Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wild Tales and Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Last night I began watching Wild Tales, an Argentinean film composed of six darkly comic tales, all dealing with the theme of revenge. I watched the first three, trying to figure out if the tension I felt was pleasurable or agonizing, or perhaps both. The first film takes the viewer inside a jetliner about to crash. This film was eerie, considering the recent Germanwings plane crash. The second film captured a waitress contemplating murder when someone evil from her past walks in the door. The third film explored the most implausible consequences of road rage. Yet despite being a farce, the ambiguous motives of the characters heightened the tension. It was impossible to distinguish a protagonist and antagonist out of the two feuding motorists.

My stress level alerted me that I needed to pause the film and go for a long walk. I contemplated the thrill we take away from watching people suffer in films. Blue Jasmine was basically a film of a woman floundering until she hit rock bottom. Shakespearean tragedies, such as Macbeth, Othello, or King Lear give the audience a taste of schadenfreude as we watch the characters’ fatal flaws lead to their destruction.

When is a film or play about suffering a work of art and when is it plain cruelty? By watching someone meet a cruel fate and not sympathizing, or even feeling joy in their suffering, are we basically being modern day Coliseum spectators? I don’t know, but it’s something worth pondering.

Today I finished reading Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This book also deals with revenge and human suffering. The narrator is an ambiguous character who interviews people about a murder that took place years earlier, testing people’s memories and consciences.

The day Santiago Nasar was murdered coincided with a lavish wedding and a visit from a seafaring Bishop. The murderers announced their plans to everyone they met, but all the townspeople were drunk, distracted, or dismissive. The cruel imagery of animals being slaughtered set a deathly tone. When the knives slashed through Santiago Nasar’s body, it’s clear that every character was complicit. Marquez revealed in the first sentence that Santiago Nasar would be murdered, perhaps to give the reader a sense of guilt, as if maybe there was something we could have done.

I admit there is some satisfaction in characters getting their just desserts, but at least Gabriel Garcia Marquez weaves in complexity and creates doubts concerning what’s really just. That, I believe, is what distinguishes great art from entertainment.           

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