Dark Water (dir. Hideo Nakata, 2002) – As horror films go, this is good. It’s about the terror, not about the gore. Pretty clearly by the same director who did Ringu (as well as the American sequel to its adaptation, The Ring 2), we have a host of Freudian-influenced plot elements and mise-en-scene that amplify them. The film strongly evokes the uncanny, particularly through the specter of the doppelgänger, the young girl who disappeared years earlier and whose ghost moves about the somewhat ruinous apartment building. When we see her, she’s supposed to resemble the daughter who’s just moved in with her mother, but the joke’s on us. On an immediate level, the resemblance makes us think of the daughter, but by means of flashback, the film tells us that the specter actually finds its semiotic referent in the mother as a young, abandoned girl. Her own abandonment as a child is relived in her inability to function as a “proper” mother, working late while her daughter waits at school, accidentally neglecting her, and so forth. The coupling that eventually takes place in the elevator (read: grave) between the mother and the girl-ghost marks a reunification of the most narcissistic sort. The mother, through death, once-and-for-all abandons her daughter and joins herself to a kindred spirit, in the most literal sense of the term. Insofar as the tomb finds a correlation with the womb, the elevator is loaded with implications of both.
Stella Dallas (dir. King Vidor, 1937) – The most melodramatic of them all. The film is something of an anomaly for identifying the viewer so consistently (although not exclusively) with Stella, Barbara Stanwyck’s character, during a period of film history when women were not often the protagonists. The character is marked by excess at multiple levels: the discursive, the sartorial, the emotional, the bodily, and probably others. The film initially amplifies her lower-class status and her savvy ability to net an upper-class man. Soon thereafter (in filmic terms; diegetically, years pass), Stella becomes discontent with the status quo to which she is supposed to submit. Her lifestyle flies in the face of the (again) “proper” mother/woman/wife. She remains quintessentially lower-class, despite her apparent social mobility. This has a punishing effect on her family, which she recognizes, proceeding to perform the self-sacrifice of (symbolic) maternal death that has come to define so much melodrama. It seems that even in the moments of strongest viewer engagement with Stella, however, she remains a thing-to-be-watched. We are given views and images of her that highlight her excessive appearance, which is layered on more and more as the narrative progresses. She is an object of silliness and one of sympathy simultaneously.
Lawrence of Arabia (dir. David Lean, 1962) – This was the one-day theatrical exhibition of the digital restoration, and it was truly beautiful. Landscapes abound, of course, and the more involved Lawrence becomes, the more praise he receives from the Arabs, the more he stands out from that landscape. The beautiful light browns become backgrounds to those blue eyes, that blonde hair, and the white garb with a golden crown. Ideally, would love to put this under a phenomenological lens. The experience in a theater of these images washing over you and that music swelling all around you is dang-near sublime. Has anyone done a phenomenology of the epic film? This would be the place to start. Until then, “nothing is written.”