|for the source of the image click here|
|for the source of the image click here|
|Mixed media on paper, 2008, Paris|
|Mixed media on paper,2005, Bahrain|
|Mix media on paper, 2005, Germany|
Often the best things in life happen when less expected. One can argue at length what can be qualified as “best” in that context, but I’ll cut the list short and say that this time I’m simply speaking of an encounter with a film.
Two nights ago I was in a dare need to watch a film. But being the type of person that never keeps a movie list, or any movies stored on my hard drive for that reason, I started to look randomly for titles. In my despair to find something worth watching, I skyped a friend and asked for a recommendation. It took him some 15 minutes to check his own hard-drive encompassed in his skull before I got the message with a link to Punch-Drunk Love. Fifteen more minutes and I had a copy of it on my hard-drive (the one encompassed in the thin white plastic box in front of me), loaded it, pressed cmd+F, turned off the lights, cuddled comfortably underneath my blanket and the story began.
What began as a strange story of a man who was sitting on a lonely desk in the corner of a big garage space, dressed in the most awkward blue suit imaginable, and having a shy and nervous conversation on the phone about a frequent flyer miles promotion on healthy food products, turned out to be one of the most delicately told love stories that I have seen on the big screen (or the smaller laptop screen). And when I say a “love story”, don’t automatically image any of the thousands insipid tales of a boy-meets-girl and boy-marries-girl-at-the-end, and all told in a painfully predictable manner. It wasn’t this.
Well, to begin with, this story was not really told in the sense of narrated through action. It was rather painted on the screen. The motion was so minimal that almost every frame looked liked a frozen section of a big three-dimensional canvas, at first very zoomed in, showing only a small initial detail of the picture, but then slowly zooming out to show the whole picture. The colours used were also minimal – blue and white, blue and red, some black, but just enough to underline the brightness of the rest. And think the classical shades of these colours – basic but vibrant, simple but powerful. There was also this incredible motion in the stillness – an illusion that makes you see the movement of the hand that was painting all this. To add up to the beauty of it all, this sense of motion was mostly conveyed through sound – also very minimal, isolated and often un-tuned tones at the beginning, that slowly built up to a harmonious crisp clear melody towards the end.
Now the story – in this format the girl meets the boy, or to be more accurate – the woman meets the man. A powerful version of something that we are used to watch in the reverse order. A mysterious woman likes a man from a picture. A man who is considered by his seven sisters to be a freak. A man who feels isolated by the society, a man who “meets” people through the phone. The man is Barry and the woman Leena. Barry appears to be the lead character, but it’s Leena who directs it all. She meets him “coincidentally”, then invites him for dinner. We see little of her and her red dress directly on the screen, but her effect on Barry is present all along. For me, her beauty and strenght is hidden in the fact that she is actively looking for love and she isn’t stopped by social predjudices of any sort. By a standart rating, Leena could easily find a better match than Barry, but she likes him for reason or another, and quietly but steadfastly shows him her love, and makes him love her. End of the story: her love helps him come out of his shell and be his better self.
I need to note here that the word “love” isn’t present except for once in the movie. It is never uttered, but only mysteriously written on the knuckles of Barry after he hits a wall in one of his aggression outburst. That is how delicate this whole movie is – a love story without the overly boring usage of the word itself or any related cliché phrases. The love isn’t spoken, but shown in the small things - as it should be. I will quote here the final monologue of Barry when he apologizes to Leena for leaving her at the hospital after a car accident they had, to illustrate how masterfully a love can be revealed through seemingly funny and maybe a bit absurd words:
"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I left you at the hospital. I called a phone-sex line... I called a phone-sex line before I met you, and four blond brothers came after me and they hurt you, and I'm sorry. Then I had to leave again because I wanted to make sure you never got hurt again. And I have a lot of puddings, and in six to eight weeks it can be redeemed. So if you could just give me that much time, I think I can get enough mileage to go with you wherever you go if you have to travel for your work. Because I don't ever want to be anywhere without you. So could you just let me redeem the mileage?"
There are many more layers to this film, as it is a highly symbolic peace of art. However I won’t discuss them here, as there is a whole website dedicated to it that describes and sums up its artistic attainments quite well. I would only recommend a closer look at Jeremy Blake’s digital artwork created specially for the film, which I find stunning and which gives a beautiful final touch to the whole image.
On an ending note, I would like to mention and the very few shortcomings the movie has for me. As universal as this love story may seem, it is done in a very culturally specific manner. I don’t know if this could and should be avoided, having in mind that every artist is usually influenced by his cultural milieu, but it might be good to just keep in mind that this is an American story. The cultural context needs to be extracted in order for the universality of the story to come to the surface, and if this isn’t done, one risks considering as universal something that isn’t. In this line of thoughts, there is this bit of the movie where a trip to Hawaii is made which is the beginning of the denouement in the plot. Even though I am aware of the meaning that Hawaii has within the American culture, it just has never worked for me as the place where love takes place in every other Hollywood movie. And precisely because Punch-Drunk Love isn’t an average movie, it highly irritated me that Hawaii was in it knowing how many more other exciting destinations there were to choose from. But then again, this is a very minor flaw, which I mention only to balance a bit my eulogy of the film.
Punch-Drunk Love is a simple story of the complexity of love. A story that left me with the question: Isn’t love actually that simple?