D. Weyl (trad. E. Rea)
III ANALYSIS ON THE BASIS OF THE FIRST SEQUENCE
The true subject of The Mirror is love. But which Tarkovsky film isn't based on this theme? " What is more just than art ? (…) a declaration of love ". It is more precisely the human essence of love seen through the eyes of the woman, mother or wife, of the narrator. The look in the narrator's eyes is a disturbed one, focused on the rehabilitation of a love exposed to contradictions and driven back by all sorts of conflicting interests. Its scopic quest grants all living beings an independent life, as though the universe couldn't regain the order of love through the fantasy of the individual : everything must take care of itself. The young mother refreshed by the memory of her son relives events and emotions in too intimate a manner to be seen from the outside. Love is the foundation of humanity and woman is its guardian because she is the first to transmit it in motherhood, but also its potential victim before overcoming its dualism between humanity and animality. The narrator's mother is an abandoned wife, her body tormented by an animal desire, but who doesn't cease to hope for the return of the man she loves. This theme of the past and that of the present, as well as the comparable situation of the narrator's wife and son, are mirror images of two generations. They are related to everything which gives sense to the future of humanity : the immemorial past of life on earth, the historic events of Russian civilization, their resurgence in modern times and the myriad of international conflicts contemporaneous with diegetic reminiscence.
But this is but the linguistic rationalization of someone who is given to viewing cinema with emotional aptitude. A delicate approach is necessary : thus in the first sequence, which branches out throughout the film in the form of a symbolic reference, the essential themes are already hidden : betrayed love and motherhood, erotic temptation and its eventual consequences, abortion, the weaving contexts of human reality, historic and social.
It should be possible therefore, through inductive reasoning, to embrace the essential of the whole film by analyzing exclusively its first sequence. That is what we will be studying.
The initial sequence is neatly divided into five sections that could be named : The Place, The Solitude, The Meeting, The Dacha, The Fire.
It is first necessary to number the sequences in order to keep track of them, quite a difficult task because of the numerous inserts.
I proceeded as follows : one sequence keeps its place in order all along, independently of one or several embedded sequences, continuing the series starting from the embedded sequence. If sequence 18 is composed of three sequence/inserts numbered 19, 20, 21 then it closes the series in that sequence since 18 is all-encompassing.
1. The opening scene up until the fire. Insert 2 : shot of Alyosha.
2. Dream in black & white.
3. Insert : close-up of flame across hand.
4. Muscovite's apartment. The narrator's telephone conversation with mother.
5. Print house. Shower. Insert 7 : big bifid fire in the country.
6. Muscovite's apartment during Natalia's and Ignat's visit with the narrator. Spanish episode. Insert 9 : Dacha; the nanny takes Marina in her arms. Marusya brings the milk basin. Insert 10 : archives, bullfight. Insert 11 : archives, the war in Spain. Insert 12 : archives, the war in Spain. Insert 13 : archives, Soviet hot-air balloon. Insert 15: archives, victory parade.
16. Close-up of the book about Da Vinci leafed through clumsily.
17. Muscovite apartment without the narrator : Natalia and Ignat crouched down picking up the objects scattered on the floor. The "Aristocrat" episode.
18. Russian girl, firing range, orphan. Insert 19: archives, Lake Sivas. Insert 20: archives, Lake Sivas. Insert 21: archives, different wars : tank, atomic mushroom. Insert 22: several archives on Mao's China as a menace to Russians.
23. Father's leave from the front.
24. Genever woman.
25. Muscovite's apartment. The same people, narrator is present.
26. House. Marusya and the wolfhound. Insert 27 : hairspring jar.
27. Abortion. Insert 29: burning snake. Insert 30: squatting Russian girl. Insert 31: Marusya's levitation.
32. House. Alyosha tastes the milk from the demijohn. Insert 33: dog paddling. Insert 34: Interior of the house. He speaks with his aged mother.
35. The deathbed.
36. Dacha. Marusya and her husband in the grass.
37. Marusya older with the small children.
The initial sequence is a sweeping shot of great depth of a field, settling in on a cultivated vista which like a long river flows on a gentle slope towards the background to the right, then skirts round the forest on the left, whose border is opposite. The motion is emphasized by an aerial line formed by two cables parallel to the forest. It is bordered on the horizon by another forest's edge.
In the foreground, on a fence constructed of two slim parallel logs, fastened to two posts driven into the ground and crudely parallel to the bottom border of the frame, sits the young mother of the narrator, Marusya, smoking a cigarette with her legs along the interior of the fence, her bust at a profile and her head turned away from the camera, her gaze towards the center of the field. In the background, an irregular line of bushes overtakes the fence. The camera advances on a dolly very smoothly, devising a panoramic inflexion to the left of the heroine. It passes her on the right, leaving her trailing to the left and goes to frame a bushy bouquet at the center of the casting at an indistinct range. It's as though when the narrator was five years old, who is lying in a hammock behind his mother, he had handed her the baton for the center of vision. The musical accompaniment, an organ piece by Bach, prolongs the credits.
It is a burning world, like that of the heroine's heart, beating in a frozen bust which her arms, eternally folded over a wool dress, cannot manage to heat. She has the same behavior, at the end of the sequence, in front of the fire, even though it supposedly emits heat. Not even with her husband, with one exception in the final sequence, does she expose her bare arms. If it weren't for the beating summer sun, then the slovenly doctor and the sweaty half-dressed children in the hammock, one could question the season. But at the same time, the seasonal anachronism is not so innocent. It provokes a sensation of chronological instability necessary for the particular regime of the film. In front of the young woman, assuming the form of sparks, the tops of the tress filter an intense orange light. Her unstable posture is appropriate for the withdrawal towards the interior. The direction of her gaze and the prolongation of the credit music indicate that the opening is not yet determined. Thus, we are allowed to hypothesize on the imminence of an event. It is not so much the arrival of the absent but rather a catastrophe or a miracle : the bush suddenly erupting into flames which suggests the mad, disheveled, and erotic appearance of this little demon delegated to the contagion of the general unrest.
Moreover, he has no reason to be right in the middle in these vast cultivated fields, paled by dryness. It looks like the tiny cigarette will spark things off. It is undoubtedly the bush that, from a new angle and in a greener season, burns before the forest, in horned flames during Marusya's fantasy while nude under the shower. "Why doesn't anything like that ever appear to me?" murmurs Natalia, the daughter-in-law personified by the same Terekhova, in connection with the biblical angel of the blazing bush. The last shot of the film shows the indistinct silhouette of a young Marusya far off in the middle of the field, her back ablaze, thanks to a lighting effect. It is within both of their capacities of love and the violence of the emotions that dwell there, destructive when they are contradictory. "I dream of another soul, /Dressed in other garb: /It flits from doubt to hope, /Burning without a shadow, /Like alcohol, /and slips away /Leaving a memento, /some lilac on the table" murmurs the poet Arseni Tarkovsky, denoting the vain ordeal of the waiting game that eats away at Marusya.
Also, we are close to Ignativo and Natalia's son is named Ignat, names close to the Slavonic "ogn", to the Sanskrit "agnis", to the Latin "ignis", or fire.
The fire is in a way more or less directly associated with women : it irradiates softly through Marusya's hand and the young woman with flamboyant hair and the chapped lip crouched before the flame of the giant Muscovite stove. It reddens in a brazier in front of the Dacha. It ravages the barn. It still burns in the Muscovite stove at the moment of the barn fire in 1935. Its flames escape from the open oven in the dream sequence where Marusya washes her hair with the help of her husband. It warms Ignat under the eyes of his mother. Its embers twist upon the appearance of a snake at the abortionist's house. It flickers in the gas lamp or shines in the daylight in the corner of the dacha. Traces of blackened and blistered paint remain at the door concealing Marusya and the dog. It appears in the form of light reddening the iron volutes forged from the dacha's deserted bed or the bouquets suddenly illuminated by a ray of sun, or the electric bulb blowing after a flash of over-voltage in the episode of the Spaniards. Its crackling is at last heard through metaphor in the pounding rain, and the assassinated cock's flapping wings. It seems to hum in the flutter of the leaves and the crumpling of the silken pages of the book about Da Vinci.
In all of these cases, it expresses gentleness and violence, pureness and debauchery, which are the division, added to the heroine, of the faces of the young women in The Mirror.
But, the personal test of this contradiction is hardly restricted to the universe. The obscene misprint (sequence 6) is at the same time a consequence and a transposition of the fantasy of catastrophic fire. Marusya, panic-stricken, rushes back to the print house having dreamt of an incongruous term switched in the middle of a proof of the "Goslit Edition" that she corrected and submitted for printing. An obscenity which she whispers into her colleague Liza's ear with a look as sensual as it is prudish, expressing this troubled sexuality which dwells within her.
But, it is destined for an official publication under the Stalinist regime where the slightest error was punishable by the Gulag, an even bigger grossness that could reflect on the image of an overly sensitive government. This little word is like the cigarette that lights fire to the powders ; there can be immeasurable consequences with the miniscule format of a printed word.
This print house evokes, in fact, police and warlike violence. Dressed in a coat with military-cut lapels, Marusya, bringing her hands to her head to smooth her hair in front of the capped guard, seems to become compliant under the threat of a weapon. The same gesture in front of Liza, with the long cigarette holder, the jacket thrown over the shoulders, the motives on the blouse similar to suspenders and the fixed gaze in the contre-jour shot singling out the German officer who is conducting an interrogation. The metallic staircase runs underground, the unending gangways, the armored doors and the crude, blank walls imitate prison or military architecture.
The hurried rhythms of the two women who accompany the sobbing secretary resonate in rhythmic footsteps in a corridor that conducts to what looks like a place of execution. Inside there are parallel posts with a target hanging on each, standing on a floor made to appear snowy through the effects of the lighting, like the firing range at the boys' military drills (sequence 18). The secretary behind stops for a moment facing this sinister alignment and raising her elbow to the height of her eyes to dry her tears seems to aim an invisible rifle at one of the targets (freeze-frame). Meanwhile, to emphasize the hidden effect, a tracking in closes in on her until a clean cut changes the scene.
Throughout the film, individual destiny is inseparable from the collective one. The responsibility of the individual is committed to the suffering in the world, which finds itself at war or close to it anyway; in Spain and then in all of Europe during the narrator's childhood.
Hence the war archives sequences, planetary ramifications of the individual theme of fire : bombs, mortar fire, anti-aircraft defense, atomic bombs. The crazy bushy bouquet under Marusya's distressed expectant gaze embodies the chaotic form of the atomic cloud (21st insert of the archives). It finds its extension in the interior in the springing up of numerous decorative bouquets. The powerful gust of wind signaling the departure of the doctor in the middle of the initial sequence imitates the destructive blow of the bomb.
It is not surprising that in the eighth sequence, Natalia's breath on the mirror in the Muscovite's apartment gives way to a sound link similar to that of the clamor of spectators at the moment the bull is put to death in the bullfight sequence (9). Exile and death are a given associated with love, they are the devastating power over the distress of separation. The figure of sensuality in the film coveted by the military drill instructor and by Alyosha, the young redheaded girl with the symbolic blood propagates metonymically through the freckles on other skins in the contexts of exile and death. The face of the Spanish adolescent girl dancing the flamenco is covered in strawberry marks. That of the young Leningrad orphan is the same along with of the principal comrades, all implicated in the war.
What the natural corridor of the initial scene, open on the far off of the background in the middle of the depths of the field, expresses then, is the illusory character of the immunity that inspires the isolation of the house.
Marusya's desire is in the concave form of the fence sagging under her weight. Heavy with that which her belly carries or with what she desires it carried but cannot hope in any way to keep. The symbol of the nest, indicated in her braided chignon, or in the straw wisps that she holds in her hand at the print house, leave no doubt as to her desire for pregnancy. The bush evokes the nest through its ruffled side and its roundness, also characteristic of pregnancy. The themes of the breath and of the flame represent the tiny life that she feels is maybe twitching within her. She enjoys making her hand transparent with the flame to simulate the luminous passage of a peritoneal message of love.
But, right away the necessity of resigning to an abortion asserts itself. This forbidden pregnancy presents itself as a theme in a whole network of symbols throughout the film. The spilt milk, the eggs, the spherical containers and the water. The abortionist throws out the contents of a milk basin. Then the milk drops under Alyosha's eyes while he waits for his mother. The eggs, or their metaphor the potatoes, have an insistent presence. Two potatoes are associated with the spilt milk in question. Two real eggs rest on the edge of the Dacha's open window in sequence 34. There are also the potbellied vases, the demijohns of water or the slopping milk. In sequence 26, preceding that of the abortion, centered in middle ground like a person, a plump vase rests deliberately on the table where the narrator says he was born 40 years ago. It is centered just an instant by an imperceptible inflexion of the camera. Since they contain a springing up bouquet, the vases look like bellies about to explode.
Another time, Marusya walks heavily and she presses her two hands against the doorframe to cross the threshold, undoubtedly slightly raised. At the end of this same sequence, Alyosha, hiding something in front of the gable, disappears towards the left of the façade after having glanced behind him. It's probably a matter of guilty feelings towards his mother. How it is filmed in slow motion, but with the movement of the tree branches under the breeze of wind remaining natural, one has the sensation that an oppressing weight prevents him from moving. He comes back and stealthily climbs the stairs of a small shed adjoined to the house to the right of the gable. He tries in vain to open the door where the blackish and blistered bottom must have been exposed to the fire. In the end, it opens by itself revealing Marusya squatting with a wolfhound in a chimerical overexposure, who dreamily picks up some potatoes that have scattered on the floor. In the background, raindrops drip from the window with an accentuated audible drip.
Rain represents the principal of fertility and growth, because there is no difference in this universe between animal and vegetable life. Marusya blushed like a plant with her husband in the following sequence that which is corroborated at the print house by the shower, which provokes a painful memory. The rain pours onto the young firs, visible from the window.
All of this signifies the act of fertilization ; Alyosha's furtive behavior symbolizes the maternal sin, as he suffers the moral weight anticipating its course. Domestic animals take the place of children. A puppy romps around from the initial sequence at Marina's side, the sister of the narrator, asleep on some straw in front of a box that looks like an improvised kennel. The animal is well identified to the offspring of Marusya. At the return of the father, Marusya, her profile oriented to the left of the frame, close-up, is crouched on a floor covered with debris from a fire (bombardment?) and some snowflakes, like at the firing range. She turns her back on a wicker chair as though faced with a symbol of a crib. The camera climbs up slightly, for a moment, cutting out a margin between the top of the back of the chair and the upper border of the frame. Whereas it focuses in on a scampering kitten that runs under the chair and comes back out in the lower left corner of the frame. The wolfhound, associated with the fire through overexposure and with the potatoes in an isolated place, is therefore a symbol of the marginal sexuality of the abandoned woman. A certain sensual smile of the nude Marusya under the shower reveals long and pointed canines. The black jacket that she never removes offers a fur-like texture. The sequence said to be that of the abortion because, after all, nothing is explicit, is preceded by a sweeping shot of the abortionist's home where the door is guarded by a wolfhound lying facing the foreground on a hillock. The dog, in Central Asia, is said to be the symbol of the Fall.
But it is more complicated in the world of Tarkovsky, a man who respects contrarily, the traces of phylogenesis surviving in the structure of the human nervous system and in the behavior of children. Alyosha and Marina are young animals judging by their reaction to the voice of the father, first transfixed and then bolting, behavior exactly in line with stimulated young mammals. Alyosha swims like a dog to reach his mother doing laundry on the other side of the river (insert 33), while the sound of far-off barking reverberates off-camera. Marusya's braided chignon does not invoke only the nest as a metaphor of maternity, because the panoramic that shows it is punctuated by bird songs, a realist complement symbolizing an animality connected to women.
The crouched attitude, in the same time evoking the fetal position, is the transformation by rotation of the sagittal plan of the gynecological position to which the sound of the flow of liquids is metonymically associated. In certain instances, Natalia and the young woman with the bloody lip assume this posture, sharing even here, the lot of their elder counterparts.
Notably, in sequence 17, as Natalia's purse slips out her hands, she brusquely bends down making a sound similar to that of the impact of the doctor's hand on his bag (sequence 1), scraping up the objects which fall from it. She calls Ignat to help her. They are both crouched close-up. "It's like this already happened." remarks Ignat. "But I've never been here before." "Tidy up a bit." his mother responds, standing up then crouching back down again immediately. Meanwhile, the upper vertical panoramic that first followed her now freezes, centering on the sink and the bathroom whose door is wide open. Some stains in her purse in relation to the toilet : allusion to the abortion confirmed by the sound of the doctor. Moreover, in a similar episode it echoes at the threshold of the "abortion" house.
Some small objects recall the contents of Natalia's purse falling from Marusya's hands and scattering on the mat where Alyosha comes to wipe his bare feet spattered with mud. It is this anachronistic filiation that is clearly represented by Ignat's remark. She confirms the relationship of the word griaz with the abortion.
However, the episode concerning Natalia is preceded by a sequence of archives on a test flight of a military hot-air balloon, accompanied by Pergolese's Stabat Mater that lasts until the beginning of our sequence. This spiritual work proclaims the pain of the Mother of the Crucified and the military hot-air balloon surrounded by two spherical smaller balloons like breasts, symbolize the dismembered body of a large woman where a fragile, small man oscillates, hanging on ropes.
It transmits the shock effect of abortion. When the abortionist Nadejda (antithetical name meaning "hope") Petrovna tries on the earrings - barter economy - in front of the mirror which is in place of the objective, Marusya goes out of the shot in the left of the frame (evocative dripping sounds). The camera moves closer, passing her above and to the right, so as to mentally associate her to the continuation. She becomes blurred in a dominating bluish aura. The fuzziness shuttering in a left to right movement, includes the beautiful bent profile of a young unknown boy that the focus renders distinct in a gloomy black and white. By symbolic concordance, Alyosha, who is right next to it, witnesses the blow out of the lamp where the jolts progressively weaken like the beating of life, then they fade in to a last breath. The blood beading on his lip reflects in an oval mirror - egg-shaped - it symbolizes the uterine brother who could have died in place of the fetus.
But, it also identifies him with the woman in distress, through the imaginary intermediary of the young girl with the split lip. The mirror is actually the analogical passageway transgressing the spatiotemporal order. It is his own erotic sensibility that unveils to him his mother's drama. The girl is indirectly evoked, by an insert whose style leaves no doubt : a close-up of Alyosha's bleeding lips. The musical accompaniment takes on the motif of Purcell heard in the sequence with the snowy landscape and the bloody-lipped girl. The foreground of an incandescent fireplace follows with a clean cut away. Its embers configure a black and gray scaly snake. A little below, in the fire, we discover a mirror reflecting a blurry feminine face through the flames. Then, after another clean cut, the middle ground of a black mirrored door of an armoire filled with linens, closing with a sweet creaking upon the push of an unknown hand. The mirror now visible reflects from behind, knees centered but head outside the frame, a man in a bathrobe. He turns to the right and leaves, as though surprised, left frame, revealing, swooping down on the young Russian girl crouched at a profile, her back against the right border of the frame, in front of the big Muscovite stove. In a short nightshirt revealing her knees and tightly drawn against her nipples like a round belly, she peers at the camera to her left.
Then she turns away toward the flame in the fireplace, her right hand (or rather the specular image of the left) letting the fire of a firebrand, held in her right hand, filter. At the lower left corner of the frame : a flickering oil lamp. Tracking in centers the incandescent fireplace while it turns towards the camera close-up. The images of fertile love combine then with the funereal movement of a black door that concludes an episode.
Then a brisk shutter to the left presents, in the mirror for continuity, a close-up of a feminine hand covering a flame, but it's the right hand pointing in the other direction. The woman's bent knees are covered by a long, white, linen nightgown : it is without a doubt Marusya, similarly dressed in the levitation scene (sequence 31) and whose hand, pretty gnarled, is recognizable. The soft roar of the stove is heard like an anticipated link to the oil lamp that goes out under Alyosha's eyes in the following sequence. The motif of the audible beating indicating an embryonic life is heard again in another manner : when the drill instructor throws himself down on the floor in a fetal position to protect himself from the supposedly imminent explosion of the hand grenade. Amplified heartbeats in sign of distress dominate the soundtrack and are associated with the beating of the visible scar on his scalp. This tragic symbol of interrupted pregnancy (beating under the skin) returns us to Marusya's universe, not only through the Russian girl connected to the drill instructor. But also through the relationship of the present shot with those where Marusya and Natalia stay crouched down and also through the motif of the railway which evokes this beating of a steam piston, with grooves in the background that look like rails. The place where Marusya, crouching, is surprised by the father on leave is similar in more than one way to the shooting range. On the floor of a wood-paneled corridor sprinkled with snowflakes, Marusya cuts some debris coming undoubtedly from the collapse of the structure of the roof. The firing range, which has the proportions of a corridor with walls of blockboard must have also been protected by a roof, if not, the floor would not be parquet. Of the walls, only the half-charred framework remains at the side of the entrance.
Another modality is the interrupted visual beating. After having verified her proofs at the print house, Marusya, first radiant while walking down a long corridor glaring with light, slumps down on her desk sobbing. Tracking in closing in on her reveals a wall clock equipped with a pendulum which shelters a glass door heart beating symbolically through the peritoneum. Sobbing, she says to Liza who has returned to her : "No, I was mistaken!" "Then why are you crying?" Then they quarrel after having made good fun of the imaginary misprint. Marusya takes a handful of straw that she takes with her towards the shower. The camera re-frames the clock as the pendulum has stopped in the case. The symbolic straw nest corroborates here the interrupted beating. Anticipated effect from the arrival of Marusya at the print house, by a slight inflexion of the camera in the background, on the clock whose pendulum is then immobile.
How to analyze this any other way than symbolically? The incandescent snake is sensual violence, but the light of the flame that irradiates itself through the hand is the sweetness of love. The creaking linen closet evokes the intimacy of fresh sheets in which lovers clandestinely spend the night. The creaking is similar to erotic moaning. The man, surprised in the morning and whose face is kept secret, hides himself. The flame in the oven, like other different beatings elsewhere, reminds us of the quivering life in the uterus and the beautiful Russian girl's knee of the small bald head emerging from her swollen belly, all this under the mark of death. The two episodes are analogically linked both by the motif of the oil lamp and the sound of combustion. The combustion is associated with the explosion, that is symbolized by the bouquets springing up in the potbellied vases, in relationship with the bursting of the amniotic pouch, and the potential and imminent one of the bush, synthesizing roundness and explosiveness.
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