Saturday, February 7, 2009

Decalogue and Mahabharata-10

Till now, we have not specifically discussed the nature of characters in the films of Decalogue. To begin with it, one thing can be straightaway said about them is that they are not greatness-incarnated characters. In the terms of Hollywood, they are not the heroes or heroines of cinema. There is nothing outstanding about them. They are not extremely beautiful, they are not extremely ugly, they are not extremely pure and they're not extremely bad. If you begin with the first film of the series, the scientist father is a good researcher but not a good Christian. In the second film, Dorota is an impulsive & selfish woman but she is trying to be ethical towards her own future. The doctor is a good person but he betrays his Hippocratic Oath and gives a judgement against the possibility of survival of the patient who actually survives. Though he happens to save the unborn child yet he doesn't come to us as a great doctor. In the third film, both the lovers are always on the verge of promiscuity though they never cross it. They share a mixture of love and hate for each other. In fourth film, the father and daughter embark upon an experiment which they don't have capacity to handle. They are overstepping their limits though they happen to come to their senses finally. They are always vulnerable. In the fifth film, one may tend to hate both the taxi driver and the murderer but Kieslowski inserts certain elements in their actions and gestures that one always have second thoughts about their real nature.  They can be characterized by ambiguity, openness and indeterminacy equating it almost to the liminal state of being. One's sense of identity dissolves to some extent thus bringing about disorientation. Liminality is also a period of transition where normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behaviour are relaxed - a situation which can lead to new perspectives for both viewer and the actor. This state is equally extended to his choice of locations, colours and status of the characters.

This kind of treatment of characters is quite enhanced by a special narrative style of Kieslowski. He doesn't try to give historical details of his characters. They happen to come across a dramatic situation without any single causative agent behind; rather their location is put before us in a natural but strange manner that they can come from anywhere. Does it mean to say that Kieslowski didn't believe in the history? I think the answer is that to him, history is not a mono-linear track of time but a complex intermixing of different tracks of time both private and public. This makes the process of decoding history quite a difficult one rather an impossible one. That makes him a bit distrustful of history. That's why his characters don't carry a clearly recognisable mark of history but it is obvious that they do have a history. Kieslowski seems to believe more in the invisible history rather than the visible one. This makes his dramatis personae vague and common.

In the sixth film of the Decalogue series, we again come across the similar nature of characters. It's a story of two characters; one is a teenage boy, Tomek who is a post office clerk and the other is a sensuous woman, Magda. On the outset, it can be said that it's a story of peeping Tom and a woman with loose reputation but it is much more than that. It is also a story of an unbridgeable gap between sex and love. It is also a story on the brittle nature of contemporary human life where individuals are suffering with alienation from wider society. It is also a story of mediation of technology in determining human emotions, its limits and its possibilities. It is also a story between a man and a woman who are failing in their enterprise of love. The possibility of so many themes makes this film a multilayered film. The very first scene of the film begins with both the characters’ face-to-face in a post office. It's rare in Decalogue that Kieslowski introduced his characters without any abstraction. He sets a limit to the expansion of the story in the beginning and then he marches into his natural style of visual abstraction. This is also a hint that he regards both the characters not like an immature teenager and a mature but voluptuous woman rather he thinks them on the platform of two equals. This film explores the space between the two without any interference from the third person. The very next scene is like an ocean of blue light in which Tomek appears. He is immersed in the desire of love for a woman who lives on the opposite side of the housing complex at a location which is ideal to watch if done through a telescope. He breaks into a laboratory and steals a telescope from there. The long focus lens of the instrument becomes an extension of his personality because this is the only tool through which he can peep into the private life of his desired woman. She is a beautiful woman with a capacity to arouse the latent lust of a man. Is it her strength or weakness? We don't know but she enjoys her freedom but Tomek wants to be a part of her life. He's an average-looking, under confident boy who has the dream of a woman who is much mature and experienced than him.

The eye of the lens and the ‘I’ of Tomek have got intermixed into one and they have created a virtual realm of fulfilment. The phone is the additional supplement in his realm. He is transcending the limits of sight and sound through the means of technology. Kieslowski has never believed in the dichotomy of subject/object or self/other. The creation of virtual/real is itself a serious obstruction in the eventual elevation of his desire which wants to shift from scopic to organic. Here, lies the danger and here, begins his trauma. He is watching Magda’s life every day. He's almost pursuing her like a shadow. He steals her letters, he puts money order notices secretly in her mailbox, he becomes a milkman for her, he tries to stop her and her lover from sexual union by false phone call of gas leak. He's watching her in all possible shades of her behaviour. Perhaps, she even herself doesn't know that she has become a full-blown text for somebody who is reading her every moment. Gradually, Tomek’s life is becoming inseparable from her life though she's not participating like an active intentional agent. Her beauty, privacy and agony, all get transferred to him. Slowly, he understands the poverty of scopic tools available at his disposal. He feels the lonely side of the woman, her alienation and her desperation to live a full life. He realises that she is much more than an object of visual titillation. Finally, when she has a tiff with the lady postmaster over the money order notices, he confesses before her that he is the peeping Tom in her life. She gets shocked and feels repulsive for him. This is also a shock for Tomek because he felt so concerned about her pain and suffering that he wanted to tell her that he could share that and bring her a bit of joy.

With single stroke, he has driven himself out of his virtual security into the real risky domain. Now, he is also a threat for her; he symbolises a breach of privacy for her; he is an undeserving partner in her life. But she is not an immature person; she wants to get rid of this interloper. She stops and questions him when he comes to deliver the milk. He opens his heart and says that he loves her. She reacts very coldly and asks, “What does he want from her, a kiss or sexual intercourse? He's too naive for these blunt practicalities of lovemaking. He seems to want nothing but love; he invites her for a date and she agrees. He seems so happy that he fails to see through the nature of her acceptance. They meet in a cafe and he tells all the details of what he had seen of her life in the last one year of peeping. He gives her back the letters sent by her boyfriend. She is not feeling anything positive for him but she wants to know how much he really knows about. Otherwise, he seems to be an intelligent boy who knows multiple languages and is quite good in memory. She tricks into a night game with her in her apartment. She excites him sexually but he is a very immature person in sexual matters. She plays with him, arouses him and he loses his control and ejaculates prematurely. She says a bit sarcastically, “that’s all there is of love. Clean yourself up in the bathroom; there is a towel.” He feels a sense of both betrayal and humiliation. In full desperation, he runs away from there. He has been demolished through power of sex. The paradox of situation is that sex is a liminal act and love is always a possibility of transcendence. The realm of threshold can also be a realm of risk and betrayal. This is what happens to Tomek. The fact of the matter is that he has gone beyond his scopophilic addiction. Magda is no more a visual object for him rather she is both a possibility of redemption and affection for him but she demolishes that hope with the sheer brutal power of her sexual strength.

Once Tomek leaves like that, she realises her mistake but she doesn't know how to talk to him again. On the other side, Tomek is not able to tolerate the stigma of a failed lover. He slits his veins and allows himself to die but his friend's mother (with whom he is staying) happens to know the truth and manages to save the boy. Magda  keeps trying to control the damage but cannot. She goes to the post office but she doesn't find him; she enquires from the postman about what happened to him and comes to know of the reality. Her sense of guilt increases. She wants to meet him but doesn't know where he is. She goes to different hospitals but fails to find him. Finally, she goes to his home and meets the old lady. The lady is aware of the entire episode; she's a bit hateful with her and calls her a bad luck for him. Magda returns with a heavy heart but keeps hoping that Tomek will be back. In the end, she meets him at the post office but he reacts coldly, “He is no more peeping at her.” Now, it's his turn of humiliation. This film is a tragic one. It shows both the characters as the victims of a desire unsupported by the real dialogue, sustained effort and non-dependence of technology. In this sense, it is also commentary on the failure of technology to reimburse the sectors of human alienation. Too much belief in the instruments coupled with desire for instant realisation is a malady that afflicts contemporary civilisation. Kieslowski is bitter about that. He exhibits the impossibility of equivalence between the nonhuman element of technology and the supra-human factors of life.

No comments: