Comparing “Anatomy of a Fall” with “The Shining”

Joseph Beuys, The End of the Twentieth Century, 1983–5
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By FERNANDO LIONEL QUIROGA*

The character Jack represents the neurosis of neoliberal man in its embryonic stage. Samuel is the neoliberal subject, forty years later, who appears on screen

Between 1980 and 2024, several changes occurred in the ways of life of the world population. From the assassination of Salvador Allende and the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, to the neoliberal Zionism practiced by Benjamin Netanyahu, this temporal gap constitutes the spiritual mass of neoliberalism that invades our homes daily. It is in everyday life where the spirit of a time is most manifested. As we learned in anthropology, a single gesture can explain an entire structure.

Let's follow the following structure:

A modern family, made up of a father, mother and just one child: the typical family of the neoliberal individualist context. In addition to the nuances, it is obvious, from a genre perspective that marks the gap of more than four decades between the films.

Em The illuminated (1980) by Stanley Kubrick, the woman dedicates herself to taking care of the home and family – following the typical standards of the time; in the version by Justine Triet, in Anatomy of a fall, women don’t just work; Her work is the very accomplishment of the activity that, in the opposite sense, represents her husband's failure. She is a writer. Not just any writer, but a well-known writer in the literary world. With fame and recognition.

In both versions, the families isolate themselves in a mountainous region covered in snow. In Anatomy, in the French Alps; in The illuminated, in the icy mountains of Colorado.

dinner The illuminated/ Disclosure

Em The illuminated, the couple's son has “visions” that anticipate the terror that he and his mother are about to go through. In Anatomy, the couple's son, is almost blind due to an accident he suffered at the age of four. The common point is that, in both, ocular vision matters little. Just as in Oedipus the King, the eyes lose the battle before the force of destiny, which is why Oedipus pierces them.

In both films, the two men, Samuel (Samuel Theis) and Jack (Jack Nicholson) are teachers who aspire to become writers. The feeling of failure leads them to death. Both die in the snow. Jack, with his face frozen, immortalizes the expression of his madness. Samuel falls from the attic and is found dead with a fatal head injury.

In both films, the children are the pivot of the parents' guilt. In The illuminated, this is due to the fact that Jack dislocated the boy's shoulder on a day when he had drunk too much. In Anatomy, the blame falls on Samuel due to the accident that Daniel suffered at the age of four and which caused permanent damage to his optic nerve. In the agreement stipulated by the couple, that would be the day for Samuel to pick up his son from school. However, to avoid having to give up writing, he outsources the job by hiring a nanny who arrives late when the boy is run over by a motorcycle.

dinner Anatomy of a fall/ Disclosure

Such is the anatomy of a comparison in which we are interested in some points that must be linked to the spirit of neoliberalism. Are they:

Frustration

Frustration is the central axis of both films. In them, no one in the family sees themselves fulfilled. In both, the idea of ​​an isolated house breaks, immediately, with the slightest suggestion of greater family proximity. Isolation distances them even further. Jack (The illuminated) isolates himself in the salon to fill hundreds of pages with the phrase: “all work and no play makes jack a dull boy".

When his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) realizes that the content is always the same sentence, only the form changing, her astonishment is not at the incomprehensible, but at the verifiable. Wendy realizes that the immanent imposes itself on the contingent. The romantic dream of retreating with her family for a stay in a hotel immediately falls apart before her eyes.

Thus, frustration is established as the main hallmark of neoliberalism precisely because the utopia of the absolute individual (man as consumer and commodity) finds no possible point of contact with anyone who is at his side. Every time someone comes face to face with the dark face of the time, the limits of life become impossible and death inevitable. Therefore, in the end, it doesn't matter why Jack and Samuel died. In neoliberalism, as a contemporary myth, what matters is death as the last response to a life that no longer offers a solution. After the death of one, what matters is that its rigid structure continues to operate in the world of others.

Justine Triet seems to have noticed the neoliberalism embodied in the figure of Jack – whose life project is unrealizable and whose feeling of guilt is permanent due to being in permanent debt.

The apathy of new generations

The second trait of neoliberalism is the death of joy and the reign of apathy among new generations. Danny (Danny Lloyd), son of Jack (Jack Nicholson) and Wendy (Shelley Duvall); and Daniel (Milo Machado Graner), son of Sandra (Sandra Hüller) and Samuel (Samuel Theis) express the contemporary apathy that has been developing, especially from the spirit of neoliberalism, over the last few decades. In them we do not see any indication of a notion of “joy” that would be inherent in the initial phases of the life of a conventional family.

What we see is a state of complete apathy, detachment, melancholy. What Danny does when he rides his tricycle quickly through the hotel corridors does not seem to be a joke, but a way of finding relief in a context of oppression. Daniel's walk in a circle with Snoop (his guide dog) has the same meaning, as he decides to leave the house in a context that had all the ingredients of the unpleasant: his mother receiving a visit and the loud sound coming from the attic , filling the spaces in the house in a quite irritating way.

The apathy of neoliberalism is expressed in the supreme individuality that, since the 1980s, seems to have taken us by surprise. Hence why the word “empathy” has become so popular. What neoliberal subjects know about it is nothing more than its formal meaning. Apathy is not just a psychological state that neutralizes emotions. It is the mental state where the brain matter has been stirred and stirred through non-stop bombardments of misinformation and fallacious stories. Apathy is, so to speak, the state of consciousness that neoliberalism needs to forge a type of consciousness that conforms to the interests of capital.

Every man for himself

Neoliberalism marks the end of the border between public and private space. As the only thing that matters is the individual, it doesn't matter about collective spaces, whether private or public. Thus, the family – any family – loses all meaning. Each individual is a world to be satisfied. The common citizen, whose tendency was seen by Walter Benjamin, is not content with being a reader. He also wants to be a writer. The child rebels against the idea of ​​childhood as he starts to make his own decisions, to make his own choices. What a childhood, what a nothing! In both films, children are the trigger for the solution to the problem.

Em The illuminated, Danny uses the classic war expedient to get his father to chase him through the labyrinth he already knows. At a certain point in the escape, Danny jumps next to his footprints and erases the trail, leaving Jack without a reference. Lost, Jack cannot resist the cold and dies, with his eyes open, condemned by the snow. In one of the last testimonies before Sandra's trial, in “Anatomy”, Daniel tells a story that could be either a product of imagination or memory and that, despite the lack of legal materiality, may have influenced the decision of the trial, which ends acquitting Sandra.

The point is that, in both films, it is up to the children to search for resources to “save” themselves. Parents no longer represent any protection. Ideologically, the clear message in both films is the lesson that for new generations to ensure their own survival, it is essential to employ strategies even if they could harm someone very close to them, such as their father or mother. The lesson is: nothing is guaranteed. There is no stability at all. There isn't even a house: the families retire to an empty hotel on one side; in a retired chalet in the French Alps that Samuel intends to renovate for rent on Airbnb, on the other.

They distance themselves from the essence of security that the house provides, submitting themselves to a non-place. In a space without support, without surface. There are only individuals with their incommunicable truths. Loose. Separated from themselves and others. The solution becomes impossible, as the solution to a collective situation becomes absurd in the spirit of neoliberalism, in which each body is private property and a source of extracting more value.

Exhaustion and violence

Neoliberalism feeds on violence for two reasons. First, it is necessary, especially, for the production and reproduction of fear. Furthermore, it is necessary to establish a state of apathy as a precondition for ideological modeling at the service of economic power. Second, in general, violence is never absolute. It is a consequence of very high levels of stress. It is the immediate effect of exhaustion. As in Fight Club (1999) by David Fincher, violence is the best response to depression and insomnia.

Violence manifests itself in different forms. It is not necessary to make someone bleed for them to configure themselves. All we need to do is look at the list of adjectives that accompany it: psychological, symbolic, institutional, state, etc. However, the point to be highlighted is the correlation between exhaustion and violence. A correlation that, if well supported by statistics, would allow us to better understand the intimate relationship between labor exploitation and the increase in violence rates. Hence, it is important to highlight the links between the exploitation of labor and the alienation of man, the result of which implies the degradation of existence itself.

In post-pandemic neoliberalism, violence manifests itself more emphatically on an individual scale. Violence is expressed with full force in the new field of modern pathology: depression; self-mutilation; indifference and resignation syndrome; hikikomori etc. Thus, the stereotype of violence embodied by a man like Jack has more to do with the feeling of reaction to a paradigm of life management under a logic of totalitarian control, resulting in strong resentment and guilt, than a type of violence who abandons the body to take possession of the environment.

if, in The illuminated, Jack is the one who embodies violence, who plays this role in Anatomy? Jack represents the neurosis of neoliberal man in its embryonic stage. Samuel is the neoliberal subject forty years later. This is the point. As violence is no longer physically localized, as it escapes stereotypes, everyone is equally suspect, everyone is potentially an enemy.

Anatomy of a fall it is the anatomy of the advanced neoliberalism of our time.

*Fernando Lionel Quiroga and pProfessor of Fundamentals of Education at the State University of Goiás (UEG).


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