Human Psychological Condition in Times of Collapse

Wild Grass
This poster of “The Wild Grass” points out the two aspects of today’s human condition: weeds are the extreme and despotic impulses in people’s psyches and at the same time people themselves who cannot keep these impulses under control (for example, many representatives of the financial elite in US, who act wildly irresponsibly, and what is even more crazy – getting away with it.) This is exactly the last – third aspect of wild-grass-ness of today’s life – it is a socio-cultural structure which corresponds to (and even provokes) people’s compulsive-obsessive condition. The role played by technology in our wild obsessions is a part of this third aspect – it makes the consequences of our psychological and socio-cultural weed-ness so destructive, exactly as Resnais shows it in this film. If an airplane could be added to the figures in this poster then it would semantically complete the picture.

The problem is not to make political films, but to make films politically.
Jean-Luc Godard

“The Wild Grass” is not Resnais’ first warning. He was already demonstrating to us our dangerously miserable psychological state in “Muriel” (1963). We in Europe and U.S. weren’t listening because we didn’t understand – we didn’t want to have our comfortable feeling of belonging to the best political systems in the best period of Western history darkened. And we even found a way to enjoy the film’s formal perfection and structural symmetry which have hypnotized us into a kind of fascinated stupor. It was difficult to resist the charm of Delphine Seyrig. It helped to misunderstand the film.

Banality of amorous spontaneity
Helene Aughain
Delphine Seyrig
Helene is ontologically lost and emotionally wandering; she will never be found and awakened. The essence of her charm is the acceptance of her helplessness, her ability to live with it because her grace is rooted in her melancholy. Her smile and her tears, her generosity and her disappointments, intensity or stillness of her emotions are energies which are trying to balance a world going its own ways regardless of what’s happening in the human soul.

Odd Couple
Alphonse (to the left) and Ernest are partners in business – they fight each other and survive on one another their whole life, and will continue after their death. They are like Bushmerican corporations and terrorists who are fighting them – inseparable and deadly hateful of one another (if you go to other countries and tell people there what to do and not do don’t be surprised if somebody will not like it and start to resist). These odd couples will never stop fighting – they consist of people who need those they hate.

Cheap Prosperity
With unique editing Resnais shows belligerent advancement of new apartment buildings (with apartments as standard as the personalities of those who live in them).

Later it was “Je t’aime, Je t’aime” (1968) with its explanation that the fetishistic and megalomaniacal nature of human emotional reactions (sometimes, however, impressive in its beauty) makes it impossible for human beings to use scientific knowledge they are capable to produce. Attempts to do so only make human emotional vulnerability stronger (with more suffering as a result) and finally will become a danger for human survival.

Science Treats People As Experimental Mice
Personal relationships and human intimate reactions become in “Je t’aime, Je t’aime” (“I Love you, I Love you’) a part of a scientific experiment, but treating human beings as a tiny mouse we see in this shot, only produces more and more suffering and brings about catastrophic results.

In “Providence” (1977) Resnais warns us about the coming end of an epoch of liberal democracy and the independence of the human internal world – the both are personified by an exceptional character – a charismatic fiction writer Clive Langram (John Gilgud), whose intellectual exuberance and genuine and elegant political dedications are contrasted with the bureaucratic dogmatism of the next generation of the Western social elite. From writers to lawyers, from an opened historical horizon to a stationary culture and controlling Law – the transition from socio-cultural modernism to fragmented and irresponsible post-modernism is in the air. Our life, our values and ideals, and the very fundament of Western culture are on the verge of being radically changed – the mutation we feel today every minute of our lives.

This Great Dying Liberal Culture
The seventy-eight years old father – a brilliant intellectual eccentric, his elder son – a successful lawyer with his wife, his younger illegitimate (officially adopted) son, an astro-physicist (late branch of Western intellectual energies), and the two house-keepers and care-takers – share a luxurious, but not tastelessly so, lunch in honor of the old master who is vitally on the verge of death.

Historical Shift From Writers to Lawyers
In today’s world when people can have a meal together but either without exchanging words at all or just exchange business concerns or everyday trivialities to hear the characters’ interlocution in “Providence” is like to be present before a disappeared intellectual culture of scope, wit and poetry, and before a psychodrama of intellectual refinement.

“Melo” (1986) lets us see what artistic intellectuals (esoteric artists of high culture) were occupied with in the period when European totalitarianism was forming (German Nazism, its French repercussions, Italian Fascism, etc.). By pursuing sublime amorous involvements these sensitive and sophisticated souls left the socio-political field to be devastated by the illiterate and mediocre crowds looking for self-assertion and violence. Art and souls in love with one another lead the film protagonists towards the “other-worldly” kingdom of an over-existential joy and suffering, far away from the clanging and thunder of a world of clashing “survivals” all around. The heroine’s suicide doesn’t look (and is not felt by her) like death – it is the act of glorious self-realization, reaching the absolute, a point that is equal to eternity.

Art Amidst Totalitarianism
Music composes and conducts a love between the worshippers of music. Love becomes the blood of music. The expressionistic figure in the background signifies what is left from existential human beings in a beautified world of a heavenly marriage between earthy love and “divine” art.

Toast to Art and Love
This toast is not only for the internationally famous violinist but for the power of music over the human souls and human love.

I Want to Go Home” (1989) is, probably, the closest to “The Wild Grass” in Resnais’ rare ability to combine a directorial compassion for the characters (based on identification with their humanity and vulnerability) with de-sacralizing sarcasm targeting their psychological immaturity and greedy infantilism. Intellectual bastardization of much of European intelligentsia in the later part of the 20th century is mixed in the same globalist bowl with innocent vulgarity of American pop-culture. You can read more about this film (the article “Cultural Apocalypse by Means of Comedy” and analyses of its shots were posted on Oct.28, 2009).

In “The Same Old Song” (1997) Resnais tried hard to withdraw sarcasm directed at the flattened human emotions and debilitated relationships, and to concentrate on the compassionate vision of reality. Actors who regularly appear in Resnais’ films and have become synonymous with various states and aspects of human soul (Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditi and Andre Dissolier), in this film are incarnated into all of us. We lost them as our ego-ideals but were also ready to feel encouraged (elevated by being psychologically mixed with them) – this confusion didn’t disappear after thirteen years since the release of the film. The film registers how the very human soul of our culture came to fall and transform into emotional crumbs corresponding to our fragmented and indulgent everyday life. The overwhelming power of pop-music to corrupt human emotional sensibility is exposed in the film in its full power.

General Begins to Sing With a Female Voice
German general Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris in 1944, in this very moment registered in the shot starts to sing with a female voice a popular French song that praises the beauty of Paris (more exactly, he is not singing himself but passionately identifying with a female singer to the point of emulating her, as all the characters of the film and we all do with endless pop-singers without bothering about gender correspondence. The principle of lip syncing (including cross-gender ones) that Resnais deploys in this film emphasizes the emotionally disorienting and destabilizing (and at the same time standardizing) power of (commercial) mass art over human psyche.

Psycho-somatic Illnesses
According to father and elder sister to provide body with banana sugar on time will fix all the health problems including mental fatigue and moral disgust with life.

Next two films before “The Wild Grass” – “Not on the Lips” (2003) and “Private Fears in Public Places” (2006) – were tormenting, traumatizing and locking you in unbearability without the slightest hint of a way out. It was too much truth to digest. Now Resnais has withdrawn compassion and allows sarcasm go all the way. If we are, indeed, like the heroes of these films, and if the very meaning of human life has been so destroyed – then how it‘s possible to go on and continue to live? At this point Resnais’ opinion about human condition in the beginning of the 21st century starts to resonate with the impressions left by the ruling regime in US from 2000 to 2008 and from the people who back up and support the conservative authoritarian style of governing. Resnais’ last films represent the new century as quite frightening. Something terrifying has happened under the human skin, inside the human faces, in intonations of human voices, in what people are occupied with and how they are going about it.

The films were so impossible – almost not watchable. Their semantic structure has lost (usual for Resnais) elasticity. Their rhythm became fragmented. Actors stopped to play emotional violin and started to play some unknown instruments producing false and irritating sounds. The semantic energies of these films have lost the ability to maneuver and develop, the films intentionally became psychologically tautological like the late Hollywood productions which are organically so. Pieces in each film became like rocks barely related to one another. The hints, allusions and details in cinematic narratives became reduced in their meaning and coloration while characters’ emotions registered by the camera are transformed into repetitive, monotonous and staggering self-expressions.

And here is “Les herbes folles” (2009) – “The Wild Grass”. It is today all around us in U.S. – these wild impulses, the absurd unstoppable desires, these extreme and extremist drives, all these “As operation Get Rich or Die Tryin’ got under way he and his friends tripped on ‘magic milk-shakes’ – a concoction of Haagen-Dazs, skim milk, Ecstasy, mushrooms and LSD.” (“Rolling Stone”, “The Fast Times and Hard Fall of the Green Hat Gang”, June 10, issue 1106, 2010, p. 69) “Wild Grass” is about 21st century America all over. War in Iraq is Resnais’ wild grass. Financial collapse and absurd behaviors which brought it about are the wild grass. Petroleum hemorrhage in the Golf of Mexico is wild grass. Tea party movement is wild grass. Anti-Obama jingoism is wild grass. Pop- and pet-movement against “the government take-over” is again wild grass. Stara Perlin (Sara Palin) is a doll made of wild grass. The prospects of war with Iran and Venezuela, and coups’ in South America are still more examples of the wild grass in American souls.

When the human spiritual need is covered with asphalt the obsessive growth of the weeds is inevitable – psychological asphalt provokes its own disruption (grass that presses through the cracks in the asphalt is Resnais’ repeating image in the first part of the film). Finally, in the second part the cultural asphalt breaks up and is smashed and we see fields of weeds. Because American life (and European life following the leader) has become more and more a calculating universe of mechanical survival – psychological wholeness cannot sustain itself. It collapses into fragments and they are exactly the wild grass impulses and obsessions Resnais demonstrates. Close to the end of the film psychological fragments became a stream of impulses – one unstoppable death carrying flood.

The characters’ orientation on exclusively material prosperity and neglect of existentially spiritual needs creates a situation when these unattended needs start to demand exaggerated compensations in the form of wild obsessions. Combination of megalomania and triviality in people’s souls creates an emotional and behavioral absurd – return of repressed meaning of life: what returns is not exactly what was repressed but its twisted, trivialized, morbid, crumpled form. What was once a normal human need for the sublime and contemplative feelings returns (after having been repressed and neglected by our culture) as exaggerated, metaphorical and obsessive pseudo-desires. We in U.S. are right amidst this mutation from human psychology into chaotic psychological splinters which are starting to run wild.

Providing for prosperity (driving between home and office) intervenes into a personality like street into bedroom and splits the person into two fragments: the functionary and the eccentric. In this shot the protagonist is simultaneously driving and is moved by his obsessions.

The magnificent cinematography, the virtuoso editing and monumental imagery are in a pointed (by the director) contrast to the pettiness and triviality of the characters’ motivations. The shockingly banal images (such as Andre Dissolier unable to zip up his broken zipper – a situation that is partially responsible for the plane crash) become an apotheosis of the film and prediction of our future sensibility. Private obsessions start to move our behavior in public space, and particularly in U.S., to define the conservative segment of political process.

The end of the film suggests it seems that it really doesn’t matter whether the main characters survive or perish, or are alive or dead. Behavioral and psychological nonsense and absurd dissolve the difference between being and non-being. The comical perspective tragically dominates the film in spite of its tragic overtones and tragic end.