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Don’t Look Now

Broadening the Frequency

 

Perhaps the proleptic is relatively rare in film and fiction because life isn’t like that. The films we often watch and the books we read might not be very much like our lives either, but at least they appear so temporally. When a writer gives us future events, or a film offers a flash-forward, it can take us out of our suspension of disbelief far more than the most unlikely of narrative scenarios. Prolepsis is a device commonly used by Muriel Spark as she gave her work both the authority of a fiction narrated, and hinted at a destiny preordained. Perhaps it is a Scottish thing: Don’t Look Now’s co-screenwriter (along with Chris Bryant) was Allan Scott, a whisky distiller originally from Elgin, and Scotland has its very own second sight legend in the Brahan Seer: someone who foresaw numerous events in the 17th century and was very ceremoniously executed for his impertinence. After all, what can be more impertinent, in every sense of the term, than believing you can predict the future? The two old ladies the English-Canadian couple, Laura and John Baxter (Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) meet as they escape to Venice are indeed Scottish, and one of them has second sight herself.

Director Nicolas Roeg’s film finds in the subject of second sight a justification for flashforward, but seems to do so not especially because he is interested in the supernatural, more that he is interested in the instinctive. The more instinctive we are, the more we can incorporate within our perceptions, extra-sensory possibilities. If Henri Bergson could see the difference between immediate perception and abstract perception, between sensory-motor actions that react practically to situations, and durational possibilities that allow us to meditate on a given action, we can see that Don’t Look Now is finally less concerned with second sight than extra-sensory perception. At one moment after seeing the old ladies in the bathroom at the hotel in Venice, Laura collapses, falls on the table and to the ground. Afterwards she discusses with John how surprised she is that she hadn’t hurt herself. John replies that she didn’t do so because of instinct: the body reacts much more quickly than the mind can. At the beginning of the film, just before the tragedy that will see their young daughter die in the large pond at the bottom of the garden, Laura offers a surprising fact and John says that nothing is what it seems. He offers the statement pragmatically but his body appears agitated. A moment before the film has cut between their daughter stepping into a puddle, their son cycling over broken glass and falling off his bike, and John looking up as though sensing something. He might believe nothing is what it seems, but he lives practically: he can allow intuition a place when it comes to practical experiences, but not predictive events. He cannot see a third dimension to perception, beyond the sensory-motor aspect of the pragmatic, and beyond the durational ability to focus on things for themselves, to the extra-sensory aspect that can indeed suggest time is out of joint.

In his book on extra-sensory perception where he looks at telepathy and clairvoyance, Arthur Koestler references Bergson. “The “filter theory” as one might call it, actually goes back to Henri Bergson, and has been taken up by various writers on extra-sensory perception. Our main sense organs are like narrow slits which admit only a very narrow frequency-range of eclectro-magnetic and sound waves.” ((The Roots of Coincidence) Koestler reckons “life would be impossible if it were to pay attention to the millions of stimuli bombarding our senses – what William James called ‘the blooming, buzzing multitude of sensations.” Roeg, more than most directors, is attuned to this blooming, buzzing multitude.  While one may not need to believe in second sight to respond to the film, one needs at least to accept the perceptual possibilities in an aesthetic that broadens the perceptual aperture. As Roeg cuts between images that have an associational rather than causal relation, so we become absorbed not in reason but in the irrational, in apprehensiveness rather than in apprehension. Imagine recutting the opening sequence in Don’t Look Now to play up the apprehension over the apprehensive. We could have the brother throwing the ball into the pond, and the daughter insisting she will go in and retrieve it. Don’t go in the brother tells her – it gets very deep near the middle – where the ball happens to be. We cut to Sutherland seeing the ball in the middle of the pond and, worried that the children might try and retrieve it, decides he will go and get it himself. Then the phone rings – he is awaiting an important call. He takes it, and the film crosscuts between John talking on the phone and the daughter drowning as she tries to retrieve the ball. We have apprehended the situation and any apprehensiveness has been causally contained. Instead, Roeg emphasizes the causally confused as he utilizes numerous match cuts that create associational links without demanding causal connections. When he holds his daughter in his arms after dragging her out of the water, her red mac resembles the red ink spilt on the slide he has been working on. We have a match cut but we don’t have a causal link. In another moment in this opening sequence, he clicks on a slide and we see in this shot from a church a red figure on the right-hand side of the frame, and then the film cuts to the daughter, seen upside down reflected in the lake. If Roeg wants us to believe in second sight in the telling, he is also interested in the extra-sensory cinematically.

If cinema has always been an art form capable of suspending our disbelief more easily than most, since cinema is an art form that records the world rather than unavoidably transforms it, then many great directors have wondered how they can generate the suspension in other ways. It might be by making clear the separation of sound and image as in Godard’s work, it can be by shifting between black and white and colour without clear motive (as in Oshima and Tarkovsky work, and Lindsay Anderson’s If….), or by interrupting the flow of the diegesis as in Bunuel’s cinema. None of these filmmakers however in the process generate a belief out of that suspension, out of a technique that points up a new belief in the suspension of disbelief. Even Tarkovsky’s mystical cinema only very occasionally asks us perceptually to believe in the supernatural (the glass moving at the end of Stalker) – Tarkovsky usually asks us to meditate upon the possibilities available to us beyond the materialistic, and wishes to retain the ambiguity of perception beyond our immediate senses. Equally, Bresson’s faith does not manifest itself in a form that shows us believing in God on the basis of the construction of the images. What we take away from The Diary of a Country Priest or Mouchette is a faith in the world that cannot be reduced to the material and social benefits the world offers us. In a commercial film where a corrupt character loses their fortunate and end up in a small house, the lesson we would be inclined to take from the film isn’t that material existence is irrelevant next to a spiritual epiphany, but that crime doesn’t pay. If the character made their fortune honestly, the film would have no problem with their behaviour. Bresson’s work indicates that it is the material gain, the overly confident belief in the pragmatics of this world that is the problem. Yet even Bresson will parse an event so we are only left with the metonymic details, thus insisting we partly construct the event ourselves. This is cinema that demands a meditative distance rather than the immediacy Roeg insists upon. Roeg’s technique asks us to believe in second sight as formal gesture, to show that cinema can flash forward and ask us to see what John Baxter will not acknowledge: that his daughter will drown and he knows it as well as we do, but that his rational coordinates tell him otherwise.

Roeg wants us to side with the irrational without at all falling into the surreal, and he does so utilising the foreshadowing so common to cinema and that we have partly explained in our rational example above. But Roeg does so by insisting on the associational over the logical. He asks us not so much to believe in extra-sensory perception, but to register it as perceptual affect. If In Bresson and Tarkovsky, the filmmakers in very different ways create the space for us to believe in the spiritual, they do so in a manner usually consistent within the durational possibilities proposed by Bergson as he looks at perception that is not simply automatic and pragmatic. But just as there is the pragmatics of Hitchcock and the durational dimension of the Tarkovskian, so in Roeg’s work there is the extra-sensory: a stage that goes beyond the first two and is somewhere between the innovative and the disreputable. Koestler’s book looks at ESP from the point of view of quantum developments, and says “half of my friends accuse me of an excess of scientific pedantry; the other half of unscientific leanings towards preposterous subjects such as extra-sensory perception…which they include in the domain of the supernatural.” We are not at all interested in whether or not ESP exists. Our claim is simply to say that Roeg wants us in Don’t Look Now to engage affectively and perceptually with its possibility as immediate aesthetic experience, utilizing formal procedures that are ostensibly as alienating as Bresson’s to do so. If for example, Bresson wanted us to experience rather than meditate upon the predestination aspect that is vital to much of his work, he might also have adopted prolepsis, showing us the character’s future as well as his present. This would have led us to experience belief instead of believing in belief. To believe in belief is to make a conscious, or better still, a meditative decision, a choice. ESP is less a belief than an experience or a procedure. One assumes the existence of ESP because one has usually had an experience or it, or the science suggests its possibility. But it is not a belief in the way one believes in God. It would be surprising if someone said they chose to believe in extra-sensory perception.

Yet this is where Don’t Look Now might contradict our claims. Doesn’t Laura Baxter believe in extrasensory perception as she tries to convince her husband that the blind Scotswoman has seen their daughter, and as she says so describes accurately Christine’s hair and jacket? However, we could say without trying to be overly ingenious that Laura has experienced her belief: that as the woman talks, Laura feels the force of this encounter between the woman, her daughter and herself. As she returns giddily from the bathroom she collapses. When later talking to her husband about it, saying she is surprised that she didn’t hurt herself in the fall, she is trying to explain an aspect of the experience. John wants to reduce it to the idea that the body instinctively protects itself as pragmatic fact. Laura is more interested in it as extrasensory possibility. Roeg films the sequence of the fall with numerous cuts, yet that wouldn’t explain very much about the scene. What matters more is the inevitability of the fall. As we hear a piercing sound as she sits down, then gets up again, as the film moves into slow motion before showing us the various objects falling off the table when Laura falls, so the film suggests a hint of the future in the present that isn’t the same as filmic foreshadowing. Laura may herself not have access to second sight, but she has experienced the force of extrasensory potential. John has this capacity for second sight but his belief doesn’t allow him to acknowledge it. He is a little like a behaviourist in Koestler’s book who rejected the evidence for telepathy because he thought it didn’t make much sense. Koestler says that the professor admitted “that this rejection was “in the literal sense a prejudice”. Another, a mathematician, said “I find this [ESP] a subject that is so intellectually uncomfortable as to be almost painful. I end by concluding I cannot explain away Professor Rhine’s evidence, and that I also cannot accept his interpretation.” Here the professors choose to disbelieve, rather like John whose rationality kills him. In one scene Laura has left Venice and John nevertheless sees her on a canal boat with the two Scottish women. He assumes understandably that she is still in the city, and involves the police in his search as the two old ladies are taken in for questioning. His mind is put to rest when he hears Laura’s voice on the phone; she is safe, staying at her son’s school in England. Yet if he had been willing to entertain all possibilities, he wouldn’t have needed to involve the police and would have realized that the women’s attire indicated they were attending a funeral that will turn out to be his own. He can only acknowledge the empirical when it remains consistent with the logical – if the two depart he must side with the latter over the former: he won’t look now.

Reviewing the film, Pauline Kael, admiring its modernism, was skeptical about its approach to second sight. “Roeg has a modern sensibility without having a modern mind…Roeg doesn’t examine the jaggedness, or ask the why of it, or try to find order within it; he uses this shattered vision to bring a Gothic story up to date…” (New Yorker) That is one way of looking at it, a way of looking at it that can privilege other modernist masterpieces well above it because they do not insist in the very form that we succumb to the irrationality of the aesthetic. David Thomson would seem to half-agree with Kael when he says “yes, you can write it off, finally, as occult nonsense – except that nothing occult has happened, just the weakness of sensible people for believing in such things.” (Have You Seen…?) It is almost as if Thomson is denying what is in front of his eyes as he refuses to acknowledge the occult even within the film. “Tell yourself it is a family story” he insists. “No genre dates quicker than horror…well, here’s a nice little story where coincidence seems to get out of hand.” Neither Kael nor Thomson can quite countenance a work that doesn’t distance itself enough from the susceptibility it insists upon. What we find so interesting about the film is that it refuses that distance all the better to involve us in extrasensory perception tangibly.  If we accept that many of the key modernist directors ask metaphysical questions that go beyond the pragmatics of narrative involvement, where form meets content, where the style of the film serves the furtherance of narrative, then they do so to create a distance that makes us hyper-aware of the nature of a question beyond the story. Tarkovsky asks us to doubt our ontological certitude as he finds a space for faith; Godard shows us that we are full of presuppositions about the sound and image that when thwarted become sources for our frustration. Resnais shows us that our relationship with cinematic time can be so scrambled that in Last Year at Marienbad we cannot locate meaning partly because we cannot easily locate temporal coordinates. They are all in the best sense meditative, durational directors looking to extend our capacity for seeing both cinema and the world. This is what would make them much better directors in the eyes of Kael and Thomson than Roeg: they sensibly retain a healthy distance between the medium and the message. Roeg would seem to fall into the message, evident in Kael’s claim that “Roeg’s modernist style is too good for the use he puts to it.” Alexander Walker, however, reckons that “part of Roeg’s success lies in turning our apprehensions along the psychic waveband that exists between the characters, so that one passes imperceptibly from one state to another depending on the strength of their interior panic.” He believes that it is Roeg’s best film: “what the story tells and what it intimates are so well-balanced.” (Hollywood England)

What is so interesting from our point of view, however, is that it goes beyond the sensory-motor, to the extrasensory; in the process bypassing the modernist sensibility to reach an affective irrationality the film wants us to experience, not simply question nor even believe. This does not at all make it a better film than Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad, Godard’s Le Mepris or Tarkovsky’s Mirror. This is absolutely not our claim, if for no better reason than it would be like claiming films that push beyond the sensory-motor into the durational are inevitably better films than those that don’t. It would be to privilege Godard over Hitchcock when what matters much more is to understand the Hitchkockian and the Godardian as different ways of seeing the world and understanding it. We want to do the same with the Roegian, suggesting that what matters is not dismissing the film for its activation of the hocus pocus and of superstition, but for its capacity to activate very fundamentally our relationship with such notions. Kael might see Roeg as possessing a very unmodern mind, but we might see instead a modern mind of a particular sort. Like David Lynch and not unlike Lars von Trier, Roeg is a modernist interested in the problematic of affect. We could imagine von Trier doing exactly what Bresson would refuse to do, using flashforward to involve us in the problem of predestination on an immediate level. The risk would be to flirt with pulp, but that is what distinguishes directors like von Trier from the filmmakers he thematically resembles, like Bresson and Dreyer. In Breaking the Waves, von Trier thinks nothing of engaging us in hospital melodrama to throw us at the end of the film with the presence of the bells that suggest a miracle has taken place. David Lynch’s work shuttles between pulp moments and radical shifts in mood all the better to play with our peripheral perceptual possibilities. It’s as though the filmmakers need an aspect of tastelessness to generate affective dissonance. When Kael says Roeg’s “entire splintering style affects one subliminally” she is describing a director interested in accessing the extrasensory, trying to find in film form states that take us beyond our immediate perceptual limits.

This can lead to the dissolution of event and the promotion of unease. When after the famous lovemaking scene John and Laura Baxter go out for dinner they never reach the restaurant. Instead, we follow them looking for it as the film indicates that they are caught in a labyrinth of echoing walls and the shimmering of water. The film zooms in on a white rat and then cuts back to Laura and John from behind as she expresses shock and the desire to get out of there. John stays for a moment, as if piecing together a mystery he cannot yet understand and that only his demise will make clear. “I know this place”, he says, and a moment later he sees the little red figure who will hack him to death at the film’s conclusion. In such a moment the film hasn’t strictly speaking flashed forward (as it does in the lovemaking scene where we watch the couple having sex and getting dressed in a cross-cutting scene), it has instead left us wondering as John wonders what exactly is going on. If the film had started with John’s demise and flashbacked to the events that are the rest of the film, we could have pieced the film together as John could not, seeing in the red figure dashing across the frame the dwarf who kills him. But this would have created foresight rather than second sight: it would have given us foreknowledge through flashback, and would have worked as no more than a perceptual variation of foreshadowing. Whether a film hints at what will happen later, or gives us the conclusion that we can comprehend because we have the ending that gives shape to the events, we are forearmed rather than disarmed. When we see in a film emblazoned on her new lover’s arm the forearm tattoo that we earlier saw without seeing the face of the tattooed man as he strangled someone, we know the heroine is in danger, and thus the event is foreshadowed. Even less subtly the film might offer the same moment using flashback so that the viewer categorically recalls that tattoo. Film is full of foresight, but much more rarely uses second sight. Foresight has no need of prolepsis; it relies instead on temporally coherent deduction. It is part of our rational universe. Roeg wants to question that universe and prolepsis is central to this aim. When John stands by the canal he feels he has been there before, but in fact this is John not recalling the past but predicting the future and his own death. He will come back to these streets in the film’s conclusion, looking for the little red figure that will kill him. This relationship with time is central to the unease we opened the paragraph with. But what about dissolution? The ostensible point of the scene is that John and Laura after making love have decided to eat out for the evening, but they will never make it to their dinner destination. Like Bunuel’s diners in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie released the previous year, this is about the desire for a dinner that will be curtailed. Except Roeg doesn’t diegetically indicate that they won’t eat, he just knows that we won’t be interested in food very much after creating a fragmented, haunted giddiness in the cutting during the scene. To follow through on the dinner would be a grisly joke. We would see them eating and would be thinking of rats.

Some have claimed Roeg is an undisciplined director. Charles Champlin sees “a lack of discipline that defines art” (The Spectator) in a claim not too far removed from Kael’s and Thomson’s. There is a questionable seriousness at work, or at play. Andrew Patch, who quotes Champlin in Chromatic Cartography, also quotes Michael Dempsey, who in Film Quarterly reckoned “Roeg joins Eisenstein, Resnais and Lester in leaning heavily on editing for his effects, but his montage is not quite like anybody else’s…Eisenstein’s montage creates or demonstrates connections between shots. We can be sure that these connections exist, at least in his mind, and we can almost always grasp them immediately…But Roeg’s montage does not say that two shots are connected; it says they might be. Esienstein’s editing aims for certainty; Roeg’s for uncertainty.” Eisenstein may have disagreed with fellow filmmaker Pudovkin (in a debate discussed in Pudovkin’s Film Technique) over how a sequence should be constructed, whether it should be built including all the relevant details that would make the sequence readily coherent, so that when a car crashes we see all the details of the crash but broken down into short, edited moments, or whether it should be broken down still further so only the essential, dramatic shots that indicate the force of the image will remain. There are scenes by Eisenstein that cannot be put together clearly: we cannot always see where people are as the logistics of the ‘Odessa Steps’ sequence in Battleship Potemkin are denied. But at the same time, his scenes aren’t puzzling. What Eisenstein called kino-fist becomes in Roeg’s universe kino-sense. He creates associational possibilities rather than elliptical coherence, leading to an extrasensory world where “nothing is as it seems”.

John Baxter offers this line in the opening sequence after Christine asks Laura a question that stumps her. If the world is round why is a frozen pond flat, their daughter asks, and Laura finds that Lake Ontario curves three degrees from one end to the other as the film seeks to exemplify why indeed nothing is as it seems. Now, most critics want to rescue the form from the story, evident in Kael’s comment about a modernism in form matched by an old-fashioned mindset. Something of this claim is echoed in Robert Phillip Kolker’s insistence that the film “on the level of plot, [is] a not too interesting story of the occult, of a confrontation with a homicidal dwarf in Venice, whom he [Baxter] takes to be the incarnation of his drowned daughter.” He reckons that “on the level of perception, however, the film is what it is about – seeing. Colors and shapes, places and figures, keep appearing and reappearing.” (The Altering Eye) We may have a problem with the idea that films have levels, and the distinction between form and content, but this appears to be the way critics protect themselves from a belief rather like the professors Koestler invokes. This needn’t mean we accept extrasensory perception as we acknowledge gravity; more that we accept the film creates a feeling in the telling. If we sense that Baxter should be attending to his perceptual faculties, if we find ourselves thinking with Baxter and wondering why he isn’t wise to the future that he has predicted rather than trying to find his wife in Venice, then we have to accept that the film has made us ‘second-sightful’. When Thomson says “tell yourself it’s a family story” is a bit like telling yourself that The Exorcist is a story about a single mum. It is, but so are many other films and it would be a bit remiss to ignore that the daughter becomes possessed by the devil.

If we insist on attending to Don’t Look Now’s extrasensory perceptual perspective, we do so in a twofold manner. Firstly, as we have addressed, Roeg demands that we do become immersed in his preordained story while Bresson’s predestined narratives do not make the same claim upon us. Secondly, throughout Roeg’s work he wishes to engage us in questions that take us beyond our rational world, to hint at the source of our cultural concerns. Whether it rests in suggesting the limits of modern civilization in Walkabout, where a civilized father kills himself and the kids in the outback are helped back to the city by an aborigine who knows the terrain, a young man whose knowledge of the land proves all but useless in modern society but whose perspective allows for the desert to be comprehensible. Roeg’s splintered editing in the film might be bang up to date, but the associations would be comprehended much more by a mind in touch with ancient beliefs rather than a modern urban.  The imagery suggests not the struggle with nature evident in films where man fights against his environment, as we can find in The Mosquito Coast or The Long Weekend, but where the individual needs to find communion with it. As we see Jenny Agutter swimming naked while the film cross-cuts to David Gulpillil using tools and hunting animals, both are acting primitively as Agutter is very far away now from the swimming pool we see at the beginning of the film, where her life was constrained by the geometry of precise living. Roeg doesn’t criticise bourgeois Australian urban life (like the wonderfully funny Don’s Party), he compares it, showing us the ancient world up against modern civilization. Roeg is in this sense a great palimpsest: he likes to lay worlds on top of each other and shows the modern mind and ancient mores next to each other, so it is not surprising that Roeg’s work can easily be explored through Freud and Jung. (Indeed John Izod devoted a whole book to the study of the latter in the context of Roeg’s work, Roeg and Jung: Myth and Mind). Walkabout, Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth would seem Jungian films; Performance, Bad Timing and Eureka more Freudian. When filmmaker Bernard Rose says that while Roeg far from invented cross-cutting, he says Roeg does “something much more interesting. He connects the shots on a psychic basis.” (BFI) This isn’t just the psychic dimension of course that we have explored through extrasensory perception; this is cross-cutting as cross-cultural, cross-temporal filmmaking that demands editing as palimpsest. In very different ways Freud and Jung were interested in the cultural and temporal questions the mind constantly has to entertain even if it thinks it is going about its business in the sensory-motor manner which Bergson explores so well in Matter and Memory. As Jung says, “it would be a ridiculous and unwarranted assumption on our part if we imagined that we were more energetic or more intelligent than the men of the past. Our material knowledge has increased but nor our intelligence.” “This means”, Jung reckons, “that we are just as bigoted in our regard to new ideas, and just as impervious to them, as people were in the darkest days of antiquity.” (Psychological Reflections). Freud notes that “experience teaches us that for most people there is a limit beyond which their constitution cannot comply with the demands of civilization. All who wish to be more noble-minded than their constitution allows fall victim to neurosis…” (‘Civilization, Society and Religion’) Man is a palimpsest both claims suggest, and Roeg explores what the nature of that layering of one mode of being on top of the other indicates. In Walkabout, Don’t Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth we see that our being is much more expansive than our ready perception of it. In Performance, the gangster can’t easily accept his homosexual impulses without his mind cracking; in Bad Timing the psychoanalyst insists desire must be exclusive; that he cannot accept his young lover Milena’s promiscuous impulses. In Eureka, a father can amass all the riches in the world after discovering gold but cannot control his daughter. Sex dictates the tone of the latter three, while the question of intuition hovers over the former three. As Jung says, “is it not essential to the true art of living, sometimes, in defiance of all reason and fitness, to include the unreasonable and the unfitting within the ambience of the possible?” (Psychological Reflections)

We offer the above to help counter claims that Don’t Look Now is a film that is good despite its subject, the idea that Roeg utilises second sight as no more than an exercise in form. Instead, we might be inclined to think (if we must run with form content dichotomies) that he wants to extend cinematic form because he is fascinated by the limits rationality places upon us. It is the combination of form and content, and how Roeg must find in his form a sincere approach to the content that makes Don’t Look Now a radical work. It remains a rare example of a cinema that stretches our perceptions beyond the ready Bergsonian coordinates of the sensorymotor and the durational. (though as Koestler notes, Bergson was not unsympathetic to the possibilities of ESP) While there are numerous films that deal with the supernatural properties that Roeg evokes, including De Palma’s Carrie and Fury, Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist and of course Friedkin’s The Exorcist, very few adopt an extrasensory form. They utilise the supernatural within the rational. In that marvellously cruel scene at the prom in Carrie, Brian De Palma sets the scene with Hitchcockian precision: it is a great example of immediate forewarning as we see the classmates set up the pig’s blood, watch Carrie having her moment of glory, dressed in white and dating the school heartthrob, all the while the film crosscuts to show what is soon to happen. This is rational filmmaking gloriously manipulating the viewer and overcooking the technique with slow motion, filters and split screen.

Yet though it is very rare indeed, there are other examples of extra-sensory perceptual filmmaking, like Lynch’s Lost Highway and Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void. Even if we might regard the former as a great film and the latter an intriguing failure, they both, like Don’t Look Now, insist on absorbing the aesthetic into the idea. Lynch’s film isn’t just a movie about split personality, a voodoo theme that Wes Craven also accesses in The Serpent and the Rainbow. It dissolves the rational coordinates that allow us to define where exactly the split has taken place as one person appears to morph into another. Lynch here eschews both explanation and delineation as we are lost in an irrational universe. “We’re not experiencing the ultimate reality: the ‘real’ is hiding all through life, but we don’t see it. We mistake it for all these other things.” (Lynch on Lynch) In Enter the Void, Noe takes us into a very bad trip indeed as the central character is shot dead at the beginning of the film and literally hovers over the proceedings, with Noe filming mainly from just behind the central character’s head as he blocks our access to the full screen in a manner compared to a video game, but with very different results. “I tried to get very close to an altered state of consciousness,” Noe says. “Or, I tried to, in a cinematic way, reproduce the perception of someone who is on drugs. And there are moments in the movie closer to a dream state, and through that, many people have told me that they felt stoned during the movie, and felt they had done, like, an acid trip.”(Interview Magazine) In each instance, Lynch and Noe don’t just use the half-locked doors of perception to create good box-office, to find a subject that thrills, they insist in finding a form that will help unlock those doors to try and access the perceptually new. When Thomson, Kael, Kolker and others wanted to play down what they saw as the pulpy theme and play up the skilful technique in Don’t Look Now, they were indeed a little like the professors Koestler would speak to, refusing to accept what they couldn’t quite deny. One wouldn’t wish here to make claims for ESP or to counter them, only to insist that part of having an aesthetic experience is to suspend disbelief even in areas where we might be inclined to think the subject matter is nonsense. It is true that many films utilising subject matter that we don’t believe in (zombies, vampires, aliens from other planets) involve us in the tale,  but they also keep us at one remove from the affect by adopting a style that needn’t challenge our perceptions, as De Palma does so effectively in Carrie. The techniques are consistent with our rational perceptual faculties rather than accessing the irrational properties on the edge of our consciousness. During his great period of filmmaking (Performance, Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bad Timing and Eureka), Roeg insisted we access the edge of thought and not its dead centre. Critical responses trying to drag it back to that dead centre seem to us contrary to the films’ effectiveness.

©Tony McKibbin