Monday, March 15, 2010

Imagine That

The brain can only absorb and process so much strangeness.
Working on history,
I'd say that trying to imagine the past can be as daunting as trying to imagine the future.
It's like sci-fi in reverse.

My image of war's timeline, for instance, is shaped by my memory of the United Nations warning Saddam Hussein he had about a month to withdraw from Kuwait, in the winter of 1990-1991.
I expect they delivered the warning via satellite communication technology?

RIGHT: The Hunters in the Snow (1565), by Pieter Bruegel

So, my brain boggles to learn that George Washington walked back home--leaving behind his starving horse--for about a month, after delivering a warning to the French to withdraw, in the winter of 1753-1754.

The following war wasn't any the nicer for how long it took to get going,
but it did unfold in what looks like slow-motion to my mind.

The most curious things help me imagine what history might have been like. Monty Python movies, for instance,
do a weirdly good job depicting the past.
The reply the French gave George Washington, in fact, pretty much matches their response to the English in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

Then, last night I watched Solaris (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972, Russia) for the first time.

LEFT: Psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) and his imagined wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), on the space station above the planet Solaris.

It was a balm to my boggled brain, because it's all about the limits of human imagination:
We see people and things outside ourselves as mirrors, one of the characters says,
and indeed the movie was like a mirror of my mind.

I'd never watched Solaris because it's supposedly painfully slow,
but I found it riveting:
its pacing matched the time my mind took to enter into the images.

The human brain best absorbs spoken sentences no more than 15 words long, Momo recently told me.
How quickly can we absorb new visual vocabulary?

Solaris is intensely visual. The director Tarkovsky treats film as a visual art, like painting, and he uses paintings a lot in the film too.
He lingers on the snowy Bruegel painting, above, for instance.

And, without giving anything away, I can show you this image from the end of the film, below left, of the son greeting his father.
Tarkovsky doesn't show on screen the Rembrandt painting The Return of the Prodigal Son (below right); but if you miss the allusion, it doesn't matter--you get the idea.

If we look closely in the mirror of art--or history-- we see ourselves.
This is both a limit and a gift of the human imagination.


momo said...

I have only seen the remake of Solaris, which I quite liked, soI should slot the Tarkovsky into my queue.

ArtSparker said...

Well, I have a lot of thoughts about is possible to get a glimpse of something else than our own reflected light, it is a matter of patience I think. And awareness that things are happening outside the frame.

Fresca said...

MOMO: I am hesitant to try George Clooney's version of "Solaris," but if you liked it, maybe I will later,
after I've digested this one.

ARTS: Things happening outside the frame--yes, that's key.
Still, we can only see what we can perceive, and that's limited, necessarily...

I recently read something about people born blind who have sight implanted, but their brains do not process the new information, never having had that wiring activated...

"Solaris" goes into the impossibility (?) of getting out of the subjective mode altogether, as a species...
It's really a most wonderful mind-stretcher, which my post today doesn't do justice to.

Reya Mellicker said...

Tarkovsky is difficult for me. Maybe I should try watching him again.

Loved everything you said in this post, every single thing. And the Bruegels painting - fabulous.

Clowncar said...

I too have only seen the Soderberg remake, and I quite liked it. Sounds quite similar themtically to the original. There is no outer space - it all becomes inner space once observed.

Fresca said...

REYA: Thanks for saying--I rather worried that what I wrote was too dense... too incomplete.

CLOWCAR: That's it--it isn't necessarily a sci-fi movie at all but an exploration of human consciousness---and meditation on the role of art.

ArtSparker said...

Will put it on my netflix list - it may even bump "Robot Chicken" in line.

Clowncar said...

you should try Moon. a thoughtful, moving sci-fi movie. wonderfully well plotted. plus, sam rockwell rocks.

Fresca said...

ARTS: Robot Chicken?
(The 1972 Solaris is streaming from Netflix.)

I'm sorry I missed "Moon" in the theaters---now I reallly want to see it.
DVD will have to do.

I love Sam Rockwell as the "plucky comic relief" in my all-time favorite sci-fi movie, "Galaxy Quest."
I gather Moon is nothing like.

Karla Z. said...

Sol(y)aris is a pretty brilliant movie. I ought to rewatch it! I do recommend that you watch Stalker instead of the Soderbergh remake, which is nice enough but not nearly as deep and deliberate. Stalker is gorgeous. (I even have a writeup, since it is my policy to do writeups of movies!)

I am a longtime reader, by the way! I very much like reading what you have to say.


Karla Z. said...

Wait, whoops, I linked the wrong entry! Well, better this way, no spoilers.

Fresca said...

Hi, KarlaZ:
Nice to meet you!
Thanks for commenting as it gave me a chance to read your delightful movie reviews.
I will put "Stalker" on my Netflix queue.

Last night I watched "THX 1138" which, to borrow a phrase from you, I hated a little bit:
Sometimes emptiness is profound and sometimes it's just... empty.