Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The fascination of "Déjà Vu"

Hey, I don't even like science fiction, but I loved the movie "Deja Vu," directed by Tony Scott, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and starring Denzel Washington, with Paula Patton. "Deja Vu" won't let me go.

Without giving the show away, I'll say that the plot involves time travel. Right, how much more science fictiony can you get? Thing is, the technology and the characters are told so convincingly that it was no problem at all to suspend not only my disbelief but also my usual aversion to science fiction. I mean, Denzel Washington! And the best performance I've seen by Val Kilmer, who was perhaps responding to Washington and to Scott's direction? And James Caviezel (who starred in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"), eerily perfect as the terrorist.

What I think resonated with me most of all is the film's fitting in uncannily well with my recent reflections on the "seminal paradox in the heart of creation." You know, an accepted contradiction that "makes all things possible." For "Déjà Vu" asks you to accept (and effectively forces you, on an emotional level, to accept) that impossible contradictions in replayed versions of the past are...possible. Dramatically possible at any rate, and that, of course, is the art of cinema.

While watching the plot unfold (and for some minutes after watching "Déjà Vu"), I had that most glorious of all movie experiences, a sort of "sacred awe" (to quote Nikos Kazantsakis's character Zorba the Greek) at the beauty of this cinematic creation. Zorba spoke of sacred awe at life, at God's creation, but our awe at a brilliant cinematic creation (or creation in any art) can reflect and echo that grander awe. M. Scott Peck, in his book The Road Less Traveled, drew the same parallel between sexual orgasm and religious ecstasy....

My cinematic awe rested on my initial, mind-boggling thought that the plot is just too ingenious and intricate for anyone to have created it. I've had identical reactions to books—to most of the later novels of John Le Carré, for example, often uttering in disbelief, "How could anyone have written a book this good!" We can, when suitably disposed, be similarly in awe of the grandeur of Nature and the Cosmos, of the fact that there's something rather than nothing.

But a second, relieving thought about "Déjà Vu" was that, well, if you started with two or three simple ideas, it couldn't have been that difficult to work out the plot. I suppose that would be like our everyday attitude toward what we see around us. Just another day, nothing to be in awe of. We ordinarily just aren't disposed to "smell the roses." We have to stop to do it.

The first reaction gives life and movies their thrill, their "sacred awe." The second makes it possible for us to incorporate them into our ordinary, practical existence and get on with it.


  1. Peace Morris,
    Really interesting concept. On a slightly unrelated note, I am reading "the tao of islam" and came across passages by Muslim scholars/philosophers who were describing the connection between orgasm and knowing God. Or that at that precise moment of climax we are most in tune with God.

    I get depressed when I read really awesome books and the same thought strikes "how did they do it?" mostly feeling hopeless in the face of my own dream of being one of those writers...

    I am also reading Zadie Smith's "White Teeth" and thoroughly enjoying her...

    Sorry going off on tangets.

  2. All very well, Moristotle, but isn't there a torture scene or two in that movie? Or am I confusing it with something else?

    Alas, I am such a wimp. If SW has a Brave Blogger Award, she will call the cops if I so much as look at it. And she probably won't let me near the Thinking Blogger Award, either.

  3. Dear Maliha, I'm sorry that reading one of those great books disappoints you, but perhaps you can use the disappointment as a spur to do likewise. I myself can simply delight in reading such books, because I know that I don't have such a gift as you may have.

    I'm delighted to learn of another source for the idea "that at that precise moment of climax we are most in tune with God," for I hadn't seen it anywhere else but in Peck. Thanks!

  4. Dear Tom, I'm not sure that "torture" applies, but there are scenes of violence in the movie, so if you avoid violent movies, then you might want to avoid this one. It is, after all, a movie about a terrorist attack (involving a ferry in New Orleans; I was delighted that the movie was made there, because the city could surely use the revenue). Think of the Oklahoma City bombing a few years ago. In fact, there's an allusion to that event. (The Denzel Washington character had helped investigate it.)

    I hope that your paragraph about SW's blogger awards was at least 99% tongue-in-cheek, for I suspect that you know as well as I do that such awards are silly. SW probably participated in it because she is a very good sport and enjoys such "blogger games." And she may have felt compelled to respond to someone's having named her for the award. (Note that I have not "passed the tag" on to someone else myself. As you once said yourself, one can usually say "no.")

    And you may have noticed that Steve accepted the award with humor and implied disavowal, surely a very healthy and realistic response. (Steve is the same person who took my masthead photograph.)

    I might have responded to SW's nominating me along the lines of, "I trust that no one whom I may have influenced to think has yet been committed to an insane asylum as a result."

  5. Gee, nothing like walking in on a conversation about me.

    Sounds like a good movie, Moristotle. I'll check it out.

  6. Alright, alright, already. Do I have to spell it out for you?!

    Look, I was hoping to carry this off with some dignity, but I see I have to be explicit.

    Pleeese, oh pleeese send that award my way!!! Pretty, pretty pleeese. I will never malign it in any way, but will frame it and display it prominently for my buddied. And they'll all be impressed!

    That's what I wah....wah...ahh....ahh....yeah, that's what I want!
    (how well do you know your Beatles?)

  7. Tom, you can have mine. I don't deserve it, so I pass the honor to you.

  8. Moristotle:

    Who was that fellow you cited who came up with the concept of the educative city? All this recent talk of homeschooling (prior posts, not this one) has me fixin to write a few pieces on it.

  9. I might have written such posts before, but without a reputation as a Thinking Blogger, no one would read it.

    But now the world, as they say, is my oyster.

  10. Esteemed Tom,

    I believe the sociologist/writer you're trying to find the name of was Paul Goodman. The guy who debated the Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr. at Yale over 40 years ago?

    Your comments about the "Thinking Blogger" award are droll! I admire the ironic way that you are going about criticizing the award. You phrase things so adroitly that I can't be entirely sure you aren't serious about wishing SW had bestowed the award on you. Of course, my reading of your comments is conditioned by my sense of who you are, and I confess that I could be misinterpreting the comments because of a flawed sense of you. Perhaps it is utterly clear to those who know you very well that you are having us on. (Or not.)

  11. Elementary, my dear Moristotle.

    I knew I wouldn't get the prize from SW. She'd already recommended her quota. So I knew I had to be adroit if I had any hope of flim-flamming one of the actual recipients.

    As you have seen, Steve came through.

  12. Actually, I think Steve is pretty adroit. Feigning undeservedness like he is.

    I'm just playing. I don't know anything about the award. Possibly it really does mean something and someday we'll all regret tossing it back and forth as if it were a rotted cabbage.

  13. Tom, your current move in coming clean is even more adroit than your droll humor that preceded it, even managing to impugn me for writing the award off as silly. You are a master.

  14. Hey, I had to look up the word adroit. If that doesn't prove I'm not deserving, nothing does.