Monday, September 3, 2007
No place like Heima
I have started the process of settling into my new home of Northampton, MA. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a rural part of western Massachusetts, home to Smith College and part of the Five Colleges area. While it boasts a thriving town center and, thankfully, two art cinemas and many independent bookstores (what more does one ask for?) I am still surprised at my homesickness for Boston, where I lived for 16 years. Given that many other students in my cohort are from much more far-flung parts of the country (and the world), I really shouldn’t complain.
However, it does make me re-consider ideas of home. Is physical place so important, or the memories we have of that particular place? Is home simply the place where you grew up? Or where your parents live? And what happens when someone else lives in “your” house, or your parents are no longer living? What if your home has been destroyed or transformed by civil war? What if your home is a variation of what Benedict Anderson calls an “imagined community?”
I have found a connection between these ideas and my latest cinematic obsession. Recently, a friend suggested I go see I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone when it comes to Boston later this month, and thus turned me on to the films of Tsai Ming-Liang. This unadulterated longing for home shows up in all three Tsai films I’ve seen so far: Vive L’Amour, Goodbye Dragon Inn, and What Time is it There? These films, which use absurd minimalism in order to emphasize loneliness and the impossibilities of real human connection, do so by emphasizing placelessness and transience. Characters experience dislocation even in their own homes, neighborhoods, and even in their own skin. In Vive L’Amour, three characters are connected by their choice of an abandoned high-rise apartment as a means of escape from the rest of the world; yet, it does not provide them with sanctuary that they hope for. What Time Is It There? suggests home is just a physical stand-in for the home we each experience in a relationship with another person, and three people— one in Paris, two in Taipei—desperately seek it out among the living and the dead. And Goodbye Dragon Inn, perhaps the most light-hearted of these three melancholy films, paints the movie-house as a home recognized too late as such for those who watch (or not) the theater's final screening. I'm hoping to tackle these ideas in more detail in a longer post (perhaps after I have seen all of Tsai’s films).
In the meantime, a clarification: Heima is the Icelandic term for “at home”, and the name of a new Sigur Ros documentary which I can't wait to see, featuring beautiful images (such as the one above) of the band’s native Iceland. You can view the trailer here .