This is part of a three-part posting taken from a brief lecture I gave during a film class.
Part Two: The Background
In order to understand art-cinema narration, and the underlying post-Enlightenment project, one needs to grasp the historical and philosophical pressures that gave it birth.
The coming of the 20th Century, bringing with it so many new technological changes, and dragging along with it the those 19th Century harbingers of new ideas: the industrial revolution, Darwin, Marx, and Freud, seemed, in many people’s minds, to have changed everything.
The path of the 20th Century, with the devastation of the First World War, the horror of the Holocaust, both the reality and threat of nuclear weapons, and the waning of Christianity in the West, gave impetus to new challenges. Human beings now struggled with the loss of God, of place, of self, of truth, even of time thanks to Einstein. This has been called, amongst many other things, the “crisis” of modern man. It is also, as some have said, the burden of freedom.
Dostoyevsky pointed this out, when he wrote in the Bothers Karamazov, that if there is no God then everything is permitted. Some saw this as their salvation, some saw it as their undoing.
People began to question everything once taken for granted and to see life as much a struggle to find oneself, to understand the nature of love and sexuality, to discover meaning, and to mourn the evaporation of Truth, as it is a struggle over the more common difficulties of living – like saving the world or saving the farm. In fact, it all gets turned on it head so that saving the farm (and even saving the world) seems so trivial compared to the inner turmoil now plaguing modern man. Why bother with saving the farm if you can’t even save yourself?
The questions, as really they have always been, are:
“Who are you?”
“Why do you exist?”
“Where is you hope?”
Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom, at least in terms of how people live their lives. There are still a lot of life affirming choices people make, but underlying it all, especially from a Christian perspective, is a great sense of loss and uncertainty.
And of course, from a Christian perspective, the problems of human beings are not ultimately the result of mere historical forces, but arise from the deeply profound tensions between being made in the image of God (and all the glory that that means) and being burdened and affected by the corrupting nature of our inherent sinfulness (and all the difficulties that that means).
Cinema, then, confronted these changes and perspectives by challenging conventional wisdoms of narrative structure and subject matter. Art-cinema narration can then be understood as a response to a post-industrial, post-Christian, post-Enlightenment world.