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Film: Inherently Illusive

The driving force in filmmaking is the interest to deliver a presentation which is at once audio, video and narrative, with the intent to provide audiences with a context into which personal escape, intellectual stimulation or emotional response might be elicited. In order to accomplish this feat, the filmmaker will rely heavily and inevitably on the creation of illusion. As a point of fact, the notion of illusion tends to take precedence in discussion on science fiction, fantasy and special effects extravaganza, all of which are in some regard addressed here.

But a more fundamental question is presented to us in this discussion which concerns the very nature of film itself. Indeed, the premise that ‘all film is illusion,’ is a compelling one which essentially applies a basic theoretical understanding of that which film is to a philosophical conception of its ambition. Namely, as film aspires to present a reality—whether ludicrous and abstract or perfectly grounded and rather pedestrian—it is nonetheless concerned with the interest of creating the impression of its reality through simulation.

Real human beings act parts, real environments are constructed on sound stages, sun is produced by fluorescent lighting and the hustle and bustle of background players is a cued rush of extras. As with a magic trick, while the audience recognizes that some illusion has been manifested in order to create the attendant visual experience or interpretation and yet, the audience accepts this with the interest of being entertained. This is true of any type of film, which is to essentially endorse the basic assertion that all film is illusion.

Its intent is not to obscure the facts of its simulation—which are rarely a secret—but to enter into a contract with the audience which demands a mutual acceptance that film does require the willing suspension of disbelief and the unconscious consent to accept illusion as having some value and applicability to the realities facing the audience. This is a relationship which we will address in this account, taking into consideration the dystopian future of Blade Runner (1982), the militaristic aggression of Terminator 2 (1991) and the overwhelming tension of The Birds (1963).

These films are selected for their shared interest in illusion as a way to channel and epitomize the fears of modern audiences. By rendering direct and realistic visual and narrative presentations which clearly appeal to the most paranoid of audience illusions, the films in question use their respective plot-based and cinematic devices to elicit critical response to the subjects addressed. To this extent, there is a well-defined cinematic interest in encountering the unknown and delivering vivid premonitions about the look, feel and culture of the world as it may be imagined.

In such films as Blade Runner, a presentation of the future is precipitated on the construction of a future world driven somewhat imaginatively by the dystopian predictions of the narrative. Its illusion is found in its rendering of something which may never be and in fact, which is not expected to literally occur. Quite for the purpose of the film and for the nuances of its message, a universe has been crafted in which imagined technologies, governments and corporations provide the illusion of a real work founded on the figurative critique of our existent world.

As we consider the experience of our protagonist in such a film, it becomes inescapably clear that he is an isolated individual capable of understanding the relevance of this social critique even as he is bound to the illusory world of the film. Quite often, in fact, it is the purpose of the effective and socially critical film to appeal to a dense and illusory universe in order to deliver elaborate statements on the universe in which we live.

The violence and malice of protagonist Deckard’s society was that which created him and that by which he was subsequently driven to moral revulsion. This contradiction is akin to the capitalistic enforcement of civil obedience beneath a layered system that itself is the natural source of war and imbalance. “The Marxist concept of contradiction points to exactly such irrational social developments; indeed, it is a basic tenet of Marxism that such contradictions are inevitable under capitalism (Oilman 56-7).

” (Kerman, 445) These are bore out in a startling fashion in Blade Runner, where “the real emphasis of attack seems to be against the Corporation and Tyrell, the inhuman who looks down on everyone from the top floor of the Corporation building. ” (Mills, 1) His corporation is an entity which has come to achieve power at such an imbalance with the rest of civilization that his disposition defines a future society that perfectly encapsulates urban devastation brought on without the occurrence of any single catastrophic event.

Rather, it is presented as the inevitability of our current path which strengthens corporate demagogues with the money of the middle-class and the poor. In this process, society devolves into a perpetual war-zone, where the corporate authority has spread its tentacles to the political, law-enforcement and even biogenetic sectors of life. The result is the creation of a universe which is illusory in the ways that it can be distinguished from modern life. And yet, there is an unmistakable interest in showing this world with visual acuity, to the purpose of demonstrating the real fear and apprehension driving such a vision.

The film’s universe, an extreme revisiting of our universe in a post-modern context, draws a relevant ethical relationship between the illusion and the society known to the audience. As a result, “the political critique is inescapable, pointing to our world, where soldiers are ‘cannon fodder,’ workers and native peoples expendable, and where corporations move both polluting plants and dangerous products offshore to third-world nations whose people resemble the swarming street people of Blade Runner.

” (Kerman, 447) Director Ridley Scott’s clearest target for critique is the system which has entitled such largesse to be possessed by so few. He depicts it as a system which empowers greed-driven individuals to lord over a masses distracted to disunity by its jealous protection of its own excess. This is an ideological conviction which becomes more disturbing today, with even greater distance from the film, where elements of the reality it has composed seem to be on the near horizon. Indeed, this is the purpose behind the film and the implication which drives this discussion’s overarching point.

If film truly is illusion in any regard, than the thematic impulses guiding those illusions in a film such as Blade Runner may well be seen as no less illusory than, say, the deconstructed world of Schindler’s List. Even as the latter would manifest a dismantled universe with as close a visual approximation to the Holocaust of World War II as possible, it still remains so that this presentation would be an attempted recreation of the world which the film sought to explore. Its ethical and ideological criticisms are indisputable and are driven by clear moral imperatives, such as are also present in Blade Runner.

That Schindler’s List is based on events that are largely factual does not enter into this comparison, as the film itself would still be very much based on making a connection between the emotional instincts of the audience, their current world and the world encompassing the film. Quite to the point, in Blade Runner, one of Ridley Scott’s motives was to in large part “make a film which would make his audience uncomfortable. ” (Kerman, 446) This is an impetus which accompanies the dystopian vision by necessity and which likewise motivates the more emotionally pursuant uses of illusion.

To function as a tool of political ideology, a film must establish a message that resonates through visually and emotionally indelible images. The world-view represented in dystopian philosophy is particularly served by establishing a close relationship between the familiar lifestyle of Western capitalism and its future self, which the filmmakers view as total destruction. This total destruction lay in wait for the characters in James Cameron’s important 1991 sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

In 1984, James Cameron’s The Terminator brought to the screen a chilling social indicator of the dangers in ceding control of our lives to machinery. The original story centers around the prelude to a future devastated by nuclear holocaust, a fate derived from machine’s leap into artificial intelligence and its subsequent exploitation of the human frailty of international disunity. The ‘villain’ in this film must ultimately be considered humanity’s violence and sloth, but the cold, calculating devastation of man’s misguided ways are represented by the cybernetic organism.

“Ostensibly a simulacrum built for infiltration, this cyborg may be seen as a quaint metaphor for the human-machine relations the film’s dystopian vision depicts: human beings have allowed machinery to run them, until they are little more than pieces of flesh hanging on the periphery. ” (Melehy, 15) Certainly, this is the first and most compelling illusion of the film franchise, which uses the premise of cybernetics to blur the line between human and machine. A comment on technology, military industrial complex and the visual illusion of humanism, Terminator 2 ultimately succeeds in driving the premise even closer to home than Blade Runner.

While its devastating premonitions of the future are depicted on occasion, the film is more directly concerned with the invasion of this future into the experiences of characters like those in the audience. In Sarah and John Connor, we are given real human interactents in a conceivable universe, contended with the illusory manifestations of the future. In this case, the Terminator units played by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick are two distinct premonitions of this future, with the latter especially introducing the value of special effects to the discourse on illusion.

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