Art has various manifestations, and often, the way a specific idea is expressed adds more value to it than idea represents in a simple and understandable form. Creators use a variety of forms and techniques to attract more audience attention or make them assess something from a different point of view. Moreover, artists, writers, directors, and other creative personalities often leave space in their creations for personal interpretation and for the audience to discover something new in themselves. Works such as Lessons of Darkness and The Road are examples of pieces in which the authors’ ideas are presented through an unusual narrative.
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Lessons of Darkness is a film shot in the documentary style by the German director Werner Herzog which conveys the consequences of the war in Kuwait – oil fires in a decontextualized way. The Road, a fiction novel written by Cormac McCarthy, in turn, presents a description of the main characters’ lives in the post-apocalyptic world. Despite the differences of the works, they are both meditations on catastrophes and human nature conveyed using unusual techniques, religious reflections, and fantasy.
Without knowing the details of the film Lessons of Darkness, an ordinary viewer can for some time accept it as science fiction or a religious film about the apocalypse. The speaker, who is the director himself, does not name the place where the events are happening, nor the reason (Lessons of Darkness). As a result, the main advantage of using decontextualization and alienated observation is the depth of experiences that arise in response to what the audience sees. The images are presented so unusually and fascinating that they attract more attention and give the film a unique mood. The footage is not similar to the one people used to see on television, in the news – there are no hasty comments about the events. Such a style provokes not an instant and quick reaction but a more thorough reflection about human nature and the consequences of its manifestation.
The disadvantage of decontextualization is the potential lack of understanding of the work due to the use of technic. The most obvious assumption is that the author, with his film, wanted to draw attention to the consequences of the war and focus on their horrors. However, his alienation from events through missing the place and actual context, as well as the images’ beauty, leaves room for doubt. As a result, another interpretation may arise, such as the attractiveness of the apocalyptic world or the aesthetics of disaster. Moreover, another potential decontextualization problem may be the feeling of lack of the film’s idea, making it not an art but an art-like work.
The work of Cormac McCarthy The Road is a novel describing a post-apocalyptic life. One may find some parallels between this novel and the film Lessons of Darkness. The narrative methods of the authors reinforce the apocalyptic emptiness of the represented places of events. Moreover, in The Road, signs of decontextualization can also be noted. The author does not indicate the exact location of the main characters, except the direction in which they go – South. Readers also do not find the reason for destroying the world in the book and even do not know the main characters’ names. This context is not so crucial for reflecting on their experiences and the author’s meditation on how people act in difficult situations.
The Road is the novel full of despair, cruelty, and at the same time, love. McCarthy uses descriptions to convey the atmosphere of his post-apocalyptic world – every day, the characters go among leafless trees, and the ashes almost constantly spill on them. This world is filled with various shades of gray, which is periodically replaced by a red brew of fires. Desperation was transmitted by the deeds of some people that began hunting for other survivors for food. The main characters – father and son hide from such hunters and often find dead.
The narrative also often includes a man’s religious reflections on whether God exists and memories of past life before the disaster. These episodes give an additional mood to the novel, provoking thoughts about spirituality and moral strength. The only character whose name, though not the real one, readers may find, is Ely, who says, “There is no God and we are his prophets” (McCarthy 143). His contradictory statement makes one wonder whether people’s suffering means that there is no God or that they will accept and cope with the new reality faster by losing faith.
Thus, the film Lessons of Darkness and the novel The Road share common features. The authors present their thoughts on human nature and how far people can go in their acts. Both works show signs of decontextualization used to strengthen the effect of the idea, which the authors would like to convey. The film does not indicate the events’ place and cause, and the book does not tell about the apocalypse’s cause or even the names of the main characters. For the novel, this technique does not have such potentially severe negative consequences as for the film. The Road has more descriptions that cause unambiguous adverse or positive reactions. The Lessons of Darkness, in turn, represent beautiful images of the negative consequences of war, which can be perceived ambiguously.
Lessons of Darkness. Directed by Werner Herzog, Canal +, 1992.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2006.