This post is a contribution to the experimental project REQUIEM // 102 spearheaded by Professor Nick Rombes of the University of Detroit Mercy. Thanks, Nick for conceiving of and facilitating this exciting collaborative project.
30:37 : CORNERED
Marion and Harry stand in the corner of the recently purchased retail space that will house Marion’s fashion design business. In the scene just before the fast sequence to which this shot belongs, Harry has arrived home from a day of dealing to announce to Marion, “We’re on our way, baby! We’re on our way!” The news is well-received by Marion who has spent the day in a maniacal, drug-induced state of creative frenzy mashing together a series of cut-out pastiche clothing designs.
The still frame above appears likewise in the film as a still image. It occupies a milliseconds-long flash on the screen in the midst of a twenty-second fast sequence of the film’s famous zoomed-in, iconic shots. These consecutive shots achieve fluidity through their sequencing of simple, minute movements that, paradoxically, both essentialize and fragment action and process. A drug deal is portrayed by way of iconic gestures: “wallet-pocket-hands-shiftingeyes” and corresponding sounds: “swoosh-ching-alarmcry/bang.” In the sequence from 30:31-30:50, we see drug deal activity interwoven with shots of Marion’s creative work; the sewing machine stitching across the screen, the mechanical rhythm binding the shots.
In the context of this fast sequence, each image of the retail space (of which there are four in total, flashed six seconds apart) works to jar the fluid progression of the dynamic shots. What is the function of this jarring effect? In the midst of the fast pace of drug dealing, fashion designing, money-making, and heroin snorting, we are given photographic images of stasis; of moments captured, rather than in progress. The visual effect of these images, when taken alone, recalls print rather than electronic media. The temporal effect is one of past tense or recollection, rather than that of the cinematic, all-perceiving eye-as-camera. Perhaps the still images appear to us as moments of promise, of potential, of hope? But they also come from a place of despair and regret. They are tainted because of their position in the realm of memory, as representations of past aspirations that have already (and always) been broken, ill-fated, condemned.
The still image of Marion and Harry above positions them centrally, with Harry literally backed up against a corner and Marion peering out one tiny pinhole in the wash of white wall and window covering. The viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to this minuscule opening of darkness, of absence, in a room of white light. A break in the whiteness also appears in the form of shadow; lit from above, the windowsill casts a dark spot over the pair’s feet, giving the sense of an encroaching entity or perhaps obscuring the definition of their feet against the floor, so that they appear to float in this space. The scene in the image raises many questions. What does Marion search for as she leans over the sill and peeks through the blinds? And what does she find? Why does Harry open the gap for her to peer through, and why doesn’t he look, himself? Why are the blinds closed? Who is hiding what, and from whom?
The “already always tainted” effect functions strongly in possible interpretations of this image and fits naturally into the hopeless, foreboding, and ominous aura that, from the very start, haunts the scenes of Aronofsky’s film. In the still image of Marion and Harry above, the apparent blankness of the space that signifies the potential for creativity, for growth and regeneration, proves to be an illusion. The room is not a blank canvas, but instead already filled with the burdens, mistakes, and future failures of the characters. As viewers, we want to see this space as one of possibility, as a route of escape for Marion and Harry from the emotional, economic, and physical binds of addiction. But the static scene only rejects our desires, representing a space of failed attempts and missed opportunities—projecting an ill fate that has already come to pass.