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Title: In Reality: The Ultimate Cinematic Quest
Authors: Martins, José
Editors: Martins, José Manuel
Reeh, Christine
Keywords: Reality
Issue Date: 2017
Citation: MARTINS, José, “In Reality: The Ultimate Cinematic Quest”, in: Christine Reeh, José Manuel Martins (eds.), Thinking Reality and Time Through Film, Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017, pp. 61-77
Abstract: Movies like eXistenZ or Inception consist of elaborate filmic constructions patiently engendering a sort of metaphysical Mexican standoff by way of their denouement: the final black screen of an ultimate undecidability about reality. In Cronenberg’s endgame, the third party in the reverse shot sequence of the shooters and their victim is the (filmmaker’s) deadly ‘shot’ itself, incapable of deciding whether it is real, and vanishing thus into darkness. Such inscrutableness, however, is not just the final outcome of a contingent plot, but the necessary result of a cinematic demonstration: once the very loss of the criterion for telling apart reality and VR is itself unacknowledged from the outset (not only because that is the very subject-matter of the ongoing delusional game conundrum, but also because for us reality and virtual reality look cinematically undistinguishable, and therefore commutable, and for us they are what they look), there is no way to retrieve the criterion (for which the very lost criterion would be needed - the top in Inception being indeed a ‘totem’: a delusional external criterion whose fall or stand would prove nothing, just as holding instead of firing, in eXistenZ). That same black screen as the empty sign of ontological undecidibility is emblematically also the (abyssal) ground upon which each projected image is taking shape ‘without criterion’ from the start, the secret shadow over them all, and so, in a sort of mock-Hegelian philosophical circle, instead of progressing alongside a phenomenological path towards Absolute Knowledge through the dialectical examination of the object, of knowledge and of the very criterion of that examination (thereby overcoming their ‘standoff’), the abovementioned films perform a backward movement until they find they cannot end because they have not begun. They are not lost in the middle of themselves: the spine-chilling twist is that they just cannot know whether they are not lost. Reversing the post-Turingian paradox of Blade Runner - how can Rachel, and perhaps Deckard, not know they are not what they (think they) are? - the anti-platonic metaphysical plot being concocted in the contemporary cinematic Cave makes it impossible to recognize reality. Worse than a (mere) loss of reality (which would easily accommodate to, or rather fight back, the opposite state of illusion, as in Matrix and Videodrome), is the loss of the very possibility of discerning whether a given state of presence is real or not: because, even for one to examine and to change the very criterion being used in the examination, as it is the case in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, a criterion is still needed in the first place. The Baudrillardian ‘hyperreal’ is not an image more real than reality (the simulacrum is not a simple reversal of original and copy, of ‘the map and the empire’, illustrated by Matrix’s improvement of the real world): the simulacrum has overcome the level of representation, and ‘more real than reality’ designates the impossibility of distinguishing between reality and simulation: the indiscernibility as such is more real than any discerned ‘reality’ (or any ameliorated VR version of it). It corresponds to a new definition of what ‘reality’ means. The classical philosophical struggle for reality - from Plato’s Cave through to Descartes’s fighting with the Malin Génie and on to Kant’s Copernican revolution and Hegel’s self-revising development of all the possible figures of the ‘in itself for us’ correlation of consciousness - no longer applies in a world where ‘la vida es [can now, through technology, be] sueño’, four centuries after Calderón, that is to say, where the interposing, or rather introjected device of technology makes it finally impossible to tell apart life and dream. Walter Benjamin called it the era of reproducibility, that happened when ‘reproducibility’ took the place of the old theological ontology of original and copy, substance and accident, and when the fragmenting-and-reconstructing procedures of cinema matched, on the one hand, the very intrinsic process of ‘reality’ as production in an industrial age, and on the other the technological mediation of a new kind of subjectivity currently rising. Marshall McLuhan and David Cronenberg went one step further while rejecting the sense of any non-mediated ‘reality’ and of any pre-technological ‘human nature’: media such as cinema or television or data-helmets ‘cancerate’ human brains and fix the ur-matrix that indirectly will end modeling human environments, just as the very first medium in pre-history ‘cancerated’ the very first human brain and shaped the forms of perception, evincing a ‘half-allucination’ (Videodrome) called reality and giving rise to the proto-cyborg homo sapiens. Of what sort of technological and existential unease, or obscure metaphysical mutation in the course of history, is this cinematic vertigo the subtle and ambivalent symptom, balancing between technophilia and technophobia? And in what specific cinematic way does it deeply confront us with a similar sort of remote problem, hardly concerning them or seeming to resemble to their ‘real’ condition, that Plato’s myth of the Cave presents to his readers, as reluctant to recognize themselves in that fable as we feel relieved after the closing credits reassure us that ‘it’s just a movie’?
ISBN: 978-1-4438-4418-5
Type: bookPart
Appears in Collections:FIL - Publicações - Capítulos de Livros

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