By Ethna D. Lay
In The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim discusses fairy tales and the possible signification of terror in a child’s development. However, in this fairy tale-esque presentation, there is no terror with which to contend. Death looks peaceful and comforting. The upset is not graphic, nor violent, and as such, it is potentially less effective and perhaps more damaging. On one hand, this video production is lovely; its images are elegant, seductive, enchanting. On the other hand, its exigence – acceptance of an imminent death — is not overtly declared, which makes the tenor of the video rather disturbing in a different manner. The speaker notes that she is forced to come to terms with her own death at a young age in the verbal accompaniment, but the only evidence of this is a hospital gurney.
The narrator speaks of death as a series of opportunities to do what she has not done, to live what she has not lived. As such, the production seems a bit like a wistful, wish fulfillment, jarring in the reality that there won’t be any living to do or at least not living the way the narrator currently experiences life. The mood is meant to be one of acceptance of imminent death, but the effect is more like blatant denial of dying. The creator’s goal seems to be to find a way of making dying into living. As such, the production leaves the audience considering more deliberately the possibility that death is potentially empowering. Perhaps this is the whole point of the piece.
Death is imaged as tumbling into a pool of water. The open sequence of images of drowning – a young woman on the surface of the water transforms to a falling, tumbling female form. This change seems to be visually very astute and expressive. Next, there are multiplicities represented– of fish, of underwater life, and finally, a younger child playing in the deep water. In the drowning, the woman is metamorphosized, given a new beginning and allowed to grow again. The production presents that there is life after death underwater – or that death is an alternate state of living – water as life-depriving and life-giving. It’s an interesting ambiguity.
This production is so lovely visually. The tone of the narrator’s voice is at once vulnerable and confident. The sequencing of the images is frequently well made. The narrative is at times confusing, as the speaker yearns so deeply to prove that her death is a chance to live again. For those viewers not confronted with imminent dying, the logic is difficult to accept, for this presentation showcases death as a fairytale opportunity to live the life one couldn’t or was prevented from living. Clearly, the exigency to do so is rooted in the narrator’s wish to continue existing, regardless of state.
This is not a case of “and they lived happily ever after,” but that they existed “ever after” – note the way the phrase is truncated to show the alternate route for the dying child.
On the whole, the production is a romanticized depiction of dying, and the stylized bravado and confidence of the narrator is disconcerting. Still, it is a provocative presentation in that it makes the viewer participate and perhaps come to terms with the speaker’s plight.