I am just getting into C.S. Lewis’ “An Experiment in Criticism” from my local library and it really has me thinking about how I read, or take in, texts. So far (in the first four chapters) I’ve learned about how people read, and often “use”, pictures, music, and the written word in different ways. This got me thinking about how I take in films.
Lewis negatively defines the literary reader by providing characteristics of the unliterary. This is not nearly as snobby as it sounds, I promise. In a much too tiny nutshell, unliterary readers “never, uncompelled, read anything that is not narrative” (fiction and “the news”), “…have no ears [and] read exclusively by eye”, “…are…quite unconscious of style…”, “enjoy stories in which the verbal element is reduced to the minimum”, and “…demand swift-moving narrative”. I certainly strive to take in more of a film than its events and emotional effects, and this book has encouraged me to receive the text in question instead of trying to use it for something.
This thought brought me to Oldboy director Chan-Wook Park‘s newest work, Stoker. I had a hard time just receiving this movie, possibly even more so than with Oldboy. Every frame seemed carefully molded and pulsing with meaning. I was completely drawn into India Stoker’s (well cast as Mia Wasikowska) ominously still existence, everything boiling just beneath the surface. I really wanted to try to make something of it while I was watching and I think that this actually had the opposite effect. Lewis also says that “The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out).” I’m sure Stoker will provide something more each time I see it, but I feel like I’ve wasted an opportunity to let it in for the first time. My psyche, however, needs a short rest before I can watch it again.
This was initially meant to be a post about Stoker‘s unsettling and surprising colours and costumes, but it seems I’ve gotten carried away with chastising myself for trying to make something of the film in the first place. Chris Laverty at Clothes on Film says it better anyway (spoilers). Please have a read if you’ve seen it. Otherwise, just look, listen, and receive the film as per Lewis’ recommendation.