Surrealism is understood in several different ways, some of which oppose others, but all of these misinterpretations are established on the fact that critics try and condense surrealism to a technique or a genre in itself, as opposed to being prepared to see it as a movement with expanding horizons. Critics have been unsuccessful in identifying the unique qualities that make up the surrealist stance. “the evocation of genre in the case surrealist films can seem iconoclastic ? (Conley: 99: 2006).
They are searching for a theme, a meticulous type of imagery or a definite concept that they can categorize as ‘surrealist’ in order to supply a criterion of judgement by which a film can be evaluated. The issue with this is that it goes against the spirit of surrealism. Surrealism was an avant-garde art movement in Paris from 1924 to 1941, which consisted out of a small group of writers, artists and filmmakers. The movement used shocking, irrational or absurd imagery in order to defy the conventional purpose of art, which was at the time characterised by realism.
Surrealist cinema, just as Dada cinema, is characterised and classified by means of juxtapositions, the elimination of theatrical psychology and a recurrent utilization of shocking imagery. It has been debated whether Surrealist film warrants a distinctive genre. Acknowledgment of a cinematographic genre requires the ability to name many narratives which share thematic and stylistic traits. By classifying Surrealism as a genre, is to imply that there is reiteration of elements and an easily identifiable standard method, which depicts the entirety of the film.
It can be argued that due to Surrealism’s use of the irrational and inconclusive mannerisms, it is unfeasible for Surrealist films to comprise a style or a specific genre. I believe Surrealist film narratives cannot be defined by its structure or style. The results achieved due to the practice of surrealism are its definition and classification. While there are several films which are true expressions of the surrealist film movement, a lot of films that have been catalogued as Surrealist, merely contain Surrealist fragments.
Instead of classifying them as a ‘Surrealist film’, the more appropriate term for such works may be ‘Surrealism in film’. Surrealists are not worried about creating a magical world that can be defined as surreal. Their attention is almost exclusively in investigating the conjunctions and the points of contact between different realms of existence. Surrealism is constantly about departures rather than arrivals. The ambition of surrealism was to blend dream and reality so that the consequential art confronted the limits of representation and perception. The movement was profoundly influenced by the budding theories of psychoanalysis.
Surrealists wanted to tap the unconscious mind. They wanted to provide the incoherent narratives of dreams directly into language and images, discarding the intervention of the conscious thought processes. The ideal Surrealist film would not be a humorous, chaotic assemblage of events. Instead, it is a sketch of a disturbing, often sexually charged story that followed the incomprehensible reason of a dream. In the film, eXistenZ (Cronenberg, 1999), the surrealist movement is captured by using tangible objects and diverting them into an intangible, subconscious thought process, thus embodying the nature of undefined expressions of emotion.
The Surrealist filmmakers depended on private investment and screened their work in small artists’ assemblies, as opposed to the mainstream cinema projects. This segregation is scarcely unforeseen, due to the fact that the Surrealist cinema was a radical movement, fabricating films that baffled and traumatized most audience members. Surrealist cinema is directly related to Surrealism in literature and painting. Influenced by Freudian psychology, the Surrealist film movement wanted to record the concealed currents of the unconscious mind.
The search for strange or suggestive imagery and the purposeful evasion of reasonably explainable form or style is what became prominent features of Surrealism, as it evolved in the period from 1924 to 1929. From the outset, the Surrealists were fascinated by the cinema, in particular appreciative of films that depicted a wild desire or the incredible and marvellous. Surrealist cinema is blatantly anti-narrative. If consistency is to be fought, fundamental associations among proceedings must be disbanded.
Many Surrealist films taunt us to discover a narrative logic that is basically not present. Causality is as elusive as in a dream. As an alternative, we find proceedings juxtaposed for their troubling outcome. In comparison, an Impressionist film would prompt such actions as a character’s dreams or figment of their imagination, but in these surrealist films, character psyche is all but nonexistent. Sexual desire, elation, hostility, profanity and uncanny humour deliver events that Surrealist film structure utilizes with a disregard for conventional narrative principles.
The anticipation was that the free form of the film would stimulate the deepest urges of the viewer. The style of Surrealist cinema is eclectic. Mise-en-scene is often subjective to Surrealist paintings. Surrealist editing is a mixture of some Impressionist structure and techniques, for example dissolves and superimpositions, as well as devices from the mainstream cinema. On the other hand, discontinuous editing is also frequently used to fracture any prearranged temporal spatial coherence.
Overall Surrealist film style refused to sanctify any particular structures or techniques, seeing as that would order and rationalise what had to be an undirected play of thought. ExistenZ (Cronenberg, 1999) is a film that chiefly engages the audience perception of reality. It fiddles with the audience observation of what reality is, cunningly cultivating a sense of the mysterious by means of slight distortions of the understood reality. Therefore, surrealists are playing around with the medium of film which is fundamentally a suspension of disbelief.
ExistenZ (Cronenberg, 1999) makes use of the knowledge that as an audience member we will acknowledge and accept ?the world of the film’ to be a reality because, such as the case in eXistenZ (Cronenberg, 1999), it is a different world, a world which has been artificially created so that we can accept it to be real. In the film, the audience is initially encouraged to accept and acknowledge the circumstances of the film as the audience members begin the film as spectators watching a scene set in the future, seeing the characters trying to cross the threshold into a virtual reality world, a world which audience members can identify as unreal.
The narrative then requests the audience to question the reality of this world by means of introducing subtle devices and techniques, such as the saturation of colour, the iconography in the background and a two-headed mutated amphibian. From the point of view of Jude Law’s character we are allowed to see that these disturbing images is not unusual. It is important to note that at this stage audience members are still being led to believe that this could be ‘reality’.
The sense that this is the accurate reality of the film is then additionally supported by taking the audience into the realm of virtual reality, therefore inviting audience members to believe the previous world as the actual reality of the film. As is common among surrealist films, eXistenZ (Cronenberg, 1999S) plays with our perceptions by continually altering what the audience believe to be reality by constantly leaving it open, but taking audience members further and deeper into the unknown. Consequently the audience members are forced to question, what is a dream and what is reality?
Through means of this multi layered surrealist approach, which steadily becomes more and more ‘unreal’, David Cronenberg guides audience members to the conclusion that the worlds of the film that are generally like our reality must be the reality within the film. Correspondingly, at the same time that apparent reality is undermined with phrases such as, ‘I am not sure here is here anymore’. This is frequently reinforced all the way through the film by placing the emphasis upon the name of the game and its sponsors, thus leaving the audience hesitant to believe they are viewing the original world.