When I went back and reread my last two blog posts here, I discovered that they (severely) lacked in methodological clarity. I will therefore use this post to provide a more explicit sense of direction and uncover the standpoint from which, and the presuppositions and mechanisms through which my last two posts are more meaningful.
The first blog post was about Ehky ya Scheherazade a film in which women are reduced to their image, appearance, exterior. Although the film professes to show women fighting back, presumably by telling their version of the story of the oppressive patriarchal order, they are in fact denied access to the realm of the symbolic—they are still to use L. Mulvey's distinction "bearers of meaning" and not creators of it. The stories they tell are told through the language of patriarchy. It is important to add that the film also dabbles into discussions of class. The relation between gender and class is complicated. However, as my blog post, albeit obliquely, has suggested the language of the film is best understood as one resting on sexual desire and not desire for material gains or upward social mobility. I will not argue extensively for this point, but I will point out that the women who "tell their story" in this film, although belonging to different socio-economic strata, display no interest in either moving away from their own strata or in critiquing the very structure which allows for and maintains the division of society into well-defined socio-economic strata.
The second blog post was about Run Lola Run. This film posits some difficulties when the critic (any type of critic) conceives of its language as one which rests upon visual sexual desire, the desirous look(ing). One important thing that the seminal Mulvey essay "Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema" has done is that it has shifted the focus from an analysis of the images of women exhibited on the cinema screen to an analysis of the mechanisms which condition and even necessitate certain modes of seeing which are detrimental to the woman. With this in mind, Run Lola Run's complexity comes to occupy two levels. First it provides an unorthodox image of the woman, and second, it allows for a visual, or more generally cinematic, grammar this is radical. We often understand radicalism through an opposition to the mainstream and not by focusing on an act by itself. I will go with this folk notion to define the radical.
(By way of a side, I was speaking to a friend earlier about Mulvey's essay and with a dismissing hand gesture she pronounced the essay old and irrelevant. She could not have been more wrong. Although feminist film criticism has gone beyond the argument in "Visual Pleasure," this essay is still a force to be reckoned with and assertively a foundational text that cannot be irrelevant and old.)
When reading Run Lola Run as part of this language of desire, the film becomes radical in two ways at least. The woman is the ultimate creator of meaning and in fact of the whole world order. She is wrapped in time and space, hence her uniqueness as a singular woman is preserved. Lola's appearance emphasizes this point further as you cannot really see Lola as belonging to the deep blue sea of women about whom predictions can be made. Lola remains mysterious to the on-looker. A skeptic critic reading this post might say: "Ahah! There. Lola is essentially Woman. She is the other. The position of the signifier is still male." Of course, this critic will build a more elaborate argument, which will be most likely valid. I am offering another reading and not discarding one which upholds the language of desire as understood within a patriarchal framework.
To be more direct, in the blog post on Run Lola Run I was suggesting that the center of the cinematic grammar in this film was not exactly the voyeuristic, fetishinzing, and scopophilic phantasy look. Instead it was a look that is more sadistic. If it takes pleasure, it is because it witnesses suffering and pain. The language of desire which Mulvey has suggested involves the creation of an ideal ego (a hero) on the screen, one whom the spectator can desire to be like, one who seduces the spectator. It also involves assumptions about the isolation of the individual members of an audience in a movie theater looking from a point of safety, indulging in the pleasure of looking. A pleasure which to Mulvey stems directly from being the voyeur.
This type of mechanism is possibly part of Run Lola Run but again this film seems to assume more of its spectator so that moving beyond the appetitive desires become a possibility when watching Run Lola Run. Successfully, or unsuccessfully, the film tries to appeal to the mind and not to the body. The film starts with a narrator saying something close to:
Mankind, probably the most mysterious species on our planet. A mystery of open questions. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? How do we know what we believe to know? Why do we believe anything at all? 'Innumerable questions looking for an answer, an answer which will raise the next question and the following answer will raise a following question and so on and so forth. 'But in the end, isn't it always the same question and always the same answer?' Security guard Schuster: 'A football is round, a game lasts 90 minutes. That's for sure. Anything else is merely hypothetical. Off we go!
If the film aims to direct the 'looking' onto the patterns of action rather than the bodies in action, then it could be the case that it is attempting to provide a cinematic experience that is less gendered. In other words, the position of spectator is assumed to neither be female nor male. Instead, only a rational mind is assumed to occupy this position. The film is appealing to the faculties of reason and cognition (I hope the beautiful and sublime distinction in the title now makes sense: Kant, "The Critique of Aesthetic Judgment").
The language of desire is not the only language available to cinema. Nor is it the only organizing force behind story-telling in general (this is a bit problematic, but I'll hazard to say it). Yet, it is so hard to elude the grip of such language without some avant-garde techniques. Tykwer turns Lola into an animated cartoon at some points in the film. He turns her into a supernatural hero at other points. What this implies is a split between content and mode of production (the difference between form and matter or content). This break 'activates,' so to speak, the spectator. Mulvey writes in the book Visual and Other Pleasures that the "[s]plits in the cinematic sign (the film essentially) allow ideas to interact with finction and thought with fantasy." 1 Tykwer is putting his film in opposition to the conventional, traditional, or mainstream. He is opposing the past and the history of cinema.
My next blog post will be about two avant-garde films that are made by women directors and that are of particular interest to feminist film critics. I will write about Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) and Chantal Akerman's News From Home (1977). This next post will try to dabble into the radical aesthetics movement through the works of two increasingly influential feminist avant-gardists.
1Mulvey, Laura. Visual and Other Pleasures. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989.