Present study provides comprehensive analysis of postmodern cinema in several important aspects. Specifically, it addresses theoretical foundations of postmodern approach to cinema, proceeding from postmodernist narrative, including post-structuralism and deconstruction. Based on the analysis of the latter, present paper further addresses the issue of inherent tensions and contradiction within analyzed approach, focuses on its advantages and disadvantages.
Finally, discussed theoretical issues are applied to the film Being John Malkovich in the view of studying its functioning as a postmodern text. Postmodern cinema and postmodern approach to cinema Postmodern cinema may be described as the articulation of a widely discussed postmodern condition in culture in cinematic production. Such articulation is expressed in the deep transformation of film’s narrative and its structural dimensions.
Postmodern cinema deconstructs traditional cinematic narration, which is based on cultural and ideological oppositions, expressed in plot, such as the struggle between good and evil, heroism – betrayal, normal-abnormal, social-asocial etc (Derrida, 1976). Drawing on Derrida’ s deconstruction technique, postmodern cinema explodes traditional patterns of interpretation, which are based on common sense, ideologies and prejudices. The latter include dominant cultural codes, used in presentation of masculinity, women, foreigners etc.
Postmodern cinema exposes the inner absurdity thereof by means of articulating them as the sources of power, control and repression. As far as content changes are concerned, postmodern cinema is characterized by the break with classic genre unity, which was based on the principle of dialectical connection between form and content and organic sequence, endowed with meaning. Instead, postmodern cinema is characterized by the neglect of structural relations and promotes polystylism, intertextuality, multiple narrative citations, etc (Jameson, 1991).
Moreover, it should be noted that postmodern cinema also transforms the formal structure of cinematic narration, including temporal sequence, logical consistency, organic relations between image and sound. The latter is due to radical experimentation and deconstruction as the main principles of postmodernist film production. Postmodern cinema should be differentiated from a postmodern approach to cinema, which uses postmodern concepts and methodology to analyze the reflection of postmodernist spirit in a given film.
In our view, postmodern cinema is a kind of cinema, which uses postmodern techniques of narration and montage, while postmodern approach refers to the theoretical practice of analyzing any film through the prism of postmodernist theory to find certain traces of postmodernism in them. The latter implies that there should exist a postmodern theory of film. As in the case with general postmodernist theory, postmodernist theory of film does not represent a unified collection of texts, but rather partial application of postmodernist concepts and general mindset orientations to the film analysis.
As Brunette noted in relation to application of Derrida’s philosophy in film analysis, such application is ‘indirect’ (Brunette, 91). In the same vein, Hill argues that unified theory is alien to the spirit of postmodernism, which denies structure and uniformity (Hill, 96). As Brunette notes, deconstruction was widely applied in film theory as the means of debunking the history of cinema, criticizing genre differentiation, auteurship practices and general patterns of interpretations, influenced by institutional and ideological contexts (Brunette, 92).
Such Derridian concepts as difference, trace, binary oppositions etc. are widely applied in the postmodern approach to cinema. The general postmodernist inclination to see cultural products as the process of writing and narration also widely influenced postmodernist interpretation of films in a way that the latter are no longer compared with reality, but seen as separate simulated reality (Brunette, 93). Apart from this, the postmodernist approach to film points to the logical incoherence between ‘inside-outside opposition’, which is dominant in the realist film theory.
The mentioned problem relates to the doubtful status of ‘opening and closing’ credits or director, featuring in his own film. Their doubtful status relates to the question whether they should be interpreted as a part of the film or outside material. In this case according to postmodernist film theory it is quite difficult to think, using opposition between inside and outside (Brunette, 94). The opposition between inside in outside is based on the clear distinction between essence and outside qualities.
Film structure was traditionally interpreted through the prism of the latter dichotomy, however, postmodernist approach brought new interpretation of the problem. Postmodernist film theory, as it was already noted, utilizes techniques of deconstruction to introduce new practices of interpretation, which are focused on the interplay of multiple signifiers, which lack clearly defined signified. Postmodern cinema is deeply tied with contemporary developments in the film industry and cultural content, embedded in film.
As Hill suggests, the turn to postmodern cinema is widely associated with the transformation of the structure of Hollywood film production, which evolved from Fordism to Postfordism, which focuses on PR, media technologies etc. (Hill, 100) Moreover, there is no denying the importance of the fact that as Jameson suggested, the cohesion of low and high cultures, which are the marker of postmodernism in culture, becomes more and more reflected in films (Jameson, 62). Moreover, one should point to the dystopian nature of contemporary films, especially in science fiction genre.
Contemporary films are skeptical of the possibilities of progress and liberation, pessimistic of the humanity’s future. The latter links them with central ideological and philosophical premises of postmodernism (Hill, 100). Tensions and Contradictions within Postmodernist Approach to Cinema Tensions and contradictions within postmodernist approach to cinema arise from difficulties in defining postmodernism, poststructuralism and deconstruction. Postmodernism, as Hill suggests, is often utilized in scholarly debates addressing different spheres of life, such as society, aesthetics and philosophy.
The absence of postmodernist theoretical edifice makes it difficult to develop it in science (Hill, 101). Apart from this, postmodernist thinkers often criticize scientific consciousness and oppose codification and structure. Many of them also deny their close ties with postmodernism, debunking the term as the product of false generalization, uniting intrinsically different concepts and theories. Post-structuralism is generally regarded as a methodology, used in postmodernism, which is based on deconstruction, destructuration, new interpretation patterns and free correlation between signifiers and signified.
Poststructuralism is often used, addressing the theories of Foucault, Lacan and their followers. However, the mentioned thinkers had contradictory views and focused on different subject areas. Foucault’s philosophy, for instance, may be analyzed through different stages and it becomes evident that structuralism was his major methodology. Furthermore, deconstruction is among the most widely contested postmodernist techniques. Derrida in his usual manner did not theorize it in comprehensive manner, which resulted in multiple interpretations, based on general idea, rather than precise directions.
The result was individualization of deconstruction practices, that is, each scholar created his/her own interpretation. Hence, postmodernist theory functions as philosophical and ideological construct, rather than clear methodological approach. The discussed difficulties in defining postmodernism, poststructuralism and deconstruction immediately result in tensions and contradiction existing in the postmodernist approach to film. First of all, the vague contours of postmodernism, deconstruction and poststructuralism often lead to false identification of certain films as postmodernist.
Many conventional films are labeled postmodernist due to superficial similarities, such as destructured narration and using multiple quotations. Moreover, a postmodernist approach to cinema often neglects positive analysis, focusing on negation and critique, which leaves no room for clear interpretations. Negation and critique include already mentioned debunking of dominant cultural and ideological stereotypes relating to the status of women, socially affordable behavior, sense of life etc. Furthermore, it should be mentioned that the postmodernist approach is contradictory in its foundations.
On the one side, it rests on the negation of a structural and systematic vision of reality, but on the other postmodernism itself provides us with definite and universal generalizations referring to the absence of structure, false nature of binary oppositions, absurdity of Being and impossibility of liberation and progress. These contradictions are deeply embedded in radical postmodernism, which is obsessed with deconstruction and neglects construction, art and creativity. Moreover, as Jameson argues postmodernist films are marked with the loss of historicity.
For instance, so called nostalgia films fail to reconstruct the past, but rather present their false spatial-temporal simulacrum (Hill, 101). The postmodern approach to cinema, however is considered to be critical, often takes the form of ‘reactionary postmodernism’, which legitimizes positive reality by means of criticizing the prospects of progress and protecting its cultural heterogeneity and empirical emptiness (Hill, 102). Hence, there exists a division within the postmodernist approach to cinema, which results in the abundance of tensions and contradictions in it.
Advantages and disadvantages of postmodern approach to cinema One of the main advantages of postmodernist approach to cinema is that it may use its critical potential to ‘deconstruct’ old meanings, embedded in ideological conservatives and reactionary views concerning race, gender and class (Hill, 102). Postmodernism and poststructuralism not only deconstruct, but create new meanings and constructs, which are the source of breakthrough in direction to new forms of art and creativity.
Moreover, poststructuralism and postmodernism allow radical experimentation and creativity, which are preconditions for every revolutionary art project, aiming at eliminating negative social implications of mass film production industry etc. Postmodernist approach to art at the same time presents distinctly new approach to narrativity and textuality, which considers every aspect of social life to be product of culture. Intertextuality as the cornerstone of postmodernist approach helps bridge different cultural phenomena and perceive them through the prism of interconnection with others of the same kind.
Hence, postmodernist approach represents deep self-reflection of art, which understand its premises, foundations and purpose. It is also self-critical and the latter allows constant development and transformation, addressing new artistic challenges. Disadvantages of postmodernist approach are deeply connected with inherent tensions and contradictions within it, which preclude development of well-elaborated theoretical edifice. Being John Malkovich as Postmodernist Text Being John Malkovich should be regarded as the film, which contains certain features peculiar to postmodernist philosophy and mindset.
First of all, it is evident that the film’s plot contains deconstruction of opposition between inside and outside and real/imaginary dichotomy. John Malkovich, as a living actor, finds himself at the border of interior cultural reality of film and outside existence. The latter implies that his character at the same time functions as real and imaginary person, existing both inside and outside the film. We know John Malkovich as an actor, starring in such films as Burn After Reading, The Man in the Iron Mask, but paradoxically in the discussed film we see him, play the role of himself.
In this way, John Malkovich participates in the postmodernist procedure of deconstruction. The deconstruction occurs, because the border between outside and inside is erased and we find it difficult to delimit the film and reality. Both the film and reality are now perceived as intersecting texts. Therefore, it is evident that postmodernist approach is embedded in the analyzed film at the level of formal organization. Postmodernist nature of Being John Malkovich is also apparent in the central idea, which organizes the film’s narrative.
Protagonists discovered the portal, which allowed them to get in body and mind of John Malkovich and manipulate his and their own living experience. On the surface it may seem, that such an idea is nothing more than traditional science fiction or fantasy. However, the following analysis will prove that deep philosophical meaning is in fact embedded in Being John Malkovich. The traditional postmodern theme which is presented in the discussed film includes the death of subject and its identity, which was first conceptualized by Michel Foucault.
Lotte, Schwartz and Maxine, which use the portal to get into Malkovich’s body experience deconstruction of their subjective identity, as they become obsessed with the possibility of realizing their hidden desires within Malkovich’s body. For instance, Lotte uses Malkovich body to realize her transgender desires. The latter constitutes doubling of identity, when Lotte realizes that her life is not full without being someone else. Such transformation has much in common with the concept of postmodern identities, which are plural, constantly changing and based on investing one’s desire into certain objects.
Another example of the deconstruction of identity refers to Maxine finding herself to be in love with Lotte, when being inside Malkovich’s body. Such sudden feeling postulates the division which exists inside human identity, which makes it uncontrollable and constantly changing. Maxine’s feeling is amplified by the presence in the alien body and mind, which changes her own perspective on people and things. The identity paralysis is also presented in the individual experience of Malkovich as he become paranoid, because Schwartz manages to manipulate his actions.
Finally, some allusions to Derrida’s and Baudrillard’s concepts of copy and original, repetition and simulacrum are evident in the scene when Malkovich finds oneself in the world where every one looks like his copy and knows only one word: ‘Malkovich’. In fact, such a scene may be interpreted as the deconstruction of opposition between original and copy. The postmodern condition destructs the dominance of original, which existed in several spheres of modern society, including art and power relations. The postmodern condition resulted in the autonomous existence of copies, which lose their ties with original.
Such a development may be interpreted through the prism of Benjamin’s concept of art’s mechanical reproduction, which destroyed the sublime religious content of original and devalued its subjective importance (Benjamin, 797). Such situation opened new venues for the development of mass forms of culture and art. The latter hypothesis is very similar to the postmodern condition, which according to Jameson is contingent on unification of low and high culture. Postmodernist condition in art is characterized by the conflation of popular culture (such as pop music, advertisement, blockbusters etc.
) with the elements of classical art, music etc. As Schwartz, Maxine and others become tied with Malkovich, it becomes difficult to refuse of their new life and they got trapped in Malkovich’s identity. The same may be said about new host – Maxine’s and Lotte’s child Emily, which now may be reached through the portal. To sum it up, Being John Malkovich includes several important postmodernist ideas and concepts, organizing its narrative. However, the latter does not imply that the film is postmodernist.
In fact, it is realized through conventional technique instruments and classic narrative structure. Hence, postmodernism refers mainly to the central ideas the film conveys. References Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. 791-800. Brunette, Peter. Post-structuralism and Deconstruction, 91-95. Derrida, Jacque. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. 1976. Hill, John. Film and Postmodernism, 96-104. Jameson, Fredric. ‘Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’. New Left Review, 146, (53-92), 1991.Sample Essay of Paperial.com