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Formal Criticism - Essay Example

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In her essay, "Against Interpretation", Susan Sontag refers to the "mimetic theory of art". This theory was originally proposed by Plato, who considered all objects "imitations of transcendent forms or structures", not the structures themselves. In this sense, one can only try to understand art as a description of objective reality…
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Formal Criticism
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Download file to see previous pages This paper will use formal analysis of a selection of scenes from the film 2046 by Wong Kar-wai to highlight Sontag's objection to such analysis.
The film explores the experiences surrounding the many loves of the main character, Chow Mo Wan, but doesn't give a precise meaning for the events or even the relationships themselves. The film opens with the enigmatic and multi-layered image of a large, donut-shaped object. It is dark and smooth and shiny, yet also gives the impression of the spiral form of a shell. This represents the "hole in the tree" into which, according to a story repeated by Chow several times in the film, people whisper their deepest secrets, after which they fill the hole with mud to prevent the secret from ever being discovered. As Chow talks about a woman he once loved, we see a woman from behind, whispering her secret into the hole. We don't see her face.
The film is filled with images that try to enlarge and deepen the impression that human memory and meaning are limited. The settings are few; a few hotel rooms, a rooftop, streets in which all that is shown is the street light or the wall of a building, a club, a restaurant, and the futuristic train that exists within the science fiction story Chow is writing. Also simplified are the appearances of the actors, almost always shown only from the chest up. They are frequently shown alone, even while conversing with another character. The colors red and black dominate the dcor and the clothing, and dark lighting is used in the majority of the scenes. On rare occasions light colors and daytime scenes are used, as when one of the hotel owner's two young and still somewhat innocent daughters is shown dressed in light green, or when a character is seen on the hotel rooftop during the day. Similarly, worldly women, or women who become worldly during the film, almost inevitably smoke and wear red, black, or gold.
Many conclusions could be drawn from such repetitive symbolic content, but from Sontag's point of view, it would be a mistake to do so. Would smoking be interpreted as worldliness at all times and in all cultures, just as the colors a woman wears would always reveal her level of morality If we allow ourselves to see the red dress and the cigarette as symbolic of something specific and universal, do we then, for instance, start to ignore the facial expressions Even here the film seems to adhere to a pattern; the majority of expression shown by the actors is whether and when they do and don't look at one another. This could be interpreted as a device of emotional distancing between people who try to avoid intimacy while at the same time desperately yearning for it. Could it be that the visual elements of the film are simplified in order to force our attention to less obvious parts of the story, or to more subtle characterizations of the actors But it could also be said that the film uses such devices in order to render a flatness and hopelessness in the storyline that lets the viewer know well in advance that there will be no happy endings here. The film doesn't defend itself against this kind of analysis.
In one particularly engaging sequence, Chow is writing a futuristic story in which he imagines himself as a Japanese man riding a train into the year 2046, "the place where people go to recover memories". It is ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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