The Beauty of Postmodern Cinema


Fiery discussions ignite between film theorists regarding what truly defines a postmodern film. A postmodern film’s purpose is to break the cultural consensus of late capitalism by creating a new logic. In other words, postmodern films restore the erotic energy that capitalism sucks away, by applying a colorful mixture of creativity, irony and pastiche, while simultaneously blending high and low art styles [1].


Postmodern films have provided a useful space for philosophical and psychoanalytical readings. For instance, Auteur David Lynch’s 2001 film Mulholland Drive, a postmodern text which is filled with absurdity, irony and the mixing of styles, is all about subjectivity, subject formation, and repression of the unconscious, and can be best interpreted in a Freudian and Lacanian framework [2].


Postmodern films can provide a subtle or a provocative critique of ideology. Provocative critiques of ideology can be found in the works of Danish Auteur Lars Von Trier, who’s postmodern films essentially challenge needless consumerism and imperialist ideology, and this captures the postmodern ethos by viewing our world as a common experience that cannot be internalized or made sense of in a way that is satisfying or complete [3].

The huge gap between the filmmaker and audience in modern cinema has encouraged transgressive postmodern movements that serve the purpose of restoring this precious relationship, and the films of Iranian Auteur Abbas Kiarostami do just that.
Kiarostami’s cinematic approach provides intricate and subtle critiques of social systems, and he does this in an unprecedented way, where the viewer creates meaning through experience in the film [4].
The films of Kiarostami are not actually produced by the filmmaker, but by the audience. Cinematic time and space of each film strongly depends on the viewer’s position and their historical moment of watching it.
In films like Close Up (1990) and A Taste of Cherry (1997), Kiarostami actively participates in the film, therefore, breaking the 4th wall, which is essentially a characteristic of postmodernism.
Similarly, his 2010 film Certified Copy plays with this idea of objective reality. In the film, the viewer can’t tell which reality is the real and which one is the copy, and this encompasses the postmodern ethos, in which universal truths and realities are unseated [5].

A film that encompasses the postmodern cinematic ethos at its purest is Tom Tyker’s 1998 film Run Lola Run. Run Lola Run’s eccentric approach shatters the cinematic, philosophical and cultural conventions of late capitalism by employing a wide variety of unconventional cinematic techniques, such as: the use of quotations, temporal distortions, irony, absurdity, repetition, 4th wall breaks and experimentation with the notions of objective reality and time.


Run Lola Run mixes high art styles, such as Western Philosophy, with low art styles, such as cartoons, soup operas, and MTV style edits, therefore, it is a postmodern text that transcends artistic boundaries and aristocratic divisions. Postmodernists tend to oppose aristocratic distinctions between high and low art, and instead seek to mix these two styles to create a certain aesthetic harmony [6].


Notably, this approach is refreshing and fruitful, considering the matter that: “popular culture, as opposed to high art, still has the reputation of being formulaic, as lacking critical insight and complexity” [7].


By mixing high and low art styles in an eccentric, eclectic and adventurous collage, Tyker prevents aristocratic divisions, while also maintaining authenticity, therefore, he is preventing Run Lola Run from becoming a mere consumerist commodity.


In Run Lola Run, Tyker engages in a profound postmodern genre exercise. Tyker’s approach practices transnationalism through pastiche. In other words: “Tyker’s postmodern merging of diverse art forms and genres and his incorporation of U.S popular culture (comics, westerns, slapsticks, editing techniques) function as boundary breaking and liberating in their potential to launch viewers into the realm of fantasy” [8].


This warm embrace of the world of fantasy, along with the erasure of universal conceptions such as borders, truth and reality, make Run Lola Run ideologically and aesthetically postmodern.


The quotations from T.S Elliot and the popular German soccer coach S. Herberger, kickoff the postmodern spirit of the film through pastiche. Indeed, much of the films postmodern qualities can be traced back to its first 5 minutes, where the audience plays an active role in the film’s postmodern universe.

“As an audience, we are asked to negotiate literary and pop-culture references, theoretical and abstract concepts of time, existential questioning, human typography, a complex soundtrack, a surreal animated landscape, continuous camera movements and digital imagery” [9]. All these elements create a complex and wonderful example of postmodern pastiche.

The beginning of Run Lola Run sets the audience up for an existential experience in the language of the postmodern philosophical tradition. A voice over says: ‘Countless questions in search of an answer. . . an answer that will give rise to a new question, and the next question will give rise to a second question, and so on’.


This quotation at the beginning of the film does the following: “It calls attention to the instability of meaning, which is a central concept of post-structuralist theory and lies at the heart of postmodern representation” [10].


In other words, there can be no objective truth in a postmodern text, and Tyker views this philosophical phenomenon as a unique philosophical and aesthetic opportunity to challenge traditional gender roles and metaphysical phenomena.


In regards to the former, Run Lola Run’s postmodern approach challenges traditional gender roles in the sense that Lola is a red-haired girl, fearlessly running around the streets of Berlin, attempting to save her helpless boyfriend. Notably, this basic plot dynamic challenges traditional gender roles, along with the traditional stereotype of a masculine white male protagonist.


Tyker’s unique postmodern approach in Run Lola Runallows for dense discourses ranging from Free Will vs Determinism to Psychoanalysis in regard to the Oedipus complex, and the latter is illustrated when Lola seems to have a deeper connection with her opposite sex parent. All of these dense philosophical discourses are complemented by an exhilarating techno soundtrack and an innovative visual aesthetic.


The metaphysical discussions in the film are presented in a manner in which the viewer is ultimately confused which scenario is the objective reality. All the events in Lola’s day happen in a sequence of cause and effect relationships, that she has no control over.


This complements this idea of life being a game or a simulation. These discussions are deeply postmodern, since they fundamentally discredit objective truth, while simultaneously blurring the lines between reality, fantasy, dream and the imaginary.


Many social critiques are present in this philosophical pastiche. For instance, in the book:The Couch and the Silver Screen: Psychoanalytic Reflections on European Cinema, Annegret Mahler-Bungers notes the following: “Implicitly (or unconsciously), rather than explicitly (or consciously), the film seems to be aimed at young people, addressing their specific problems through aesthetic means which are part of their culture and which articulate the particular desires of that generation” [11].


This passage emphasizes to us that the postmodern position rebels against universal truths and traditions, therefore, postmodernists seek to offer new positions in regard to the phenomenon of philosophical, moral and metaphysical truths of the previous generations.


Despite its thematic and philosophical virtues, it is truly Run Lola Run’s meticulous mise en scène’s, intersection with the exhilarating soundtrack, that makes it a postmodern tour de force.


Philosopher Slavoj Zizek discusses this in the following passage: “The interest of Lola resides in its tonality: not only in its fast rhythm, the rapid fire montage, the use of stills (frozen images), the pulsating exuberance and vitality of the heroine, but, above all, in the way these visual features are embedded in the soundtrack — the constant, uninterrupted, techno music whose rhythm renders Lola’s, and, by extension, ours, the spectators’ — heartbeat” [12]. This aesthetic harmony between image and sound, enables critical engagement from the audience. In other words, the audience is now truly a part of the film.

To conclude, postmodernism as an aesthetic and intellectual movement has rightfully deconstructed traditional Eurocentric, male and sis gender narratives in cinema. Furthermore, postmodern cinema challenges notions of truth and objective reality.
At its best, postmodern cinema explores the unknown and deconstructs cultural values to create a new and inclusive reality. Postmodern cinema, with its methods of parody, pastiche, irony, temporal distortion and mixing of high and low art styles, has restored the filmmaker’s relationship with the audience, as well as the audience’s active role in creating and perceiving a piece of art.

Run Lola Run, with its techno soundtrack and free flowing aesthetic attitude, is truly a postmodern magnum opus. It challenges notions of free will, objective time and most importantly, the film has placed a woman protagonist with red hair in an active role.


Sources

[1] Aitken, Ian. European Film Theory and Cinema: A Critical Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.


[2] Akser, Murat. "Memory, Identity and Desire: A Psychoanalytic Reading of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive." CINEJ Cinema Journal 2, no. 1 (2012): 58-76.


[3] Benjamin Ogden (2009) How Lars von Trier Sees the World: Postmodernism and Globalization in The Five Obstructions, Quarterly Review of Film and Video, 27:1, 54-68


[4] Kenari, Yousefian, Mohammad Jafar, and Mostafa Mokhtabad-Amrei. "Kiarostami’s Unfinished Cinema and its Postmodern Reflections." The International Journal of Humanities 17, no. 2 (2010): 23-37.


[5] Zohdi, Esmaeil, and Mohammad Hussein Oroskhan. "Kiarostami’s Through the Olive Tree: A Postmodern Analysis." Theory and Practice in Language Studies, no. 10.


[6]"Postmodernism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/literature-and-arts/art-and-architecture/architecture/postmodernism.


[7] Kosta, Barbara. "Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run and the Usual Suspects: The Avant-Garde, Popular Culture, and History." German Pop Culture: How ‘American’is it (2004): 165-179.


[8] Kosta, Barbara. "Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run and the Usual Suspects: The Avant-Garde, Popular Culture, and History." German Pop Culture: How ‘American’is it (2004): 165-179.


[9] Poulin, Brook. "Dark time (s): non-linear narratives in the postmodern film noir." PhD diss., University of British Columbia, 2005.


[10] Fulton, Helen, and Rosemary Huisman. Narrative and Media. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.


[11] Sabbadini, Andrea. The Couch and the Silver Screen: Psychoanalytic Reflections on European Cinema. Hove: Brunner-Routledge, 2003.


[12] ŽIŽEK, SLAVOJ. "Chance and Repetition in Kieslowski's Films." Paragraph 24, no. 2 (2001): 23-39. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43263628.