I was really drawn into Teshigahara's magnificent Woman in the Dunes
last night. It's a true original: a sexy, claustrophobic, existential nightmare, that flows beautifully between abstraction and narrative, made by the aesthetically-gifted son of a master flower arranger.
I struggled a little bit to get through its two plus hours, in part because the movie is really about a kind of life fatigue
that sets in when we succumb to routine. Digressing here, I've learned that the struggle to stay awake is (sometimes) an important aspect of cinema. Some of the most profound cinematic experiences are tied to overcoming difficulties or prejudices or energy issues that arise during the actual watching
of a film. Once you've endured a difficult viewing, the lingering aftereffects, the payoff, the stuff that stays with you for days and years, the growing, can be enormous. Far greater than those other passing cinematic thrills that jolt your nerves and are soon forgotten.
To sum up Woman in the Dunes
- A scholarly man searching for bugs near the ocean gets trapped in a deep sand pit with an attractive woman by the arrangement of some corrupt locals. The captives must dig out the sand every night or be denied water and other basic provisions by their captors. He rebels at first, then falls for the woman, and in the process of attempting to trap a crow, discovers a way to leach water from the sand. He resigns himself to his fate and refocuses his energies.
As in so many great books
, a prison becomes a strange form of paradise. In the case of Woman in the Dunes
, I was not as convinced of the sand pit's paradisiacal qualities as was our protagonist. Hard to say if this was the director's intention or not. A typical Western viewer will likely see that our bug collector's world has been reduced to a pile of sand and that an ocean's worth of other potentialities exist just outside his reach. But to our hero, redemption comes in the form of adapting to this tiny world. He finds meaning and pleasure in his new, vastly restricted, life.
As would we... It is human nature: we acclimate to our circumstances no matter how grim they may appear to an outsider.
For me, the film serves as a reverse allegory: A thorough investigation of a mad trap that serves to trigger a reminder of its opposite... The multitude of truly rewarding
circumstances and realities our dreams, desires, and interests suggest to us. I posit that the wise human engages in an ongoing journey to find ways to immerse him or herself in optimal circumstances
that meet their inner needs and stimulate growth to the greatest possible extent. To settle for less, to resign ourselves, is to give in to the illusions of powerlessness and practicality.
Of course it's a speculative game. You might think that you yearn to be an Austrian ski champion, and you might fight your whole life to climb your way into that world only to have the carpet pulled out from under you by what I'll call a "final flip": You stop half way down the Alps one sunny afternoon, raise your goggles, and realize you might have been just as happy shoveling sand in a pit in Japan. We're funny like that. Humans.
That said, I'm not going to let the slim possibility of there being a "final flip" get in the way of finding and achieving ideal circumstances. You don't cancel a trip to the beach because it might rain.