Four Self-Interviews about Cinema:
The short films of Norman Reedus
A Filthy Little Fruit (2006)
(though not necessary to this self-interview, the film being
discussed here, as well as the others being discussed in this series,
can be purchased as digital downloads from www.bigbaldhead.com)
Concrete: That this film is actually linear, literally linear-despite
what could be easy misinterpretation-and that it works without large
tricks or unneeded superficial tweak was great for me, it was like
watching a real, top shelf Twilight Zone episode, golden era, Twilight
Zone before what that means got skewed to mean overt, superfluous
"twists"-I mean those Serling, Matheson episodes that were powerful
simply for being so plain, that let the subtextual content, rather than
the surface, be what really defined them.
Abstract: What intrigues me the most about this film-yes, I agree
with you totally there, not brushing you off-is, as you say, the flat,
low key way it is presented. Especially as the central conflict, the
"story of it," is one that is delicate and ethereal, easy to
overlook-again, as you say-that it maintains so muted, unadorned and,
aloof a presentation drives the impact. And this impact, at least to me,
is interesting because, on the one hand, there is no obvious
presentation of "purpose" or even of "conclusion," in the film, yet
precisely this "seemingly omitted aspect"-in thinking back over the
film-reveals the violence (not physical, but psychic) that took place.
C: Can it be said to be "violent"-I know you mean this because
the "one identity" usurps the "body," but since it's all one person, do
you really think it's an expression of (even psychic) violence, or just
an expression of a change-in-character, a film exploring a moment where
someone decides (perhaps unconsciously) to make a change in their life,
that the "usurping" aspect of things is kind of incidental or, better to
say, just presented to give the film an entertaining storyline, just a
track to move along?
A: It's a good point-or a good question, I guess. Yeah. But I
think there is a violence suggested in the identity shift, which I will
explain in a moment. First-because I do like what you say-I want to
explore that I think the film is an expression of the "necessarily
violent nature" of the unconscious in expressing itself, the intrinsic
"violence" of artistic expression, artistic identity.
C: Let's do that second rather than first, maybe? What
indicates a more forceful, violent aspect to you-let's do that, first.
A: Okay. The initial dialogue that opens the film (or
monologue, if you'd like, because technically the Apple says nothing,
the man just reacts to "suggested dialogue from the apple") between the
Comedian Identity and the Apple is filled with frustration, a kind of
lecherousness, and a clear angst, dissatisfaction. The Comedian doesn't
understand why the Apple (here proxy for the Lawyer Identity, which will
appear later) won't "do as he says" why there is "something else it
wants"-money, girls, etc. all of which baffles the Comedian, it seems
inappropriate, absurd even, for the Apple to desire "things." Of course,
this translates to the Comedian (or artist/unconscious identity) not
understanding the yearning toward creature comforts (or even excesses)
the Lawyer (or practical/conscious identity) comes to illustrate. Then,
we have the scene of Comedian on stage, the Apple remaining mute, not
allowing a dialogue and so not allowing comedian to be voiced,
expressed-indeed by its very silence diminishing Comedian to the point
of non-existence (a comedian, after all, who cannot even fully
articulate a performance, a single wisecrack, is "no comedian").
C: But it's Lawyer who wakes up screaming, would you say, from
the dream that he "was the comedian"?
A: I would say. And in that lies the violence-this anguished,
genuinely panic in which Lawyer wakes is actually indicative of a
repulsion toward the idea of "being" or "becoming" Comedian. That is,
the practical/conscious personality is terrified that the
artistic/unconscious could actually get the upper hand, could,
eventually, usurp him.
C: And so "violent", I see. Okay. But Lawyer is the Actual
Man, as far as a concrete, literal reading of the film-in-sequence. That
is, Lawyer is a man who has lived a kind of practical, status quo life,
been afforded certain comforts he at once wishes to retain but also
wishes to relinquish, or at least to put in jeopardy by allowing the
artistic to "take over the actual, waking body".
A: Yes-and that was very good, good for you, there, I'm always
so proud when you talk like that. The film, to me, sequentially, is a
rendering of the unconscious (Comedian) and the conscious (Lawyer) more
and more melding into each other until Comedian (unconscious) comes into
possession of, as you say, the "Waking Body". Most pointedly, there is
the sequence (inside a dream, and so technically Comedian speaking) of
the man on the therapist's couch, the therapist questioning directly the
notion of the "identity of the Apple as it appeared in the dream,"
asking the man (as patient) to consider what the Apple might be, what it
might indicate-it's important that while the response to this
questioning is very much born of the Lawyer (Conscious) aspect of our
man-he says, "It's just an apple, doc"-that in the same moment he leans
up to aggressively deliver this statement he discovers the therapist is
inhuman, a baboon/insect thing, and this sight again leads to waking,
startled even more aggressively than before.
C: In the dream, for a moment, Lawyer has control (outside of
his waking domain), and uses this control to dismiss the notion of
"analysis of the Apple" and so, really, is rejecting "self-analysis"
analysis that would indicate there can be more than one aspect to
things-but even as Lawyer asserts this control, the dream changes
context, a reassertion of Comedian (unconscious), a return to the same
struggle as Comedian wanting the Apple to talk, on stage, the Apple
remaining mute. I see that, I see what you mean-because initially while
on the therapist couch, the man speaks in terms of being a Comedian,
actually giving voice to the conscious minds' fears of what fate would
lie in store if the artistic/unconscious mind took over-he says, "No one
dies like stand-up comics die," a fear of something singularly awful
awaiting if him if aspects of control are relinquished.
A: And later, in the direct dialogue between Lawyer and
Comedian, remember how shocked, mortified Lawyer is when Comedian offers
to tell him how he's going to die-"I'm going to die?" he says, in
horror, as though it isn't possible, as though the admission of this
inevitability means it will immediately happen, and so devalue, make
meaningless all that conscious consideration and desire for control
tries to maintain. Comedian is very at ease with death and with all
possibility and inevitability-such as the notions of "having kids" of
"suffering some tragedies" etc.-the unconscious is the "un-agitated",
the "comfortable-with-anything." almost to the point of being null.
C: I was so with you until that last
thing-"comfortable-with-anything almost to the point of being null"
means what, exactly?
A: The unconscious only has the struggle of gaining expression
"on its mind"-as long as it can use the Body to speak, as long as it can
express itself, nothing else is of concern-while the conscious, in
possession of the Body, has umpteen concerns, nuances, details, things
to keep in check, not the least of which is resisting the more
unconscious elements of itself.
So, the calm Comedian presents is not a "wise calm" it is an
"un-caring calm"-Comedian could burn the life of Lawyer to the ground,
wind up starving in a cold water flat and it would still be an
acceptable, almost romantic, expression of unconscious/artistic desire.
Which, in turn, is why Lawyer is so agitated at every suggestion,
even those that are obvious-Comedian nonchalantly saying "We all die" is
not news to Lawyer, Lawyer just consciously notes the fact of it, the
implication, and so frets. Comedian (unconscious) accepts anything and
everything, to the point that "continuation of self" is kind of
C: This is why, earlier, I questioned your use of the term
"violence." Lawyer is technically more of the usurper-he is the little
element, the tiny consciousness that has taken control. In a technical
sense, any individual is far more unconscious than conscious and there
is a kind of absurdly inverted balance of power in "consciousness making
decisions", keeping things in check, in this smallest part of anyone
being the controlling part. Virulent, almost, in that consciousness has
to constantly look outward for assurance of itself. We can note in the
film that when Lawyer wakes in a panic (before we know he is a lawyer,
when we only have any reason to think of him as a comedian) he stumbles
into the hall and is relieved to see his law degree framed on the
wall-"Thank God" he says, this outside evidence reassuring him that he
is "himself". But I would say this is the act of a pretender, a thief,
who "feels inside that he is Comedian" but out of fright, weakness,
vanity, etc. puts on disguises and then always has to check they are
still in place.
A: You see Comedian as "retaking what was his" a kind of
"flushing out the infection of Lawyer, of consciousness."
C: I do.
A: That's wonderful, I love that. I wish I'd said that
actually. Instead, I'll jump off from there to where I was heading,
earlier. The film artfully posits audience/viewer as Comedian (and to my
way of thinking Interloper, though you did just make a stellar point
there, I'll have to consider that while I go on) in that it takes until
three-quarters of the way through the film to cement the idea that the
"physical body is controlled by Lawyer" (that this man is "really a
lawyer" and "not a comedian" to put it more flatly) and so by the time
the film concludes and Comedian does, indeed, take active, physical
control of the body, the audience/viewer has been placed in the position
to think "we have won," "Comedian has won" in that Comedian has gotten
rid of Lawyer. Which is what you say-that Lawyer was infection, that
consciousness is virulent.
C: I think we're largely on the same page, and since you're
staring at your shoes a moment, I'll just press on. I think the film
isn't so violent (even psychically) as you initially posited it to be. I
think it more celebratory of the eventual "triumph" in any man of the
unconscious/artistic. There is the scene-ostensibly inside a dream, but
by this time in the film the distinction has been all but eradicated-of
Comedian going up to a receptionist desk and saying "I've been in show
business, but I think my real calling is to be a Temp"-which is not only
very funny, but an articulate, wonderful inversion of the way such a
conversation is "supposed to go"-someone is supposed to "come to the
realization that they are an artist" and shed their "day job
definition," so to witness the artist saying "I've realized my true
calling is to be a non-artist" is actually a subtle, clean statement of
the main thrust of the film. That is: It is natural, appropriate, for
the unconscious to shed the conscious, expectorate it, but it is horror
and absurdity for the conscious to gain control.
A: In this film though, we watch (if we take it your way)
unconsciousness, the "largest part of us" bully out a small aspect,
consciousness. There is a reason Lawyer is terrified, feels the walls
closing in, feels the sting of absolute mortality-think of that, the
conscious part (even you say the unconscious does not care, simply "is")
the "knowing" part, the "aware and decisive" part of you realizes it is
vanishing, being stripped away, but has to face the fact that it's
"physicality" will go on. Unconscious, as wonderful as it is, is
uncaring and devoid of dimension. It is the Consciousness where
personality resides-choice, fret, struggle. To allow the unconscious
absolute dominion is to allow the death of personality and, in fact, the
death of identity. The small flame-Lawyer-is what defines this man, but
to take what you say, decisions (and so the man he has forcefully,
willfully made himself) are to swept aside and some "undecided version"
based on no precedent, and not even concerned with continued survival,
should be allowed the reigns of Identity-hardly a triumph to proceed
without direction, drive, even if it means proceeding without fear.
C: Mmn. You mean that "being an artist" isn't a choice, it's
born of unconscious association, but being a practical individual is
choice? Choice defines, even if it brings with it consequence,
A: The film, I think, is an expression of the necessity of
balance. When we consider that Comedian is a kind of wraith, just a dull
assertion, nothing that (in this particular case, in this particular
film) seems to contain any passion, then the balance that has already
been struck-Lawyer is "in control" and Comedian is "a nagging little,
unfilled desire"-is appropriate, is the way it should be.
C: I do see that. So that's why you said "violent".
A: Oh good, I would have forgotten to mention how this
reproves my point about that-yes, that is why I said "violent". As banal
as it might be, the unconscious needs to stay fettered, needs to exist
as "internalized angst." You even bring up the absurdity of Comedian
saying he thinks he was meant to be a Temp, but I think in this scene we
have admission of the propriety of "how things are"-a Real Person should
be in the position to say "there is some unrealized part of myself" but
if the Equation of Identity is that a person is "99% realized" (the
unconscious in control) then the notion of fulfillment, of
desire-toward-completion (or even toward self-contemplation) is
unlikely. As Comedian says in the dialogue with Lawyer "I am who you
were before you were born, who you will be after you die"-the
unconscious is undifferentiated, is the void from which consciousness is
born and the void to which consciousness returns. It is violent and I
might in my passion go so far as to say, deplorable to suggest that the
unconscious (which is eternal) should also have controlling dominion
over the brief, mortal life of the conscious.
C: You're not going to get me to clap, if that's what you're
trying to do.
A: But I have gotten you to agree, I'll settle for that-I can
tell just looking at you that you do.
C: I don't know that you've gotten me to anything, but I see a
lot in the film that touches on what you say. Yes, that last moment,
Comedian claiming ownership of the dream-"This isn't your dream, it's
mine now, as soon as I eat this Apple"-and then the camera following
Comedian in to the bathroom, to the sink, and that dull, empty,
emotionless gesture of Comedian beginning to run a toothbrush in his
mouth-that moment of nothing-and then the blankness in the expression
looking out of the mirror is kind of disquieting. And I admit, if the
attributes you asserted (and I don't disagree with) define the
unconscious-calm, unaffected, at-ease-with-anything-at-all, desireless,
passionless-were to become the "total, physical man" it would be a
horror. That is kind of gutting.
A: I think where you go sideways is in thinking that simply
because an individual is "more unconscious than conscious" it is the
same as saying "we ought to be unconscious." We are nothing if not for
our consciousness, and even if it does make us mewling little cowards,
even if we're afraid of our shadows, well, at least we're something.
Really, when you assert unconsciousness as the "appropriate identity",
all you're suggesting is that "majority rules," when nothing should be
further from the truth.
C: So, let me understand-you think the film is downer because
somebody decides to be an artist?
A: Ha. Yeah, I suppose. Or if not a downer, at least a
horror-definitely a horror. The the Artistic Man, the man who allows
more the unconscious aspects of himself to be his definition, there's
always something frightening and destructive about that, when not kept
in check. You really want your son to be Rimbaud? To be...I don't
know...Sid Vicious or Darby Crash? No. You want them to be Godard, Bob
Dylan, Duras-brilliant but aware enough to find meaning.
C: And barring that, I suppose you want them to be a clerk at
REI or a wallpaper salesman?
A: That's a stretch. The man in the film is a Lawyer, not a
bartender or some chump humping a retail gig-are you devaluing the
study, refinement, and practice Law? Law, that which allows us
civilization-"Reason devoid of Passion"
C: You're quoting Legally Blonde at me?
A: Har har. I'm just pointing out that it isn't "Artist" or
"Shoe Clerk" it's Control or Not, Meaning or Lack.
C: Artist or Lawyer-well fine, why is either a horror?
A: Well, not everyone is an artist, which I think is a truth,
something to be celebrated. Unconsciousness is not Art-unconsciousness
filtered through consciousness is Art and this is what is destroyed in
the film, what we witness and (as I was saying) by trick of being first
imprinted on as "Comedian" celebrate the destruction of-the death of
that filter which allows a void to rush out. The film is about the death
of potential identity and the birth of nothing.
C: The film's about that? Or your sidestepping and
free-associations are about that?
A: If you can explain the difference, I'll be glad to answer
Pablo D'Stair is a writer of novels, shorts stories, essays, and also
conducts the book-length dialogue series Predicate. He welcomes any and
all comments at [email protected]