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."


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.


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.


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.