Your SlideShare is downloading. ×
University Of Antwerp Ken Lawrence Contemporary Film Auteurs Haute Tension
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in...5
×

Thanks for flagging this SlideShare!

Oops! An error has occurred.

×

Introducing the official SlideShare app

Stunning, full-screen experience for iPhone and Android

Text the download link to your phone

Standard text messaging rates apply

University Of Antwerp Ken Lawrence Contemporary Film Auteurs Haute Tension

673
views

Published on

Published in: Education, Technology

0 Comments
0 Likes
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Views
Total Views
673
On Slideshare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
0
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
2
Comments
0
Likes
0
Embeds 0
No embeds

Report content
Flagged as inappropriate Flag as inappropriate
Flag as inappropriate

Select your reason for flagging this presentation as inappropriate.

Cancel
No notes for slide

Transcript

  • 1. Universiteit Antwerpen Universiteit Antwerpen Ken Lawrence Ken Lawrence Contemporary Film Auteurs Contemporary Film Auteurs Master in de Filmstudies en Beeldcultuur Prof. dr. M. Andrin Master in de Filmstudies en Beeldcultuur Prof. dr. M. Andrin
  • 2. Universiteit Antwerpen Universiteit Antwerpen Ken Lawrence Ken Lawrence Contemporary Film Auteurs Contemporary Film Auteurs Master in de Filmstudies en Beeldcultuur Prof. dr. M. Andrin Master in de Filmstudies en Beeldcultuur Prof. dr. M. Andrin
  • 3. Table of contents Table of contents ........................................................................................................................ 1 Introduction ................................................................................................................................ 2 Chapter 1: Simulacrum............................................................................................................... 3 Chapter 2: Deconstruction.......................................................................................................... 5 2.1.Deconstruction of identity:............................................................................................... 5 2.2.Deconstruction of language:............................................................................................. 6 Chapter 3: Reversal of roles ....................................................................................................... 8 Chapter 4: Synesthesia ............................................................................................................... 9 Chapter 5: The relativity of the narrative:................................................................................ 10 Conclusion................................................................................................................................ 11 Bibliography............................................................................................................................. 13 Filmography ............................................................................................................................. 13 1
  • 4. Introduction Haute Tension’s release in 2003 intrigued many, baffled even more and became director Alexandre Aja’s showcase to move his work from France to Hollywood. Although its visuals were gritty and the story surely bloody enough for even the hardened horror and slasher film fan, many disregarded the twist at the end of the film as entirely unnecessary. However, I believe this particular ending is absolutely vital to the story and not merely a ‘clever’ afterthought. It is precisely because of the way Aja chose to end his film that in this paper I can analyse the various postmodern aspects of Haute Tension. Using the material discussed during the course ‘Contemporary Film Auteurs’, I will start with the concept of the simulacrum. How does Alexandra Aja’s film appear to be a complete fabrication? Why is this important for the storyline? Secondly I will discuss the central idea of deconstruction. What can we say about the identity of the killer? How does schizophrenia play an important role in Haute Tension? Do we find the postmodern theme of deconstruction of language in this film? The third part deals with the blurring of boundaries between masculinity and femininity which we can observe in Haute Tension. How are traditional roles reversed in the film? What is the impact of the female character’s sexual desire? A short chapter is devoted to synesthesia. Are there instances in which Aja wants the viewer to feel certain sensations? In the final part I will discuss the relativity of the narrative and how its open ending is entirely postmodern. Throughout the text I will make parallels with the films discussed throughout the course of ‘Contemporary Film Auteurs’. 2
  • 5. Chapter 1: Simulacrum The first aspect of postmodernism I will discuss is that of the simulacrum which points to the artificial creation of the film and its constructed nature. Near the end of Haute Tension – in a Night Shyamalan-type moment – it becomes clear to the viewer that almost the complete film, has been a fabrication. In fact, one could find ample evidence that the entire film tells a story which has been constructed by Marie. Marie’s obvious feelings towards Alexia are not answered so she creates a fantasy in which a deranged killer enters the house, kills all of Alexia’s relatives ( perhaps because they would not have approved of a relationship between Marie and Alexia ) and kidnaps Alexia. Marie then becomes the hero-figure who defeats the ‘killer’ and thereby captures the heart of Alexia. The first time I saw the film I was inclined to say that everything up to the arrival of the killer really happened and everything afterwards – up to the discovery by the police officer of the security camera footage – was a fabrication by Marie. However, after reviewing the film I have the impression that, as it starts with a dream sequence, it could be possible that with the exception of the police officer’s discovery everything was a simulacrum. The revelation at the end puts many events in perspective. Haute Tension therefore warrants a second viewing of the film in which the viewer pays particular attention to what, how and why the various sequences are depicted. It is then possible to discern how Marie constructs her fantasy. Nevertheless Haute Tension is not quite as postmodern in this aspect as for example Dogville by Lars Von Trier. The viewer cannot mistake Dogville for reality. It is clear that it is fully manipulated on the level of the narrative and its construction is entirely exposed. In Haute Tension on the other hand the audience is unaware for a long time of the fact that they are watching a simulation. Only at the end of the film does this become clear. With regard to the simulacrum in Haute Tension there is also a clear parallel with aspects of the work of Peter Greenaway as described by James Park. During the course we read the following quote: “behind all of Greenaway’s work is a postmodernist sense that narrative structures of chronological succession and logical cause and effect are false to the essentially chaotic and problematic nature of subjective experience, and that the patterns we discern in experience are wholly illusory”. 3
  • 6. In my opinion this could very well be applied to Alexandre Aja’s film too. Critics sometimes argue that there are large gaps in the narrative which are not explained. They point for example to the weird vehicle the ‘killer’ drives and the sports car Marie gets her hands on. These critics are apparently unwilling to accept that the film does not need to explain everything simply because what the viewer sees is a fabrication, a fantasy we become a part of through the subjective experience of Marie. It is interesting to note that although not as surreal as much of David Lynch’s work, Haute Tension does share some characteristics with his work, mainly the dream-like sequences. At the very beginning of the film the viewer sees Marie, hurt and bleeding and running away from something. She stops a car and asks the driver for help. Then Marie wakes up and we realize she was only having a nightmare. Later in the film, the killing-spree starts after Marie has fallen asleep. The events after that have a nightmarish feeling to them and one of the final sequences in the film enhances the dream-like aspects of much of the narration: as Alexia tries to escape from Marie we see the same scene as at the beginning of the film but now Alexia is the victim who desperately attempts to stop a car in order to escape from a maniac killer. Even stranger is the fact that both the car and the driver are the same as in Marie’s dream. This echoes the idea of the a-logical dream in much of Lynch’s work. 4
  • 7. Chapter 2: Deconstruction The fact that what the viewer for a long time believes to be true is only the ‘truth’ from Mary’s point of view has already been discussed above. In this part of the paper about deconstruction, the main idea in postmodernism, I will discuss two aspects: deconstruction of identity and deconstruction of language. Moreover I will show how Aja achieves deconstruction and will offer various explanations as to its purpose. 2.1.Deconstruction of identity: As we have discussed in the course, identity in postmodern film is built physically, psychologically and socially. In this context it is important to examine the identity of Marie and the killer she has created. We clearly have a case of subject fragmentation, which is undeniably one of the main elements of Haute Tension. Schizophrenia is very important in postmodern cinema. Torn apart subjects often structure the film and in Haute Tension this kind of character tells us the whole story and misleads us. Marie’s physical identity is that of a young, sleek woman with short-cropped hair. It is difficult to say much about her social identity as we get no information about her home situation, where she comes from and so forth. She gets along fine with her friend Alexia whom she seems to have known for some considerable amount of time. She is invited to spend a holiday on Alexia’s parents’ farm. Marie’s attitude shows that she is not really interested in Alexia’s parents but she is nevertheless intrigued to see where Alexia spent her childhood. Naturally it is Marie’s psychological identity which is the main focus of the film. It is undeniably her sexual desire towards Alexia which triggers her fantasy-killings. Marie appears unstable and focused completely on gaining her friend’s love. To achieve this she creates a new identity for herself which she externalizes in the form of an ugly, dirty, white male killer stalking Alexia’s family. The viewer does not get to know a lot about his identity during the course of the film. He seems to be a vicious brute who has done this kind of thing before. I would like to draw two parallels with films we have discussed in the course, The Piano and eXistenZ. In The Piano from Jane Campion we also have the theme of a fragmentation of identity. This fragmentation continues until the end of the film in which two opposite elements – life and death – come together in what is called an oxymoron. In The Piano, Ada 5
  • 8. McGrath maybe wanted to die and this feeling pervades the ending of Haute Tension too. Another oxymoron which is present at the end of Aja’s film is that of danger and security: although Marie has been locked up, her intention of reaching out and getting at Alexia still seems to be lying under the surface. In eXistenZ from David Cronenberg we can also find a demultiplication of personalities such as the one which takes place in Haute Tension. In eXistenZ this is mainly the effect of switching from one level of representation to another throughout the course of the game which Allegra Geller and Ted Pikul play. Besides the parallel revolving around multiple personalities there is another link between these films which I find worth pointing out. In eXistenZ the story deals with a new kind of electronic game which creates a hyper-realistic experience for the players yet still responds to the design elements of much of the games we know today, such as for example progress in the game being subjected to asking the correct questions to non-player characters. Throughout Haute Tension I could not rid myself of the feeling that its structure also closely resembles that of contemporary electronic games. Marie has not only created a fantasy for herself, but also a challenge. This challenge consists of various levels: first she needs to hide from the killer. Secondly she needs to pursue the killer without getting caught. Finally she needs to defeat him in a battle for life or death. If she succeeds she will win the heart of Alexia but failure means ‘Game Over’, no chance of ever being together with her. When academics study the relationship between games and film they tend to focus on audiovisual elements whereas often it is the structure, the design of games and their goal- orientation which influences films. I think Haute Tension is a nice example of how challenges from a variety of games seem to be incorporated into the fabric of the narration which is – just as with electronic games – the result of a subjective fantasy which a person experiences. After the deconstruction of identity we now turn our attention to the deconstruction of language and its meaning. 2.2.Deconstruction of language: In analyzing postmodern films we should pay attention to the relationship with language expressed in the film. Traditionally man dominates language and therefore can be regarded as holding the power. One of the common characteristics of postmodern cinema is the fact that 6
  • 9. this white, male view of the world is countered. Postmodern cinema clearly gives a voice to female characters. These characters then provide a counterpoint to the traditional male dominance. This description definitely applies to Haute Tension. It cannot be a coincidence that in Marie’s twisted fantasy the killer stalking the house is a white man. Moreover, if he does not kill people he ties them up so they are unable to speak. As the killer turns up at the doorstep of Alexia’s family, dialogue becomes almost entirely absent in the film. This is a sign that language cannot help us understand the events. Marie does not speak anymore and the only character who through speaking could tell us the exact nature of the events which are unfolding is Alexia but she has her mouth tied shut by the killer. He tries to subdue women from speaking and thus establishes his dominance over them. Even in the disturbing opening sequence with the severed head we see that the killer finds gratification in preventing women from speaking. For Marie this killer represents everything she has to fight against: not only the dominant white male view of society, but also the fact that he could be someone Alexia sexually prefers to Marie. Marie then sets out to deconstruct this notion of white male dominance. She attempts to destroy the killer, let Alexia regain her capacity to speak and thereby hopes that she will acknowledge and answer Marie’s love for her. 7
  • 10. Chapter 3: Reversal of roles There is a very clear reversal of roles in Haute Tension. Even before we learn the truth we are confronted with a powerful female character, Marie, who does not give up on her friend and dares to confront the maniac who slaughtered Alexia’s family. After the (in)famous twist at the end of the film the Marie-character shifts from hero to killer, but that makes her equally strong, perhaps even stronger. Haute Tension clearly incorporates the postmodern aspect of blurring boundaries between masculinity and femininity. In Marie’s fantasy the killer is male, but she is in fact the killer. Moreover Aja’s film not only has a female centered narrative, but also incorporates and underlines the sexual desire of the main female character. This is clear when we see Marie spy on Alexia while she undresses. Later Marie masturbates, an event which triggers the main narrative constructed around Marie’s fantasy. When discussing the films of Jane Campion such as The Piano and Holy Smoke we saw how she often has a narrative with a female-centered character and her sexual desire. In general her films feature complex female characters who are more often than not masochistic and voyeuristic. The parallel with the Marie-character in Haute Tension is crystal-clear. There are in fact even more voyeuristic elements in the course of the film. One obvious example is the way Marie hides in a clothes cupboard and watches Alexia’s mother being killed. This voyeuristic sequence seems to literally refer to the famous scene in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. After the brief discussion about the reversal of roles the next part deals with another element commonly associated with postmodern cinema: synesthesia. 8
  • 11. Chapter 4: Synesthesia Synesthesic cinema means that the viewer is expected to feel certain physical impressions while watching the film. We discussed its prevalence in Jane Campion’s films where she wants the viewer to feel and smell certain things. According to me it is one of the most important elements in Haute Tension. Director Alexandre Aja really wants us to feel the continuous tension. We are perhaps misled by the way the events are depicted, but the fright and terror are very intensely conveyed to the viewer. Moreover there is a lot of emphasis – mainly through the use of close-ups – on certain objects. The killer’s scalpel is a very clear example. Close-ups of scars and wounds also add to the synesthesic element of the film. There are other instances where the touch is equally important. In the beginning of the film for example as Alexia fools Marie in the cornfield the viewer can truly feel the leaves and the wind as Marie – disorientated – tries to find her friend back. Another example is when the killer pushes the doorbell repeatedly. Later in the film Marie takes a wooden stick with barbed wire at the top of it and turns it around a few times in her hand. As a viewer we get the sensation that we can feel its weight, its texture and how it seems a powerful club to attack the killer with. For the final part of this paper we now turn our attention to the ending of the film and the lack of closure of the narrative. 9
  • 12. Chapter 5: The relativity of the narrative: When analyzing the end of many postmodern films we saw how they are often characterized by open endings. It appears that there is no logical way to end the narrative. At the end of Haute Tension we see Alexia fleeing from Marie and stopping a car. This is the same car, driven by the same person as the one in Marie’s dream at the beginning of the film. It is unclear if what we are seeing is ‘real’ or is still part of Marie’s ongoing fantasy, her fabricated version of what has happened. Furthermore the fact that it are the same car and driver as in Marie’s dream is also not logical. The final sequence of the film shows Marie strapped tight in a straight jacket, most likely in a lunatic asylum. Alexia looks at her through one way glass and both the viewer as well as Alexia feel safer now that Marie is locked up. However…Marie lashes out in the general direction of Alexia, signaling that she has not forgotten about her and can find her whenever she pleases. As I already said above: the ending obviously contains an oxymoron, particularly that of danger and security. The Piano by Jane Campion also shows the relativity of the narrative and stresses the need to be skeptical about happy endings. We have also seen this type of relative ending in The Ring from Hideo Nakata. The main character knows she is saved, but on the other hand realizes the horror of the fact that the deadly film will spread throughout the world. 10
  • 13. Conclusion The aim of this paper was to give an overview of the various elements of postmodernism which are most apparent in the film Haute Tension. Crucial to this analysis is off course the ending of the film which echoes that of for example The Usual Suspects: at the end the person who tells the story is exposed as a liar. Just as we identify ourselves as viewers with Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint we do the same with the Marie-character of Haute Tension. It comes as a huge surprise that the terrible ordeal she has gone through appears to be a psychotic fantasy she has created. This twist has the result of embedding the film with a postmodern touch. First of all it leads us to question exactly which events truly transpired and what was a fabrication by Marie. Distinguishing these parts does not appear to be so easy as there are enough arguments to support the belief that practically the entire film is viewed from the subjective stance of Marie. Nevertheless we have to acknowledge that the simulacrum aspect of Haute Tension is less strong than in films such as Dogville by Lars Von Trier. The latter is impossible to mistake for reality: from the outset its construction is fully exposed to the viewer which is not the case with Aja’s film. In my analysis I also pointed out that a lot of parts in Haute Tension feel like the a-logical dreams or the nightmarish sequences of David Lynch’s work. When discussing the central idea in postmodernism – deconstruction – I talked about subject fragmentation and the relationship with language. Marie’s schizophrenia and her psychological identity are the basis of the film. Her fragmentation of identity comes to an end during the final sequence of the film, which also bears all the marks of being an oxymoron, more specifically one that unites the opposites of danger and security. Some interesting analogies could be made with the film eXistenZ by David Cronenberg, not only on the level of the demultiplication of personalities which takes place in both films, but also with regard to the structure of Haute Tension. It seems as if Marie has created a challenge for herself consisting of various obstacles ( levels ) she has to overcome, not quite unlike the structure of many contemporary electronic games. For Marie the reward for being the hero- character is gaining the love of Alexia. Deconstruction of language can also easily be detected in Haute Tension. The white, male killer which Marie fabricates has a total disregard for women. He prevents them from using 11
  • 14. the language and thus this character matches the traditional view of male power. Throughout the film Marie will try to undermine his dominance by proving to be a worthy opponent. As the killer is nothing more than a fabrication by Marie we have an obvious blurring of boundaries between masculinity and femininity. This is enhanced by the sexual desire of Marie which she canalizes into a masochistic and violent fantasy which allows her to conquer the heart of Alexia. Voyeurism plays a central part too: Marie watches Alexia showering, tries to remain hidden from the killer while he makes his way through the house and while hiding in the closet is witness to the murder of Alexia’s mother. It seems as if by making it into a voyeuristic dream she attempts to create a distance between what she is in fact doing and the role she wants to play in the resolution of her fantasy. At the end of the film Alexia has become the voyeur. She can observe the locked-up Marie without arousing suspicion yet Marie senses her presence. One could argue that in the genre of the slasher film it is not uncommon that directors attempt to convey horrific feelings towards the viewer. Alexandre Aja achieves this synesthesia through the use of close-ups of for example the killer’s scalpel. Characters also often touch things throughout the film. The last postmodern element I have discussed is the relativity of the narrative. As Haute Tension shows there is no logical way to end the story. Alexia flees from Marie and stops a car. This is the same car as in Marie’s dream at the beginning of the film. Moreover postmodern films show clear skepticism towards happy endings. The way Marie, though tied ‘safely’ in a straight jacket, grasps for Alexia is a nice example of how the nightmare might not be over yet. As a final note I would like to point out how a Hollywood film released in the same year as Haute Tension also flirted with the idea of a maniac killer misleading the audience into believing that the events depicted truly transpired. I am talking about Identity from James Mangold with John Cusack and Ray Liotta. In Identity it is also a twist at the end which forces the viewer to reconsider previous elements in light of the new information. Nevertheless in most other aspects it remains a traditional film whereas Haute Tension is obviously a genre film with a clear postmodern touch. 12
  • 15. Bibliography Andrin, M., 2006, Contemporary Film Auteurs – Course Filmography Blue Velvet ( David Lynch, 1986 ) Dogville ( Lars von Trier, 2003 ) eXistenZ ( David Cronenberg, 1999 ) Haute Tension ( Alexandre Aja, 2003 ) Holy Smoke ( Jane Campion, 1999 ) Identity ( James Mangold, 2003 ) The Piano ( Jane Campion, 1993 ) The Ring ( Hideo Nakata, 1998 ) 13