If there is a definition of postmodern film, it should be understood as what it is not. Postmodernism does not focus, generalize, direct or respond. It is a new form of consciousness that emerged in the post-war era when there was a great outcry against structure and hegemony. There was a rising “indifference” towards “grand-narratives” on which structures are founded.
In the light of this change in “consciousness” there are also other elements that constituted the spread of “postmodern” culture across the globe. Colonial power has now been replaced by corporate power which is concentrated in the Western World. This advantage that the western world has over the other countries is due to the fact that the Industrial revolution had its origins in Europe. This in turn can be traced to the “Enlightenment”, which is entirely a western discourse. Post-modernity questions this grand narrative and expresses itself through different channels or mediums and since film is popular worldwide, it is now a potent medium.
Abstract Postmodern cinema has emerged in the 1980s and I990s as a powerfully creative force in Hollywood filmmaking, reflecting and helping to shape the historic convergence of media culture, technology, and consumerism. It corresponds to the post-Fordist, globalized phase of capitalist development typified by increasing class polarization, social atomization, urban chaos and violence, ecological crisis, and mass depoliticization. Departing from the modernist cultural tradition grounded in the Enlightenment, norms of industrial society, and faith in historical progress, postmodern cinema is characterized by disjointed narratives, a dark view of the human condition, images of chaos and random violence, death of the hero, emphasis on technique over content, and dystopic views of the future. While postmodern directors such as Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Mike Figgis, and John Waters produce films that are often highly original and even subversive, their departure from conventional Hollywood formulas and motifs that define the studio system —their pronounced cultural radicalism—is rarely associated with any sort of political radicalism even where a harsh social critique might be visible. Postmodern cinema helps reproduce the very popular mood of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, and cynicism that it mirrors in the general society.
(CARL BOGGS & TOM POLLARD)
There is a great “Derridain” influence in post-modern cinema. The Derridian form of “criticism” plays on language and exposes the contradictions in every discourse. This is visible in post-modern cinema. In movies like “Masked and Anonymous” there is a constant play on language which is a direct result of the uncertainty of our era. Postmodern cinema of this genre often portrays the world as a “dark” place and Human Beings as futile creatures. This is due to the rising skepticism against the power that lies in the hand of the Capitalist and the decay of culture, environment and real Human dignity. These movies expose the possibility of a dark future crowned with anarchy. This is where the “subversion” takes place, just like Derrida does not prefer one binary over the other, these movies constantly try to empower the lesser but later expose the “evil” that is immanent in both extremes. There is no possible end to this, thus these movies end in a “suspended” state.
The next genre of Post-Modern film deals with lifestyle especially in the Continent. They deal with the lifestyle of a society entirely immersed in post-modern culture. These films try to expose society’s passions, dreams and everyday human conduct. These contain seeds of existentialism.
Another popular but least impressive of all the other existing genres are the movies that base themselves on the Conspiracy theory. They play on the “inauthenticity” of every structure’s origin. This instigates skepticism against life.
Characteristics of Postmodern Film
Postmodern movies at large contain the following characteristics:-
• Negation of Metaphysics
• Absence of Teleology
• No presence but only “absence” and “Deferral”
• Suspension of the Conclusion
• “Beyond good and evil”
Negation of Metaphysics
Postmodern movies do not attempt to be self-explanatory although there is an illusion of a “grand narrative” a closer examination would reveal that it is only a mere “field” where the “game” is performed. A movie like “Masked and Anonymous” deliberately carries with it a lot of extra detail to exclude the role of a narrator who would have become a crucial entity in the movie. The narrator is often a carrier of meaning and explains the “context” of the movie; every viewer would consciously or subconsciously depend on him to constantly give them the “authentic” meaning of the movie but this is a direct violation of the rules of postmodernism. Thus with the negation of metaphysics in postmodern films, the viewer has the freedom to create his own narrative and his own “essence”
Absence of Teleology
“The trick is to enjoy life and accept that it has no meaning” Juan Antonia (Vikki Christina Barcelona)
The films that are influenced by modernity or existentialism often begin with chaos and the “hero” (who is the Messiah or the center) brings order to the chaos. Every character has an important role to play and a vast potion of the film focuses on how the “hero” finds his meaning; he could find meaning in tragedy, history or love and this would “inspire” him to “fulfill” his purpose in life.
Postmodern films begin and end with chaos. Every character is a helpless spectator and is confined to his own reality. Postmodern films are not short of “micro-narratives” but that does not mean that each character has purpose or is in a quest to understand his/her purpose, these narratives merely explain the character’s “construct”. Each character is a helpless mould of clay, discourses, circumstances and society “construct” each of the character and exposure to any other reality that might oppose the basic “essence” of a character would not be treated with disdain and anger but merely as a “worthy opponent” that possess the power to influence even the character with the strongest values. This is visible in the movie “The Dark Knight” where the joker (who appears to be the anti-hero) “exposes” the “unreal” self of Harvey Dent who was a successful lawyer known for his values; the Joker induces chaos in his life but later explains that it was not his “intention” to “personally” hurt him but an expression of his own freedom and he encourages Harvey to do the same and “unleash his impulses”.
Thus every character does not seek his “essence” or purpose but rather allows circumstances to mould them.
No “Presence” but only “Absence” and “Deferral”
Presence brings with it definite, immediate meaning that is accessible to everybody. Presence is always absolutely singular and rigid. Postmodern film attempts to negate “presence” by constantly exposing the limitation of Human language and expression. Puns are employed in good measure to keep the meaning suspended. The dialogues are mostly abstract but have a strong link to past experience and they also act as signifiers or clues for the viewer to attempt to decode the “end”. It is like a jigsaw puzzle with two ends, piecing one end does not in reality imply that the other is in harmony. Thus there is always uncertainty on one end and thus meaning is deferred. The narrative behind each character’s past might also leave clues to the meaning but viewing each character in isolation does not help because the “meaning” of a certain character is closely liked to the other although they might at times appear to have an absolutely isolated role. Thus “the trace” is always an active entity and meaning or presence is always divided.
I was always a singer and maybe no more then that. Sometimes it's not enough to know the meaning of things, sometimes we have to know what things don't mean as well. Like what does it mean to not know what the person you love is capable of? Things fall apart, especially all the neat order of rules and laws. The way we look at the world is the way we really are. See it from a fair garden and everything looks cheerful. Climb to a higher plateau and you'll see plunder and murder. Truth and beauty are in the eye of the beholder. I stopped trying to figure everything out a long time ago.
Jack Fate (Bob Dylan): Masked and Anonymous
Suspension of the Conclusion
Postmodern film is not romantic nor is it “unromantic”. The “And they lived happily ever after” ending is certainly not preferred neither is an insanely dark ending. The viewer has the power to decide on the ending and any possibility is open. According to me, the discourse does not end with the death of any or even every character but is merely a seed that is sown and would be present as a “trace” forever. This is the reason why postmodern films do not have a definite ending. The characters are not exhausted or obsolete but their journey in the aporia does not have an end.
This is how “The Dark Knight” ends:-
Batman- You Will hunt me, You’ll Condemn me, set the Dogs on me! I guess that’s what needs to happen, Because sometimes Truth isn’t good enough, sometimes People deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith Rewarded.
James Gordon Jr.- Batman, Batman! Why is he running Daddy?
Gordon- Because we have to chase him.
Cop- Ok, We’re going in, Go, Go, Move!
James Gordon Jr.- He didn’t do anything wrong?
Gordon- Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not what it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him, Because he can take it, because he’s not our hero. He’s a second Guardian, a watchful protector, A Dark Knight!
While the world waits for the “official” sequel, they are free to decide on how Gordan would react to Batman. Would he suffer the same fate as Harvey Dent or would he retain his “sanity”? What would he do if he did catch the Batman knowing that he saved his family?
These are the parts that are absent in the movie’s conclusion.
Beyond Good and Evil
One of the most extraordinary images in modern cinema is the scene where the Joker burns a huge stockpile of notes in “The Dark Knight”. The Joker is not a gangster nor is he a conventional villain. The Joker says that he is the one who gives meaning to the Batman and thus inaugurating a whole new definition of the concept of the “villain”. He says that he does not want to kill the Batman but would only want his attention. All the newspapers celebrated the emergence of a anti-hero so different from the rest. Here are a few quotes by the Joker.
The Joker: Oh, you. You just couldn't let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You are truly incorruptible, aren't you? Huh? You won't kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won't kill you because you're just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.
Batman: You'll be in a padded cell forever.
The Joker: Maybe we can share one. You know, they'll be doubling up, the rate this city's inhabitants are losing their minds.
Batman: This city just showed you that it's full of people ready to believe in good.
The Joker: Until their spirit breaks completely. Until they get a good look at the real Harvey Dent and all the heroic things he's done. You didn't think I'd risk losing the battle for Gotham's soul in a fistfight with you? No. You need an ace in the hole. Mine's Harvey.
Batman: What did you do?
The Joker: I took Gotham's white knight and I brought him down to our level. It wasn't hard. You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push!
The Joker: [over the PA] Tonight you're all gonna be part of a social experiment. Through the magic of diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate, I'm ready right now to blow you all sky high. Anyone attempts to get off their boat, you all die. Each of you has a remote... to blow up the other boat. At midnight, I blow you all up. If, however, one of you presses the button, I'll let that boat live. So, who's it going to be: Harvey Dent's most wanted scumbag collection, or the sweet and innocent civilians? You choose... oh, and you might want to decide quickly, because the people on the other boat might not be so noble.
Batman: Then why do you want to kill me?
The Joker: [laughs] I don't want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You... you... complete me.
Batman: You're garbage who kills for money.
The Joker: Don't talk like one of them. You're not! Even if you'd like to be. To them, you're just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don't, they'll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it's a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you. When the chips are down, these... these civilized people, they'll eat each other. See, I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve.
A conventional understanding of this movie would imply that the Batman represents the forces of good and the Joker that of evil but the underlying base of this movie is that the Batman was the one who “constructed” a person like the Joker unconsciously and the public views them as the same entity. Thus the Joker implies that the Batman and he depend on each other and it is the public that both of them should be weary of because he believes that the world is filled with hypocrites and that only the Batman and himself are true to themselves. Thus the Joker does not exist to unleash chaos but merely is “ahead of the curve”.
Postmodern film represents “Art for Art’s sake” and medium is the message contrary to the classical understanding of art as a means to understand the truth behind a certain entity. Thus disjointed narratives, uncertainty, complexity, nihilism and anarchy are the qualities of postmodern films. The onus is on the viewer to decide the fate of the discourse because “All the world’s a stage and all men and women merely players”. The essence of the film is entirely the subjective perception of the viewer; the film only opens new possibilities.