Solaris

Not all freakout scenes involve fast cutting or unusual technique. Andrei Tarkovsky, the Soviet Russian director who was a master of very long takes, contributed a freakout cene of great power that also refers back to some of the earliest films ever made. In Solaris, his translation to the screen of the Stanislaw Lem science fiction novel about memory and space exploration that takes one as much inside oneself as it does to distant galaxies, he has a scene early on in the film which is nothing but a drive down a freeway, but which, in its insistence, works as a powerful freak out scene.

The freakout can present us with something mundane, something that many people face twice a day, the routine of the commute down a freeway to work, and make of it something transcendental. From the beginning of the cinema that power of a moving moving image was understood. Early filmmakers placed cameras on the front of locomotives or turned them out of the windows of moving cars, and let them record what passed by. The power of moving shots is reflected in current filmmaking practice, which relies often on a constant progression of one moving shot after another.

Why does a moving movie image have such great power? Perhaps part of its effect is due to the frame itself, that we are seeing the movement in relation to a frame that does not move. The frozen reference of the film frame gives us something to compare the movement to, and the tension between the still frame around the image and the movement of the image itself affects us psychologically. Perhaps what goes on is similar to the power of the freakout scene in Willie Wonka, where we can perceive the Wonka boat to be moving at a great speed thru a freakout environment yet we do not see it rocking as we would expect it to with that speed. So if we see an image moving at great speed inside the frame of a television or on a movie screen perhaps our body would expect the frame to be rocking with the movement as well, and the body, prepared to gyroscopically deal with that movement just as it does when you sit in a car and stare out the window but yet do not see the shaking that goes with the movement, is dealing with it but not dealing with anything.

The trip down the freeway in Solaris is a slow trip and a smooth one, but part of its freakout power lies in its insistence. The scene goes on for several minutes with minor variations. We see the environment that the car passes thru alter subtly: low density development gives way to a higher density of buildings and freeway ramps lead us up and down thru the freeway landscape. The freeway is also a compact one, not the sprawling eight lane asphalt colossi of the United States. The ride upon it takes us thru an urban area teetering between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Ancient dense accumulations of old brick buildings still hold their place next to the space age asphalt and concrete freeway that carries a river of cars to the shining skyscrapers set in green space of the space age city. We have met the future and it was last week. In a hundred years we have transformed our cities, the length of our days, the way we spend our lives, our entire sense of time and space and place. Cities of identity have turned into one common shared city with all the same shops and restaurants, no matter where you go, no matter where on earth you happen to find yourself at the moment. The word communication used to be synonymous with the word transportation, now we keep them separate for we have finally realized that what really limits us is our body so we try to circumvent it with tools like autos, airlines, television, movies and computers. Community has less and less to do with place and more and more to do with some kind of mind sharing, sending ourselves thru electrons across the landscape and thinking that we have really communed with someone. The more we advance technologically the more we sink deeper and deeper into our minds: that which seems to be doing less and less for us as we forget what to do when we actually do meet a person face to face -- for example, that beleaguered pedestrian trying to cross a street that we've just got to get our auto thru before the light changes.

We have certainly and in such a short time entered the age of classification. We try our best to reduce everything to ones and zeros while such a thing as a world still exists. We try our best to ram it down its own throat, wasting the world with each day that we repeat. And yet we can save it all on some kind of storage medium or other, whether videotape or computer disk, forgetting that a simple magnet can make it all nonsense with one swipe.

The ultimate freakout is that we can remain in control, or is that the ultimate illusion. Perhaps we are all in a constant state of freakout as we move thru space and time, hiding behind uniforms and the slogans with which we greet and meet one another. The freakout has dissolved into the daytoday, we are doing it but have forgotten how much it really does ask of us. We are wearing ourselves down by trying so hard to assure others that it does not faze us, the world, our speed, the huge weight of day week month year. We have our smiles and our schedules with which to vanquish the all-powerful freakout, that sense that sits deep within us, that volcano that can't even erupt because we don't have time to let it. Sometimes it does and we have to wipe all that exploded freakout off our cubicles, desks, carhoods, vacationhomes. Sometimes the freakout does approach us on the street but luckily we can roll up our windows and crank the stereo. Sometimes it approaches us on our televisions, in invisible places like the public access television stations, but we can easily switch to CNN with one press of the remote control. Sometimes it occurs as we sleep, the freakout is part of the brain utility that is our dreams, but we can shake them from our head as we align our schedules upon waking.

Today we look back at the freakout and smirk a little and laugh our old cynical laugh or maybe we have a touch of nostalgia but use that to put up a little fence between us and any ability to take the freakout seriously. What an age that must have been, so much to freak out about! Today we've gotten over it, we no longer know how to freak. We don't freakout, we just live the freak, and we like it too. We've gotten above that kind of showing our emotions out, that huge release that the freakout really is and symbolizes. We have risen above the freakout. We have so gotten over the freakout that we don't know that it has become the base upon which we have the built the entire superstructure of our modern lives.


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This page last revised 12 November 1997