Understanding Surrealism… or not…

That title is an oxymoron I know. But I just couldn’t come up with anything better and I did add the “or not” bit didn’t I? So let’s just get on with it. Shall we?

I watched Mulholland Dr yesterday. Not new to David Lynch and his surrealistic work – having watched Blue Velvet before. His films always seem to have a rich enough layer of meaning holistically that satisfies the desire to be intellectually stimulated. But they also have so many unexplained parts that make you wonder if there was something more that you just did not get in the first viewing. Something that you were not intellectual enough for. Is that meant to be taken as an affront to me as the audience? Is it the condescension of the creator? I say creator because this is equally true for the written medium as well. I would like to believe I have understood the surrealism in Satanic Verses, but I can never be certain that I got all the layers that was meant in the surreal episodes. I feel Virginia Woolf’s writing is full of surrealism too, but it is so engaging that you do not care that it is unreal.

I have to admit that I subconsciously enjoy the conceit of the author/film maker in making me try to dig for some deeper layer, some deeper meaning and thereby some deeper understanding which might or might not exist. But I also feel that that’s a dangerous game to play. Because you begin to apply your desire to create a meaning for all those loose ends and project a layer that probably never existed in the first place. It makes the film/book more and more personal because I have been able to get things that others (even the author) did not imagine existed within those words/scenes. Maybe this is the intention. Maybe the meanings are not meant to always objective.

But I am conflicted about that too. I feel I have failed when people say they don’t understand what I have written, or understand it completely different from what I had intended. It happens all the time. I feel I haven’t been able to communicate what I felt clearly enough for people to just read and understand it the way it was intended. So, when reviews say –

You just have to experience the film. The minute you begin to analyse it, you ruin the surrealism

– I do not get that either. I mean, I get what they are trying to say. But, I don’t understand the point. If you were not meant to analyse the film, then the film should not make you analyse. Its not my failure as the audience that I am analyzing a movie as I am watching it.

Tree of life

For example – take Tree of Life. I truly felt that it was a moving mood piece. I could enjoy it because I was willing to just surrender to the medium and not attempt to create a story from it. For some reason, I was able to do it for this film – I have not been very successful in achieving this state of calm with other similar films. Maybe that was the triumph for Terrence Malick. The fact that he did not make me look for a story but just take what was happening on the screen for what it was. I did not try to make sense of it until after the film was over. By that time, I only had potent visual images and a few core ideas that resonated with me. And I had stopped caring to think whether it was a full story at all, I was satisfied that there was no real story there. The story was just a tool to express the ideas in film. It was just a tool to get some emotion onto the film. Nothing more and nothing less. And this was a very satisfactory explanation for me for this one film.

However, I find myself unable to extend the same courtesy to Mulholland Dr or Blade Runner for that matter. I feel cheated for not having understood the full depth and all the elements that were in these movies. For example, I do not have a satisfactory explanation for the two guys discussing the nightmare in Mulholland Dr, and that is just driving me crazy. The closest to satisfactory is the explanation that it was a dream within a dream – dream of Rita’s which is in itself a dream of Diane’s. But I still don’t get it. Just as how I did not get the references to the three men in suits that make seemingly random appearances in DevD. But that bothers me much less simply because of how awesome that movie was irrespective of making me feel like an idiot for not getting some references.