Thursday, June 11, 2009

Non-Linear-Subjectivity and Virtual Narratives in Film

Despite the epic title, this is more of a start to an idea. I want to ask for help from all of you blog-readers out there (and yes, I realize that may be very few [if any], but I want to establish the idea now so that I can continue working on it).

The kernel of this idea comes from the film Run Lola Run (1998), but the idea itself resonates with many films with similar narrative structures such as Sliding Doors (1998), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), The Butterfly Effect (2004), Too Many Ways to be Number One (1997), Chaos (2000), and Peppermint Candy (2000). I welcome comments that add to this list, or discuss how some of these other films negotiate the same (or a similar) situation.

If you are reading this blog, you probably know Run Lola Run, but the important point for this post is that the film consists of a single narrative repeated three times (with slight differences). David Martin-Jones discusses this film in Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity in terms of how it plays with a Deleuzian notion of time. Each run through the narrative, as it is repeated, ungrounds our understanding of the narrative as we've already constructed it. So, while Lola trips on the dog during the first run through, the film disrupts our expectations by changing this the second run through (she jumps over the dog, thereby gaining time).

What I find interesting about the repetition of these narratives, however, is that each run through, Lola seems to have an understanding of what is coming. As a result, this film has been compared to a video game – you die the first time through the level, but you have an idea of what obstacles you will face the second time you play the level, so you avoid the mistake you know are there. Obviously, this makes no sense in the context of Run Lola Run however, because each time Lola runs her obstacle course it is a completely new event – there is nothing to suggest that Lola is transported 'back through time' in order to replay the events. In fact, there are clear signs that point to this not being the case (Lola dying, for example).

What I'm thinking films like this might evidence, is a sort of virtual savvy, or the privileging of an understanding of time that is not linear by depicting a non-linear-subjectivity. If Lola does indeed use her experience of 'what happened last time' to influence 'what will happen this time,' and these are three separate narratives, a non-linear-subjectivity could explain how she is able to take these separate narratives and employ them to influence the outcome of her third, successful, run through the gauntlet. This virtual savvy points to Lola's ability to understand the virtual possibilities, the forks of the labyrinth that lay before her, and – if not choose one of these possible worlds – use her understanding the influence her approach to the task she must accomplish. This is not so strange, as it is basically Deleuze's third (Nietzschean) synthesis of time (I guess I shouldn't say 'basically' here), but what is new is that it is embodied within the subjectivity of a character within the narrative, as shown through the formal features of the film.

Perhaps, if we consider the subjectivity of characters within films and how it is played out in films, it would give us a new way to consider the films listed above. This is not to say that all of the characters are exemplary of this non-linear-subjectivity, but that we could make an argument about each film based on the maturity of the characters' understanding of time. In the end of Sliding Doors, for example, the main character (Helen/Gwyneth Paltrow) utilizes the 'memories' of a character she has never met, and could not have met, because this character is herself following a rather different path through time (another virtual possibility). These memories allow her to achieve things she, the film argues, could not have on her own. Are these memories not so much 'memories' then, as an understanding of the time-image, or non-linear time?

The greatest question here might be: what is the significance of the emergence of these characters in the late 1990's to early 2000's? And what does each character say about their understanding of time?

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