January 9, 2010

(Part 2) The Limits of Control: The Dream

looking at matches.jpg
...wait a second, these aren't matches, they're MacGuffins...

Part 1 here.

Once in a while we gather at a friend's house to watch a movie.  We usually go to her house because it is the most inviting and comfortable, comforting;  unlike mine, which is really only good for hiding POWs..  Her place, like her, is highly developed but but uncomplicated. Considerable taste but no knick knacks.  No decorative soaps.  When she's not working (sports reporter) she doesn't wear make up.  She doesn't need to.  She doesn't need clothes, either, but ignores this advice.  Her (ex) boyfriend, whom I assume had a brain parasite, took 6 months terminally asphyxiate their relationship with a combination of weed, surfing, bartending and auditions.

This time I picked a movie I had read about: I picked The Limits Of Control.   She wasn't in the mood for a movie, but I had thought she needed a diversion.  (Remember, I thought this was going to be an artsy G.I. Joe.

Of course I was wrong.  At about the first cafe scene I briefly fell asleep, then when I awoke a few minutes later I said, "what'd I miss?" and she said, "I filled your cup with strychnine."

Not only did she hate the movie, she couldn't stop telling us how much she hated it.  For days afterward.  "I am actually angry at the director for robbing me of part of my soul with that stupid, pointless, go nowhere movie.  Boring!  It was like having to listen to someone tell you their dream." 

And then she added, with restrained fury:  "This is Chuck's kind of movie."

II.


Freud was clear on two things: dreams are wish fulfillments, and they can only be interpreted using free association.  There is no dream dictionary where flying means sex and cougars mean cougars. 

Many elements of director Jim Jarmusch's movie are dream like: they draw from waking life, have their meaning stripped away and are then endowed with some other significance, specific to the dreamer.

For example, the title is derived from an essay with the same title by William Burroughs.  But don't bother reading it because (quoting Jarmusch):

I don't know why. I love the title. The film does not, obviously, relate specifically to the essay--and I love that.

The two espressos, the shiny suits, "A Point Blank production"-- all are references to real events (or movies or books, etc) which you are tempted to link back to.  Resist.   These aren't allusions to something; they are symbols for something else.  It's not an episode of Lost.  You can't understand their meaning by looking up the references. 

The important thing is to say whatever comes to mind.

III.

Whenever a new "contact" approached the Lone Man, they would say, "you don't speak Spanish?" as a secret passphrase.   She thought this was stupid.    "He's an African man in Spain, and he doesn't actually speak Spanish-- wouldn't you come up with a better code?  It's like using "do you want fries with that?" at a McDonalds."

In the Freudian logic of dreams, an inability to do something-- being lost, stuck in traffic, something is missing-- represents contradiction.  And when that inability is accompanied by a feeling of inability-- you're stuck to the floor, it's too heavy, you can't run-- it represents conflict of the will.  So you just met a man and you're not sure about him, and you dream you're being chased by a powerful monster, but your feet are stuck to the ground and you can't run.  It would mean you're conflicted about the monster (relationship.)  But... but the dream as wish-fulfillment means you don't want to escape.

She lit up.  "He's passive aggressive.  He chose to go to Spain, but he doesn't know Spanish, so he has a convenient excuse not to have to listen to them.  That's a classic Chuck maneuver.   There's always a reason why he can't be with you or give you his attention, but he yet he's totally dependent on others to tell him his next move or what to do next, he can't make major decisions on his own.  So he waits for you to tell him, and then he picks and chooses what he hears."

"Was the 'two espressos' another kind of passphrase?" I ask.

"No, I feel like that was just posturing, trying to make himself seem unique.  It's funny that he gets really mad at the waiter for not bringing him the right order, but he won't sleep with the naked woman."

"How are those related?"

"So, what, he has enough self control to resist sex, but not enough self control to be polite to the waiter?   He's a coward.  What guy would not fuck a girl they found naked in their bed?   What is he, 15?  Is he a virgin?  She's not asking to get married, she just wants sex,  just fuck her and get on with it.  But he's so nervous around women he has to pretend he's a zen master?  Maybe if he fucked her, he wouldn't care so much about how he got his espressos." 

No one else would have made this interpretation.  I'm almost certain Jarmusch didn't intend it either.  But this was, after all, her dream. 

"Wow, that is so much like Chuck, always playing the part of "I'll handle everything" but when it comes down to it...  That's why he balled out the waiter.  He can control himself, but it makes him crazy that he can't control other people or the world around him.  So he creates all these rituals he has to do over and over to give himself the illusion of control."

I suggested Freud's interpretation, that repetition with variations (for example, the nude woman, then in a raincoat, then as a painting; the white castle, then a picture, then a statuette)  represents a working through of some issue or idea; and that multiple symbols can be seen as working through the same issue in different ways.  It clicked.

"That's what all Chuck's games are about, he wants everything exactly right, precise and perfect but that's so nothing ever changes, he never moves forward, he never evolves.  Everything has to be by his schedule.  Do you know he once said "not while I'm working" to me one time?  He's a bartender, for Christ's sake."

So I asked, "why would Chuck want to kill Bill Murray?"  Bill Murray plays a Dick Cheney character.   The Lone Man infiltrates his secret impenetrable bunker (not shown in the movie;  "I used my imagination") and kills him. 

"Bill Murray is his father, obviously.  He's spent all this time working through his ambivalence about me and his job and everything else, he's finally mustered the courage to become his own man.  Well, he wishes he did.  He finally gets power over and he ultimately disposes of people that control him.  I think a real father would want his son to stand up to him, because it means he's finally a man.  That's why Bill Murray the father figure knows he's going to be killed but isn't scared, he doesn't fight or run.   And he says "you don't know how the world works" with no fear at all, just contempt.  Which is actually the kind of thing his dad would say.  I could see that Chuck wishes he could get out from under his father and grow up."

"And fuck you?"

"Too late for that," she said.

IV.

I'll repeat that I still thought the movie was boring.  But now I'm not sure that matters.  I think I am better for having seen it, my friend probably feels the same way.  It has stayed with me and altered the way I look at other things.   In the final analysis, what Jarmusch intended is probably irrelevant: the important thing is to say whatever comes to mind.

---

http://twitter.com/thelastpsych





Comments

If that isn't a case of int... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2010 12:13 AM | Posted by Hmmm: | Reply

If that isn't a case of intellectual pareidolia, I don't know what is.

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Wouldn't it have saved you ... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2010 12:25 AM | Posted by Archon: | Reply

Wouldn't it have saved you time and money to just used the Ganzfeld procedure?

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I don't mean that in the pa... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2010 12:26 AM | Posted by Archon: | Reply

I don't mean that in the para-psychological sense either, I mean cut a ping pong ball in half, put the halves over your eyes, listen to some music and hallucinate.

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You want to sleep with your... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2010 1:14 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

You want to sleep with your friend. You place her in a subordinate intellectual position (similar as a psychiatrist/patient - you are analyzing her) as a way for you to cope w. your feelings, thus regain control (otherwise, she has it all).
Assuming, of course, this really happened, which is might not have. SHRUG.

I don't know, but, speaking personally I wouldn't want to be "friends" with a professional psychiatrist who spoke to me like a patient as opposed to an equal. JUST MY OPINION.

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(BTW I am a subscriber of y... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2010 1:22 AM | Posted by Harman: | Reply

(BTW I am a subscriber of your blog. It is one of the best stream-of-thought, interesting as well as useful things on the internet, most are only one or the other)

Two things come to mind after reading your part 1 (rant) and part 2 (a movie being liked because it acted as an inadvertent catalyst for venting).

Mike D'Angelo's review of Trash Humpers by Harmony Korine:

http://www.notcoming.com/reviews/trashhumpers/

and, my disappointment at the film Liverpool by Lisandro Alonso (praised in elite art circles by people wishing to sound like they get something which is incomprehensible to most, just like "Limits of Control").

I am extremely receptive to alternative cinema, but there is no excuse for "let me just do whatever random thing my neurons tell me to do and hope that it is appreciated by those who know what real art is". "Narcissism" as art.

Liverpool was a waste of time. And I have very rarely said that about a film. Too bad I otherwise like "silent cinema". ( http://unspokencinema.blogspot.com/2006/10/chronology.html )

Look forward to more writing from you!

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I'm embarrassed to ask for ... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2010 1:45 AM | Posted by Jim: | Reply

I'm embarrassed to ask for confirmation of what should be obvious, but this whole post describes the dream you had after seeing this movie, right?

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If you react emotionally to... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2010 7:54 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

If you react emotionally to something I think it then qualifies itself as art. Does the art have a monetary value? is another question, but the act of giving art (gross) monetary value pisses me off (creating the first criteria), as I know what the work of a shitty job-for-money is.

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Are there freudian typos?</... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2010 3:35 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Are there freudian typos?

"That's why he balled out the waiter."

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No, she doesn't want you. <... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2010 8:22 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

No, she doesn't want you.

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wow the comments are gettin... (Below threshold)

January 10, 2010 10:02 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

wow the comments are getting as bad as YouTube...

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That's the modern interpret... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2010 1:36 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

That's the modern interpretation of what art is -- but I'm not buying it anymore. Art has to have content -- an idea, an emotion conveyed by the piece itself, an image that the artist wanted to leave you with. Art also requires actual talent to produce. Anyone (including elephants and dogs btw) can put random splotches on a canvas. That takes no thought and no talent. On the other hand a painting of a house and the people inside it at some activity takes skill, thought, composition, and talent -- especially if you want to use that scene to portray some idea about the world.

Modern art (so-called art IMO) takes none of that. What it takes is doing essentially random things to a canvas or a piece of clay, and then bullshitting a deep meaning for it. People aren't buying the ART they're buying the STORY. They believe that they're buying a meaningful piece of art and so they're willing to pay for it. If the art had no story, no one would want it. It's crap.

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The intention is to create ... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2010 3:11 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Basil Valentine: | Reply

The intention is to create meaningful emotional responses in both cases. Loosely speaking, pre-modern art worked from a few premises, like "emotionally significant scene" (say, the Ascension of Christ) along w/ technical things like colour balance, proportion etc. An analogy could be drawn to writing: if you want to get a response out of people, write about the important things, and write well.

Modern art is different: it's about questioning the conventions underlying what exactly constitutes "art". It's more like using a random sentence generator with your writing to see if anything meaningful/interesting results, and then possibly including that. Obviously you're going to see charlatans and garbage, but you'll also get some really cool stuff that wouldn't have otherwise been produced.

Either way, the reason people pay for art is to decrease their own personal distance from it. By owning something with an interesting history, you get to become part of that history. But what constitutes "interesting"? Why do people patronize hacks like Damien Hirst? Well, as the saying goes, "there's no accounting for taste"-- I think your issue is more with the artists and their patrons than w/ Modern Art itself.

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Once someone sees you with ... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2010 10:23 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by JadedMDstudent: | Reply

Once someone sees you with your white coat on, you normally can't ever take it off. So him analyzing friends isn't that odd... he'd be doing it even if he tried not too I suspect. So what if she has to tolerate that happening sometimes? I have to tolerate stuff like "Can you take a look at this..." and the this normally isn't too pretty.

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As a jaded MD student, I as... (Below threshold)

January 11, 2010 11:43 PM | Posted, in reply to JadedMDstudent's comment, by Anon: | Reply

As a jaded MD student, I assume that you often just give a quick glance at the titles of scholarly articles and then concentrate on the abstract :)

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The first thing that came t... (Below threshold)

January 12, 2010 12:19 AM | Posted by Lee: | Reply

The first thing that came to my mind was: Did you seal the deal with your 'friend'?

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chicken nuggets... (Below threshold)

February 8, 2010 5:20 PM | Posted by armenian mystic: | Reply

chicken nuggets

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You know, you can declare, ... (Below threshold)

February 10, 2010 4:34 PM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

You know, you can declare, "this is not a pipe." But talk to enough crackheads, and you will figure out that it very well get crafted into a pipe if it is the nearest thing to serve the purpose. So, maybe it is not so much about the pipe, or the perceiver, but about the smoker, and when the smoker is willing to act upon his or her own volition.

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You kinda tipped your hand ... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2010 8:41 PM | Posted by ahahahahaha: | Reply

You kinda tipped your hand here:

Her place, like her, is highly developed but but uncomplicated. Considerable taste but no knick knacks. No decorative soaps. When she's not working (sports reporter) she doesn't wear make up.

Funny blog tho.

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Just watched the movie... W... (Below threshold)

April 10, 2011 4:38 AM | Posted by RingLeaderX: | Reply

Just watched the movie... Went straight for iPhone to look up exactly what the hell it was about... Still don't know but... This is the best work of art I have ever seen. A true gem among mediocrity. Def not for your average moviegoer. The limits of control is different, elegant, sober, and reflective study of the origin of it all. Jim did say the people will get it by 2020. Sleep on that.

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I think you all just didn't... (Below threshold)

February 17, 2012 5:00 AM | Posted by alienspy77: | Reply

I think you all just didn't get it so you bitch and moan like whiny babies. There is no approach to measuring quality of a film. Is subjective. It didn't make you feel anything or think. Ok. No need to get defensive about it.

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I stopped reading when I re... (Below threshold)

December 7, 2013 5:32 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I stopped reading when I realized that you want to put your dick in your friend. Oh well, this is an old post. I hope you got what you wanted!

I enjoyed the film. Nothing too some. Something too others.

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Great points. I've learned ... (Below threshold)

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