Thursday, December 22, 2005

33 x Around The Sun

As an independent, experimental movie, 33 Times Around the Sun from British director John Hardwick starts off in a way that hardly allows one to predict its considerable value. At first, strange characters appear next to the road in the middle of the night interacting with the main character - 'H'. As I was watching these eccentricities I felt sure I would file this movie under "quirky". But later the repetition of elements (the surreal cop car that pops up from time to time, and the film crew) start to give the impression that there may be deeper themes at work. It is only by the end of the movie, however, that the film shows it has larger ambitions. A point of closure is reached that brings the main character's drama into its real setting and the rather clever nature of the script comes into its own. In addition there are also themes that raise the film from the merely surreal to metaphor, such as its commentary on filmmaking and the place it has in the consciousness of the main character.

In order to make some sense of this surprisingly interesting movie I gathered a few ideas together. To lay the groundwork - and from here on there are spoilers galore so it's only for those who have seen the movie, or have nothing better to read :-p - by the end we find out that the main character has most probably just been wandering around the hospital interating with other inmates. It is not an abandoned hospital, as it seems at the start when he wakes up, but instead is full of interesting and colourful characters (well, other inmates, and a few official people like the security personnel and the nurse/doctor/therapist).

Starting with the last scene, when he looks out of the window and the camera cuts to the dog (his companion during parts of the movie), one is given the impression that he longs to be outside - outside the hospital - and that is where his mind wanders off to when the other "disturbed" people in this supposedly mental institution appears along the streets and near houses and in a takeout coffee bar during the first part of the film. It may be that he had a dog once, and when he is outside he imagines he is still with his dog, and perhaps it is his real dog waiting outside for him; but it also represents his mute, loyal spirit trying to roam and be free, but always returning to his confinement - to a part of him that is trapped and locked up.

So the second part of the movie is spent inside the hospital, to where he - notably - returns through the strange cubicle after he hides the gun in a hole inside the cubicle. When he exits the cubicle he is surprised to find himself in the hospital - "back to reality" - and immediately asks the two familiar-looking janitors if they've seen his dog. They don't and "it's against the rules" to bring dogs there. They put him in a wheelchair and push him around - clearly they view him as an inmate who has lost his marbles.

But most of the movie - the first part - is spent on the streets. And this is where we meet the characters who make up important parts of his consciousness. We meet the movie directors (director and assistant, and other assistants), and it is through the movie theme that we have a sense of him rehearsing something: something real of his past, but through other faces, disguises and uncertain events ("first positions please!"). We meet Ruth Spencer, a girl who recognises him but whom he cannot claim as a girlfriend to other people. The same figure/actress is also his nurse/doctor in the hospital, and a more professional personality during some of the movie-making scenes. And there is the mad professor-character who talks to him about Einstein in the coffee bar.

These introductions tell us a few things, the most important of which may be the love he feels for Ruth. Is she a girl he really loved and sometimes visited (before he was confined to the hospital), who loved tea and for whom he would buy tea from the coffee bar a few streets away? Some sequences recur such as the music she dances to when he clearly feels an adoration for her - the music repeats later when he does the "final act" scene, walking down the street. On the bench he also touches her hair, playfully, and picks a flea from her hair (which speaks, strangely enough). Later this moment is captured on the first photograph taken by the same character/acttress when she is part of the movie-making team - perhaps his therapist this time, directing him through his mind, helping him to remember and make peace.

Ruth - and the therapist by transference - represents the light that keeps him going. In his search through his mind and the hospital, she is what makes it possible for him to go on day after day.

There is a mysterious neon police car that bumps and spills the tea he meant to take to Ruth. When he returns to Ruth's place he finds that she is gone, as if the police car somehow intervened to remove her from his evening. This could hint at the police's later role in disrupting his life forever by shooting him - a story that is enacted during the so-called "Final Act" scene. Like other characters, the two policemen turn out to be the security personnel at the hospital.

The "Final Act" scene brings the movie theme forward - the assistant director says: "you are the reason we are here". This is his movie, the trip through his consciousness was directed for his own sake. Perhaps the therapist is leading him through his mind, and perhaps getting other people from the hospital to act in one another's dramas is part of a therapeutic process that we are not told about, but whatever the case - the main character is suddenly totally aware that he is on cue. And to emphasise this we see the black and red markers at his feet. We see his back, he turns around, and then he starts walking down the street. He is on his way and he is going to do something - he the "hitherto unknown assassin" (the markers are later echoed in the dance scene, where there are numerous markers for him to dance on before the other performers/actors join him). Having seen the earlier scene where a man is shot in front of him, and later followed by the comments from the director, we as viewers are in a position to understand that he is the person who killed that man.

The camera crew follows him down the street as he walks down, (fake) gun in his hand. The very same music that played during the Ruth Spencer scene when she dances now plays again. Like the photograph, this links his reenaction to the love he feels for Ruth Spencer - presumably through the nurse/therapist who caringly guides him through his mind. The loving therapist/professional/nurse suddenly says, as he gets to the bottom of the street, "no let him go". She tries to encourage him here and this transference of his love for Ruth to the therapist/director is crucial to foster a caring relationship between him and the nurse/therapist.

When he turns around the crew has disappeared. In a sense it's as if she has led him to this point and now wants him to go off on his own, unscripted and undirected, and explore and perhaps break out of the repetition of the trauma-loop that he keeps enacting in his mind.

It would appear that the act he committed was to kill someone ("did he deserve to die?" he asks the movie director via the therapist/professional, and she interprets back for him as a go-between, softening the message). This is played once, and then when the movie crew appears it is repeated - that's when he realises he is in a movie. Shortly thereafter he is summoned for the "final act".

This trauma makes him doubt his own moral character. It happens later as well when he asks the nurse "Am I a bad man?" and she says "You are what you decide to be". Once again she is encouraging him to break free from his trauma and become whole.

To emphasise how important this theme of encouragement from the female character's side appears to be I will briefly backtrack: just before the "final act" she takes his picure and the photograph does not show him at that moment but instead in the tender moment when he is with Ruth on the bench taking the flea from her hair. The "Final act" sequence then plays out with him eventually walking down the street and the therapist/director saying "no let him go". After that he seems to play out another part that is very traumatic - the police find him and shoot him. This is probably one of the events that led to his breakdown and him being committed to the mental hospital. The movie then cuts back to the scene where she takes his picture, but this time it is the real picture and - significantly - she says: "We will keep doing it until we get it right". She is full of encouragment and support, she will help see him through this.

During the "Final Act" scene the therapist/director encourages him to "walk off the set" of this movie - to find his freedom again. But up to now the only freedom he finds, outside in the streets, is roaming through the mental spaces of his old hell that he keeps living through every day. Orpheus' hell, with the therapist (formerly his love for Ruth) his Eurydice.

Nevertheless the movie is left open-ended in a meaningful echo of the idea that the main character should "walk off the set" of his own movie to find his freedom. I point to the very last scene in the movie when the dog - a part of his spirit - is shown standing on the sidewalk outside the hospital. The dog wanders off and actually WALKS OUT OF THE CAMERA FRAME. Does he find freedom, or merely the same hell again? We don't know but for as long as the friendly female nurse/therapist is there, there is evidently hope.


The work of Jacob Moreno, brought to my attention while I was reading up on Family Therapy, quite closely resembles what I imagine the therapist/director female lead in the movie may have been trying to do with her client and subject the lead male actor. Moreno created what he called psychodrama in a fusion of drama and therapy. The very interpersonal situations that gave rise to the client's problems are recreated in these psychodrama sessions. It even uses a stage, and other clients of the therapist (read: patients) usually fill the roles of important people in the person's life. The description does not say whether other figures at the point of trauma will necessarily be included in the drama - although this would only make sense - but since the description is written from the point of view of family therapy, this angle may have been omitted from the description.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Selfishness and self-interest

Selfishness and self-interest defines selfishness as being "concerned chiefly or only with oneself".

It is my contention that selfishness, if it is to be a useful analytical concept, should take into account the possibility of being applied to a social unit other than the individual. That is to say it may pertain to the collective consciousness of a nation, a group, or a couple as the case may be. Its usage in this case would be similar to the notion of self-interest and one may have to regard the traditional view of selfishness as an extreme measurement of self-interest in general, but more likely as an indication of a consciousness that is dissonant with the estimating consciousness.

Francisco Varela states that “there is mind in every unity engaged in conversation-like actions, however spatially distributed or shortlived” and calls this a “conversational domain”.

Following this it may be more accurate to say that self-interest is realized only through this shared consciousness – even though it may manifest apparently monadically in an individual.