Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I once had occasion to share a film, a particular favourite of mine, with friends.
As the conclusion approached I sank deeper into my seat, squirmed a bit and waited for the inevitable. I wholly expected that something- a shoe, perhaps, or the disk itself- would be hurled at me in fury.
I felt obliged to clarify the ending.
"It was a dream," I mumbled, judging the distance between my chair and the front door in case a hasty exit became necessary.
"He wakes up in his armchair at the end; he dreamed it all. He didn't kill anybody."
Stunned, they were: their eyes burned into my skin like hot coals as I tried to explain and to justify both my thoughts and the director's curious decision.
Later, I found myself examining the reaction of my companions to a bewildering curve in the hitherto comfortable formula of cinema.
What was so unsettling about a fictional character- a reasonable, respectable fellow whom one really cannot help but have pity for- emerging into the light to discover that his worst nightmare had not taken place? He was granted a second chance and learned a significant lesson at no expense of life. The bitter regrets at the core of the film had been consigned to the archives of a troubling dream: most of us have at one awful time or another imagined that our sorrow must be nothing more than the threads of a nightmare, and that we might wake soon.
One feels cheated at such a flimsy escape, that the rug was pulled from underneath in a terribly unfair manner. One expects the rules to be constant, the structure to be familiar, and whether it ends on a note of hope or despair one reasonably assumes a measure of reality within the confines of a fabricated tale- forgets, indeed, that it is a fabrication, and follows the path of a film as one might peer through a stranger's window.
It is disconcerting to realise that the window frame is as much an illusion as the room which lies beyond it.
I know this because I was there once, for one long, numb moment after I watched that film for the first time and tried to make sense of what had just happened. I thought it was a cruel trick and a lazy, vague way to end an otherwise fine film. Almost every line of dialogue between the opening and closing scenes was a figment of the fellow's fevered imagination and I was outraged at the deception.
But the bones of the film spun in my mind as the hours and days passed. I could not quite shake the notion that I had missed some essential element. I sat again to watch the film from beginning to end with new eyes and a mind that was, if not wide open to the concept, then slightly ajar.
I found, this time around, a film within a film, a dream within a dream. I was forced to behold that the hero had never existed to begin with; he was conceived as an artist's dream and thereafter committed to celluloid. The lines became blurred; my indignation faded and turned to awe.
I observed the layers that might be peeled away inside a film- one deception, one trick within another until a viewer is forced to concede that maybe all cinematic experience is an enormous dream factory in which magic and apparitions are bound together in the spirit of entertainment and beautiful escape.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 10:51 AM