The Lives of Others

Objective Review:  Although I didn’t really think about it at the time, one of the key scenes that I believe to have been in The Lives Of Others was when Wiesler was about to inform the guards at the Berlin Wall about the person that (he believed) was going to be smuggles across only to end up telling them nothing.  It is clear when he calls that he’s suddenly begun to think of something that’s causing him some internal conflict and his thoughts are made more or less clear when he then says “just this once” and hangs up.  For most of the film up to this point Wiesler has been a true and dutiful member of the Stazi, with the questionable exception of when he spoke to Christa-Maria.  This is the first time in the film that we see him willfully disregard his duty for the sake of the man he is spying on.  This sparks off a series of him covering for Dreyman which makes up the main plot of the film.

Reaction:  I rather enjoyed The Lives of Others.  It was a different film to the kind I usually watch but it had a story that I couldn’t help but get invested in.  One big question I had during it though was that this was clearly not the first time that Wiesler had committed full surveillance on a person and I was, and still am, curious as to what was so different about Dreyman and Christa-Maria so as to cause Wiesler to commit near treason for their sakes.  One of the first times that it’s hinted that he’s feeling a connection to them is when Dreyfus is playing the piano but that couldn’t realistically have been the first time that he’d heard someone play music while spying on them.

Interpretation:  While it may be one of the most obvious ways to interpret the film I think that the idea of collaboration and how it can change a person  may be on of the most important ideas to look at in this film.  Much like how Catlaw & Jordan talk about it the collaboration in The Lives of Others is between Weisler and the unwitting Dreyman.  Weisler by all accounts seems to be an aloof, distant, and austere person who does not care to form personal connections with people and seems to distrust everybody.  Despite this he somehow ends up forming a connection to Dreyman and Christa-Maria and working to protect them against his own people.  As Catlaw & Jordan discuss this is “collaboration with the enemy” as Dreyman is actively working to accomplish something that will hurt the East German government and Weisler not only knows but covers for Dreyman’s activities.  The shift that is seen in Weisler from the emotionally robotic man he is in the beginning to the more caring and slightly emotional man he is in later in the film brings into thought just how collaboration can change a person.  It seems to particularly stand out when earlier in the film Weisler is told that “people don’t change” and he changes a great deal throughout.

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Children of Men

Objective review:  One of the key scenes I found to be in Children of Men was when Kee showed Theo that she was pregnant.  When Theo see’s her clearly pregnant belly you can almost feel him understanding just what it is that he’s seeing and how important of an event it is.  Humanity was facing extinction from a mystery infertility case that had caused there to be no new humans born for the last 18 years.  Before Theo learns about Kee’s pregnancy he is pretty adamant about how he has nothing to do with what’s going on beyond what he has already done.  After he learns the truth he becomes more personally involved to the point of risking his life to steal Kee away to get her to the Human Project.  The scene where she reveals to him her secret is the changing point of the film.

Reaction:  I enjoyed Children of Men a fair bit more than I did the other films that we watched, with the exception of Dead Man.  The story flowed smoothly and presented a rather believable world after 18 years of nobody being born.  The characters were also largely believable in the way they acted and for the most part didn’t make stupid decisions for the sake of plot, something which had rather annoyed me about the first couple of films we watched.  While not a movie I will likely re-watch anytime soon I’m glad to have seen it.

Interpretation:  I think that the simplest way for me to go about interpreting this movie is to look at Deleuze’s nomadic theory along with smooth and striated space.  The relevance of nomadic theory I feel is rather self explanatory as a significant portion of the films plot is the refugee/immigrants and their plight.  While it’s hard to say whether they actually knew how immigrants were treated in England before going there they seem to have a been a consistent problem for years, with the British government going to the extent of caging and killing them due to their numbers.  It is (rather lightly) explained that England is one of few functioning countries that still exists in the world, causing these immigrants to become nomads in moving around trying to survive, eventually making their way to England in the hopes of being safe there.  Kee is one of these immigrants although it is never explained how she got into England (as foreigners like her seem to be banned or arrested) or if she became pregnant before or after arriving.  The idea of smooth and striated space fits with the nomadic theory in that much of the world outside of England seems to be smooth space; very few working governments are left and most of the world seems to be in a state of war and anarchy, which one could call the pinnacle of smooth space.  England however is striated space brought to almost the most extreme form as sometime in the last 18 years it has seemingly become a military state.  The nomadic refugees left the chaos and danger of the smooth spaces to enter the order and possible safety of the striated space, only to find that for them the striated space was (likely) even worse than what they’d left.  Theo is a bit of an oddity though in that he started in the striated space and due to special circumstances became a smooth space himself.  Theo and Kee’s journey to get Kee to the human project is a prime example of smooth space existing in striated space.  After fleeing the immigrant extremist group they mostly do what they want without having to adhere to any of the rules or order of the striated space.  They even use some of the functioning of the striated space to further their goals by using the army to get into a militarized refugee camp where they could meet the Human Project.  They were the contrast of one existing within the other.

Brazil

Objective Review:  I think that the key scene from this film was at the beginning when the Information Retrieval squad burst (literally) into Archibald Buttle’s apartment to arrest him.  After they have “subdued” him one of the officers gives his wife paperwork to sign which she does almost mechanically.  She doesn’t question what she’s signing or why and keeps the copies as though it was such an ordinary thing to do that even in the shock of her husband’s arrest and the storming of her home she doesn’t think twice about it.  This sets up the basis for what almost becomes a joke throughout the rest of the film: paperwork.  Everything in the society of the film has paperwork associated with to the point of it being beyond excessive and the people in the film appear to be so used to paperwork that they don’t think twice about it or how superfluous it may be.

Reaction:  My reaction to the film was a bit varied.  In many ways it seemed almost like a parody of classic dystopian future novels such as 1984.  Their technology was in some ways advanced (they had robots of unclear functionality) but much of their technology was basic or inferior to what existed even at the time the film was released.  The entire plot of the movie began with a minor typewrite malfunction due to a fly.  The technology also seemed to be poorly designed with problems seeming to be rather commonplace.  The story itself wasn’t bad although it got very strange near the end.  The end itself was rather appropriate for a dystopian future story though; they rarely seem to end well for the protagonist.

Interpretation:  My interpretation of the film focuses on the idea behind biopower/biopolitics, specifically in regards to paperwork.  The idea behind biopower is having control over others in some way that is different from the traditional sovereign style of power that was focused on control through fear.  Biopower instead is control often based on an emphasis on promoting life, such as protecting or improving the controlled lives.  There many ways that this can be done through both moral and immoral means although the two concepts are dependent if one uses the lens of moral relativism as opposed to moral absolutism.  In what some would call it’s most ugly and extreme form biopower  can be accomplished through eugenics or genocide.  Destroying all Arabic states in the middle east to destroy terrorism is an example of real world biopower.  It is however such an extreme and (many would say) wrong thing to do.  Early in the Birth of Biopolitics class reading it discusses the way Foucault defined government and discusses the governing of self and the governing of others.  Biopolitics is the governing of others in a way that over time they don’t even question what it is that’s controlling them, instead accepting as a basic part of life that is barely given any thought.  In the case of the movie Brazil this biopolitical control method is done through paperwork.

The early scene in brazil of Mrs. Buttle mindlessly signing paperwork despite clearly being shock is only the first example in the film of how much of an everyday thing superfluous paperwork is.  There’s paperwork in every aspect of their society and people do it without a second thought.  When Jill is trying to free Mr. Buttle after his wrongful arrest there is so much paperwork and procedure she has to go through that he dies in custody long before she’s even close to helping him.  Sam even takes advantage of the overabundance of paperwork to keep the two repairmen out of his apartment when Tuttle is in there and they leave without argument for not having the “required” forms.  Tuttle himself became a vigilante air conditioner repairman (because who hasn’t wanted to do that before…) because he was sick of all the mindless paperwork he had to fill out simply to fix someones heater.  All the people in the film appear perfectly content with their dystopian society and the way that this was accomplished by the government was through the use of biopower through paperwork.  Which is probably the most horrible of any dystopian society I’ve ever heard of.

The Trial

Objective Review: I believe that one of the key scenes of the film The Trial is when Mr. K is wandering around the legal building after meeting security guard. In this scene the inside of building appears to be a large and convoluted maze filled with countless people “the accused” all waiting for something and endless amounts of shelves, bookcases, and other office related furniture. By the time Mr. K manages to make his way outside he appears to be tired and exhausted almost to the point of seeming seriously ill. All of the other (presumably accused) men who are waiting at various places in the building inexplicably stand whenever Mr. K passes by them. This together with the maze-like qualities of the building represent the entirety of the film in that it is confusing, twisted, and has many events that occur that make little to no sense as to either why they happened or what exactly it was that did happen.

Reaction: My personal reaction to the film was bemusement and irritation. Right from the start things are unexplained and confusing and many parts of the film were rather hard to follow. That contributed mostly to my confusion but also slightly to my irritation. What really irritated me though was the lack of information given about what was happening at any given time along with the way that Mr. K acted for most of it. For most of the beginning he acts so nervous it’s as though he actually was guilty of whatever unnamed crime he committed and after he calms down a bit he never forces any issue or tries to really understand the situation. Instead he becomes focused on little details that are occurring and are irrelevant to what is actually happening to him. He does similar things through most of the film.

Interpretation: Of the many different ways that I’m sure exist to interpret this film I am going to focus on a specific aspect of structuralism and post-structuralism that is presented at the end of page 2 and page 3 in the Sarup intro reading, that of the signifier and signified, introduced in the Sarup reading as the Critique of Meaning. My understanding of signifier and signified from Sarup’s work is that, to follow Sarup’s example, saying the word apple is the signifier of an apple while the concept of the itself is the signified, that which was called into attention by the pesence of the signifier. In my understanding, structuralism places importance on the signified object over the signifier, with the signifier only having meaning due to it’s common usage as a signifier. Take for example calling something an apple to a person who does not speak English: verbally signifying the object of an apple would be meaningless to somebody who knows it as, say, a pomme and does not understand the English word apple. While the signified object is still an apple regardless the signifier is an irrelevant as is holds no meaning to somebody who does not recognize it even though they will recognize the apple and understand what about it is important. Post-structuralism however places emphasis on the signifier as being that which gives intrinsic meaning to the signified; the concept of an apple is unimportant until attention is brought to its existence. It is the signifying that gives the signified meaning. A person is not going to think of the apple unless another signifies it, thus drawing attention and giving meaning to the fact that it is there. A basic explanation of these points is available at http://changingminds.org/explanations/critical_theory/concepts/signifier_signified.htm.

 

In The Trial the idea of the signifier and signified is less obvious than having a man point out “this movie is confusing” (and breaking the fourth wall by doing so). Instead the signifier in the movie is presented in subtle and metaphorical ways. The legal building with it’s labyrinthine interior is a signifier as to the convoluted story of the film; hard to follow as there is so much and no signs to help in understanding where you’re at. The home of the Advocate is a similar signifier, in the words of a movie review “The Advocate’s home reaches out in all directions, like a loft, factory and junk shop…” (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-trial-1963). The signifier here is that there are many disjointed areas all right next to each other, which draws attention to the signified of the movies scenes that are similarly disjointed with “Water towers open into file rooms, a woman does laundry while through the door a trial is under way.”

Looking at the film from a critique of meaning viewpoint I’d argue that the film is done from a structuralist point; the signified of the confusion and disjointedness of the film is plenty apparent on it’s own but the signifier of places within the film itself further compounding the sense of it’s disjointed and confusing setting. If these places were presented outside the context of the rest of the movie, such as if a person who has never seen the film (or presumable read the book) saw a clip of either of these places, they would likely be a bit confused and disoriented but they wouldn’t have an understanding of why these building are arranged in such a way. The signifier of these settings is only meaningful by those who have encountered the larger existence of the signified, such as a person who has no experience with apples given the signifier of an apple. They would hear the word but have no reference for what it actually means. Signify a computer to an ancient Roman and they would understand it’s meaning for existing no better than a person with no knowledge of The Trial would understand the meaning behind the Advocates house or the legal building.