Films without teleology

I just watched Rachel Getting Married and found the experience included something rather similar to that of watching Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. The experience was some sort of nausée — a sort of despairing boredom — a feeling Fellini’s film simultaneously depicts and induces in a really brilliant way.  I’m toying with another characterization — both are films without teleology.  Both are rather rambling, have circular plot structure, refuse to ask or answer questions, subvert the audience’s expectations of a consistent progression or goal, develop characters without moving them to any particular end… The only purpose in sight seems to be some extremely long party scenes (though Vita’s Bacchanalian romps have given way to bizarre, multiculturalist family gatherings).

But I think Vita understands this, and its project is at least to depict and maybe to critique (I’m still not entirely sure) the formless, purposeless life of its characters via plot and style elements that reflect this sort of existence in all its formless boredom.  Rachel doesn’t seem to have any sense of itself as pursuing such goals.  It’s full of earnest though dysfunctional family dialogue as well as numerous celebrations of love and family.  It portrays the very broken existence of its main character alongside hopeful elements of friendship and family.

I appreciated some of these elements, some were touching, but found the overall effect in this film distressing.  Rachel Getting Married ends up laying a thin veneer of hope-we-can-create-together over a world where any convincing sense of direction and purpose has been lost, and this is frightening to me.  If the movie wants to depict the very fractured world of its protagonist, Kym, and her struggles to recover from addiction, via a picture of a world lacking form, direction, progress, then fine.  But to hold out, alongside this, vague and undeveloped notes of hope and good feeling that only paper over the underlying pain of the characters’ world is horrifying.  

As was walking out of the theatre and realizing that most of my fellow viewers had found this picture of their world totally satisfying.  I vastly prefer the effect of Fellini’s film.  If the world is really, at base, formless and without purpose, let’s at least look that square in the face and not enjoy it.


2 Responses to “Films without teleology”

  1. 1 Adam November 16, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I was talking to my parents after watching Rachel Getting Married, and I said something like, “That movie had no plot or direction.” My Dad, who is a nurse on a psych-med floor and had previously diagnosed Kym as having Borderline Personality Disorder, said, “Yeah, and Borderline people don’t either.”

    This made me think, as you did, that the movie was simultaneously depicting and inducing a certain state. We got to experience Kym’s world in the telling of her story, not just because we experienced what she did by following her story, but because the way the story was presented, the story flowed into our eyes and ears in the same way the world flows into Kym’s.

    This reminded me strongly of two other works of art. In Into Great Silence, the film both describes silence and creates it. A similar thing happens in Mariette in Ecstasy, where the style of the prose simulates the slow, quiet environment of the convent that is the subject of the book. Perhaps this is more common that I’ve realized, but it’s only been striking to me in a few instances.

  2. 2 Adam November 16, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Oops, that should read “more common than I’ve realized.”

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