Hallucination As Ideology in Cinema
6:1 | © 2002 Slavoj Zizek
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I. Schubert in Stalingrad
So much has already been written about the battle for Stalingrad, this battle is invested with so many fantasies and symbolic meanings -- when the German troops reached the Western bank of Volga, the "apolitical" Franz Lehar himself, the author of "The Merry Widow," Hitler's favored operetta, quickly composed "Das Wolgalied," celebrating this achievement. Let us just recall the two main "as if" scenarios: IF the Germans were to break through to the East of Volga and to the Caucasus oil fields, the Soviet Union would collapse and Germany would have won the war; IF Erich von Manheim's deft manoeuvres were not to prevent the collapse of the entire German front after the defeat of the 6th Army in the Stalingrad Kessel, the Red Army would have rolled over into Central Europe already in 1943, defeating Germany before the Allied invasion in the Normandy, so that the whole of the continental Europe would have been Communist. So, perhaps, the time has come to cast a reflexive glance on the main types of the Stalingrad narratives.
There is, first, the standard German narrative: the tragedy of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary German soldiers who found themselves trapped in a foreign land, parts of a meaningless expedition thousands of kilometers from their homes, suffering carnage and Winter chill, ruthlessly exploited by their leaders for some obscure strategic goals. Such a tragic experience is, of course, the prisoner of false immediacy; it can only emerge if one does NOT ask some elementary questions: what the hell were they doing there, in a foreign country? And what about the suffering they themselves inflicted on the Russian population while they were still winning?
Then there is, of course, the official Soviet narrative: the "sacred" battle for the defense of the fatherland, in which common soldiers showed breathtaking courage. Here, also, (at least) two details disturb this picture. The Soviet reports to the military headquarters continuously refer to the mysterious "lack of coordination between artillery and infantry" -- an euphemism for the fact that the Soviet artillery bombed its own men, which signal the Soviet horrifying indifference towards the loss of one's own soldiers' lives. An even more interesting detail is the extraordinary popularity that the snipers enjoyed in the Soviet media: snipers were Stakhanovite workers transposed onto the battlefield; their fame reflects the Stalinist turn from egalitarianism to competition and the praise of individual achievements.
Finally, the predominant Anglo-Saxon approach (exemplified by the bestsellers of William Craig and Anthony Beever) combines the objective military account with the realistic depiction of the horror of the soldiers' daily lives: while each side is "fairly" attributed its quota of military successes and failures (with a strange symmetry: on both sides, the sagacious generals were fighting not only the enemy, but also the incompetence of their supreme commander, Hitler or Stalin), the basic mode is that of the awe at the unspeakable suffering and the superhuman endurance of the soldiers on both sides.
So how does Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Duel -- Enemy at the Gates stand with regard to these three narratives? It belongs to neither of them: while appropriating the Soviet sniper myth (its hero is Wassily Zaitsev, the most famous Stalingrad sniper), this myth is co-opted into the standard Hollywood ideology. Two features of the film are crucial here: first, its ultimate reduction of the gigantic battle to the conflict of two individuals testing their will and patience -- all the collective scenes are just a preparation for the duel which takes place in the abstract space of the abandoned ruins of the no-man's-land between the two front lines. Secondly, Zaitsev is involved in a love affair with a woman-sniper, an American girl who joined the Russians to take revenge on the Germans for killing her family -- we thus get the production of a couple, the second key ingredient of the Hollywood ideology. The ultimate irony of the film is not so much that it borrowed what was clearly a Soviet propaganda fabrication (there is, in the original Soviet and German reports from the front, no mention whatsoever of a duel of Zaitsev with the top German sniper); it rather resides in the fact that this borrowing served the "hollywoodization" of the story. The most expensive European film of all times (200 millions DM), destined to assert Europe against Hollywood, marks the ideological defeat, the subordination to Hollywood.
No wonder, then, that the film is REALLY bad -- the critics at the Berlin festival were right to tear it apart. To learn something about the Stalingrad ideology, let us therefore turn to a totally different form of art: Hans Hotter's outstanding 1942 recording of Schubert's "Winterreise" (now available in the 2001 box of 10 CDs with historical recordings of Schubert's Lieder). Let us risk an intentionally anachronistic reading: it is easy to imagine German officers and soldiers listening to this recording in the Stalingrad trenches in the cold winter of 42/43. Does the topic of "Winterreise" not evoke a unique consonance with the historical moment? Was not the whole campaign to Stalingrad a gigantic "Winterreise," where each German soldier can say for himself the very first lines of the cycle: "I came here a stranger, / As a stranger I depart"? Do the following lines not render their basic experience: "Now the world is so gloomy, / The road shrouded in snow."
Here we have the endless meaningless march: "It burns under both my feet, / Even though I walk on ice and snow." The dream of returning home in the Spring: "I dreamed of many-colored flowers..." The nervous waiting for the post: "From the highroad a posthorn sounds. / Why do you leap so high, my heart?" The shock of the morning artillery attack with its "fiery red flames." Utterly exhausted, the soldiers are refused even the solace of death: "Oh, merciless inn, you turn me away?" What can one do in such a desperate situation, but to go on with heroic persistence, closing one's ears to the complaint of the heart, assuming the heavy burden of fate in a world deserted by Gods? "Complaining is for fools. / Happy through the world along / Facing wind and weather!"
The obvious counter-argument is that all this is merely a superficial parallel: even if there is an ech of the atmosphere and emotions, they are in each case embedded in an entirely different context: in Schubert, the narrator wanders around in Winter because the beloved has dropped him, while the German soldiers were on the way to Stalingrad because of Hitler's military plans. However, it is precisely in this Verschiebung that the elementary ideological operation consists: the way for a German soldier to be able to endure his situation was to avoid the reference to concrete social circumstances which would become visible through reflection (what the hell were they doing in Russia? what destruction did they bring to this country? what about killing the Jews?), and, instead, to indulge in the Romantic bemoaning of one's miserable fate, as if the large historical catastrophe just materializes the trauma of a rejected lover. Is this not the supreme proof of the emotional abstraction, of Hegel's idea that emotions are ABSTRACT, an escape from the concrete network accessible only to THINKING.
II. The double sacrifice
And one is tempted to go here even a step further: in our reading of the "Winterreise," we did not just link Schubert to a contingent later historical catastrophy, we did not just try to imagine how this song-cycle resonated to the embattled German soldiers in Stalingrad. What if the link to this catastrophy enables us to read what was wrong in the Schubertian Romantic position itself? What if the position of the Romantic tragic hero, narcissistically focused on his own suffering and despair, elevating them into a source of perverted pleasure, is already in itself a fake one, an ideological screen masking the true trauma of the larger historical reality? One should thus accomplish the properly Hegelian gesture of projecting the split between the authentic original and its later reading colored by contingent circumstances back into the authentic original itself: what at first appears the secondary distortion, a reading twisted by the contingent external circumstances, tells us something about what the authentic original itself not only represses, leaves out, but had the function to repress. This is the reason why the true "masterpieces" of Veit Harlan, THE Nazi director, are not his overtly political films, but his "apolitical" melodramas from 1942-1944, especially Opfergang, undoubtedly Harlan's masterpiece. Here is the outline of the story:
Upon returning home from the trip to the Far East around 1900, Albrecht (Carl Raddatz), a Hamburg high society adventurer, marries his cold blond beautiful cousin Octavia (Irene von Meyendorff), and then gets fatally attracted by Aels, a rich Scandinavian living in a nearby villa (Christina Soederbaum). Aels is full of life energy, she likes to ride a horse, swim and shoot a bow, has a child from a previous relationship, but is mysteriously ill, the shadow of death hanging onto her. Although Octavia has one outburst of paranoiac curiosity, she tolerates her husband's passion with a saint's patience. Towards the film's end, both Aels and Albrecht get infected by typhus; they are both lying in their beds, Albrecht in a hospital, Aels at home, thinking of each other. Due to her weakness, typhus proves fatal to Aels; the only thing that still keeps her alive is the regular appearance of Albrecht on the path in front of her window, who stops his horse there for a minute, waving at her. Once Albrecht is also constrained to his hospital bed and thus unable to perform this life-saving ritual, and Octavia learns about it from the doctor who takes care of both Albrecht and Aels, she performs herself the ritual for a couple of days, thus prolonging Aels's life: each day, dressed up as Albert in order to be indistinguishable from him from the right distance, she rides a horse past Aels's villa, stops there at the usual place and waves at her. When the doctor tells Albrecht of this sacrifice of his faithful wife, he discovers his full love of her. What then follows is the ultimate fantasmatic scene: first we see Albrecht lying in his bed, looking in the right direction, his inner voice saying: "Aels, I have to do something that will hurt you very much." Then follows the cut to Aels lying in her bed, looking left, as if they are in a kind of extra-sensory communication, and answers him: "I know it all. But where are you, my love? Are you disappearing?" Cut to the shot of the view from her room to the path beyond the wooden fence, on which she sees Albrecht-Octavia on a horse, and then no one. What then follows is the supremely condensed shot/counter-shot: on the right side of the screen, we get the close-up of the dying Aels, and, on the left side, the American shot of Albrecht, these two appearances communicating. Albrecht tells Aels the big secret that he really loves Octavia and that he is here to bid her farewell; after Aels wishes him the best luck in his marriage, Albrecht's image disappears, so that we see just a slightly blurred image of Aels as an island of light on the right side of the screen, surrounded by blue darkness. This image gets gradually more and more blurred -- she dies. In the ensuing last scene of the film, Albrecht and Octavia ride alongside each other on the seacoast, observing the red rose on the sand moved by waves that stands for the dead Aels who is identified with the immense sea.
The opposition of the two women, Octavia and Aels, is more complex than it may appear: each of them stands for a certain kind of death (and life). Octavia stands for the aetheric-anemic life of social conventions, up to the ultimate saintly sacrifice for her husband; in this sense, she stands for death, for the stifling of the impulse to fully live one's life, beyond social conventions. However, precisely as such, she is the survivor, in contrast to Aels who stands for a different death: not the death of the pallid saintly convention, but the death that comes with living out one's passions without constraints. It is as if there is something lethal in such a full immersion into life -- no wonder that Aels is from the very beginning presented as someone over whom the shadow of death lurks. This death is not simply the end of life, but the immersion into the eternally returning pulsation of Life itself, symbolized by the sea waves: in her death, Aels is transfigured into the cosmic impersonal life-substance. The structure is here that of a double sacrifice: at one level, Aels stands for the untamed wilderness of the life energy that has to be sacrificed so that the "normal" couple of Albrecht and Octavia can be reconstituted -- the last shot of the film is the red rose in the sand moved by waves, the index of the Third Thing, the sacrificed untamed female sexuality (and it is as if part of this sexual energy passed onto Octavia who -- for the first time in the film -- is now also seen riding).
At another level, of course, the sacrifice is that of Octavia who accomplishes the supreme act of sustaining, through her masquerade, the illusion of her husband's fidelity to his mistress that keeps HER alive. THIS is the supreme "male chauvinist" fantasy: that of the mistress and wife both sacrificing herself for each other, the wife accepting the husband's passion for the mistress and the mistress erasing herself out of the picture to enable the reunion of the husband and the wife. The wife wins her husband back precisely by way of accepting his illegitimate passion for another woman, and by even taking upon herself his desire, by acting as him in order to help her. This fantasy finds its ultimate expression in Richard Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier," in the words of the Marschallin which open the final trio: "I chose to love him in the right way, so that I would love even his love for another!"
III. Hallucination within hallucination
Paradoxically, if Harlan is to be believed in his autobiography (Im Schatten meiner Filme), the source for this finale is none other than Goebbels himself! In Rudolf Binding's story on which Opfergang is based, it is the HUSBAND (Albrecht) who dies, and Aels is there called "Joie," a vivacious English girl with no preexisting mortal illness. Both Albrecht and Joie also suffer from typhus. However, in the story, only Albrecht dies, and, in the last moment of his life, he tells Octavia of how Joie's only little joy that allowed her to cling to life were his regular daily appearances in front of her villa. It is AFTER Albrecht's death that Octavia continues to perform this ritual, dressed up as Albrecht -- these four days are crucial for Joie's recovery. When Joie recovers, the doctor tells her that Albrecht died four days ago; shocked, Joie answers him that she saw Albrecht each evening performing his ritual. While the doctor dismisses this as her hallucination, Joie all of a sudden understands what happened. Goebbels opposed this ending, evoking the demoralizing influence such a story about adultery in which the husband dies may have upon the thousands of soldiers on the front who will see the film; in response to this criticism, Harlan turned Joie into Aels and made her fatally sick, so that she, not the husband, dies, thus totally changing the meaning of his wife's "sacrifice" of impersonating him for his mistress's gaze. In the story, Octavia's sacrifice is a pure gesture of respect for her husband's love, NOT a witty maneuver destined to regain her husband's love. In this precise sense, the film "pathologizes" Octavia's sacrificial gesture, reducing a pure "disinterested" ethical act to a "pathological" feminine subterfuge.
A more detailed analysis would have to link Opfergang to Immensee, shot in the same year, in which Soederbaum plays a woman divided between two men: she is passionately in love with a young composer who, although he returns her love, leaves her to pursue his career abroad; left alone, she marries an ordinary man also deeply in love with her. After a couple of years, the composer returns for Summer holidays and asks her to join him in the big city; her husband loves her so much that, upon sensing her unhappiness in marriage, gives her the freedom to leave him for the composer. This gesture of unconditional devotion wins her over: she rediscovers her love for her husband and stays with him, painfully learning that he is the stronger of the two. The trick, of course, is that the very freedom of choice her husband gives her makes the choice a forced one, putting her under unbearable ethical pressure: while it is easy to leave a violently jealous husband, it is much more difficult to leave the husband who gives you the freedom to leave him -- this freedom is the very form of appearance of the absolute coercion to freely make the RIGHT choice. The husband is thus strictly equivalent to Octavia in Opfergang: the angelic being of unconditional devotion whose acceptance of his/her partner's love for another wins him/her back. When, after long years, her husband dies, her great love, now a world-renowned composer, returns to her town for a concert: even now, she rejects his offer -- although she continues to love him, she remains faithful to her dead husband. The parallel with the literary tradition of the ethical gesture of renunciation which persists when the obstacle is no longer here also (from Princesse de Cleves to The Portrait Of a Lady) cannot but strike the eye: to put it in somewhat ironic terms, the heroine of Immensee is a kind of the "portrait of a Nazi Lady."
The falsity of this fantasy can be discerned by a more detailed analysis of the scene of Aels's death in Opfergang: what, exactly, is "fantasy" and what (diegetic) "reality" in it? At one level, of course, the appearance of Albrecht to the dying Aels is HER hallucination. It has to happen for a reason that is more paradoxical than it may appear: so that she can die. Without the caring but sobering message that Albrecht really loves his wife, Aels would have been condemned to live forever as a kind of contemporary Wagnerian hero unable to find release in death; in a paradigmatic feminine fantasy, the awareness that her disappearance will render possible the constitution of a Perfect Couple, she gracefully withdraws from life, erasing herself out of the picture. At a different level, however, one should SIMULTANEOUSLY claim that this ENTIRE shot, i.e. Aels AND Albrecht, is ALBRECHT's hallucination, so that we pass from (diegetic) reality to hallucination already when we pass from Albrecht in his hospital bed to Aels in her bed: "Aels in her bed hallucinating Albrecht" is IN ITS ENTIRETY Albrecht's own hallucination, enabling him to rescue his marriage by fantasizing Aels's forgiving withdrawal from his life after he tells her the bitter truth. The two fantasies are thus interwoven in a kind of spatial warp, and this impossible fantasy of the double sacrifice provides the only consequent solution to the male problem of being divided between a loving wife and a loving mistress -- it provides the formula of getting out of the deadlock without betraying anyone.
IV. Endorsing a lie
The ultimate lesson of this intricate staging is that the bitter truth (marriage will survive, Aels has to accept her death) can only be formulated in the guise of a hallucination within a hallucination. And, perhaps, here enters the fact that Veit Harlan was THE Nazi director, author of the two key propaganda classics, The Jew Suess and Kolberg: does the same formal feature not hold also for the Nazi ideology? In it, the truth can appear only as the hallucination within the hallucination, as the way the Nazi subject hallucinates the Jews hallucinating their anti-German plot. No wonder that Harlan's pre-war "apolitical" masterpiece, Die verwehten Spuren (1938), the variation on the "lady who vanishes" motif, also focuses on the ambiguous status of hallucination. What makes this Harlan's film so interesting is its difference from the standard "lady vanishes" story which also served as a model for Hitchcock's Lady Vanishes (from 1939), as well as for Cornell Woolrich's The Phantom Lady (filmed by Robert Siodmak in 1942) -- interestingly, all of them made in the same period. The model of all these stories is an event which allegedly occurred during the Paris world exhibition in 1867, when a Canadian daughter and her mother visited Paris. Feeling tired, mother went to the hotel room, while the daughter stayed out. When she returned to the hotel, not only her mother disappeared, but everyone even denied her existence: what had been the mother's room was now an empty room in which workers were repairing the walls; the hotel personal remembered only the daughter; the ship and hotel registers showed only her name. After a desperate search, authorities disclosed the truth to the daughter: the mother died of plague, and in order to avoid mass panic, they had to deny her existence.
While in all other versions (inclusive of the original story itself), our -- the spectator's or reader's -- perspective is limited to that of the young girl, Harlan strangely opted for disclosing the secret of the mother's disappearance (plague) immediately, so that the spectator knows the truth all the time and there is no enigma -- the question is only when and how will the daughter learn the truth. Why did he do it? Perhaps, in order to accentuate the obvious Oedipal background of the story: the imposition of the paternal Law erases out of the picture the obscene sick excessive Mother, it cuts the daughter's link with her, her "passionate attachment" to her mother, and thus enables her to enter the "normal" heterosexual relationship. After the mother, this Mozartean "Queen of the Night," returns to her hotel, the daughter goes out and engages in a heavily charged flirt with Dr. Moreau, whom they met earlier on a street parade. Then, in one of the film's most effective scenes, the shots of the couple-to-be making a date across the hotel balcony and then going together to a wild partying on the crowded street, interchange with the shots of the dying mother, her distorted face full of sweat, desperately shouting her daughter's name ("Serafine!") -- as if the access to the male partner is to be paid by mother's death. And, effectively, when Serafine accepts the doctor's invitation to go out with him, we get a cut to mother's cry "Serafine!", as if admonishing her daughter for her transgression, for abandoning her.
The second difference concerns the ending: when Serafine learns the truth, the prefect of the Paris police asks her to do the ultimate citizen's sacrifice -- since rumors about her mother have already started to circulate, he implores her to sign the document confirming the lie, stating freely that she came to Paris alone, without her mother. After she does this, the couple of her and Dr. Moreau stays alone in the hospital room, confessing their love to each other now that mother is also officially erased out of the picture. (This excessive sticking to the lie for the benefit of society points towards the authoritarian Nazi credentials of Harlan.) The path is thus clear: in order to be fully integrated into the symbolic space of mature relations, the girl has to endorse publicly the lie on which social order is based, erasing the maternal threat out of the picture -- the film is almost subversive in this admission of how the public order has to rely on a lie.
Therein resides the link and, at the same time, the difference between the Nazi cinema universe and Hollywood: the Nazi cinema goes further, it stages the fundamental fantasy which sustains the existing ideologico-political order much more directly than in Hollywood; however, this very radicality produces an almost subversive effect of its own -- the cracks in the ideological edifice are rendered much more visible than in Hollywood. And this censorship of its own underlying fantasy remains fully operative even in today's Hollywood.
V. Censorship today
In today's global multicultural establishment, curators are a kind of artistic cannibals, cutting off, preparing and consuming the flesh of the artists' work -- it thus seems quite appropriate that, in Ridley Scott's Hannibal, Hannibal Lecter is now a CURATOR in Florence. Unfortunately, Hannibal is one of the first contenders for the worst film of the year -- after seeing it, one can only ask wistfully where was here the notorious Hollywood kulturindustrie with its flawless rules of the viewer emotional manipulation. With regard to the film's climactic scene (in which Hannibal opens up the skull of the drugged FBI agent, his enemy, cuts a piece of his brain, toasts it with truffles and offers a bite to the unfortunate agent itself), one is tempted to surmise that perhaps, the authors of the film itself were submitted to such a procedure by the real Hannibal, cutting from their brain the part which regulates artistic creativity. The only mildly interesting figure in the film is the Italian inspector who tries to track down Hannibal, played by Giancarlo Giannini: a strange but moving personification of the tired, resigned European decadence.
It is nonetheless this very utter failure of the film that solicits us to ask two more general questions concerning censorship in cinema. In the good old times of the Hayes Code censorship, the proverbial Hollywood procedure was to change the sad ending of the literary or dramatic source of the film into the obligatory upbeat happy ending. With Ridley Scott's Hannibal, the circle is in a way closed: it is Thomas Harris' novel which ends with Hannibal Lecter and the FBI agent Clarice Sterling living together as a couple in Buenos Aires, while the film censored this ending, opting for a more acceptable one.
When Ridley Scott accepted to direct Hannibal, he immediately approached Harris: "The ending was a very touchy question, so the first thing I did was call Tom Harris. I said I didn't quite believe it. Suddenly it was this quantum leap from this character I thought was incorruptible and unchangeable. It couldn't be. Those qualities were the thing that made her the most fascinating to Hannibal. If she'd have said yes to him, he'd have killed her."(Quoted in "The Passions of Julianne Moore," Vanity Fair, March 2001) What, then, is so inadmissible in this "most bizarre happy ending in the history of popular fiction"? Is it really just psychology, just the fact that "this resolution is completely out of character for Clarice"?
The correct answer is rather the opposite one: in Hannibal, we are served a direct realization of what Freud called the "fundamental fantasy": the subject's innermost scene of desire which cannot be directly admitted. Of course Hannibal is an object of intense libidinal investment, of a true passionate attachment -- from The Silence of the Lambs, we (and, in the couple of Hannibal and Clarice, Clarice stands for this "we," the common spectator, the point of identification) love him, he is an absolute charmer. Hannibal fails precisely because, at the novel's end, it DIRECTLY realizes this fantasy which must remain implicit -- the result is thus "psychologically unconvincing" not because it is a fake, but because it gets TOO CLOSE to our fantasmatic kernel. For a girl to be devoured by the charming-devilish paternal figure, is this not the ULTIMATE happy end, the mother of all happy ends, as they would have put it in Iraq?
In a closer analysis, it would also be interesting to follow the transformations of the Hannibal figure in the three novels and films. In The Red Dragon, the first Hannibal Lecter novel (and Michael Mann's Manhunter, the first and still the best Hannibal film), Hannibal is a pure asubjective monster, a machine with which no empathy is possible. The big shift then occurs with The Silence of the Lambs, the novel and, especially, the film: Anthony Hopkins' much celebrated (and definitely overrated) performance ultimately HUMANIZES Hannibal, transforming the cold apathetic killing machine into a charming genius of Evil. Consequently, the relationship between Hannibal and Clarice in Lambs is changed into that of an intense interpersonal exchange: Hannibal helps her (in catching the serial killer "Buffalo Bill"), and what he wants in return is that she tells him her innermost traumatic fantasies (to which the title "silence of the lambs" refers). How not to recall here Jacques Lacan's ironic allusion to Heidegger, when he defines what the analyst does to his patient? -- "Mange ton Dasein!", "Eat your being-there!"
In Lambs, Lecter is thus cannibalistic not only in relationship to his victims, but also -- perhaps even more -- in his relationship to Clarice: instead of eating her flesh, he "eats her Dasein," savoring the very fantasmatic kernel of her being, her innermost fundamental fantasies. The quid pro quo proposed by Hannibal to Clarice is therefore: "I'll help you if you let me eat your Dasein." Finally, in Hannibal, we pass from the exchange of fantasies to the direct realization of the fantasy itself -- the aspect censored in the film, in which the initial emotional link is inverted: it is not Clarice who is fatally attracted to Hannibal, it is Hannibal himself who "stretches his hand back," asserting his love for Clarice by cutting off his palm. (At the film's very end, when we already hear the police sirens approaching the house, Clarice handcuffs Hannibal to himself to prevent his escape; instead of cutting her palm off in order to be able to run away, he cuts off his own, giving her the proverbial pound of flesh as the ultimate proof of love.)
There is, however, another aspect of censorship which is fully asserted in Hannibal. Let us turn briefly to a totally different film, Stalker: if this film is Tarkovsky's masterpiece, it is above all because of the direct physical impact of its texture. The landscape of the Zone, is the post-industrial wasteland with wild vegetation growing over abandoned factories, concrete tunnels and railroads full of stale water and wild overgrowth in which stray cats and dogs wander. Nature and industrial civilization are here again overlapping, but through a common decay -- civilization in decay is in the process of again being reclaimed (not by idealized harmonious Nature, but) by nature in decomposition. The ultimate Tarkovskian landscape is that of a humid nature, river or pool close to some forest, full of the debris of human artifices (old concrete blocks or pieces of rotten metal). The actor's faces themselves, especially Stalker's, are unique in their blend of ordinary ruggedness, small wounds, dark or white spots and other signs of decay, as if they were all exposed to some poisonous chemical or radioactive substance, as well as irradiating a fundamental naive goodness and trust.
Although censorship in the USSR was no less stringent than the infamous Hayes Code, it nonetheless allowed a movie so bleak in its visual material that it would never pass the Hayes Code test. Recall, as an example of Hollywood material censorship, the representation of dying from an illness in The Dark Victory with Bette Davis: upper-middle class surroundings, painless death. The process is deprived of its material inertia and transubstantiated in an ethereal reality free of the bad smells and tastes. It was the same with slums -- recall Goldwyn's famous quip, when a reviewer complained that slums in one of his films look too nice, without real dirt: "They better look nice, since they costed us so much!" The Hayes Office censorship was extremely sensitive as to this point: when slums were depicted, they explicitly demanded that the set of the slum be constructed so that it did not evoke real dirt and bad smell -- at the most elementary level of the sensuous materiality of the real, censorship was thus in Hollywood much stronger than in the Soviet Union.
And, in spite of all its physical horror and disgust, this dimension of the material inertia is also thoroughly censored in Hannibal, which takes place in the prototypical postcard environs, be it the center of Florence or the suburbs of Washington: Hannibal may be eating the brain, but this brain really DOES NOT SMELL. Therein resides the ultimate lesson of this failed film: that, in spite of the opposite misleading impressions, the Hollywood censorship is well and alive as ever!
Slavoj Zizek is Senior Researcher at the Institute for Social Studies in Ljubljana. His recent books include The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For? and The Sublime Object of Ideology.
Theory & Event. 6:1.