Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Enigmatic vs. Explicit: Cryptic vs. Cookie Cutter?

Sunflower...a lifelike portrayal

"Chaos is order yet undeciphered"--opening message of Villeneuve's Enemy.
Sunflowers, through an artist's lens

Last night a friend and I watched Jake Gyllenhaal in another riveting performance...or should I say two. He plays dual doppelganger roles in the 2014 much-lauded Canadian film, the psychological thriller, Enemy. After the movie, my friend, an actor and director himself, had a discussion about why he hated the film, and why I found it mesmerizing. At the heart of our discussion lay the huge difference between us when it comes to thinking about art.

He's a realist, who readily admits that the paintings that adorn his walls are nearly photographic portrayals of scenes depicting the American west. He took a moment to tour my living room. Nothing could be mistaken for a photograph.

"The horses in my paintings are anatomically correct...very true to life," he explained.

I laughed. "The unicorns in my paintings don't vary much from the actual beasts," I countered.

About Enemy. Are the identical men two sides of one man? Do Anthony and his pregnant wife represent an earlier affair of Adam's? One reviewer on Internet Movie Data Base sums it up with the caption, "Kafka Meets Lynch."

Here's the core issue. My friend proved to be unfamiliar with Kafka's Metamorphosis, which I had likened the story line to. I didn't mention Eraserhead, David Lynch's equally disturbing film. When I made the allusion, he grinned.
"Hey, basicallly I'm a handshake guy in a fist-bump world."

I do enjoy my friend's wry humor, and his ability to laugh at himself.

I mentioned that I knew the movie had been adapted by director Denis Villeneuve from a novel, The Double. My friend shook his head dismissively. He didn't seem interested in reading it. This morning I put a hold request on the book with my Orange County branch library. Last night I didn't add that the author, Jose Saramago, was a brilliant and thought-provoking Portuguese novelist, a 1998 Nobel Prize Winner. 

One comment about the movie on the IMDB thread resonated with me. "For those who prefer linear story lines of everyday possibilities the film will likely not find an appreciative audience. This is a film that demands the full attention of the viewer and the acceptance of alternative ways of viewing reality and alternative reality."

When I was a graduate student in English, focusing on late nineteenth century American and British literature, I based my Master's thesis on the role of women in the novels of William Dean Howells. Howells was known as the champion of realism. At the same time I fell under the spell of Henry James, known also for realism, but whose later novels had much in common with the school of impressionism.

I loved both of their works. I admire realism. I admire abstract impressionism. I am fortunate to enjoy the best of both worlds. I even have no problem with imaginative riffs on real people's lives. This next week I plan to watch Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. 

Are such films pretentious artsy garbage? Indeed, are imagery and symbolism mere smoke and mirrors purposely tossed out to anger those who believe that some artists simply are trying to act intellectually superior? Is it all right ever to distort reality?

Lewis Carroll wrote a bit about that:
'But I don't want to go among mad people,' said Alice. 'Oh, you can't help that,' said the cat. 'We're all mad here.'

Do we always have to call a spade a spade? Do we always need to solve the riddle that is life, or how we perceive it? Is it all right sometimes to remember that life is but a dream? 

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