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One of the most effective ways of convincing people that a particular social issue does represent much discursive relevance is showing that it is innately reflective of the universe’s most fundamental laws. The reason for this is apparent – the deployment of such an approach will naturally prompt the audience to think of what is being discussed as such that directly relates to what happened to be their unconscious anxieties, regarding life, death, and what can be deemed the purpose of one’s life. In my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion, concerning the 2010 documentary Nostalgia for the Light by Patricio Guzman.
Before having watched Guzman’s masterpiece with its own eyes, one may assume that there is a clearly defined phenomenological sounding to the documentary in question, as a whole. After all, just about every written review of this film stresses out that, in it, the director strived to establish a parallel between the seemingly incompatible pursuits of astronomers/archeologists, and the quest of many Chilean women to find the remains of their husbands and brothers in the desert of Atacama – a place where the Chilean concentration camp for political prisoners was once located.1
Nevertheless, after having been exposed to Nostalgia for the Light, people are most likely to end up recognizing that there is indeed much practical rationale for drawing the concerned parallels. The reason for this is that, as it appears from the film, there is nothing incidental about the fact that all three mentioned activities take place in the Atacama. Due to its particularly translucent air, the desert is perfectly suited for building astronomical observatories. This air’s another quality – dryness, and also the fact that there is no water to be found in the Atacama, naturally attracts Chilean archaeologists, as well. The explanation for this is also quite apparent – such climatic conditions help to preserve human remains, buried in the ground.
Finally, the desert’s sheer remoteness made it a perfect place for building a concentration camp by Pinochet’s junta, which overthrew the Chilean legitimate government of Salvador Allende in 1973.2 This alone implies that it is indeed thoroughly appropriate to discuss astronomy, archaeology, and Pinochet’s atrocities in close conjunction with each other.
There is, however, even more to it. The documentary brings together all three motifs to promote the essentially Orwellian idea that by inquiring into the past, we do not only define our present but also the shape of things to come in the future.3 The science of astronomy illustrates the validity of this suggestion perfectly well – by discovering the fundamental principles behind the universe’s functioning, astronomers contribute rather substantially to the ongoing technological progress, which in turn defines the realities of today’s living in the West.
However, the actual subject of astronomical inquiry is the distant past. Like the astronomer, Gaspar Galaz (featured in the film) pointed out, “The past is the astronomers’ main tool. We manipulate the past”.4 The main objective of archaeologists is essentially the same – to discover how things used to be in the past so that we can have a better understanding as to where humanity is heading. This provides us with the insight into the actual significance of the film’s scenes, in which Chilean elderly women roam the Atacama while hoping to find the remains of their long-dead relatives, murdered by junta’s henchmen.
Apparently, there is a higher dimension to these women’s seemingly pointless and hopeless quest – by staying committed to the elusive task of finding the unearthed bones of the Chilean fascist regime’s victims, they contribute to humanity’s betterment. Therefore, just as it happens to be the case with the formally past-focused pursuits of astronomers and archaeologists; what these women do is ultimately aimed to affect the ways of the present and future.
This is the actual idea that unites the documentary’s outwardly unrelated themes together. As Bradshaw aptly observed, “For Guzman… astronomy (as well as archaeology) is mental discipline, a way of thinking, feeling and clarifying, and a way of insisting on humanity in the face of barbarism”.5 Therefore, it will be thoroughly appropriate to suggest that Nostalgia for the Light does not only convey the message of humaneness but that it does it in an extremely powerful manner, with this message’s validity being backed by references to what people intuitively perceive as the dialectical essence of the surrounding physical reality.6
There is nothing accidental about the fact that Guzman’s documentary was chosen to receive the Francois Chalais Award at the Cannes Film Festival – the watching of Nostalgia for the Light does account for an utterly enlightening and memorable experience.
I believe that the provided insights into what should be deemed the discursive significance of Guzman’s film correlate well with the paper’s initial thesis. It appears that there is indeed much rationale for referring to Nostalgia for the Light as a truly exceptional documentary, capable of helping people to adopt a morally sound stance in life.
Bradshaw, Peter. “Nostalgia for the Light.” The Guardian, 2002. Web.
Martin-Jones, David. “Archival Landscapes and a Non-Anthropocentric ‘Universe Memory’ in Nostalgia de la luz/Nostalgia for the Light (2010).” Third Text 27, no. 6 (2013): 707-722.
Nostalgia for the Light. Directed by Patricio Guzman. 2010. New York: Icarus Films, 2011. DVD.
Place, Troy. “Orwell’s 1984.” The Explicator 61, no. 2 (2003): 108-110.
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Rapold, Nicolas. “Heaven and Earth.” Film Comment 47, no. 2 (2011): 48-49.
Walker, Andre. “Film Review: Nostalgia for the Light A Documentary Film by Patricio Guzman.” Journal of Research Administration43, no. 1 (2012): 125-131.
- Andre Walker. “Film Review: Nostalgia for the Light A Documentary Film by Patricio Guzman.” Journal of Research Administration43, no. 1 (2012): 125-131.
- Nicolas.Rapold. “Heaven and Earth.” Film Comment 47, no. 2 (2011): 48.
- Place, Troy. “Orwell’s 1984.” The Explicator 61, no. 2 (2003): 109.
- Nostalgia for the Light. Directed by Patricio Guzman. (2010. New York: Icarus Films, 2011), DVD.
- Peter Bradshaw. “Nostalgia for the Light.” The Guardian, 2002. Web.
- David Martin-Jones. “Archival Landscapes and a Non-Anthropocentric ‘Universe Memory’ in Nostalgia de la luz/Nostalgia for the Light (2010).” Third Text 27, no. 6 (2013): 707.