Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Weekend of the Absurd

Weekend started out like many other Godard films. One got the sense that it might be a little out of the ordinary but I don’t think anybody could have anticipated the extent to which it would take things to the extreme. Little by little the film spiraled away from reality until it ended in a grand finally of weirdness. There was no way to guess what would happen next.  All rules were suspended and Godard was free to use the medium of film to do whatever he wanted. There was no narrative that had to be followed or character that had to be developed. With these constrains gone Godard was at liberty to explore something else. Godard was already leading up to this in some of his other films. However, for his final farewell to cinema, he decided to abandon these elements altogether. The result was a sort of Theatre of the Absurd done to the extreme. 

The Theatre of the Absurd rose in popularity in the 50s and 60s and was aligned with existential thought, which Godard has already referenced in many of his other films. There is even school of thought in existentialism,  known as Absurdisim, in which the absurd refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek value and  meaning in life and the human inability to find any. According to this philosophy humanity’s efforts to find meaning are absurd and will ultimatly fail because the sheer amount of information and the vast unknown makes certainty impossible. One solution to this predicament is to accept the absurd and to create one’s own meaning in the process.

There are many similarities between the main characteristics of the Theatre of the Absurd and those found in Weekend. For one, the aim of Absurd plays was to startle viewers and shake them out of their comfortable conventional life. The plays were surreal, illogical, conflict-less, and plotless. One of the most important aspects of absurd drama was its distrust of language as a means of communication. In their view language had become a vehicle of conventionalized, stereotyped, and meaningless exchanges. The loss of logic was also a common characteristic.
“In being illogical, the absurd theatre is anti-rationalist: it negates rationalism because it feels that rationalist thought, like language, only deals with the superficial aspects of things. Nonsense, on the other hand, opens up a glimpse of the infinite. It offers intoxicating freedom, brings one into contact with the essence of life and is a source of marvellous comedy.”
http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/Slavonic/Absurd.htm (you can read more about this type of theater here)

I’m uncertain of the extent to which Godard was consciously using elements from the Theatre of the Absurd in Weekend. The film is obviously filled with lots of absurd events and nonsense. Godard experimented with many forms of cinema and Weekend is certainly like nothing else he’s ever done before or after. In many ways, he used the film in order to destroy cinema as he knew it and the absurd allowed him to do that. He not only used an “end of the world scenario” as his semi-plot but also played with what that meant in terms of cinema. What happens when you throw all the rules out? What are you left with? No plots, no character development, not much in terms of coherent dialogue, everything gets tossed away and there is something raw about that in both form and content in Weeekend. Once the conventions are gone what is left is nonsense but there is something liberating in nonsense. In that realm one is free to imagine, create, and experiment in a way that isn’t possible under the bonds of logic. Sometimes what comes out is profound, other times its comical but mostly its just odd and challenges us to look at things in a different way. Godard’s choice to use these elements to destroy cinema as he knew it was fitting. Absurd humor can be both annihilating and creative. In this film Godard uses these elements as an attack on the norms of bourgeoisie culture, cinema, and the world as we know it. 


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