film + cinema

  ---- by Laurence Simmons
  In an early scene of The Matrix (Wachowski and Wachowski, 1999), hacker Thomas Anderson (a.k.a. Neo played by Keanu Reeves) opens a copy of Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation (1994a [1981]) to a chapter entitled 'On Nihilism'. But we see that the book is hollow for it serves as Neo's hiding place for the computer programs he sells on the black market. While it seems that Baudrillard's theory of simulation provided much of the inspiration for the film, according to Baudrillard the film-makers have fundamentally misread his work: they have taken 'the hypothesis of the virtual for an irrefutable fact and transformed it into a visible phenomenon'. This produces the irony that, he goes on to note, 'The Matrix is surely the kind of film about the matrix that the matrix would have been able to produce' (Baudrillard, 2004a: unpaginated). The film-makers have thus ended up domesticating the concept of simulacrum in the face of what they believe to be a higher reality.
  Nevertheless, the moment signals the importance of film for Baudrillard and Baudrillard for film. While there exists no systematic theory of cinema as such in Baudrillard there do exist repeated confessions of personal pleasure in the medium when, for example, he declares himself to be an 'unrestrained film buff' (ED, 28) who is 'very much in love with [the cinema]' (BL, 23) as 'really the place where I relax' (BL, 23). Cinema, then, does not merely provide examples that illustrate or make Baudrillard's theories accessible but it forms and constructs insights, critiques and extends his work. At the heart of Baudrillard's attraction to cinema is its participation in the third order of simulacra and Hollywood film's hyperfidelity to the real that is paradoxically achieved at the expense of its own cinematicity. It is the consequences of this third order of simulacra, as we will see, that involve a significant reversal of the apparent position of Baudrillard's cameo citation in The Matrix. For Baudrillard, any attempt to preserve or recreate the real is always doomed to failure and so cinema's attempt to achieve a correspondence with the real through 'its naked obviousness, in its boredom . . . in its pretension to being the real' (SS, 46) simply results in a perverse hyper-reality. The result is hypotyposis and specularity: cinema cannibalises itself in remakes and retroactivations: 'the cinema is fascinated by itself as a lost object as much as it (and we) are fascinated by the real as a lost referent' (SS, 47). Cinema becomes lost in itself.
  A nearly chapter of Simulacra and Simulation (1994a[1981])describeshow history no longer 'takes place'. Baudrillard lights on The China Syndrome (Bridges,1979),thefilmwhichanticipatedtheeventsoftheaccidentatThree Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, to show how playing out a scenario before an event occurs empties the real event of its significance (SS, EDI). The China Syndrome is an uncanny and disquieting case of the 'strange precession of a film over the real' where 'the real arranged itself, in the image of the film, to produce a simulation of catastrophe' (SS, 54).
  Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) is another example of the third order of simulation. It is the case, suggests Baudrillard, that because of its testing of technological 'special effects' the Vietnam War was like a film before it was filmed. So Coppola's film 'is really the extension of the war through other means, the pinnacle of this failed war, and its apotheosis. The war became film, the film becomes war' (SS, 59). Apocalypse Now operates retrospectively on a war itself enacted as 'a succession of special effects' (SS, 59). War and film thus implode (the war becomes the film, the film becomes war) - finally providing the US with a simulacral victory in Vietnam and erasing the historical truth.
  If the Wachowskis' reading of Baudrillard is hollow (like Neo's book), ultimately delivering its audience domesticated truths about human freedom from machines, and representing in their computer-generated form exactly the process of virtualisation he discusses, Baudrillard in The Evil Demon of Images (1987 [1987a]) continues to explore 'the perversity of the relation between the image and its referent' (EDI, 13) employing many film examples. The virtual is not that which will become actual or exist parallel to the real but is that which 'takes the place of the real' and is 'the final solution of the real in so far as it both accomplishes the world in its definitive reality and marks its dissolution' (PW, 39-40).
  In one of Baudrillard's favourite locations, the American desert, Wim Wender's Paris, Texas (1984) employs the road movie as a powerful symbol of an American way of life, a society that is constantly moving on and scoring out the traumas of its past. Paris, Texas plays, as the title suggests, on the division between Europe and America. In America, Baudrillard responds almost breathlessly, 'you are in a film. In California, particularly, you live cinema' (BL, 34). '[T]he whole country is cinematic' (A, 56). But film is a cultural mirage generated by third-order simulation that will eventually evaporate to leave only the desert, 'an ecstatic critique of culture, an ecstatic form of disappearance' (A, 5). As the now famous line from Simulacra and Simulation (1994a [1981]) in The Matrix invites, welcome to 'the desert of the real' (SS, 1).
  Passwords
   § America
   § hyper-reality
   § simulation
   § virtual

The Baudrillard dictionary. . 2015.

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