Jul 14, 2013

'Holy Motors,' and the cost of metamorphosis

1. In 'Holy Motors,' the most recent movie by French director Leos Carax, an actor is being driven around Paris in a limousine. He exits the limo 7 times during the day, each time made-up as a completely different person. These other personalities play their bizarre cameos in the city (the acts include biting a finger off a girl, murdering a warehouse worker, and kidnapping a super-model). Late at night, when the serial metamorphoses are exhausted, he retires to a suburban house full of chimpanzees (!). There is no reason to believe that his final avatar is him.
2. 'Holy Motors' is a story of metamorphoses, its specific subject being the psychological impact of constant metamorphoses on an actor. In their loudness, the metamorphoses in 'Holy Motors' approach the metamorphoses in Kafka's fiction. 
3. Of course, metamorphoses as glaring as in the examples above are unreal. We don't see them in our lives. No one becomes a bug overnight. No one becomes many persons during a single day. Such transformations are possible only in art.
4. But it is precisely out of this privilege of the arts, a privilege to portray unreal metamorphoses, that the following question arises: What does art point to when its object is a (surreally) metamorphosing one? What do radical alterations of identity, of body, or of the environment, want to say?
5. To answer, let us go consider 'The Country Doctor' and pose an alternate question. In the intentional fluidity of the details and sequences of this story, what is it that is really changing as far as we, the readers, are concerned?
6. The claim in this essay is that it is our relationship with the figures of the story - the characters, the moods, the narrative - that is made liquid. And we are constantly unnerved because of the celerity of the changes. Our tenuous relationship with everything inside the story is a source of horror to us.
7. Art that concerns itself with metamorphoses aims to jeopardize the viewer's / reader's relationship with the objects and figures inside it. (Only the narrative arts can achieve this, and that too by jeopardizing their very narrative quality.) By proposing an impossible change in its elements, art takes our relationship with it into the region of fear. 
8. In fact, it may be said that throught this presentation of the project of transformation as terrorizing, art questions our fantasy of becoming the Other. Art asserts the message - the cost of metamorphosis is reality - and delivers the adage - feel lucky that it is impossible to change into another.
9. The limousine in 'Holy Motors' is being driven by an old lady, who converses with the actor between his various incarnations. These conversations are the only isles of reality the actor has left for himself. Perhaps, he participates in his project of recurring metamorphosis only to be able to spend time in the limousine. Perhaps he becomes another, repetitively, only to gain the time when he can not be another. Perhaps the lesson is to stop wishing for metamorphosis.

1 comment:

  1. You establish fairly early that a man is at work and is carrying out 'assignments' out of a car. The director's style in following the actor is in harmony with the imagined narrative and the whole thing turns out to be quite coherent actually. It was a film experience like never before. It evoked no fear; only wonder and a vague sense of reassurance. HM and SOT have rocked my world this week with their sheer WTFness.