Sunday, October 24, 2004

Cinema and Identity

Cinema is the most recent, and yet very compelling means of expressing various kinds of identity through creative expression. Everyone is transformed through film - the actors, the film-makers, and the film watchers. The viewers must achieve a "willing suspension of disbelief" to turn flickering lights on a canvas into a magic lantern of pseudo-reality.

A good list of films dealing with identity, solipsism and reality is at Amazon.com, maintained by Scott Fulmar
The topic of identity, and what it is to be, has been a common topic in film. Perhaps everyone's favorite film on a challenge to identity, and reality being other than it seems is The Matrix. Another film that induced much thought is The Butterfly Effect. Here, the main character goes on a Candide-like search through his life, tweaking different events, and reliving the rest of his life from that point, looking for 'the best of all possible worlds'. Finally, he realizes that the best life was perhaps one where he was never born at all, at least on the "better" DVD alternate Ending, which is a kind of Butterfly effect in itself.

This ties to a more formal definition of the Butterfly effect as a "sensitive dependence on initial conditions". Is one's identity then pre-determined by early events - a la Freud?

Sigmund Freud had the insight, early on, that human development is a complex process producing an infinite variety of end results which cannot be predicted or controlled, although there are clear regularities and patterns. He termed the decision points that drive the determinance of character "the exigencies of Life" In his paper "Mechanisms of Defense", he identified repression causing significant ripple effects from " Each single derivative of the repressed representative has its own effect." As the film has it "Change One Thing...Change Everything"

Thus identity is formed like a billiard ball, caroming off the different "exigencies of life" much like our traversals across cyberspace forming our online identities.

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