Of the Vision and the Riddle

If you have yet to see Jim Jarmusch‘s latest visual romance, I recommend skipping this post all together. And any other reviews of the film for that matter, because in a project like his where there is ONLY room to speculate, any and all dialogue is a spoiler.

If you have seen the film, Welcome. You are a part of a growing contingency of people who don’t know what to think. Emvy watched the film in Hollywood with a brilliant professorial friend of ours, who quickly summoned Nietzsche to make sense of it all. “It’s the Eternal Return” he concludes, “never ending cycles of repetition and meaninglessness”…

So I started there. Nietzsche writes us the womb of existentialism in “the idea that an eternal recurrence of blind, meaningless variation—chaotic, pointless shuffling of matter and law—would inevitably spew up worlds whose evolution through time would yield the apparently meaningful stories of our lives.”

It’s obvious we are supposed to be challenged by the illusion of a linear adventure. We are lured in by sexy intimations of spies, deception, violence… After what seems like hours in the theatre, you have definitely asked yourself “are we getting anywhere?”. Patience wears thin, you begin to squirm in your seat and dread sinking into the black hole internal debate of whether you are wasting your time…

What does that mean, time?
What’s a good use of my time?
Is art worth the time?
Is my time really mine?
How am I prioritizing in my life?
Should I be doing something else right now?

Just then, Jarmsuch saves you from this encroaching depression with the sound of the human voice. Heaven exists in monologues. Never before have words sounded so sweet.
What can I control if not even my own thoughts? I scold myself. The pattern gets easier.

The next time it comes around, the ride looks like an old friend at a masquerade. You realize that we are actually at a party. This is where Nietzsche lets me down. I see no evidence of chaos in the Universe. I see only rhythm, reliability, not shuffling but a lightfooted parade. A beautiful show.

I read a comment on another blog that took me places. I found this entrance in Jarmusch immediately accessible. A stranger (and I hope she doesn’t mind me quoting her here) wrote:

“The film is largely based on repetition – but not exact repetition, rather slight variations on a theme, both visually and verbally.
It struck me right from the beginning that the film is more like a piece of music than a film in the traditional sense.


As the film progresses through repeating the same meeting scenario over and over again, the lines are repeated in different languages, become part of a song, are written on the back of a truck. They’re like the theme or chorus line which gather meaning through the solos (monologues on art, film, drugs, etc.)
Visually, the same thing is happening. The same images are repeated again and again (Lone Traveler in cafes, on stairs, in a car; the espresso cups; the matchboxes; the tai-chi) from sightly different angles, forming a visual beat.
Jarmusch is like a minimalist composer who works with a self-imposed rigorous set of soundbites and visuals to develop his theme (in both musical and philosphical sense) gradually throughout the piece so that what seems random and sparse to begin with makes perfect sense by the time the Lone Traveler (or actually the camera) bows out.”


Now I’m falling in love with a movie that nearly put me to sleep. I recognized it as the most beautiful lullaby I’ve experienced since my childhood.
As a person who would love to be considered an artist, I left the theatre wondering why Jarmusch had basically said “fuck you” behind a lens and walked away. I felt scolded by some distant father figure, as the man behind the camera became for me. Why all the subtle insults? Why the kneading at my inecurities? I left only with the comfort that in a film so drenched in obscurity and obsessed with beauty, Jarmusch could only be making light of himself a well.

There is a pity that inevitably wells up as we watch these characters on the screen. They are so lonely, their lives so tragic. Each character speaks/lives only for their art. I wince at the image of the man with the violin clutched desperately to his chest. He offers the desperate statement/prayer that music dies not, that it lives on forever. A woman in white insists that you can find truth in film. A beautiful body has tangled the arts of love and sex, inextricably wound. Is it only to me that these monolgues about the art that we live for comes off as vapid, boring, meaningless and pathetic?

There is an enemy here. The Man. A white American man in a desert palace who seemingly has to be taught a lesson none of us need learn. “When a man feels he is greater than anyone else, he must go to a cemetery” we are reminded again and again. Here is a way out! A space to avoid self-critique and despair.

“I am not that man” I think to myself. “I don’t think I’m better than anyone else.” Suddenly I am on the side of the protaganist, no longer then enemy. But this fades.

The artist and the demagogue become one. I look around at all the faces of people who came to believe in “Art”, and I feel saddened. Art is supposed to transcend life. To conquer death. To make those of us who worship it prophets. To make those of us who conjure it immortal. Instead, Jarmusch whispsers to me, you are him. These are they.

“There he will learn an important lesson: that all life is dust.”


~ by Vy on May 16, 2009.

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