An experimentation amidst Hour of the wolf, Persona, and Hiroshima mon amour; through the lens of Heidegger, Deleuze and Bergson
A certain overlap can be seen in the movies Hiroshima Mon Amour, Hour of the Wolf, and Persona. This overlap is on one hand contradicting each other and on the another it binds them together because of their mutual sharing of the inherent characteristics. The contradiction happens only when they are experimentally seen through the vantage point and philosophical tonality of Heidegger, Deleuse and Bergson. All three of them choose a differing ground to see these movies and try to incorporate their ideas into the narrative of these movies. When these movies are read individually, they seem to fulfill what their makers wanted to show us. I find an interesting ground of discussion for the observation of what I say is an origin. This origin comes through the composed dialogue between the movies themselves and arriving at the point of mutual sharing among themselves. The origin comes through the intense use of language by a character inside the movies. The repeated and intense use of language serves the function of assisting the character in recalling a lived experience of trauma in the post war-modern time in which he or she is physically located. The everyday existence makes them question the space in which they find themselves as a prisoner of the situation from the past. The thing, the time and the space as a concrete triangular structural element helps me see how the notion and perspective towards these three essential elements vary in each movie from the lens of characters even though these three elements make a link among the chosen movies for mutual ground of intervention. Alma Borg in the opening scene of the movie Hour of the wolf is shown delivering a monologue that shows her experiences and memories from the recent past and her engagement with the space from where she has recently moved. She talks about things in a very fine detail as if she were trying to reconstruct the space in her mind. As if she were personifying those experiences and trying to accompany herself with a humanly company in the newly arrived space. Does the use of language in the form of a monologue compensate for the alienation of hers in that place? Or does she consciously talk about those experiences from the past as a part of her everyday ritual while working? Or is she trying to say something completely different and absurd through the detailed monologue about her past experiences? Even though there is an attempt or not to exhibit any of the possibilities mentioned above but we can take it for consideration that the physical and visual conditions can not be denied.
A still from the movie Hour of the Wolf. Liv Ullmann as Alma Borg talking to herself.
An arriving boat with the things required for living on the island is shown in the succeeding scene and her husband Johan Borg carries those objects to the land. The boat arriving towards the shore with the man and the objects become a symbolic presence that Alma Borg needs on this alienating island. In Heideggarian thinking of the book Der Ursprung Des Kunstwerkes he writes What is in truth the thing, insofar as it is a thing? When we so ask, we want to learn to know the being-thing (the thingness) of the thing. The point is to experience (erfahren) the thingness of the thing. To that end we must know the circle in which all those beings (alle jenes Seiende) belong, which we have long addressed with the name "thing.” Here those are not just mere things that will satisfy their need. They are a carrier of the lived experiences in a different time space frame but at the same time those things become a company to their quest that is to come closer to the space where they start a life anew. Earlier the point of reference becomes the actions and events that have already been executed and is referred by an individual but as the process of “coming closer to the island” happens; the point of reference for living is centered towards the two human beings who are a participant in the process. The anxieties and the replacement of the referential point between the things of the world and the individuals as a closed entity help in understanding the friction between the space-the island- and the awareness towards the time.
The attention towards their awareness of time is very elaborately and exquisitely shown in a scene where Johan talks about the passing of a complete minute. He says to his wife A minute is actually an immense space of time. Wait, here it starts. Ten seconds. These seconds...You see how long they last. The minute is not over yet! Ah, finally it is gone now. Through the scene we are made aware of the character’s notion of time and space. The heaviness of the time and the helplessness of the characters in the situation is very avidly cataloged. They can do nothing but watch and experience the conscious presence and volume of time. Through their experience of the passing of a complete minute a statement towards the engulfing characteristics of the time space frame is exhibited. The thingly(Sachlich) experience of the things around them while the complete minute is passing is the time itself. We only listen to the ticktock of the clock. Clock itself is a thing here but is representing something that is beyond their characteristics. Does Heidegger give an apt understanding towards the characters inner turmoil when he says that The point is to experience (erfahren) the thingness of the thing. Can time not be included in the universal category of the thing? Heidegger claims that language can open up possibilities of new beginnings as being itself is open-ended: the poet creates language and thus expands our understanding of ourselves, our world and our being. When they are invited to the castle they face a strange and absurd use of language which is used by the residents of the castle on the dinner table. I see a visible contrast between Heidegger’s understanding of the language as something that can open up possibilities of new beginnings. Johan feels himself trapped in the hazy web of language that does not seem to have any beginning and end. He is there as victim who is given no choice of words or opinion to show the self destructive language of the inhabitant of the castle. The space is very organized with interiors full of furniture and light and abundance of food. Time does not seem to penetrate that circle of theirs to make them its presence felt. On the contrary they are concerned with the things or the work of arts that is reduced to be a mere commodity of consumption. Why do we see a differing notion and experience of time, space, and thing between the couple and the residents of the castle? To me this difference comes through the surrounding materials and composition of space in their separate living places. The existential anxiety is not seen around the residents of the castle but the same can be very evident in the talking and behavior of the couple who are living far near on the island which is almost secluded. The residents living in the castle are occupied with the affairs that are mostly about their absurd way of indulging in the luxurious and leisurely act. Use of language certainly in the heideggarian approach is opening possiblities of beginnings here for them but this beginning is very engulfing by nature.
The character Elisabet in the movie Persona is constantly denying the presence and acceptance of essential nature of language. All of a sudden she takes an inner oath to not to utter a single word. Her denial is twofold. One she is an actress and words mean life for the performances but the denial made by her as an actress is a revelation of some inner crisis that is not completely inner. The cause of this denial is coming through a crisis that is an integral part of the outer world. Words become a futile attempt to make a negotiation between the crisis that is located in a specific time space frame and the receptor who is receiving that crisis and the cause. Elisabet to me is not trying to go in the phase of a negotiation rather she chooses to witness the events and causes along with human tendencies. Another is that her distancing away from the language is a result of an invisible decision which is to observe the nurse who has been assigned the job of looking after her. The nurse called by the name of Sister Alma reverses the phenomenon and carries forward Heidegger’s philosophy of Bauen, Leben, und Denken. She talks her heart out in front of Elisabet. Bergman seems to exhibit his interest in experimenting between the Deleuzian and Heideggarian notion towards human beings and their consciousness towards the Erfahrung of Zeit and situation. Elizabeth utters the only reactionary expression through the words and these words are the embodiment of denial in a certain time-space frame. She says “No, stop it.” Is this a Deleuzian inheritance of the idea of word image and time image from Bergson’s irritation of the clock-time? I see the character of Elisabet as someone who is critiquing the enslaving and mechanical movement of the clock-time. She is positioning herself in a situation from where the one dimensional movement of time can be condensed and evaporated through the accumulation of the experiences. The present for her is a confluence of the past and future. She listens to the past events and regrets in Alma’s life but at the same time tries to be in the moment which allows her to not think of the arrival of a new form of time. Even when Alma insists her to just say a word she denies silently. The firm decision of Elizabeth to not speak even a single word is the pity that she has towards the patterned circle of life. The image and understanding that Elizabeth has towards time-space is very contradicting with Alma.
Mirroring and dislocating image of Elisabet and Alma from the movie Persona
Both of them are dissociating from one another and at the same time finding their own identity in one another as well. Alma says Elisabet “My words mean nothing to you. People like you can not be reached.” Both of them are located together physically on the same island in a specific time-space co-ordination. Alma after a certain time not only starts reflecting upon her past events and her unrequited desires for the future but also starts talking intuitively about the past lives, events and expectations that Elisabet had from life. The seemingly monotonous but meaningful monologue by Alma all through the film starts acquiring an importance in the larger domain of the performances of the two personae. Her monologue acts as a reflexivity towards the passage of time and language as a supplementing and complementing elements. Both of them become one another. By the concluding part of the movie Alma says “I am not Elisabet Vogler. You are Elisabet Vogler.” Through the monologues of hers Alma had not only defied the movement of time and space as an engulfing entity but also fell into the Bergson’s notion of the movement of time through the lens of a lived experience in the world which feels most real to us. She becomes the embodied reflection of Elisabet. In those moments of becoming and not becoming Alma tells us that she certainly is aware of the hopeless situation of falling for life which will finally succumb her as well. If I see The character Elle in the movie Hiroshima Mon Amour and the way opening shot is exhibited, a completely different tonality can be registered. All through the initial fifteen to twenty minutes of the movie the close-up of the bodies of Elle and Lui is shown which is accompanied by their monologues, footage of the victims of the Hiroshima, things that are the reminder and remnants of the terrific event, living bodies that were unaware of their fate that was going to be turned into nothing in a flash of second, their memories and the anxiety of seeing everything. Elle shows an inner world with urge to be with everything out there in the space that had suffered a loss that was a crisis and disaster on the humanistic ground. She is not reflecting the tendency to return to a seclusion that would deny the presence of language, acknowledgment of space and the movement of time. She very clearly the language that shows her anxiety and urge to reassert the natural state of the things. She narrates Lui about everything that she saw or imagined in Hiroshima. This action of hers certainly sheds a knowledge to us that she also wants those things to be as they had been in her imagination or rather as they had been before the horrible event of Hiroshima.
The characters Elle and Lui in the frame from the movie Hiroshima mon amour
If I see Elle’s notion of the experiences through the lens of Brgsonian time space conecption then we see how the time and space can be understood in a new way. It also critique’s Kantian notion of time and space. Bergson thinks that Kant has confused space and time in a mixture, with the result that we must conceive human action as determined by natural causality. Bergson offers a twofold response. On the one hand, in order to define consciousness and therefore freedom, Bergson proposes to differentiate between time and space, “to un-mix” them, we might say. On the other hand, through the differentiation, he defines the immediate data of consciousness as being temporal, in other words, as the duration (la durée). In the duration, there is no juxtaposition of events; therefore there is no mechanistic causality. It is in the duration that we can speak of the experience of freedom. A verbal illustration of the expectation that she has regarding the well beings of everything comes when she asks Lui about his whereabouts during the Hiroshima. He replies that he was off fighting wars. She says that it was lucky for him and her as well. It can be understood that she is not only interested in the reconstruction of the lost lives and things, but also to share her existence with the beings that remain alive after the Hiroshima. She talks about the metals as a vulnerable flesh, human flesh that is still suspended which shows the agony to be still fresh and about the distortion and abstraction that happened to everything. An anxiety to fill in the gaps and intense suffering of the things in a specific time-space co-ordinate is always inherent in Elle’s talking. Lui starts with a negation of all her claims. He says You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing. Elle says I have always wept over Hiroshma’s fate. Always. In reply Lui says No, What was there to weep over for you? Lui is sure in what he intends to clarify her. He knows that the claim that she makes about the ill fates of the things is certainly hollow and does not have any ground to do so. Her anxiety is only on the psychological and visual level. What so ever claims she is making there is based upon her visual consumption of the tragic event which were evident in the museum space and in the extinction of certain physical features of the species. All she is doing is to re-envision the documented post-war sites and terrific destruction.
To address such a layered and almost invisible issues located in all the three movies is a very rigorous work to be done. The characters vary from each other on several levels. They carry forward an individual concern towards life and its central location amid my proposed view of thing, time and space. The origin of the trauma may also be the reason that all the characters in the chosen movies react so differently towards the immediate situation in their lives. Elisabet in the movie Persona chooses to talk into the language of silent observer or a passive consumer of the events that occur around her but on the other the character Elle in the movie chooses to talk continuously about her visual memory and releases that accumulated inner perspective of the after Hiroshima phases.
1. Bergman, Ingmar. 1968. “Hour of the Wolf” 88 minutes. Stockholm, Sweden, Svenska Filmindustri.
2. Bergman, Ingmar. 1966. “Persona” 84 minutes. Stockholm, Sweden, AB Svenska Filmindustri.
3. Resnais, Alain. 1959. “Hiroshima mon amour” 90 minutes. Paris, France, Pathé Films.
4. Heidegger, Martin. 1950. “Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes” 12-57. Stuttgart: P. Reclam.
5. Deleuze, Giles. 1983. “Cinema 1: The Movement Image” 18-64. Mineapolis, Minnesota, United States, Univ of Minnesota Press.
6. Bergson, Henri. 1896. “Matter and Memory” P. O. Box 913, Eastford, 06242, USA, Martino Fine Books.