Film Noir / Sartre on the Fantastic / Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive

In her book about film noir “Power and paranoia: history, narrative and the American cinema, 1940-1950”, Dana Polan quotes Jean-Paul Sartre on the Fantastic:

“The fantastic is no longer for modern man anything but a way of seeing his own reality reflected back at him.” And Sartre goes on to find the traces of this fantastic precisely in the resistance of everyday human objects to everyday human projects in an ordered world in which “each [tool] represents a piece of worked matter, their ensemble is controlled by a manifest order, and the signification of this order is an end, an end that is myself or, more precisely, the human in me, the consumer in me”.”

“Objects don’t have the mission of serving ends but rather of relentlessly manifesting a fleeting and unsettling finality: thus, this labyrinth of hallways, doors, and stairways that lead nowhere, innumerable signposts that dot routes and signify nothing.”

I like the way this quotation refers to the warped spaces in David Lynch’s movies or Resnais’ “ Last year in Marienbad”.

“As Sartre notes in his analysis of the fantastic, much of the horrific uncanniness of a new fantastic art of everyday life derives from its disturbance of systems of communicated meaning; uncannily anticipating Lacan’s argument. Sartre suggests that horror comes from a letter that reaches its destination, but reaches it wrongly.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, “Aminidab, ou du fantastique considere comme une langue”, Situations (Paris: Gallimard, 1947)

In “More than night: film noir in its contexts”, James Naremore talks about david Lynch’s “Lost Highway” and “Mulholland Drive”:

“In regard to Lost Highway, Zizek argues that “one should absolutely insist that we are dealing with a real story (of the impotent husband, etc.) that, at some point (that of the slaughter of Renee), shifts into psychotic hallucination in which the hero reconstructs the parameters of the Oedipal triangle that again make him potent. … [We] return to reality, precisely when … the impossibility of the hallucination reasserts itself””

About the witchy hobo living near the dumpster at Winkie’s Diner in “Mulholland Drive”:
” “He’s the one who’s doing it”, a character says at one point, and at the end of the film we see the derelict in possession of the blue metallic cube that provided a hinge between “dream” and “reality”. Whatever his or her symbolic function might be (abject reality? the Lacanian “Real”? the Freudian id or “it”? the dirt and poverty we’re afrais to recognize?), he os she exists both within and beyond the time-space inhabited by Betty and Diane, and he or she might well be dreaming everything.”

“Diane dreams (or in my view the film dreams) that she is Betty, a fantasmatic ego ideal who achieves blissful sexual love with Rita; afterward, Rita takes Betty to the beautifully tawdry, patently artificial Club Silencio, a melancholic netherworld where fantasy begins to break down and where, in McGowan’s words, “we experience the loss of a relationship we have never had”. Unlike the male character in Lost Highway, Diane elaborates her fantasy to the point where Betty attains a moment of fulfillment, but this entirely imaginary experience is followed by a scene of painful mourning, then by the black hole of the unrepresentable, and then by an awakening into desire – a repetitive, excruciating longing for an object always out of reach, which can be ended only in death.”

“like all Lynch’s films, Mulholland Dr. is affectively complex, oscillating between humor noir and pathos, between horror and sweetness, between irony and sincerity. No director aside from Hitchcock has been able to invest subjective travelling shots with such uncanny and suspenseful effects, as when Betty first moves through her apartment at Havenhurst or when she and Rita walk along a decaying courtyard toward Diane Selwyn’s bungalow.”

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