TARKOVSKY'S THE MIRROR,
A SYMBOLIC APPROACH
150 pages, 72 photograms, and 2 outlines (unpublished, available for consultation in Cinémathèque suisse, Lausanne)
By D. Weyl
Transl. E. Rea
SECTION BY SECTION SUMMARY
The function of art, according to Tarkovski, is to update the human sense of existence suppressed by the planetary reign of the unnecessary. But art does not come under theories of information that relies on a model of semiotic rationality. Creator of values implying a reversal which weakens the validity of known forms, the emotional dimension essential to art proceeds contrary to the symbolic mood that overshadows the dominant vision of our civilization.
Guided by his emotion/sensation, the researcher must be prepared to encounter unknown phenomena lodged in unsuspicious details and/or imperceptible anomalies of image and of sound corrupting the structure of the sign. From here the excerpt borrowed from Andrei Tarkovsky's book (Le Temps scellé, Cahiers du cinéma, Paris, 1989) : " The Principal is not the detail but what is hidden. "
I. THEORICAL CONSIDERATIONS (p. 6)
The symbol remains on the exterior but it works on the interior through sensation, but the sign presents itself as immediate evidence of sense. The two moods intersect, however, in the same act of language and therefore under the same appearance as the spectator, nevertheless emotionally sensitive to the symbolism, attributed only to the semiotic structure. The underlying symbolic processes, therefore, represent the veritable principle of liberty without art - like surpassing the limits to which the semiotics adhere - it's unthinkable.
Indeed the symbolic sense, even as it refutes the structure of the sign, develops itself more in the space of the film outside the margins prescribed by the narrative order, basing itself on relationships from afar. Its power of propagation is connected to the fabulous pregnance of the means of transformation through analogy and contiguity of its symbols. These, in a limited number, always come back to the same system-forming underlying motifs. The apparent complexity of the film is therefore underlined by a simple configuration guaranteeing a strong unity.
II. NON-TECHNIQUE (p. 14)
The language of cinema is not only in the technical treatment of the film, but above all in the content of its shots (dixit Tarkovsky). As such, the expression of an actor is just as important as an effect of the camera. In fact, all elements of image can be substituted for technique, like the intradiegetic wall shuttered during the course of a lateral tracking. Just the same, the relationship of "attraction" between two similar shots can be carried out just as well at intervals, without cut, as back to back. This is introduced by the notion of "diegetic technique" developed in the book. Actually, it is not by chance that the eponymous motif of the film, the mirror, is also used as a means of reverse and panoramic shooting when it turns on its hinges.
Along the same lines, the relationship of the flashback is "naturalized" when it consists of the character looking back followed by an insert of an archive sequence supposedly connected to his/her memory. The captivating fragment of documentary then the status of the reverse shot inserts itself into the diegetic present.
In all of these cases, it is the effect of space-time continuity that guarantees the interdependence of situations. For this, Tarkovsky will favor a blurred background to signal a pause in the unfolding of the action detaching the foreground from the back, instead of throwing out the entire shot in editing.
The lighting, the actors' play and the musical accompaniment are regulated by the same principles giving the preponderance to the diegesis and its autonomy for the sake of authenticity.
III. ANALYSIS ON THE BASIS OF THE FIRST SEQUENCE (p. 35) ( see the whole chapter)
Each element maintains, through its symbolic properties, some ties with all the others, without consideration for the order of cinematic progression. As much as the analysis of the first sequence permits, as interdependent in a direct and non-linear manner of the entire film, the inductive reconstitution of it.
This permits us to reveal how the universe of the heroine Marusya collapses, in both the interior and the exterior ; she is abandoned with her children and she lives in a world torn by war. This double ordeal entails insoluble conflicts of conscience that render it unbearable.
From here, the profound misunderstanding with her son, the narrator, which will lead him, in the end, to sacrifice his life so that everything can return to its proper order.
It is sufficient to evoke the initial shot. Seen from behind, Marusya, perched on the fence of her remote dacha, smokes, her gaze is fixed on the horizon and leveled on the wide trench which through the forest joins the background to the foreground in the very deep of the field obliquely from left to right. Tracking in, for a moment, the same trajectory, leaves the heroine off-camera to the left. A Bach organ choral is immediately relayed through the whistle of the train in the distance.
The motif of the train is a central theme as the metonomy of (symbolic processes) the abandonment. It closes the film, as well, under the form of a double rectilinear rut filled with a metallic looking water and crossing the field parallel to the wide sides of the frame and when the young Alyosha lets out a war cry similar to the mechanical cry of a train. Looking closely, you notice Marusya, herself imitating the train, puffing some smoke associated with the two logs forming the fence, parallel like rails. The wait for her husband, from which she cannot seem to break herself, is in fact her destiny. In the dacha everything must obey this imperative where each suffers.
But it is a heartbreaking wait. Marusya is in reality seated on the interior. Only her bust turns towards the exterior. Torn between the hope of re-building the home (the interior) and that of satisfying her sexual urges (the exterior). Meanwhile, another painful contradiction : the exterior is the source of danger. Right in the middle of the gap opened on the world, centered by the framing of the tracking in, lies a curious grove taking on the form of a rumpled bulb. This shape inevitably evokes the subsequent archive shot of the atomic mushroom. A meticulous study in the chapter entitled "Hidden Sides of the Dacha" demonstrates that certain violent and luminous projections on the dacha indicate, by their angle of incidence, the direction of the grove.
From this metaphoric vegetal clump an enigmatic character emerges who in certain ways is similar to Dionysus. He richly personifies the desire that Marusya suppresses inside herself but which fulfills itself fictitiously when, the fence giving out under their weight, they fall to the ground together. A latent thematic on illegitimate procreation ensues generating a sequence on the abortion that seems to culminate in Marusya's suffering. In any case, her sexual desire appears indissociable from procreation. The fence sagging under her suggests the imaginary pregnancy, agreeing with the erotic quest that signals the change of the seating position towards the exterior. But the danger is double, because to the fatal illegitimacy - Marusya will not renounce her husband - is added the risk of irradiation of the fetus which signals a series of variations of fire image through the translucent chair. The departure of the imaginary Dionysian lover will be linked elsewhere to a powerful borean gust that seems to emanate from this grove.
IV. DECONSTRUCTING THE SPATIOTEMPORAL TO RESTORE LOVE (p. 113)
This title suggests a concrete path to accomplishing what Tarkovsky calls "sculpting time" the modelling of time being, according to him, an essential element of the language of cinema. This approach is inspired by the extraordinary sensation, which I too experienced at the screening of the film in the theater, of the complete abolition of time.
Basically it is a matter of knowing that time is inseparable from space, uniting time and place to substantiate that love can be said to be the base of humanity insofar on a cosmic scale. The love between individuals is but a product of cosmic love. This is why Marusya's love, which is based on the hypertrophy of the Id is committed to failure. This will reduce the sense of sacrifice so dear to Tarkovsky and limit it to that of Christ. Tarkovsky's religious aim seems much wider than you would normally think. The figure of Dionysus in the film (as much as Tarkovsky is interested in the oriental cultures) is the index of an universalist vision of the divine world which is another name for the world of love.
In this way, the sense of Alyosha's sacrifice is linked with the past, because you can't return to the space-time that, slowly woven the countless threads of life, in actuality cannot be relived. Alyosha, by letting himself die, allows his mother to rediscover, at the end of her life, her children as they were when she was just 30 years old. It's the meaning of the anachronism in the last sequence. But beyond the domestic drama, the sacrifice is the renunciation of the Id in favor of the survival of the cosmos. It affirms the responsibility of the individual as an element of a long tributary process of the provisory universal equilibrium where the biosphere is but a fragile emergence.
To love, is more essentially, beyond what the family does (base unit of solidarity), is to love to the last conditions of the possibility of existence. The abolition of the space-time puts everything back in its place and brings us closer to the essential : the phylogenesis at the heart of the cosmic system. This is the meaning of the anachronism and its symbols. Take that of the mirror. Water sometimes flows on its surface as though the material of the mirror is moving. But in other moments, some runs (faults in the glassmaking) seem to be set in the mass of the glass. If the moving material symbolizes the space-time that separates, its coagulation instills then, contrarily, an order of the simultaneity that reassembles.
CONCLUSION (p. 121)
Tarkovsky recalls in Le Temps scellé that art poses the essential questions of his time. Social practice strongly inscribed in the contemporary world, the cinematograph carries this vocation inside him. But that doesn't suffice. The mission of restructuring the values of a humanity that is on the brink of losing its way returns to him with his specific emotional capacities. Not always possible, which also explains the difficult reception by the public and by the critics.
APPENDIX (p. 123)
The filmographic file of The Mirror precedes an index raisonne of 167 entries.
BIBLIOGRAPHY (p. 152)