Film Review by Dean Duncan Oct 22, 2014

The title comes from a W.C. Bryant poem, and from a word that means seeing one’s own death. This is a very striking, powerful, chilling piece of work. On the soundtrack we have a heartbeat, and what sounds more or less like a buzz saw. These sounds are present, eventually quite nerve-wrackingly, all through the film. The accompanying images are of this inert man, compassed about by this relentlessly shifting apparition. It’s a woman, pixilated. Films like these tend not to give us explanatory narrations, or orienting establishing shots. We don’t often have a conventional plot, or plot resolution, or plot, at all. The viewer is left to wonder. What does this mean? What should I think, and then, what should I do?

Films like these tend to want the viewer to answer those questions for himself. Here, with regard to those two figures, one might associate or project some Beatrice-like idea, some Beatrice-like ideal. More specifically, with regard to Emshwiller’s title, this could be one’s death, and perhaps the angel that attends it.

Or, with the insistent industrial noise on the soundtrack, maybe this is the familiar expressionist device (From Morning To Midnight, The Hairy Ape, Brazil, even) of the shining woman who seems to offer respite from an industrialized, mechanized, dehumanizing modernity. Seems to, but then doesn’t. No God, no Nature, no hope.

And, or, perhaps this is a particularly powerful expression of very common perception, experienced as truth in the lives of so many benighted men. Here is woman as man’s every thought, every ideal, his every and always cross to bear. Again, it’s striking, and very powerful. It gives the sense of lived experience, and deepest conviction. And it goes without saying that it would be well if we could hear the woman’s side of this story!

Here is Bryant’s poem, which is quite a bit more cheerful about the prospect of death than Emshwiller’s film is!

Emshwiller, here: