About Grant

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New York, NY, United States
Film director and screenwriter. Cinephile since birth. Director of DREAMS OF THE WAYWARD (2013). Film Studies MA student at Columbia University.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Most Important Film You Will Ever Experience (Part 2: Andrei Tarkovsky's "The Mirror")

 Before saying that a film is important, the term "important" must be defined.  Is it artistically brilliant as a film?  Is the film life affirming?  Is the film life changing?  Does the film live beyond its date of release?  Does the film capture a time or a place in society and history?  Does the film challenge the audience?  If it can fit into most of these categories, then it simply must be important.
 To quote the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, "The aim of art is to prepare a person for death, to plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good." On that note, the second film in my collection of important cinematic works is:

Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror (1975)

 Undoubtedly one of the most important films to ever be released out of the Soviet Union, Andrei Tarkovsky's 1975 film The Mirror was his fourth film and is a visionary work structured between fragmented memories and dream-like apparitions.  Compared to his previous 1972 science fiction film Solaris (which he created to challenge Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey), The Mirror is a complete dive into the deep end. Following the memories of a barely-seen narrator (majority of the film is either captured through the narrator's eyes or is chronicling the way that he perceives his past), The Mirror is a film that everyone can relate to as the "guide" through the film is never formally identified.
 Looking back to his mother and the woman he loves, it is established early in the narration that the unseen dying narrator can no-longer distinguish his lover from his mother as they both have filled a void in his life with passion and care (explaining why the same actress, Margarita Terekhova, portrays both the mother and the lover).
 This film is difficult to decipher, but the narrative is overlaid with recordings of Arseny Tarkovsky's poetry (director Andrei Tarkovsky's father) which aids in delivering poetic context to the often surreal and dream-like events taking place on the screen.  Visually, this film is just as poetic as any piece of poetry, so it is only fitting to have the poetry of Andrei's father informing and further mystifying the events taking place on the screen.
 Combining black and white film, vibrant color, sepia brown monochrome, and vintage Soviet military and civilian footage, The Mirror transcends time as the narrator seems to even contemplate the winds that brought his parents together.
 Recreating paintings and referencing art, this film is as much about art as it is the life and impending death of the narrator (yet the poetic narration boldly claims that there is no death and there is no darkness).  With the film featuring famous artistic works, narrated by poetry, and visually one of the greatest cinematography achievements in film history; every element of this film speaks about art while subtly making commentary on Russian society.  Banned from presenting at Cannes, the Soviet Union also successfully limited the release of the film (as they had done to his second film Andrei Rublev (1966) as well).
 The Mirror challenges the way that life on Earth is lived, perceived, and further self-interpretted.  The concept of time is a constant theme that travels throughout nearly every vision and memory in the film.  Near the beginning of the film, a doctor essentially asks himself "Look at these roots, these bushes.  Did you ever wonder about plants feeling, being aware, perceiving even?  The trees... they are in no hurry.  While we rush around and speak in platitudes.  It's because we don't trust our inner natures.  That's all this doubt, haste, lack of time to stop and think."
 These concepts of existentialism do not only exist verbally in the film, but visually several events are shown happening multiple times but with different outcomes each time.  A table may be prepared for an outdoor meal (as in The Mirror), but a violent wind could easily blow everything over... were that exact gust of wind given a chance to blow at the same prepared table again, the same outcome would occur, but everything would blow away in a new and unique fashion.
 The camera moves through each location as though it is an angelic presence or the Holy Spirit observing the incredible small events that humans perceive as "paranormal" such as doors opening on their own or still objects independently gaining kinetic energy (such as a bowl rolling off of a table).  
Margarita Terekhova floating in Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror (1975)
In dream-like visions, the narrator's mother hovers in mid air over her bed as a sparrow flies by... a similar piece of imagery can be found in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011) which seems to capture the grace and magical qualities of the mother (almost a divine figure) as she floats in her front yard.
Jessica Chastain floating in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)
 Arguably, Terrence Malick could never have even made a film as visionary and poetic as his 2011 Palme d'Or winner and best picture Oscar nominee The Tree of Life without Tarkovsky's influence.  Though the films (The Tree of Life and The Mirror) are "about" different things, both films chronicle the memories and visions of life with soul-penetrating voice overs, breath-taking cinematography, and an awareness that life is greater than the physical realm as signs of the supernatural infiltrate our lives daily as a constant presence (and can be used to discover the meaning of life).
 Both films are deeply affecting and masterfully-crafted, but Malick's success is truly at the mercy of the late Tarkovsky who wielded cinematography as an extension to the script throughout all of his work and as a vessel to experience the unseeable in ordinary life.

 The Mirror is a mysterious film that challenges audiences to make sense of its content while evaluating the world around them, and to this day is still one of the most powerful and visionary films ever conceived.  Though cryptic and heavily personal, The Mirror is a landmark film that still lives and breathes at the very heart of cinema.

Tarkovsky's The Mirror can be viewed in its entirety for free on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCTMM1iZ5Lw&feature=watch-now-button&wide=1

1 comment:

  1. I feel like Terrance Malick is afraid to "go small." The overtures towards the grandiose tainted the more intimate moments. This is true in the majority of his work since Badlands. "The Mirror" is like a confession. It's personal. "The Tree of Life," while I liked it, is an observation. A study. As such, it comes off as much more detached and staid.