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The Word of the Year is “Surreal”

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I was happy to hear that Merriam-Webster named surreal their world of the year, edging out other front-runner such as fascism and, funnily enough, revenant. The beginning of 2017 has certainly had a surreal start for your downtown cinema, as this week the staff took a field-trip to visit some sensory-deprivation tanks (also known as float therapy) located in the suburbs, thus fulfilling a dream I have had since 2008. As a visioning exercise, however, the best idea I could come up with was a film series based on early representations of virtual reality (Je t’aime, Je t’aime, Strange Days, The Cell, and Gamer). Society will likely not be ready for this until around 2022.

Lots of my friends, and even people I don’t know very well, have been wanting to talk about things like time and selfhood after watching Arrival, satisfying another long-running aspiration of mine. True to form, I do not have that many bright ideas about the effects of time on our lives, but I am a good listener. I did find myself turning to the work of early twentieth-century philosopher Henri Bergson over the last few weeks, a weirdo who has mainly fallen out of favour in intellectual circles, whose work on matter, memory, and intuition, are helpful for teasing out these entanglements. Back in 1908, in an article about the phenomena of deja vu, Bergson had this to say about one’s interior life:

We hardly notice the extent to which our present consists in the anticipation of the future. The vision reflective consciousness gives us of our inner life is that of one state succeeding another state, each commencing at one point, finishing at another, and provisionally self-sufficing.

Spending sixty-minutes floating in a dark pod filled with hyper-salinated, body-temperature attuned water, wearing earplugs, provided a curious opportunity to spend some time with this ordinary succession of states, including their disruption. I have never been one to enjoy “observing” his thoughts—as you may recall in my last column I complained about my congenital lack of flow in my life—but this was a tremendous opportunity for some amateur research into the sensorium that generally envelopes us. Perhaps in fifty-years this will be how people watch movies—suspended practically nude in a saline solution, unable to tell where your body begins and ends. I wonder about bathroom breaks.

Another surreal experience occurred this week while I was sweeping out one of the theatres after a busy screening of the Moonlight. As is often the case, I struck up a conversation with a few people making their way out of the theatre, including a short but passionate conversation about the merits of the film with a local dad and arts-organizer. We covered all the bases—time, parenthood, loss—and both agreed that what we had seen was a remarkable and sophisticated take on these subjects. The problem, it turns out, was that I thought he had seen Arrival, when he had in fact just seen Moonlight, even though the conversation still totally worked, at least until we realized that we had been going-on about the wrong thing. Only in retrospect did this seem quite so preposterous, given I thought we had made a deep cinematic connection, when in fact we were talking nonsense. Or were we?

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