For the subject of my critical essay, I chose Meshes of the Afternoon. Aside from being Maya Deren's most successful film, I also find it the most intriguing, for a number of reasons (Clark, p.380). The ability to tap into the human mind and realms of the unconscious through film art is amazing to me. Meshes is not just a feminist film trying to show a woman's place in a male-dominated society, but is also a dramatic and intensifying experience for the viewer.
Perhaps one of the reasons why this film is so compelling is because it is about her. The legendary Maya Deren came up with her ideas from personal experience, from feelings, emotions, and anxieties of her own. Just as we have many layers of consciousness, some that we are unaware of, Deren "was always trying to bring out the multiple layers of meaning of everything that went into her films" (Brakhage, p. 11). She did this through her dream sequences, multiple selves, and the artistic use of time and space.
I think one of the reasons Meshes is so powerful is because there is a dreamlike familiarity to it that we all can relate to. As the "dreamers" chase the robed figure down the road, they can never catch up to it. Just like in dreams, nothing is ever fast enough. Time is slow-moving and one feels a frustration to move faster, in order to find the person or the problem. Dreams have been thought to be symbols of our subconscious thoughts, anxietiesl and true feelings. It is this type of mentality that I, personally, believe is part of the film. It is obvious that she is with a man, either dating or married, because he is in the house with her and they go upstairs to their bedroom. It appears that she is unhappy with him, and feels that she is succumbing to the traditional values of what a man and woman should be in a romantic relationship. Again, these opinions stem from the suppressive undertones of the female identity in Deren's "dream".
It seems as though this is the first time she has ever had these feelings about her place in a "man's world", but most likely, the dream depicts the first time she actually realized these were her feelings. Deren tries to represent "different states of mind" by using techniques which "convey various types of mental dissociation" from the point of dreaming and feeling like it's real, to when Hammid (her boyfriend in the film) wakes her up and she suddenly feels a sense of reality (Clark, p.195). When he wakes her "just in time . . . we are relieved to return to the realm of reality at last" (Clark, p.83).
The irony here, is that while the dream is ultimately about finding her own personal identity in this conventional relationship, she feels a sense of safety when awakened by the man. It is almost as if it is the man's duty to "save" the woman and make everything better. Likewise, it is the woman's role to play the helpless female who needs the man to protect her and shield her from harm. Ultimately, it is the man whom she should have been running from the entire time, in an attempt to find her true self.
Deren and Hammid have a remarkable way of pulling the viewer into a dramatically intense situation. I feel that this is, in part, due to the deja-vu experience that occurs when Hammid wakes her and does some of the same actions that the hooded figure had done in her dream. Also, the malevolent characteristics given to the inanimate objects (the knife, key, and flower) in the film are amazing. By reintroducing them into each dream, again and again, the viewer gets a sense of what these objects stand for, and the drama intensifies. Just as the hooded figure placed the flower on her bed in the beginning of the dream, Hammid does the exact same thing after he wakens Deren from that nightmare.
There is no doubt that these two artists, who collaborated in the making
of Meshes, were masters at this type of emotional drama. But what
interests me the most is what went on in Deren's inner mind in order to
make such a film. After all the research I have done on her, I find her to
have been a remarkable woman in many aspects. But I also think she was
not as strong as she wanted to appear. The legendary picture of her
behind the glass with her hands pressed against the window, in Meshes,
is just an image of what she wanted people to see. This image, referred to
as "the Botticelli", leaves people with the everlasting impression that
she was a beautiful, and most important, content, young woman
(Mellencamp, p. 34). I think this is how she wanted to be perceived, but
sadly, was not her true identity. Clark put it best when he stated, "But the
distinguishing feature of her movies would be their portrayal of events as
perceived by one person, alone and usually at odds with the world" (p.
2). Perhaps Deren's real identity crises were not that depressing, but
her movies do show a sense of her in search for personal identity, in a
confusing and ever-changing world.
--Nicole Brady, 1999
The scene was played out in two cycles these were the women point view and the man point of view. You notice that connection in the shots where related to the different cycles. I liked how they used the same women as three different characters during the women cycle. You also notice that objects move with in the scene in the different cycles.
I think a major factor is the music because you have certain expectations when the music is turned off that the music shuts off too. When it does not happen you are surprised. This also heightens suspense in the movie because you think something or some is going to jump out and scare the tar out of you.
The women all most represents like she has multiple personality's through
out the movie.
--Helene Dacey, 2000
The multiple existences of the one woman and the varied repetitions
give the sense that the women feels torn in some way. It gives the
impression that she is feeling different emotions and she is confused.
This is easy to relate to because the everyday occurrences of life can be
stressful and leave a person confused. Watching "Meshes of the
Afternoon", I felt that I could easily relate with the main character. Life
pulls you in so many directions that it is sometimes overwhelming and
confusing. The difference between reality and dreams is sometimes hard
to distinguish. Deren definitely revealed a little bit of her thoughts and
emotions in this video.
--Erica Ferry, 2000
In another scene, as we notice that the repetition happens 3 or so times, the women gather at the table. the knife appears in each of their hands and then changes to a key. However, the last woman has the key in her mouth, making her the oddball, or the one who isn't really one of them. This gives the viewer the idea that the woman may be the figure with the mirrored face.
Finally, when the woman wakes up, she wakes up to a gentleman who
then goes up stairs an mimics the same steps as the figure with the
mirrored face did in her dreams. She then finds herself with a knife and
cuts his face which shatters. The shot then shows the pieces landing onto
the beach....which then gives the effect of rocks half buried in the sand.
All in all, a definite story was established.
--John Bartruff, 2000