The Fog and the Return of the Repressed Other

 

The Fog (1980)

 

The free motif of shattering façades in The Fog is an interesting and important one as it communicates a central issue of the films digesis. Exploring the symbolic nature of a shattering façade we note that it seems to indicate the return – and a violent breaching – of the repressed. Glass keeps the cold and various other elements, such as rain, from entering a house. Glass is a barrier to the elements of the wild; when a glass ruptured those elements are felt. Glass, windows and other barriers symbolise the the things we put up to separate and to keep out those elements of our personality, past and character that we wish hidden and repressed. When a glass, window or other façade is broken it tends to symbolise a fracture or return of the repressed. In The Fog we see several ruptures such as glass windows shattering, shattering dials and crumbling stones. The crumbling stone is the most explicit of all the happenings as it overtly uncovers, or exposes, the filthy secrets that the small Californian coastal town was built on.

 

The repression is not individual in The Fog. The guilt is social, the repression social. In most basic terms the repression is of the “other”. The town was approached by a Danish leper colony whose leader offered a sum of money to be allowed to establish a settlement near by. The town leaders shuddered at the thought of the settlement near by. On a foggy night they drew the leper’s ship onto some rocks causing them to drown. The town built its church will stolen money from the Danish leper’s ship. The destruction of the “other” and the immoral act of enabling this has come back to haunt the present. All American towns can be said to have built themselves upon the destruction and exploitation of indigenous and imported “others”. The fog in the films’ digesis seems to represent a return of the repressed and dominated and the film symbolises the social-psyche’s collective guilt concerning the brutal repression and exploitation of the “other”. Collective guilt is played out in the small coastal town’s terrifying plight against seemingly immortal revenging ghosts [similar to the “Furies” of Ancient Greek Mythology]. The use of fog as a carrier of the returning “other” is also an interesting choice. The fog seems symbolic of the unconscious itself. An ungraspable, untouchable dense something which hides our deepest fears and concerns. As I have noted this sense of the unconscious and repressed resonates through the entire film.

 

Regarding the Kuleshov effect we can see how it relates to the production of meaning in The Fog. In the film we see how the ‘effect’ produces a shock in the audience. The film relates two images creating the connotation that a “ghost” uses a spike to ram into a fisherman’s eyes. We never see this gruesome act however the non-seen act is still communicated because the we link the two acts by their close proximity.

 

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Ford’s use of John Wayne’s Star Persona in The Searchers

The Searchers (1956)

John Wayne’s star persona, in John Ford’s The Searchers, instructs the viewer insofar as much as it builds expectations about the character he portrays; Ethan Edwards. The importance of John Wayne as a star is captured in the title sequence at the beginning of the film; John Wayne’s name is much larger than his characters, although normal and expected in most Hollywood films, this seems to be indicative of the Hollywood star system that invests more heavily in the actor rather than the actual character.1. Viewers come to a Hollywood text expecting the same tough, charismatic, paternal John Wayne they see in his countless Western and War films; though in the guise of a different character he continuously embodies the attributes of American Culture seen as positive and inspirational.2.

In The Searchers the director Ford subverts this expectation as he manipulates our trust and identification with John Wayne. Wayne’s character Ethan is an overtly racist character, this is a continuous motif of the film, and his actions after finding an Native American grave support this. The scene starts with the traditional continuity editing technique of Match-on-Action; this ensures the movement of the riders between two cuts to different scene locations seem smooth. Ethan shoots the eyes of the uncovered dead Native American, indicating the bitter hatred and anger he has; this act dams the dead warrior to an afterlife, according to his beliefs, wondering the wind and never reaching his Heaven. This violent act, signposts the nature of the journey Ethan is wishing to undertake; he wishes to take revenge on Native Americans beyond death and into the afterlife. This eternal vendetta indicates the mistrust Ethan has in the Western vision of the afterlife and judgement – Eternal Judgement is meant to be Gods.

The play on Wayne’s star persona also helps to create a tension when Debbie comes over the hill to see him: the normal expectation is that he will save her, though he pulls out his gun to shoot her. This is the reverse that you expect from a John Wayne character, and in many ways Ford’s use of Wayne helps the critical vision of the film. Due to the popularity of Wayne we automatically associate with the central protagonist Ethan, but are constantly challenged, through his racist outbursts and violent action, to question our association with him.3. We are also, due to the foregrounding of his racist ideology asked questions about the inherently racist genre of the Western.4. The conflict which arises due to his overt racism can only be effective if it was at first an institutional part of the genre itself. Fords use of generic characterisation and the star system indicates his understanding of Hollywood film as a genre itself, which is more prominent in the Post-Classical Hollywood films such as Deadman.5. Furthermore this understanding ensures Ford can, within generic restrictions of Hollywood and the Western, make political and social observations on the way America conceptualises its present and past.6.

 

1. M, Pramaggiore. & T, Wallis. (Ed). Film a Critical Introduction, (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2007). PP 355-372

2. D, Thomas. ‘John Wayne’s Body’, in I, Cameron. & D, Pye. (Ed) The Movie Book of The Western, (London, Studio Vista, 1996), PP75-87

3. P, Cobley. Narrative, (London: Routledge, 2006) P69

4.  R, Maltby. ‘A Better Sense of History: John Ford and the Indians’ in I, Cameron. & D, Pye. (Ed) The Movie Book of The Western, (London, Studio Vista, 1996) PP34-49

5. Deadman. Dir Jim Jarmusch. Miramax Films, (USA) 1996.

6.  S, Hall. ‘How the West was Won; History, Spectacle and the American Mountains’ in I, Cameron. & D, Pye. (Ed) The Movie Book of The Western, (London, Studio Vista, 1996) PP 225-261