The first position is personified by Philippe – the son of the woman afflicted with terminal illness (he is with his back to us). His indifferent posture with hands in his pockets tells us that he thinks he is beyond everything connected with death (not beyond his mother’s dying, of course, but death as an exceptionally important part of human life). In comparison with the doctor and the nurse with whom Philippe is talking to he is unconcerned about death – it’s, as if, he is turned towards death with his back (back of his head). Of course, Pialat doesn’t mean that death is behind Philippe’s back, but that his mind is not attentive to how the doctor and the nurse are serious about death’s work. As if, his face is suddenly covered up with hair so for his eyes not to see what is going in the hospital day and night. The shot shows us Philippe’s position towards death – a mixture of indifference, bravado and philistine predisposition toward anything outside his everyday life with its routines and pleasures. But this kind of position is a psychological defense against death – ignoring death’s active presence in human life, as though death doesn’t exist.

The second position towards death is personified by the physician (in the still before us he is on the left explaining to Philippe the situation with his mother). Pay close attention to the doctor’s eyes. Because of the nature of his job the doctor sees death on a daily basis and his eyes are, as if, petrified by the experience of being a witness of death. What lies behind such petrified gaze? Can it be that human psyche (of the physician) instinctively uses the eyes’ surface as a shield against death? Does instant unconscious panic need to use this shield of petrification against death getting close to us? But it’s not only witnessing death at work that makes the doctor’s eyes so frightening – as though they’re irradiating death – it’s also seeing the relatives of the dying people. When they hear the doctor’s statement about futility of further treatment their eyes often produce the same shielding, which makes the physician’s gaze so difficult to bear. Such reaction of the relatives of the dying patients adds to the doctor’s unconscious defensive reaction reflected in the metallic intensity of his gaze.

The third position in relation to death is personified by the nurse. Her facial expression is the result of seeing those who are doomed to die soon – who desperately need her nursing, her, her support and protection. They need her psychologically motherly help so much that she is not concentrating on death itself but on those who’re its victims/targets/objects. Her face is organized by compassion – unconditional, limitless, permanent, inexhaustible. In this very moment when we’re looking at the still, she is looking at the direction where a patient can be. Her gaze is, as if, permanently looking for those who’re in need of consoling emotional help, solace. The nurse we see here is like a martyr of consolation, as if, benefactor of consoling.

Posted on Jan 5, 2013 – Maurice Pialat’s “Mouth Agape/The Slack-Jawed Mug” (1974) – Mouth Agape as a Metaphor of a Conformist (Cognitively Passive) Position in Life by Acting-Out Politics

Posted on Feb 2 2015 –  “The Mouth Agape/The Slack-Jawed Mug” (1974) by Maurice Pialat  by Acting-Out Politics