The Space Covered
In an excellent article in the book Movies of the Seventies, Tim Pulleine addresses what he calls Odyssey movies, a type of film that brought together the physical properties of geography with the subjective possibilities of the mind. Looking at films including The Passenger, Stalker, Walkabout and The Travelling Players, Pulleine's article is followed by essays written by other writers on three of the films: Aguirre, Wrath of God, The American Friend and The Warriors. Odyssey films often offer a quest, Pulleine says, "that is not only physical but metaphysical, a search for self-fulfilment or, as the ballad [from The Searchers]puts it, for 'peace of mind'. Speaking of The American Friend, David Roper says of its director, "Wim Wenders is fascinated with roads, journeys, uprooting, with the sense of identity that is attached to having a place to go home to." In the more metaphysically-minded and often European odyssey films certainty is often hard to discern: a zone is a geographical space but also capable of transformation through subjectivity (Stalker); a woman appears to think herself into destroying a house without there being any hint of horror movie telekinetics. (Zabriskie Point); a walk through the desert can take on aspects of Dreamtime as an aboriginal boy leads a young white boy and his older sister out of the outback (Walkabout) The films address fascinating metaphysical questions about belief, self, faith and we won't ignore, and many of the European films Pulleine discusses, are preoccupied with them, but what interests us more specifically American film where the odyssey allows Hollywood cinema the opportunity to escape the ferocious logic of plot for an approach that while hardly eschewing it, relaxes its coordinates. Yet part of this relaxation also inevitably includes a modicum of psychoanalytic and metaphysical questioning as the geographical coordinates often meet with a mythological underpinning.
To make clear what we mean by this we can look at a number of American films that emphasize the geographical over the logical, the coordinates of space rather than the throughline of narration: Stagecoach, The Warriors, Wanda, Meek's Cutoff, Deliverance, The Sorcerer, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter and Broken Flowers, with a passing mention to a handful of others. Yet before discussing the films it might be useful to say a few words about narration and quote a few thinkers on the subject. EM Forster reckons a story is "a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. Forster says, "If it is a story we say: 'And then?' If it is in a plot we ask: 'Why?'" (Aspects of the Novel) He sees in this fundamental difference between two aspects of fiction but we may also say that they represent key differences in cinema too. In Odyssey films the emphasis is on "and then?" rather than "Why?" but our claim rests on a matter of degree rather than distinction. When Umberto Eco discusses the difference between natural and artificial narratives he means in a strict sense the difference between "what happened to me yesterday, a newspaper report, or even Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Artificial narrative is supposedly represented by fiction, which only pretends to tell the truth about the causal universe, or which claims to tell the truth about a fictional universe." (Six Walks in the Fictional Woods) Things are inevitably much more complicated than that but often the odyssey narrative in ostensibly eschewing plot seems much closer to a natural narrative than an artificial one and we might notice that this rests on a certain relationship with the geographical emphasis: the sense that people are passing through natural space rather than contrived storytelling.
In Stagecoach, director John Ford emphasizes the geographical as almost the entire film takes place between point 'a' and point 'b': between the conservative Tonto in Arizona to Lordsburg in New Mexico. These are places you can find on a map, with Tonto Village's population 256 according to a 2010 census, and Lordsburg's 2,427 according to a 2018 one, but they have a specific structural and narrative function in the film that shouldn't make us assume too readily the natural over the artificial. Tonto seems to be a town of hypocrisy and Lordsburg of lawlessness. Ford may want the 'natural' aspect that allows the characters to pass through a landscape that became famously associated with the director's work but if we take into account the real Tonto and the real Lordsburg, then to pass through Monument Valley would be a needless detour: Monument Valley is to the north of Tonto and the characters are heading south. There is also plot aplenty in Stagecoach. Not only do we know very early on that the banker in the film has stolen money, we are also informed twenty minutes into Stagecoach that the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) lost his brother. As the doctor on board the stagecoach asks him what happened to the boy whose arm he fixed, the Ringo Kid announces that he was murdered and the non-diegetic music doesn't play up his loss but the likelihood of revenge. Sure enough, the Ringo Kid, who has escaped from jail after hearing of his brother and father's death by the Plummer gang, is on his way to Lordsburg to kill Luke Plummer. A burgeoning love story develops too between the Ringo Kid and the prostitute Stella, who has been hounded out of the staid Tonto. There is plot to be found in the film but the spine of it consists of the journey between the two towns and while the film doesn't conclude when they arrive (the Ringo Kid needs to take on the Plummer gang) there is also no sense that the film needs to continue towards a further destination. At the end of the film, Ringo and Stella go off together but there is no reason why the film should follow them. If even if there happened to be a scene showing them on a ranch together it would be no more than a coda.
If we accept that the two towns and the journey between them represent the spine of the film that doesn't mean it can survive without aspects of strong causality. If Stagecoach didn't have Ringo's revenge narrative running through the story it might have seemed too flaccid, if we didn't wonder whether Ringo and Stella would go off together or whether the banker who has stolen money before the journey, would be found out, the film could have shown us dramatic events (the Indians attacking the stagecoach, Lucy giving birth) but these would fall into the episodic rather than the causal. If there was some doubt about who the father of Lucy's child happened to be then that would suggest strong causality, and if the Indians were attacking the stagecoach because they specifically wanted to kill somebody on board again this would indicate the causal over the episodic. They are important dramatically but not especially so narratively. Yet alongside these dramatic moments, there are scenes that are dramatic partly because they are so narratively focused. We should remember that we don't actually see the shoot-out between Ringo and the gang, as though Ford knows that if the narrative sequence has been developed strongly enough a director can allow for an elliptical approach to it. What matters more is what is at stake in the scenes rather than its dramatic enactment. By cutting to Stella as she hears a gun go off, and by showing Plummer entering the saloon apparently having won the gunfight, Ford makes clear how important the event is to others. Stella has fallen in love with Ringo and the locals in the bar can look forward to further tyranny if Plummer has won. But no, Plummer falls to the ground and Stella will go off to live with the Kid. Ford suggests that what matters more is narrative completion over dramatic action to tie up the film. If earlier the Apache raid on the coach was presented as dramatically vivid it is in a certain sense not essential. Certainly the possibility of an attack is flagged up right from the beginning, and one of the reasons why initially the cavalry accompanies the coach, but a danger can be constantly evident without its manifestation. It wouldn't damage the narrative if the attack never took place even if it might have made the film less exciting to an audience looking for a key action set-piece. If Ringo hadn't taken revenge on Plummer killing his father and brother the film would have been missing something more fundamental.
Yet a looser film would make the notion of the inessential and the essential dissolve, seeing that if the journey is the thing, rather than the narrative outcome, whatever takes place within the journey is variable, and what takes place at the end of it inconclusive. When at the end of Easy Rider, the two hippies are killed by the rednecks it could be otherwise there is no sense of inevitability in the conclusion. Danny Peary noted the "thoroughly depressing rather than progressive finale" (Guide for the Film Fanatic) while David Thomson reckoned: "you might not guess this from the film, but there was a script." (Have You Seen...) Stagecoach may indicate the importance of the journey but it would be naive to think that it wasn't interesting the throughline of its plot. It feels very much scripted.
One reason why it might seem surprising to say the Indian attack isn't essential is that it is expected. This is both generic demand and narrative likelihood. We know Indians turn up often in westerns to ambush the cowboys, and we know too that Ford has made clear an Apache attack is possible. But in John Boorman's Deliverance, the four characters (Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox) assume they are entering a humanly benign environment no matter the problems they may face in the rapids they are canoing down. This doesn't mean Boorman isn't setting up the threat the Cajuns represent to the middle-class white men entering the Appalachians: one that generated a stereotype that, so well-delineated, it hasn't been easy for the people of the region to escape it. As Silas House says: "People all over the world think they know something about Appalachia because they've seen Deliverance, which is a well-made but terribly stereotypical thriller portraying hillbillies as soulless, illiterate and mean-hearted villains." (Salon) The film is a lot more complicated than that; suggesting that the locals possess an intelligence greater certainly than the hapless insurance man Bobby (Ned Beatty) initially shows. When near the beginning of the film, Drew (Ronny Cox) starts playing with and against the young Cajun boy, all Bobby can offer is a comment on the boy's inbred looks and, after the boy brilliantly outplays Drew, suggests Drew offer him a couple of dollars. The film doesn't indicate the locals are stupid; more that the stupidity of Bobby can bring out a malicious streak when they are patronised. If the classic western often suggests no more than that the Indians are determined to attack the white man whenever given an opportunity, Deliverance indicates that the urban middle-class man can expect an attack when he lacks the awareness necessary to comprehend the milieu in which he is in. The US was still in the midst of the Vietnam war when Deliverance was made, and while we wouldn't want to insist just about every film made at the time into an allegory of America's involvement (there were plenty films from Soldier Blue to Little Big Man deliberately doing that), the white man's burden was shown to be not one of heroism and duty but of ignorance and arrogance. Bobby character exemplifies this in a film that needn't make it inevitable that he gets a horrible comeuppance as he is raped by the Cajuns, but doesn't make it arbitrary either.
Perhaps what makes an odyssey film strong is its balance between contingency and probability as opposed to randomness and inevitability. Easy Rider is too random to be a fine odyssean work while Stagecoach is finally too tightly plotted to suggest the freedom of the journey. Deliverance indicates that the expedition is the thing but that what happens along it allows for numerous contingencies. The men will expect the Rapids to generate a few dangers without them necessarily doing so but the men don't at all plan for the terrors involving the mountain men. Boorman pointed up the importance of tackling the Chattooga river by saying, "we rehearsed for quite a long period, because we had to get the actors up to scratch in archery and canoeing. I had already been down the Chattooga, a ferocious river, to make sure it was safe." (Guardian) The dramatic expectation in Deliveranceconcerns the planned mission of four men determined to take on the fast-moving river and arrive at the town of Aintry, where their cars will await them. The lesson they learn rests more broadly on failing to understand the specifics of a geography that no matter their ostensible training throws up surprises cultural as well as environmental. Like a number of other contemporaneous films focusing on middle-class men it indicates that they have been moulded by an urban environment that leaves them exposed when facing challenges that draw on their masculinity. Whether taking the complex form of Straw Dogs or the simple-minded version in Death Wish, the films show men determined to assert themselves more than they they would have thought. The film's lead, Jon Voight, points this up when saying "the movie still has significance: the idea of people facing violence and what our responsibility is, how we have to step up. We leave the protection of others to certain members of our society: policemen and the military. But in some way we lose part of our manhood by hiding, by coddling ourselves into thinking we're safe." (Guardian) Boorman said, "I was very much influenced by Jung at the time" (Vulture) and Voight's comments chime with Jung's notion that, in Aniela Jaffe's words, "in man, the 'animal being' (which lives in him as his instinctual psyche) may become dangerous if it is not recognized and integrated in life. Man is the only creature with the power to control instinct by his own will... [but] suppressed instincts can gain control of a man; they can even destroy him." (Jung and his Symbols) When people today throw themselves into dangerous activities like white water rafting or mountaineering they do so on the assumption that the risks they take are consistent with the mission undertaken. Boorman's point is that though the four men are keen to take on the elements, the element they haven't factored in is their presuppositions towards others who would socially be regarded as their inferiors. The mountain men are backward by urban standards but ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding the environment. Yet they also have a sixth sense for condescension and can see on the face of especially Bobby a superiority that gets brutally undermined in the famous rape sequence where Bobby is forced to squeal like a pig. Ringo proves his masculinity when taking on the Apaches; Bobby's is emasculated when he comes into contact with the locals. Stagecoachsets up a scenario where everyone acknowledges the likelihood of an Indian attack; Deliverance generates an atmosphere of portent, certainly, but not expectation. In a perceptive essay on the film Quentin Tarantino notes: "Most audiences who saw the movie in 1972 were completely unprepared for the dramatic turn of events. It's why they were so effective. Most audiences felt there would be some dramatic turn of events due to the men riding the treacherous rapids downriver. It's clear something is going to happen on this trip." (Beverly Cinema) Nobody is going to be surprised when the Indians turn up in Stagecoacheven if we acknowledge the attack is of less importance to the plot than killing the Plummer gang. But Tarantino recognises that the human brutality in Deliverance wasn't a necessary component of the film even if it became the most memorable aspect of it. The audience doesn't see it coming because it isn't a generically mandatory dimension of the characters' adventure but a horribly contingent one. If the scene has become a cliche of southern dramas about urbanites coming up against good ol' boys that is because what Deliverance offers as surprise, numerous films since have offered as expectation, even if dramatic irony is the common mode of address. In other words, while neither the characters nor the audience knows what will happen in Deliverance, in films since, as varied as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Gator and others, in what has been called 'hicksploitation' films, the audience usually does. Ike Morgan reckons, "It's not a well-defined movie genre. Most people agree that it should include rural southern scary movies the kind where protagonists go on a happy road trip/vacation/move/family visit and find themselves being sucked into a quicksand of crime/mysticism/depravity." (Al. Com)
What makes Deliverance such a good odyssey film is that the journey is more important than the plot and that the contingencies aren't dramatically ironic but temporally and spatially surprising. The purpose for the men is to conquer the Rapids to prove their masculinity but then find a further danger in the mountain men who generate manifold challenges to their sense of self: from Bobby getting sexually abuses to the four of them realising they can get away with murder aware that the dead bodies of the locals may never be found due to a dam that is getting built, the men find their deepest instincts for survival. As Jung says, "what we call civilized consciousness has steadily separated itself from the basic instincts. But these instincts have not disappeared. They have merely lost their contact with our consciousness and are thus forced to assert themselves in an indirect fashion." (Man and his Symbols) Deliverance is of course a journey into the heart of darkness with the men less committing murders that they will cover up than finding in themselves instincts that are now out in the open. This needn't be especially metaphysical and one can watch Deliverance without any sense of bafflement that great works like The Passenger, The Travelling Players and Stalker insist upon. Yet nevertheless the film emphasises the characters' journey of contingent self-discovery over the machinations of anecessary plot. In common cliche, John Wayne has to do what a man has to do; Voight and co do what they are very surprised they have to do. It may be Burt Reynolds' character Lewis who initially shows his mettle as he fires an arrow that kills one of the mountain men and saves Ed's life, but after Lewis breaks his leg it is Ed who has to find the inner resources to take out the other man, scaling a 200metre rock face to do so. In the DVD extras to the film, Boorman notes that Voight felt he had to scale the rock himself, feeling it would be cheating if he didn't. More recently Boorman said, "certainly, Deliverance would be impossible to make today... You'd have to have a risk-assessment officer on hand at all times. All we had was a diver with us. And he did have to go into the river and pull people out. One day Ned Beatty went down and he didn't come up. He was gone, I don't know, maybe two minutes or so. I always had the fear I was going to lose one of the cast."(Guardian) There are many films that do not at all need the reality of a given situation to impose itself up the givens of the plot. The plot is the thing and while Stagecoach might be an odyssey film, nevertheless the plot is paramount enough to make any verisimilitude in the journey secondary to it. When Boorman invokes the production itself it is partly to acknowledge that the journey is the thing and that the filming of that journey be as authentic as possible. It isn't only that back projection would have seemed absurd in a 70s context when it was a device that had long gone out of fashion, it was also that American films of the 70s frequently insisted on a relationship with the real that was rare in earlier cinema. It is true that a comedian like Buster Keaton could insist that during his career he had broken every bone in his body. As Philip Strick noted "In The Paleface (1921) he dropped 85 feet from a suspension bridge into a net, he was nearly drowned under a waterfall in Our Hospitality (1923), and during the train sequence in Sherlock Jr (1924) he actually broke his neck..." (Movies of the Silent Era) But this was the silent comedians' relationship with live vaudeville given a thrilling and cinematic twist, while the sort of work often evident in seventies cinema didn't suggest the dexterity of the acrobatic but the evidence of the maladroit. Gene Hackman may not drive badly in The French Connection, for example, but the film emphasizes his clumsy determination to catch a sniper no matter the consequences. There was a stunt driver of course but Friedkin was interested in creating a scene that plays up messy urban reality than action cool: "On the sequences filmed in the street, Friedkin claimed, '[Stunt driver] Bill Hickman [who also had a role in the film] drove 26 blocks at 90 mph. ... The only thing staged was [when Doyle's car narrowly avoids a collision with] the woman and baby.'" (The Hollywood Reporter) Later when he made his own odyssey film, the star Roy Scheider said: Friedkin's "...approach to Sorcerer ruled out rear-projection or trick photography. The actors, the vehicles and the terrain were too closely integrated into the composition of each shot. So what you see in the film is exactly what happened. When I take a mountain road on two wheels, on a road with potholes the size of shell craters, that's the way it was." (Cinephilia and Beyond)
Deliverance was thus made at a period in time when cinema wished to take risks but it was also a moment when it was as if the need to explore terrain became more important than developing the story. One needn't insist this led to poor storytelling though sometimes it did as Easy Rider testifies but more that the story couldn't work in narrative isolation. It couldn't couldn't be separated from the process of its telling and especially in films that emphasized the importance of the environmental reality the characters were passing through. It was as though the filmmakers were seeking a psychic breakthrough out of risking various forms of collapse, offered most vividly by Francis Ford Coppola when he said at the Cannes premiere press conference of Apocalypse Now, "little by little we went insane." Just as Deliverance shows characters determined to work out the logistics of a situation only to find obstacles that question their mental wellbeing, so Coppola indicates that filmmaking at the time was often a process of the physically arduous meeting the psychically risky. The purpose was to see what would happen when directors went out into the world with a story that relied on the experiential as well as the scripted; the contingent more than the contrived. Yet perhaps paradoxically it was also often a means by which to arrive at the mythic. Friedkin would say in the DVD production notes: "The Sorcerer is an evil wizard and in this case the evil wizard is fate. The fact that somebody can walk out of their front door and a hurricane can take them away, an earthquake or something falling through the roof. And the idea that we don't really have control over our own fates, neither our births nor our deaths, it's something that has haunted me since I was intelligent enough to contemplate something like it." Coppola reckoned "was really on the spot. I had no ending. . . . I decided that the ending could be the classic myth of the murderer who goes up the river, kills the king, and then himself becomes the king it's the Fisher King from The Golden Bough. Somehow it's the granddaddy of all myths." (Coppola) When Voight struggles against the rapids in Deliverance for Boorman this isn't just a man struggling with the natural environment, it is a mythic journey too. Donald Clarke notes in an interview with Boorman: John Boorman has always savoured myth and legend. Deliverance, released in 1972, ended with a hand rising from the waters like the protector of King Arthur's sword. In 1981, with Excalibur, he abandoned contemporaneous analogy and gave us the definitive cinematic take on Arthurian lore. Even his classic 1967 thriller Point Blank has to do with a quest." (Irish Times)
The odyssey film, rejecting the firmness of plot, often seeks the fathoms of myth, a deeper sense of storytelling perhaps than one which emphasizes what happens next by wondering what went before. The relative lack of narrative momentum in the odyssey film rests on the attention it gives to the present moment the characters are in and the depth culture out of which they have come. Not everybody who gets in a car and searches for something is in the tradition of Ulysses or King Arthur, but many of the best quest films of the seventies weren't afraid of invoking Jung, Fraser, and other mythographers. There may have been something problematic about directors making films about Vietnam that were also films about the character and the country's heart of darkness but the mythological also gave weight and texture to the work. What could be seen as an insufferable narcissism allying American military action to ancient myth could also be viewed as a recognition that the US's involvement in Vietnam needn't be seen as exceptional but as yet another example of power manifesting itself and man proving himself. (We see a copy of Fraser's The Golden Bough in Apocalypse Now) Some might not like such explorations but one can hardly pretend that it is problematically new. When Pauline Kael quotes Balzac speaking of the frontier hero in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, she says that "the steelworker hero of Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter is the newest version of this American 'gentleman' of the wilderness..." (New Yorker) One might take offence at this invocation of America's mythical past to prop up its historical present, to lend heroism to a moment of disgrace, but if The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now are the greatest of films about Vietnam it rests on them going beyond the immediacy of the war they critique. Certainly, at the time of their release, liberal critics were disappointed, even horrified, that the films weren't more critical. Jonathan Rosenbaum reckoned: "The war in Vietnam created in The United States a national trauma unparalleled since the Civil War, and its after-effects may prove to be every bit as enduring in the American consciousness. It was a war fought not only with guns and napalm in Southeast Asia, but with placards and truncheons on campuses and streets in large cities throughout the western world." Rosenbaum adds, "it became the largest, most crucial issue of a generation virtually taking over such related matters as black protest and the youth-drug subculture but Hollywood was afraid to deal directly with it, even on a simple level." (Jonathan Rosenbaum) What Rosenbaum sought was a reckoning with Vietnam and the social realities surrounding it. What Coppola and Cimino did was "to dodge central facts about the war for the sake of additional myths and allegories, many of which seemed designed to reinterpret painful recent history in a more positive light..." There is plenty truth in Rosenbaum's claims but there might be even more in the films themselves, as though to hold too closely to the immediacy of the social and the political was to ignore the potential depth charge that could be found not so much in Vietnam but out of Vietnam. To find in a war the intricacies of its machinations, the significance of those who were responsible for putting troops there (the corporations and the politicians) and those determined to take them out (the protestors and researchers) may have robbed them of the Odyssean aspect we seek but would have given the films a documentative breadth. Diana Roose was one of those who focused on the latter, doing the necessary research that offered a logistical examination of the war, saying, in 'Understanding the Vietnam War Machine', "I think one of my first jobs working there [at NARMIC] was coming up with a new list of the top 100 defense contractors, what they manufactured, and where their plants were located not just the headquarters, but the plants that were making these weapons." (Jacobin) Such work is of immense importance and needs to be heard about on film as well as in print. But would works like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now be stronger for their incorporation? They are concerned with Man and War in the higher case and if Pauline Kael can be a little facetious in her comparison with Cooper, then part of the brilliance of both films lies in the seriousness with which they insist on searching out the Jungian inner life while exploring exotic geographies. Again, many might have a problem with the Otherness of the Vietnamese, seeing in the films little more than a variation on the cowboys and Indian dichotomies that seventies cinema should have got beyond. Kael says while the Vietnam sequences reveal Cimino's brilliant craft, they also show his "xenophobic yellow-peril imagination." (New Yorker) It is an intricate question of how best to indicate a character's alienation from a new environment when you want to make clear that the environment is hostile to the character's values and yet an escape into fantasy doesn't seem much of a solution either.
Fantasy films needn't cause the type of problems a film that wishes to emphasize the collision between the present world and a mythological one, geographical realities with archetypal characterization, causes. The central character Mike (Robert De Niro) in The Deer Hunter is a steelworker in Pennsylvania but he is also a man who must find the steeliness in his soul when in Vietnam. It is Mike who insists that his friend Nicky (Christopher Walken) continues playing the game of Russian Roulette the Vietnamese cruelly (and fictionally) force upon them as Mike works out how they can get out of their predicament. Many understandably had problems with Cimino generating such an atrocious fictional scenario while ignoring many of the cruelties inflicted by the Americans on the Vietnamese, but from the film's point of view it brings out how resolute must be Michael's soul and how weak Nicky's happens to be. Nicky never recovers and becomes hooked on heroin and continues playing the game in Vietnam, out of his head and willing to lose his brains, making money from the game but also perhaps determined to find in playing it over and over again an element of that steeliness immediately manifest in Michael. When Michael returns to Vietnam determined to find his friend and rescue him from his nightmare, Michael does so by playing once again the game. He does it not for the love of his country but for the dignity of his fellow man, to try and help Nicky find in himself enough of himself to see that it is Michael in front of him, that he is willing to risk his life to save his friend. Vietnam was of course a country in which the US fought a war but it was also a metonym for many who were compelled to fight and trying to understand what they were fighting for. Vietnam was no immediate threat to the American people and many in the country were constantly protesting against the US's involvement. If in WWII a soldier could find meaning in the war by knowing they were fighting the Nazis and had the notion of the free world supporting them, the war in Vietnam's purpose was much more nebulous, and the cause much vaguer Perhaps the best way to comprehend a soldier's understanding of it was to stress the alienation and the degree or its absence in the spirit, where someone cannot quite comprehend their purpose but can begin to understand their soul.
Speaking of the soul of man, Jung reckons "what we call civilized consciousness has steadily separated itself from the basic instincts. But these instincts have not disappeared. They have merely lost contact with our consciousness and are thus forced to assert themselves in an indirect fashion." (Man and His Symbols) This is why for Jung modern man is full of neuroses, tics, and failings. Jung says that man may wish to believe he is master of his own psychic house but that as long as he is prey to the various ways the unconscious controls him then he is not at all the master but instead the slave. Can certain extreme situations allow him that mastery, allow him to access the master within and the archetype that sits inside him? Michael is not Rambo; his heroism does nothing to save America and he fails to save Nicky's life. But he finds within him an archetypal self of value that needn't at all be a hyperbolization of that value. He is unequivocally brave and Vietnam has taught him this even if it may have taught America more broadly that it should find worthier tests for such bravery than fighting avoidable wars. When Cimino shows the famous newsreel footage of the helicopter falling off the aircraft carrier it is a symbol of weakness within might, purpose within futility. Yet this question of the worthiness of the mission next to the bravery of the protagonist might be a central one in understanding what an odyssey film happens to be. The Deer Hunter is a fine work that comprehends this and critics who insistently attack the film for its portrayal of the Vietnamese are asking for a film about justice rather than bravery. They wanted from films like The Deer Hunter a reckoning: an acknowledgement of the realities of war and not the first principles war might bring out. When Rosenbaum quotes a critic saying that he hoped by the 90s a sufficient amount of time would have passed for American "filmmakers to approach the subject of Vietnam in a more detached, balanced, and analytical manner" (Jonathan Rosenbaum) this is the voice of justice speaking. But that is not the voice Cimino and in turn Coppola are speaking in. They wish to see Vietnam as a trial and an odyssey, close to what TS Eliot proposes in 'The Wasteland', where one faces "the awful daring for a moment's surrender which an age of prudence can never retract."
Coppola quotes the Wasteland in Apocalypse Now, with Kurtz offering the line when first speaking to Willard near the end of the film. Kurtz has been equal to the horrors around him, has even been the main exponent of such horrors, as though the white man given the freedom to release his inner demons finds in his heart a terror all the more pronounced not because of the loss of civilization but because of its prior insistent presence. The film makes much of Kurtz's background. Third generation West Point, more or less top his class, Masters from Princeton, airborne in Korea, a thousand decorations. Yet if Mike, the working-class immigrant steelworker from the rust belt, finds the strength of his soul in Vietnam, the upper-middle-class colonel loses his in the jungles of the same region, during the same war. For Kurtz, as for Nicky, the war becomes a hallucinatory experience, something that takes him out of reality without in the process allowing him to find his inner resources. If Vietnam can do this to even its most renowned, sane and stable of colonels what might it do the rest? There may be an even more racist sub-text at work in Apocalypse Now than in The Deer Hunter. We wouldn't wish to underestimate this aspect but it would be to take the essay in a different direction if we were to make too much of it, just as films like Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter would have become different works, and potentially lesser works, if they had done likewise.
If we believe that The Deer Hunter is more especially interested in bravery than justice, then Coppola's films is more concerned with potential psychic derangement over colonial oppression. One sees this well long before Kurtz shows up. In the famous Ride of the Valkyries sequence, the film crosscuts between Willard and others in the helicopters and the Vietnamese villagers below, going about their lives: the children at school; men and women working in the fields and gathering up their weapons aware of the impending attack. Coppola's cross-cutting gives the viewer a clear sense of lives being devastated by American military might but priority is to reveal the mad arrogance of the US troops and most especially the assertively named Colonel Kilgore, who announces in the film's most quoted line that he loves "the smell of napalm in the morning." If the film was more interested in colonial imposition over adrenalised lunacy the Ride of the Valkyries sequence may have started with the villagers going about their morning, before cutting to the troops getting into the helicopters. But we are well into the sequence before Coppola cuts to the village, well aware that his priority happens to be to delineate the hallucinatory American mind rather than the evils such thinking brings into being. When Rosenbaum says of the film that this is "the Passion of the Artist writ large, made to seem far more important than the mere suffering and deaths of a few hundred thousand nameless and faceless peasants (and American soldiers) across the South China Sea" he also says "much of the guff, I would argue, stems from the fact that Coppola never quite worked out what he wanted to say, a fact he often acknowledged at the time." (Jonathan Rosenbaum). Yet as a cinephile as refined as Rosenbaum well knows, a filmmaker doesn't only say what they mean at press conferences and interviews: they most especially say it in the form the film takes. If Coppola had wanted to say something cinematically about colonial oppression he would have paid more attention to the daily life of the North Vietnamese and their consequent suffering, but Coppola's priority is to ask what happens when mental ill-health meets unrestrained power: the results are Kilgore and Kurtz. Coppola suggests there is a close link between losing one's mind and losing one's soul, as though Kilgore is the halfway house towards that process which Kurtz completes. This is narratively oriented, geographically delineated and psychologically evident. When Willard meets Kilgore on the way to searching out Kurtz he can see enough in Kilgore to fret over what terrors await him when meeting the man the army wants terminated. Kilgore seems to the army generals a satisfactory specimen despite a misplaced sense of priorities that suggests the war is a distraction from whatever happens to be going on his head at any given moment. When Kilgore hears that there is a surfing champion in Willard's regiment he is so keen to meet the man he ignores the wounded figure he was half-attending to and tells the young surfer that he does a bit of surfing himself.
Apocalypse Now proposes that the heart of darkness is manifest when American might meets an enemy so unfairly matched that the defeat becomes self-inflicted. The North Vietnamese were given by the Soviet Union and China "a total of $2 billion...in aid to the fight against America between 1965-1968. This included 8,000 anti-aircraft guns and 200 anti-aircraft missile sites." (BBC), The US in today's money spent over $843.63 billion, according to USA Today. It was a financial David and Goliath story echoed Coppola thought in the film itself. "There were too many of us, we had access to too much equipment, too much money..." It is an extension of the comment Coppola made about going insane, and can be found too in the documentary his wife made about the film, Hearts of Darkness, and there is another where he says "first of all, I call this whole movie the Idiodyssey" (Imdb) It is a neologism that might work well to describe the US's involvement in Vietnam itself. An Idioyssey let us suggest isn't where one finds oneself as in a Jungian process of individuation but where one loses sight of oneself in a process of disintegration. What America learned in Vietnam, Coppola indicates, was how to lose mind and soul in the process of bringing to battle too many of their own assumptions, backed up by the military-industrial complex. It seemed a prime example of failing to know thy enemy but also happened to be a failure to know thyself. An odyssey ought to exactly that; an Idiodyssey leaves the person without the resources to cope.
An odyssey can be large or small it can incorporate a war that reveals a nation's will or it can be no more than a self-determined need to find work and a decent life. In both Meek's Cutoff and the earlier Wendy and Lucy, Kelly Reichardt keeps the budgets small even if the former indicates a historical exploration and the latter a contemporaneous looseness: in Meek's Cutoff we follow a group of frontiers folk heading West through Oregon; in Wendy and Lucy the title characters are the female heroine and her dog. The two films are linked not only in the peripatetic nature of their plots but also in the context of the location. However, it is on Meek's Cutoff that we shall focus. Originally Reichardt wanted to utilise the Oregon desert for the earlier film: "After abandoning plans to shoot Wendy and Lucy (2008) in a desert locale, Reichardt found her imagination still haunted by the landscape. Writing partner Jon Raymond discovered a 'based on true events' story which utilised the setting perfectly." (Flux) Meek's Cutoff follows a small group under the wing of a guide whose racism is more pronounced than his geographical acumen. When the guide captures an Indian he suggests that they kill him immediately but the others vote to let him live as they hope he proves far more proficient at understanding the land. In a scene late in the film, the guide is again ready to kill the Indian when the Native American picks up some items that have fallen from a wagon tumbling down a hillside. As Meek points the gun at the Indian, so one of the wives, Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams) points her gun at Meek, deciding that the Indian seems a trustier guide than the white scout who has led them into the middle of nowhere. "You people have no idea what you are dealing with here" Meek proposes. Emily replies "Neither do you Mr Meek. You've proved that amply by now." In a series of reaction shots the other travellers look on, trusting that her instincts are better than theirs and that the Indian's will be better than Meek's. Can they trust the Indian, more specifically a member of the Cayuse, they might wonder, but while they may fret that the Cayuse will lead them into a trap, then they have found out for sure that Meek has led them to become lost. Near the very end of the film, there is a cut from Emily standing and looking up to Meek while he tells her that he is now taking his orders from her and she is taking them from the Indian. The film cuts from a frontal shot on Emily to a reverse angle close up where she turns her head and looks in the direction of the Cayuse as the frame is half concealed by the branches of a tree, with Emily's head framed in between, in another plane. She is looking into the distance as the film cuts again to a reverse angle this time on the Cayuse, who is seen in long shot, similarly shrouded in the frame. The film cuts back to Emily as the shot is still partially framed by the tree before cutting back to a frame empty of anything but the Cayuse, standing there in the desert, facing her, before turning and walking ahead. Their lives are in his hands now but can they trust their instincts or should they count on their education an education that would insist the Cayuse cannot be trusted next to the safety or their own kind? It is the last shot of the film we don't know what they will do but what choice do they have?
People have read the work as a feminist western perhaps because it is Emily who asserts herself and trusts the Cayuse over the guide, but Reichardt has been resistant to such a reading, maybe seeing in it a narrowing of a problem that should be more ambiguous than such assertiveness might proclaim. "I just think it's different. Especially in a period piece where it's usually presented from the white male perspective - the straight white male perspective - it has to be put into a category for some reason, as if it's something special. It's just not a male perspective." (Flux) Reichardt seeks ambiguities that viewers might wish to iron out but for Reichardt this would seem beside the point. First of all one could try and find out what the Native American is saying since the film offers no subtitles when he speaks, But in an article by Nina Shen Rastogi, "according to linguist Phillip Cash Cash, there are only about three people in the world who speak downriver Nez Perce, the language a Cayuse of the time would most likely have spoken." (Slate) (Though to complicate matters, some of the Indian's lines are in Crow: one of his two native tongues; the second one Cheyenne). People can also, if they are insistent on finding a conclusion to a film that remains inconclusive, go to the facts: the film is based on historical record, the Diaries of Emily's husband Solomon Tetherow: "An Indian came to us, pointed out the course to [The Dalles] to which he said it was 5 days journey, and so far from refusing to follow the advise of the Indian, at my request he was employed by Mr. Meek to pilot us to Crooked River, which he did for a blanket." (Slate) The former approach is very useful for the advancement of Native American history and representation (even if it might counter slightly Reichardt's aesthetic intentions), pertinently expressed when Rastogi notes: "Finally, the mystery of the Cayuse's dialogue may also have an impact beyond the world of the film: Cash Cash, the linguist, expressed hope that Meek's Cutoff might generate interest in the "very, very endangered" dialects of Nez Perce, which are likely to die off in the coming generation." Rastogi adds that "if a definitive translation does emerge at some point, we may end up with more than simply a narrative gloss on a fascinating film it could be a valuable artefact from a soon-to-be lost piece of history." (Slate) Both approaches (the linguistic and the historical) are useful if one wants to uncover the ambiguities the film dramatises. However, it seems that Reichardt is interested more in feeling over fact, in trying to generate a narrative of mystery in the face of the inexplicable. When she says in Slate that she wanted the Cayuse figure to be perceived as the settlers would see him, it is as though she wants them to trust their instincts over their prejudices: to go beyond their stereotypical expectations and find archetypal comprehension: a central aspect of odyssey films perhaps.
In Reichardt's list of all-time favourites it makes sense that Walkabout would be amongst them, Nic Roeg's fractured account of a young girl and her brother who are lost in the Australian outback and are helped back to town by an aboriginal boy on the titular journey. In Man and His Symbols, the aborigines are sometimes invoked (as well as Native Americans) as Jung and other commentators remark on the importance of symbolic as opposed to scientific thinking. Jung himself says "as scientific understanding has grown, so our world has become dehumanized. Man feels himself isolated in the cosmos, because he is no longer involved in nature and has lost his emotional "unconscious identity" with natural phenomena. There is knowledge other than the scientific, instinctive knowledge that doesn't even need a map and a compass, to show us where we are going. In both Meek's Cutoff and Walkabout, the characters have to trust respectfully a Native American and an aborigine to help them to safety. But can they trust themselves enough to trust others who are ostensibly so different from them, who might be conceived as so much more 'backward' than they are, or do they reject the stereotype and trust the archetype? This isn't to say Reichardt glorifies earlier modes of thinking, as if it is better to use instinctive knowledge over anything from cartography to Sat Navs. It is more to find an aesthetic form that suggests the importance of knowledge that isn't known but must be sensed. To make clear that the Cayuse character is good might be all very well for generating positive discrimination in film, but it would be thus relying on the sort of assertive epistemology that Reichardt resists since she wants the viewers to analyse their instincts in the viewing experience. Throughout the film, the director offers a watchful and acoustically attentive approach, asking us to look and listen rather than to respond to calculations and cues. When the axel breaks on one of the wagons, the camera remains high-perched and aloof, the sort of shot we have seen often enough in westerns where the Indians are about to attack. Yet here it is closer to an absent presence, as if those with knowledge of the terrain may just be looking on. As the film cuts to the men fixing the axel the doleful horn that comes in doesn't indicate that they know what they are doing beyond the immediacy of the job to hand. It suggests further troubles along the way.
Like the other works discussed, except Stagecoach, Meek's Cutoff is a terrain film, one that insists any journey undertaken, no matter how psychic it might be, must also attend to the milieu out of which the situation occurs. Interestingly, another of Reichardt's ten greatest films is Wanda, a work that turns the quest into a troublesome journey, one that proposes the difficulties involved in a woman seeking even a modicum of freedom. The film introduces us to its titular character slowly, generating a milieu that isn't hers in the strict sense but belongs to her more generally. An initial panning shot shows us a quarry before cutting to various trucks working the gravel before another cut shows us a partially framed view of a house with industrial chimneys to the left. A series of cuts then introduces us to the domestic situation: an old woman looking out the window; a younger woman waking, a baby bawling on a bed, a man coming into the kitchen, another woman lying asleep on the couch. While we initially become aware of a coal mine we then realise that a house is next to themine and that the house is also next to an industrial plant. We recognise too that the old lady isn't living alone but with what we might assume is her son or daughter, and her grandchild, but who then is the woman on the couch? And what about the Budweiser beer cans scattered around the apartment, the crosses and candles behind the old lady, and the small American flag and the photograph of a marine on the sideboard next to her? The director Barbara Loden (who also stars as the titular character) presents not just a vision of hell, which would be too easy, but an incremental picture of lives that immediately have histories we try and disentangle. Ten minutes into the film we still don't know who the woman on the couch is but we have been given a vivid sense of the environment and that she is not new to it. As we see her walk across the industrial terrain to ask someone, who is picking coal, for some cash, the director shows us her often tiny in the frame but not unfamiliar to this world. However, while the film is from one perspective resolutely realist in its low-budget determination to capture the milieu, it also offers the connotative in our sense that Wanda doesn't fit in. She isn't so much made for better things but different things. After she gets on a bus, the film then cuts to a courtroom scene where a man with two kids and a prospective new wife talks about Wanda as she arrives. She wasn't escaping the hearing but on her way to it. Yet if we might doubt she will turn up it is probably because the film suggests there isn't much point in her doing so and sure enough when the judge asks her she says that he should grant the divorce her husband wants. We have no idea whether this is a woman who cannot be bothered to look after her children (as the judge's surprised tone indicates) or whether her husband was cheating on her while they were married. It would seem very magnanimous of the prospective wife to agree to marry him on the basis that Wanda has walked out.
During the brief hearing, or at least brief in what Loden shows us, Wanda blocks out the other woman and her children as the camera holds on Wanda in the foreground; her husband in the background. Another filmmaker might have shown what she is about to leave in the frame but all we hear are a child's cries behind her as she at no moment turns to attend to her children or suggest at all that she cares about them. When the husband describes her as a woman who drinks and lies asleep on the couch he isn't lying: that is exactly what we have seen her do at the beginning of the film in another house. Rather than extracting sympathy, Loden instead generates ambiguity. We still don't know for sure whose house she was staying in or why she was there; if she did find her husband in bed with another woman and went to stay elsewhere that still leaves her ignoring her children. A lot of the film's ambiguities are never resolved, which led Pauline Kael to say "we don't know why she has become a drifter instead of staying at home with her hair in curlers, watching soap operas and game shows, and maybe even looking after her kids" (New Yorker) but this was partly what attracted Marguerite Duras to the film. "I think that there is a miracle in Wanda. Usually there is a distance between the visual representation and the text, as well as the subject and the action. Here this distance is completely nullified; there is an instant and permanent continuity between Barbara Loden and Wanda." Amy Taubin who quotes Duras in "Wanda: A Miracle" says, "We've seen other actors playing so-called sluts and so-called stupid girls and victims of abuse. But compared with Wanda, those characters seem like caricatures."
Oddly, part of the caricaturing one usually sees rests on a causality that Wanda resists. If Loden had shown us Wanda coming home and finding her husband in bed with another woman and then went off and got drunk with others, we would be in all too familiar scene of working-class chaos, but instead Loden offers an elliptical opening that asks us questions about the characters rather than immediately playing to one's prejudices. Wanda is what is commonly called 'poor white trash', and critics like Kael and Rex Reed don't get far enough away from the stereotype Loden resists when referring to Wanda as a slut, but while that might be their prejudices at work it isn't what the film shows us. Even Kael more or less admits this when concluding her review, saying Loden is "doing things the hard way rather than falling back on cliches." If the critics falls back on their own that isn't Loden's fault. But the film resists causality on a deeper level consistent with many great films of the first half of the seventies that include Five Easy Pieces, Road Movie, The Last Detail, Two-Lane Blacktop and others where the vastness of the US is felt in the journeys the characters take. There is a sense of drift that asks not in common script parlance what does a character want and how do they get it, but what don't they want and how can they avoid it. In some of these films the plot is predicated on a sliver of narrative as we find in The Last Detail, where two navy officers take a younger recruit up north to a naval prison. In Five Easy Pieces, the central character Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson) is blocked but articulate, someone who often enough speaks his mind as he registers the frustrations he has with a life he can't seem to take anywhere. Loden brings in her plot almost as an afterthought (as Wanda takes up with a bank robber) even if the film was predicated on a story she read about "in the New York Daily News in 1960 about a woman who was an accomplice in a bank robbery that went bad. The woman's partner was killed, and she was sentenced to twenty years in prison. At her trial, she thanked the judge who sentenced her, effectively guaranteeing her a bed and food every day..." ('Wanda: A Miracle') What interested Loden wasn't the robberies but the desperation, that a woman could fall into a life of crime because any life was better than the one she had. While a more loquacious character might have expressed her disappointments in life, Loden registers it not in retrospective dialogue but live-action. When near the beginning of the film she asks about her pay from a sewing factory job, the boss tells her well over half has gone into taxes: for two days' work she was paid $24 and received $9.87. During the discussion the boss calls her Lover and shortly afterwards, after he tells her that she is too slow to employ for further shifts, she goes into a bar and a man immediately refers to her as Blondie. Both financially screwed over and patronized, Loden articulates her character through situation rather than either exposition or narration. Working with Nicholas T. Proferes, whose background was in Direct Cinema documentary and Norman Mailer's semi-fictional films, Loden finds in fictional terms what many of the Direct Cinema filmmakers were seeking in factual work. While Direct Cinema directors usually avoided voiceover and straight-to-camera interviews, so Wanda eschews narrational strategies and expositional explanations. It gives to the film a motivational mystery that might make Wanda, like the films we have mentioned that resemble it, less archetypal than The Deer Hunter, Deliverance or Apocalypse Now but offers a very strong sense of an unconscious trying to make sense of itself.
There will always be degrees of self-consciousness within this unconsciousness in an odyssey, a sense that someone is searching for something, and a principle behind many of them is the complex drives and motives that are less easily explained than in a film with a clear narrative direction. Obviously, many of the films we haven't chosen to focus upon possess a metaphysical dimension that creates an enigma within being while we have generally stayed within the realm of the psychological, sociological and the geographic no matter Jungian invocations. When Pulleine says of Antonioni films like The Passenger and Zabriskie Point and Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev and Stalker, that these are "movies in the fullest sense, voyages into the unknown", the films here are usually voyages in the 'narrowest' sense. Loden may not inform us of her character's thoughts and feelings but she delineates the limits of Wanda's universe within the limits of the spaces she occupies. When Antonioni concludes The Passenger with a shot that shows us the central character alive in the hotel room at the beginning of the shot and dead seven minutes later, as the camera drifts away from David Locke, we are left working out whether he has been killed or has killed himself; the form takes on an independent role that gives the camera freedom from the diegesis which none of the films we have been discussing here allow. This doesn't mean that the films aren't interested in the mysterious or the mythical as it is very easy to draw parallels between Deliverance or Apocalypse Now and Jungian psychology and, returning briefly to Coppola's film, we see how he brilliantly utilises Jung's notion of the shadow all the better to bring out similarities between Willard and Kurtz.
It is as though Willard must kill Kurtz not because he seeks a career promotion but as a way of killing off what is incipiently inside him as well. At the beginning of the film, Coppola superimposes the upside face of Willard on the left-hand side of the frame with a Buddha statue on the right. It is the statue we will later see when Willard arrives at Kurtz's compound. Jung reckons, "a man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps." (Four Archetypes) Is the Kurtz mission an escape from the trap or a further entrapment? Willard says at the beginning, when I was here I wanted to be there [back home in the US], and when I was there all I could think of was getting back to the jungle." He cannot get the jungle out of his system and what better way of attempting to do so than by eradicating from life the American soldier who has most completely lost himself in the violence of war and embedded himself in the middle of nowhere? The film is a brilliant examination of Willard eradicating his shadow, in turning the Vietnam war into a quest narrative of self-examination. It is partly why Coppola always insisted that the ending must have Willard leaving the compound with the surfer Lance and refusing to obey orders, where he was supposed to blow up Kurtz's jungle retreat. To do so would be to bring back the shadow. His purpose is to rid himself of his own worst nightmare not generate a series of new ones.
Yet Apocalypse Now and most American odyssey films are chiefly interested in locating characters in coordinates that are complex but not perplexing. When at the end of Zabriskie Point it is as if the central female character blows up the luxurious house in the desert, or when the glass slides along a table apparently through its own volition in Stalker, the spatial and the temporal give way to broader metaphysical questions consistent with a camera that never quite aligns itself with the story it tells. Apocalypse Now probably more than any of the other films we have thus far discussed ventures into the metaphysical but even here the camera remains resolutely focused on the story to hand and not the abstraction Zabriskie Point insists upon. It is the mythic, certainly but not quite the metaphysical. Wanda in this sense can appear almost too ordinary to be described as an odyssey film at all but its inclusion rests partly on the unconsciousness of a character who is apparently and mainly oblivious to her predicament on a conscious level but where Loden invokes a dense subjectivity spatially and temporally. She gives to the character a hundred and one reasons to want a different life and shows her moving around in the hope chiefly of avoiding the one she has had thus far.
Though we have little knowledge of the house she has escaped from we have little need to know: we can imagine it. Her husband works in the same company as her sister's husband. There is nothing to indicate that for her this is a life worth living (she can't hold down a job in a garment factory and is patronised when she tries to do so) and the film is provocative in suggesting that two children wouldn't be reason enough to keep her there. Those lingering long shots at the beginning of the film showing Wanda in the context of the Pennsylvanian mining community illustrate why someone might wish to escape even the film then refuses to give personal reasons for why she leaves. Indeed leaving is too strong a verb: Wanda starts to drift. She would have stayed we might assume if the husband hadn't sought a divorce and if she could have been given more work at the sewing factory. There is nothing in Wanda's body language that shows she asserts herself in any situation she happens to be in. Whether it is waiting outside the courtroom before entering, waiting outside the manager's office before asking about her wages, or hesitantly showing affection to a man who consistently rejects it when she takes up with a small-time crook, Wanda is a woman who doesn't seek her destiny but who lives her present moment as best she can. Yet just because we might assume Wanda isn't a deep woman this doesn't mean she doesn't have an unconscious need to escape her environment. Like many a male character in seventies cinema, like those played by Warren Oates, Peter Boyle, Bruce Dern, she is a woman seeking credence, keen it would seem to escape the condescension and judgement of others. Whether it is the apparent brother-in-law who slams the door as he leaves for work, seeing Wanda lying on the couch, the manager calling her Lover, or the man in a bar who she will go on to sleep with calling her Blondie, Wanda is a woman who is unlikely to find much self-respect when the respect of others towards her is so lacking. The robber she takes up with doesn't give her much respect either but Berenice Reynaud reckons in his round-about way he does. in one scene "he goes behind her, looking intently at her hair. His gaze, his attitude, are those of an obsessive lover, in contradiction with his harsh words: 'Your hair looks terrible.'" If this is the best Wanda can do then things really are bad he orders her around, rejects her advances and slaps her out of irritation but from a certain perspective Reynaud is right. When he orders a makeover in a low-key variation on Vertigo, she looks a lot better than she did before. As he insists "no slacks" we might be inclined to agree that she looks better in the skirt he insists upon. He wants her to look her best and while that might mean for him, it also means that at least a man is looking at her, seeing what clothes suit her. It is hard to agree with Reynaud that Mr Dennis shows his vulnerability but it might pass for this in a milieu where any attention that demonstrates someone giving you a modicum of credence is of value. "I spent every day just walking and walking," Loden said of her early New York years, "and I didn't really know what I was going to do." (Cinemascope) Likewise, Wanda, moves from place to place rather like Bobby Dupea in Five Easy Pieces who says" I mean, I move around a lot because things tend to get bad when I stay." Wanda is a great film of someone who might not be on an Odyssean journey but who nevertheless suggests yearnings aplenty: she too, it seems, moves around a lot as things turn bad however hopeful she might be that things could get better.
When we look at the films we have thus far covered, the geographical often hasn't been linear. Wanda offers a northern trajectory, moving from Carbondale in Pennsylvania to Holy Land USA in Connecticut, while as we have noted if we follow the Stagecoach journey on a map, the detour is enormous. Both films have an odd relationship with geography despite the importance of it. It is finally narrative which gives shape and direction to most films however much it uses actual locations. Few viewers would have in their head the geographic specificity to follow a film on spatial grounds alone. This would require not only knowing the US state by state, city by city. It wouldn't be enough to know that Pennsylvania is to the south of Connecticut, as we follow Wanda and Mr Dennis. We would need to know that the bank robbery takes place in the Third National Bank in Scranton; that the Holy Land USA is in Connecticut and the closing scene in the roadhouse is in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Following the film geographically, Wanda and Mr Dennis head north from Pennsylvania to Connecticut, visit Mr Dennis' father, head a couple of hundred miles south again to rob the bank, and then Wanda heads north again after he is shot dead at the bank and finds herself back in Connecticut. Viewers are likely to assume that Wanda leaves Pennsylvania behind, heads north with Mr Dennis and after he is killed, remains more or less in the area since there is no suggestion she gets a bus, a train or a lift anywhere else. Our point isn't at all to be pedantic but to see that a film interested in locational specificity needn't be beholden to geographical exactitude. A film may choose to use actual locations and feel that a studio locale would destroy that authenticity but not at all feel obliged to a broader authenticity that includes strict attention to the trajectory of place. Wanda is one such film but it would seem unfair to claim it is any the less plausible as a consequence.
A couple of Andre Bazin remarks can help us here. In one he talks about Nanook of the North: "It would be inconceivable, in the famous hunting of the seal scene, not to show in the same shot, the hunter, the hole and then the seal. But it is no importance if the rest of the scene is cut at the director's will." ('The Virtue and Limitations of Montage') In another, he discusses an audience survey he did where viewers filled in a questionnaire about Le Jour se Leve and Bazin could see just how much the audience missed, things like a sink and a bedside table, even if much of the film was set in the one apartment. Bazin explained this by noting that the missed items have no dramatic function in the film and could thus be easily ignored. The remarks are utilised in Francois Penz's very fine article 'From Topographical Coherence to Creative Geography' as he looks at films that play fair to the screen space they film (Cleo from 5 to 7, The Aviator's Wife) and others that do not, and often very deliberately for example Pont du nord. What is clear is that just because a film doesn't attend to 'topographical coherence', this needn't mean it has no interest in the reality it films. In an astonishing shot near the beginning of Wanda, the camera holds on Wanda for two minutes utilising a long lens that captures her tiny in the frame as she crosses the anthracite mining community. It shows us very precisely what she will be escaping from just as later in the film it will show us how she is caught up in the traffic shortly before the bank robbery. In the first instance, Loden needs a location strong enough to function as a reason and in the latter as an excuse. She needs to get away from the small mining community not because of what she says but because of how Loden films her. One feels that she has no place as she hardly has a place in the frame, and that this environment indicates hard graft and terrible toil while Wanda looks more like a dreamer at a loose end. We see her in the locale but can't quite see her there, as though her white-dressed figure against the black coal appears anomalous. Hence, visually we see the reason why she must leave. In the later scene, she gets caught behind some traffic while trying to keep up with Mr Dennis in the car in front when a police officer pulls her over. What matters is an inexperienced driver in a busy town centre who can't negotiate the streets. Pedantically wondering where exactly the town is in relation to actual geographical coordinates would be to miss the point. A fidelity to location can be very precise (as Cleo from 5 to 7 and The Aviator's Wife illustrate) but a is far from necessary.
One of our claims rests on the attention an odyssey film gives to the geographical terrain it passes through but this attention to detail needn't be the same as cartographic fidelity. When the four men in Deliverance journey down the rapids, one doesn't need to know very much about where they are geographically even it is of course of utmost importance to know where they are narratively. But if the film lacked a very strong sense of verisimilitude, the narrative would be so much the weaker. The location isn't just a backdrop to the story but is vital to its telling. Yet cartographic fidelity isn't. Equally, when Wanda passes through towns and cities around Pennsylvania and Connecticut, each sequence needs to have its own integral precision, the equivalent of what Bazin insisted upon in the scene in Nanook of the North. In the marvellous shot when we see Wanda crossing the mine at an extreme distance, convention would have insisted on either cutting to a medium shot or a close up of Wanda, or, very common at the time, zooming in on her within the one shot. Why would an abrupt zoom have ruined this moment while it is acceptable a few minutes later when we see Wanda and the door to door salesman she has slept with pull up in a car at the cafe stop? Perhaps because the purpose of the former emphasises a forlorn Wanda lost in a landscape while the latter wishes to make clear that very soon the man whose car she is in wishes to leave her the first opportunity he can. There is a meditative sensitivity in the former shot; a foreshadowed hastiness in the latter, one that doesn't leave us surprised when he drives away as she orders an ice cream. Both however give us a clear sense of locale and an aesthetic integrity. When he drives off, Wanda immediately runs after the car but it is too late; when she returns to the counter an ice cream awaits. It looks like she has had no time to order it and we may wonder if this is a failure of dramatic technique of the furtherance of human sensitivity. It is clearly the latter as the person passes her the ice cream with no money passing hands. It is a gesture of kindness and an awareness of loss. The film gives us no close-up of the woman but instead a close-up of the ice cream as the camera tilts down from a face we cannot clearly see to the Whippy in a wafer cup. But throughout the sequence, the location shooting gives us an indifferent backdrop to insensitivity (the man), sensitivity (Wanda's state) and kindness (the assistant's gesture). And all the while perspective is ambiguous in both sequences. In the first, one wonders where Wanda is going to and coming from and in the latter we might think that the shop assistant is crediting the affair with greater gravity than it possesses. We may recall a similar scene at the end of Five Easy Pieces when Dupea leaves his girlfriend in the car and jumps into a truck: the loss we feel for his girlfriend will be devastating but we know of her loss because we have followed her through the film. The viewer is aware that the man here is leaving Wanda after a one-night stand but the shop assistant doesn't know that, though it doesn't alter the gesture. The milk of human kindness is there in semi-frozen form, as ice cream in a cone. The indifference of the location and the decency of the deed manages to capture pathos without succumbing to the sentimental. The soundtrack offers cars whizzing past in the background; nothing acoustically added.
All the films we have discussed indicate what matters in most cases isn't the fidelity to the trajectory but the fidelity to shooting on locations that can give a strong denotative function to the film. Even Stagecoach for all its staged, backlot filming, utilises Monument Valley, and all the others make clear that the locations utilised even if not consistent (the Philippines standing in for Vietnam in Apocalypse Now; Thailand in The Deer Hunter) were locations shoots. Walter Hill may have shot his later gangster film Streets of Fire on a soundstage but The Warriors insists on a locational specificity even if it too denies topological constancy. As Movie Locations notes: "The film bounds about across three boroughs using locations not for geographical authenticity, but for the visual impact they bring to the story." Yet numerous locations are used: from the Broadway Junction in Brooklyn, to Queens, to 96th Street Station to the 97th Street Playground. There is much in the film that is stereotypical rather than archetypal, situations that are predictable rather than inevitable, even if director Walter Hill and various commentators have played up the film's links to Xenephon. In Anabasis, 10,000 Greeks in 401 BC were confronted with a choice: face surrender or try to find a way back home a hundred miles away and on the journey face various hostile forces. This is clearly the broad outline of The Warriors but instead, we have modern gangs, a New York setting, and an opening sequence that shows a rival gang member shooting the figure who wishes to unite all the gangs and give them collective power in the city. The gang member blames The Warriors and there they are, determined to make it back home from The Bronx to Coney Island. This is a decent distance (around twenty miles) and with gangs in every district, Hill updates the story to give it both mythological and sociological significance. As Chris Peachment says of the latter, there is a moment on the subway where The Warriors' gang leader Swan and his new girlfriend Mercy sit across from a wealthy couple and she starts to fix her hair, a gesture Beck sees as deferential rather than vain, and he pulls her hand away from her face. At the conclusion when they finally reach Coney Island, one of the gang says, "this is what we fought all night to get back to!", and Peachment reckons it is the "film's only other concession toward social background." (Movies of the Seventies) Yet while dramatically true one may find rather more examples if we attend to the mise en scene. If our purpose throughout this essay has been to suggest that the mythological in the odyssey film is best grounded in vivid (though not necessarily coherent) topographies, then any associations The Warriors has with Xenophon is at least equally matched by an interest in the gangs passing through various parts of New York.
New York is one of the most filmed in and filmed cities in the world, which needn't quite mean the same thing. Cities as varied as Vancouver and Glasgow have often been utilised not for their own metonymic value but because they contain locations that can pass for other cities that possess that associative status. When The House of Mirth was filmed in Glasgow it was narratively to show New York. When the French director Bertrand Tavernier filmed a sci-fi Death Watch there he wanted the homogenising impact of the high-rise to indicate the futuristic; he didn't film Glasgow as a city. Ethan Anderton feels the frustration: "It's kind of fascinating to see that Vancouver can easily stand in for just about any location in the world. But as the video notes, for people who live there (at least the editor of this video), it's kind of a bummer that Vancouver itself is never really featured as the setting of a movie while blockbusters destroy the same major cities on the big screen all the time." (Slash) Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London and Rome are all examples of cities that don't just have many films shot there, though they do, but more importantly have many films set there, which adds to their associative reputation. When Anderton mourns the lack of attention given to Vancouver as a place with its own identity, it can seem a bit like a ghostwriter whose beautiful prose is never recognised for itself but only serves the reputations of others. When films like The Bourne Identity, French Kiss, and Ocean's Twelve set themselves partially in Paris they are adding to the metonymy, however inattentive they are to the city. It may even be more important that a film is set there than filmed there. Though Gene Kelly wanted MGM to film An American in Paris in the French capital, the studio insisted it be filmed on Hollywood sound stages. There were a few second unit shots from Paris to establish locale but that was it, according to movieloci.com. Yet An American in Paris contributes enormously to the myth of the place.
Thus, a number of cities cinematically have a consistent toponymic significance; that their place in our consciousness isn't just as a place but one which contains many associations that function a little like modern myths. If Paris is the city beautiful in spring and where one is likely to find romance, Los Angeles a place where your ambitions can be ground down, and New York a metropolis where sirens blare and people are always in a hurry, then this indicates we are creating myths all the time and are not only subject to those of the ancients. The Warriors combines warrior myths with contemporary urban ones, seeing the gangland culture both resembling the soldiers of Ancient Greece and the poverty of contemporary New York. The film makes clear that if the gangs run the city they do so only at night and only with the aid of fear. In the scene Peachment mentions, on the subway train, the two comfortable couples who sit opposite Swan and Mercy are momentarily shown uncomfortable as the poverty gap is revealed in the point of view shot from one of them as his eye travels from Swan and Mercy's faces to their shoes. It is a look of fearful pity as the four of them get off at the nearest stop. Swan and Mercy are going nowhere but this is double-edged: they have nothing to worry about in this immediate situation where they have the power to intimidate others but they don't have the social mobility of these fancily dressed people whose lives will be fine for all their momentary fret.
Throughout, the film utilises brief comic book moments to suggest it is both a realistic account of modern New York and a mythological exploration of bravery and honour. But these comic strip touches were added retrospectively, by director Walter Hill in his 2005 director's cut, and many critics have questioned the decision. "The new comic panel inserts the director has added just go too far." (DVD Talk) "The director's comic book inserts, though executed well were, for me, a serious distraction." (DVD Beaver) There is more than enough in the film already to generate a gap between New York as a late seventies city, and the gangs existing in their own world of action and purpose. The city is both a backdrop offering numerous obstacles to the gang's determination to get home safely, and a recognisable place familiar to us from a thousand other films: "over 300 movies were filmed locally in both 2015 and 2016" alone. (Stats and the City) The tension between the mythic return home and the use of the various parks, subway stations and beaches doesn't need underscoring through comic strip inserts. What matters more is the sense of renewal; that a film can utilise a plot thousands of years old without it all being recognizably taken from that past. Most viewers watching The Warriors will be unlikely to see obvious parallels with Anabasis, which suggests it isn't an adaptation but a transposition. Returning to our remarks about the stereotypical and the predictable, The Warriors' strengths and weaknesses reside in the film's use of stock characters and expected situations that in an adaptation will appear as archetypal characters and inevitable situations. Whether it is Oedipus Rex or Medea, King Lear or Macbeth, ancient and Elizabethan tragedy insist on a degree of abstraction all the better to register the inevitability of situation. They have almost syllogistic reasoning. If a father refuses to listen to the one daughter who loves him and instead listens to the two who don't, giving power to the two and robbing it from the third, isn't it inevitable that those two will set out to destroy him? The premises contain the conclusion, thus making it inevitable. Within this rigorous narrative King Lear also offers a king who has power to lose and a personality with a flaw that means he will lose it. The Warriors has no such archetypal force nor narratological inevitability. It is in this sense episodic as Aristotle would couch it. "Of simple plots and actions, the episodic ones are the worst. By an episodic plot I mean the ones in which the sequence of episodes is neither necessary nor probable." (Poetics) It is highly improbable that the gang will be able to take out all their opponents and make it back to Coney Island but they do, and it is not even necessary that they return home to escape the wrath of the other gangs. After all, travelling twenty or so miles across the city is still only a short distance, and no trouble for the other gangs who aren't being chased. It won't be getting home that saves their lives but that the other gangs discovering it was another gang who was responsible for killing the head of the gangs, Cyrus. This could have been made evident at any stage in the film; there is nothing inevitable about the discovery being revealed when they arrive at Coney Island. Yet if the film works despite its dramaturgical weaknesses it is because of its attention to locale. And aren't all odyssey films by nature episodic, a journey through the contingencies of place rather than through the necessities of time? If Oedipus travels from one city to another this isn't an episodic exploration of place but the inevitability of fate. By leaving Corinth and travelling to Thebes, Oedipus thinks he has escaped a terrible inevitability where he will kill his father and sleep with his mother but instead the journey proves the prophecy rather than counters it. On the way to Thebes, he will kill his father and then sleep with his mother in the new city, unaware that he has done either since he was adopted at birth. The aspect of the journey is of little importance except as two cities that allow for Oedipus's fate to be sealed. Understandably, Aristotle sees in Sophocles's play the strongest of plots and regards tragedy higher than the epic: Oedipus Rex over The Odyssey. Clearly, the films we have explored are closer to the epic than the tragic, with the episodic exploration of space usually more important than the dramatic presentation of time.
Only Stagecoach possesses an aspect of inevitability as the Ringo Kid must avenge his father and brother but most of the films indicate the conclusion it arrives at could have been different. Wanda might not have ended up dating a bank robber and even if Apocalypse Now shares with Stagecoach a need for the central character to kill, Coppola's film doesn't share Ford's film's sense of necessity. Could we imagine the Ringo Kid joining the gang that killed his father and brother? One thinks not. Could Willard find himself as lost in the jungle as Kurtz? Quite possibly, as the film goes to show just how much the Vietnam war and the jungle can transform one's character. Stagecoach doesn't need a strong sense of space because the locale isn't transformative; in Apocalypse Now it is. An episodic film that doesn't indicate the force of the milieu will be more inclined to show its dramaturgical weaknesses rather than playing up its locational strengths. The Warriors as a stage play would be of little interest; nor even The Deer Hunter, Deliverance and the others we have discussed. The mythological aspects the films often invoke are embedded within the spatial exploration the films seek. If The Warriors is perhaps the weakest film thus far discussed it nevertheless invokes very well a world in which the contemporary meets the ancient, where a warrior class who would have once been seen as protecting the people are now perceived to be threatening to them. They have moved from a warrior class to the underclass, a dishevelled group of gangs, societal detritus taking over the city at night, indicating that the city has no place for them during the day. The film sees in The Warriors their nobility even if passers-by instead view them as a threat. The disjunction between how the film sees them and how they see themselves, and how others in the city see them, from the civilians to the cops, creates a melancholic gap that frames the action. "I think the most unusual thing about the film," Walter Hill reckoned, "was the fact that it didn't present the gang and gang structure as a social problem. It presented it as simply a fact, the way things are, and not necessarily negative. It presented them from their point of view." (Esquire) Yet what also makes the film work is that they are a social problem from another point of view that the film registers through filming in New York and capturing the impoverishment of the gang members' lives. Hill, though, doesn't suggest that the answer lies in greater social justice but instead in registering how out of their time they happen to be: these are people who would be heroes in another age; in another culture. Whether taking on the Baseball Furies in Riverside Park or taking out The Punks in a toilet in the Bowery Subway Station, they are resourceful, efficient and effective. But that doesn't mean society has much use for them.
Let us end on a bit of a paradox. Jim Jarmusch is a great director of stillness and motion. His work often suggests characters hanging out but also moving on. They have little sense of direction but frequently don't stay in the same place. From Strangers in Paradise to Down by Law, Dead Man to Broken Flowers, Jarmusch finds a way to register inertia without allowing his narrative to grind to a halt. Sometimes these movements are repetitive and circular, giving the film a very specific formal patterning, as in Paterson (where the central character does stay in the same town), and sometimes meandering yet purposeful as in Broken Flowers and Dead Man. In Dead Man, central character William Blake travels to take a job in a metal factory on the frontier, only to find the job is taken and he has to look elsewhere for work in tough terrain. In Broken Flowers, ageing Don Juan, Don Johnson, who rarely lifts himself off the couch, gets a letter from an unnamed former girlfriend telling him he has a nineteen-year-old son he is unaware of and Don goes in search of the mystery woman who sent it as the couch potato forces himself to become a car potato and hits the tarmac. Working in a sub-genre, Jarmusch is well aware that the road movie can be the most urgent or the most desultory of film categories. It can possess the tension and anxiety of the on-the-lam movie or the trundling pace of an existential enquiry: it can go from Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde to Kings of the Road by Wim Wenders. Jarmusch has been much more influenced by the latter than the former, working with Wenders on The State of Things and using Wenders' cinematographer, Robby Muller on several films, including Mystery Train, Ghost Dog and Dead Man. Jarmusch's work is rarely in a hurry even if Broken Flowers is premised on a strong hook. Like Stagecoach, the film announces a through-line it may have less of an obligation to follow through on but it is a premise nevertheless. We are well aware that since Stagecoach is a classic western the Ringo Kid will take out the gang responsible for murdering his father and brother. But a modern western wouldn't be under quite the same obligation, and by the same reckoning, Jarmusch's film isn't beholden to finding the son. Part of the shift from the classic western to the modern western, from Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine and Shane, to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Ulzana's Raid and Little Big Man, is that irony, process and hesitation are much more pronounced. Here a man no longer has to do what he has to do but may do what he has to do. Perhaps he might find that his brother and father weren't so innocent, that the killers have been killed already or that the vengeance has little to do with the father and brother but with a general and personal lust for revenge that could never be quenched. It is what happens when a genre gets problematized and what seems purposeful can seem futile. Jarmusch understood this shift in his very own specific reaction to the western genre, Dead Man, but he also understands it more generally as an awareness of purposefulness within purposelessness. Philip French astutely noted that rather than being plotless, Broken Flower is plot-full and utilises three genres along with the road movie that it most obviously adopts. "Broken Flowers is made up of three familiar plots. The first is the arrival of a letter, sometimes signed, usually anonymous, that disrupts lives and communities. One thinks of Mankiewicz's A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and the poison-pen letters in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Corbeau (1943)." Then there is a second plot illustrating a sentimental trip down memory lane looking for "old boyfriends or girlfriends, of which the classic instance is Julien Duvivier's influential Un Carnet de Bal (1937) in which a middle-aged widow looks up the men on an old dance card from her youth." The third we can find in anything from Carbon Copy to Secrets and Lies, where characters find they have a child of which they were unaware.
Yet Jarmusch's skill is taking manifold plotting and turn it into minimalist narration. Often this resides in Jarmusch's shot choices that rarely elaborate or emphasize. When Don meets his friend and neighbour Winston in a diner and explains how he might be able to find the woman who gave birth to their child, the shot choice is effective and functional. The camera offers an establishing shot from the back of the cafe as Don comes in, shows us a side elevation of the two of them, close-ups back and forth as they chat, an overhead shot to show the itinerary Winston has made up and of a CD he has burned, and a slightly lower high-angle after Winston leaves and as Don looks at the papers. Writing of cinema around the millennium, David Bordwell noted that "the demand for more coverage, the use of multiple cameras, the recruiting of the steadicam: this is the sort of cascade of choices we should expect, with each phase influencing visual style." (The Way Hollywood Tells It) Yet Jarmusch rejects this cascade and gives his films a fixity that falls between the functional and the ironic. In Broken Flowers there are of course camera movements but they usually serve a clear narrative purpose, whether it is the postman mailing letters at the beginning of the film or the various car scenes usually accompanied by Mulatu Astatke's music (the CD Winston has burned). There is rarely in Jarmusch's films the feeling that the camera is doing any more work than it has to; as if reflecting characters in his movies who earn money if they must (Winston has three jobs, just as the central character in Paterson works long hours as a bus driver) or do as little as they can get away with (Don earned his fortune in computing and now takes it easy). Jarmusch isn't inclined to fetishise labour for its own sake, and isn't likely to put any more work into the form than is necessary for the story he wants to tell and the tone he wants to convey. What fascinates him more is experiencing the US, as though he is interested less in wanderlust than in acknowledging experiences that go beyond the New York sensibility he is often credited as possessing. A child of Ohio who has spent many years as a New Yorker, understanding an aspect of Jarmusch's aesthetic may rest on recognising a hip, metropolitan humour meeting a broader emotional register that often includes a wide range of geographical possibilities. Dead Man was shot in amongst other States ,Oregon, Nevada and Arizona. Down by Law in Oklahoma and Colorado, and Ohio and Florida were used in Stranger than Paradise. In Broken Flowers the itinerary was more restrictive than usual because according to Imdb Bill Murray didn't want to venture too far from his home in the Hudson Valley. Thus the film was shot mainly in New York and New Jersey even if still manages to convey the peripatetic if for no better reason than that Don is restless within his inertia. We sense he needs to do something. After all, his girlfriend coincidentally leaves him the same day as he receives the letter and perhaps in other circumstances he would just ignore it but now his emotions aren't leaving him alone. By the end of the film, he does't know if he has found his son or rather if his son has found him. His journey proves fruitless but when after his return he chats to a young man near his favourite local cafe who has just arrived in town, Don reckons it might be the very person he has been seeking.
The film ends inconclusively with the boy running away aggrieved when Don suggests he might be his father, and a 360 degree shot in a film that has been so functional in its form, gives us a sense of Don's giddy disorientation. He is back home after his Ullyssean journey that narratively has taken in far more miles than Murray's actual itinerary would allow (Don drove far enough afield to get a plane back), but doesn't quite know where he is. It is a shot made famous by Vertigo and replicated by New German cinema director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (in Martha) but the overall influence is more clearly Fassbinder's contemporary, the aforementioned Wenders, a director attuned to the road as Fassbinder was not. We have noted that Jarmusch worked with the German director and also often with Wenders' cinematographer, and we might be reminded of Roper's comment at the beginning of this long article, where he talks of an uprooting that is attached to returning home in Wenders' The American Friend. We may note too that a number of the films discussed have generated a deracination strong enough for home to seem a strange rather than familiar place. We can see it in Ed's return home at the end of Deliverance, Michael's return after Vietnam, and none more so here, as Don Johnston, the Don Juan who was always open to a new adventure, doesn't even know for sure what the contents of these adventures were if it might include a son he sits and converses with. Here he has no idea if he is talking to a kid lost and lonely travelling the States, or to an 18-year-old boy whose eighteen years have been lived with him knowing of his father and his father not knowing of him. The film has been a Jungian journey contained by a Freudian problematic. In many ways Broken Flowers (which includes a beating from the boyfriend of an ex-lover) shows a steady loss of pride if we take into account a Nietzsche comment that Jung paraphrases while referencing Freud in Man and his Symbols. "Aside from normal forgetting, Freud has described several cases that involve the "forgetting" of disagreeable memories memories that one is only too ready to lose. As Nietzsche remarked, where pride is insistent enough, memory prefers to give way." It might be more than memory that is giving way at the end of Broken Flowers, as though Don Johnston is as broken as the flowers of the title, a man who we might assume has often in the past fallen giddily in love but is now giddy with a vertigo that is less positively felt. We have suggested that in the films here the metaphysical and the psychological have very much been secondary to the geographical, that what matters more is the space covered rather than the time extracted. Yet we can't pretend that they are easy to disentangle and for Don Johnston getting out of the house has been an uncomfortable means of getting into his own head. It may be true also of many of the characters we have looked at as their Odyssean adventures have left them not a little dazed and confused, while also wondering what constitutes home once it has been left.
© Tony McKibbin