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Looking At Theories Of Postmodernism Films Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1913 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Post-modern film is a term that is used to describe the portrayal of the post-modernist ideas through the medium of cinema. Post-modernism itself can be described as essentially a movement 'away' from the modernist ideas through the use of the universal cultural narrative, the meta- narrative and the notion of the 'objective truth', and post-modern film only different to post-modern literature in the way that it portrays these themes, it instead displays the aesthetic features that are characteristically associated with post modern cultural practice. Such films like Synecdoche, New York and Inception are seen to exemplify post-modern themes or to offer 'images of post-modern society'.

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Post-modern film is a 'self-conscious' movement, that is to say that it is a movement that is aware of it's limitations through its selected media of cinema, however in saying that post-modernism also attempts to break through this 'fourth wall' as once one becomes aware of their own limitations; only then can they attempt to reach beyond them. As a result, many of the post-modern films become very complex and deep, with many strong themes and motifs running through them. It is for this reason that I consider Charlie Kaufman's work, Synecdoche, New York to be a very compelling asset to the post- modern film genre. Synecdoche, New York plays with the mainstream conventions of modern cinema and instead relies on its subdued logic as its real means of expressing its themes.

As an artist, and a man, the main character; Caden (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), is on what seems at times a never ending search for meaning, but this search keeps him is a suspension between that world of the play and reality and the line between the two becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish. With such a strong refernce to this theme throughout the film, it is hard to ignore the striking similarity between this theme of inability to tell reality from fantasy, and the post-modernist philosophy of 'hyper reality'. Hyper reality is in fact considered to be the post-modern term that describes this inability of the brain to distinguish between authenticity and fantasy. What hyper reality actually shows us how we may confuse what is 'real' in a world that is consumed with how media can alter our perception or experience of an event. Kaufmann achieves this in the film by burying Caden in his 'masterpiece' that is this play, and blurs the line between the reality of the deteriorating outside world, and the world that is contained n the ever expanding warehouse. Caden even goes as far as to hire doppelgangers as his cast and crew. This complicates the distinction between reality and fantasy as the audience begins to question who is who, for example, the character of Sammy Barnathan is hired by Caden to play Caden, and Sammy's look-alike is cast to play Sammy.

As a result of this hyper reality that is found throughout the film, Caden is sent on a constant course of self- realization, but not on what seems a regular and conventional method of self- realization within cinema, or for that matter a cultural sense either. Instead Caden only learns of his "true personality" and becomes more conscious of himself when he hires Sammy to play the character of Caden in the play. This is mainly noted through Caden's revival of his relationship with the character of Hazel as this re-kindling was only triggered by Sammy's, while playing the character of 'Caden', own interest in Hazel. Caden's journey of self realization is progressed further when he replaces himself with Ellen as he becomes more aware of his female counterpart. Caden's ultimate moment of self realization seems to come at the very end of the film, as when the scene fades to white Caden finally reveals that he knows how to do the play but only when the director's voice that is in his ear gives him his final stage direction; "Die"- ending a long story of attempting to fulfil his life and end to his depressing physical ailments and inevitable bodily deterioration that seem to be constantly reminded to him by the doctors. This can often be seen as one of the most interesting aspects about the film is; that the film is actually a play within a play - it is a "performance within a performance", and it is strongly related to William Shakespeare's quote; "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women are merely players.", for example we can see this when Caden populates the cast and crew of his play with doppelgangers- they are merely only players, to be used. This is one of the key points in the film, as the films central concept is that Caden is attempting to re-create his entire existence through the direction of this play on the massive city sized stage. What is even more interesting about Caden's 'play', is that it is never performed for the public- instead the actors that make up the cast of the play are the public themselves- reinforcing Shakespeare's concept. This raises various themes for the audience to consider, for example the film first tells the audience that our life is merely a performance and we are merely acting out what we are told to do, and just like Caden relinquishes to accepting his destiny that is death, we too must accept ours. Synecdoche, New York essentially goes beyond its medium limitations and makes its audience question their own worth and how much power they have over controlling their lives. Synecdoche, New York is one of many post-modern films that avails of its ability to engage in the audience in such a unique way. Film is a powerful medium that has a very strong influence in our post-modern society.

We can see similarities of the post-modern genre within; Christopher Nolan's film Inception. Inception has been an extraordinary popular film for the short amount if time since it was first screened in 2010. Since then it has received an enormous amount of positive response, both in the critical sense and with the public, and has many reasons for doing so. Inception is, without a doubt one a film that must be viewed a number of times in order to fully understand its dense philosophy embedded within both the action and the ambiguity of the film itself. Inception leaves the audience unsure of what they saw and, if even just for a moment, makes them also question their own reality. In a sense Inception's overall mood is that it is questioning our reality and worth. In fact Inception goes one step further and challenges the capitalist culture that we live in, almost to an anti-capitalist point. Boggs and Pollard state that "Media culture embraces constituent elements of the liberal-capitalist order" (2001. pg 171) as Inception is a film that based around the destruction of a monopoly.

It would be fair to say that the entire concept of the film is based on the idea of disillusion, but what Inception shows us is that the power of disillusion is not tied down to the plot of the film, but also extends out to the form of the film, and in turn extends to the audience and a reflection of the post-modern society that we live in. For example, Inception plays with the form of the film and realises that film itself is a sort if disillusion, just like Synecdoche, New York, Inception engages with the audience with reference to hyper reality, however it does this in a very different way. Instead of immersing the audience into hyper reality, Inception instead brings the idea of hyper reality to the audience's attention so that they become aware of it. For example as the audience engross themselves in the film any emotions that we feel during a film; such as joy, sadness or fear, leaves us when the lights come back on in the cinema and return to reality, however Inception lures the audience in with the stark resemblance to reality, but at every possible moment the film also reminds the audience that the characters are in a dream and that whatever is happening to them is not actually happening to them, and this in turn reminds the audience that none of this is really happening for them either, making the audience aware that none of the emotions that they are feeling or the event that they are witnessing are real. We can also relate this to Inception's overall idea that our whole life and the world that we live in is nothing but an illusion, and we live in a world globalization- where vast businesses are taking over the cultural world.

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In short, Inception is a post modern sublime and that it breaks the fourth wall and makes us question whether our life is real and all else is an illusion, or that everything else is real and our life is an illusion. It is a film that connects aesthetics with context. Again what makes Inception a post modern sublime, as it did with Synecdoche, New York is its self awareness and knowledge of the limitations and quirks of its medium- and the power that a film can portray that a book can not achieve. Inception takes place in a labyrinth of dreams within dreams and that simply cannot be described in literature, but the real theme that the film seems to raise is that maybe the entire film is a dream, so that what we cannot distinguish when the characters are in reality or in a dream; again something that cannot be achieved by mere literature. Also it is never discussed how 'dream extraction' was invented in the film, it seems to just exist, in this sense the film is entirely ambiguous and maybe it is all just a dream, having no real beginning, as the film opens in a dream extraction with almost no background to who the people in the shots are, or doesn't seem to have a real end either, making the audience wonder whether the entire film is a dream. The film brings the notions of hyper reality to the audience's attention, and then the film begins to place the idea that maybe the lives of the audience are insignificant and dreamlike. It is interesting that the name of the film is Inception, and the film itself is planting ideas into the audience's mind.

The ending scene is probably the most important scene, as the spinning top spins, and it does so for what seems quite an extraordinary amount of time, it with no doubt wobbles at the end but is cut off in the final shot so that we will never figure out whether he is living in reality anymore or a dream. If it is dream it is extraordinary elaborate dream, but even if it isn't a dream the idea that such an elaborate dream could possibly exist leaves us questioning that maybe we are dreaming our entire lives.

According to Stuart Hall "'the post-modern subject', . . . is conceptualized as having 'no fixed, essential or permanent identity'" (2000. pg 277). As a result what we are left with is the idea of 'subjective truth'. That is to say that the film is completely subjective to the individual watching the film, and they must come to their own conclusion and truth about the film. This is what make post-modern cinema such a phenomenon, as it speaks to each individual on such a high level and raises personal concerns with both themselves and the world that we live in, which is one of the aims of the post-modern film genre. However we must be careful in the progression of the post-modern film genre as it may become a new contemporary way to produce a film and just another way for filmmakers to explore and develop their characters and plots, almost defeating the purpose of the post-modern genre itself.


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