[Anything one could possibly say about this movie would be a spoiler, so be forewarned. However, as usual I suspect that the enjoyment of the movie has other aesthetic benefits than surprise. But it is hard to say how valuable my innocence about the plot was, looking back on the experience. Is this not the most equivocating spoiler warning ever seen?]
Cyber-Freudianism: The Final Frontier. A group of psychotherapists are participating in a mammoth corporate research study into dream-intervention. A powerful device, known as the DC Mini, allows the therapist to insert themselves into patients' dreams, for first-hand observation or even, potentially, interference. Now, as someone interested in artistic representations of psychotherapy, I have to say this a brilliant premise. There are so many places to go with this, not least into the power it gives the therapist to trade the patient's verbal deceptions for their subconscious symbolic transformations. But one of the least interesting routes to take is the one chosen: the action film about ontological breakdown. Now, I love ontological breakdown dramas (in which different levels of reality, like dream and waking, or theatre plot and audience reality, or fiction and readerly reality, blend into one another), but is it possible that in the years since postmodern fiction began to burst forth with self-reference (or since Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, or even since Calderon's Life is a Dream in the Spanish Golden Age) this device has been played out a bit, and that it is in need of a spot of regeneration?
I think it is possible. The opening of the film (our insight into a detective's therapy with Paprika, the sprightly alter ego of psychotherapist Dr. Chiba) is quite brilliantly disconcerting, and this delightfully uncertain, surreal tone is maintained for about a third of the movie. But soon the film starts bewildering without complicating, collapsing layers of reality without adding meaning or possibility. Much of the film's appeal comes from its bright, crazed aesthetic, a joyous zest for Freudian symbolism that yields crowded frames of surrealist excess (or perhaps they look back further to Hieronymus Bosch [look right for part of his "Garden of Earthly Delights," courtesy of Wikipedia]). But then the film reduces itself with the great peril of Freudian cinema (though not necessarily, I hasten to add, of Freud's own process): analysis that simplifies. The potent (and latent) presence of Oedipus and the sphinx as a metaphor for the narrative is ultimately brought out of subtext and spoiled through explication. Great sexual battles are writ large, ultimately playing out in the context of the Godzilla vs. Mothra genre (this is not nearly so charming as it seems in description).
All in all, an interesting film, and one that has garnered a great deal of praise from American critics, but ultimately an unsuccessful one.
Paprika (2006, Japan)
dir. Satoshi Kon
[In other news, I finished Sleepless Nights last night, and the final chapter was less spectacular than those that preceded it. I also watched (and wept voluminously over) United 93, but fell asleep before the midnight Harry Potter showing that I had promised to attend with my friend. Alas! Still at work on Watching the English (going on 14 months now), and I admit that I was sucked into starting the fourth book in Ursula K. le Guin's Earthsea cycle, Tehanu, against all my virtuous intentions to read book group and challenge books first. Ah, well. Now that I am done with Sleepless Nights, I will return to The Heart is a Lonely Hunter as my next book group read.]