Observer Bias: Passion (2012) – Brian De Palma

Passion_FINAL

Here is the irrefutable proof that we are but mere fools watching a continuing mirage of floating shadows. We reason about the world, and conceive of reality as it is, supported by the forces that sustain our survival (consumer markets, emotional connections, brain reward system).

On the other hand, there are a group of people called filmmakers. They work on producing visions, small-scale models of our viewing reality, where things happen to people in a symbolic ballet-like allegorical grand opera. Just like in life, we think we know what is happening, we think we understand urges, we do this by centering our understanding on one thing: personality, or events.

Filmmakers center their understanding on vision. They not only view people, humans, but also their surroundings, space and the objects within it. In this sense, humans are mere objects, the difference being they have pull. They attract, and repel, with increasing visibility. We can see the damage.

So on my first viewing of this movie, I fell into the category of the innocent (until proven guilty) type of viewer. I let myself be seduced by the world, by the pull of its agents (beautiful actresses), the mystery of taboo actions (murder, promiscuous sex), and even the idea of business as an appealing path for human development. In a way, I realized how much I can consent to if I just let myself be distracted by fleeting temporary “pleasures”.

“Passion” is about a rivalry, between two creative/attractive/successful women. One of them will kill just to prove she can plot the ultimate creative act: ‘the perfect murder’.

But how does one plot the perfect murder? Things have to remain ambiguous, don’t they? There are varying methods of analysis that an enterprising agent can use to either retrieve information from an event and use it to her own advantage, or setup an event to induce the same repercussions except this time the information produced is ‘false’. There is a delicate balance between being seen, and hiding. And essentially, there is a constant tension between genuine emotion and performance.

What De Palma masters is precisely this process of transmitting necessary information. He knows that the crux of the film relies heavily on our suspicion of who the murderer is. Small clues provide ambiguous answers.  It is not necessary to guess right. Instead, the primary function in viewing is to entertain possible outcomes.

So there it is, a De Palma film in which the function of viewing is the primary subject. This one is made in two parts, the first: a dominant real reality (what we might call it the ‘consensus’ reality), and the second: a long drawn out dream sequence (introduced by a hypnotic ballet performance) where the oscillation between fact, speculation, and fiction can reach a glorious apex.

Yes, they are beautiful actresses, and yes they are lit gloriously. Yes, the score is great. But what’s most important, is that when people die in this story, they are only playing a role. De Palma’s political contribution is about the possibilities of the imagination. The possibilities of looking at things from different perspectives. The possibilities of questioning the veracity of certain stories. In a way, a De Palma movie is a class in Media Studies. In a world of increasing surveillance, where even ‘false’ photographic material is often used to justify real murders, a movie such as this one can help remind us to maintain a certain skepticism about our own government policies. To not be so easily seduced by the powers that be. To create our own stories and …believe them.

This film was a European co-production.

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Categories: female leads, Notes

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