Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dead Planet XL

“a galloping and comic nightmare
more reminiscent of Lem’s Futurological
Congress than anything in Philip K. Dick.
The father and son actually change places,
the former becoming a teenager while
the latter assumes the advanced age of
the father [Kenzaburo Oe's Somersault].”
—Frederik Jameson, “Pseudo-Couples”
LRB 20 November 2003

This is the kind of cat & mouse game—
that Alejandro Amenábar plays with the movie audience of “The Others” (2001). It’s a much more sophisticated, surreal approach to James’ ghost story—and the earlier screen adaptation “The Innocents”
(1961) directed by Jack Clayton.

In this earlier movie version—Deborah Kerr plays Miss Giddens the governess to the seemingly precocious children of another huge haunted estate. Miles and Flora, as well as Mrs. Grose and the shadowy Peter Quint—these characters interface with Governess Kerr in much the same way as the servants in Amenábar’s “The Others” interact with Kidman the mother of the children.

Except that the level of awareness of Otherness—is more heightened by Alejandro Amenábar. So that the servants and the clairvoyante conducting the séance in the second movie—are all more aware and much more a part of the plausible deniability of the Other than in the first movie.

In fact, Amenábar creates a film noir version of James’ ghost story—very much like Jacques Tourneur creates a similar scenario with “I Walked With a Zombie” (1943). Tourneur, Amenábar, Clayton and James—these directors-writers-magicians play their audiences like a finely-tuned Stradivarius violin. They develop the idea of “Contact” awareness like Stanislaw Lem in “Solaris.” The actors and plots with their various and sundry encounters of the third kind—perform a Contact sport.

“I Walked With a Zombie” is a tragic zombie romance story—out of Inez Wallace’s novel using Curt Siodmak’s screenplay. Francis Dee the naïve nurse, like Deborah Kerr and Nicole Kidman, gradually realizes—that everybody is in on the act except herself. That’s when her contact awareness begins.

It happens through a series of ghostly encounters, journeys through unearthly nightscapes and gradual revelations in regard to the intricacies of voodoo witchcraft and human possession—so that indeed Kidman is a “ghost” or “alien” or “voodoo zombie” just as much as all the others. Otherness opens up like a deadly rose or putrid orchid—such that alien self-awareness happens through the human point of view rather than through a schmaltzy, crummy, Grade-B horror flick kind of direct confrontation with little green men.

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