Survival/Death — rebirth: closing out Oates’ Black Water

The certainty of getting on time: the senator

Looking at the Senator, it would largely help to remember Kelly, our easy, traditional readings of her and how their characters define each other in the majority of the novel. It seems that, for the most part of the novel, what Kelly is was what the Senator is not. The senator – politician and lover, as both of that persona, he has beguiled Kelly. She had made an undergraduate study on him, as the politician, and she had nearly sacrificed her life for his love. He has certainty in all the places Kelly does not; he only has deadpan statements where Kelly has disturbed questions and comments. When Kelly said “I think we’re lost, Senator,” he said “This is a shortcut, Kelly. There’s only one direction and we can’t be lost.” In that adventure that was the ride from Grayling Island to Old Ferry, while Kelly felt being lost, the Senator, at the command, was nothing less than sure: “we’ll get there and we’ll get there on time.” How ample is the degree of assertiveness here – first, speaking not only for himself but for both of them, and then forecasting, without falter, not just one but two transpirations (arriving and arriving on time). She was the passenger; he was the one in command, the notoriously fearless one on the driver’s seat.

In the most part, he had embodied the big Other that assigns to Kelly what to desire, but in that crucial juncture when Kelly is to be revived, is to be saved from the depth of the black water, he appeared only to disappear again, only for Kelly to slip of his hands: “But she saw him! – there he was! – suddenly above her and swimming down to wrench open the door at last…so his strong fingers could close about her wrists and haul her up out of the black water at last! At last! Rising together soaring suddenly so very easily weightless to the surface of the water and she slipped free of his hands…” In that most important part, in the part where heroes should have been made, the Senator disappeared. And nothing else followed.

Writing her narrative: the rebirth of Kelly

In that juncture, slipping free of the Senator’s grip, and metaphorically perhaps the grip of the entire Other – her environment, her surroundings, — Kelly once and for all, wrote her own story, proactively get out of the pit and do things by herself.

The last part story emphasizes this – the death of an old Kelly and the rebirth of the edgier, more self-assertive, more independent Kelly:

“as if they had never seen her before in their lives, Kelly, little ‘Lizabeth, as if they did not recognize her running there squealing in expectation in joy in her little white anklet socks raising her arms to be lifted high kicking in the air as the black water filled her lungs, and she died.”

The accident, that event conjured by the idea and image of the black water, womanizing Kelly, killing the girl in her, bringing her into a new life. And the most important transpiration there was Kelly’s act of slipping free of the senator’s hand, her tacit statement, “I can manage to do this alone” – that is her stern accomplishment of what has been repeatedly stated in the earlier parts of the novel, “rehearsing the future, in words,” “never to doubt that you will tell your story (83),” “you love the life you’ve lived because it is yours. Because that is the way you have become. (151)”

This is certainly in contrast with the earlier, speechless Kelly, especially when under the black water, the italics, her suppressed asking for rescue from the senator. We can play around this idea of speech, of voice a bit more here. In #7 of Part 1, Kelly retold how once she accidentally spoke a bit loudly that it offended her uncle and prompted him to say “Miss, you don’t need to shout: I’m not deaf.”  That incident made her more cautious when it comes to raising her voice. Can’t we look at this – raising a voice – to speaking in general? Can we not see this as Oates’ metonymic way of showing how Kelly’s hesitance in raising her voice has eventually led to the demise of that voice, hence, her speechlessness? In any case, what is more notable is that in the end, she regained not just her voice, actually she did not regain something once lost; she gain a new thing. By killing herself, the old, shy Kelly, she reborn herself, free from the black water that nearly sunk her to death, and from the black water that is the blur of expectations and conferrals given by her environment.


The night of the female: transformation in Joyce Carol Oates’ Black Water Part 1 of 2

What happens in Joyce Carol Oates’ Black Water at first reading, is a gradual saga of a girl gifted with some charm and some intelligence but constrained by her environment from moving from that state to another. From girl to woman, or lady could be accepted but that needs expansion and qualification lest we fall under the pit of clichés and clichéd readings and problematic terminologies and conceptions.

Kelly Kelleher is 26, not the age of our typical girl. As mentioned, and as soundly inferred, she is both charming and intelligent. One, she has caught the eyes of the Senator and that already tells something. Two, she is a college graduate with high honors and is familiar with Aristotle, if you count that as a factor in determining one’s intelligence. Twenty-six and gifted, we can safely  assume she’s a woman seething to blaze up into her prime, seize and make the most out of the opportunities waiting for someone of her caliber. But on the 4th of July, a chancy meeting proved to be initially ominous as she was unable to defy the expectations of her environment, and her own expectations of herself as silently, wickedly whispered to her by her environment as well. Then begins what we wrongly guessed as a typical story, perhaps forgetting the name of its author – Joyce Carol Oates. Shock factor.

Killing the Plot

She went with the Senator, on the road, on an adventure promising something uncertain but whose uncertainty precisely thrilled her. And then the accident. And as skillfully tucked into, slyly written into the book’s back page, “in a tragic car ride that we hope against hope will not end as we know it must end,” Kelly, this time subverted the expectations, – of the readers, of common fiction, of the patriarchal order, perhaps even of herself – and surpassed the accident as she lived, went on, by herself, all by herself.

Mommy I’m a good girl: Kelly the youngster, the unsure

Her age won’t tell it to us, that age will differentiate Kelly from the typical damsels-in-distress in our mind. She is 26 and has a nice job and probably a nice pay and is challenging people of whatever background, or gender, with her apparent smarts. Yet as if part of Oates’ ingenious manner of weaving characters and making them behave right in our face, the most part of the novel tells us that this proud Kelly is skin-shy after all, and that she is in fact distressed. Easily captivated by the charm and the panache exuded by the Senator (him being a politician), she wrote her undergraduate thesis about him but nearly faltered in writing her own story (thanks to Oates’ feminism and skill at shocking, the faltering ceased somewhere).

At the onset, she was sinking and at the verge of death, asking about her chances, as if all that she has left are chances, no proactivity at all. This repeats in Part 1 #2, “Am I going to die – like this?” as if she is foreseeing, accepting death, not counting the idea of eluding it, surviving it. All throughout the novel, before the shocking was unleashed, we could easily associate uncertainty with Kelly, as we saw her repeatedly asking herself about her readiness, about her fate in general, like “What is going to happen to me?” this internal contradiction seems to degrade further in Part 2 when she’s already mostly under the black water after the accident and waiting, praying, hoping that the Senator will return to save her. Here, she becomes speechless most of the time — the italics replacing, and hence negating the effect of quotations, the supposed transcription of “she said.” Don’t leave me, I’m here, help me. Don’t forget me – they are all italicized. It can be argued that the speechlessness should be taken literally as she was submerged in water and can hardly speak, and not metaphorically. However, I see this in another light. She is literally speechless (hence: the italicization) but she knows something to say, she wants to be saved, she wants help. But she wants and needs the Senator to fulfill what she wants for herself. The girl is trapped under water and she’s struggling for her life, asking for salvation. One might say that it’s natural for someone submerged in black water to ask the help of others but in counter I say, do we actually consider that if Kelly was a man, we would see the scenario in the same light? That we would defend the rationale and possibility of him asking for help than the rationale and possibility of him managing to carry on by himself? I doubt it. Men can no longer seek help; they can already manage to get himself out of the water – we are highly likely to think.

And more of her uncertainty, not knowing exactly what she even wants. In page 33, she was “thinking ‘This can’t be happening!’ as she was thinking ‘Something is going to happen that cannot be stopped.’” What confusion is this? Thinking about two things at the same time? Here, we see Kelly being bugged by an internal contradiction. I read is as, subjectively, she does not want what’s about to happen, but the objective situation makes it appear that what’s about to happen must and is going to happen.

And this leads us to the terrifying desire of the Other – what the Other wants from me, what does it expect from me? In page 18, it says, “You’re an American girl, you deserve to make YOUR wishes known and to have YOUR own way once in a while.” Do not submit to the pressure of the Other, its malicious conferrals which you seriously thought you need that’s why you obey them blindly. A bit further from that point, in page 21, we were told how Kelly’s eyes “had once been a source of great vexation and anguish to her parents, and thus to her.” This time, the parents embody the Other, and the malcontent Kelly’s eyes caused them likewise saddens her because that means, she was unable to satisfy what they want for her, i.e. a certain look of the eye. Kelly not just does not know what she wants; even worse, her wants are really not what she wants for herself; they are what the Other wants for her.

In part 2 #27, we see this again, and this time spewed directly by Oates: “he was in an agony to find a way into her, she felt the jolt of desire: not her desire, but the man’s.” Her desire is to be desired by the man, the Senator, the big Other. And so the admonition: “make YOUR wishes known.”

And for me, the cutest part that typifies Kelly’s child-likeness occurs on #23 of Part 2, when she attempted suicide and when taken and saved in the hospital, she was penitent., conciliatory with her mother: “crying in Mother’s arms she swore she did not want to die, she was a good girl really, she was not a bad girl really…yes Mother was there to comfort her.”

At this point, I thought of a quite interesting way of tying up Kelly’s failure to defy the Other’s desire for her and the implied deep need for her mother during the post-suicide scene. She was caught helpless and seemingly tortured in that realm where the big Other speaks to her, its desires for her imposed and cancelling her own desires. And there was a momentary chance to be very close to her mother again, right after she tried to commit suicide, to regain that proximity to her mother, as if wanting to return to the primordial state in the Imaginary where she is unitary and complete. Hence, we see two Kellys here. The first one is the openly child-like crying and succumbing to the order, begging for her mother to listen to her and believe her saying she’s a good girl and second, the Kelly who’s acting as a 26 year-old but usually fails to act according to her own desires.

Although both version of the old Kelly were casted aside and subsumed well by and in the Symbolic Order, the child-like, with its assertion of coming back near the Mother (and the state of infancy, of unity) for me, seems to be a tad better.

Cynicism and the more tragic end of the world

The other of the other – the refutation of today’s people’s widely kept sense of cynicism. When the symbolic efficiency has died down and the people started casting doubt on these institutions, they sort of revert to a subtle, internal contradiction; silently holding on to these institutions which they also doubt. There are muted doubts for the government, the church of the mass media but nevertheless, the people still cling onto them, still pin hopes on them, even only the slightest of hopes.

What is frightening about Sloterdijk’s and Zizek’s modification of the idea of ideology as “they know very well that they are holding onto an illusion but still they continue to do so” is that it introduces a large gap between what one knows and what one does. If I know something and what I do does not attune with what I know, we have a serious problem. If I know very well that money at an inherent level does not have a real value yet I regard it as the simple signification of wealth, then we have a problem.

In more religious Marxist terminologies, does not this introduce the gap between theory and practice – what one knows and what one does? It gets more frightening when we encounter the very manifestations of this gap. I know very well that Starbucks is a multi-national capitalist company, propagators of this system, yet I still go there for my cup of coffee. I know very well that excessive drinking and doing drugs are part of the “liberal, bourgeois and decadent” lifestyle promoted in this social set-up yet I still indulge in these activities. But this is just one part of the vaster horror. On the ranks of what we call the masses, the cynicism is also wearying.

As the Chair of the Baguio-Benguet chapter of the College Editor’s Guild of the Philippines, I usually encounter distressed testimonies of campus press freedom violations from several editors and publication members not only in my area but from different parts of the country. in one instance, a publication editor-in-chief told me about how the release of their funds were tactically delayed by the administration so to keep them from participating in a CEGP activity. While discussing the case with her, I was quite adamant in goading her to fight for their rights as campus journalists and at the maximum launch a campaign against these tactics of the administration. However, her reply was not a shy refusal. In her text message, the gist of her reply was to let it pass, “hayaan na lang natin,” as she herself quoted. Reading this, I was momentarily reduced to helplessness. How can we act on the situation if this is the attitude of the people who are supposed to be primarily involved in the action? Is this not an excellent evidence of the people’s cynicism nowadays? We know very well that our rights as campus journalists are being deprived from us but we won’t do anything about it? Apparently, there is no consistency, no harmony between our knowledge and our actions.

In that textbook procedure of arousing, organizing and mobilizing the people, this problem of cynicism resulting to the theory-practice gap poses a dead-end that needs to be efficiently dealt with and resolved if the movement for change shall continue. During hoppings on publications and casual chats with publication members, they would all resemble the sense of helplessness, the simultaneously bashful and subconscious application of cynicism in their remarks. “Ah ganyan pala, napakahaba ng proseso ng paperworks bago kayo makapaglabas ng pera?” “Oo kuya eh, ganun talaga eh.” Can massive propaganda and hard or softcore educational discussion still work to save them out of the pit of helplessness, of refusing to do something big to halt the existing currencies? I am in doubt of an answer. This now seems to be less a matter of stances and perspectives than a matter of stepping into practice and doing accordingly what the situation entails. Perhaps new methods of discourses and engagements should be applied for us to act again as if the world is truly changeable and we can do it. Because of all the horrors this period suggests, that thing I happened to read somewhere which eloquently puts this present temper seems to be the most haunting and chilling: people are more likely to believe that the world is going to end that it is going to be saved.


Kurosawa’s Dreams and all the realities therein: the paradox of fictions

My Film Criticism class during my last year as an undergrad student introduced me to, I believe, most of the key figures and movements in world cinema. There was Truffaut and his lot promulgating the auteur idea and its accompanying techniques and aesthetics, Eisenstein and the Soviet Montage’s emphasis on discontinuities, Italian Realism which can be best identified in Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and many more. In my continuing legwork in the field of world cinema, one of the personalities which I really consistently find interest in is Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.

In my Film Criticism class, we saw his film Rashomon, which is highly regarded as a classic not just under Kurosawa’s name but under the entire field of world cinema. My positive impressions on Rashomon, both in terms of form and content, sort of drove me to look for more of Kurosawa.

After downloading two or three of his films, I finally opted to watch one of them just last October, amidst an aimless Sembreak night. The title of the film was “Dreams.” It was made in 1990, spanning almost two hours and features Akira Terao as the traversing protagonist.

True to the film’s title, it features eight dreams, and this – its state of being a set of dreams — is where I would like to begin my take on the film. About the film being composed-of-dreams, it must be important to note that it won’t renounce this until it ends. That is to say, the film started by announcing a dream sequence and did not end showing a non-dream sequence. In other words, the film is all dreams, no non-dream. Coming from this, I deem it vital to probe this appellation – why did Kurosawa has to rely on the employment of a sequence of dreams in this film?

My first surmise is that it’s a technique used in building the truth value we are going to attach to the movie. Recent theories have delved into the way we view films in relation to our realities; that is, supposedly, the world outside the film. Like plays or creative literatures which are supposed to be “fictional,” (in contrast to our reality), films are likewise not exempted from this designation of “fiction.” However, psychoanalysis, especially the one branded by Slavoj Zizek in his infectious and biting analysis of pop culture has something else to say. In its sort of response, or critique to the popularizing technique in so-called postmodern plays or literatures where a self-reflexive scene or remark disturbs the organic unity of the fictional work, as if to call the attention of the readers or viewers and remind them that what they are engaging with is only a work of fiction (hence: not real), Zizek proposes that these acts are, in contrast to what the Brechtian principle avows, is not a return to the real, but escape to the real.

Following Zizek’s approach on literatures and other creative, supposedly fictional works, like films, it can be argued that these pieces of art are not entirely fictional and do not only resemble reality but captures something that is more real about ourselves and the society we are living in, i.e. its repressed contents, its secrets, its taboos. It is in these works that the repressed thoughts and ideas of individuals, as forced upon him by the Symbolic Order, effuse uncontrollably and with much ease. In that sense, films and literary works operate like jokes and euphemisms, too. These are “fictions” we create to ventilate the truths we keep to ourselves primarily because of the caution forced on us by the Symbolic Order.

From this point, I must problematize: why Kurosawa has to use a sequence of dreams as an enduring motif for his film. Notably, the title of the film itself invokes the idea of the dream. Could it be his way of making the presentation seemingly farther from the viewers’ reality, and hence, far less credible? Could it be a way of highlighting the “fiction-ness” of the film and hence, subduing and shrouding more effectively the “truths” encapsulated in it? But I thought at this point, the “dream-ness” of all the dreams presented in the film does not exactly correspond to our sense of a dream. For us, a dream is a departure from reality, our lived experiences. So for instance, a character in the film is suddenly shown to be just dreaming, we are likely to dismiss his preceding experiences shown to us as only part of his dream and hence, not real. This valuation of being not real is common to all of us although that does not hinder some of us from giving some other value to that dream sequence, i.e. that it manifests the wishes and desires of the character and so on; or although it is not real, it still tells something relevant and perhaps central to the character. In Kurosawa’s “Dreams,” we have seen nothing but dreams; there is no non-dream from which we can fully declare the dream-ness of these dreams. So in this sense, we can say that what we are confronted with are not exactly dreams.

Or perhaps it is Kurosawa’s heinous manner of subtly forcing us to deal with our real realities. He made this encounter all the more terrifying by doubling the structure of fiction (the film, and the dreams within the film) needed to transmit the reality of his messages yet still being able to transmit that reality. As if Kurosawa is sort of ingeniously safeguarding us from having a direct confrontation with our haunting realities by capturing hem first via a film and then via sequences of dreams within that film.

What is that haunting reality? Looking at the film from bottom to top, from the last dream to the first will allow us to answer the question easily: the 103-year old man in Watermills Village essentially captures the seeming point of the movie with his pithy statements: Man have exploited nature so much, destroying it by using it in his desire to make something supposedly better; that man has departed from the natural way of life when this way of life is already enough to provide for his needs. Electricity is no much to firewood and linseed oil; it only mars how “nights are supposed to be.” Jumping back to the first dream, in “Sunshine through the rain,” a little boy disobeys his mother perhaps in his eagerness to see the marriage of foxes. Straying into the forest, what he saw is a procession of sorts of masked individuals, eventually being caught by then and being condemned to die, as his mother told him. I see this as a depiction of man’s waywardness, his forcing his way through or meddling with supposedly natural events, i.e marriage of foxes. At the onset, this meddling with nature is shown to have a greatly hazardous consequence – death. Although meddling with nature is not absolutely bad in itself, it is always inviting of risks and cannot be assured as always positive.

The second dream, “The peach orchard” begins to show some more ill effects of man’s behavior towards nature: an entire peach orchard that used to blossom beautifully has completely gone.

In the third dream, nature has its way, inflicting snow storms at man. Man called this a blizzard, only to give name to what he will eventually triumph upon. However, the fourth dream “The Tunnel” introduces an interesting conflict. Now, it is no longer man versus nature, it is already man versus himself. Warfares primarily caused by greed over greater wealth and occupied territory and power have caused the lives of many. These lives came back to haunt the commander in the scene. As the soldiers die like dogs, the savage dog returned to go after the Commander. In “Crows,” the man visits an art museum only to magically traverse from outside the paintings to within these paintings themselves, meeting Van Gogh , travelling across the paintings he was just marveling at earlier and lastly being in a scene of crows flying over the fields that eventually becomes the last painting he look at from outside once again.

Here we are reminded bitterly again of our spoliation of nature although in a more subtle manner, and in more arguable terms – artworks. The man had actually tasted and experienced the landscapes, the surroundings he first saw as just paintings, which as mere representations are not exactly at par with, and do not fully capture, only represent the real experiences. Then Mount Fuji turns red and the demons weep to hammer out the sad point. We see in these two dreams an atmosphere of abandonment, which again is primarily attributed to human destruction.

A short additional note on the seventh dream, “The Weeping Demon,” one of the demons whom the protagonist was able to talk to said that they (the demons) were once humans too. We can see this as a way of showing the negative consequences of human’s destruction of nature. More glaringly, the demon said that they cannot die even though they want to. Here, immortality becomes a punishment; the demons, the former humans will be forever nagged in that depressing condition, forced to pay for their sins.

It is quite a relief that the film ends with Village at the Watermills, offering us a more pleasing environment after Mount Fuji turned red and the demons wept.

However, this is also the point when we had to confront the revelations of the film. Man has been destructive blah blah blah because of his greed, his discontent at what is already there, his desire to accumulate more, to invent more, to do more. Most of the time, this has led to the pollution of nature. As if acceding to that moral of the story, the protagonist did what he found out to be a common practice in the village – offering a flower on the sick traveler’s womb. As if capitulating to the tradition being lived whole-heartedly in the village, he offered his own flower just as they do.

And so we reached a Kurosawa ending, the end of all the dreams. The dream, the fiction that is the movie itself and the dreams within this film, this fiction, which is perhaps not happenstantially, is entitled “Dreams.” Kurosawa played with our notions of dream and fiction, with utter skill and the appropriately twisted mind, in, well, revealing to us one reality we ought to confront and not escape from, or keep silently to ourselves.

The old capitalistic illness and the new pathology of making-do: a look at 1927-made Metropolis

At the onset, what prompted me to watch the old film “Metropolis” was the synopsis from which hints at the plot resembling the bourgeoisie-proletarian idea of classical Marxism. Made in 1927, at the height of continuing flourish of the capitalistic system all over the world, it is not surprising that the movie comes to deal with the pressing condition it mis surrounded with.

The Metropolis is a well-developed city governed by Joh Frederson. In this city, one can find the Club of the Sons and Eternal Gardens, exclusive academies and luxurious taverns which manifest the high-class kind of living in Metropolis. However, unknown to most of the residents of Metropolis, lying beneath their highly urbanized city is a subterranean society world where numerous workers are found as they toil for the resources and sustained operation of the city.

Joh’s son, Fredersen, discovered the existence of this underground society and was strucked as he saw his “brothers’” hard labor for the sake of Metropolis in that seemingly kept secret society. This marked the beginning of the alteration of Fredersen’s consciousness. His sympathy shifted to the workers, his deemed brothers, and aside from truly sympathizing with their difficult condition, meeting Maria, one of the leaders of the worker’s group, also influenced his change of heart. At this pont, Freder was caught between the interest of his own father, one of the top players in Metropolis, and his own beliefs. The film goes on with showing how this conflict succumbs to pressure only to be resolved at the end. Joh had to call on Rotwang the inventor to make a clone of Maria and divert the attention and plan of action of Fredersen. Curiously, Rotwang has his own interests and these run in contrast to Joh’s. Rotwang agreed on cloning Maria because for him, she resembles his lost sweetheart, Hel. Fredersen was initially duped by the cloned Maria and when this fake Maria fomented her fellow workers to rise violently against the Metropolis elite, he initially nodded to that call as well. Fredersen only noticed the fakeness of the Maria he was following when the scale of destruction caused by the workers’ attack on the machines, as incited by the cloned Maria, has become unimaginable and he had to protect the children of the workers.

The floors of the metro began to crack open and water begun to seep out of it, swiftly flooding the entire city and endangering the lives of the children who were left behind by their rallying working parents. The real Maria, Josaphat, Joh Frederson’s terminated chief assistant and Fredersen ensured the safety of the children. At the climax of the film, the workers realized the evil of the cloned Maria. Grot, the chief foreman delivered an insight that led the rest of the workers to that realization. Said Grot, “Who told you to attack the machines? Without them, you’ll all die!” As we proceed to the overall reading of the film later, we will look back at this important statement and what it says about the film in general.

Upon realizing the evil of the cloned Maria, the workers went after her, determined to kill her, which ultimately they were able to do. Meanwhile, Rotwang, madly searching for the cloned Maria which he takes as his sweetheart Hel, mistook the real Maria for the cloned one and went after her instead. This chase is the main climax of the film, with Fredesen going after the two primarily to save Maria from Rotwang, resulting to the death of Rotwang and Joh’s own realization of his own greed and evil. Ultimately, the workers witness as Joh, the mind behind the inimitable progress of Metropolis and Grot, the chief member of the hand that travails for this progress was “mediated” by Fredersen, the heart that completes the conjoining of the head and the hand.

Before commenting on the very point where the film finds itself in the end, I will first give an overview and annotations of the idea where it started. As aforementioned, the film touches on one of the more well-known ideas of classical Marxism; that is, the division of the society into two main classes, the bourgeoisie and the working class and the antagonism that exists between the two. With its representation of this class existence and the antagonism between them, the film also reechoes some of the ideas of classical Marxism. For instance, we can see in the film the robotic movements of the workers, as if suggesting that the workers do what they have to do like robots and that there is no room for enjoyment or for a sense of fulfillment. They wear the same clothes and act the same. This points to the uniformity among the workers. We can play with this in two ways. First, aside from the uniformity at the surface levels, this can also mean the similarity of the plight of each worker – as if punished by the very society whose flourishing is their own doing. Second, the idea of uniformity can be read further as a potential for unity. Facing a singular predicament and experiencing the same hardships, altogether these workers have the potential to unite in bringing down the causes of their hard experiences and overall condition.

Small details point out the differences between the classes. While Fredersen, the son of the rich Joh wears immaculate white, the workers wear black clothes. When Fredersen was already at the side of the workers and he volunteers to help one of the workers in his work, that worker later introduces himself as Worker 11811, as if implying the namelessness of workers. Their real names are of no importance compared to their contributions to the mode of production. In general, aside from the mere representation of the workers’ difficulties, the film also made side comments which contemplate on and problematize this condition.

Where the misdirection begun is when the cloned Maria begun advocating the killing of the machines, as they engender the difficult situation of the workers. The cloned Maria made this false initiation, prompting the workers to hit on their machines and eventually destroying them and causing a commotion in the city. The cloned Maria’s premise is that the workers figuratively feed the machines, lubricating them with their own blood and in return, they are left at a pitiful state. For the cloned Maria, the right conclusion is to kill the machines, to let them starve and die. As shown by the ensuing commotion and destruction, the clone Maria’s call was indeed a wrong one. At the end of the film, with the “real” Maria (in contrast to the clone who made the previous, wrong call to action) egging on Fredersen to mediate between the head and the heart, the Metropolis was seemed to be brought to relative stability. Clearly, that is the proposed solution of the movie to the plight of the workers: the meeting of the heads (i.e. the business owners, the people who own the capital and make investments) and the hands (the workers) with the mediation of the heart (not concretely identified but in the film, this was represented by Fredersen, the son of the “head”). The problem here is the very concretization of this heart element which is supposed to “mediate” between the head and the hand. In real life, who represents the heart that mediates. Definitely, we cannot transpose Fredersen’s case in real life. The sons or daughters of the business owners cannot be the singular representation in real life if this heart. Fredersen became the “heart” not by virtue of his being the son of Joh but because of something more abstract; i.e. his changed consciousness and beliefs, which influenced his change of actions.

Therefore, we can see here that following the proposition of the film, what we need to put an end to the faulty system where divisions exist and antagonism can be located within that division is to change people’s consciousness and eventually their actions so they can serve as the hearts that will mediate between the head and the hand. Although at first glance, this insight sounds well, it will be eventually undermined by the lack of concrete support to its validity and applicability. At present, we are bombarded with similar advocacy campaigns whose tone resembles this winning call in Metropolis: a change of heart, a change of our perspectives as individuals. What is lacking in this present trend is the recognition of the very system which calls forth to begin with the changing of individual dispositions.

The proposition made in Metropolis, despite its acknowledgement and in fact even presentation of the system which it is implicitly critiquing, falls short because it still operates within that system in doing its critique. Hence, it ended up proposing things that can be done to better that currently existing system. On the other hand, it failed to address the issue of the system at a more fundamental level; i.e. not only to better that system but abolish that system altogether; replace it with a new one.

This is the sickness of the current times – the postmodern making-do, the being content with the present large scheme of things and effecting only little changes that can make the larger scheme a bit better. This turns our eyes away from the grander possibility of doing away with the system as a whole, of establishing a new system. Metropolis is not exempted from this sickness. This is the sickness that we must battle simultaneously with the clichéd yet still persisting cancer of society.