Film, Psychology

Approaching the Subject of Death – Death, Desire and Disgust in Film

Prologue

There are not many people who can truly say that they are not afraid of death. The second humans are born, in effect, they are born to die. Death has many faces; many of them are mysterious, frightening, and it is most often the case that when humans are faced with death they lose their “cool.” What humans do not understand or are afraid to understand makes them suffer. Humans suffer not from life itself, but from living it. A human being’s consciousness is defined by intellect or by a way of thinking. The knowledge of how thinking is born gives humans their perspective on how to live. Death, desire, and disgust go hand in hand on the road of the unknown. Humans bravely walk this road of disgust looking for answers, although usually emotions get in the way, of rational understanding. The mind dictates the norms born in a society, while inner souls are drawn to experience an unconscious story.

The social and psychological use and function of human experience is fundamental. It defines and at the same time breaks down boundaries. Inevitably, in modern times, cinema has played a huge part in defining those boundaries. And because cinema story and aesthetics are constantly metamorphosing, the boundaries do as well. What is unknown today might be known tomorrow; what is evil now, might be good tomorrow.

The act of reproduction itself is an act of death. By producing a new life humans actually produce another being for death. This circle of human nature is morbid but not unfamiliar. Humans all understand that they live by Nature’s order; and in that way, similar to animals. But the big difference between humans and animals is humans’ unique consciousness of the paradox of death and their unstoppable instinct to impose intellect on the natural order to make sense of it all. What is often not understood becomes a taboo.

In these series of writings, I will attempt to draw a distinction between human intellect and human experience. Most of the time humans approach lives through their experiences. The experience of others is nothing for us at the age when our intellect is forming. A child will still put a fork into an electric socket even though his mother said that it will hurt. Humans’ experience of pain defines knowledge of that pain. Through that experience the senses gain “intellect.” Human souls “read” these senses. That way they become “intelligent.”

Alongside each film I screened I read certain philosophers and psychoanalysts to gain insight as to how to react to it. They touched the parts of my brain which connect creativity, common sense and compassion. The written works of Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and Bataille gave me the stylistic approach for writing the series; the idea of using the “soul’s intellect” to better understand my own feelings towards the controversial. With their help I put my thinking into impressionistic writing, because my creativity is provoked by that which makes my brain work.

Intellectually explaining a feeling can sometimes kill the understanding of it. This is why I am going to take on a “personal tone” in the series. Unconsciousness is very important to me while constructing my sentences. Sometimes I explain myself through “free association,” the method many psychologists use on their patients. The flow of the “research” is accessed through my “dreams” along with the films and philosophical literature. The feelings provoke my thoughts, and written words get onto paper.

Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground is my main guidance in the structure of this work. Dostoevsky, in the first part of Notes, explains and narrates his feelings through a character, but leaves the actual events that affected him for the second part. He tells about affected feelings before the reader hears what caused them.

I often pay homage to Nietzsche and his construction of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. His lonely man’s voice provoked in me the tragedy of the human psyche. I want to call him a “psychologist of philosophy.” I play with his way of writing and, maybe, at some point even pretend that I am that voice. “With knowledge, the body purifies itself; making experiments with knowledge, it elevates itself; in the lover of knowledge all instincts become holly; in the elevated, the soul becomes gay.”1 “God is a thought that makes crooked all that is straight, and makes turn whatever stands.”2

Georges Bataille’s explanation of how he used his personal experience while writing Story of the Eye gave me guidance as to how to express something that I was not able to express or explain.

These are the keys one should know while reading next chapters. If it feels “too impressionistic,” let it be, because explaining a feeling is sometimes censoring the thinking of the soul. Personal experience through feelings for me is the soul’s intellect. At some point one might feel that there are too many people speaking at the same time and the main thought is buried somewhere in between. That is my purpose. Many times controversial films are censored and then uncensored or re-released. Why this is happening is also buried somewhere between “defined censorship.” The real question is: who gives the power of censorship to one or another group of people? How do they decide that something is inappropriate and can provoke “evil?” Are they not “evil” themselves who see movies with their own dirty minds? Are they not reflecting like a mirror what is wrong in their own lives? Is it not, in Freudian terms, “a fear of the unconscious?”

“In his denial of the unconscious, of the deeper self that is expressed in dreams, one may sense his fear of depths, of anything not visible to the naked eye – for he is, after all, the ‘objective’ observer par excellence.”3

I am very much on Nietzsche’s side when he says that “all instincts that are not allowed free play turn inward.”4

Oscar Wilde’s novella The Picture of Dorian Gray written in 1891 comes to my mind. The ironic part in the history of writing The Picture of Dorian Gray is that the book was used to accuse Oscar Wilde of “evil doings” and “helped” him to become a convict. A similar thing happened with the Italian director Deodato after his Cannibal Holocaust was released in 1980. The film’s mis en scene was so vivid and believable that he was actually accused of killing his actors during the filming. To avoid jail time or even a possible death sentence he had to find the actors and bring them to the court to show that they had not in fact been killed during the shooting of the film and were very much alive.

The play with the human psyche and hidden evil is what interests me while writing the series. Humans who would not know good without knowing evil.

So these are my “notes from the underground” after screening the films. Each “note” is affected by a specific movie and by a specific controversy the film touches.

To be continued…

Endnotes:

  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a book for all and none (New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1966), Pg. 77
  2. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Pg. 86
  3. Roy Starrs, Deadly Dialectics: Sex, Violence, and Nihilism in the World of Yukio Mishima (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 130.
  4. Starrs, Deadly Dialectics, Pg. 128
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