What lessons can cinematic immersion and theatrical masquerade teach us about the way we mourn? In this comparative analysis of Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man and David Lynch’s Rabbits, I aim to find out how the experience of losing our loved ones inside a fantasy world can fundamentally affect the way we think and feel about them. In doing so, I hope to produce a critique towards the importance of community in the event of a loss, as well as an explication on how repairing lost contact can help us in even the most unexpected situations.
In Part 1, I looked at how ordinary family life and the role of masked spectatorship can intersect to produce unexpected feelings of loss. In The Drowned Man, the spectator wears a white, deindividuating mask not only to create a generic barrier between himself and the performance, but also to separate him from his loved ones for the show’s duration. This has the uncanny effect of blurring together the common lines of distinction between ‘family’ and ‘stranger.’ As a result, the narrative spectacle of the showcase itself works as a kind of mourning ritual. Isolated yet joined at the hip to the spectators around us, we work independently to reconvene our losses in a story we construct of our own accord. Although this ultimately allows us to come to terms with our separation anxieties, we are also left feeling more disconnected than ever, as we realise that our fantasies simply cannot accommodate every event in the showcase as it unfolds.
Recently I had the pleasure of attending Punchdrunk’s hyped and much talked-about Hollywood promenade show The Drowned Man. In case you haven’t heard of it, the show is approximately the closest thing I would describe as a walking, or lucid, nightmare. It is also the closest I have come to the intimate recreation of a communal mourning rite.
Situated in London’s multi-story Temple Studios, the showcase is billed as the troupe’s “biggest and most ambitious yet.” Not unlike a haunted house or Halloween attraction, it takes an enormous series of seemingly unconnected setpieces and weaves them together to form a living, breathing world. Many of these setpieces take the form of scenes straight out of Hollywood, with lovers caught in passionate binds, loners sat contemplating murder in cramped apartments, and dazzling troupes of dancers in mass formation.
All of this you can explore of your own volition. The open-nature of the studios not only enables you to ‘immerse’ yourself in the action as it unfolds, but also to construct your own narrative out of the bits and pieces you witness. This apparent freedom becomes more pleasurable, however, the minute you step ‘outside’ the studio-style spaces, and the action continues. Wandering through a fog-filled forest, or in the private residence of a missing townsperson, gives the immediate impression of dreams and fantasy overlapping onto reality.
Never stare directly at the sun. So pervasive is this idiom of common sense that it has crept into our art and pop culture as something more than cautionary advice – it has become the metaphor defining our age.
In Beijing this month, the first ever instance of a televised sunrise was unveiled as a temporary solution to the problem of smog in the city. This spectacle proved that the one thing desired most by people caught in one of the worst polluted areas in the world is not a solution after all, but an image of a solution.
The french literary critic Roland Barthes once wrote that “what the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself.” One stares at the sun askew, much like one can now stare at it from behind a screen. But never in our lives do we risk the chance to burn out our corneas by observing it unfiltered. It is a funny feature of our enjoyment, that the thing we desire the most is always the one thing we are prohibited from obtaining.
We are all born in closets. This truth, for many, is immutable. The absolute of the closet today is seen as a less of an obstacle of blatant inequality, and more and more a gauntlet of personal will – hardwood paneling - a self-imposed tomb only you can muster the courage to escape from.
Tom Daley’s recent coming out video took the media by storm – headlining newspapers, trending Twitter, and becoming a general overnight event. It eclipsed even the catastrophe of the Philippines, elevating it to the status of a sublime point de capiton - momentarily colouring the entire spectrum of daily political activity.
Banal responses to the story ranged from confusion as to why a celebrity’s “private life” still ought to be public spectacle in the year 2013, to frantic celebration, emphasising how the outing of a celebrity paves the way for a younger generation to embrace their own confessional narratives.
The double-bind here, between two modes of ‘support’ for Daley and his bravery in staging a public address, of course misses the third crucial option. Why is “coming out” today is seen as the onlyway for LGBT people to live authentic public lives?