In the grip of grief: the materiality of mourning in Vital
Carel, H. (2011) In the grip of grief: the materiality of mourning in Vital. In: Carel, H. and Tuck, G. , eds. (2011) New Takes in Film-Philosophy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9780230250284
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Vital portrays mourning experienced under unusual conditions. Whereas usually the physical body of the dead person is gone, here it is present. Hiroshi caresses Ryoko’s body, cuts it open, explores it. Her body is attended to in almost every scene in the film. Whereas usually we engage with the deceased through memory, here it is absent. To begin with Hiroshi cannot recall anything about the accident, and little about Ryoko. Thus the film presents to us a negation of mourning: instead of a flood of memories and an absent body (its absence marked by a disposal ceremony), here we have no memories and a present body. How does mourning take place under such conditions? In this chapter I will explore two trajectories of such mourning. The first is the epistemic process Hiroshi undergoes. In order to mourn Ryoko, he must first remember their shared past. His journey from epistemic impotence - complete amnesia - to fully recollecting their shared past and particularly the crash in which she died is also a journey of mourning. In order to mourn, a process of overcoming or forgetting (in some sense), Hiroshi must first remember. The film examines the roles memory and forgetfulness play in mourning. The second trajectory, uniquely captured in Vital’s unusual setting, is the haptic nature of Hiroshi’s mourning, paralleled by haptic cinematic techniques. Hiroshi’s mourning is a tactile engagement with Ryoko’s cadaver but also a process of reacquainting himself with the world. Two haptic processes take place in the film: one of closure, the other of opening up. The first process is Hiroshi’s gradual remembrance of Ryoko and their shared past through exploring her cadaver. This remembrance is a prelude to mourning, a process of closure and ending. The second is Hiroshi’s reunification with the world, which he must learn to inhabit anew after his accident. This is a process of regeneration, rebirth and reparation. Throughout most of the film Hiroshi is bewildered, puzzled, overwhelmed by the world. Like the film itself, Hiroshi tries to make sense of the world by engaging with its textures, surfaces, images and colours. This hermeneutic process is depicted via a phenomenological study of Hiroshi’s movements, touch, hearing and reflexivity. This phenomenological focus is mirrored in the viewer’s reactions to the film. The film moves, touches, disgusts and awes the viewer in a process parallel to Hiroshi’s.
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