Nature proves a ubiquitous element from the opening of Ingmar Bergman’s Black Death-set The Seventh Seal, though somehow the simple power of such pervasive majesty is lost, as is often the case within our contemporary model, beneath the enormity of the manufactured – superstitious ritual and stilted imagery become the mallet and pitching tool with which the masses sculpt our reality. And Bergman knows this.
Author Joe Galm
It’s no coincidence that the idea of an afterlife came to fruition around the time that our species, in a collective sense, came to terms with the concept of our mortality. Death, as we now know, is an absolute. Someday we all will depart from this plane of existence, leaving behind only the experiential extensions we accumulate – the supplements to our being. And yet, we are the progeny of survivors; we’re predisposed to endure. If our physical essence must fail, it’s natural to seek catharsis in the notion that we’ll be survived by more than mere memories. These interpersonal branches we spend our entirety nurturing – our bonds familial and social, our projected character, our perceived accomplishments – are similarly fated to wither in the wake of our passing, in the time we’re no longer here to tend to our legacy. Hence the longing, the hope, and the sense of mystery surrounding the mortal beyond become contemplative rites of passage for human trek forward.
Bellflower is if nothing else honest by design, but a work through which the introspective tangents of its lead Woodrow’s (Evan Glodell, who also wrote and directed the film) psyche affords an emotional veraciousness that’s just too candid of its sociocultural naivety. To be sure, Glodell’s project is one of a purportedly unique constitution, to which it somewhat succeeds, but its rote depictions of counter-culture proclivities – which, apparently, means collectively eschewing even the idea of sobriety, as characters spend nary a scene without a beer or bowl in hand – proletariat-tinted contemporary ennui, and the kind of rhetorical posturing that pervades the minds of only those masculinely dysmorphic. (Phrases like, “Propane is for pussies,” and “You should bone her,” are said without subtlety of intention within the film’s first fifteen minutes, tinging the picture’s complexion as overtly guileless.) In its expositionally-laden first act, the narrative, aside from portending tragedy by rewinding through macabre tableaus of yet-to-come chaos, presents the universe of Bellflower as one defined by over-exposure – everything from the testosterone-centric mentalities of its principals to the bolstered, bleeding chromaticism of its acid-washed aesthetic points to an aggressive, reckless even, sense of unrestraint.
The authoritarian tinged catalysts that have laid Bella Swan’s (Kristen Stewart) path to this point of The Twilight Saga come variegated in Bill Condon’s installment, Breaking Dawn – Part 1, a work that invests less in the dogmatic inanity of manufactured mythos – drinking and pre-marital sex are bad, m’kay – and instead, in a gesture portended by the ceremonies that dotted the antecedent films (the prom in Twilight, Bella’s graduation in Eclipse), employs traditional social mileposts as stepping stones for the girl’s premature coming-of-age climax.
As typified by the contextual abstraction of his second feature film, the 1970 release Even Dwarfs Started Small, Werner Herzog has always channeled his works through elisions of bald cultural depictions, favoring to evoke societal arbitraries, absurdities even, by presenting them in a light that’s germane in its desultoriness. Later in his oeuvre, the German-born director would further build upon such conventionally defiant gestures, as even his films with varying degrees of documentarian interest – such as Fata Morgana, Lessons in Darkness, or even the final chapter of this year’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams – seemed to be conceived within an unseen, aeriform dimension between reality and the phantasmal. Rather than let the perceived actualities of life, and moreover art and film, dictate his pieces’ narrative and ideological unfurling, Herzog tends to revel in circumstantial hypotheticals, as he allows his cinema to underscore our increasingly evolved need of contextual frameworks for our social and survivalistic drives, no matter how silly (religion) or inconveniencing (bureaucracy) they may ultimately be.
Though often labeled as a film orbiting about depression and its personal and interpersonal effects, Lars von Trier’s insidiously meditative Melancholia exudes a tenor far more aligned with a different psychological principle, expectation, and how it shapes our perspective on social and mortal will. As humans, we’re hard-wired to precognize nature’s more malice stimuli. We’re fastened with carnally-evolved mechanisms – which were cinematically evoked to their most darkly humorous and disorientingly lysergic depths in von Trier’s own Antichrist – that come loaded with the capacity to biologically subvert our bearings of social credence.
Just as a mirage deviates from the optical phenomena one would expect of a desolate landscape, Werner Herzog’s Fata Morgana – a title that literally translates to the aforementioned type of illusory apparition – is a work that’s anomalous in both philosophy and form. Following a period of unstable gestation during which Herzog strove to make, of all things, a pseudo-science-fiction film, the picture finally emerged not as originally intended but instead as an amebic, trifurcated tapestry on the human proclivity for natural perversion. Even from the picture’s onset, the German director evokes such an issue by pitting some of our species’s more sublime native talents against the grandeur of Earth’s even-casual majesty: A long tracking shot juxtaposes the awesome undulation of desert sands against the vocal culminations of an opera piece, with nature’s quiet imposition winning handedly.
If Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is, as I contend, an exegesis on the human tendency to contextualize life through custom – not to mention, of course, the inculcative parallels through which both we and less domesticated species glean long-term behavioral patterns – then his 1976 work, Heart of Glass, is an admonishment on holding such traditions in too high of sentiment.
Opting to eschew any exploration of its subject’s possible charlatanical status, Werner Herzog instead employs the famously suspect story of Kaspar Hauser (Bruno S.) – who, after practically materializing in Nuremberg, Germany one morning, garnered notoriety after claiming that he’d been shackled in a cellar for the first seventeen years of his life – as a means to muse on the unconscious behavioral conditioning that’s inherent to the human experience.