Friday, October 19, 2007

The Horror of the Progeny

Three films: Benny's Video by Michael Haneke, Rosemary's Baby by Roman Polanski and EraserHead by David Lynch are diverse approaches to the deep-rooted fear and horror at the anxiety of bringing forth an inhuman child into the world.

Benny's Video, the second film in the emotional glaciation trilogy by Michael Haneke, is about the total breakdown of the sense of the other in the "supermodern" world.

Our primary interface to the world has become technological. As more and more of what we see what is fed to us by media, a strange kind of narcissism, self-absorption and apathy colors our self. No longer knowing the difference (or perhaps the economic forces actually seek to erase this difference) between an artificial image and reality, between an advertisement and a news bulletin, between what is shown and what is happening, makes us what can be called as virtual human beings, who behave and look like humans but have become so programmable and subjectively dead (lacking any authentic perception) that we might as well be androids.

Benny, a teenager, sees the world through his video equipment. The primary experience of life for the modern man is by proxy. Through TV, cinema, newspapers, the invisible creators of the virtual world shape our self. And how can a child succeed against the polished skills of the masters of mass communication? How will the parents protect a child from the media? The media is the world for the modern man.

The day starts with the newspaper, happens at the computer, and ends with television or a film. The direct experience of life is a luxury, unachieveable even as a tourist in a village. We have come so far (and moving farther every day) from a life of genuine human contact that our clumsy efforts to regain that humanity for ourselves are invariably futile or, worse, disastrous. It is in this context that one can understand the bitter urge of Non Resident Indians to involve themselves in some way for the betterment of their motherland.

The generation gap depicted in Benny's Video is not of different values or priorities in life, it is the horror of having a child with whom there is no sense of communication or understanding. The assumption that most urban children make, that their parents can't understand them, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Alienation is a vicious cycle in which every dose of apathy in the outer world makes one more and more apathetic oneself.

There are two scenes of painful crying in the film, and if the first (the unknown girl) is horrific in its brutality, the second (the mother) is tragic in its hysterical perception of the inhumanity of what came out of oneself.

In Rosemary's Baby, Roman Polanski has brought to film the worst nightmare of an expectant mother. All the fears and phobias, that one might actually give birth to a monster, that one might be trapped into caring (because it is one's creation) for a being that is alien and vile, that one will see a propagation of one's self in the worst possible way, are brought to a genre-defying climax.

What is remarkable about the ending is not the discovery, but the effect of that discovery on the mother. The horror is not what is brought forth, the horror is the loving acceptance of it.

The film is good, but not a masterpiece. It has little to say to one on a repeat viewing.

In David Lynch's first film, Eraserhead, he points his camera gaze at the post-industrial fear of commitment. This highly stylized film, with a collection of memorable and disturbing mise-en-scene's brings into sharp b&w focus the struggle of the modern intellectual man to evade the trappings of caring for an unwanted child.

Is it heretical to question the affection and love that parents feel for their child, no matter how ugly or deformed he is? The film is symbolic in various ways. The lady in the radiator, the benevolent Goddess is symbolic of freedom and happiness. The head and the hair are symbolic of intellection, which might as well be thrown out when one tries to fit in one monstrous responsibility after another in one's life.

Also dealt with are notions of carnal guilt leading to commitment, the evaporation of personal space, the fear of being used up for something extremely trivial, and of shared responsibilities in a nuclear family.

All three films are remarkable and a film enthusiast should not miss an opportunity to see them.

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