This I thought was a great movie. If Inarritu’s film imitates Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, then how many subsequent movies have imitated Amores Perros? It’s got the high-speed, fast-cut pace of the MTV generation of filmmakers, but the stories — humanistic dilemmas faced with ambivalence by the main characters — really aren’t that different from those in Kieslowski’s Dekalog. And this idea of multiple interlocking story lines does precede Pulp Fiction, going back to Dekalog.
When subsequent movies by the same director fail it gives you pause: was the original success a fluke or some kind of trick? By virtue of DVD I’ve seen the future before the past, Babel before Amores Perros, and regardless of viewing sequence Amores Perros presents itself as a far better movie. He could stick with the multiple interlocking story lines for the rest of his career and it wouldn’t define him as a one-trick pony. It’s like writing a set of related short stories rather than a novel, an album of related songs rather than a symphony: if you’re gifted at the one, why force yourself to do the other? But this use of “temporal montage” to invert time sequences really is a trick. “Crash” won the best picture Oscar not only by playing the temporal loop trick but by building the stories around a car crash, which is the nexus also of Amores Perros. Crash really was pretty good (though not as good as Amores Perros), whereas Babel was Inarritu trying to make Crash (the gringoization of his own prior work) and failing.
Rendition’s temporal pivot point is a murder rather than a car crash and it deals with only two interlocking stories, but structurally it’s the same as these others.
Memento’s temporal montage trick was really smart because it perfectly illustrated the main idea of the story. Sixth Sense successfully exploited the audience’s compulsion to impose continuity on a movie, filling in the spaces between montage components as if the characters were living ordinary lives between glimpses afforded by the camera, whereas the Bruce Willis character may well have gone out of existence when the camera wasn’t watching him. This could have been done in written form as easily as in film, since the narrators of novels too skip from one significant event to the next without filling in every bit of continuity between scenes.
But Pulp Fiction did this temporal montage shuffling trick so casually. It seemed to emulate a reader picking up a novel and reading the episodes out of sequence, rather than an effort to trick the viewer, or to make a point about how the past haunts or determines the present.
And I suppose that’s a question that needs to be addressed: does this time scrambling trick attempt to make a larger point about the relationships between past, present and future? If so what is it?
Mind you, Crash’s ultimate failure is its various overwhelming coincidences and contrivances. More specifically, it’s unmediated revisioning of a contemporary LA that’s hyper-racial and unlike anything else out there. It’s victory was not so much the blatant homophobia of several of the Academy members, but rather, the last-minute “feel good” push by its studio – and Opera and Ebert… Babel doesn’t go as far as to manipulate us as vicariously with its characters, but it basically wants us to make the implication. It’s right there. There’s nowhere else to go with it. Why not?
I’m not sure whether the filmmaker intended the coincidences to be accepted as realistic — more pushing the point of the interrelatedness of human existence so far that you can’t help but be hit by it. And it’s certainly got the feel-good feel. I thought Brokeback Mountain was okay too, but also quite manipulative. I remember observing at the Parody Center that I imagined the liberal audience feeling smug about how times had changed, how the gentrification of the West had brought lifestyle tolerance and Whole Foods and high real estate prices as one full package. And the award goes to… Amores Perros!
This beutiful movie belongs to that very small list of films that i love. for this very reason is virtually impossible for me to pick out any detail about it. I find this is often the case for things that i love. so i’ll borrow one of yours…
“does this time scrambling trick attempt to make a larger point about the relationships between past, present and future? If so what is it?”
This i think is a crucial question, not just in relation to the movies that you mention, but, i think for how we approach narrative in general (and this includes its political life – as for instance in the case of nationalism). i am not sure that what is intended is the making of a point, but what is certainly at stake is the ‘relationship between the past present and future’.
Benjamin is interesting here. In his famous theses on history, benjamin makes a distinction between “homogeneous open time” and messianic time. The suggested distinction was subsequently taken up an developed in a range of fields for contexts as diverse as western nationalism, post-colonial literature to subaltern politics. avoiding detail and fluff, the thing about homogeneous open time – which is basically the temporal scheme of the realist novel – is that it conceives the relation between past, present and future essentially in terms the movement of a subject through an ostensibly empty time marked out into individual equal moments (like the squares of a day planner). The political double of realist novel is of course nationalism, fashioned of the imaginary notion of a people heroically shifting through (homogeneous open) time towards the future…as the basic structure of its conception of progress. among the things to note here are, firstly, that the narrative – whether realist novel or nationalism – is irreversible, and, secondly, narrative causality essentially follows this same formula – for example a future event cannot be the cause of one in the present.
Messianic time is different. Here ‘past and future are fused into the instantaneous present’ of the here and now. Time is neither empty nor open to measure in the same sense. If you think about novels like midnight’s children or even on hundred years of solitude, the possibility of the mundane becoming the miraculous, or the magical operating in the field of the profane, is conditional on the suspension of the realist schema of causality. here, at least at the level of narrative, a future event is not separated from another in the present, as say an effect is from its cause…but they exist in a kind of simultaneity whose order of causality is given in the potential and possibly flights of subjectivity. The way time operates at the level of narrative – how past events relate to future ones – is an important component of how the irreversibly of realist narrative is put into question and is functional to the suspension of that schema causality.
for Benjamin, the link between the conception of time and the revolutionary imaginary, is that here, rather than empty, each moment of time is a straight gate through which the messiah might enter. that is each moment carried the possibility of a messianic fulfillment of history – what we marxist’s sometimes call a revolution.
i am too lazy to take this back to the movie now…so fuck it.
This is good, DS. I need to think more about (and perhaps dream about — time to go to sleep) this idea of messianic time. But there’s something about a future redemption that looks back not only to the promise as originally delivered but also all those failed or incomplete moments in the past that can achieve meaning only if they become fulfilled.
“I’m not sure whether the filmmaker intended the coincidences to be accepted as realistic — more pushing the point of the interrelatedness of human existence so far that you can’t help but be hit by it”
Messianic time… Seyfried can probably tell us the technical terms distinguishing the temporal sequence of events as they occur vis-a-vis the temporal structure in the storyteller’s narrative describing those events. The narrator is able to impose meaning on temporal events by reordering the sequence in which information is revealed. The central, most meaningful event in Amores Perros is the car crash. It’s the event that links the three stories together, and it’s also the pivotal event in each of these three stories considered separately. It’s shown at the end of the movie’s first scene, a high-speed chase through busy streets with a dog bleeding to death in the back seat. It’s shown again halfway through the third act, from a different point of view, when the old guerrilla witnesses the crash and takes possession of the injured dog. That the same event appears at both the beginning and the end tells us that it’s both causative and teleological, which I’d say is characteristic of messianic time.
But is there any sort of messianic redemption revealed in the crash? If so, it’s a nihilistic sort of redemption, offering the main characters a revelation not of how their past lives congeal into a meaningful whole but rather of their futility up until now. The young man’s brother’s wife keeps telling him he still doesn’t get it. Will he get it now, when his efforts result in catastrophe? Does the model have anything other than beauty and fame? Does the guerrilla gain anything by saving the dying dog while at the same time doing murders for hire? If the crash is messianic it’s an appearance of the destroying angel.
And maybe that’s the sort of political revolution toward which the movie gestures: a nihilistic destruction of the social order in an effort to draw attention to the futility of the ways in which people spend their lives. A lot of money changes hands in this movie: none of it is earned; none is spent. But the flow of money isn’t innocent — it adversely affects everyone through whose hands it passes. Finally it all ends up in the possession of a character we never even meet — the estranged daughter of the guerrilla — and who probably has no need for it. One is left to wonder whether her father is giving her a gift of a burden.
Seyfried I might have to watch Crash again. The crash in Crash also occupies a messianic position in the temporal narrative, but it’s more directly redemptive and “constructive” than in Amores Perros. It would be interesting to look at the role coincidence plays in different kinds of stories. For Dickens I think it played the role of a God who, outside of our awareness, arranges events for the ultimate benefit of those on whom he bestows his unaccountable favor. For Vonnegut coincidence ironically signalled the randomness of life, where we persistently try to make sense of intrinsically senseless events.
Clysmatics, this is a fascinating conversation altogether but Irritantu’s films have always struck me as irritantu for their Marxian suffering and their insistence on images of human plight; this causes an aversion effect in some viewers, and ultimately ends up like a UN propaganda poster ie philanthropy witness Irritantu’s quick sinking into the sentimentalism of BABEL. In fact his way of thinking reminds me of Sherbert a lot: he thinks if we get enoug cancer, amputaton, poverty and prostitution per second this accounts for powerful melodrama and the viewership shall be edified. But I’M NOT.
Well I have to agree with you about Babel, but is that the inevitable destination of his cinematic trajectory or the corruption of attempting to go Hollywood? I have to agree also that Amores Perros achieves its redemption via the old guerrilla fighter, who comes to the realization that the rich have turned the poor into fighting dogs that destroy each other when they should be attacking the masters. But I was edified by this message. I particularly liked the idea of the guy taking his client’s money but not killing off the half-brother, then leaving the gun between Cain and Abel so they could work out their own vendettas.
s that the inevitable destination of his cinematic trajectory
I don´t know, I don´t like films or people who take themselves very seriously, and Irritantu feels like that. The scenes in his films want to shake you up, wake you up, get you to think, that type of thing. I always remember what the Eurythmics used to sing, ´´don´t mess with the Missionary Man / he´s got the saints and the Apostles lifting up from behind´´. I guess you could make an argument that their visceral-ity is interesting since being in line with Deleuzian cinematographic principles/ In a way it’s the melodramatic version of HP Lovecraft, hitting you in the guts with the ecstasy and total Darwinian terror of pain. But that´s just the Zeitgeist isn´t it. When you get down to the story, Irritantu is like a humanitarian Communist pamphlet, precisely the ideology that neoliberalism thrives on.
So you regard Inarritu as a practitioner of Marxist cinematic propaganda, that a film is valuable to the extent it foments revolution, that the story and characters are meant to be taken allegorically and to stimulate the viewers to political action? Maybe this particular manipulation is obvious to you, PC, by virtue of your having been exposed to virtuous communistic cinema from a young age. I suspect that practically no one in a US audience would make the slightest connection between Amores Perros and Marxism. Even the old guerrilla fighter: few Americans would even think of him as a Marxist guerrilla, but rather as just one of those incomprehensible troublemakers who make it dangerous to visit third world countries on vacation. Besides, you’re a very perspicacious observer and interpreter of the cinematic world, so what’s obvious to you can be seen by others only if you point it out to them.
Maybe this particular manipulation is obvious to you, PC,
it is slightly frustrating that neither you, Owen nor the Rabbit Clit managed to notice the whole point of the Parody Center, which is to tell Americans that they’re living in Josip Broz Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia, where humanist love had already been used to prepare a civil war. On the other hand maybe you’re right and my mission is doomed to failure because Americans in essence dont want to selfreflect or look at history.