This essay has been written to explore the metaphor behind the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou. Harper and Stone (2007) have stated that this ‘…revealed the cinema as the true metaphor of the dream state…’ Harper and Stone (2007:8). This essay will be discussed in conjunction with the Surrealist movement, a brief overview of scholars work to date shall then be given, the film will then be introduced, then the directors intentions shall be discussed. From here the metaphor of the dream, state shall then be examined and then a brief outline of Freud shall be given.
Once each of these factors have been discussed conclusions shall be drawn regarding the statement that the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou ‘… revealed the cinema as the true metaphor of the dream state…’ Harper and Stone (2007:8).
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This essay has been written to explore the metaphor behind the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou. Since the surrealism movement started in the 1920s, many have noted the similarities between films that were produced during this time and this faction. At this time, films that were produced were experimental. They explored relationships between reality and the many images, which could be shown, on the screen to many people. They explored these realities through a number of means by reflecting what they perceived to be a dream world, which could capture the imagination and consciousness of mass audiences. Thus, reality was redefined through these films to seek to capture the hearts and minds of this generation.
Many of the early surrealists wrote about how the cinema at this time reflected the reality of the present say. Yet unlike many other forms of art, film was not truly perceived as being surrealist at this time as much as, poetry, fiction, painting, photography, or collage. Subsequently, the scholarship that has evolved around the development of surrealism and film has become highly varied. Each of these variations is due to the time in which scholars have sought to examine these two factors in conjunction with each other.
The earliest examinations of the relationships between surrealism and film were mainly derived from French writers who sought to understand why these films were so popular (Dennison & Lim, 2006; Kyrou, 2005). Then a second group of scholars started to examine surrealist films, their directors, and a number of other related scenarios. These scholars believed that each of these factors had influenced each other whilst these films had been made. Finally, more recently, a number of scholars have sought to understand the relationships between these films and surrealism (Dennison & Lim, 2006; Kyrou, 2005). They have sought to develop a number of theories or concepts that allow these phenomena to be classified into a number of fields such as, literary or cultural studies (Kyrou, 2005). Each of these forms of academic investigation into the relationships between surrealism and these films has resulted in a number of differing viewpoints. One of these is that the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou ‘… revealed the cinema as the true metaphor of the dream state…’ Harper and Stone (2007:8), however there are also others. These scholar’s views shall now be briefly outlined to seek to understand what these are.
2.Academic Studies and Surrealism
In order to fully understand how Harper and Stone (2006), reached their understanding of surrealism, it is necessary to give a brief overview on how academics have examined this and the factors surrounding it, in relation to film. Therefore a brief overview of this shall now be undertaken.
As has already been outlined above, a number of scholars have sought to explore the relationships between film and surrealism. Many of these started to be undertaken in the middle of the 20th century (Graham & Labanyi, 1995; Kyrou, 2005). Many film critics, which were associated with the French cinema movement also sought to understand these relationships between the surrealist movement and cinema (Graham & Labanyi, 1995; Kyrou, 2005). However, since this time academics have sought to understand a number of elements, which may be derived from specific disciplines. Matthews (1971) and Kovacs (1980) started to seek to understand the general interests that the surrealists had in film and they wanted to know what the aspirations of these thinkers were in relation to the specific elements of each film. Thus, the analysis of the surrealist movement and film started to take shape. Beyond this, other scholars such as, Short (2008) and Richardson (2006) started to discuss the actual surrealist film makers in an attempt to bridge the gap between what they were trying to attain whilst they were making these films, as many other scholars had focused on a number of other specific elements (Kyrou, 2005). Other works had focused on analysing the relationships between surrealism and cinema, such as, Lancanian psycholinguistic analysis (Williams, 1981) and theories that are more recently new have evolved. Both Kuenzli (1996) and Harper and Stone (2006) have broadened these examinations of the relationships between surrealism and cinema. Kuenzli (1996) focuses on the French surrealist films that were produced in the 1920s and 1930s, whereas Harper and Stone (2006) have sought to understand the cultural genres, which may be associated with these surrealistic films. In particular, Harper and Stone (2006) surmise that:
“….Surrealist cinema presents an unsilvered screen offering no refection to an audience except the possibility of examining, through unsettling the status quo, the truth of their own lives; reality, that is caught in the moments, the memories, the unexpected glimpses beyond the everyday. A sometimes dark Truth, therefore, but equally an often potent comedy of human existence” (Harper and Stone, 2006: 8).
Thus, they have sought to understand the cultural aspects that may be related to surrealism and film. However, though this is a useful way through which to understand the relationship between surrealism and film (Bordwell, Thompson & Ashton, 1997). There is much more that may be said about the relationship between these two factors, one may considered the origins, manifestations, images and a number of other surrealist works which may have influenced this movement. One may also examine the fact that the surrealist movement if often associated with the idea of revolt. This was because what evolved in the ear of the First World War era, where ideas were rejected, as they appeared to be out-dated in a radical time of political or social change and devastation. This, it may be seen that surrealism tried to address these out-dated ideas by seeking to explored new means of expression which were relevant to the time when they were produced. The fact is that it encompassed so many ideas and so many variable forms of art that it may be examined by scholars from a number of perspectives. From this, it may be derived that there is not one way of examining the relationships between surrealism and film. However, for the purposes of this essay, we shall now seek to understand this in the context of the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou that Harper and Stone believed ‘… revealed the cinema as the true metaphor of the dream state…’ (Harper and Stone, 2007:8).
1. Freud and the surrealist movement
Freud was an Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst he studied under Jean-Martin Charcot before opening his own medical practice in Vienna. He is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind, which have been alluded to throughout this essay. He believed that he could understand the unconscious mind through the practice of psychoanalysis (Freud, 1913). This consisted of a specialised dialogue that was undertaken through free association between a doctor and his patient. He became renowned for a number of his theories at this time however; the most pertinent to surrealism is his theory of dreams. He published his Interpretation of Dreams in the early part of the twentieth century (Freud, 1913). In it, he states that:
“The naive judgment of the dreamer on waking assumes that the dream – even if it does not come from another world – has at all events transported ….all the material composing the content of a dream is somehow derived from experience, that it is reproduced or remembered in the dream – this at least may be accepted as an incontestable fact. Yet, it would be wrong to assume that such a connection between the dream-content and reality will be easily obvious from a comparison between the two. On the contrary, the connection must be carefully sought, and in quite a number of cases, it may for a long while elude discovery. The reason for this is to be found in a number of peculiarities evinced by the faculty of memory in dreams; which peculiarities, though generally observed, have hitherto defied explanation. It will be worth our while to examine these characteristics exhaustively the dreamer into another world.” (Freud, 1913: Preface)
Twenty to thirty years later, the surrealist movement used this as they sought to depict how dreams may be used to depict reality (Bordwell, Thompson & Ashton, 1997). This is shown through the film, which is discussed in more detail below.
2.The Film Un Chien Andalou
In his autobiography, the director, Luis Bunuel, wrote about his film Un Chien Andalou he stated that:
“...I’d felt increasingly seduced by that passion for the irrational which was so characteristic of surrealism… in the working out of the plot every idea of a rational, aesthetic or other preoccupation with technical matters was rejected as irrelevant….”(Bunuel, 1984: 100).
He also alludes to his own approach to surrealism:
“The real purpose of surrealism was not to create a new literary, artistic, or even philosophical movement, but to explode the social order, to transform life itself.” (Bunuel, 1984: 107).
Both of these statements provide us with a useful insight into what Bunuel was seeking to achieve. He saw that the script and the film as a production from his unconscious. He regarded this as a great resource through which he could express and understand irrational things, which formed the world around him. Thus, one approach that may be adopted to understand the film Un Chien Andalou may be to seek to treat the film as a manifestation of the director’s psychological processes either from an unconscious or conscious perspective (Williams, 1981). One could adopt an approach that is derived from psychoanalysis to seek to understand his motivations and thought processes. Either way, we must consider the emotional aspects, which are related to this film, as this is how the director created Un Chien Andalou. This could be undertaken through examining the visual experiences of an audience as they watched the film or through examining the dialogue and its metaphors. Breton commented that:
“the Surrealist atmosphere created by automatic writing, which I have wanted to put within the reach of everyone, is especially conducive to the production of the most beautiful images.” (Breton, 1924: online)
For him, the images were in the surrealist films that were so striking. He believed that these created juxtaposition between two opposing elements, which were reality, and fantasy, like the “man cut in two by the window“(Breton, 1924: online). Thus one may say that from this perspective that Harper and Stones statement that surrealist films ‘…revealed the cinema as the true metaphor of the dream state…’ (Harper and Stone, 2007:8), was true. This may be seen as one of the key strengths of this genre, it reveals and explores a new reality, which the audience may experience first hand.
Many have said that the imagery in Bunuel’s films was very beautiful and unforgettable (see as an example: Breton, 1924: Harper and Stone, 2007). This is what made them so emotionally insightful and gave the audience the feeling that they understood their conflicts and desires. A sequence from this film may be used as an example to illustrate this. The extract sequence begins after the stranger in a suit and hat enters the cyclist’s room, pulls off the cyclist’s drag garb and box and throws them out the window, then orders him to stand facing the wall with his arms up as if on a crucifix:
An inter- title reads, “Seize ans avant (Sixteen years ago)”, and as the stranger turns to leave, we find that he is a spitting image of the cyclist. He spots some books scribbled upon by ink, walks over, closes the books, and holds them to his chest with an air of disapproval. He returns to the cyclist, still standing by the wall, and hands him the books, shaking his head as if in disappointment. After he turns once again to leave, the cyclist suddenly spins around with a glower on his face, and the books in his hands become guns. The doppelganger turns to face the cyclist with a hurt look, but the cyclist mercilessly fires several shots. The doppelganger’s eyes roll back and he begins his slow-motion collapse, but falls in a meadow by a gentle lake, next to a nude woman who sits with her back facing the camera. He reaches out and tries to clasp her, but his fingers claw down her bare back, and he falls as the woman vanishes.
This excerpt show sus how we may seek to understand this film from a number of perspectives, if we adopt a psychoanalytical approach to this we can see that the cyclist may have been disenchanted with constraining effects of the super ego and thus, he lashes out by retaliating by turning the objects against him, the books are turned into weapons which he uses like guns. The killing of the doppelganger, which is like a father to him, seems to be related to the Oedipal complex interpretations too. This sequence is also emotionally powerful and this reflects the ids impulse that allows us to act out, thus a number of emotions are acted out though the surrealist nature of this film. From this when we review Harper and Stones statement that surrealist films ‘… revealed the cinema as the true metaphor of the dream state…’ (Harper and Stone, 2007:8), we may see that this statement may also be extended to the psychoanalytical means through which this film maybe examined.
In conclusion, whether the director’s film was created by his unconscious mind or his conscious reality, which he perceived to be true, we can see how surrealism may have sought to imitate those images, which may be derived from a dream state that is created in our unconscious mind. Thus, the director and the film that he has created have explored and depicted a new reality that some may relate to through a series of emotional responses.
3.The metaphor of a dream state
From this when we review Harper and Stones statement that surrealist films ‘… revealed the cinema as the true metaphor of the dream state…’ (Harper and Stone, 2007:8), we can see what the surrealists saw dreams as. They believed that this was one way through which they could gain access to the unconscious and in making these films, they also gave others access to the parts of their minds which they may not normally be aware of (Bordwell, Thompson & Ashton, 1997). From his perspective, they used their films as a metaphor through which they could show audiences the dream state, as Breton (1924) states:
“It is quite right that Freud has analysed dreams. It is inadmissible that this considerable part of our psychic activity should have received so little attention” (Breton, 1924: 21–22).
This, through these films reality was depicted as a dream and dreams were depicted as reality. These states were derived from Freud’s theory of dreams, which was created at this time, thus this had a significant influence on the surrealist movement.
The image was very important to the surrealist movement and thus we may see how the film Un Chien Andalou may be to seen as a manifestation of the directors psychological processes either from an unconscious or conscious perspective (Williams, 1981). This is pertinent in regards to the statement that was to be discussed at the beginning of this essay which was surrealist films ‘… revealed the cinema as the true metaphor of the dream state…’ (Harper and Stone, 2007:8). Now we may fully understand how Harper and Stone (2007) reached their conclusions.
In conclusion the statement which was made by Harper and Stone (2007) which states that surrealist films ‘… revealed the cinema as the true metaphor of the dream state…’ (Harper and Stone, 2007:8) in relation to the film Un Chien Andalou, may be seen to be derived from a number of perspectives. These are based on the images, which are depicted in the film, the director’s unconscious or conscious mind that influenced how the film was made, the sequences, which occurred throughout the film and the ways through which each of these factors may be understood through psychoanalytical theory or Freud’s work the Interpretation of Dreams (Freud, 1913).
Each of these factors shows how this film was derived and sought to show mass audiences how reality may be depicted through the metaphor of dreams. This is the common approach which has been associated with the surrealist movement and each of the forms of art or expression that are used to depict how reality may be perceived by dreams and vice versa. From this perspective the analysis and the discussion, which has been undertaken in this essay, supports the statement, which was made by Harper and Stone (2007).
However, though that conclusion may be drawn in relation to the discussion that has been undertaken through this essay other conclusions may also be drawn. These are related to the means through which the analysis of the surrealist movement saw and sought to create metaphorical depictions of reality through the expression of the dream state via a number of means. There is much more that may be said about the relationship between these two factors, one may considered the origins, manifestations, images and a number of other surrealist works which may have influenced this movement. One may also examine the fact that the surrealist movement if often associated with the idea of revolt. This was because what evolved in the ear of the First World War era, where ideas were rejected, as they appeared to be out-dated in a radical time of political or social change and devastation. Thus, it may be seen that surrealism tried to address these out-dated ideas by seeking to explore new means of expression, which were relevant to the time when they were produced. The fact is that it encompassed so many ideas and so many variable forms of art that scholars from a number of perspectives may examine it. From this, it may be derived that there is not one way of examining the relationships between surrealism and film.
Bordwell, D., Thompson, K., & Ashton, J. (1997). Film art: an introduction (Vol. 7). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Breton, A. (1924) Manifesto of Surrealism. Available from http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~fa1871/surrext.html (Accessed 29/05/2013)
Bunuel, L. (1984) My Last Sigh. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Dennison, S., & Lim, S. H. (2006). Remapping world cinema: identity, culture and politics in film. Wallflower Pr.
Freud, S. (1913) The Interpretation of Dreams, Third Edition. Trans. by A. A. Brill. New York: The Macmillan Company.
Graham, H., & Labanyi, Y. J. (Eds.). (1995). Spanish cultural studies: an introduction: the struggle for modernity (p. 18). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Harper, G. and Stone, R. (2007) The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film. London: Wallflower.
Kovacs, S. (1980) From Enchantment to Rage: The Story of Surrealist Cinema. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
Kuenzli, R. (1996) Dada and Surrealist Film. Cambridge, MA. MIT Press.
Kyrou, A. (2005) Le surrealisme au cinema. Paris: Editions Ramsay.
Matthews, J. H. (1971) Surrealism and Film. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Short, R. (2008) The Age of Gold: Surrealist Cinema. Los Angeles: Solar.
Richardson, M. (2006) Surrealism and Cinema. Oxford: Berg.
Williams, L. (1981) Figures of Desire: A Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
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