As we now come hot off the heals of the first ever same-sex marriages being legally celebrated in England and Wales (29th March), the time is set to begin looking forwards.
Midnight on Saturday showed us two things: first, it showed us things are changing. To dispense briefly with my left-leaning misgivings about a Tory-led government clinching this moment as a victory for conservative values, I at least want to emphasise how the appearance of a desire for equality does matter. It matters, for example, when a gay or lesbian couple can be supported in a way which gives them a voice like anyone else.
It has only been approximately fifty years since “homosexual acts” were considered illegal in the UK. Today, at least, we are able to see an entire generation young LGBT people growing up with a clear stake in the world. I admit: even an assimilationist gesture like equal marriage counts for something when the only alternative is a lifetime of second-class citizenship and violence.
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.