Three Colours: Blue is the first film from Krzysztof Kieślowski’s atmospheric, intriguing, evocative Three Colours trilogy. The enigmatic arthouse masterpieces explore different facets of the human condition with a refined sensibility and aesthetic elegance. The three films have been interpreted as an anti-tragedy, an anti-comedy, and an anti-romance by Roger Ebert. The symbolism behind Three Colours: Blue, White, and Red refers to the French flag and the values associated with each colour- liberté, égalité, fraternité- the national motto of France. Each colour is also significantly connected to the mood and mental state of the characters.
Three Colours: Blue is a moving cinematic tale about death, grief, rebirth, and (emotional) freedom, conveyed through gripping, poetic cinematography and a hypnotising, frisson-inducing soundtrack by Zbigniew Preisner. The film starts on a grim note, within a bleak landscape. Julie, one of Binoche’s most powerful and profound performances, is a strangely compelling character who goes through a life-changing traumatic event, which projects her into a perpetually solipsistic state. The story is an exploration of the psychological metamorphosis a young widow goes through as a trauma response. Although she seems derealised, absent-minded, and in a trance, there is something about Juliette Binoche’s performance that entrances viewers, allowing us to form an emotional connection to an emotionally disconnected character.
The cold colour palette of the film matches the veils of numbness and depression the protagonist initially wraps herself in whilst suppressing her sorrow in a period of mourning. Both present and absent, alive yet emotionally unresponsive, Julie seems to inhabit an uncanny emotional landscape, which is reflected through soul-stirring cinematography. The soft, ethereal blue lights Julie’s face is often bathed in are used to explore and evoke her feelings and memories. In an attempt to set herself free from the dark clouds she is surrounded by, to escape the heavy burden of grief, the despondent protagonist decides to sell her house and all her possessions, make financial arrangements for her mother and her staff, burn her dead husband’s musical compositions, and start a new life. Whilst she initially seeks a superficial sense of freedom emerging from breaking ties with her past, with everything and everyone in it, and from the anonymity of moving to a new place in Paris, she eventually reconnects to the lightness of being.
Netflix’s The OA, created by Brit Marling & Zal Batmanglij, is an intriguing, engrossing fantasy show centred around Prairie (played by Brit), a young vanishing woman who resurfaces 7 years after her bizarre disappearance, to the happiness and bewilderment of her adoptive parents. After her peculiar return, she refers to herself as the OA and focuses on her mission to save other captives. The OA enrols a group of school misfits and their teacher on a mystical mission, meeting them at night in an empty house in a cult-like gathering. The narrative of her unusual life and disappearance unfolds, a fragment per night, through her spellbinding storytelling. Starting from her fairy tale-like description of her Russian roots, her story features near-death experiences, travels within memories, dreams, and across parallel realities, celestial guardians, a scientist with an unrelenting obsession and thirst for knowledge, a group of special people trapped in a glass cage and bound by uncanny experiences, a soulmate connection, and transcendental ritualistic movements that open up invisible portals to different worlds.
The show takes us on an enchanting journey with striking surreal visuals, endearing characters, and evocative meditations on life, connection, identity, fear, entrapment, and freedom. Supernatural motifs are interlaced with sci-fi theories of parallel worlds, as the show stimulates our minds to contemplate the concept of multiple realities whilst grasping the design and nature of the complex OA world in rapture and being immersed into fantasy. The OA, born Nina Azarova, the daughter of a Russian oligarch, spends the first years of her childhood with her father in a lonely mansion on Russian land, where she is often plagued by vivid nightmares- some of which turn out to be premonitions. One of her foreshadowing dreams is that of being submerged in a huge aquarium, where her senses are heightened and she is drowning, unable to get out. In order to help get her rid of the nightmare, her father teaches her a lesson about bravery, taking her to a frozen lake where she submerges her body into the ice-cold water, to conquer her fear. Water is an evocative element in the story, connected to memories, dreams, and visions; it’s also a way through which parallel worlds echo each other. It evokes the fluidity of passing through worlds, through selves. Water also symbolises duality – creation and apocalypse, death and rebirth. This is relevant to the series- there are many striking scenes in which water is associated with the sinister, with something beautiful, as well as with the uncanny. Nina’s underwater dream prepares her for the traumatic turning point in her life, her near-death experience, that propels her into a celestial plane of existence. She awakens in a surreal diaphanous setting, where she meets the archetypal wise old woman for the first time- the one associated with choices, sacrifice, and cryptic discourses about the OA’s life trajectory. Nina wakes up blind and a series of events quickly follows- she is relocated to America, her father dies, she is adopted by the elderly couple. Many years later, unconvinced that her biological father is dead, Nina, now known as Prairie, spends her days playing the beautifully transfixing violin song from her childhood in a place where she thinks he might hear it, in hopes of a reunion. “The biggest mistake I made was thinking that if I cast a beautiful net I’d catch only beautiful things.”, she says. Instead of her father, another man is lured by her tune- her captor, Hap, whom she initially views as a father figure,as being “strong, smart, uncompromised”, following him blindly right into his trap. This marks the beginning of the experience that was going to re-shape her life.
Hap (Jason Isaacs), the mad scientist of the series, is initially obsessed with studying near-death experiences, seeking to revolutionise science- to pierce the deeper truth by examining paradigm-shifting phenomena through inhumane experiments. At first he exhibits a conscience and feelings of guilt, remorse, and attachment, as well as making rather hollow claims that he thinks of his captives as collaborators; however, his already faint moral compass dissipates by the end. He remains fond of the OA throughout the whole series, hoping that in the next world she will forget his horrible acts, but his nature never changes. As the OA repeatedly points out, his gruesome secret inevitably projects him into a life of loneliness, his version of power being built upon violence, imprisonment, and dread. He has one other scientist “friend” he can bring up the subject of his experiments to and, during their talk, Hap turns out to be more human compared to his cold-blooded conversation partner. The latter is psychopathically at peace with his ruthless macabre ways, saying “Here’s the terrible, beautiful truth. No one cares. There is no line between good and evil. There is only what a man can stand.” Their motivations also diverge: whereas his rival is driven by financial greed, Hap wants to figure out the truth for himself more than anything, “God, I want to taste the truth. I just wanna walk out of the dark.” In the second season, Hap’s interests evolve- he finds a grotesque method to build a map of the multiverse as a way to break limits and pick the destination of his future inter-dimensional travels rather than making risky leaps into the unknown.
The soul connection between the OA and her fellow inmate Homer is the most touching aspect of the series, holding the story together. They have been through a traumatic experience together for 7 years, confined within a glass prison with only some plants and a stream to touch and frequent encounters with death. When the OA/ Prairie arrives there, she is blind. He helps her acclimate, survive, and stay sane. When she describes her strange inter-dimensional excursions and unfathomable escape plan, giving him seemingly absurd instructions, he believes in her. They share their travels in death, their discoveries, and the arcane knowledge they gather from other dimensions. Both persevere in their mission and lift each other’s spirit. They dream of moving to another realm where they can finally be free and live together. Hap tries to pull them apart, by planting seeds of doubt about Homer and their plans- “You’ll always be the girl willing to risk everything for the chance to achieve something extraordinary. I know you, Prairie. He will never understand that about you.” Prairie remains unwavering in her beliefs and feelings. In the second season, however, their connection is challenged as Homer’s consciousness appears to be absent in the new world. His initial self has seemingly got lost somewhere along the way; actually, his consciousness is dormant within the mind of his alter ego, namely a psychiatry resident who became a big fan of “Hap” (Known as Dr Percy in the second world) after reading his book, “Quantum Psychotic”. The OA / Nina Azarova, now his patient, tries to reawaken his memories of their previous life together, whereas he sees her through a psychiatric lens, as a delusional individual with dissociative identity disorder. Eventually there are a couple of moments and gestures that act as a catalyst to revive Homer’s consciousness. Another inter-dimensional traveller that the OA crosses paths with, Elodie, mentions that Homer and the OA have a powerful bond that transcends multiple dimensions, but that their paths are doomed to be closely interlinked with Hap’s. Elodie suggests that a part of the OA- probably an unconscious part- wants to travel with Hap too. Hap might mirror a part of her shadow self, perhaps a thirst for knowledge and hunger for the extraordinary, or it might simply be that he is a reflection of her intense parallel life experience. An attempt to escape the echo of this cosmic family would shatter their identities and the OA’s connection with Homer, as it increases the risk of amnesia after their jump. “You could find yourself inside a life completely unrecognisable to you. Not to mention you and Homer might not even know yourselves in a dimension outside an echo.” In fact, the second season gets wrapped up by a glimpse into a metafictional third dimension where everything seems different and they are far away from the initial versions of themselves, thanks to Hap who somehow holds the reins of the jump for both of them. Knowing this, the OA urges Homer to come and find her in their new life and resurrect her memories, her “true self”.
The first season injects the idea of the unreliable delusional narrator towards the end, leaving us on a note of ambiguity, as there are no glimpses into another dimension beyond Prairie’s subjective recollections -contrary to our expectations throughout the show. The ending of this season might thus be perceived as anti-climactic. Although the journey is slow-paced, it works well as the OA (Original Angel) keeps you hypnotised like a modern ethereal Scheherazade. The second season- whilst still introducing the element of shared psychosis as it places the captives in a psychiatric clinic- is clearer about the nature of reality and the way it interprets the concept of multiverse in its world design. The second season is also more dynamic and dizzying, adding new layers of meaning, astral planes, and a variety of fantasy and sci-fi motifs to the story: the dream factory, where dreams are being recorded in order to detect patterns and collect premonitions, the haunted horror house re-interpreted within a sci-fi context, as a dangerous wormhole into parallel universes and timelines, the psychic, the mirror apparition, the spiritualist method of summoning someone from another dimension, the telepathic octopus, and the animist depiction of trees.
“Nina saw the whole world. But I saw underneath it.”
The second dimension is an alternative timeline in which Nina made a different choice during a key moment in her life, which propelled her to a completely different life path. She never got on the bus that crashed into water, which erased her previous thread of existence as she never went blind and regained her vision, never had a near-death experience; her other life being replaced with experiences that created another version of herself. This version has lived a luxurious, decadent, hedonistic existence with an abundance of privileges, money, drinks, earthly possessions, and boyfriends, away from hardship, and hasn’t acquired empirical experience of other worlds. She is a wealthy Russian heiress whose former partner runs a dream factory and created a VR game / puzzle for unethical crowdsourcing purposes, leading teenagers to a dangerous place in search of explanations for a peculiar phenomenon. When she finds out about what his project involves, they fight. Although the personalities and lives of Nina and Prairie are entirely different, they both gravitated towards the supernatural and the esoteric, to an enigmatic phenomenon, as parallel worlds leave echoes in others. When the OA enters her life, the discrepancy between the two of them is transparent; and the OA/Prairie doesn’t have access to Nina’s consciousness at first. When people travel to another world and inhabit a new body (with the same appearance), it seems they tend to either suppress the consciousness of their host (as most of the inter-dimensional travellers in the show do) or remain dormant if the consciousness of the body they entered does not seem to integrate the new consciousness. It’s not very clear why this happens – why Homer didn’t awaken from the beginning as his initial self and why the others did. The OA eventually frees Nina’s consciousness by facing her trauma- the moment that caused the split between the two parallel realities, generating the alternative timeline. It is implied that this process makes her integrate the consciousness of the other Nina and they merge into one.
There are a few questions that come to mind. The rules of inter-dimensional travels in the show are somewhat elusive and shifting. At first we are led to believe the characters have to become unconscious in order to travel somewhere else, but in the second season that doesn’t always seem to be necessary. How does that work and how does Elodie re-appear in the same timeline? What happened to her vessel? Why did the OA tell Homer to stay alive in that dimension to be able to jump?
On another note, when does Nina / Prairie (from the first dimension) become the OA? Has the OA been a dormant spirit within her; has it always been her fate? An entity/self, that she needed to unlock? In that case why has the other Nina not turned into the OA – as in another version of the OA at any point? Is it simply because she didn’t have a near-death experience, that would trigger that in her? Does the OA originate from that particular reality of season one, being exclusive to those specific circumstances, or are there other versions of the “birth” or awakening of the OA?
What would a process of merging consciousness be like? It’s an intricate, unfathomable concept. If you are like me and you’ve ever spent way too much time wondering what it would be like to expand beyond the limits of consciousness and see the world ‘through someone else’s eyes’ (mind), feel it through someone else’s senses, you probably contemplate the mechanism behind this merging and what it would entail, and realise it is problematic.
When the OA travels to the next dimension – if she didn’t succumb to amnesia, would she take Nina’s consciousness with her, since it is implied that by integrating with Nina she becomes, in some way, whole? That would mean that after a few trips into other dimensions, she would contain a collection of different layers of consciousness. Could she live in harmony under those conditions, reconciling the needs, feelings, and wishes of other versions of herself?
Some inspiring, evocative quotes giving a taste of the poetic discourse of the series:
“Captivity is a mentality. It’s a thing you carry with you.”
“Your book showed an openness to liminal thinking. To certain metaphysical secrets that could be glimpsed inside the pain of madness.”
“The process can sometimes help people to heal. Storytelling is cleansing. But I also wanna make sure that you control the narrative. And that you profit from it. The process of telling the story can somehow exorcise it.”
“I can tell you everything that I did wrong. I didn’t eat when I was hungry. Didn’t sleep when I was tired. Didn’t get warm when I was cold. It made me weak. But the biggest mistake I made was thinking that if I cast a beautiful net I’d catch only beautiful things.”
“The first time you fall asleep in prison, you forget. You wake up a free woman. And then you remember that you’re not. You lost your freedom many times before you finally believe it. Night slipped into day. Day into night. We were like the living dead. There’s nothing more isolating than not being able to feel time. To not feel the distance between hours, days.“
“I couldn’t feel pain. I couldn’t sense time. I couldn’t understand where I was. But I could see. The sudden rush of loss made me realise that for the second time in my life…I was dead.“
“You don’t wanna go there until your invisible self is more developed anyway. You know, your longings, the desires you don’t tell anyone about. You spend a lot of time on the visible you. It’s impressive. But she probably thinks the invisible you is missing.”
“I knew from the moment I woke up, that life was no longer the same. Khatun had fed me a mystery. I couldn’t understand it, but I could feel it inside me. A clue, a bomb, a Hail Mary. Oh, we’ve been going about this all wrong. We’ve been trying to get out. We have to try to get in. [into ourselves]”
“I’m telling you, when I swallowed that bird, I felt the whole thing flash through me in an instant. Like, a way to move through the world, through worlds. And if I don’t think about it, I know it. A self, like a…a me in there that doesn’t even belong to me and it wants to come out, it wants me to call it by name. But it’s…I feel like it’s waiting…To hear it in you, too. I don’t know, when I say it out loud, it all falls apart.”
“Are you a feminist?” “I like symmetry. “
“I thought I was losing my mind.” “You’re not. You’re just finding new rooms inside it. You’re just having trouble navigating the line between what’s real and what isn’t. Because you empathise so deeply with others. It’s your greatest strength…and your greatest weakness”
“There are all these dimensions, worlds, alternate realities, and they’re all right on top of each other. Every time you make a choice, a decision, it forks off into a new possibility. They’re all right here, but inaccessible. The NDEs were like a way to travel through them, but temporarily. We wanted choices, chances. The movements would allow us to travel to a dimension permanently. A new life…in a new world. To us, that was freedom.”
“What will it look like when we open the tunnel to the other dimensions?” “All I know is that it would be invisible. The person leaving this dimension would experience a great acceleration of events, but no break in time-space. It’s like jumping into an invisible current that just carries you away to another realm, but we had to have all five movements and we had to do them with perfect feeling.“
“It’s not a game, it’s a puzzle. The designer wants the player to figure it out. It’s not a war…it’s a mystery. Ultimately, a puzzle is a conversation between the player and the maker. The puzzle maker is teaching you a new language. How to escape the limits of your own thinking and see things you didn’t know were there.”
“Cultures that have survived more loss, like harsh weather or earthquakes…they have more totems. Objects carry meaning in difficult times.”
“Well it’s not really a measure of mental health to be well-adjusted in a society that’s very sick. This dimension is crumbling to violence and pettiness and greed, and Steve is sensitive enough to feel it and he’s angry.”
I Am Mother (2019), a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film directed by Grant Sputore, starts off at a slow pace, revealing the eerie routine and mother-daughter bond between an android and a human inside an enclosed, clinical ‘repopulation facility’ resembling a spaceship. Besides them, from the first shots we find out that the site contains thousands of human embryos, as Mother promises the family will extend when she is ready to raise more children. Whilst Daughter receives advanced education in various fields ranging from medicine to philosophy, everything is surrounded by an aura of mystery as the film offers little explanation for the circumstances of the “extinction event” and whatever is happening outside the facility beyond the warnings of Mother about the toxicity of the external environment. When a visitor is surreptitiously granted access to their sanctuary thanks to the rebellious and inquisitive nature of Daughter, the pace and atmosphere of the film change, and we are oscillating between the clashing words, convictions, and insidious influences of Mother and of the newcomer. The evocative performances, touching cinematography, beautiful intimacy, and the maternal bonding established in the first part of the film are powerful elements facilitating the process of empathising with the robot and being invested in their connection, which gets saddening and complicated when conflicts arise between them, when reality outside the protective bubble that Daughter has been raised in is gradually unveiled.
The world was sick – physically, mentally, we were part of the minority left uncontaminated. My calcified shell unravelled down by the river among sentient trees, shimmering shrines, underneath celestial splendour, next to your magnetic presence; Bonded by the common revulsion at destructive forces, we were here for the art of letting go, unburdening the heart, re-emerging from ourselves, this arcane ritual, this sacred moment, this hallowed place- I let it permeate me with light. Enraptured by hanami, I shed my outer skin and drank in the beauty of the instant until I was intoxicated; I let myself feel instead of thinking because life was safe here- I felt tingles that were going to reverberate throughout decades. For the first time, I believed in something other than myself: you, the radiance of the moment, the glimpse of eternity in a landscape filled with reminders of mortality. I had witnessed too many shared delusions to fall for them, but this wasn’t a fall it felt like ascending, like a slice of life that’s borrowed from heaven- a strange view coming from a secular soul. Your wisdom was gonna stick to me and I would wear it like armour in times of hardship; I could tell you shared what you believed in and felt religiously- you exuded your truth through all your pores and it resonated with the murmur of my soul, of the river, of the petals, now every time I find myself at the crossroads, this mantra is loud and clear in the midst of chaos “Look, we are what we believe and nothing else truly matters except that your heart is invested in the right thing. See how that light travels across the river?” I will always see the light.
Have you ever felt like someone interacts with an image or representation of you, that they’ve created and are feeding in their mind, rather than the reality of who you are? You can usually sense it while it happens, it’s often tiring, you might get uncomfortable; depending on the discrepancy between your identity and your interlocutor’s concept of you, your response might naturally be to emotionally distance yourself from them, your body may recoil in distaste, and you might feel like you wanna stay away from such situations. It takes too much energy to interact with people who are trying to define you on their own terms, to shape your reality, to induce that they know how you feel or who you are better than you do. You may perceive it as an attack on your self-concept, it feels perversely counter-intuitive- if everyone did this we’d all be trapped in illusions, interacting with our own minds and their fabrications…the distances between us would grow and grow and there would be no genuine connection; authenticity and understanding the reality of another human being completely thrown out of the window. These fabrications are often based on archetypes, on previous experiences, on patterns we have formed in our minds, and shadows bred there. To a certain extent, there is something natural about it, as, in its purer forms, this process helps us make sense of everything. Everything is mediated through the filter of our consciousness and making associations and creating our concepts of others is inevitable. Labelling. Establishing connections between subjects, to have a point of reference and know what to expect, in the process of interpreting reality and personality. Identifying differences in others, to see ourselves as separate and unique, to define ourselves in the light of this separation, to reinforce our ego’s supremacy. It’s also a survival mechanism, recognising red flags, so you know what or whom to stay away from, whom to trust, who may or may not represent a threat to your well-being. Thinking of people in patterns – the field of psychology is based on this. In the case of someone who has a personality disorder, for instance, it can be very helpful to have a name for what they are experiencing and how they see the world, it can make them feel understood, give them a sense of belonging, a sense of control over themselves and their emotions, encourage them to make a conscious effort to identify with the awareness behind their thoughts and emotions, rather than with a particular emotion (especially if it’s a negative emotion, like anger, fear) or a thought they may be experiencing, that may be intrusive, obsessive, and dictated by a disorder. Of course, on the other hand, there is also the stigma that comes with such labels, risking to be put in a negative light, being seen through that filter, being defined by a certain disorder or affliction. Unfortunately, some can internalise this, thinking of themselves and their disorder symbiotically, it can affect their self-worth. In general, it is quite limiting. Thinking of people in patterns or associating them with something you create in your mind can be limiting. It diminishes them, distorts their essence, reduces their whole identity to a tendency, an idea, a bunch of words, an echo- in the mind of ego-led individuals with narcissistic tendencies. If you interact with representations of people, with mental constructs, with objects, you don’t really allow yourself to see people for what they are. This is often because you may have internalised certain superficial ideas about the world and may be applying them to everyone, consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes it happens out of fear. Of the unknown, the uncontrolled, the unpredictable. A representation is something you have control over, an image you can mould to fit your world view, your ego’s supremacy, something you can annihilate in your head; a real person is something you can’t control, they exist outside the realm of your ego, and thus can be a threat to ego.
Re-defining someone, re-structuring their narrative and identity is problematic, because people don’t tend to like being told who they are, why they do the things they do, what their motivations, feelings, or thoughts are. They often dislike being told they are wrong in some way, faulty in their behaviour, life choices, thinking, identity. It will put them in a position of defence. Such interpretations can be offensive, and often deeply ingrained in the adviser’s specific belief system and incomplete perception of others and they function through projection. You can’t help but dislike or avoid someone who assumes or acts like they know you better than you know yourself, who tries to re-define you in ways you don’t identify with, it’s a natural response of self-preservation. It’s unpleasant to have someone interact with a version of you that doesn’t exist. In my case, someone giving me advice with such constructs in mind would find themselves stepping into a minefield. I know I have a resistance to accepting advice, in general, because I feel like I’m the one who knows what is best for me, but, often, if it’s reasonable advice, devoid of projections, formulated in a constructive way, and if I can feel it comes from a genuine place in someone’s heart, someone who doesn’t interact with a false mental construct, someone who believes in me and doesn’t claim to know what I want better than I do, doesn’t try to dictate how I feel, who wants to see me do well and be the best version of me, then I appreciate it. If, however, I can feel that a piece of advice is insincere, in the sense that it is centred around the adviser, it’s all about them and not me, all about their self-image/ego, their need to be in control, to reinforce their belief system, then I have resistance to it, I find it distasteful. (Unsolicited advice is distasteful in general.) There are some descriptors and emotions that I don’t associate with my self-concept, and I can’t stand it when others imply or assume it about me. Okay, this does sound like an egoic defence, we all have them. What matters is not letting ego dictate our interactions with or perceptions of others, and not defining ourselves in conscious or unconscious opposition with others.
This is particularly problematic when you think about the well-known mental process of ‘other’-ing when it comes to racial, gender, nationality, or sexuality differences, different religious or political beliefs, although it’s not restricted to these areas, for it can apply on many levels, personal and cultural. This process can have a great negative impact on human connections, because it obstructs the capacity to have empathy for fellow human beings; and it can manifest itself through passive-aggressiveness, animosity, or it can become especially toxic when it facilitates aggression. Narcissistic tendencies are prevalent in contemporary society. If you pay attention, you can see the seeds of narcissism very easily, and recognise the narcissistic way of relating to others as mental constructs, even in yourself. Depending on the degree of resistance determined by your ego, this awareness might make you more open to seeing beyond these representations. With an awareness of inner pride and prejudice, of the constant process of mediation, you may no longer be quick to reduce people to fabrications, project any misplaced thoughts and traits onto them, and interact with mental constructs. We are human, we are fallible, our perceptions particularly so. Since this often centres around the demands of the ego to see itself as superior to others, let’s have a look at narcissism. Sam Vaknin, a psychologist who specialises in narcissism, who is a diagnosed narcissist, provided an insightful description of the way narcissists relate to inner objects in their fantasy world. Additionally, he talked about the beneficial nature and use (beneficial to the narcissist, detrimental to everyone around them) of this defence mechanism and way of relating of the narcissist, refuting the common thought that (pathological) narcissists lack the capacity for emotion. They are simply no longer in touch with their emotions, and don’t have an understanding of them, because, at some point, they may have decided that emotions can be debilitating and destabilising, hence it’s better to detach and alienate themselves from them. Their emotions are experienced through a “cognitive analytical filter”. They also interact with others through these filters, rather than forming a genuine connection. The extreme cognitive distortions of others happening in the minds of pathological narcissists can be seen as an amplification of the process that even people of a more sound and reasonable mental configuration indulge in, albeit with more restraint.
“The narcissist has impaired reality testing. And the very essence or definition of pathological narcissism is a grandiose fantasy. A narcissist can’t make the difference between fantasy and reality. Also, because they interact with inner objects, they confuse inner objects with outer/external objects. You know the famous mechanism of snapshotting, where they interact with a snapshot of you. They take a snapshot of you and then they interact with it, with your representation, your avatar, your introject, not with you. What they do is they internalise external objects, especially significant objects, especially objects that can cause them pain by let’s say abandoning them, so they internalise these objects and then they continue to interact with representations within a shared fantastic space. And they can’t tell the difference. This is why they mislabel emotions. Narcissists can feel intense emotions. Many scholars speculated that perhaps narcissism and psychopathy are reactions, defensive reactions, defensive attempts to avoid very deep emotionality. Perhaps narcissists emote too much, too intensely. They are about to be overwhelmed by their emotions, so they isolate themselves from their emotions, they put up a fire wall, a fortress to avoid their emotions. The thing is they feel, they experience the emotion, but they don’t know what it is. Because they are divorced from reality, […] they experience their emotions through a cognitive analytical filter. They have to ask themselves what they are feeling. And then they compare their experiences, their reactions, their wounds, their affect, their behaviours, they compare all this to an internal database. A database where they have entries and listings for how people behave when. How people behave when they are happy, and so on.’” – Sam Vaknin
If we extrapolate this description beyond the context of pathological narcissism, and we recognise the resonance of this mechanism beyond those around us who are pathological, not only does the aforementioned process lead to an alienation from others because we don’t really see the reality of others, but also to an alienation from ourselves and our emotions. Because our culture becomes increasingly narcissistic, our relationships with reality tend to get warped, the filter between us and reality gets muddled. Since we don’t integrate certain parts of ourselves as it’s more comfortable to live in a fantasy world where we and the constructs in our minds are infallible, we also don’t properly integrate other people’s realities within our conceptual world. This happens especially when other people embody specific aspects that are reflections of parts of ourselves that we dislike or deny, that we consider to be negative.
Consciousness is a complicated terrain to navigate, even our own, let alone others’. This awareness, that everyone has an internal life we either know nothing about or only have a glimpse of, that all people identify and see themselves in particular ways, that their inner lives shouldn’t be confused with our mental constructs, and shouldn’t be reduced to the way we consciously or unconsciously restructure their existence in our minds- this awareness can only have a positive impact. Because it fosters connection and care, discourages violence, and makes us more attuned to the emotions and realities of others. Perhaps if more people had this insight, this awareness of discrepancy, there would be more understanding and kindness in the world. Perhaps in a less narcissistic society that values authenticity more than ego fortresses and self-centredness, kindness and empathy would be viewed as signs of strength, not of weakness or fakeness.
In the spirit of mental conversations with authors, I will include a more pessimistic view by the supreme lyrical nihilist, Emil Cioran, who believes we are all living embodiments of our own private dogmas, and we celebrate ourselves for it. Whilst his view doesn’t clash with what I wrote, since it reinforces the idea that each of us lives within the parameters of his or her inner universe, the pessimism lies in the fatalistic rigidity of this narrative and his conclusion that awakening from our “dogmatic sleep” would equal death.
“Life has dogmas more immutable than theology, each existence being anchored in infallibilities which exceed all the lucubrations of madness or of faith. Even the skeptic, in love with his doubts, turns out to be a fanatic of skepticism. Man is the dogmatic being par exellence, and his dogmas are all the deeper when he does not formulate them, when he is unaware of them, and when he follows them.
We all believe in many more things than we think, we harbour intolerances, we cherish bloody prejudices, and, defending our ideas with extreme means, we travel the world like ambulatory and irrefragable fortresses. Each of us is a supreme dogma to himself, no theology protects its god as we protect our self. How to escape the absolute of oneself? One would have to imagine a being without instincts, without a name, and to whom his own image would be unknown. But everything in the world gives us back our own features; night itself is never dark enough to keep us from being reflected in it.
The man who does not adore himself is yet to be born. Everything that lives loves itself; if not, what would be the source of the dread which breaks out in the depths and on the surfaces of life? Each of us is, for himself, the one fixed point in the universe. And if someone dies for an idea, it is because it is his idea, and his idea is his life.
No critique of any kind of reason will waken man from his “dogmatic sleep.” It may shake the unconscious certitudes which abound in his philosophy and substitute more flexible propositions for his rigid affirmations, but how, by a rational procedure, will it manage to shake the creature, huddled over its own dogmas, without bringing about its very death?” – Emil Cioran on Unconscious Dogmas
Brittany Markert’s daring introspective artwork resurrects the intimate, haptic process of analogue photography to create expressive, conceptual portraits encapsulating the spirit undergoing metamorphoses in photographic form, whilst at the same time freeing it and exorcising inner demons through cathartic expression. Rooted in Jungian psychoanalytic concepts, her visual narrative explores the repression of fears, repulsion and desires, the figure of the double, the polarities of the psyche, whilst everything is shown through a complex female gaze. Brittany’s art is of an unsettling yet alluring nature, as her visceral depictions of intense states of mind have the power of both enticing and terrifying the viewer. Her project, “In rooms” is a symbolic mnemonic device, a place carrying echoes of her psychological journey, a way of fulfilling the process of shadow work, and ultimately, a mirror in which each viewer sees whatever resonates with them the most.
DM: Your captivating visual diary is constructed from conceptual portraits and self-portraits, exploring sexuality, identity, mortality, and emotional states. Would you like to walk us through your emotional or psychological journey and the intimate meaning of the symbolism so evocatively and artistically portrayed in your photographs?
BM: In the back of my books are the words “For all the words I could never write, the camera became my pen”. Each year that passes by deeper layers of the unconscious are unraveled and frozen in a glass display for all to dissect, question and process. To walk through my emotional and psychological journey with my photographs is to view my books, Volume I, II and beyond. I have laid out my work over four years chronologically, in the spirit of a personal diary. It’s up to each viewer to find meaning, to find their own psychological journey between these pages.
DM: The doubling and the multiple exposure effects frequently appear in your visual narrative. In one of your photographs, this aspect embodies a nightmarish trait, and appears to evoke an emotional metamorphosis, an embodiment of anguish. The elusive double seems to be linked with visceral agony and suicide in several instances. We also see multiple versions of the same woman, watching herself, whilst another photographic setting is reminiscent of Victorian spirit photography. What were your thoughts behind the dissociative nature of your stories and would you link it to a state of psychological disintegration?
BM: To recognize the polarities within ourselves and not accept either as the truth is to be free. This Jungian concept, the tension of the opposites, appears in my double exposures, at first unintentionally, and now with more awareness. Psychologically, Jung considers this the divine drama, we are always at battle with two distinct oppositions. Becoming aware of these polarities is the first step in the path to healing and enlightenment. My piece ‘Ode to Depression’ , a double exposed print of a woman asleep while another version of herself stands upright with a noose, is a familiar polarity capturing a part of my own and society’s battle with depression and mental health. Recognizing the innocent bystander asleep in my mind while the other begs to leave this world has saved my life. I’ve never been interested in documenting the reality of the outside world, I’m taking a microscope to the inside of the mind, the collective unconscious. The ghost like world of double and triple exposures mirrors this experience.
DM: Has your photographic diary enhanced the intimacy and connection you already shared with the other models represented?
BM:To be seen deeply, and loved for the spirit you possess on the inside is a beautiful rare connection. The subjects in my work are typically lovers, close friends or kindred spirits. Sometimes this is the result of working together, or in most of the cases the work is a result of our close relationship. There is something incredibly intense and cathartic about creating the work In Rooms. Speaking from my recent 16mm endeavors, the subjects I have worked with have a type of familial connection. The exchange of creating the work this intentionally and intensely somehow bonded us by spirit, or at least me to them, but as close as this connection can be there is an equal and opposing force that also happens when I create my work. Some people are terrified of being seen deeply, so raw and vulnerably. I have experienced both the euphoria of life long relationships that feel like chosen family and the extreme sadness of connections that end abruptly because of the process of my work.
DM: You mentioned Anaïs Nin, iconic writer of erotica, as a source of inspiration on your website. What do you like the most about her work?
BM: The mention of Anais Nin in my artist statement refers to her personal diaries. She published Volumes of her life in chronological work and in the same manner I am publishing surreal diaries, in numbered volumes, in chronological order. There was a period, from 2012-2014 in which her writing became a mirror to my emotions and fed into my deep desires. The palpable lust and madness I felt reading her work revealed itself into my photography work, as have many other artists and writers over the years.
DM: What words would you use to best capture the emotions at the core of In Rooms? Are these emotions significant,-or dominant, in your life and inner world and are they temporary and cathartically released / alleviated once you express them through art?
BM: At its core, In Rooms is a realm that exists in the dark matter of our unconscious. The emotions are heavy, dense, often linked to sadness, pain, internal anguish, torment, unrequited desire and love. There are equal and opposing forces of repulsion and desire, for as much as one is seduced into the image, there is something unsettling pushing you back out. Although I live in a colorful house full of beauty and I see beauty everywhere around me, I’ve never been interested in making art about shallow or ephemeral feelings. The spirit of In Rooms is much like the gasp of air one takes before they plunge into the dark depths of waters unknown. It’s not that these feelings dominate my life, surely at times they do, but they are the ones that need to be released cathartically In Rooms.
DM: Your photographic stories unfold as intimate moments depicting human beings who beautifully connect with their vulnerabilities. In what ways did you tap into your vulnerability and the vulnerabilities of your subjects in order to fulfil your creative vision?
BM:The mind and the psychological landscapes that determine behaviors, reactions and emotions drive much of my curiosity. When I am in front of the camera, I show up with complete awareness and intention to the moment and I can only create meaningful work with others that I understand as deeply or that understand the decisive moment of creating as deeply. This takes time and what I call ‘perfect alignment’. A lot of the work involving mental health is created with close friends in which a part of our connection is to speak candidly about our mental health and suicidal ideation. The work I create about eroticism is with friends that speak candidly about their own dreams, fantasies and aspirations. I can not create work that doesn’t exist. If I attempt to force ideas or concepts onto people that don’t connect than it doesn’t work, the results will feel fake. There is fake art and photography everywhere, it’s exhausting as a highly sensitive person. I wanted to create a space for people to run to when they need to feel things vulnerably, when they wanted to be seen for who they are, not for what people think they are on the outside.
DM:At the same time, although in your work, the subjects’ nude bodies are on display- an act which is often seen as a way of relinquishing all inhibitions and fully ‘revealing’ your raw self, they are still sort of wrapped in or protected by an aura of mystery, by the unknown and so many things that are left unrevealed. Photography generally both reveals and conceals. Your photographs, however, seem to reveal a lot more whilst also concealing. The nudity is shown in artistic context, and the context is quite dreamlike, rooted in the unconscious mind. In contemporary society, it seems that posing naked is far from being the most daring form of uninhibited behaviour; revealing your true self emotionally and psychologically, unapologetically, and stripping off the layers of social disguise and conditioning is much rarer these days. As someone who is open to both ways of self-expression, is it challenging to reveal your self, to face your unconscious, to explore the darker impulses and desires of humanity, and to live a life of authenticity? Have you faced any unwarranted criticism for this?
BM:To enter the unconscious blindly, without information, is dangerous. One needs the protection of the ego and information to start the process of shadow work, of shining a light on personal and societal demons. Many of my mentors died by suicide. I went in blindly and spent years dictated by my suicidal ideation, by week long spells of crying, not washing my hair. I killed myself over and over again in my work, but that meant that I was still here in real life. I don’t wish anyone else this torment or pain, but my photographs and the process of making them saved my life. After this time I spent a lot of time researching jungian principles, psychotherapy treatments, memoirs by others with mental health disorders. This gave me protection and the ability to understand my work and actions on a deeper level. In becoming self aware I am over the hill of being blind to my unconscious and fear. The pull of suicidal ideation no longer wanes on me. It’s a miracle.
I’m lucky to not receive unwarranted criticism of my work, the people that don’t see the light in my work stay away and it seems hold their tongues. I would say, however, that I’m misunderstood frequently and judged, but this is a part of projection and entering a realm of shadows. My work becomes a mirror to many others’ suffering, pain and vulnerability and it’s unfortunate to be seen as the face in the mirror instead of their own.
When you’re coming into life and adulthood in your early twenties there is a thrill of being naked. This act of rebellion is less interesting now, but I am still pulled by the power and beauty of the human form. The most daring progressive thing you can do is to become self aware, create vulnerably and follow a path of enlightenment.
DM: Roland Barthes said “The photograph represents that subtle moment when, to tell the truth, I am neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object: I then experience a micro-version of death: I am truly becoming a spectre” (from Camera Lucida). When you are photographed, you get to see yourself as “other”, as something external, and you recognise yourself in and identify with this likeness, this photographic imitation- a specific, fragmented image in time, which is less than you. On the other hand, through self-portraits the lines between self and other, between subject and object, become blurred, as you become both. This artistic reconstruction of the self can induce a re-connection with and sense of control over your image, whereas in other contexts, seeing yourself as “other” or being externally objectified could potentially have the effect of destabilisation or alienation. Do you feel that your self-portraits have any effect on your self-image and identity, and do you ever internalise this way of seeing yourself – i.e. objectifying yourself – in your life?
BM: The camera has a way of revealing that which I cannot see clearly in real life, sometimes it slaps me in the face with its revelations. It is quite dull when I look in the mirror, but the world through my camera, In Rooms, has changed the way I know myself and others forever. At first, when I blindly dove into my unconscious and came out as distinct archetypes they had a way of seeping into my real life, of confusing my actions and relationships, at times even inducing a state of psychosis or depression. It can be immensely difficult to stay strong and centered when I confront my work, which is why I create so rarely. Of course the characters and the body are me, and reveal parts of my mind, but I am not the characters. This took a lot of work and healing to safely navigate how to create my work but not let the results and image of myself be my own detriment or fate. Sometimes I feel I am boxed in by In Rooms, that my image, my body or energy is supposed to align with the work but lately I’m learning to walk away from this, to exist outside and be at peace knowing the work is just a part of me, a truth but not the truth.
DM: A photograph can be a mnemonic device and an extension of identity, but it can also have the effect of erasing the past and replacing it with an image or making your memory revolve around a particular moment or representation. There is an element of absence in any photograph: what comes before the shot, what comes after, the thoughts of the subjects, identities, and perhaps the emotions that bind people together are potentially “erased” or disguised. Your photographic project, especially since it partly features people you love, can also constitute a recording of the past. The way you represent it is symbolic, stylised, at times surreal, with an oneiric quality. To what extent do you feel your visual diary has protected memories and to what extent has it disguised or distorted your memory or your autobiographic narrative?
BM: To the extent that my work is autobiographical, it is my hope that the work is equally documenting a collective psychological experience so that when people view my work, they feel and experience their own story. I never see my photographs for what they are, as you mentioned, I see the time in my life they were created, I feel my emotional journey leading up to that point, I see the people in my life that time. The work becomes a mirror to our current times and I forgot how I created it in the first place. In Rooms is a delicately laced web of my memories, a graveyard of love, of torment, of deep healing. I visit it to feel at peace, to thank it for guiding me to a more honest place. It protects me from the boredom and pain of reality, and presents the essence of life that is constantly changing. In Rooms is a riddle that even I can never figure out and I can only hope it continues to inspire and heal myself and others.
The Lighthouse is a symbol, an enigma, & a transcendental mood in which an occult phenomenon seems to occur. It almost appears to be alive, in an obscure way. The Lighthouse is a portal to a world of mythology- we don’t really get to see through it clearly, everything is merely suggested, partly fictive. We are all in limbo, drenched in the otherworldly light within the lantern room. The light is sacred. The light is obscene. The light is madness; it is forbidden arcane knowledge, leading to madness. The haunting sound of the foghorn penetrates your spirit. We’re inside the tower. As the camera makes its way upstairs, we hear the metallic clinking, the mechanical ticking and clicking of the clockwork mechanisms. We reach Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) in the lantern room. The eerie spiral-shaped lamp foreshadows the downward spiral into madness. Thomas Wake appears to be in a hallucinatory trance, enveloped by the ethereal veil of light; the atmosphere is enhanced by mystical uncanny sounds. Meanwhile, drenched in the dark, Ephraim Winslow/ Thomas Howard (Robert Pattinson) makes his way towards the sea. The sounds become increasingly alien. Seduced by the image of the sea, of the reflection of the lighthouse on the surface of the still sea, Ephraim’s silhouette treads lightly towards it, as if hyponotised. Horrified, he sees a dead body floating in the water. Getting closer and closer, he sinks and we hear the high-pitched screeching of a siren, who is ominously swimming towards him. Ephraim is woken up by water dripping on his face, in bed.
The mermaid is a sinister presence showing up briefly but memorably in supernatural & perverse images throughout the film. As the mental state of the new isolated lighthouse keeper becomes more and more unhinged, disturbing visions involving mythological apparitions haunt the protagonist. Despite his scepticism about folk tales and superstitions, supernatural elements seem to challenge his sanity. As a figurine/ an effigy, the mermaid is a sex object Ephraim masturbates to, resurrecting a mental image of the supernatural encounter. As an elusive, living presence (inhabiting the dark landscape of the psyche), the mermaid is portrayed as malicious, as a powerful, nightmarish sea creature Ephraim wants to dominate, but is also frightened by and can’t control. Ego-led and hot-tempered, Ephraim/Thomas Howard’s driving forces are power and control, and it seems the fight is mostly within himself- against his own demons. Ultimately he needs power over his mind, to no longer be plagued by mad thoughts. At times, his anger is hard to contain and all-encompassing. He has repressed emotions and traumatic memories of his dark, murderous past, as well as a high libido that is hard to fulfil, leading to aggressive testosterone-fuelled manifestations. His disturbing fantasy in a scene of self-gratification involves having sex with the mermaid (as opposed to many popular representations, this version features mermaid genitals), however, his mind can’t focus on her image, as it’s often replaced by intrusive memories of his haunting past. Associating the concept of woman with an ominous, dehumanised, screeching (albeit beautiful) sea creature hints at a slightly repressed fear of women.
Initially, what we see on screen – namely two solitary men within the bleak, foggy, turbulent coastal landscape…of toxic masculinity- seems to be found within the parameters of reality. Still, the mystery of the lantern room separates them. From the beginning, Thomas Wake, the old lighthouse keeper, is possessive when it comes to the mysterious light, protective of his role of tending the light. Ephraim expresses his wish to go to the lantern room, but Thomas Wake bosses him around, emphasising he should stick to his own duties (that he assigns to him). The young lighthouse keeper pays clandestine visits to the lighthouse at night, snooping in on Thomas Wake in the lantern room he forbids him entrance to. Ephraim hears moans, whispers, squelching, and then …frightening, inhuman, aquatic alien sounds, followed by a movement of tentacles. Whilst we are not shown what Thomas Wake sees within the light, it is implied that in his eyes, the light evokes feminine beauty. The next day, Ephraim gets murderously angry at a seagull (that Wake previously told him not to mess with as it’s a bad omen). Naturally, in a fit of anger, he butchers it. Bad luck to kill a sea bird. They are vessels for the souls of dead sailors, or so we learn.
Wake digs into Ephraim’s past to find out what led him to becoming a wickie. We find out he has been a drifter. Ephraim is slightly defensive about this, as he is about many things, saying there’s nothing wrong with starting afresh. Thomas Wake progressively reveals aspects of his own history too, but the details don’t add up; there are inconsistencies in his narrative. Similarly, in a drunken state, Ephraim Winslow discloses his real name- “Thomas. Tom. Tommy Howard” and wants to unload his guilty conscience, revealing the identity of Winslow, and how he couldn’t stand his insufferable, bossy treatment, reiterating his resentment for authority figures. During the same night, the two lighthouse keepers get drunk together, ending up singing and intimately dancing together. Thomas Howard (I will call him Tom for clarification) hugs Thomas Wake tightly as they dance, and, in a brief homoerotic moment of tension, Tom snaps out of his drunkenness, ashamed or repulsed (of his own feelings or the occurrence), forcefully pushing Wake away, starting to hit him instead. There are a few signs and suggestions in the story that Tom might repress some homosexual undertones in his thoughts during their isolation.
The power dynamics between the two lighthouse keepers are displayed through the unleashing of forces linked to mythology, acts of violence, strange alcohol-fuelled discourses, and curses. The unreliable psychological states of the characters maintain the ambiguity of the suspenseful narrative delivered through entrancing (Oscar nominated) cinematography. In some moments, Thomas Wake appears to gaslight Ephraim/Tom Howard by denying and recreating his reality. Since the identity of the old lighthouse keeper is a mystery as most of his stories turn out to be made up and the two of them have several things in common, the viewer might wonder how far Tom Howard’s delusions go, and whether the old lighthouse keeper is a figment of his imagination. If Thomas Wake is a part of Thomas Howard’s psyche, then he is a part that he has not yet integrated, hence the fights, the dance, the rejected intimacy, and the power struggle. Thomas Wake reflects Tom’s id, the unconscious energy, urges, desires: he is a bad-tempered, often openly angry alcoholic, indulging in his vices, talking about his love for women in his life before his isolation. He has access to the light, associated with forbidden acts, with the occult, and esoteric knowledge. At other times, Thomas Wake also assumes the critical role of a father figure, scolding Tom for his personality, his attitude, his work discipline, his supposed sense of entitlement. Meanwhile, Tom initially tries to refrain from drinking and is not as assertive, he embodies a more composed masculinity, but we get a sense of anger boiling under the surface, of an unexpressed rage and darkness consuming him, behind his quiet, collected persona. He also struggles with the dominant side of his sexuality, which he represses. The prospect of finding a sort of salvation and answers in the light, as well as his natural curiosity and boredom, lead to him being unsurprisingly attracted to, enchanted by, and thus often gravitating towards the mystery of the light.
After Tom confesses about Winslow, things turn even more nightmarish: the disembodied voice of Thomas Wake echoes in the house and in the lighthouse. Tom Howard sees a body collapsed on the ground. He turns the man around: it is himself. The boundary between reality and delusion becomes imperceptible. Then someone does the same gesture, Tom turns his head, and sees Thomas Wake standing above him. The next shot is a memorable cinematic tableau vivant, inspired by Sascha Schneider’s painting, Hypnosis, 1904.
Whilst Tom’s symbolic association with the mythological figure of Prometheus is more transparently implied because of his fate and his sinister, torturous death, Robert Eggers, the director and writer of the film, points out that Thomas Wake is an embodiment of Proteus, the sea god. In retrospect, this makes sense, when we think of Thomas Wake’s prophetic and protean nature in the film, his divine curses and discourses, the knowledge he is reluctant to share, and the way he goes through metamorphoses and sometimes poses and is framed and portrayed as a god in shots resembling Symbolist paintings. Tom Howard as Prometheus is punished for his transgression by being feasted upon by sea birds. Tom Howard constantly wants to reach the mystical light, he is bewitched by it. When Willem Dafoe’s character, Thomas Wake talks about the previous lighthouse keeper, he also mentions that “He notioned that St. Elmo had cast his very fire into it [the light]. Salvation, said he.” The theft of fire is the central element of the Promethean myth, which has often been culturally interpreted as going on a forbidden quest for knowledge. In an interview with Vox, Eggers also associated the lamp from the lighthouse with the Cosmic egg hatching the primordial god in ancient mythology.
Both Thomas Howard and Thomas Wake also embody many aspects that are not based on the aforementioned myths. We don’t really know Tom’s backstory, only scraps of it, based on his brief confessions, hallucinations, and fragmented, flashing images of murder from his memory. We are also not shown what the light reveals for Tom, as the camera is fixated on his reaction during his transcendental experience. The emotions that can be read in his response shift from bewilderment, to climactic delight, shock, horror, and terrifying agony. Why did his experience differ so much from Wake’s encounters with the light? Was it his unstable mind, his demons, his trauma, his guilty conscience? If Wake is a part of Tom, then the vague impressions we got of Wake’s experience of the light would reflect Tom’s expectations and hopes. Perhaps Thomas Howard is not ready to face his trauma, perhaps the design of his mind and its fragmentation is his curse, which is exacerbated rather than healed by the light. Or his hubris (defying the will of the gods and antagonising the dead soul of a sailor) and murderous acts inevitably ruined him. The wound of his corrupt spirit can’t be stitched by some sacred thread. Maybe what he sees within the light towards the end is an episode unfolding in hell. Alternatively, it could be an image of the moment of his torturous death, which ironically leads to the fulfilment of this prophecy. In addition to repeating the fate dictated by the Promethean myth, there could be an explanation anchored in his past and the layers of his mind. This ambiguity is part of the enchantment of the film, as it tends to be, when it comes to psychological horror.
The Lighthouse is thoroughly researched, incorporating mythological motifs and Jungian symbols, as well as drawing from art history, especially the Symbolist movement, as Eggers reveals, plus elements from H.P. Lovecraft’s stories and the concept described in Mircea Eliade’s essay on “Spirit, Light, and Seed” from “Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions”.
In “Spirit, Light, and Seed”, Mircea Eliade describes different experiences and connotations of “mystical light” in various cultures and religions. He touches upon the duality between the profane universe of the uninitiated and the transcendent and holy dimension a man can unlock access to through a sacred light-experience, a moment of inner light and personal discovery, in which he enters the realm of the Spirit.
“The experience of Light radically changes the ontological condition of the subject by opening him to the world of the Spirit. In the course of human history there have been a thousand different ways of conceiving or valorising the world of the Spirit. That is evident. How could it have been otherwise? For all conceptualisation is irremediably linked with language, and consequently with culture and history. One can say that the meaning of the supernatural Light is directly conveyed to the soul of the man who experiences it-and yet this meaning can only come fully to his consciousness clothed in a preexistent ideology. Here lies the paradox: the meaning of the Light is, on the one hand, ultimately a personal discovery; and, on the other hand, each man discovers what he was spiritually and culturally prepared to discover. Yet there remains this fact which seems to us fundamental: whatever will be the subsequent ideological integration, a meeting with the Light produces a break in the subject’s existence, revealing to him or making clearer than before-the world of the Spirit, of holiness and of freedom; in brief, existence as a divine creation,[…]
Eliade also reveals the religious belief depicting a cosmic episode unfolding in primordial times when “a portion of the divine light is captured by the power of darkness”. This is another relevant connection to the symbolism and meaning behind The Lighthouse.
He [the Father of Greatness] “evokes,” that is, emanates, the Mother of Light, who, in her turn, projects a new hypostasis, the Primeval Man. Together with his five sons-who are, in fact, his own being, an armor consisting of five lights-the Primeval Man descends to the frontier; but he is conquered by Darkness, and his sons are devoured by the Demons. This defeat is the beginning of the cosmic “mixture,” but it is also the guarantee of God’s (Light’s) final triumph. For now Darkness (Matter) possesses particles of Light, and the Father of Greatness, preparing their release, prepares at the same time the definitive victory over Darkness. In a second creation, the Father “evokes” the Living Spirit, who, proceeding to the boundary of Darkness, grasps the hand of the Primeval Man and raises him to the Paradise of Light, his celestial home. Vanquishing the demonic Archons, the Living Spirit makes the skies from their skins and the earth from their flesh. He also carries out a first liberation of Light, creating the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars from those parts which had not suffered too much as a consequence of their contact with Darkness.
Finally, in order to rescue the still-captive particles of Light, theFather emanates the Third Messenger.[…] Consequently, the Third Messenger shows himself to the male Archons in the shape of a radiant, beautiful, naked virgin, while to the female Archons he appears as a nude, shining youth. […] Indeed, sexual intercourse and, especially, procreation are evil, for they prolong the captivity of light in the body of the descendant. For a Manichaean, the perfect life means an uninterrupted series of purifications, that is to say, separations of spirit (light) from matter. The redemption corresponds to the definitive separation of light from matter, in the last analysis, to the end of the world.[…]”
And finally, he writes about solar theologies and religious systems revolving around the luminous nature of the soul, around light experiences, photisms, and ritualistic hallucinations, as well as associations between spiritual and sexual communions, emphasising“the connaturality of light, spirit, and semen”.
The goal of the yage ceremony is to strengthen religious belief; indeed, the participant can see that the tribal theogony and cosmogony are true. Besides, the visions permit a personal encounter with the supernatural beings, an encounter which is interpreted in sexual terms. A native who was educated by the missionaries explains: “Taking yage is a spiritual coitus; is the spiritual communion, as the priests say.” On the other hand, it is also said that the one who takes yage “dies,” because the return to the cosmic womb is equivalent to death. […] If everything which exists, lives, and procreates is an emanation of Sun, and if “spirituality” (intelligence, wisdom, clairvoyance, etc .) partakes of the nature of solar light, it follows that every religious act has, at the same time, a “seminal” and a “visionary” meaning. The sexual connotations of light experiences and hallucinatory visions appear to be the logical consequence of a coherent solar theology.
I dream of emerald grass, sapphire waves, idle legs shimmering on marble, crystalline laughter I miss this- Do I miss myself- this self? let’s enjoy it while it lasts before the tide of darkness floods our frail world I want a fresh view: we unfold – the tides unfold we walk on water we get to the ark- how do we lift the anchor? it’s so heavy, heavy, reflecting the heaviness of the hearts the veil over the ark protects the sanctuary, meanwhile our dreams function as fuel to get us there What about the iceberg? beware of the iceberg, the way it shines, the way the part submerged in the dark knows more than you and I combined ever will, it’s a point of reference shrouded in an aura of mystery which seems to whisper: abandon all hope before you penetrate the mind obliterate preconceptions sometimes we are water, sometimes we are stone.
Photography by Francesca Woodman (1958-1981), influential American photographer.
Francesca Woodman’s iconic oeuvre includes staged artful self-portraits exploring the relationship between body and space and aspects of identity, featuring her often nude or semi-nude body either in motion, fragmented, collapsed or disguised, like a ghostly, elusive presence in a seemingly abandoned domestic space. The uncanny mise-en-scene includes disintegrating decor and collapsing structures, contributing to the atmosphere of alienation and desolation. The haunting cinematic portraits evoke a sense of remoteness, but also timelessness, whilst alluding to the fluidity of self-image, sexuality, the subject-object dichotomy, and the ambiguity of existence and identity- also emphasised by the blur effect achieved by slow shutter speed. The choice of black and white photographs and a fashion style characteristic of previous eras further emphasises the uncanny atemporality. Whilst her photographs reveal a tendency towards and concern with neuroticism and self-dramatisation, her parents emphasise that art critics tend to infuse her work with underlying political and feminist themes whilst missing her playfulness, humour, and irony- perhaps more transparent in other less-known photographs. The mythologisation of her artistic identity might partially be influenced by her tragic suicide at the age of 22, at the end of a depressive episode.
Corey Keller, a curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, mentions: “Art students are drawn to the conviction she brought to her work and, in contrast to the cool slickness of the digital, it embraces tactility and decay in a very sensual and seductive way.”
An iron hand
in a velvet glove,
soft veils over roots
unwavering- your core,
honey-mouthed- your discourse,
there is the hibernating
you bathe in the light of
her uttered incantations.
You spot the red flags
of the dark triad,
you never wave white flags,
for there’s no fire in your soul-
not the red type that burns,
and destroys the self, no,
only blue flames that glow,
soothe, and create the selves.
What about the heart-
underneath the layers- is it
iron laced with velvet or
all velvet beneath armour;
is it slippery?
What about the flesh?
the snow melting under the skin
until it gleams?