The Purple Rose of Cairo

10 October 2016

Film has captured and enchanted audiences since its origination with the Lumiere Brothers; and, as it developed, it began to be used to convey messages and ideas. Film started to become a creative outlet that then turned to a catalyst of philosophical thought. Film theorist Sergei Einstein expressed that film “as a work of art, understood dynamically, is just the process of arranging images in the feelings and mind of the spectator”.

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Thus, directors began to realize that audience manipulation was possible through the images and sounds they delivered, as well as through the way these images and sounds were presented– it all has an effect of how viewers thought of and interpreted the films. This is especially clear in the German film, Triumph of Will, directed by Leni Reifenstahl. While the film is brilliantly made, with moving cameras, the utilization of long focus lenses, aerial photography, and a revolutionary approach to musical accompaniment, the film was also incredibly propagandistic and manipulative at the time of it’s release.

The entire film is a vehicle to promote the ideologies of Hitler; beginning with Germany’s near-destruction in World War I and depicting Hitler as a messiah, descending from the skies to greet his vehement followers. In the opening minutes of the film, there are close-up and over-the-shoulder shots of Hitler, making him seem rather personable, adored, and somewhat noble. There are also shots of children approaching him, showing that the ideas of innocence and purity are to be seen as parallel to the views and goals Hitler himself.

Aesthetically, the entire film is superbly done, and politically its manipulative powers are astonishing. By showing Germany as unified under the divine rule of Hitler, it brought the nation together and created one of the most destructive and powerful nations in the 1940s. While film can be used as propaganda, like in Nazi Germany, it can also be used to provoke thought, rather than control it, manipulate it, or deceive it. In Woody Allen’s film The Purple Rose of Cairo, the audience is pushed to move beyond the appearance of things and consider other worlds, other perspectives.

For the heroine, Cecilia, film is an escape and an impossible inspiration. According to the fictitious movie (The Purple Rose of Cairo), the purple rose itself is supposed to grow in a pharaoh’s tomb– the expression of a perfect love. However, no flower can grow without light making it an impossible inspiration. According to Plato, and to partially to Allen, our relationship with truth is rather grim. When we attend movies we are much like Plato’s captives, chained facing a cave wall, only seeing a world of shadows– our reality is suspended.

But another point is made; although we can be deceived by shadows, we are also capable of understanding and questioning anything, shadows included. Yes, film is an escape from reality and the idea of being able to truly escape a somewhat horrid life is unimaginably wonderful, but thats just it– it is an idea. Change has to be brought on by oneself, not an unreliable outside source, and perfection is an illusion. I as a viewer absolutely love how Allen presents these ideologies in The Purple Rose of Cairo.

He gives it an unconventional point of view, setting up a series of contrasts between perfection and imperfection, reality and illusion, loving someone and being in love with someone, that forces us to think about film as well as the actual content of the film. And this all ties back to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”; our life is veiled and we must aspire to leave and become less dependent on the shadow world. What is interesting is that, in the film, Allen makes the audience unsure of which world is the shadow world and which is the illusion.

The perfect world becomes the film world and the false one is the desired reality. As entertainment, the film is great– a nonsensical romantic comedy with a less-than-happy ending; but philosophically it goes much deeper than that, provoking audiences to think about reality and the importance of imperfection. While on the subject of imperfection, a third film demands some attention. Alejandro Amenabar’s The Sea Inside presents a whole new perspective on what perfection in life is. Many people see suicide as a selfish act– removing yourself from the lives of your loved ones far earlier than they would have liked.

However, the question of who is more selfish is posed. Is it the people who remove themselves when they feel no more connection to life; or the people who expect those who want to leave to stay, regardless of their misery or feelings of lacking true connection to the vibrancy of life? Thus are the questions presented to audiences upon viewing this film. In my mind, everyone should have the freedom to choose the life they want to live, or not live; and to choose what meaning they take out of said life. In Clendine’s “The Good Short Life”, it is said that we speak of living life, but never of death.

That “we act as if facing death weren’t one of life’s greatest, most absorbing thrills and challenges” and that being incoherent and immobile until one only sees friends and family as “a passing cloud”. Both Clendine and Ramon didn’t want to put their loved ones through that, and taking one’s life seemed to be the best solution. Both were “vital to the end, and knew when to leave”. In my opinion, if someone has legitimate, justifiable reasons to want to leave this earth (such as a degenerative disease), that they have a right to do so.

And if they cannot on their own accord due to that degenerative disease, I think that others (physicians, family members, friends) should be legally permitted to assist them. They shouldn’t be obligated to assist, but if they give consent and are willing to aid, I think they should be permitted. Mark from Breathing Lessons and Ramon were also similar on a few levels, but Mark had more hope and determination to live with dignity. Unlike Ramon who saw his life as undignified, Mark viewed it more as excessively challenging. Mark still desired life– though considered suicide, but “chickened out”– showing that he did truly still want to live.

Ramon, however, was lost in his melancholy and nostalgia for the past, choosing to disregard the possibilities the future could bring. I think that it is a personal choice and that each individual should be given the liberty of making that choice. The phrase “dying with dignity” always reminds me of greek mythology when humiliated warriors would throw themselves on their swords for an honorable death, rather than live life in humility. I think Ramon saw his life as more humiliating and therefore wanted to throw himself on his sword, so to speak.

With this, I think that the US should have a “death with dignity” law. Everyone has a right to life, as well as a right to death. Film is one of the most influential and powerful media. It’s capabilities to provoke, cultivate, and manipulate audience thought is incredible and worth studying. The innovations that film itself has gone through– the amount of genres it contains, special effects, and advancements in sound– all contribute to film as a whole, and all contribute to the beauty of how film is created and suspends the reality of viewers if only for an hour or two.

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