Saturday, January 31, 2009

Decalogue and Mahabharata-6

The second film in the series of Decalogue is a film about a woman who's caught in a strange puzzle of life. If the first film questioned the absoluteness of science and logic, the second film is about the relevance of faith in life. There is the woman, Dorota, who is trapped between the two choices and she needs help from a doctor in this regard thus by transferring her share of moral dilemma to the doctor. She is a married woman whose husband has met with an accident during a mountaineering expedition. He is grappling with death and the woman is three months pregnant but not from her husband. She is in love with the music composer in an orchestra where she works as violinist. She doesn't know whether her husband is going to live or not but she does not want to lose the child who is from her lover musician. If the husband survives, she cannot have the baby but if he is not going to live, she will not go for abortion. The pain of the situation has enhanced because she not only loves her husband but also has a deep bond with the musician. There is a serious question on the life of her husband because he is simply vegetating on a hospital bed. Her husband is her present but the child is her future. She can decide about the future only if she knows the present. Only a doctor can tell what the real chances of her husband's survival are. Does that mean to say that she expects the doctor to play the role of God? Yes but does Doctor wish to play that role or if he really can? The doctor in this case refuses to play God. This creates a serious tension between the two characters. The film is shared by two separate paths taken by these two characters. These paths do intersect but they don't create any final answer. The doctor has his own history of loss which he is sharing with somebody else. He says that his duty is to treat the patient in the best possible manner but it is beyond his reach to determine whether he will survive or not. His position might be genuine but it aggravates the woman's crisis. The doctor is her only saviour but he finds it unethical. This clash of morality creates a serious tension between the two persons but they have to find an answer which seems impossible. The doctor is insisting that he has seen a lot of patients recovering even at deathbed. The woman is not interested in hope rather she is adamant only upon a precise judgement from the doctor.

            This film doesn't begin with any abstract image of life but it doesn't mean that Kieslowski is trying to avoid his natural tendency of abstraction. In Decalogue One, he began with the ‘personal trace’ but here, he begins with the ‘non-personal trace’. It  begins with the first scene of housing complex again reminding us that all of us share the same space. We reside in the same space. It might have different stories of different people but still, these all are being painted on the same canvas. The opening character who is being introduced first is that of Doctor but we don't come across him as a doctor rather as an old man who is living alone in his flat. He is tending to his dying Cactus. He is trying to manage his household chores but the old age has weakened his capacity to manage his home. Somehow, he gets ready for his work and here enters the female character, Dorota Geller who is literally after him. He senses that. It comes out that she is a neighbour who had run over his dog two years ago. Her husband is a patient in his ward and she wants to enquire about his health immediately but the doctor is not interested because the scheduled timing for patients’ relatives is Wednesday, two days after. She reacts badly over his refusal and almost curses him why she did not run over him instead of his dog.

            In the meanwhile, the details of Doctor's life are being shared with the audience. He is telling his story to a female friend how his entire family comprised and how it vanished in a natural calamity. Kieslowski is presenting here two personalities, the one who has already passed through a personal disaster and the other who is on the verge of disaster. After the sustained efforts by Dorota, the doctor agrees to an appointment in the afternoon. She watches him going on his duty but simultaneously, she seems to be suffering from a kind of suicidal instinct. She tears down each and every leaf of the window plant and finally even tries to break the stem. It almost breaks when she leaves it and the stem tries to regain from its fall. The visuality of the scene is so remarkable that it carries the essence of the whole film in just one shot.

In the next hospital scene, she is sitting before her husband who has eyes closed (but maybe deliberately as Kieslowski hints). Her sense of desperation is quite visible and gets enhanced when the doctor refuses to tell her whether her husband is going to live or not. In the sustained and repetitive shots, she is shown smoking without a break. Perhaps, the cigarette seems to be her only companion who is obeying her during the entire film. It is also the personification of herself who is burning and killing itself. Finally, she tells the Doctor the exact nature of the problem. In the first instance, she seems to be a woman who seems to redefine the social norm. She confesses of simultaneously loving two men, her husband and her music composer. Her husband gave her tranquillity and support but the music composer gave her what her soul wanted. In a way, she is indebted to both of them and that makes her pain more intense. It is not the case that she does not love her husband any less. When a friend brings the mountaineering kit allotted to her husband back, she reacts violently for treating her husband like a premature dead mountaineer. She doesn't want him to die rather she wants something inside her to die (which is an exact replica of her own self, her yet to be born baby is a girl). Even the breaking of glass and her sarcastic smile over that indicates the sustained note of suicidal instinct in her.

The very first resemblance that struck in my mind was that of Draupadi of Mahabharata. Here is a woman who is nearly proud of her polyandrous nature because she feels that it's based on love. She's not a person who can delink the element of responsibility from love. She has to take a decision and she knows that going for abortion means losing her lover for the rest of her life. She wants to remain ethical but at this moment, the crisis is of choice. If the husband survives, she cannot have her lover's baby. If he dies, she must know the fact immediately because she is three months pregnant and cannot delay the abortion if it is to happen. She cannot wait but the doctor suggests her to wait. She wants him to be certain but it is not possible for him. This transforms him an equivalent person in terms of suffering. He is trying his best to come to any conclusion. He examines and re-examines the medical evidence in his record and even consults his colleague. He seems to be moving towards a negative conclusion. Even she is moving towards a negative one. She has already told her lover about her decision to abort the pregnancy despite knowing that this will make her lose him. Kieslowski is questioning the power of human judgement because the element of finality cannot be certain in it. The doctor wants to save the unborn baby and the lady wants to save the love of her husband. Both seem to be very ethical but still there on the negative side of the faith.

 Both of them are playing God but the God himself, Theophanes, is watching them in the form of a medical attendant. He is silent like always. Through his presence, Kieslowski is trying to question the relationship between ethics and judgement. The entire Western tradition of justice stands scrutiny in this film because it is putting two ethical judgements in serious question because he feels that justice is not something fully confined to human domain rather the doctor's judgement is going against Dorota’s judgement and stops her from going for abortion but in the end, not only the child takes birth but the husband also survives and is very proud of being a father. This is also equivocally enforced by JGK, “Kieslowski is always generating a meta-level of meaning through experience with the image, and I do not believe the nature of meta-level is simply reflexive, but rather signals a reach towards the transcendent possibility. This film demonstrated this reach more succinctly than any film in Kieslowski’s oeuvre.” In one sense, this film is exactly opposite to the first film. The first one ended with the death and this one ended with the resurrection but in the both, human decisions turned out to be the limited and closed ones. They denied time and space a kind of fluidity but the universal kept them afloat.

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