Monday, September 22, 2014

Horror Film: The Ring, viewed and discussed 9-21-14

Scott Ferguson, PhD, Film Professor at USF, spoke to the “pleasure” of horror films—indulging viscerally, sensually-perceptually, and affectively in the “abject”— and about the pleasures and horrors of media. Evoking Marshall McLuhan, he noted that egalitarian access to information media destabilized roles and place, frightening some, while simultaneously allowing new freedoms for connections. How are we to negotiate being with one another in these new ways, all the while uncertain, our privacy threatened? There are ethical challenges to consider [and only Aidan pauses to ask about how our choices affect others].

Ferguson asked us to consider how a film engages the cultural moment, socially and historically, not merely to think psychologically about relationships and characters, but to additionally think about how these are also conditioned by electronic media. The winged shape of a ‘samara’ seed enables the wind to carry it farther away from the parent tree. Thus estranged from its origins, Samara – adopted, then killed, then killer— speaks to the futility of recapturing the nuclear family, if one ever existed.

Symbols in this film confound the viewer, first suggested, then disconfirmed, offered, then undermined. There is the ring left by a coffee cup or that formed by the mouth of the well, Samara’s tomb, and, of course, the fatal telephone ring. A ring can symbolize wholeness, closure, where beginning and end meet, but in this film there is no resolution. A lighthouse which is meant to give protective warning, leads to more danger. The island isolates and connects. Where medium is viewed as conduit, agency, means, The Ring depicts multi-media: telephones, boats, water.

Much was made of reproduction, whether the copying of the VHS tape or human procreation, both leading, in this film, to a deadly end. One audience member asked why do humans seek to procreate, particularly when children are so disruptive to their parents’ lives. Anna kills her adopted daughter Samara.  Thinking about the relational context depicted in the film, how are the children allowed to develop and then engage the world? Neither Samara nor Aidan were wanted by their fathers, Richard and Noah, respectively. Despite the exterior trappings of a normal home, there was no space for Samara to be herself. Samara was a child wanting to be heard, calling out to be saved. Her adoptive parents constrained her, not just in the barn, but in every way.  Samara’s agency frightened her parents. She had to produce herself, come in to being herself. Parents who disempower their children, dehumanize them, creating monsters.

The audience also appreciated the cinematography, comparing its chaotic black and white scenes to Picasso’s Cuernavaca, the isolation of the island buildings to Hopper, and the grayish-greenish imagery to our surreal nightmares. At other scenes, color was hyper-saturated, like neon invading our senses.

So many perspectives brought together, what a rich discussion followed the viewing of The Ring yesterday!

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