Monday, 6 February 2012

On The Unrequited Love

In her absence - or in the absence of her - Joseph clings to the only corporal sign of life; the television set. Its light, blue, like Klein, or as reminder of the troubled skies and crashing waves that Godard intercuts in an effort to create visual commentary on the subject at hand - emotions suggested as ever through figurative associations - illuminates the darkness of the room; burning bright enough to cast the shadow of this man in mourning, creating the presence of two when only one is seen. The illusion of light creating life, as Joseph, in his solitude, cradles the early-morning static of this 'box', bereft of images and thus without reason, just as he is without reason without Carmen there to cling to.

As much as the image might imply a kind of vague generational critique, with Godard as the eternal curmudgeon; the mad old uncle casting a narrowed eye toward the youth and their relationship with the TeeVee, enamoured by its spectacle - like James Stewart in Rear Window (1954), the eye becoming a telephoto lens, each channel offering a window into a possible world, to be watched, from a distance, and without feeling - there's still something almost brazenly romantic about its presentation. The character, warmed by a cold blue frost of static noise that runs like sparks through the stubble, finds something in this embrace that is absent from his subsequent interaction with the titular character.

There, moments of love and tenderness are found between moments of great cruelty. A kiss very quickly betrayed by a vicious word or a cold clinch of despair or desperation. Here the embrace of this object, inanimate and without soul, is characteristic of Godard's ability to suggest layers of commentary through an image that at once seems rather straightforward - a symbol that when taken literally could seem like a farce, consistent with the broad slapstick of much of the director's middle-period approach - but when viewed as a representation, or as an almost abstract expression, is full of emotion and meaning, open to interpretation. It's that poet's sorrow for the complexities of the human condition at its most simple or profound.

Prénom Carmen directed by Jean-Luc Godard, 1983:

However, the significance of the scene speaks to more than just Joseph's yearning for this beautiful nuisance. Instead, it's a kind of creative shorthand for the one-way love affair that exists between the audience and the work. The television - at this point still referred to, both dismissively and endearingly, as the 'small screen' - is, in some little way, a substitute for the cinema. With such a comparison in place, it makes perfect sense that in this moment of great loneliness Joseph would cling to this substitute as a surrogate for Carmen. In love with the image, its void represented by light, blue, like the words to the song that plays on the soundtrack - "everything is turning blue now" - or like his own heart in anguish - "there'll be someone else to hold you" - but unable to receive the same kind of love in return.

Of course the television is, like cinema, a dead object, brought to life by an audience willing enough to engage it's ideas or emotions through a genuine act of faith. What we get out of it depends on what we put in. A projection - personal and subjective - of our own experiences, wants, needs and desires onto these scenes, characters, words and images; the screen before us becoming a mirror, reflecting the great fantasy, not of how things are, but of how we want things to be. The greater the reflection, the greater our appreciation of the work. If cinema really is this magic mirror onto which we project our own individual dreams and desires, then television is the box we bury them in. Such is life. As much as we like to gesture and pontificate, citing the greatness of a work as we see it, or declaring from the rooftops in a voice as certain as the day that what we've just witnessed is a work of true beauty, it is an experience that exists only for us; like the greatest of all loves.

Joseph, like the audience, thinks he is in love; but Carmen is not a human being capable of receiving such love, let alone giving it in return. She is a character, created for a drama, and appropriated here for the purposes of creative commentary. She is, like the image, an empty space. Again, like the audience when gazing in wonder at the figures on screen, Joseph is in love with what he wants Carmen to be, how he interprets her through his own personal and subjective experiences. He cannot possible love her for what she is, which is an object, less tangible and less real than the television that he caresses in her absence. His attempt, in this scene, to find fulfilment through the embrace of this non-image illustrates the void that exists between the audience and the work as a figurative or poetic expression of the unrequited love.