28 June, 2009

Innocence is Terrifying

I recently stumbled upon a film titled Innocence, based on a rather old story (written in the 19th century, I believe). The film is directed by Lucile Hadzihalilovic, who I understand is the wife of Gaspar Noé, known for his cinematic masterpiece Irréversible. Both of the above-mentioned films share cinematographer Benoît Debie, which is a significant point to mention. But where Irréversible impressed me, Innocence spoke to me. Deeply.

I'll resist overdoing the praise, as I don't want to overhype the film, since it surely won't affect everyone the way it affected me, but the truth is I have very rarely been moved by a film (or anything, really) to this extent, and never in quite exactly this way. The last time I remember being so moved by a film was the first time I saw Lost & Delirious. After viewing the tragic love story, I fell into a depression, but the thing that perplexed me was the idea that something so utterly depressing, could also be so incredibly beautiful - and vice versa.

If you want to experience Innocence, go and experience it, but don't read the rest of this review, since foreknowledge is the very antithesis of the subject involved, and once lost, innocence cannot easily be regained, if at all. Otherwise, read on.

Innocence opens with the arrival of a young girl, in a coffin, with no possessions, at what appears to be a boarding school. We then explore the school through the girl's eyes (figuratively speaking), with the wonder and mystery of a child's innocence. This fact is what makes the film such a powerful experience. I didn't realize what it was exactly until after the fact, but watching this movie put me into a state of childlike innocence that allowed me to experience the story as the characters must.

Questions go unanswered as we gradually learn the rules, and throughout the entire film a foreboding sense of dread and uneasiness, executed perfectly by the cinematography, haunts our thoughts and expectations as we query the scenes laid before us. Make no mistake, this was one of the most terrifying films I have ever seen - and nothing really happens. It's not a horror film. It's the anticipation, and the not knowing, and the formulation in our less than innocent minds of dark possibilities that fuels the fear that is then stirred on by the juxtaposition of sounds and images on the screen.

But the ultimate realization is that everything is more or less normal, safe, okay. This is life. And this is growing up. The uncertainty of the wider world encroaching on one's familiar surroundings as they grow and are forced to come to terms with the cycles of life. The film appears to be rife with symbolism, but more important than the specifics, is the overarching theme, which we have been discussing. It really is a fascinating experience, and this film stands alone in its unique execution.

And above all of that, there is one quality that stands out for me. It is the dread that I mentioned earlier. The feeling of anxiety and fear about what will eventually, if we allow ourselves to advance that far, become known as ordinary and unthreatening. I suspect that I am unique in this aspect, in my perception of the world, my individual perspective. When you watch most films, at least the type that are meant mostly for entertainment and not much else, the atmosphere is usually casual and nonthreatening. Like the construct of the world is taken for granted, it's just there, doing its thing, and okay, now let's get to the more important things going on.

I feel like this is more or less the way most people view the world, with their own exceptions, of course. And that is a perspective I've never really been privy to. For you see, my perspective of the world, the way I interpret the things and places and people and situations placed before me, mirrors that of this film, Innocence. I see the world with dread. What's perfectly normal appears to me as threatening, and uncertain. Every little detail may hide unknown, and unthinkable, terrors. And so, the film speaks to me, deeply and personally.

To others, this film might be a frightening alternate perspective on reality, where little is known for certain and all is threatening with the potential for danger. To me, this is my reality.

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