A note on the present series of films (G & S / V & I)

Just some thoughts [*]

So far, in the Gaze and Surveillance / Voyeurs and Intruders Series we have watched four films: Kika, Empty House (3-Iron), Decalogue VI and Following. (Check the previous posts, and 1 2 3 4) The next one will be The Spectator (La Spettatrice, dir: Paolo Franchi, 2004 / Italy), which we’re going to watch on friday this week (November 4).

Very crudely put, what these have in common is that their stories are based on intervening and/or illegitimately observing others’ lives.  This theme itself might open up some philosophical discussions (ethics and morality). But I personally care more about issues given rise by each film: I prefer delving into the differences between these films, the dissimilarities in the ways they handle voyeurism, intrusion, surveillance and so forth.

For instance, Empty House vs. Following: There are housebreakers in both. Yet the difference is, speaking narrative-wise, the former depends more on breaking and entering,  while in Nolan‘s film it’s used as one of the two initiators of the puzzling series of events. [1] This is to say, this particular theme is highlighted more in Empty House than in Following; it’s given a much more principal attention. And this is for good reason: While Nolan fancies crafting an intelligent story where “what happens” seems to matter a lot more than themes, the director Kim Ki-Duk is after a questioning mood in Empty House: a mood of uncertainty regarding existing in the world, I’d say. The point in Bill and Cobb’s intrusions in Following is to let people know that someone was there, and they deliberately intervene into others’ lives. As Cobb says to Bill: “That’s what it’s all about: Interrupting someone’s life, making them see all the things they took fro granted.  (…) You take it away and show them what they had.” (I can’t stop thinking how good, how better it’d be if the film got more of this very idea of the association of people with their belongings. [2]) This is in stark contrast with what the mute characters of Empty House do: They don’t take anything away. Just by inhabiting these houses for a while, they do intervene into the others’ lives; but they do their best to keep the intervention at the minimum and for the benefit of the actual owners of houses. Now, what can be the motivation behind this? We can guess the woman’s: After all she’s abused by her husband, so she needs a physical shelter, and an emotional one as well, so she’s attached to the male protagonist, etc. Fine, but the more important question is, then: Why the latter is into housebreaking? We are never given the answer.

But this is surely not a flaw of Empty House–quite the contrary, the lack of explanation for the guy’s motivation is the point. Later, as the issue verges into ghostlike presence/non-presence, I infer that Ki-Duk foregrounds different levels of existing in the world. (Actually it is more than my inferring this, for a closing line making this point is superposed on the last shot. I doubt if the audience really needs such a blunt move.) I don’t want to impose my interpretation, therefore I finish after saying the following: Housebreaking in Empty House does not look like housebreaking simpliciter. It rather has a figurative-metaphorical use here.


[*] Read: “Cem Kay’s personal thoughts”

[1] The other initiator: “Shadowing”, as Bill says to the old man — “Shadowing. Following. I started to follow people.  (…) somebody at random.”

[2] In my opinion Nolan does better in his next film (Memento, 2000), with respect to how much he exploits a certain concept (amnesia) without letting it be shaded off by the exciting flow of the story.


About Sillynamenace

Living since 1981, I'm a philosophy scholar from Ankara, Turkey

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