I Don’t Want to be a Spaghetti

Lately, I have been obsessed with the concept of suspension of disbelief. To fully enjoy a movie, we must suspend our disbelief to a certain extent. If we sit there thinking, “this is only a movie,” we will not become immersed and the experience will not be as meaningful. To me, watching a good film is very much like being in a dream. In my dreams, sometimes bizarre events occur (and sometimes I even find them bizarre as I’m dreaming) but I never stop to analyze them – I just continue on with my actions. Also, transmogrification is a big part of dreaming. Throughout a dream, I might be in several radically different locations without any explanation as to how I got there. In dreams (and to a certain extent in films), time can be nonlinear and rapid changes need no explanation.

While watching the second half of Tropical Malady in class, it wasn’t until after the film had ended that I wondered, “what exactly did I just watch?” As the action was occurring on the screen, I was watching intently, curious to see what would happen next. Weerasethakul ended part one of his film without any resolution. Tong finishes licking Keng’s (potentially) urined-stained fingers and then walks away. When the second part of the film starts, it becomes clear that we are following a different narrative. While the same actors pop up, it is unclear to the viewer whether or not they are the same characters in part one. The fact that films like this exist (and are able to win the Jury Prize at Cannes) excites me. If viewers are becoming advanced enough to watch and enjoy films like Tropical Malady, the art of filmmaking will surely advance to new and exciting territories.

So, how does all of this apply to Gilles Deleuze? From what I understand thus far, Deleuze holds cinema in very high regard. Unlike other art (painting, sculpture, dance, etc.) it is not merely a means for communicating a message or an aesthetic device. Instead, cinema is pure immanence and sensation; cinema is its own reality. It’s also important to note that as a film is being made, it’s already a memory. While a painter can see what is he is working on as he works, a filmmaker cannot. Sure, he can edit and re-watch material thousands of times; however, memory plays a big role in the filmmaking process (after all, cinema is movement in time, so it’s not something that can be immediately absorbed all at once). At this point, Deleuze’s writings on memory and sensation are what most interest me most and have helped me to understand why he’s an important philosopher. Deleuze’s body of work seems to build toward a radically different film theory.

If we go back to Uexküll and the tick, we remember that the only way that tick knows of its existence is when it comes into contact with a warm blooded animal or the sun; the tick’s entire life revolves around these two sensations. For humans, life is different because there are larger external forces, more things to influence and to be influenced by. Sitting in a dark movie theater, watching a movie like Tropical Malady, my life becomes more like that of the tick because I am entering into a whole new existence, a new reality, a place that is “between art and life” (according to Godard) and seems more like a dream than being awake. When other elements are combined with the moving image, I think it becomes harder to become absorbed and experience a film the way a tick would sunlight. When I am just faced with the moving image and nothing more, I am given the opportunity to notice new things and to let my mind run wild. In movies without dialogue, I often find myself thinking incredibly random thoughts that don’t directly have anything to do with the film. Because I don’t have any dialogue to follow, I’m letting my eyes absorb the images and my mind run wild. When I watch films multiple times, I never experience them in the same exact way – it all depends on my mood, what I had been thinking about previous to the film screening, etc. Although the same images are repeating themselves, every single viewing is unique.

Since watching a movie is like dreaming, when we see a dream in a movie it is like having a dream within a dream. For example, the final scene of Ingmar Bergman’s Shame feels like a dream although it is not blatantly identified as such. Although I can’t find a clip of the final scene, here is the trailer for those who haven’t seen it:

To make a long analysis short, Bergman does many things in this final scene in order to make it feel dreamlike to the audience. In the beginning of the film, a character name Fillip is introduced as an acquaintance of the two main characters, Jan and Eva. When we see him again, he seems to have no memory of the couple – he doesn’t show any sort of recognition or compassion towards them when he sees them during war. Another character, Mrs. Jacobi, also goes unrecognized at the end of the film. In real life, people remember one another and even if they’re pretending not to, we can see glimmers of recognition in their eyes or on their faces. When watching the film, I Jan, Eva, and Fillip to remember one another; however, when they did not, I accepted it and did not question it until after the fact. In real life, I would find this lack of recognition strange and unacceptable; in cinema life (or cinema reality) I don’t really question anything until the film is over and the lights are turned on.

Recently, there have been many films about dreams. In Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, Stephane’s father has just died and he’s moved back to France to live in his childhood apartment. While his mother has promised him a creative job, he realizes from the first day that he is just a cog in the wheel, copying and pasting text that he himself has not created. As the film progresses, the images on the screen become less easy to identify. Is this a dream? Is this really happening? As film progresses, I accept the images as the reality of the cinema – what is happening on the screen is, in some way, actually happening to Stephane. After the film is over and I actually try to decide what were Stephane’s dream and what was his reality, I realize that it is impossible to do. Gondry has created a film that is an combination of dream and reality – it’s a dream reality that we see on a screen (if that makes sense). Without artificial constructions, our minds are haphazard… filled with unconnected, delirious thoughts. In Gondry’s film, there are no artificial constructions and we are able to experience a mind unbound. The following is one of my favorite scenes from the movie:

Movies like The Science of Sleep are important because they provide a starting point for discussing philosophical ideas. As long as filmmakers keep creating works like Tropical Malady, people will continue to respond in new ways…there will be more opportunities for them to affect and be affected.

— Kilgore Trout

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2 Responses to “I Don’t Want to be a Spaghetti”

  1. Danielle Mantione Says:

    The idea of suspension of disbelief reminds me of something said by Christian Metz and in chapter eight, Film and Dream: Degrees of Secondarisation, in his book The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. In this chapter, Metz casually slips in this term he calls “lessened wakefulness,” and although it is barely touched upon, I have remembered it for years. Here he says that the state of watching a film very closely parallels dreaming, more than any other activity a person can participate in, while he or she is awake. Assuming the film you are watching is actually engaging, you are put into a state of mind akin to a dream, the result of which is lessened wakefulness (Metz 124).

    To a certain extent I think it is true that we need to suspend something in order to achieve this dream-like state, which I think should be the ultimate goal of a film. For me, a film is a complete failure if I am constantly checking to see how much time is left or if I can very easily identify the plot points (then I do not even need to check on the time, because the film itself is telling me about how much time is left).

    In the same chapter, Metz also says that certain films are more organized than a dream, and I would have to say I fully agree (Metz 120). Although watching a film can mirror a dream-state, I would not necessarily say that large percentages of films themselves are comparable to a dream. My dreams are similar to a David Lynch film for sure, but not a typical, well-structured Hollywood film.

    – Danielle Mantione

    Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Bloomington, Indiana: University of Indiana Press, 1986. Print.

  2. immanentterrain2 Says:

    I enjoyed this post because, being that my final paper was on Solaris in relation to Deleuze, I was also interested in the suspension of disbelief. But, in my project’s case, I was interested in what was believable in terms of science fiction and what was too unimaginable to believe as a spectator.

    I walked away with a similar sense that to be effective there needs to be artificial constructions, but I also feel they need to be connectable for the spectator. I used a book on Tarkovsky’s work to help consider some of his decision making in regard to science fiction and the making of Solaris. I read that in contrast to the book, he intentionally avoided immediately informing the spectator that they were entering the realm of science fiction and suggested that he left certain aspects of what one might normally consider to be the “go-to” science fiction sequence out of the film, such as the actual launching of the space craft.

    When I think of what a dream sequence should be, I appreciate something similar, in terms of how it is intertwined with the real. I don’t want to see a character be completely engulfed into a new world where everything about who they normally are is obscured. I’d rather be able to see that same character and with some boundaries removed, but still have some ability to see traces of their waking or real environment and life.

    What I enjoyed most about the Science of Sleep was the set design, in terms of how it was used in conjunction with Stephan’s dream sequences. Because they are so artificial and playful, they kind of do the opposite of my point above, in terms how they immediately que that what you are witnessing is a dream.

    -Joe

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