An Attempt at Analysis
|This is, at the moment, no more than a loose collection of thoughts I've had regarding the film. But I hope to develop them into a more cohesive narrative over time.|
Chris Pearo, who saw the film when it was shown in Seattle in December 1996, wrote to paraphrase for me the nickname's original context:
I forget how far the original movie went into it, but the reason that Claire left Eugene was that he had had an affair with her best friend (the Asian women who Claire talks to on the videophone). She later tells him something along the lines of: You're like a broken ladder. I can never put my trust in you again.Not the richest of metaphors, but it certainly answers the question...
After being lost in herself and her dreams, Claire is rescued by seeing herself, through Gene's words, recontextualized in a larger world view. Gene's book takes all of the images that we and the audience and the characters have been seeing and arranges them into a narrative, which is that of the film. Wenders has written previously about the strange difference he sees as a filmmaker between stories and images.
I've seen it suggested in several summaries and reviews of this film that the watching of the dreams in itself is what leads to the "disease of images." I find it more probable that the self-absorption which Claire, Sam, and Henry find themselves prone to is more closely related to their faults as people, and not the phenomenon of "dream watching" itself. For instance, the dreams that all three characters are seen viewing are dreams that involve guilt (for Henry), fear (for Sam), and loneliness (for Claire).
Henry's dream, seen just as the bounty hunters come to take him away, seems to involve Edith, with her hands in front of her face, and her face seen with black spots where her eyes should be. This could be interpreted as a manifestation of Henry's guilt for bringing about Edith's death by making her see too much, too soon (actual quote?). I would further venture to guess that Henry also has dreams that might involve a manifestation of his guilt for driving Sam too hard. (The flipside of Sam's dream where his father is chasing him menacingly?) Henry feels guilty about Edith's death not because it was related to his experiments. It's very possible that he might have simply felt sad, and continued on with his experiments, believing Edith's death was at least for a good cause. This is actually what he appears to do immediately after her death, beginnning by ignoring the proper mourning rituals of the m'bantua people that he has become a part of. But viewing his own dreams forces him to confront what he tried to avoid--the fact that his drive was more about his scientific achievements than helping his blind wife to see.
Claire: This is so Beautiful...The dialogue above takes place as Claire and Henry Farber review the results of "dream recording." Henry Farber's repeated use of the word "nothing" reveals him to be the Nietzschean that only an actor who's played Jesus Christ can. (Max Von Sydow played Jesus Christ in the 1965 film, The Greatest Story Ever Told.) Not only does he renounce God, but his treatment of Sam shows him to have renounced the role of the father as well. He relieves himself of the father role in Sam's life, and apparently forces Sam to sacrifice raising his own family in order to go around "recording."
Henry: Beautiful! Wallpaper is beautiful. You're now looking at the human soul...singing to itself...to its own god!
Claire: I don't know about god.
Henry: The god within us. Look at it. It needs nothing.
Claire: It needs everything.
Henry: (flustered) Oh! Nothing! Nothing!
Claire: (sighing) We don't have the right.
Gene: They lived to see their dreams. And when they slept, they dreamed about their dreams.It is not the act seeing itself that is harmful for the characters in this film. It is the act of seeing through mediums. Whether it is other people, palm sized camcorders, videofaxes, or their "nocturnal imagery." Gene says, "I didn't know the cure for the disease of images." It might be interesting to consider that images are not what we see. Images are a creation. A mediated version of what has existed in light somewhere. An image cannot exist without its medium (photograph, television, etc.). What we see is something else. Something felt more than seen. The image is the medium?
Included with the Japanese import laserdisc version of Until the End of the World is an hour long documentary-esque film by Sean Naughton called Dream Island. The film was shot while work was being done in Japan on the HDTV dream images for UtEotW. Wenders does a voiceover for the film, which begins with beautiful imagery of a junk pile. We see rusted cars decaying ina very organic sense as Wenders says, "All things turn to junk. Do our images also turn to junk?"
This question took on an interesting twist for me as I asked myself about the possibility of dreams being these "junked images". The dream sequences in UtEotW certainly are in a very real sense, because of the digital work done on them, images that have been "junked".
Images captured, as I've said before, are already mediated. Dreams are, as I think the film tries to say, images that have been mediated by our subconscious. They are like videos of images seen, and memory is the content which they mediate.
Henry: (to Edith) ...and here you are, seeing yourself to death.Seeing through a medium is not the only harmful way of seeing in the film. In numerous ways, harm is brought to characters in the seeing of the mirrored self. This phenomenon most obviously occurs in Claire, Sam, and Henry's obsession with their own dreams, to which Gene remarks (exclaims, even), "You're all just junkies hooked on your own dreams!" This also manages to occur however in several other, more subtle parts of the film's subtext. Notably, in the mirrored character pairs of Claire and Edith, and Sam and Henry, respectively. There is evidence to support this possibility in the very contrived device concerning the use of Claire as Edith's eyes. In the scene where Claire is "filming" images of Edith's daughter for Edith to see later, the daughter most speaks to Claire as if she were Edith. She is really only addressing the camera as a news correspondent might address television audience, but the subtext is still there for the previous interpretation.
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