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Studies and research: discussion about postmodernism

Adding More Confusion to what is (not) Postmodern Cinema

For most people postmodernism represents an artistic style that possesses certain structural characteristics. For the author, postmodernism is a philosophical definition of a worldview that can only be addressed in a continuum — pre-modern, modern, and postmodern. The very core of postmodernism is that one cannot define it into an absolute category. The pre-modern view is rooted in a sacred redemption; which is a philosophical belief that all epistemological questions are in the hands of some divine power. The pre-modern film may, more often than not, present a sacred redemptionistic narrative within the form of one or more synergetic, linear patterns of acts. Humankind (at least in the normative, western, Judeo-Christian context) will be born fallible and mortal and, within the film, will be redeemed or not redeemed from this lot via some sort of divine grace.

Films such as: Ten Commandments (divine powers of Jewish God), The Exorcist (showcase — Satan vs. God), Star Wars saga (metaphor for divine powers of Christianity — father Dart Wader, son Luke Skywalker, holy spirit The Force), 2001/2010 saga (an unknown divine power sends the monolith and saves the humanity), Little Buddha (divine powers of Buddha), The Fifth Element (divinity saves the Earth through the powers of five elements), The Matrix (Jesus has come back in the image of Keanu Revees), Magnolia (God sends frog-rain reminding humanity to stop behaving badly), etc. all paradigmatically exemplify pre-modern philosophical worldview.

On the other hand, modern view is rooted in secular redemption; which is a philosophical belief that humanity is the most significant thing in the anthropocentric universe. Progressive civilization will be able to find perfection and truth through its own advances in science and technology, without any help from divine powers. Films such as: War Games (humans and computer save the world from the thermo-nuclear war), Star Trek films (humans act as some sort of space police), Schindler’s List (redemption of the Jewish nation), Independence Day (humans defeat the aliens and save the planet), James Bond films (007 saves the planet repeatedly), Terminator films (humans triumph over the machines), Rambo saga (nothing defeats extraordinary human feats), Back to the Future saga (humans control the past and the future via technology), The Truman Show (TV producer creates a virtual world and acts as God), etc, all paradigmatically exemplify modern philosophical worldview.

On the other hand, postmodern view is rooted in a-redemption (agnostic) or anti-redemption (atheist) philosophical beliefs. These beliefs replace the truth with contextual truthfulness that represents the most pragmatic way of dealing with reality and the absurdness of human condition in the vast and dynamic universe. The humankind’s attempts to gain control and make meaning of such complexity and contradiction are horrendously limited to a bricolage of temporarily available information (the truthfulness). Therefore, the most important signs for the pre-modern and modern views, such as God, perfection, and truth; are regarded by postmodernists as ever changing from existential situation to existential situation. Since the absolute truth is of no importance, the focus is put on small local neighborhoods within which there is a possibility of bricolage — limited meaning making, grasping the reality inside the contextual truthfulness — not the absolute truth.

Through this postmodern approach, mega-narratives of redemption, such as pre-modern religious narratives, and modern anthropocentric technological pursuits, are replaced with mini-narratives that allow only small redemption and consequently small tragedy. Thus, human condition is considered comedic rather than tragic.

Films such as: Jesus of Montreal, Don Juan De Marco, To Die For, Mighty Aphrodite, Pret-A-Porter, All That Jazz, Galaxy Quest, etc. all paradigmatically exemplify postmodern philosophical worldview. However, it is important to understand that postmodern film, as the author views it, does have a place for small t — tragedy and small r — redemption. This is best exemplified in films like: Fried Green Tomatoes, Educating Rita, Rumbling Rose, Places in Hearths, Driving Miss Daisy, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, etc.

There are those postmodernists who will dispute the validity of this category and insist that even the smallest humankind’s triumphs and disappointments merit nothing but strict comedic and aredemptionistic interpretation, but author believes that small cannot only be beautiful, but tragic and redemptive as well. Close analysis of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts serves to show how the use of certain structural elements in film exemplifies and reinforces the described postmodern worldview.

The pinpointed elements of the Altman’s film are: discontinuity, reflexivity, collage, eclecticism, double coding, parody, pastiche, irony, contradiction and complexification, and by far the most important ones — big C — Comedy, small t — tragedy, big A — Aredemptionism, and small r — redemption.

Mladen Miličević

Problems of Periodization of Film Postmodernism

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