Monday, August 16, 2010
Freudian perspective of Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” and Fellini’s “8 1/2"
Ernesta (Etleva) Hasa
Freudian perspective of Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” and Fellini’s “Eight and a Half”
Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” and Fellini’s “8 ½” center our attention on the internal struggles of two professionally accomplished men. Despite some major differences, there are parallels drawn between the two movies, parallels which encompass common themes, narrative structures, as well as common psychoanalytical insights, the latest consisting mostly of the Freudian theory of the subconscious.
Borg, the major character in “Wild Strawberries” is a retired doctor. He is the narrator in the movie and from the beginning we learn that he is seventy eight years old and about to receive the highest Swedish award for a physician. Borg is somewhat in a life- reflective mood and after he gives us brief information about him having had ten siblings, one son and a wife who has been dead for a long time, we are transported into a dream he has. He is shown taking a stroll. As he walks in the emptiness of the street he sees a clock with no hands which ticks in the pattern of his heartbeat. He then tries to talk with somebody who has his back on Borg only to see it transformed, as it turns around, in a body with tightly closed mouth and eyes, as if it’s trying hard to appear non-responsive. After this a casket falls from an approaching hearse and he sees inside it a body which looks exactly like him.
This dream sequence in “Wild Strawberries” is very similar to Fellini’s “8 ½” beginning of the movie which consists of a dream sequence. Guido, the film’s central character, is driving in heavy traffic. For a moment, he has a suffocating sensation caused by being trapped in it. The people in the cars and busses seem frozen; they do not react except for a taxi driver, who only reacts towards the sensuality of his woman passenger.
The non-reactive bodies present in both character’s dream space suggest a certain loneliness which enfolds both Borg and Guido.
Both movies continue to unfold their character’s struggles in a somewhat similar narrative structure which consists of main character’s dreams, childhood and earlier life flashbacks as well as their daydreams. Borg’s process of flashbacks through dreams and or/daydreaming is however more discernable from his real life as a character when compared to that of Guido’s. The latter’s daydreaming or dreaming process is intertwined with his real life events thus making the border between his internal and external world hardly visible. These two characters are effortlessly trying to figure out their existence. Borg is obviously at an age that tends to be more self-reflective than Guido’s. He is seventy eight and is quite often affected by the idea of a soon-to-face death. However, his loneliness, especially as felt in the cask dream is the starting point of an intense reflecting process which encompasses a day in his life. Guido, however, is younger than Borg and unlike Borg’s scientific professional nature Guido’s profession is that of a director who is facing a creative crisis at the moment. He is under the pressure to create his new movie as well as under anxiety and confusion about his personality. It is this pressure that throws him into a deep process of dreams, childhood memories and daydreaming.
The childhood memories, daydreams and dreams unfold many elements of character’s unconscious in a way that makes both character’s efforts to recognize their internal struggles very similar to a Freudian psychoanalytical process.
Both character’s relationships with their mothers do suggest an Oedipus complex. In the midst of his confusion, in his daydreaming, dreaming or surreal experience, Guido constantly sees his mother, both at her young and old age. In one of his dreams (or maybe daydreams…) he meets his father who appears to be worried about Guido. They stop near, what seems to be an open grave, and while Guido is inquiring about the place, he helps his father lie down in it. He hears his mother’s voice, turns around and they hug while she is saying: “Guido, what more can I do for you”. As they hug, she also kisses him on his lips and as Guido is trying to make sense of that type of kiss, his mother is transformed into his wife, Luisa. The order of the events is clearly reflective of the Oedipus’ complex; Guido helps his father into the grave, just like Oedipus kills his father, and, realizes his desire towards his mother through the kiss. The kiss, however is initiated by his mother. One can clearly see the working of the dream thoughts: one’s desires are censored and don’t appear purely as they are in real life, thus it is the mother that initiates the kiss.
Simultaneously, Borg, instead of taking the plane as planned, decides to drive to Lund, the town where he will receive the award and where his son lives. On the way, he decides to stop for a visit to his old mother’s who lives a few hours away from him. This change of plans (to drive, instead of taking the plane) upsets his housekeeper who is going with him to attend the ceremony. She is surprised by this sudden change of plans, however, decides to still go by plane. The question becomes: is Borg’s decision to visit his mother taken simply by the fact that he happens to drive near her town, or did he decide to drive just so that he can visit his mother?
Also, in Borg’s daydreaming/flashbacks, his father’s presence is not felt at all. He is able to see everybody (mother, brothers, sisters, cousin, etc.) and despite the fact that his father is mentioned a few times, Borg sees him in one of his flashbacks/dreams at the end of the movie, only from a distance. This suggests Borg’s subconscious desire to get rid of his father or father figure and allow mostly his mother in the picture.
One of the crucial issues in both movies evolves around their major character’s sexuality. In the scene of the springs in 8 ½, an overwhelmingly spread crowd of women is seen through Guido’s eyes as he approaches the springs. We see close-ups of their faces; listen to their distant conversations, and despite these various appearing aspects that include distant dialogues, preparation for the scene, women serving water from the springs, Guido’s point of view on these women is dominantly injected into ours: we sense with every movement of the camera Guido’s attraction to every single woman. Some of them seem to be real, some of them seem to be the work of Guido’s imagination or a manifestation of his subconscious desires. There is one actress in particular which draws his complete attention: everything seems to stop moving for Guido when Claudia’s character enters the scene of the springs (She is played by the actress with the same name Claudia Cardinale). Guido’s reaction towards her is unique: she literally takes his breath away; she is Guido’s ideal woman who embodies a range of qualities such as beauty, charm, intellect, and comfort.
An important presence in this scene is that of the pope and a few other religious officials who attend to him. One doesn’t fail to notice this ever-present juxtaposition throughout the movie: women and religious followers, human sensuality and religious rigor. The very presence of these opposing elements, as well as the presence of Guido’s wife, Luisa, is the key to understanding Guido’s struggle: he is torn between temptation and guilt.
These feelings have their roots in Guido’s childhood. Guido constantly withdraws into his childhood memories where he is often affectionately cared for by women.
As a child, we see him being bathed, wrapped in sheets, and carried carefully by his mother and other women in the household (8 ½). The womb-like position he assumes as a child as he is being wrapped and carried by his mother, suggests Guido’s need for unconditional love and comfort by women. He simply sees them as objects of comfort. This idea is strongly supported by the harem scene, in which Guido seems to treat all the women around him however he pleases: whips them, laughs at them, orders them around, and is still just like in his childhood memories affectionately tended by them. The only character that seems to shed some light into Guido’s condition is his beloved Claudia, who at one point, during the analysis of the script, tells Guido that she doesn’t understand why he won’t let a character in one of his movies be happy with a girl he meets and who is everything he wants her to be. He replies that he doesn’t believe in that [happy endings as solutions to a man’s problems]. She kindly disagrees and says: “Because he doesn’t know how to love” (“8 ½”)
One cannot discern any mature development between Guido as a child and as an adult. This incapability to mature has its roots in Guido’s oppression as a child. He is often reprimanded as a child for his visits to Saraghina, a prostitute who lives at the beach. The efforts to shape Guido’s morality as a child, through religious principles, have turned into a suppressive device of his sexual desires which manifest themselves into the objectivization of women as an adult.
This particular flaw is also part of Borg’s character in “Wild Strawberries”. This quality is pointed out to him by his daughter-in-law as they are driving together to Lung where he will get his honorary award. Through their dialogue we learn that Marianne (Borg’s daughter-in-law) has been staying in his house for a few weeks, however, Borg has never asked her why did she come to stay with him and leave Evald (her husband, his son) alone in Lund. At one point in the dialogue, when Borg asks Marianne to tell him why does she think badly of him, she responds: “You are a selfish old man, Uncle Isak” “You are utterly ruthless and never listen to anyone but yourself, but you hide it all behind your old-worldly manners”
In defense of himself, Borg says that he liked having her about the house (“Wild Strawberries”). In response to this, Marianne says: “Yes, like a cat”. Another instance of Borg’s view on women is revealed earlier in the conversation when Marianne is lighting a cigarette and he stops her from doing so by saying that “Cigarettes are a vice for men”. Marianne asks whether there are any vices left for women, and Borg replies “Weeping, giving birth, and speaking ill of their neighbors”. It is this very moment in the conversation when Borg clearly realizes (and he manifests this realization by his internal change at the end of the movie) his view on women as objects, mere others, subordinate to men’s role in society.
As Borg’s reminisces later on about his younger life, we see how he has been deeply hurt at some point by his cousin/girlfriend Sara, who chooses to marry his undeserving brother rather than Borg. All of his memories about his childhood and the love he had for Sara are triggered by a patch of wild strawberries which has a sexual connotation central to the movies themes.
Both Borg in “Wild Strawberries” and Guido in “8 ½” attain a higher level of awareness about themselves through an intensive journey into their subconscious. This journey, done mostly through surreally arranged looks into their subconscious through dreams, flashbacks, daydreams by both characters brings both of them into the realization of who they truly are and the roots of the elements which constitute their personalities. Their story can be likened very much to a psychoanalytical process.
At the end of his long day, Borg decides to end the day and start his sleep with the sweet memories of his childhood that comfort him. Guido on the other hand, understands his struggle and comes to accept who he is which is different – as he clarifies- from who he wants to be.
“Wild Strawberries” and “8 ½” came out six years apart form one another, from two countries with different cultural backgrounds. Despite these different soils of production, they both are concerned with very similar themes about the condition of modern man, his loneliness and struggle to recognize and understand what constitutes his existence and what is more important his happiness. In this understanding of modern man’s condition, many issues are involved and entangled with one another, issues such as morality, death, sexuality, temptation, God and love.
The journey both characters take to come to their final realization of themselves is directed inward into their subconscious. The narrative structure which employs devices such as contemplative daydreaming, retrospective and dreams on behalf of both characters of the respective films, plays a very efficient role into bringing the viewer into the very core of the issues presented.
Freud, Sigmund. “From The Interpretation of Dreams.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed, Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. W.W. Norton & Company
Wild Strawberries. Dir.Bergman, Ingmar. Svenks Filmindustri. 1957.Film.
8 ½ . Dir. Fellini, Federico. Cineriz, 1963. Film.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
This mutual help served the purpose of having a good presentation. Exchanging ideas and making sure everyone was doing well helped in creating a great atmosphere and a better understanding of the theories.
The responsibility of having to create a presentation, despite its contribution to anxiety, made me look into the particular theories from a different perspective thus deepening my understanding more so than a simple reading would have done.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Ideal Woman and Feminism
What could an ideal woman look and be like? The answer to this question has varied through times and the very variation of it, is significant of the relative nature of what constitutes an ideal woman. The ever changing notions about an ideal woman become a problem when the standard for the perfect becomes a form of oppression as well as a means of objectification for women. Women as objectified is one of the central points that Simone De Beauvoir makes in “The Second Sex”. The myth built about women, she says, sees them as objects, ideals existing in the realm of Plato’s world of ideas. The fact that they can be subjective and perceive themselves as subjects with the same needs and ways of being as men is denied to them.
By being characterized as “the Other” by men who consider women as immanent, women become an object to be acted upon unlike men’s transcendent nature which makes them complete and essential. That’s why women are often depicted (in fairy tales especially) as vulnerable, weak and waiting to be saved by a man thus exposing an incapability to be a subject that acts for and on its own. This is the case in many fairy tales such as “Cinderella” where the main character had to wait for the shoe to fit and a prince to save her from her miserable situation in the hands of her stepmother. Many character’s lives evolved around that of man even when they are smart and can act independently. Such is the case with Lucy’s character in “I love Lucy”. Lucy is a funny and witty female however her witty and funny qualities evolve only around her husband so much so that it is hard to imagine her outside the familial construction.
How does the norm of an ideal woman become oppressive? The response to this question is one of the central themes of Susan Bordo’s “Unbearable weight”. Bordo emphasizes the idea that bodies are plastic and change as a result of cultural social codes. She makes a close observation of anorexia (among other man – made diseases) and explains its emergence in connection with the idea of modern ideals of women. Anorexia is a disorder that emerges as a reaction to the demands of what is held as a perfect body image in modern times.
One sees the truth of this in today’s extreme efforts of young girls to remain thin ( from dieting to laxatives to drugs). Hollywood actresses, models are pressured to maintain a certain body image. Magazines constantly portray the unattainable image of women. The following story does not need any explanation on how the norm can become oppressive or even deadly:
“ Last month, a South American model, Luisel Ramos, died from heart failure minutes after stepping off the catwalk.
The 22-year-old had been told by a model agency that she could “make it big” if she lost a significant amount of weight, and for three months she was said to have eaten nothing but green leaves and drunk only Diet Coke. At the time she hit the catwalk at the Radisson Victoria Plaza in Montevideo, Uruguay, she had not eaten for two weeks, her father told police.”
Bordo, Susan. "The Body and The Reproduction of Femininity." The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 2240-54.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Alec Baldwin’s character in this particular clip from “Glengerry Glen Ross” has come from downtown to “fix” the way sales are going in a small office. He is sent to convey company’s dissatisfaction with the current sales situation in that particular office. The message is delivered in the most inappropriate language, harshest tone, and cruelest manners. The value of the three workers is equaled to how much money through sales they bring to the office. If they can’t or don’t sell they equal zero. Even their values beyond their existence as workers are degradingly described as something equaling nothing. Baldwin’s character even defines himself, when asked of his name, by the watch he wears and the car he drives: that is the only criteria of self-definition according to him.
For the company these three workers are nothing if they don’t bring profit. That is the only leading principle of the established corporate employee relationships. These worker’s dynamics is lead and deeply defined as well as conditioned by the capitalistic principle: you are what you bring (in terms of financial profit), you are seen and treated only based on the value of your labor and profit for the company.
Conditioned and guided by these working principles, Baldwin’s character delivers a speech which unfolds in the most cold and desensitized manner: his behavior – a reflection of his consciousness – is a direct manifestation of the effect of nature of his work on him.
The construction of human relations is not a result of the inherently building capacities but an outcome of external influencers: profit is the only active lens through which this company sees its workers.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Federico Felini’s “ 8 ½ “ evolves around Guido, a famous movie director, who is having a writer’s block as a result of a loss of interest in artistic activity. He is extremely tired as a result of trying to establish a balance between his guilt and his sexual appetite. Exhausted of these efforts he seeks comfort quite often in his deceased mother.
Reality and the world of dreams are entwined throughout the movie, making the viewer’s experience of the film quite surreal. It is rich in symbols, some of which draw from philosophical to psychological theories.
A great problem Guido has is his guilt which has its roots in religious morality. He is strongly attracted to a number of female figures and equally immersed in a sense of guilt about this attraction. The presence of a religious figure recurs quite often in his dream fragments. The image of the pope, the setting of the dream, the dialogue constitute a condensed symbolism which when interpreted enlightens the reader about Guido’s subconscious. There is a Freudian parallel throughout the movie, however it especially strengthens in the dream scenes.
In one particular scene, Guido is at a spa and about to meet the cardinal who is waiting for him. When Guido is called, he is asked to tell the Cardinal everything. The man guiding Guido to where the cardinal should be, also tells him that the Cardinal can fix everything. He is also advises Guido to express his remorse to the Cardinal thus gaining everything he needs in life through his confession. Guido changes his spa cloth to a black suit while we see the Cardinal change from his official attire into the spa towel. They are always surrounded by dense steam and as Guido approaches the Cardinal, the latter says: “There is no salvation outside the church”.
This dream sequence, very brief in its content results from a very deep and long dream-thought process. The interpretation of its symbolic density sheds light into Guido’s subconscious. The Cardinal is obviously a representation of Guido’s instilled religious morality since he was a child. The shadow of the guilt about his sexuality torments him even in his dream and it is so deep and heavy that it’s represented not by a religious object or a lower rank religious official but by a Cardinal. The dream also contains what Freud called the coexistence of the contraries, their unification: a cardinal in a spa – such an informal place for such a formal figure as well as encounter with such a figure. At first sight, the various elements which make up the scene seem meaningless and make the viewing of it quite absurd, however, once the digging in the deeper layers of these symbolic elements begins, we see clearly in Guido’s subconscious, his fear of religious morality. It is because of this guilt triggered by this type of morality that Guido often seeks shelter in the figure of his deceased mother.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
I remember painting my childhood in dreamlike colors under moonlit skies. I remember chasing the laughter in my friend’s eyes and counting my heartbeat in a million words of love….I remember the soothing voice in my mother’s lullabies , my grandfather’s ancient storylines… closing my eyes and falling in waterfalls of starry nights … I remember how in a minute , an hour or a day the shelter of my dreams crumbled to the ground under a horrifying deadly sound… I remember my dreams running to hide under ruins, behind the smoke in fear of being erased forever …
I remember my mother’s eyes holding my reflection for the last time before death washed it in a tear… my grandfather’s torn jacket weighing its broken love on my shoulders… I remember searching for a friend, a voice or the slightest soothing sound .. I remember finding loneliness in corner … and then I remember no more…
The majority of the people would agree on the catastrophic nature of war. Regardless of this understanding, people fail to learn from the past and fall into the habit of plunging into the same pattern of mistakes. War has unfortunately become part of this pattern to the point where we have become desensitized to its effect on people. An artistic creation is able to evoke feelings of compassion and raise the awareness of human beings unlike any other form of information intended for this purpose. Art works allow us to see everything from a renewed perspective. The ability to create a new perspective comes as a result of presenting an object with which we are familiar in a completely new way. Our habitualized, automaton perception of objects is renewed as a result of new ways of presenting it through art. The creation of a refreshed perspective and thus of an awareness of objects is, according to formalistic views, the very purpose of art.
Concerns about war are expressed in various non-artistic ways, however nothing sends a better message and nothing can create the unique feelings about its devastating effects as this painting does. When looking at this little boy, lost and lonely, in the middle of destruction one can not help but raise the level of compassion, love and thought about the devastating effects of war.