Mixture of Super-Human Rationality of Technology and the Growing Irrationality of Human Soul

“Theology, once it is linked with irrationalism, runs the risk of becoming demonology.”
Thomas Mann, “Doctor Faustus”

Collecting Evidence of Super-natural Events
What we see here is Abraham Klimt set on his way to investigate the evidence of the intervention of super-natural powers into the marriage of Rachel and Simon Donnadieu, the alleged event that stirred up people’s curiosity/imagination and became a matter of local legend. Klimt looks from the distance at the village where Rachel and Simon live. Before actually starting to move toward the place Klimt contemplatively stands observing it. Godard begins to shoot couple of seconds before Klimt starts to walk toward the village because he wants to emphasize that Klimt not only knows why he is interested in Donnadieu story but that he himself believes in the super-human interventions into human affairs. Godard uses this principle of showing people right before they start to walk toward their destination not only with Klimt but also with other characters looking for contact with the super-natural – to make their movement look exceptionally important: motivated by extra-ordinary reasons. By doing this Godard transforms, on the level of the very form, the human walk into a pilgrimage – he creates the image of walk as a pilgrimage.

"Cargo" Photo of Donnadieu Couple that Reflects the investigator
This is how Godard introduces the Donnadieu couple to us – through their “cargo” photos in the garage they own. They are prosaic people without anything remarkable or exceptional about them. Being like this, it seems, is the necessary background for getting the unconscious need to glamorize themselves through belief in their exceptional – super-natural identity (humorously hinted at by the last name Godard gives them: combination of donna – [Rachel] and dieu – [Simon]). That’s how some people who are stuck in the misery of their internal world come to religious belief – with an unconscious hope to become “somebody” in other people’s and their own eyes. The rumors about God’s intervention into Donnadieus’ marriage started by Rachel herself who confessed to the pastor that she starts to feels in her husband some kind of super-human presence. Looking at the photo of Rachel and Simon we see that somebody is reflected on its surface – it is Abraham Klimt looking at the picture while visiting the place after the events in question have become an enigmatic past. Why Godard shows us Klimt reflected in the picture? Because it makes Klimt as if part of the picture (a third person in the photo) – Godard makes a point that people who are interested in the super-natural events while believing in them are part of the reality of those events. We cannot separate the reality from the story-telling about reality. For this reason Godard didn’t clear with a “super-natural” objectivity what’s really happened between Rachel and Simon – the reality of god’s presence or absence can be identified only by belief, and Godard’s task in the film is the analysis of the growing proclivity of human beings in the West at the end of 20th (and beginning of 21st) century to believe in super-human powers.

Rachel Flirts With the Sun
This shot of Rachel is part of the footage that shows her on her way to share her feelings about her husband’s Godly nature with the local pastor – suddenly Rachel just stops in the middle of the road giving herself to the caress of the warmth of sun-light, like some people enjoy doing it in early spring when the weather starts to improve after the winter season. In Rachel’s case, however, this séance of intimacy with the sun continues for a bit longer. In other shots assembled with this one we see better how the sun penetrates Rachel’s hair, how her hair is ablaze by the sunlight, how languorously she lets the sun to molest her. Godard here shows Rachel’s psychological condition at a time when her feelings about her husband possessing super-natural energies have intensified. The reason Godard in this shot makes her appear out of focus is, it seems, to emphasize that in the very moment of being caressed by the touches of the sun she completely loses the perception of human world around her – her feelings already belong to another world (to the power of the pagan Gods).

Rachel is Disappointed With Her Husband's Prosaicity/Ordinarity/Triviality
In this and the following shot (of Rachel with her husband) Godard shows her emotional alienation from intimacy with Simon (preceding her growing compensatory sensitivity toward the supernatural powers outside him), and his suffering because of her disappointment in him and their love. She looks away from him as if waiting for somebody else.

Rachel as a Sunflower
Finally she completely turns away from him and, like a sun flower, turns her face toward the ancient pagan sun. Rachel is in a psychological conflict between being a pious wife, loyal to her husband and a woman yearning for “romantic” love. It will take her some time to unconsciously create a compromise between these two positions – the possible logical chain in her unconscious is – love between my husband and me has died – if only he could love me as the sun is capable of loving – I like to be loved by the sun – I feel the sun’s presence in my husband.

Train as a Super-natural "Creature"
In shots like this one Godard shows the power of technological super-machines to create the superstitious reactions – in a several seconds the boy will make a strange gesture with his left hand, as if trying to protect himself against the coming train. In another shot we see how the passing ship puts the onlookers into a kind of trance.

Simonized Zeus or Zeuisized Simon?
That’s how Simon looks as Zeus (or how Zeus incarnated into Simon looks). Facial features belong to Simon, but a disgusting – despotic expression without a trace of modesty belongs to our epoch with its globalist expansions and dreams about financial self-enrichment and conquest of the world by economic and military means.

Man's Power Over Woman Is Like God's Power Over Humans When Woman Belongs to God, Man's Gaze on Her "Shall be" Blocked
Max, one of Zeus‘s entourage, after the power of god has locked Rachel into the focus of godly desire, prevents the camera taking any pictures of the woman chosen by god (or may be, Max is just a foreigner with Middle-Eastern appearance and with an aggressive manner, who jokingly covers the camera‘s view to prevent observing a woman attending herself). In “Woe” Godard often shuffles mythological and realistic perceptions of events (which can be also mythological, only belong to other myths).

Simon-Zeus Pulls Rachel into Bed
Zeus pulls Rachel, who has lost her consciousness in front of his majestic irresistibility, into bed (or Simon dressed in Zeus’ robe pulls Rachel, who has lost her consciousness in front of the super-natural energies inside her husband, into their marital bed).

Zeus Walks in the OceanZeus Leaves Rachel and Leaves Simon's Body

In historical periods when socio-economic situation becomes volatile and unreliable (and people don’t know what to think and what to hope for and then jump from one extreme to another to restore their belief in life) the need for contact with super-natural powers are activated in the population. People start to look for signs of the existence of such powers, some start to imagine it, some unconsciously imitate it and even impersonate it (without being aware of what they are doing). They look for supernatural powers in order to be under its protection and even somehow to “assemble” themselves to its energy and might.

According to Godard’s film, the epoch at the end of 20th century (and today we can add – the beginning of 21st century) is especially vulnerable to become a reservoir of people’s desperate unconscious need for the appearance of pagan gods. This situation is helped by a historically unprecedented development of technology, which people who feel lost in the chaos of the historical process leading us ahead to nobody knows where, tend to worship. The might of technology is felt by us as a mysterious presence of the super-natural energies.

Technological machines (passing ships which people like to watch as if in trance – Godard doesn’t show trance but its essence, when some supernatural power makes people freeze as if without any reason, trains with their aura of might, cars, boats, talking pin-ball automats), in combination with giant business enterprises and international corporations with their impersonal and de-nationalized employees, are perceived by our unconscious as a kind of incarnations of power which are too strong and too bizarre to be natural. The power of this impersonal super-“organisms” stimulates in people the superstitious feelings. We unconsciously perceive too big powers as super-natural. And by admiring it we perceive ourselves as being a part of the super-human reality.

While modern science creates technological giants and today’s imagination – financial super-dreams, people’s unconscious is quite archaic: without scientific education and power of the self people are not capable to balance the shock of mechanization of life, the growing contrast between the fragility of human body and technological power and between our ontological smallness and globalist grandeur. Men became prone to self-aggrandize (to Zeusize themselves, to use Godard’s images). Women, bastardized by the prose of living contrasted with the glory of technology and financial opportunities opened by the global economy, like to aggrandize their husbands, and their love and feelings in relation to them. When an ordinary person, like the main character of the film, Simon, begins to flirt with international business opportunities his wife Rachelle feels that he is changing – not only that he is becoming more alienated from her but she starts to feel that he actually has powers that were absent before.

Seductive technological pretensions of our culture, the personal anxiety for not being on the level of financial opportunities and then being left behind, and our existentially spiritual underdevelopment make us frightened and riskily adventurous, and dangerous to ourselves and to the world. When cheap superstitions are mixed with megalomaniacal pretensions the human world becomes dangerously misbalanced. It is this extreme and absurd world Godard demonstrates to us in “Woe”.

Numerous pagan cults including the fanatic orientation on money power, degradation of Christian beliefs into traditional worship of god’s glory and power, the weakening of human empathy and general humility and farther infantilization of human emotions – create a gap between how our culture perceives itself and real motivations of individuals and groups apocalyptically wide. Misery is another side of glory; confusion is another side of success, feeling of existential dead end is the background of glorious myths, like the presence of globalist ambition is the shining façade of losing our humanity, compassion and interest in each other.

Godard doesn’t create any ambiguity about how the myth of Zeus (who comes during Simon’s business trip to sexually use his wife) begins – it is based on the vision/ narration of a girl-student we saw fascinated earlier with enigmatic pieces of text suggesting the intensity of super-natural emanation. She shares the vision of meeting between Zeus and his two “strategic advisors” with Abraham Klimt (the enthusiastic investigator of spiritual mysteries).

The humanistic education today is so impregnated with self-aggrandizement that nominally educated people (like a professor of German Literature whom Godard intentionally makes to look like Rachel) are no less susceptible to superstitious feelings than the member of the parish, Rachel. Both are victims of the general trend in today’s Western culture to mix de-humanization with spirituality.

Godard includes global economy into factors destabilizing human identity by ripping off human beings out of their land and making them to behave in countries they came into only to make money in an indifferent and even disrespectful and violent ways. It is in this context that Godard in “Woe” predicts the terrorism in 21st century. “Foreigners” come to the West as Zeus’ entourage while Simon-Zeus is a westerner who goes to the East for a good business deal and returns even more Zeusized. “Where is this Rachelle?” – We hear Zeus is asking with made mechanical and monstrous voice of Gerard Depardieu (who plays Simon).

Zeus’ “assistant” Max “collaborates” with Godard’s camera (providing a close-up shot in a right moment) in creating one of the most symbolically charged images of the film – when he pulls up the dress of a young girl while bending her down and exposing her youthful backside in a decorative underwear like a sun disk embellished by the cloud. By doing this Max laughs at mortals by showing them “their, earthy sun, the sun of the human flesh” (the sun they are really obsessed with) and how different it is in its shameful triviality from the sun-God’s visage. This close-up is obscene and sublime at the same time – we recognize its obscenity purely mentally (peripherally) but are really caught by its sudden sublimity – the magic whiteness of the girl’s rear side and her fine underwear seems responsible for this effect when naturalness benevolently combines with artificiality, and nature with civilization.

The film is a unique study of modern sensibility and regressive changes in Western culture – Godard transforms the cinematographic medium into a tool of scientific research of human psyche and cultural trends. After the film is over it is difficult not to keep repeating the authoritarian intonations of pin-ball machine’s commanding voice belonging to our civilization today: “Quit talking and start chalking!”, “Quit talking and start chalking!”, “Quit talking and start chalking!”.

Regardless of our conscious beliefs we are creatures who are unconsciously (really) superstitious, credulous and conformist, and the energies of our prejudices and loyalty to them are mindlessly projected (by us) into the socio-cultural environment and chaotically move there around influencing our life and the world.

Posted on Aug, 3 2014 –   “Oh, Woe Is Me” (1993) by Jean-Luc Godard by Acting-Out Politics