Monday, August 16, 2010

'The illusion of reality'

(after reading the essay 'An aesthetic of reality' by Andre Bazin , 'What is cinema?' vol 2)

‘Inception’ – our latest nailing point at the question of reality verses the realm of the dream. Emerging out of a philosopher’s satchel, the word reality seems very fragile, quite devoid of the concrete solidity that it is attributed to.

To incept from the idea of the movie Inception(Directed by Christopher Nolan) , reality has got a heavy contender - The Dream. The dream catchers, delve into dreams within dreams within more dreams, fiddling with sub consciences of people , expanding in space and in time. Real time expands exponentially into dream time on screen and into reel time off screen. As the audience sits riveted, keeping track of the tight paced events, one always wants to keep track of which is the real and which is the dream. The fact remains that his two and half hours inside that dark cinema hall, is probably the most real of all the realities he is trying to grapple with. End credits roll. The totem is still spinning in the viewers mind. Jump cut. He (the viewer) comes crashing into an existence outside of the cinema theatre ; another disconnected reality from the reality of the dark room. Squinting his eyes , he walks out into the sunny street. He then makes his way home, unknowingly intersecting into the realities of the hundreds of people around him in the city, and finally taking refuge into the notion of his own reality in his home.

This business of reality is really evasive. Just when we round up on one real thing , it slips and dissolves into another. And this evasiveness could be the food for all of cinema.

According to Andre Bazin, the acclaimed French film theorist, who speaks on the aesthetic of reality, “ Realism in art can only be achieved in one way – through artifice.” When an aesthetic aims at creating the ‘illusion of reality’ , this sets up a fundamental contradiction, both unacceptable and necessary.

“The ‘art’ of cinema lives off this contradiction. Reality is not to be taken quantitatively. The same event/object can be represented in various ways, either retaining or discarding various qualities, thus the initial reality has been substituted by an illusion of reality of complex abstraction, convention and authentic reality”, writes Bazin in his essay.

“Some measure of reality must always be sacrificed in the effort of achieving it.”

This close duel between reality and fiction brings me to mention Abbas Kiarostami’s 1989 film Close-up.

In his signature docu-fictional style of filming, Kiarostami takes a real situation and weaves the necessary frame around it to hold it tight. Sabzian ,a commoner , is so enamored by his idol film maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf that unknown to his psyche, he begins impersonating his idol and in the course of time, is tried in court for it. The director has filmed the trial as it happened. And this forms the narrative bed for the various connected , re-enacted events in the movie to elucidate.

“Close up is a key film in understanding Kiarostami’s fascination with cinema as a trompe l’oeil* medium, at the same time reality and illusion, creating uncertainty about what one sees with one’s own eyes . Film as a means of capturing reality both in ‘process’ and as reconstruction, is juxtaposed with a reality based on illusion and the suspension of disbelief” , writes Laura Mulvey in her article, ‘Kiarostami’s Uncertainty principle’.

(*Trompe l’oeil is French for ‘deceive the eye’. And referred to the style of painting wherein the painter created a likeness to reality in two dimension by making it appear three dimensional)

A precariously thin line lies between what is and what could be, given that, with our average aspiring minds, we tend to fill in the blanks of a statement, and always are eager to put the full stop point after a sentence.(Eisenstein took full advantage of this attribute.) An even thinner line exists between complete sense and complete absurdity. Try repeating a completely sensible word at random , such as say, ‘door’. After a few dozen times, your mind is sure to start detracting and abstracting the word till a stage comes when the word is a stranger to you. It is like a process of rediscovery through de-familiarization. When the familiar gets so familiar that you no longer see it as familiar.

The centre of gravity of reality topples heavily from dream to dream. From Familiarization to de-familiarization. Like the dodging doll ; however hard you hit it, it always tries to get back straight.

“You're waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you don't know for sure. But it doesn't matter”. The more we try to focus on the sense underlying this line from "Inception" , the less we understand.

It belongs to that haze , between the state of sleep and wakefulness , when your kin wakes up from a realm completely unavailable to you and smiles , a familiar stranger, trying to helplessly recall and pick up the strands of reality he had left behind as he fell asleep.

Cut to the scene towards the end in Inception , when the dream catchers slide back to the reality of the plane in which they are flying, one by one, each nodding and giving the faintest smile of recognition, as they establish their (apparently) real dimensions.

It all needs a little blurring of vision, an iota of myopia, a pinch of idealism, the ingredients of a daydreamer, to appreciate this haze.


Abhi R said...

This one blew me away :) Good stuff..!

sheshagiri jodidar said...


I wanted to read your review of 'Dhobhighat'but tempted to go through 'Interception'.and cant forget the line...

"He then makes his way home, unknowingly intersecting into the realities of the hundreds of people around him in the city, and finally taking refuge into the notion of his own reality in his home......."

very sensitive observation and a soul searching words is not an exagurtion to say your review is better than filmic expression.... at least for me...