Goya en Burdeos

September 5, 2007

Goya en Burdeos (1999), written and directed by Carlos Saura, also uses the imagery from Kubrick’s 2001. This is all the more striking in that throughout the movie the scenes not only display his paintings, and show the creation of his paintings in context, but they sometimes come alive as tableuxs to become scenes. Yet for the death of Goya the available material would have been the early (1788) St. Francis Borja at the Deathbed of an Impenitent, and this is not what Saura wanted.

Instead we find Adam’s gesture copied by Kubrick from the Sistine ceiling. (See the image in the September 3 post below.)

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Goya says: “My life has gone by like a gust of wind. I’ve forgotten how I was as a child, I’ve forgotten how I was as a youth, and now, Who am I now?”

He raises his hand further into the light and uses it to cast a shadow, and draw a spiral around his own face with the shadow of his finger. Spirals recur throughout the film. In fact, from here there is a cut to a shot up a spiral staircase down which is daughter runs to come to him.

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Where in 2001 and in Soderbergh’s Solaris the finger in the image points to a creator/savior figure, here Goya designates himself, but with an enigmatic spiral movement that fits the “Who am I now?”

Next, where the monolith in Kubrick’s image would be, at the foot of the bed, a figure appears off camera and casts a shadow over the bed and over Goya. We know who this figure is because in a earlier scene the figure walked out of a painting and toward Goya’s bed, and Goya addressed it as Death.

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At this point Saura does allow himself a quotation from The Impenitent. (Notice the similar position of the right arm, and the two pillows with frills around them) But by inserting it into images from Kubrick, and other insertions, he has altered the meaning. Where the demons appear in The Impenitent, there is now Goya’s daughter and her shadow, and St. Francis Borja has become Death.

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Saura’s film then disolves to an empty white bed, similar to the 2001 fetus on the bed shot, but without the fetus, and then to a scene of birth, where a camera enters the room from falling show outside through a window to this view:

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This is the last shot in the film, and is parallel to the star child image in Kubrick’s.

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Saura’s film closes with a card quoting Andre Malraux: “After Goya modern painting begins.” Saura, then, is pointing to the birth of something new. With the death of Goya comes a discontinuity and modern painting appears.

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The meaning of artistic references in 2001 and Solaris

September 3, 2007

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) famously ends with the astronaut Dave pointing toward an alien monolith using the gesture with which Adam reaches toward God on the Sistine chapel ceiling in the portrait of creation. The aliens who sent the monolith, then, are man’s creators through their interference with the evolutionary process and by recreating man free of his bodily limitations at the end of the film.

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Andrei Tarkovsky decided to reply to this in his Solyaris (1972), ending with an image of human reconciliation taken from Rembrandt’s The return of the prodigal son. (This painting is in The Hermitage in St. Petersburg). The difference is in the diagnosis of man’s problem and the direction of its solution. Kubrick is interested in the disparity between man’s nature and his aspirations. Since the problem is in his being (his physical constitution) what he needs as a re-creation on a better model. Tarkovsky starts with man’s moral brokenness, which precedes the problems of his physical nature, though they are related. The physical context, which Kubrick saw as the problem, must be restored before man can approach a moral reconciliation.

 

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Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris (2002) returns to Kubrick’s image from 2001. Why is that?

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In this picture the psychologist Chris Kelvin, sent to fix the failed mission at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, reaches out to the hominid created by the planet. By this time in the film these hominids are seen as extensions of the planet’s consciousness, with a particular mission to man, making them analogous to the alien monoliths in 2001. These hominids, patterned on human memories, have a self-identity, but it is only as complete at the available memories of them seen from the outside viewers who remember them.

The images in 2001 and Solyaris occur at the end of these films. Soderbergh, however, uses his a little earlier, when the space station is being absorbed into the planet. Then the real ending starts and it is there that the topic of reconciliation is taken up.

Kelvin seems to have returned to earth but it turns out that he is a hominid replica of his original self (which presumably was not able to survive physically on Solaris with the destruction of the space station). The replica of his dead wife, which Solaris had first created on the space station, also appears. He asks her:

“Are we alive?”

To which she answers:

“We don’t have to think like that any more. Everything we have done is forgiven. Everything.”

Here, then, is the theme of forgiveness and reconciliation. But it is only presented when the two can relate as replica to replica. These characters have been recreated, on analogy with 2001, with new bodies for which the problem of mortality is solved. Free of mortality, the picture suggests, there is an easing of the human predicament. The existential crisis is lessened, and with it the problems of meaning and of guilt.

Soderbergh, then, sides with Kubrick. Man’s problem is not in the first place moral and relational, but a problem with his physical nature, which cannot support the aspirations of his mental or psychological nature. When these inner states are made to survive in an indestructible body and environment, sustained by the godlike planet Solaris, man’s problem is eased, if not resolved.

The incoherencies in this are: 1) Is this really Cris Kelvin and his wife, or are they dead with their original bodies, and what the planet has created merely models replicating them? 2) If we don’t “have to think like that any more”, that is, according to the ideas of life and its purpose as they were understood in the natural bodies, what else changes? Is there a place for human purposes, or would they go away with the human bodies and human situations? 3) What can it mean that everything is forgiven? Why does this change of being equate to forgiveness? Who forgave whom? Why does she say “is forgiven” as though a third party did it (the planet Solaris acting in the role of God)? Doesn’t she really mean that the old scores are irrelevant now?