January 15, 2012

Time-traveling to the sequoia trees

Vertigo (from which the visual motto of this blog comes) has sparked quite some reflection, both in discussions, aesthetic and otherwise, and in movies themselves, as intertextual references.

The most directly inspired follow-ups are of course Chris Marker's La Jetée and Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys. The memorable scene under the sequoia trees in Vertigo, in which Kim Novak's character points out the dates of her birth and death (and we get the feeling that she really is possessed by a ghost in this moment, a ghost who reflects on its own former life, its beginning and end), returns in both later science fiction movies as a quotation.

The past and the future, two forms of unreality which we can become particularly desperate wishing to travel to, are never out of sight in all three films; but the two later ones are imaginative science-fiction films that use time travel whereas Vertigo was based on other motifs.

More precisely: the past and the future are expressly sought in both movies; their character as unreal is dramatized by first making them accessible (and apparently even changeable), which is made possible by the device of time travel, and then bringing them into the paradoxical shape of a story knot.

Vertigo, on the other hand, never focuses so baldly on either the past or the future. In Vertigo, the past exerts its influence in the shape of history (personal history, as in Scottie's fear of heights; family history, as in the fake Madeleine's unhappy and mad ancestor; and local history, as illustrated in the melancholic reflections in Gavin Elster's office, the San Francisco bookstore, or finally under the sequoia trees); the future looms in deceptive suggestiveness, in dreams, and in the shape of a plot which drives relentlessly towards its inevitable, tragic conclusion. Character traits and dramatic constellation have in Vertigo the function that in La Jetée and Twelve Monkeys is taken over by the science-fiction devices of time travel and story knots.

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