Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Great article on endings by Steven Winn in the San Francisco chronicle:

Endings, by their nature, are exquisitely torturous. We're all psychologically primed to crave resolving climaxes, and simultaneously inclined to doubt, mistrust, reject and even fear them.

Catharsis -- in drama or a therapist's office -- is both. Aristotle called it recognition and reversal. Theater audiences, readers, music lovers and filmgoers feel it in their bones, their flesh, their communal DNA.

Endings define and disappoint, gratify and frustrate. They confer meaning and confirm the structure of what's come before -- in a movie, a sonata, a work of fiction. But they also kill off pleasure, snap us out of the dream and clamp down order on experience that we, as citizens of the modern world, believe to be open-ended, ambiguous and unresolved. It's a delicious paradox.

Naturally, it brought to mind Luis Bunuel's film The Phantom of Liberty, one of the strangest films ever made: a series of stories, each of which deliberately frustrates our desire for an ending. A bizarre story begins, builds up, and then wanders off to another one. Very Surrealist and very Bunuel: anticipating viewer response was very much what he was about, and he liked screwing with us in hopes of making some larger point, which in this film was -- I think -- our need for narrative order in a world without any, or something like that. Richard Linklater's film Slacker was much influenced by it, and I've occasionally toyed with the idea that Jarmusch's Mystery Train and Tarantino's Pulp Fiction were too, although I can't prove it.

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