Mary. Existentialism, Revised ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970. Print.
Ironically enough F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu dictates the way that all vampire movies are constructed and ultimately disseminated. The scenes of Count Orlock rising from a dirt stained coffin, the ambiance of the deserted castle, and the method in which Dracula/Orlock is always destroyed by sunlight all stem from visuals presented in the 1922 film. In this way Murnau’s film seems to reach that almost unattainable “essence” or Platonic form that copyright laws prescribe to; it contains all of the familiar and comforting elements that are not only useful references, but necessary attributes that can and must be included in vampire films from Coppola’s Dracula (1992) to the cult hit, Blacula (1972). Yet, it itself is a “pirated” and arguably “stolen” adaptation of Bram Stoker’s original novel, but nevertheless arguably the most important horror film ever produced. In this way it can be said that Murnau’s film, the copy, is more important and influential than the original. This alone raises questions as to what can be said about an adaptation that transcends its source and becomes more culturally relevant? The result is that the “copy” absorbs its source completely, so that every film and adaptation that follows takes part in a reinterpretation or misrepresentation of, not Stoker’s original characterization, but Shreck’s vampire. Coppola’s film takes part in a “detournement” of Nosferatu when Gary Oldman appears in pallid skin and absurdly elongated cranium and deviates only slightly through an incorporation of the graphic scene involving Harker (Keanu Reeves) and the trio of female vampires (Debord and Wolman qtd. in Evans 35). These inclusions only reinforce the power of the “original” which is ultimately beyond scrutiny and criticism. There can be no improvement on what is perceived as the first, at least in this case, because it is simultaneously merely a “copy” of something else and yet a paradigm in itself. No critic can truly state with confidence while watching Murnau’s version of Dracula that “that is not the way vampires act,” because it is the base in which we as society judge the mythos of the vampire.
Debord, Guy and Gil J. Wolman.“Directions for the Use of Detournement.” Appropriations. Ed. David Evans. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009. 35-39. Print.
Shadow of the Vampire
E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire (2000) functions through a unique juxtaposition of intertextuality and genre repetition that successfully critiques and re-imagines the gothic horror variety. Umberto Eco, in “Innovation and Repetition,” elaborates on the phenomenon of genre-embedded intertextuality within the Broadway musical that relies on a certain level of familiarity on the part of the audience as it describes and articulates the inner-workings of both the industry and the genre (173). Any analysis of Merhige’s film becomes centripetal because at surface it is a fictionalized account of F.W. Murnau’s creative process during Nosferatu, yet its absolute horizon is the way in which it ultimately reverts back to the “cultural patrimony” of the vampire genre it is critiquing (172). The procession of events and scenes is self-reflexive and infinitely repetitive, a movement mirrored in the uncommonly lengthy opening credit shots depicting the interweaving tributaries of a tapestry, constantly presenting the binary of reality and fiction, the boundaries between the two becoming blurred as the film reaches its conclusion. Horror films, primarily those dealing with apocalyptic religious visions and vampires, rely on the audience’s ability, not only to comprehend the subtle allusions to the “original texts” such as the Book of Revelations or Stoker’s Dracula, but also to explore the possibilities that these mythologies might be grounded in some sort of reality. Usually it is an indirect exchange that heightens the element of fear, yet in Merhige’s film the blending of reality and fiction is so overtly pronounced that at the conclusion the audience is left in a state similar to John Malkovich’s Murnau.
Eco, Umberto. “Innovation and Repetition: Between Modern and Post-Modern Aesthetics.” Daedalus 114.4 (Fall, 1985): 161-184. Web. 11/01/2011.
It is a symptom of the American condition, contrary to the other countries, that there is constantly a need to reassert and protect individuality. Yet, the construction of the subject is reliant on a number of factors – socio-economic, familial, and biological – that makes any ontological assertion seem invalid. It is this polemic that is explored in Brett Gaylor’s documentary RiP!: A Remix Manifesto, namely how contemporary copyright laws are seemingly in place to barricade against any threat to individuality and yet succeeds only in the restriction of the very human praxis that breeds creative production. As Jean Baudrillard notes in Simulacra and Simulation those social constructs that exist as reflections or aggregates of the “real,” such as Disneyland, only reveal that absence of reality (12-13). Copyright laws are no different, disseminating the conception that the “original” product is the ideal and seeking to mystify any realization by the public of the inherit esoteric nature of all human activity. What is particularly interesting about Gaylor’s exploration of Girl Talk is, not necessarily the way the musician works within the hegemonic structures of the recording industry in order to usurp it, but the way in which his “mash up” techniques and the employment of repetition reflects the ideal social relations between people that global capitalism has dissolved. Through live performances, where Girl Talk is actually tangible to his fans, and the symbolic exchange initiated between them, he participates in what Marcus Boon refers to as “contagious magic” (34). Girl Talk’s mimetic process, that of synthesizing numerous productions and exchanging them with the public, reflects the distorted social relations in our current capitalist era and simultaneously critiques them.
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981. Print.
Boon, Marcus. In Praise of Copying. Cambridge: Harvard University Press,