Film-Philosophy

Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 7 No. 47, November 2003

 

 

Cara O'Connor

 

Ethics, Ambiguity, and Multi-Frame Narrative in Julie Talen's _Pretend_

 

 

_Pretend_ (2003)

Directed by Julie Talen

USA, Digital Video, 80 mins

 

I

 

*The screen is split horizontally. A family of four eats dinner together, and two views, one slightly higher than the other, turn circles from the center of the table. Focus on the top half and you are eye to eye with Dad and Mom; shift your gaze downward and you're in line with Sophie and Ellie, their two young girls: Sophie talks, Ellie talks . . . Mom's arm reaches for the serving spoon. Mom talks, Dad talks . . . The girls speak about their day of pretending: Says Ellie, 'I'm not Ellie, I'm a mommy'. Says Sophie, 'I'm not a mommy, I'm a Pirate.' Sophie looks, Ellie looks, Dad works on a poem . . . Mom asks Dad a question. You forgot to go to your job interview . . . again. Eight bodies, four individuals, rotate across the screen, by turns defensive, disappointed, worried and restless.*

 

In July 2003, at the Walter Reade Theater, the New York Video Festival presented a feature length movie called _Pretend_. A first feature by writer-director Julie Talen, _Pretend_ belongs to a small but growing category of films that use the split-screen for narrative purposes, [1] films that provoke certain questions: Why is a different sense of judgment sometimes invoked when watching two or more framed events together on one screen? And what is required of the narrative itself, for this shift to occur? In an attempt to answer these questions I would like to examine the relationship between the use of multiple frames in _Pretend_ and the ethical philosophy of sustained ambiguity put forth by Simone de Beauvoir.

 

In _The Ethics of Ambiguity_ Simone de Beauvoir argues that we are born in the midst of others, without whom the world itself would never begin to take on meaning. She takes the ontological principles of existentialism (as developed in Sartre's _Being and Nothingness_) and key elements from Merleau-Ponty's work on phenomenology, [2] and adds to these a groundbreaking theory about the reciprocal nature of embodied subjectivity. Beauvoir posits that the existence of separate 'others', and their free ability to disclose meaning, is an absolute prerequisite in order that the subject, *I*, exist -- an 'I' whose freedom consists in pursuing projects through which she transcends the immanence of facticity. Beauvoir proposes we learn to consider others not as obstacles whose needs annihilate our freedom, but as separate subjectivities whose difference and distance from us produces the conditions that shape our own projects and give possibility to the world:

 

'we must here again invoke the notion of Hegelian 'displacement.' There is an ethics only if there is a problem to solve. And it can be said . . . that the ethics which have given solutions by effacing the fact of the separation of men are not valid precisely because there *is* this separation. An ethics of ambiguity will be one which will refuse to deny *a priori* that separate existants can, at the same time, be bound to each other, that their individual freedoms can forge laws valid for all.' [3]

 

Beauvoir rejects the attempts by previous philosophers to unify and obscure the 'tragic' ambiguity of mind-body separation. Any philosophy which relies on truth systems based on absolute values is destined to arrive at an ethics that fails where it most needs to succeed: in the humble realm of lived experience. To the extent that ethics understands human-being as the only justifiable end, the goals of ethics are to show us how to protect humanity by guarding against its use as a means to other ends. The only ends to which humans can justifiably be put are those of human freedom. But the word 'freedom' is open to interpretation. Beauvoir proposes, both in _The Ethics of Ambiguity_ and in _The Second Sex_, that authentic freedom should be defined not as merely the freedom to be alive, but as the freedom to transcend oneself by pursuing projects in a world of others who are also similarly free. She agrees with Sartre that the individual is the foundation of his or her own existence, but amends this concept to encompass the idea that it is actually the encounter between *separate* human beings that founds the recognition of the individual self. It is only though our relations with others that we are able to recognize ourselves as having both an interior and exterior existence, an existence that we must use as means of action and decision in the world. Beauvoir acknowledges that Hegel understood this, but she departs from Hegel because his solution to the problem of human interconnectedness was to posit a historical, cyclical system that denies the essential importance of individual subjectivity.

 

In order to move forward in a way that increases the possibility of human freedom there must be a deeply felt understanding of both our fundamental interdependence and our need to *remain separate*. In light of this philosophical goal, Beauvoir points to literature for its unique ability to simulate an experience of connectedness of separate subjectivities. Mary Sirridge focuses on this in her essay, 'Philosophy in Beauvoir's Fiction', where she quotes this passage from Beauvoir:

 

'This is the miracle of literature and is what distinguishes it from information: it is that a truth which is *other* becomes mine without ceasing to be other. I give up my 'I' in favor of the 'I' of the person who is speaking; and nonetheless I remain myself.' [4]

 

A truth becomes mine *without ceasing to be other*. Beauvoir is, of course, talking about writing. And yet _Pretend_, while hardly alone in exploring ethics through multiple subjectivities, presents its narrative in a formal way that is especially effective and exciting for those of us looking to understand the interplay of phenomenology and ethics in cinema. It is a 'movie', which draws us into the worlds of others while causing us to *remain ourselves*. Are there filmmaking techniques which lend themselves more readily to the kind of process Beauvoir is suggesting? And why should we expect that such an ethical experience is possible in a darkened theater?

 

In his book, _The Reality of Illusion_, Joseph Anderson draws upon the work of Gombrich to show that much of what we experience in the cinema can be attributed to pre-cognitive processes. Though there is much to disagree with in his emphasis on biological destiny, the book still presents useful points. He writes that the human impulse to play is a deeply seated technique for learning to cope with the dangers of reality. Pretending and playing are 'framed' situations whose cues allow the participants to know they are in a context of experimentation free from the threat of irreversible consequences. From this Anderson explains how narrative films in particular stimulate the viewer by providing them with a safe space:

 

'Humans . . . enter into the make believe play of a motion picture, observe the consequences of certain behavior, and share the emotions of certain characters in the film, without being exposed to the same extent or in the same way to the physical and/or psychological dangers to which the film's characters are exposed. A motion picture makes it possible for viewers, in a purely cognitive space, to test the efficacy of certain strategies . . .'. [5]

 

Anderson's argument is that enjoyment -- though subjective -- is not to be dismissed as running counter to learning. Rather the opposite, when one is immersed in a film-world there is the possibility of learning quite a lot -- just as the child learns about what to do in the real world through playing make-believe. Perhaps he is wrong to assume that the greatest pleasure in film is to be had through his so-called 'seamless' narrative, but it does seem that certain kinds of narrative structures are particularly stimulating, and because of the way we *learn* to learn, I am tempted to look towards narrative strategies (loosely interpreted) as a most basic and essential component of ethical thinking.

 

 

II

 

Although there are highly developed and active traditions of sculptural, multi-channel, and multi-frame videos and films rooted in explorations in the visual arts and experimental film movements, there have been just a few in the history of theatrically released features. Among the notable are _Napoleon_, _The Thomas Crown Affair_ (1968), _Sisters_, and _Time-Code_. [6] These films are all very different from each other, but the uses they make of the split screen do similarly ask the viewer to process momentarily disjoined scenic spaces. And yet it is important to understand that holding two or more ultimately reconcilable *points of view* in the mind does not offer the same type of experience as when we are asked to toggle between multiple *realities* which are interconnected but can't be unified. I would like to illustrate this point by briefly describing the uses of multi-frame in these films, and the ways in which the films fall flat, ethically speaking.

 

In Abel Gance's 1927 film the enormous face of Napoleon often fills the center screen. This god-like persona is alternately flanked by a bird's eye view of villagers, soldiers, or clouds. At other times we see him leading his army to or from battle. To the left is the view of their future destination, to the right the smoldering village they have left behind. The triptych at once projects forwards and backwards in time, creating a sense that past, present, and future are all just components of a pre-ordained reality. _The Tomas Crown Affair_ collages simultaneous bank robberies to set a scene which might have been confusing for the viewer had the editor been limited to crosscutting. There are five scenes depicting five distressed thieves. Combined with these images are eerily abstracted rectangles of anonymous pedestrian traffic. All this minutia is presented in relation to a suave, larger-than-life protagonist as he waits calmly behind his desk -- neatly foreshadowing the subsequent line of dialogue: 'every crime has a personality, a *something-like-the-mind* that planned it'. In de Palma's _Sisters_, as with several others of his films, the split-screen/multi-frame approach is used to convey simultaneity of action that heightens feelings of suspense and helplessness. This kind of dramatic irony is often successfully effected by crosscutting, but by choosing to set contrasting perspectives side by side (the hunter and the hunted; the criminal and the journalist) de Palma is able to take advantage of the calm of continuity editing. This gives the viewer more time with each scene -- to investigate, anticipate, or simply just feel nervous. In _Timecode_ the screen is divided into quadrants. We follow four supposedly unrelated characters as they move separately, but in parallel times and adjacent places, through the film's duration. The result of this tightly interlocking structure is a different sort of suspense from what we see in _Sisters_ -- it is the soap-opera type of suspense, where the dramatic irony centers on the cross-purposes of sexual and professional ambitions. But in this case the collage of Hollywood dreams are conveniently collapsed and finalized by an absolute act of senseless violence.

 

_Napoleon_ is unrivaled as an achievement in the formal use of simultaneous perspectives, but it uses its array of angles and cinematic techniques to unambiguously reinforce *one* overwhelming voice. The film marshalls its diverse riches towards the singular goal of reifying a treasured object of official French identity, the story of Napolean's charismatic and tragic-heroism. _Sisters_, also a stunning film, gives us a chance to play at being simultaneously in the place of discovery and in the place of ignorance, and the effects can be riveting -- but the known and unknown end up being two sides of the same universal truth. _The Thomas Crown Affair_ might be aesthetically ambitious but conceptually it is a silly and insidious stunt of romantic, masculine wish-fulfillment. And what can be said about _Timecode_? The dimensionless characters are nothing more than objects set in motion, parts of a mechanistic universe of petty human drives which react like puppets under Destiny's hand. It should not escape notice that _Rashomon_, using just one frame to tell its stories, accomplishes more for a philosophical understanding of multiple perspectives than these films could ever hope to do. Evidently the split screen can create amazing impressions -- but none that necessarily result in Beauvoir's sense of sustained ambiguity.

 

 

III

 

Like the films I've just described, _Pretend_ is structured by a narrative that is fairly easy to grasp and could potentially reach a wide audience. And like _Timecode_ especially, _Pretend_ uses a digital editing to ambitiously work with multiple frames throughout its entire length. [7] But this is where the similarities end.

 

_Pretend_ is the story of 'what happens' when Sophie, an industrious ten year old, in a scheme to keep her parents from breaking-up, stages the kidnapping of her little sister, Ellie. We follow Sophie from the innocence of play to the realization and suppression of an unbearable culpability for her sister's disappearance. It is a relatively simple story that compels us. But in order to follow the narrative we are required to unify images separated by borders, to disentangle overlapping sounds, to sort between abstraction and literalness, past and present, dream and reality; we must sift between the emphasis of repetition and the strange shock of an undivided screen, and all in order to comprehend a splintered picture whose boundaries are never secure. In order to hold onto the story we have to hold in tension after-images that threaten to slip from memory, and at the same time we are asked to accept changes in perspective that contradict the diegesis we thought we knew. This is a lot to ask of the viewer, but the demand is not gratuitous. The work the viewer does here is continuous with the kind of meaning the movie produces, and in this case the story grips us, and is far less predictable than it at first seemed.

 

At the same time that we follow Sophie's 'fateful' decision we also follow her parents through the everyday banalities and poignancy of breaking-up:

 

*She looks down at her own body as she undresses for bed. She is too near to herself to be the object of any one's gaze. I'm tired, there nothing more to say, and it is finally dark and quiet, I won't think about 'us' now, I will only think of sleep. Dad watches Mom from bed. The establishing view shows they are just another couple going to sleep. The woman is turned away from the man and she is wearing a t-shirt. Dad watches Mom's back. A small space of memory appears above their bed. You used to feel so differently about me. Within these new borders her back is naked and soft, he reaches to touch it, she turns towards him with a smile.*

 

_Pretend_ relies on a collage of scene-like fragments constantly changing in size, number, shape, and texture. In addition to this there is a high level of complexity in the soundtrack. _Pretend_ combines synchronized dialogue with electronic music, voice over, direct address, and even occasional extra-diegetic artifacts from non-linear sound editing. With such diverse film/video/audio vocabulary working in tandem, the split-screen effects singled out from the other four movies are at least fleetingly present throughout this one. But what is of interest here is an affect/effect generated in Talen's movie *not* to be found in these other films. It could provisionally be said that _Pretend_ offers up, framed and ready for examination, the *ambiguous* relationship between consciousness and the world.

 

Each member of the family has his or her own set of imaginary spaces. We watch them try to interact through these always-separated mental frameworks and we see the choices that result from hopelessly private projections. The un-accountability of the individuals in relation to their private worlds points to a disastrous absence of trust between them. This communication gap can be seen in Ellie's perspective, as well as the alchemy of perspectives produced by the separation of sisters. This separation, which occurs when Sophie escorts Ellie into the woods where, in cooperation with Sophie's plan, Ellie has agreed to stay the night alone:

 

*Sophie is going to leave Ellie. Two young girls make a pretend bed in the woods. Their story is told by a pink-bordered box at odd angles to the other frames. We are embarking on a heroic adventure. But earlier moments haunt us. Ellie in four squares, anxious, and uncertain; nested frames of trees and smoke; spooky, sinister sounds. Sophie is turning away from us, she is really going to leave, a rectangle of slowed down time doesn't keep her with us. She doesn't even care, she is so callous in her leaving. But she does look back. Sophie sees Ellie's face, it fills its own square. Don't cry Ellie. Ellie's eyes are full of tears, it makes it hard to leave her, but we must, nothing can stop us. We're going, be good, Ellie. We're going now . . . *

 

At another point we are alone in the woods with Ellie, whose child-fears have already played themselves before us quite clearly. We now enter into her game of make-believe. We are familiar with her fears, and familiar with her attempt to transcend them:

 

*A stage is set on a small folded blanket. Ellie sits on her makeshift bed animating fuzzy and misshapen creatures who don't have anything in common. She makes them say things by jostling them up and down and using her quiet play-voice. 'I wasn't really kidnapped, it was all just a game!' Ellie's voice gives over to the sounds coming from a new frame appearing on the left. In this frame there are real people who speak with real voices. Well . . . the family looks real but they move stiffly like paper-dolls. We knew everything, the parents say, we knew what you girls were trying to do . . . She plays silently. It would be silly to be afraid because 'everybody knows . . . you can't fool grown-ups!'*

 

A six-year-old's make-believe is not going to be as subtle as her father's. But the editing of the sequences around Ellie's 'adventure' show a terrain of fear which is complex -- overlapping at times with adult versions of reality while at other moments being bounded by a child's stage of mental development. The video-language of _Pretend_ is sometimes specific to the character's social circumstances and at other times less easy to place. Abstracted and blurred rectangles, slow and fast motion, multiple shots of the same perspective, and other devices work to generate atmospheric effects that are not easily attributable to one character. [8] As a result there is a sense of varying levels of depth that are not easily reconciled. There is the mental world of each separate family-member; there is the Warhol-world of the news-media; and there is a diffused and emergent world, equally imaginary, but some-how mysterious.

 

And yet this meticulous examination of imaginary worlds is not limited to the story proper. The ambiguous ethical failure of Sophie dovetails neatly with the problematic idea of art as Play: Sophie convinces naive Ellie that their scheme is no different from playing a game; she convinces her parents, on the other hand, that what is happening is REAL. Because she has failed to create a framework, or a set of safe boundaries for her make-believe, it is possible for the outside world to seep in and destroy *more* than just the illusion. Ellie may be playing Sophie's game by pretending to be lost, but she is also really in the woods, and really alone; Sophie's make-believe hasn't the power to maintain an insular world for the girls -- a regulated system of cause and effect.

 

 

IV

 

For something to be a game everyone involved must know it is a game. And yet when we want to effect a change it is often much easier to manipulate the people who are against that change than it is to reason with them. In situations of real oppression, when there is no chance to bargain for a voice, in order to be able to have any control over one's own situation in the world it is necessary to defy, deceive, and sometimes do violence in order to take the exclusive power of decision from the hands of the other.

 

On the grounds of its being 'framed' and thereby separated from the rest of life, art can safely give rise to feelings and thoughts which people would not entertain in their outside lives. These new feelings and thoughts have the potential to generate new interpretations of 'reality' that can result in fresh approaches to life's ambiguous problems. But this rarely seems to happen, as the very separation which gives art its power also accounts for its weakness. When we enter into a fictional universe we do so knowing that we are pretending. Isn't it the rule rather than the exception that viewers sit in rapture in front of a screen, identify with the downtrodden, the brave, the adventurous, only to step directly from the darkened theater back into lives whose comforts are largely made possible through oppression, cowardliness, and lassitude?

 

'I remember having experienced a great feeling of calm on reading Hegel in the impersonal framework of the Bibliotheque National in 1940. But once I got into the street again, into my life, out of the system, beneath a real sky, the system was no longer of any use to me: what it had offered me, under a show of the infinite, was the consolations of death; and I again wanted to live in the midst of living men.' [9]

 

An art experience can help us recognize that we live in a world where there are no absolute values, and art can show us how this very absence of an overarching 'system' makes us all the more profoundly attached to each other. But movies that are premised on ready-made value-systems -- films based on such common conflations as beauty with truth, evil with failure, or character with destiny, won't be able to offer us the kind of recognition we need. Rather, these films at best only provide a welcome escape and a false sense of security. But since people look to movies as a space for pretending -- and because we want, perhaps need to have the space to escape ourselves through play, there must be a playful attitude towards pretending which can also teach us about reality.

 

'If the director has done his [sic] job well we are caught up in a seamless world where events unfold causally toward seemingly inevitable conclusions. The movie is not ours to 'read.' It is ours to experience as we interact with its complex program.' [10]

 

Though his views are rather conforming, Anderson is right to insist that we are always watching something that has been *thoughtfully* constructed for us by another (or a group of others). Though movies are always open to multiple readings there is still something finite in what is available for interpretation. As an audience we can't deny being somewhat *directed* by the voice we listen to.

 

Still, we shouldn't be confused about where meanings originate. The finitude of possible meanings isn't inherent in the film but is the result of the specific needs the situated observer brings to the cinema in combination with the knowledge that the filmmakers have of those needs. We move through the world with intentions -- we therefore notice certain things and ignore others. A movie can be made in such a way that our wishes are only able to attach themselves ambivalently to the objects and relations on the screen. When intentionality can't find a ready-made object then the subject, compelled, for instance, by her curiosity towards the 'outcome' of a film's story, will work to cobble together another kind of cognitive shelter. Under the right circumstances this compulsion can awaken an ethical mindset, and set into motion processes of interpretation that stimulates feelings of social situatedness quite the opposite of the typical sensations of isolated voyeurism.

 

 

V

 

If doubt is a doubling, then in order to be doubtful you have to hold disunified pictures in your mind practically simultaneously. You must be able to toggle between possibles or else thinking is not possible.

 

This is what we do when we try to make decisions. We struggle with disparate realities, and try to understand where we are in order to freely move on to the next place. There is a temptation to compare the process of deliberation to other phenomena -- as un-thinking bodies our instantaneous reactions to our environment can also be spoken of as togglings, glancings, and gatherings. But we are not socially responsible for these kinds of reactions. Anderson's research may serve to remind us that there is no real ethics of the reflex, but fortunately for us, films offer quite a lot more than just our own reflexes back to ourselves. It might be the phenomena of seeing and hearing that generates the sense of having time and space at our disposal, but it is as ethical and socially situated creatures that we move through the framed event -- an event which gives us time and space through which to *think*.

 

In narrative film Time is a prime material. There is almost always a character who must make a series of fateful decisions -- and Time will demonstrate for us whether or not the character will have succeeded in making that ultimate *correct* decision. The character is normally presented, in the third act, with some kind of ultimate choice, and the resulting decision encompasses all of his or her previous hesitations and brings them into a single, defining climax. Given these stakes, to watch someone deciding, and to watch his fate unfold can be an edge-of-the-seat experience. But there is another order of experience to which narrative movies have rarely granted us access: the experience of facing (judges that we are) the confounding impact of fluctuating worlds on the characters who move through those worlds, and the exhilarating responsibility of being always in-the-midst of making decisions. In this kind of film the value of those decisions can never be evaluated from the deathly-calm standpoint of a final outcome. This kind of cinema could be as provocative as any high-stakes adventure, though the tension it produces hasn't the same systematic relation to linear time.

 

*Every wrong has a personality, a 'something-like-the-mind' that regrets it.*

 

An important aspect of this 'tension' -- a tension which, for Beauvoir is continuous with freedom itself -- is the ability to imagine the subjectivities of others without unifying or hardening these thoughts into immutable facts that turn others into objects. _The Ethics of Ambiguity_ suggests that there must be an open-endedness to our sense of history which at once accounts for its crimes while remaining aware of the fact that memory is a constant event of interpretation. The past must constantly replay itself in-tension with the present, or it is a dead and useless past. To come to terms with the failures in history we must know that even something as personal as memory cannot be safely self-contained.

 

The fluctuations in _Pretend_ take on a mesmerizing quality: in order to keep up with the changes in perspective and visual texture, a sort of abandon occurs. We become absorbed -- not by the story of one character -- but in the transitions between the frames that connect them. And yet something shifts towards the end of _Pretend_. Just as we are growing used to this state of 'one-ness' with the story, its rhythm is subtly disrupted. Sophie disturbs our absorption by addressing herself to directly to us, her judges. A storytelling convention, the direct address succeeds in bringing the audience back to itself. But in the context of _Pretend_, with its array of equally valid subjectivities, we are also brought back to *Sophie*. Now it is Sophie who indisputably stands as our 'I' -- and because of this hyper-awareness, that keeps us from losing ourselves in her point of view, she is not simply *the* 'I' but the 'I' who *can't but be other*.

 

Our thwarted identification with Sophie and our simultaneous inability to escape privileging her point of view creates an experience of 'I' similar to the literary ideal of which Beauvoir speaks -- we are faced with a cinematic version of a subjectivity that is irretrievably other.

 

The difference between _Pretend_ and other split-screen narrative films is not a difference based solely on technique but on the interrelation between the story being told and the storytelling form. It is not just because of story-ideas nor is it simply by aesthetic innovations that _Pretend_ sets itself and its viewers into motion. It is the active part we take in the unfolding of the narrative that makes us alert to the ambiguity of embodied consciousness, and consciousness's peculiar dependence on the separate existence of others.

 

As the story comes to a close we are transferred by train from the world of Sophie and her parents into the (future/present) world of *Adult* Sophie. By taking up both the past and present-tense of the story, Sophie's subjectivity becomes even more central. This centrality throws into anxious question all of the previous points of view we had encountered along the way. We begin to wonder if _Pretend_ is really so complicated after all. Is this a gathering of imaginary worlds or only the dream of Sophie's memory?

 

Is Sophie not only the narrative's privileged subject but its *only* point of view? Adult Sophie, with her relation to the past, suddenly tempts us to revise into a neat bundle all the previous ambiguities. To make of it all a single picture of one person's unresolved regret. But just as the safety of this resolution is about to take hold, a distant voice *re*-frames and *re*-introduces the conditions for uncertainty. In the midst of Sophie's wishes and fears we see the 'lost' Ellie playing with an imaginary boy: 'Is this the world that Sophie sees?', she asks him. 'No,' he replies, 'this is the world that *you* see.'

 

Brooklyn, New York, USA

 

 

Notes

 

1. For a very insightful overview and analysis of multi-channel films and television shows, see Julie Talen's article, '_24_: Split Screen's Big Comeback', _Salon_, 14 May 2002 <http://archive.salon.com/ent/tv/feature/2002/05/14/24_split>. In this article she lists movies which use the technique, as well as discussing her own theory of the 'glance'. The following -- in no particular order -- are feature length movies (the majority from Talen's list) which use split or multiple screens: _The Boston Strangler_ (directed by Richard Fleischer); _The Pillow Book_ (Peter Greenaway); _Timecode_ and _Hotel_ (Mike Figgis); _The Hulk_ (Ang Lee); _Napoleon_ (Abel Gance); _The Thomas Crown Affair_ (Norman Jewinson); _The Laramie Project_ (Moises Kaufman); _ Gone_ (Celia Dougherty); _ Chelsea Girls_ (Andy Warhol); _Sisters_, _Carrie_, _Dressed to Kill_, _ Blow Out_, and _Snake Eyes_ (Brian De Palma); _Numero deux_ (Jean Luc Godard); _Run Lola Run_ (Tom Tykwer); _Requiem for a Dream_ (Darren Aronofsky); _ Jesus' Son_ (Alison Maclean); _The Andromeda Strain_ (Robert Wise); _Wicked, Wicked_ (Richard Bare); _More American Graffiti_ (Bill Norton); _Zentropa_ (aka _Europa_) (Lars Von Trier); _Charley_ (Theo Van Gogh); and _Symbiopsycho-taxiplasm Part I_ (William Greaves).

 

2. See Monika Langer's essay, 'Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty on Ambiguity', in Claudia Card, ed., _The Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir_ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

 

3. Simone de Beauvoir, _The Ethics of Ambiguity_, trans. Bernard Frechtman (Secaucus, New Jersey: The Citadel Press, 1975), p. 18. This book was first published as _Pour une morale de l'ambiguote_ (Paris: Gallimard, 1947).

 

4. Beauvoir, 'Simone de Beauvoir', in Yves Buin, ed., _Que peut la litterature_ (Paris: Union Generale d'Editions, 1965), pp. 72-92. Quoted in Mary Sirridge, 'Philosophy in Beauvoir's Fiction', in Card, ed., _The Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir_, pp. 130-131.

 

5. Joseph D. Anderson, _The Reality of Illusion: An Ecological Approach to Cognitive Film Theory_ (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996), p. 114.

 

6. _Napoleon_, Abel Gance, 1927 (235 mins, 1981 US restored version); _The Thomas Crown Affair_, Norman Jewinson, 1968 (102 mins.); _Sisters_, Brian de Palma, 1973 (92 mins.) _Timecode_, Mike Figgis, 2000 (97 mins).

 

7. In this essay I limit my comparisons to non-documentary movies which qualify as being 'mainstream'. But I think a closer look at narrative works that straddle the border between fiction and documentary or mainstream and 'experimental' -- multi-channel works like Godard's _Numero deux_ -- call out to be examined in relation to the same question.

 

8. I want to remind myself, and anyone reading this article, that visual/stylistic effects should not be automatically assumed to exist only to reinforce an authorial intention or socio-historically derived meaning, but rather (and this is true in _Pretend_) that the formal patterns also exert a complex influence on the reading of a film, due precisely to the fact that they sometimes present 'order without meaning' (Bordwell, p. 305), and thus cannot be explained or understood in relation to the story-proper. For an analysis of this phenomenon see Bordwell's sub-chapter, 'Parametric Narration', in _Narration and the Fiction Film_ (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985).

 

9. Beauvoir, _The Ethics of Ambiguity_, p. 158.

 

10. Anderson, _The Reality of Illusion_, p. 53.

 

 

Copyright © Film-Philosophy 2003

 

 

Cara O'Connor, 'Ethics, Ambiguity, and Multi-Frame Narrative in Julie Talen's _Pretend_', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 7 no. 47, November 2003 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol7-2003/n47oconnor>.

 

 

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