Surrealism in Cinema

Present study seeks to discuss the nature of surrealism in cinema, as far as its relationship with reality is concerned. The analysis proceeds from O’Pray’s argument, that Surrealism is not just an irrational fantasy, devoid of any sense and logical coherence, but rather a certain semiotic reflection of the complex structure of the Real. The primitive understanding of Surrealism, which the mentioned author criticizes, is debunked in this study to provide the better coverage of Surrealism’s artistic and philosophical basis.

To these ends, its roots are trace back to psychoanalysis and the explanation of its structure is partially based on modern linguistic and philosophical theories. The empirical groundings for theoretical generalizations are found in two films, which have deep ties with Surrealist tradition – Hitchcock’s Spellbound and Bunuel’s and Dali’s Un Chien Andalou. Social and philosophic roots of Surrealism: contradictory interpretations and critique.

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Historically, surrealism developed within French avant-garde movement as revolutionary break with traditional approaches in art and society, which were formed under the influence of capitalist ideology of rationality and progress (Bate, 12). Influenced by the number of currents in literature, philosophy and art, surrealism positioned itself in terms of ideological opposition to several important cliches, existing in traditional art.

In the visual arts the latter cliches included the imperative of representing objective reality, subject-object dichotomy, rationality and ability to be easily interpreted. Surrealist movement in art was born as a critique of Realist art, which neglected inner foundations of reality and its distorted nature, which could only be understood through individual psychology. Salvador Dali’s work is particularly informative in this respect.

The images he created contradicted usual representation of reality, as they visualized inner distortion of its vision, its objective abnormality and pathological character. Apart from this, new surrealist approach to visual arts included the break with linear temporality, based on psychological concept of memory (Etherington -Smith, 45). The latter is particularly evident in Dali’s famous painting, named The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1952-1954), which radicalized his previous painting, named The Persistence of Memory (1934).

The same philosophical and conceptual motives affected the paths of surrealist literature. Such authors as Andre Breton and others criticized structured nature of classic novel and the dominance of conscious approach to writing, focusing on superficial logical coherence and causal ties. In contrast, surrealist literature and art developed the techniques of automatic writing, designed to reveal the hidden unconscious meanings, which in fact effect our perception and attitude to reality.

Conscious writing was criticized for its contamination with ideology and dominant cultural codes; instead automatic writing could release inner forces, which present genuine Real (in a Lacanian sense) without censorship and limitations (Gaskoyne et al. 2000). Among other surrealist techniques, directed at disintegrating the ideological representation of reality in art one should mention cubomania, collage, surautomism, echo poem, frottage etc. Surrealist techniques and representations were also widely used in films of Bunuel, Hitchcock, Linch, Bresson, Deren etc.

Among modern arts, as Michal argues, ‘ it is only architecture that remains as the unful? lled promise of surrealist thought’ (Michal, 2). Based on these revolutionary approaches, techniques and ideology, the critiques of surrealism point to its irrational and fantastic character, which has nothing to do with genuine representation of reality (O’Pray, 2003). Surrealism, according to its conventional critiques, is characterized by irrational drive to break existing structures of reality and replace it by the images and meanings, which have no sense, understandable for the audience.

Moreover, surrealist critiques often point to the fact, that Surrealism ruined the sacred essence of art and conflated with vulgar and everyday images, which has nothing to do with sublime and divine. In this way, surrealism abolished classical idealistic aesthetic based on humanism, celebration of progress, kind feelings, justice etc. Surrealist deconstruction of reality does not provide audience with something else, which may play the role of liberating force, notwithstanding the fact of alleged revolutionary character of Surrealism.


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