Wednesday, December 28, 2011

OCCUPY NOWHERE FINALE: United Red Army (2007)







As films were mined each week for Occupy Nowhere, two camps emerged from within the loose genre framework that the column intended to elucidate. It became relatively consistent that for characters that deliberately and knowingly occupied a particular nowhere, the act was one of diversion and avoidance (The Woman With Red Hair) of the greater tides of change. These tales tend toward incongruities of personal growth (Young Adam) and err on the side of defeatism. However, for films in which exile is forced (The Skin I Live In, Woman in the Dunes, Pleasantville), a more substantive course is undertaken. Individuals in the latter camp prove themselves industrious, inventive, and introspective. Certainly, this genre split is imperfect, with the example of Matthew of The Dreamers who is invited into exile and evolves within that shared seclusion where his counterparts Theo and Isa do not. What the draw suggests is that imprisonment foments reactivity and adaptation. Survival instincts streamline human ingenuity, ferocity, and also patience, therefore the more engaged exile is the one who finds themself occupying nowhere (World On A Wire), not the one who decides to.

Though both camps of films are uniquely existential, the result of diversion tends to somatic or bodily (The Dreamers, Young Adam), and where imprisonment is the mandate, the result is something more cerebral. Like The Skin I Live In, which uses sexual reassignment as the material for one man’s undoing and another’s existential evolution, Director/Writer Koji Wakamatsu’s incendiary sociopolitical drama United Red Army inhabits a middle-ground (a nowhere even within the Occupy Nowhere dichotomy) where its matters of deliberate seclusion by radical communist youth in “military camps” yields both an intensely cerebral and deeply somatic product, fusing the connection between physicality and the phenomenon of ideology. URA creates a new paradigm of nowhere, in which nowhere is occupied deliberately, not as a diversion from the tides of change, rather a preparation for them.

United Red Army (URA) is a film I never thought I’d see twice, much less theatrically, but this is exactly what has happened. URA screened at the NY Japan Society in 2008 and quite recently in Washington DC’s Freer Gallery (which boasts excellent free film screenings). Much to this reviewer’s surprise, URA is even receiving a US DVD edition on January 17th from Kino/Lorber. Wakamatsu, who has been making films since the events of URA took place, is no stranger to the unsavory dimensions of the human psyche or to the left-wing political wildfire that lapped Japan’s mid century. He is remarkably unflinching and unsparing in his vision, so much so that in the two years that lapsed between viewings, precious little detail had been swiped from memory, and all the stains of its rigor were in tact.

A perfect candidate for Occupy Nowhere, this three-hour three-act epic is an expository docu-drama about the uniquely radical politics of protest in 1960’s-70’s Japan. Analogous to numerous student uprisings the world over – which the film draws its own connections to - Japan too was creaking and moaning as it grappled with post war reshaping, but these growing pains escalated to a violence unseen anywhere else.

Wakamatsu takes on a reductive strategy with URA. Act one is a quickstep expositional history lesson aided by narration and archival material spliced with dramatization. It sweeps through the constellation of names entwined in the complicated causality that birthed with the National Student League in the mid 60’s, through the formation of the Red Army Faction from several radical sub-groups, and ends with the violent implosion of the United Red Army altogether in the early 70’s. Emerging from the tangled timeline, act two plunges into the radicalization, politicization and militarization of leftist student groups and their consolidation into the United Red Army’s now infamous training camps, with a turn towards visceral dramatization. Act three quarantines the characters and audience even further as it hurtles towards an action-thriller climax with URA members on the run from the police.

As per the second act, in an effort to ready themselves for the inevitable “all out war” that would decide the socio-political fate of Japan and the world, the United Red Army assembles in two isolated woodland camps to commence self-directed military training after unifying under the URA banner. The intent of occupying this nowhere is to sew bonds of friendship, instill the warrior instinct, and clarify the language of their political ideology. In camp is where the ultimately dismantling practice of self-critique, in which individuals are obliged to appraise and dissect their own “ability to be a communist,” takes its grip. In some form, self-critique could have been a helpful ritual of assessing ones actions and their impact on the cohesion and success of the URA’s movement, instead it becomes a stage to “thin the herd” of the weak hearted. The megalomaniacal leaders of these camps drive what becomes a cyclical degradation of purpose and functionality through the redundant practice of self-critique. The impending “all out war” that is the ultimate intent seems impossibly distant, and the camps turn on their own proponents.

Act two of URA bears all the fundamentalist finger-pointing shades of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, in which any infraction, misstep, or objection is put under the microscope of a scrutiny that can never satisfied to the contrary, where the worst is drawn out of people and a grand potential for broadly scaled change is squandered. Petty motivations lead to victimization, and the demand for self-critique becomes a weapon. The critical point of abstraction occurs when self-critique exteriorizes to include the other members of the camp; meaning that, in the communist spirit of universality, the group becomes an extension of the individual, and is expected to critique with their fists. In that sense, all critique is self-critique, no matter where directed. This trend, which in a sense absolves anyone’s culpability through metaphor, escalates to the degree of “death sentences,” handed out by the titular leader. The intensely physical and psychological act-two stretches itself well past the point of the audience “getting it,” and rightly so. The confounding, enraging, and seemingly fruitless practice of self-critique is made as grueling and seemingly endless as possible to simulate the inescapable horror that it was for those encamped. Thankfully it breaks.

Act three is an even further distillation of filmmaking, and takes place as the remaining URA members of the training sessions are chased down by the police to the Asama Mountain Lodge (the director’s own lodge is used and destroyed in the film), knee deep in snow, forced to occupy yet another nowhere. However, this nowhere, like the Occupations on City Hall and Wall Street, is in plain sight, televised across Japan. These final members take the lodgekeeper hostage for 10 days as they are pushed to the brink of their own ideology, to the basest most modes of survival, and confront their ultimate failures as activists and as human beings. This final primal stretch of URA - a futile struggle helmed by cornered wolves raging against the dissolution of their newly consolidated form before any real war could be waged, before any change could be affected through direct action - is a confused barrage of attacks and counter attacks, told entirely from the frenetic perspective of the entrenched URA members. Wakamatsu, in the reductive end to his earnest, even, and ever-refining film keeps the audience cloistered in the lodge, as confused and confined as the trapped URA men, left to grapple with defeat and guilt in nowhere.




Friday, December 16, 2011

OCCUPY NOWHERE: WORLD ON A WIRE (Part II) (**spoilers**)


“The materialists say that ‘Thought is conditioned by Being,’ and not ‘Being is conditioned by Thought,’ and that Being - with its basis in itself – is conditioned by itself. …But it forgets that without thought, Being is No-Being. Being comes into Being only when it becomes conscious of itself. As long as God is content with himself, he is non-existent. He must be awakened to something that is not himself when he is God. God is God when God is not God, yet what is not God must be in himself too. And this – what is not himself – is his own thought or consciousness. With this consciousness he departs from himself and at the same time returns to himself. You cannot say that thought is conditioned by being, and that Being has its basis in itself. You must say that Being is Being because of Thought, which is to say, that Being is Being because Being is not Being.” 

"The world starts only when there is a mind that appreciates, a mind critically aware of itself." -Daistez T. Suzuki

At the end of part one (literally the last seconds), Fred Stiller is made privy to what a modern audience has likely suspected since Günther Lause’s split-second disappearance and certainly since Stiller’s drive to where “the road wasn't finished”; that Stiller’s world is a simulation. This means that Simulacron-3 is actually a sub-basement of reality, and furthermore that a dimension exists above Stiller’s world. What isn’t clear is precisely how many worlds are wrapped around one another (at the least, three), who is “real” and who is not (who is a Contact and who is merely an identity unit), and whether there is a way to escape the nowhere Stiller finds himself occupying; a nowhere more literally no-where than any other film in the Occupy catalogue for its “existing” in the digital abstract. Ironically though, Michael Ballhaus’ (The Departed, Quiz Show) cinematography has been asserting the notion of space, surface, dimension, and geometry with every sleek, gliding shot the whole film long.

Stiller’s persistent investigation along the hypothesis of corporate conspiracy, which stems from Vollmer’s death and Lause’s disappearance, takes on the concern of his world’s falsehood in Part Two. Stiller goes through a full course of emotional states, much like a grieving process as he negotiates a changing perception of reality, addled by a reality that keeps rearranging itself, and shaken by the question of personhood as he may in fact be just an identity unit. Is this not the same dismay or deflation one might feel about the notion of intelligent design, perceived as an existential challenge against ones own autonomy and agency rather than an infusion of purpose? Stiller’s ultimate insistence of his corporeality and intentionality splinters the preconception that personhood is an exclusively biological event.

World on a Wire questions where imitation ends and authenticity begins and posits a common science fiction bent that “something like human consciousness” could aspire to “become consciousness.”  Thus, as Buddhist scholar Daisetz Suzuki discusses in the opening quotation, Consciousness and Being qualify one another. Suzuki proposes that only through Thought – what he considers necessarily external to the individual’s autopilot existence - does Being quantify into Being (in the full sense of someone able to contemplate their own existence). Stiller rises from like-consciousness (or rather the no-consciousness of complacency) to consciousness by negation. He ideologically negates his inclusion in a reality determined to be a simulation. Thus he is able to differentiate his intent (conscious decision and opinion) from his action (his basic functions as an identity unit). Though yet to be proved as more than a computer program, Stiller is able to actualize and appraise his own Being-ness by verging against the medium in which he floats. In the language of Suzuki, Stiller is Stiller because Stiller is not Stiller, meaning that he comes into Being not when he is passively told he is no-being (an identity unit) by his mind-hacked coworker, but when he has proved it actively by unraveling the perceptual veil which aims to perplex him into subjugation.

Suzuki remarks of Zen that, “When we say that we live by Zen” …rather than simply living zen, which all life supposedly does passively…“this means that we become conscious of the fact,” and therefore active. Relational to Wire, it is Stiller’s achievement of “thought,” that brings him to a critically self-aware state, able to assess, dissect, and contradict Simulacron by degrees. Even though he verges against the virtual system of which he is a part, it is through that painful effort of consciousness (reflected in his dizzy spells and migraine) that Stiller, who merely lived simulacron, comes to live by simulacron, in a sense.

From that attainment of differentiation, Stiller is able to endeavor towards a kind of transcendence of nowhere, or at least is able to want and to fight for it. It is only with the aid of the much sought-after Contact from the real world - inhabiting Stiller’s world as Professor Vollmer’s daughter Elena Vollmer, who falls in love with Stiller, reveals that there is a less than desirable “real Stiller” and switches their minds at the moment the virtual Stiller is killed – is he able to bring his practice of negation to completion. Ascended finally to what is presumably the real world, and into corporeal Being, Stiller is as giddy as Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning, elated about his Being and fully aware of it. Juxtaposed against the bullet-riddled Stiller on the roof of a car, he and Elena hold each other, roll on the floor, kiss, and laugh; which, though starkly opposed to one another, are the first moments of the entire film which feel….real.  


Thursday, December 15, 2011

OCCUPY NOWHERE: WORLD ON A WIRE (Part I)


Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire (1973), which recently screened at Philly’s International House, expects a February DVD/Bluray edition from Criterion, and deservedly so for its contemporary resonances, unexpected humor, aesthetic brilliance (even if it is a bit long in the tooth). This two-part TV adaptation of Daniel F. Galouye’s sci-fi novel Simulacron-3 predates another of director Fassbinder’s massive undertakings for the small screen, Berlin Alexanderplatz (1982), and like it, has all the scale and craft of cinema. The relationship between these two adapted projects is that which scribes them into the Occupy Nowhere family: the centrality of “a man apart,” who uses something akin to the Zen practice of negation to affirm his personhood within systematized alienation. For recently released prisoner Franz Biberkopf, exiled to the to the Alexanderplatz district of 1928 Berlin, negation means a self-aware effort to “go straight” no matter the overwhelming prevalence of corruption and coercion; a challenge against his own criminal identity. In World On A Wire, set in a technocratic future where virtual reality is tapped as a market research tool, the Institute for Cybernetics and Future Science’s Dr. Fred Stiller’s act of negation is aimed at the very tenets of his physical Being (“Being” as both a noun and a verb), and of the two presents the more fundamental existential query.

World On A Wire is an anachronistic treasure of dystopic future storytelling that has elapsed its temporal leap, but is only slightly askew in its positions and premonitions about man’s undoing. Wire is the story of cybernetics engineer Fred Stiller, a man who doesn’t know that he is “occupying nowhere,” what “nowhere” encompasses, but sparks to life as he exposes the pervasive nature of that exile. Wire is also the story of Simulacron-3, a self-evolving virtual city devised by the Institute for Cybernetics and Future Science (IKZ) to mirror the real world. Like “the strangers” in Dark City (1998) who supernaturally manipulate the architecture of a perpetually nocturnal city and rearrange the memories of its inhabitants for study, IKZ Scientists code conditions and events into the fabric of the Simulacron city, populated by 8,000 identity-units; virtual humans imbued with idiosyncrasies and “something like consciousness.” That like-consciousness is so convincing that the identity units are unaware - save for one deliberate implant called Einstein - that they are collections of electronic impulses in a computer. Operators download into Simulacron-3 via a digital avatar in order to observe, effect change, or extract information from Einstein. The rippling impacts of events that are programmed into Simulacron are used as microcosmic predictors for future policy changes in usage of resources and commercial trends in “real world.” Particularly interested in this information is the company United Steel.

The film begins with an anxious Professor Vollmer, technical director of Simulacron, who is in possession of a distressing secret. Moments after bequeathing his secret to IKZ’s security officer, Günther Lause, Vollmer meets a mysterious end. Vollmer’s successor, Dr. Fred Stiller, has a discussion with Lause at a party about his mentor’s suspicious death, but Lause disappears (without trace) before he can share Vollmer’s apparently preposterous theory. Things get even stranger when, much to Stiller’s frustration, the IKZ employees seem to have no memory of Günther Lause. Accumulating inconsistencies with the media, selective amnesia, disappearances and reappearances of characters, a gaggle of emotionally near-automaton women (including Stiller’s appointed secretary) and general ambiguities press Stiller to eventually suspect everyone of conspiracy, including the overall intent of the IKZ, if not the fabric of his own reality. To this effect Wire unravels like All The President’s Men (1976) blended with Brazil (1985), dipped in neon blue. Stiller escalates in his suspicions the more he uncovers about the “wires” that the film’s title infers about.

Fassbinder’s film is a veritable Russian Doll. The director renders worlds within worlds literally, and through a potent visual language. His persistent use of mirrors, glass surfaces and enclosures, compositional fragmentation, diegetic visual distortions, and frames within frames (such as TV monitors) lend themselves to both conspiratorial fractures of information, and of multiple realities. Brilliantly kitchy sets, location shooting, a textural soundtrack, and the modern chic of a gliding camera create a clinical sense of urgency and a rich sense of place (more accurately no-place).

Above and beyond the unambiguous corporate critique, Fassbinder’s ultimate concerns here are about the manipulability of information/perception and the flaws in the architecture that we erect around reality (ie. technology, commerce, bureaucracy, routine). Through the abuse of a virtual reality enterprise, Wire questions where intrinsic human-ness lies or where “so-called reallity” occurs, and supposes the evolutionary apex at which our probing, framing, and manipulating of reality leads to perceptual and spiritual collapse.  Wire also infers that removed of its sci-fi shroud, the machinations and abuses that unfurl within the film are mere variations of those which can and do occur in our reality, and have everything to do with the correlation of identity and technology (internet/social media) and also commerce. If unseen or unquestioned, we find ourselves Occupying Nowhere, just as unawares as Stiller before his “fateful” promotion.

End of Part One.
















Monday, December 5, 2011

OCCUPY NOWHERE: THE DREAMERS




Matthew: “…There’s something going on out there…something that feels like it could be important. Something that feels like things could change. Even I get that. But you’re not out there. You’re in here with me, sipping expensive wine, talking about film, talking about Maoism…Why?”

Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers might well be the benchmark of Occupy Nowhere’s genre make up. It sensually explores the cloistered lives of three cinephilic young adults - twins Theo (Louis Garrel) and Isabelle (Eva Green), and their friend Matthew (Michael Pitt) - as Paris verges into social upheaval after the forced deposition of Henri Langlois as head of the film mecca that was the Cinematheque Francaise. In it, director Bertolucci furthers his thesis on existential isolationism begun with Last Tango in Paris (1972) and The Last Emperor (1987). The Dreamers unfolds during the famed May ’68 uprisings. Bertolucci uses that historical material not as academia to be exposited, but as a source of brewing intensity rendered peripherally. The film is insularly about the three main characters’ shifting perceptions of “self,” their construction of a personal language, and the forging of a shared emotional identity over a month of self-imposed house arrest. Various degrees of intimately waged war and stagnation that occur within the closed-off apartment - termed the Quartier des Enfants in the source novel - are reflected by publicly waged war (riots) and stagnation (uncollected trash, debris). Gilbert Adair, author of the novel and screenplay, explains in his DVD commentary that the telling of the story and the making of the film holds no implicit irony, but now, seven years later amid a global society of dreamers waking from a complacent daze, occupying the public arena in protest, a relevance to that history is drawn by the event of watching. 

Timid but ponderous Matthew, brimming from the first shot with boyish enthusiasm and naiveté, is an American student studying French in Paris. But as he suggests in voice-over-narration, his real education is earned at the Cinematheque Francaise. Matthew meets Theo and Isa during an inclement day of protest against that institution’s closing, and thinks himself in love. Matthew has dinner with the siblings and their parents the next evening at their flat. The father is a somewhat distracted thinker, apparently renown for his poetry. The mother is a sympathetic but utterly strong-willed woman whose domesticity never appears like submission.

During the intimate meal, Matthew shares a rather implicating dialogue with the father… implicating in what it predicts about the nature of Matthew’s own impending role in the twins’ binary orbit.  Amid the father’s monologue about the spontaneous nature of inspiration, Matthew fidgets with Isabelle’s tin lighter, not paying attention. When the father calls him out on his behavior, Matthew apologetically explains the discovery he’s made in the course of his brief distraction. Upon placing the lighter on the table he noticed that the lighter’s length is exactly that of the diagonal of the plaid pattern of the tablecloth, and that further investigation revealed that every other measurement (height, width, depth) of the lighter is equal to some dimension of the same pattern. Matthew demonstrates all the places and configurations it fits into; between two plates, the length between the knuckles on Isa’s ring finger, etc.

4. “I was noticing that the more you look at everything; this table, the objects on it, the refrigerator, this room, your nose…the world, suddenly you realize that there’s some kind of cosmic harmony of shapes and sizes. I was just wondering why? I don’t know why that is… I know that it is.”

Matthew has this revelation, not outside, but at a cramped and dimly lit dinner table in a small kitchen by simple accident, and thereby illustrates the father’s point of spontaneous inspiration perfectly.

The father, genuinely engaged by Matthew, adds to the epiphany. “We look around us and what do we see?...Complete chaos! But, when viewed from above, viewed as it were, by god, everything fits together. You have a very interesting friend here,” he declares to Theo and Isa, “more interesting, I suspect, than you know.” The father goes to the topic of the student demonstrations and his children’s appeal of their viability. The father says directly to Theo, “Before you can change the world you must realize that you yourself are a part of it. You can’t just be on the outside looking in.”

After dinner Theo and Isa invite Matthew to stay with them for the subsequent month of their parents’ absence, and in that time he assumes the role of observer - not from above or outside, but from within. During these almost mythical weeks, Matthew slowly realizes his objectivity in the palpable claustrophobia of the twin’s stunted evolution and the winding flat, much like the claustrophobic dinner table, where all the details came together first.

In their time apart from the broader goings on of May ‘68, the twins include Matthew (as somewhat of a play-thing) in their private film-derived language, and use it to further dismantle reality and one another. The game of it evolves more deeply from his participation. Without a cinematheque, Theo Isa and Matthew impersonate films from the reels imprinted in their cinephilic minds. Sometimes it is mere sport – for which wrong guesses are punished with sexual hazing - and sometimes it is integrated into their person as bodily as a mother tongue. In the same way, Bertolucci grafts the scenes being evoked by the characters into the very skin of his film, which is its own kind of penetrative act. For the three dreamers and for Bertolucci, the prism of cinema - itself a screening from and framing of reality – is the only means through which they can understand or accept that reality. Matthew - the sexual, ideological, critical, spatial, emotional penetrator of this world, sees and understands this.

This is such a fragile architecture though. Just as the airlessness of a film-watching experience can be shattered by a cough, a phone, a lobby door opening and allowing sounds and light to filter in, so too the sanctity of the quartier des enfants can be ruptured buy the persistence of reality from without. The formative course of their alienation too gives rise to the very contradictions, plateaus, oversaturation, analysis, and redundancies that dissolve the seeming perfection of that exile. That's what makes the story so rich. Through their total love of film and their cannibalistic use of it as part of their identities, it becomes clear that Theo Isa and even Matthew had “occupied nowhere” long before they sealed themselves off in the quartier des enfants


Monday, November 28, 2011

OCCUPY NOWHERE: Akutagawa Rynosuke (1892-1927)



“As for my vague anxiety about my future I think I analyzed it all in A Fool’s Life (1927), except for a social factor, namely the shadow of feudalism cast over my life. This I omitted purposely, not at all certain that I could really clarify the social context in which I lived.”   -Akutagawa (1927, in his suicide note)

In 1915 the prolific Japanese writer Akutagawa Rynosuke penned the novella Rashomon which - combined with another of his stories titled In A Grove - became the basis for Kurosawa Akira’s cinematic “shot heard round the world,” as well as an American adaptation called The Outrage (1964) by Martin Ritt, starring Paul Newman.  Like Kurosawa after him, Akutagawa reinterpreted Japanese folkloric traditions and mined the caverns of his own dismal history in a quest for linguistic mastery, unflinchingly cinematic in his clarity despite his choice of medium.  Akutagawa’s two main phases of literary output could be generalized in the former by folkloric/historical extracts, and in the latter by autobiographical extracts.  All throughout, one constant exists; the dissolution of “truth” or “fact” through the blending of reality and fantasy.

Akutagawa’s later autobiographical works, such as A Fool’s Life and Cogwheels were dedicated to a character (himself) ill-at-ease in the purposeless patterns of daily life, whose obsessive dejection is the playground for revelation, no matter how pained.  The diary chronicle Cogwheels charts Akutagawa’s rise to a hallucinatory tipping point, steeped in the anxieties of one afeared of losing their mind.  A Fool’s Life is a poetic volume of epigrams (numbered 1-51) that express “moral and philosophical reflections, parables and metaphors” as Akutagawa collides pure fiction, autobiography, and sheer musing seamlessly.  It is this particular focus that inducts Akutagawa into the Occupy Nowhere conversation.  The character of his self undergoes existential upheaval while exiled-in-plain-sight by the tides of expectation and the mundane.

To celebrate Akutagawa’s consequential contribution to cinema, and the undeniable cinema of his language, I have included several excerpts from A Fool’s Life. Consider how each, in their brevity, resonates with Occupy Nowhere’s emotional core, and how Akutagawa interprets so many shades of escape or disenfranchisement – physical, emotional, psychological - which are dismaying but ultimately revealing.  He observes that which can only be expressed by one inhabiting that disenfranchisement, and also that which escapes them – as reflected in the opening quote above.  That sentiment of not knowing how to clarify his own social context is reminiscent of the same incapacity held by the first Occupy Wallstreet protestors.

This first selection entitled Self, is altogether a swan song for Occupy Nowhere, wholly about formative escape.  The exact volume that contains the stories referenced here can be found inexpensively on amazon and even at Brick Bat Books in South Philadelphia.


5. SELF

            With a graduate, sitting at a café table, puffing at one cigarette after another.  He hardly opened his mouth.  But listened intently to the graduate’s words.

            “Today I spent half a day riding in a car.”

            “On business, I suppose?”

            His senior, cheek reclining on palm, replied extremely casually.

            “Huh? – Just felt like it.”

            The words opened up for him an unknown realm - close to the gods, a realm of Self.  It was painful.  And ecstatic .

            The café was cramped.  Under a painting of the god Pan, in a red pot, a gum tree.  Its fleshly leaves.  Limp


3. HOME

            In the outskirts in a room on the second floor he slept and woke.  Maybe the foundation was shaky, the second floor somehow seemed to tilt.

            On this second floor he and his aunt constantly quarreled.  Nor was there a time when his foster parents had not had to intervene.  And yet, above all others, it was his aunt he loved.  All her life alone, when he was in his twenties she was almost sixty.

            In the outskirts in this room on the second floor, that those who loved each other caused each other misery troubled him.  Feeling sick at the rooms tilting.


7. PAINTING

            All at once he was struck.  Standing in front of a bookshop looking at a collection of paintings by Van Gogh, it hit him.  This was painting.  Of course, these Van Gogh’s were merely photo reproductions.  But even so, he could feel in them a self rising intensely to the surface.
            The passion of these paintings renewed his vision.  He saw now the undulations of a tree’s branching, the curve of a woman’s cheek.
            One overcast autumn dusk outside the city he had walked through an underpass. There at the far side of the embankment stood a cart.  As he walked by he had the feeling that somebody had passed this way before him.  Who? – There was for him no longer need to question.  In his twenty-three year old mind, an ear lopped off, a Dutchman, in his mouth a long-stemmed pipe, on the sullen landscape set piercing eyes.


30.  RAIN

            On a big bed with her, talking of this and that.  Outside the bedroom window rain was falling.  The blossoms of crinum must be rotting away.  Her face still seemed to linger in moonlight.  But talking with her was no longer not tiresome.  Lying on his stomach, quietly lighting a cigarette he realized the days he spent with her had already amounted to seven years.

            “Am I in love with this woman?”

            He wondered. Even to his self-scrutinizing self the answer came as a surprise.
           
“I still am.”


51.  DEFEAT

The hand taking up the pen had started to tremble.  He drooled.  His head, only after a 0.8 dose of Veronal, did it have any clarity.  But only then for half an hour or an hour.  In this semi-darkness day to day he lived.  The blade nicked, a slim sword for a stick.


**Look forward to a post about the film Portrait of Hell (1969), adapted from Akutagawa’s Hell Screen.**



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

OCCUPY NOWHERE: THE SKIN I LIVE IN


**spoilers**

Almodovar’s latest fits right into the OCCUPY NOWHERE fold, and brings the shared idea of “formative seclusion” more inward (literally) than any other film to be discussed in this column. It is also the first example of forced seclusion. Perhaps it is the stained-glass makings on protagonist Vera’s (Elena Anaya) body that brings percentages to mind, but The Skin I Live In gives new meaning to “the 99%.” So much of human identity exists beneath the corporeal surface – residing in memory, desire and cognition – despite the staggering significance we afford the exterior 1%. Vera’s sculpted surface, and her darkly concealing eyes evoke notions of icebergs; how the majority of their mass (upwards of 90%) is actually beneath the waves. Nothing of what is exposed can express what lies beneath. Vera, imprisoned in numerous ways by the calculating Dr. Robert Ledgard (a severe Antonio Banderas), turns inward on her own 99% - and cultivates a true identity of self awareness and freedom.

Dr. Robert Ledgard - a surgical genius, performer of two face-transplants - addresses an auditorium. He reveals aims to develop a synthetic skin replacement, boasting its resilience against burns and mosquito bites in “animal” testing. Not only has Ledgard produced the skin, he has tested it on a human subject, Vera. Like the sheer swatches of flesh he grows in petri dishes at the secret medical facility beneath his mansion, Ledgard’s agenda to “improve the species” is a veil upon his obsession. The fervor to develop this miracle skin arose from his wife’s tragic demise. Burned head to toe in an automobile fire but survived, she leapt to her death upon glimpsing her tortured reflection. She was unable to understand her own identity as entwined with her visage, which is the films conceptual crux. Though Ledgard’s intentions are far more personal than professional, the ethics and taboo surrounding his intra-special trans-genetic method (combining human and pig genetic material to firm and strengthen human skin) are timely considering the rate of medical and technological advances, congruent with raging debates over enterprises like stem-cell research, cloning, and genetically modified organisms. In a sense, the climate of controversy and the lethargy of ethical courses is what forces Ledgard to occupy his own nowhere within which his innovation can be viciously unbound.

As The Skin I Live In sway’s backward in time through the dreams of Ledgard and his prisoner Vera (between which a sexual dynamic arises), a new character, Vincent, enters the melodramatic fray. This charismatic lost young man crashes a gala party at Ledgard’s mansion. While high on pills, he has an unsavory ambiguous sexual encounter with Norma, the doctor’s emotionally unstable daughter. Ledgard stumbles upon his unconscious daughter outside who awakes into screams and sobs. He assumes the worst – rape - deciphers the Vincent’s identity, and kidnaps him. Ledgard holes Vincent up in a dark cave beneath his mansion, chained to the wall, starving, with only a blue tub full of drinking water. During this time, a very damaged Norma, commits suicide in the same manner as her mother. Vincent eventually graduates to small meals of rice, the ability to read magazines, and changes of clothes.

The worst comes as Ledgard indentures Vincent as an unwitting surgical pet. The stunning twist of the film is that Ledgard forces Vincent into rigorous sexual reassignment. Vincent moves into the mansion proper and is locked in as minimalist a room as can be conceived, monitored by a camera. The only communication allowed is through the intercom, to the caretaker of the estate. Food, books, magazines, and art supplies are delivered via an electronic dumbwaiter. Over the course of several years Ledgard sculpts Vincent’s entire body, down to the structure of his face, to bear an uncanny resemblance to his deceased wife. Thus, from the clay of Vincent, Vera is born. A stunning dark eyed beauty, whose every glance is as empty as it is full, and swells with as much fatalism as vitality.

Living in the skin of Vera - one of many levels of captivity - Vincent culls a personal language that eluded him in his bouts of unrequited love, drugs or craft  (making widow arrangements for his mother’s small vintage fashion boutique). Underneath his aloofness and drug use, Vincent seemed dissatisfied with his life, especially in his affections for a coworker - a woman who loves only women. In the reductive atmosphere of his imprisonment, Vincent/Vera discovers the discipline of yoga.  Vera learns two powerful truths; that a hidden place of solitude and infinity resides within, and that above all “art keeps you free.” Vera scrawls these words on the wall amidst an epic chronicle of ideas and observations drawn floor to ceiling.

A relationship exists between Vera as a sculpturo-surgical patchwork, Ledgard as the sculptor, and the layered fabric works of artist Louise Bourgeois (seen in books by Vera). Bourgeois taps into themes of sexual fragility, concealed emotional trauma, and “architecture as a visual expression of memory.” Almodovar interprets the existential challenge of holding the memory of oneself (the 99%) after the physical architecture of ones body (the 1%) is changed. Inspired by Bourgeois and his own circumstances, Vincent/Vera writes, draws and sculpts. For the first time he creates from a source of ingenuity tapped deep within. Later, in Vincent’s climactic savage bid for freedom, he embraces Vera Cruz, and kisses a picture of Vincent goodbye. A gesture built upon much introspection.

Upon returning to his mother’s shop, Vincent-as-Vera reveals his/her true identity. Here, The Skin I Live In twists its morally objectionable events into something devastatingly and strangely soulful, as something is alight between Vera (now a woman) and Vincent’s unrequited lesbian love, still working at the shop. Thus, the film concludes upon an end-which-is-a-beginning. The Skin I Live In builds the foundational significance for all the possibilities unseen after the final frame, but which were laid by the destructive-cum-formative experience of Vincent/Vera’s forced occupation of nowhere.





Tuesday, November 15, 2011

OCCUPY NOWHERE: The Woman With Red Hair (1979)


“The Woman’s hair was reddish blonde. Lifeless and fake-looking. The color suited her rough skin.” 1  

1. If the first Pinku Eiga one saw were Kumashiro Tatsumi’s The Woman With Red Hair (Akai Kami no Onna), one would be starting arguably at the top, as he is considered to have brought the form to an artistic height. The Woman With Red Hair, recently screened at the 2011 NY Film Festival, is an adaptation of Nakagami Kenji’s equally spare short story Red Hair, which entails little more than a grueling sexual marathon between Kozo, a rugged construction worker with no conscience, and the nameless redheaded woman (Junko Miyashita) he picks up on the road, as the two escape working-class malaise and personal history. In many ways it stands as the basest most extraction of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris (1974), the inspiration for which is that Bertolucci once dreamed of seeing a beautiful nameless woman on the street and having sex with her without ever knowing who she was. Though described here in detail, the joy of Kumashiro’s film is not spoiled at all by foreknowledge. Its utterly earthly expression is its purpose. The Woman With Red Hair should be seen for its gritty non-intellectualism, where that sole concentration on the body, absent of any morality or “story,” is absolute. 
2. The opening sequence says a great deal rather simply. With the camera set low, the redheaded woman walks toward us astride cars and trucks in the middle of a busy road. Framed by the ground and the arc of a distant overpass, she emerges from the behind the crest of the road. Just as in the opening lines of the book (written above), the first visual detail is the woman’s hair. The woman is established immediately as an object (the hair), and as a motion contrary to the industrial currents of the day (a meaning more significant to Kozo [the driver of the truck in question] than herself). Cut to a shot that scans the ocean and the surrounding seaside industrial landscape, and ends on the emergence of an oncoming truck. Elegantly quick editing captures the woman and the truck’s crossing with a sense of electricity. After the freeze-frame title, the film cuts to a close-up of dirt being dumped from that same truck at a construction site. The sounds of heavy machinery resound.

3. Kozo; Marlon Brando to the redhead’s Maria Schneider, is introduced with every bit of his malingering and unscrupulous character on display. Kozo delivers the truck and conspires with his friend/coworker Takao to leave early. A young woman, yet to be named, sidles Takao to give him a lunch. He is indifferent. These events are intercut with another sequence in which Kozo and Takao (in different clothes) have secluded this same young woman in what looks like a seaside parking-garage and gang rape her. The oppositional sounds of the ocean during the rape, and of machinery during the excavation, amplify the already disjunctive nature of the time/place shifts and establish a kind of seasick violence to both acts. The back and forth cutting conceals how Kumashiro favors the “long take,” and prefers simply to slowly zoom in and out, or apply handheld techniques to keep actions immediate. The events at the construction site emerge as the present. Driving away, Kozo and Takao reveal through ebullient conversation that the rape occurred three months prior and that the woman victimized - the woman who now clamors for Takao’s attention - is their boss’s daughter Kazuko.

4. In as unsavory and pointed a way as John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), sexual rape is used to reflect the rape of resources (material and human). Herein lies the film’s subtext - a vague but physical revelation about the rapacious development of ¾ century Japan earned on the backs of laborers who feel no connection to the result, or even the process. “Buildings come down and go up at a pace unmatched in other cities of the world; six months’ absence from a major Tokyo district is sometimes enough to render it virtually unrecognizable.” 2  To underscore this point during the rape, Kazuko realizes the futility of her resistance and shouts “Okay okay!! But not here.”  Kozo replies, “Any place’s the same,” and the rape continues as planned. The backfire comes later when Kazuko, the brunt of some revenge act against her father’s rule of law, becomes pregnant and expects Takao to “take responsibility.” Her logic dictates that Takao is the father because he was the first one inside her. This thread ironically produces the only opportunity for tenderness in the whole film because Takao eventually rises to the occasion, and the two bolt to Kyoto to start a new scraping life together.

5. “The days when a laborer rhythmically dug a hole and mixed cement with a shovel were over. In three or four hours an excavator could to the work of five men working three days. ….Instead of swinging a pick you pulled a handle. Though he [Kozo] loved cruising around in trucks, [He] hated being sent out by the company to operate excavators and bulldozers at other work sites.” 1

6. Later that day, Kozo picks up the redheaded woman at a gas station bus stop in the rain, not realizing they had passed earlier. He brings her back to his squalid cramped apartment, and the two commence a symbiotic coital escapade devoid of identity. As long as the rains defer construction jobs, Kozo and the redhead isolate themselves indefinitely. Their malaise is existential but their ultimate act of reclusion is diverting rather than introspective. Uniquely, Kozo and the redhead understand and assert that very aversion. Whenever they feel an admission or inquiry bubbling up, they dive into antidotal sex acts as a proxy. What raises the couple’s entrenchment above a mere exercise in salacious misogyny (a benchmark of the Pink Film industry) is their intent towards mutual exploitation and adherence to anonymity (another quality shared with Last Tango).

7. Kumashiro presents his content not intellectually, but within a framing that is bodily. Thus it is dangerous to flirt too strongly with conceptualization when discussing The Woman With Red Hair without overstepping the bounds of a story deliberately concerned with surface values. French conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin of the Philadelphia Orchestra poignantly observes of his own discipline, “the first quality of a conductor is to be absolutely without afterthought, without anything between the mind and the gesture. As soon as we start to think about the physicality of the thing, I think we are lost.”

8. Nakagami, author of the source novella, is even more insistent of the redhead’s anonymity than Kumashiro, simply calling the story Red Hair and not The Woman With…, She is defined by façade even in the title. Only the fact that she has two children (one three years and the other four), the impression that she is escaping an abusive relationship, and that she learned her favorite sexual position from her husband, are expressed. Yet Kumashiro makes it stirringly evident that her history claws from within. Director and author alike, fully appreciate the potential of withholding her history. The audiences’ curiosity is activated without ever being satiated. All throughout, torrents of emotion swell within the redhead and in true bipolarity, they spurt out of her in sudden episodes of tears, which she alternates with sexual elation and banal conversation.

9. “On the way home from Sakoto’s [Kozo’s Cousin] house, the woman wept. But Kozo had no interest in finding out about the woman’s past. All he needed was a warm body….The woman washed her tear streaked face at the sink and dried it with a towel, and a few minutes later spoke in a voice that sounded as if it was someone else who had been weeping so pitifully.”1 Kozo does in fact wonder about her past, with a shallow insecurity about the source of her sexual prowess, but he quells that curiosity, as does she, by diving into more unthinking sex.

10. With his short story Red Hair as no exception, author Nakagami Kenji (1946-1942) is venerated for giving voice to the Burakumin minority of Japan, himself a Burakumin – the prejudice against whom was virulent in the early to mid 20th century. Nakagami speaks of alienation from within an unspoken alienation, and breaks open a gritty, unkempt, sexually unhindered, morally ambiguous swath of society. Kumashiro’s film, made shortly after the publication of Red Hair, has the same brazen spirit of marginal individuals writhing in marginality, which cannot help but reflect something of Japan’s then-modernity. Like the terseness of Nakagami’s prose, Kumashiro’s use of rough Kansai accents and carefree popular music places the film in time and buoys his characters’ evasions of a reality that is only ever shown in periphery.

11. The Woman With Red Hair is elementally diametric to an upcoming film in the OCCUPY NOWHERE column; Teshigahara Hiroshi’s Woman in the Dunes (1964). Where Red Hair - awash with rain, water, the sea, menstrual fluids, semen, sweat, saliva, urine - has fundamentally to do with saturation and evasion, Dunes pervades with depravation – sand, heat, dryness, scraping, the panic of a man imprisoned, and his industrious efforts to get out of a massive sand pit that he finds himself stuck in with a woman. Both films have to do with forms of decay, and the fragmentation of human identity into body parts, instincts, and textures. Both films depict in different measure, and with different meanings of the word “pleasure,” how “the search for pleasure involves taking hostages and exerting control over a limited environment when the world outside is beyond one’s control.”1 However the glaring divide is that Dunes’ captivity is forced, and Red Hair’s hostages are elective. (Zimmerman)  

12. Kozo and the Redhead’s alienation is essentially nonparticipation-as-protest against working-class / status-quo distastes, and a reaction to the rapidity of change.  Kozo cares little for his specialized skill in the professional sphere because it is ultimately abstract to him. In the interim of a rainy season that halts construction, Kozo is addicted to acts of penetration in the intimate sphere; in bed with the redhead where they perform all manner of sexual acts which are direct and appraisable to them both. The film’s entire metaphoric potential is drawn across this thread; industry and construction which level history in architectural terms, parallel to sexuality which is here used to level the past in sensual terms. The finitude of the couple’s escapism, and the fact that mitigating circumstances (the weather) have allowed that very escape, becomes clear to them. The final lines of the film, uttered unexpectedly by the redhead reveal this awareness. “It’s raining again, we can stay in bed all day. But its not always going to rain like this.”

13. Nakagami ends his story where it began; with hair. “The woman with red hair pressed her lips to Kozo’s throat. Her lips were wet and unbelievably warm, thought Kozo. The red hair shone.” Kumashiro interprets by freeze-framing the woman’s face and hair in a throw of pained ecstasy as the credits roll. She remains an object…. but an object by her own design.


1. Nakagami Kenji, Eve Zimmerman (translation by), “The Cape: and other stories from the Japanese ghetto.” Stone Bridge Press, 2008.
2. Donald Richie, “Introducing Japan.” Kodansha, 1978.







Tuesday, November 8, 2011

OCCUPY NOWHERE: YOUNG ADAM (2004)




1. With eight features to his credit, Britain’s David Mackenzie (Asylum, Hallam Foe) is somehow still below the radar of popular discourse, which may change with two of his recent works having shown at the 20th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival, one of which (Perfect Sense) will be distributed theatrically in January. In his 2004 treatment of Alexander Trocci’s Young Adam, Mackenzie masterfully exploits the sensuality of cinema, devises drama through structure, and accesses the disclosive potential of sexuality in an ongoing investigation of human impulse as a microcosm of social impulse.

2. A rippling skin of water fills the first frames of Young Adam and cuts to a solitary swan floating in the chop. The camera holds this icon for but a moment before delving beneath the water, revealing its dark rugged legs aflutter in the translucent blue/green. We sink lower to riverbed debris. In its rise back to the surface, the camera closes in on the silhouette of a woman’s body, lifeless, non-descript, floating up to the ripples. Like the opening sequence of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet - which, after a montage of idyllic and then suddenly violent suburbia, burrows beneath the grass to reveal writhing insects - the murky underbelly will be Young Adam’s stage.

3. Scotland, after the war. Joe Taylor (Ewan McGregor) works on an old fuel barge with Leslie (Peter Mullan) and Ella Gault (Tilda Swinton) and their young son Jim (Jack McElhone), carting fuel cargo up and down the rivers and canals between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Les and Joe discover the unknown woman’s body floating in the river and fish her out. This grim catalyst precipitates a degradation of morality the length of the film that slips between timeframes of Joe’s past with a woman named Cathie Dimley (Emily Mortimer) and his present on the barge, as subtly as it lists between the tone of a dream and bleak reality. Eventually a wending portrait draws the span of time and souls together.

4. From the start, Director/writer Mackenzie ensconces in a dour and dense mood, yet is somehow electric in that regard. He paints a portrait of constriction. The canals are scarcely wider than the barge that is used to traverse them, and the tunnels are even tighter. The bowels of the barge haven’t a single opportunity for privacy; small cabinet sized quarters sectioned off by thin walls or curtains, a ceiling just tall enough for someone to stand, a tight and steep staircase, dark. The outdoors, overcast. A cool muted palate and the pervasive cold physically accentuate a sense of contraction, of shrinking space, ambition, expectation, and the massing of disappointment. The inside of the barge is first shown warmly, with the faintest suggestion of isolation as form of freedom. That irony soon collapses. The slow crawl of barge life, emblematized by the camera’s glide, weighs everything like the riverbed debris. A flashback expresses Joe’s stifled creativity as a writer. Even the structural non-linearity of Young Adam confines the viewer to an unpredictable clarification of the dramatic elements.

5. We learn that Joe is adrift, at times like the floating corpse; silent yet teeming with a history concealed. He drifts, and deposits, and when he perceives Amontillado’s cask 6. being mortared around him by complacency, stagnation, or expectation, he drifts once more, always a trail of eviscerated souls behind him. He purports to be the architect of his waywardness – an objection to commitment, sentimentality and normalcy - but he sometimes seems the victim of its inherency. A shot of Joe walking from bow to stern as viewed from above, gives the impression he is standing still as the barge moves beneath him.


6. Though much the observer, Joe learns best through touch. “I was struck by the fact that sight is hypnotized by the surfaces of things; more than that, it can only know surfaces at a distance, meager depths at close range. But the wetness of water felt on the hand and on the wrist is more intimate and more convincing than its colour or even than any flat expanse of sea. The eye, I thought, could never go to the center of things.” (Trocci, p.29)  Joe’s mistrust of sight leads him to acts of physical penetration as a primary mode of research and experience. One of the first things we see him do is touch, from which we continually appraise his corporeality, as does he. After plucking the woman’s body from the water, he looks at her intently, draws her translucent petticoat over her buttocks, and as if wanting to leave a trace of himself, places his palm gently on the pallid skin between her shoulder blades (shown in close-up). The film too is obsessed with surfaces; wood, water, gravel, iron, coal, skin, cobblestone, and hypnotizes through clean gliding movements that read like caresses. Presiding over this is the fact that a film too is bound to a surface (the screen), therefore confinement resounds even in the medium itself.

7. Though the draft of the narrative is slow, its dramatic movement is a powerful undertow, and wastes no time in the commencing. Ella ties the laundry on the line as Joe, framed by the wide river, watches the body being taken away. Through memory-like incisions that Trocci describes as a “brainwave;” Joe’s hand against the wet skin, a close-up of Ella’s equally corpselike lips, the dead woman’s leg sliding off the gurney and her heel dragging in the gravel, Mackenzie draws together death and a spark of erotic awareness between Joe and Ella.

8. That very night, Joe undertakes the first proactive steps in an affair with Ella, right under Les’s nose. At dinner he grazes Ella’s calf with his own, testing her, studying her microscopic reactions. He runs his hand gradually up her thigh and under her panties, testing further until Ella removes his grasp. They remain almost unflinchingly placid above the table, where below, like the swan and the murk, something unclean transpires.

9. Later that night Joe breaks away from Les at the pub, knowing Ella will be alone on the barge. Seizing the moment they consummate their curiosity. Thereafter, Ella becomes increasingly driven in their affair. A sense of abandon sparks life and softness in her where there was none. Joe’s abandonment is like a political act, a political philosophy. He’s a libertine. She [Ella] is going on some weird instinct about mortal spirit. So the erotic charge is essentially mutual but is coming from a very different place. A strange sort of eden, like being a child again.” (Tilda Swinton, actress) Hers is antidotal against marginalization, where his is an act towards it. Characteristic of Mackenzie, the sexual exchanges are rugged and earthy, without the sheen or idealism of more commercial fare. 11. These scenes increasingly ascribe to personal meaning. For example, after Jim is sent off to boarding school she says to Joe, “Every time I see him go….it breaks my heart. He needs an education.” Presumably she wants Jim to have options other than working on the barge his entire life. As such, the demands of an increasingly educated society alienate her from her own son and create a gulf of loneliness that she navigates by busy work and by the diversion of a primal enterprise with Joe. In the scene in which she expresses these feelings to Joe, Ella bears her breasts and he kisses them in the midst of her mournful maternal sway.

10. These scenes increasingly ascribe to personal meaning. For example, after Jim is sent off to boarding school she says to Joe, “Every time I see him go….it breaks my heart. He needs an education.” Presumably she wants Jim to have options other than working on the barge his entire life. As such, the demands of an increasingly educated society alienate her from her own son and create a gulf of loneliness that she navigates by busy work and by the diversion of a primal enterprise with Joe. In the scene in which she expresses these feelings to Joe, Ella bears her breasts and he kisses them in the midst of her mournful maternal sway. 

11. Past and present, everything Joe does is an analysis of his own loneliness,
 an antidote, but of a confirmation that that loneliness isn’t exceptional. What sparks his passion is any confrontation with a soul as electrically lonely as his own, which is as affixed to that loneliness as he is. In a strangely Zen exercise, he probes into these individuals – literally through sex - as a way to understand himself through them as a reflection. On this point Joe Taylor finds a conceptual kinship with William James (Jeremy Renner) of The Hurt Locker (2008), a film that also favors personal storytelling over explicit socio-politics. Like Joe he relegates himself from society as a deliberate mode of actualization. As with Joe’s pattern of sexuality, James, part of a US bomb-squad in the Middle-East, only sparks when in the field, faced with perilous but empirical matters, situational analysis and survival. He is equally tactile, equally stilled on the surface, equally spare on words, equally at odds with expectation and normalcy. Much like James’s reaction to banal domesticity, what diffuses Joe’s passion most is when those lonely souls he courts become comfortable and expectant, shattering the mutual veneer of a dismal worldview and eliminating their viability as a test subject. Ella does this by anticipating their marriage and future. In the course of his exteriorized self-study, Like James’s reckless decisions in the field, Joe is astounded by what acts he is willing to partake of in anticipation of a consequence which never befalls him; citing the sexual hazing scene with Cathie that undulates between rape and play. Her unspoken unblinking forgiveness afterward signals her invalidity as a mirror and is his queue to move on.


12. As attained easily on a barge, the peripheral world remains so for most of the film. The viewer has only passing revelations on which to hinge a socio-political subtext, as do the characters, which follow the dead woman’s story through newspaper articles. After Les discovers the affair, seemingly by Ella’s machination, he leaves and Joe finds himself assuming his post. In a conversation with Joe, Ella puts forward Les’s fear that “Once fuel rationing stops, the trucks’ll take over.” Just after this remark, the barge is shown easing through a dense fog. So dense that Ella must direct from the bow with shouts. Joe spies prisoners paving a road. The infrastructure that will eventually supercede the canals is being built-up before Joe’s eyes. This moment resounds with notes of entrapment; that of Joe having inherited a scraping conventional life, that of a systemic uncertainty about his navigating a changing world, that of guilt.

13. At this point of the film Ella’s brother-in-law dies, having fallen off his Lorrie and then run over by a bus; an off-screen event coupling even the industry of roads with death. As if inviting full collapse, Ella asks her grieving yet brazen sister Gwen (Therese Bradley) to stay on the barge. In a transparent scheme of “going to the pictures,” Gwen and Joe have sex in an alleyway in town; an unsavory means to an end for Gwen to spite her sister’s seeming happiness, and for Joe to incite a way out. Joe moves into a shared flat in the city and becomes infectiously drawn to the trial of one David Gordon, a plumber and family man convicted of murdering the woman found by Joe and Les with whom Mr. Gordon was having casual relations. Joe’s intimate knowledge of the circumstances of the woman’s death; that she is in fact Cathie Dimley, that she cannot swim, that she slipped into the river after telling Joe she was pregnant with his child, that he did nothing to save her, that he covered up the evidence of their clandestine sexual contract that night (revealed in bits of savage dramatic irony) is Mr. Gordon’s only salvation, yet the guilt does not impel Joe to speak out in other than an ineffectual unsigned letter which he drops at the court. Joe writes his confession in a phone booth, where even the airing of the truth is conditional, confined and anonymous.

14. Young Adam is in a sense a post war story. Not just WWII. Post any war. That story about a society that’s so traumatized by so much violence for so many years and trying to get itself together and trying to construct all sorts of boundaries, and intellectuals feeling alienated and not wanting to join in… Unable to relate to his generation’s status quo optimism - the gulf of which is sealed in the image of three university students walking past him with utter levity - Joe unmoors from trappings of monogamy, career, possession, morality; the very buoy of his alienation. But Joe tangentially participates with society; allowing the cogs of industry to turn by carting fuel on the barge, and allowing the machinations of justice to churn by bystanding the wrongful sentencing of Daniel Gordon.

15. The story is partly an indictment of the death penalty and the ease of factual distortion. The seeking of a conviction is as much a feverish means-to-an-end modality as Joe’s own sexual exploits. The halls, corridors, and arches of justice are as narrow as the tunnels, canals, locks, and the barge. In the courtroom where “truth” is excised in short parentheticals and strung together to paint portraits of extremes, Joe plays with his pocket mirror and watches himself watching with the detachment he affords all his tests of fate.



 16. By trial’s end Joe is more intense than ever. He steps to the river’s edge framed again by the ripples. We look down upon him from behind almost as though his were now the body floating dead. He looks at himself in the pocket mirror, the last time he will do so seeking glimmers of humanity or reason to think lightly of life. And Joe’s great nightmare, that it is indeed possible to live a life without leaving fingerprints, to drift through without responsibility…that seemed some kind of liberal dream… it’s actually a nightmare.”  (Swinton)


17. Where at the end of the novel Trocci writes, “…the disintegration had already begun,” Mackenzie masterfully interprets; From above and behind, the camera swoops into a ¾ close-up of Joe looking at the river. Joe’s absence-of-presence is a weight where it should be a weightlessness. He holds and then walks off, the weighty pack on his back, into the deep blurred disintegration of the background. The film is merely a preamble to Joe’s ultimate course of immorality and marginalization in a world where justice is subjective and guilt is livable.