Hidden Thoughts

Recent viewings by friends, late-night brainstorming over the phone with another, and comments about Deja Vu have got me thinking about Cache. Two years after seeing it for the first and only time, it remains for me the best film about cinema since Rear Window.

In Cache, Haneke exposes the cognitive dissonance in film audiences (or me at least) by completely dismantling the distinction between voyeuristic video footage and “legitimate” shots that are “part of the film.”

Soon I didn’t know if I should feel unease because a new shot would turn out to be another disturbing recording or if it was “safe” to watch it in passive “movie mode,” which made me uneasy in any case. This sudden awareness of my internal state was an epiphany for me as a moviegoer.

Admittedly my experience of the movie was quite personal but given the first shot of the film I’m sure it was the effect Haneke intended to produce, if not the sensation he meant to enduce, and he did it masterfully. There are no (or few) wide shots or close-ups in Cache, only medium shots that ensure documentary passivity and distance.

Of course, actors are acting in front of rolling cameras, so films are not legally voyeuristic. But unlike live theater in which the conceit of the stage is ever-present to both performers and audience, the cinema screen is like a one-way mirror which cuts off those on stage/set/location from their always anonymous viewers.

Despite audience investment in a film, disclosure — emotional or physical, feigned or genuine — goes only one way. Who is “hidden”? We are.

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19 thoughts on “Hidden Thoughts

  1. jeri says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I really enjoyed these aspects of the film but didn’t know how to comment on it without giving the plot away, since I’m an example-based writer (a weakness of mine, or laziness). The interview with the director on the DVD was particularly interesting as he covered issues of the movie’s ambiguity and the characters’ and audiences’ levels of guilt and responsibility.

  2. Nobody says:

    Is the commentary in English?

    So far I have avoided rewatching Cache, perhaps because I am too fond of my original experience to “overwrite” it with a more critical viewing. I will eventually though.

  3. jeri says:

    I didn’t watch the commentary – just an interview. Ryan can answer that probably!

  4. Nobody says:

    What a revoltin’ development!

    I just heard that the Howard-Glazer double threat are going to remake Cache in English. The Cinetrix commences speculation as appalling as it is possible.

  5. jeri says:

    Eeeeew. Sounds scary. The comments on that article are hilarious.

  6. Ryan says:

    Ok, just finished watching it today at lunch. There’s no commentary, just the interview (but the interview is really good — it answered all my questions and then some).

    I’d like to talk more about the movie, but I’m not really sure where to begin.

  7. Ryan says:

    Ok, here’s one: the idea that Georges and Majid’s story is a microcosm for the 1961 massacre. The film is broadly about guilt, but Haneke uses the 1961 killings to talk about French guilt in particular. Georges and his family represent two generations of France, and Majid and his son represent two generations of French-Algeria. Georges and his wife represent the French people keeping hidden or being unaware of the massacre, and Georges refusal to acknowledge or accept guilt also mirrors the apparent French attitude. Majid and his son represent the Algerian response of trying to quietly continue living in French society while still being tortured by the memory. In this case, the tapes and pictures represent pure memory rather than an actual person. As Haneke makes clear in the interview, the person perpetrating the “terrorism” is not really important. The guilt was already there, and Georges’ childhood actions are still affecting harm. The tape was merely the memory rising to the surface.

    The only thing that doesn’t jive with the “it doesn’t matter who sent the tapes” idea is the fact that Majid, who seems to be not only innocent but also very wronged as a child, suffers the most. He seemed to be doing fine until these tapes showed up and led Georges to him. It does matter who sent the tapes because Majid and his son could have continued their lives without their creation. Majid’s parents are killed, he is kicked out of a potentially loving home, and then, years later, he is harrassed and wrongfully accused, and then takes his own life. And no explanation is ever given. In an American version of this movie, Georges would eventually break down and admit his errors, apologizing, while the long-suffering wrongly accused would finally be saved. The tape-maker would come forth as someone who sought to expose the truth and heal past wounds. However, Haneke seeks realism and says, “Revealing the truth doesn’t heal. Innocent people still suffer.” There’s no salvation in the film because Georges, the sinner, never seeks salvation. Thus he continues to wreak havoc on others’ lives with his unrepentant sin. So I suppose with that reading it doesn’t matter who sent the tapes.

  8. Nobody says:

    Wow. I didn’t realize I’ve completely forgotten what the “story” was about. I was so affected by the style and editing that the narrative itself vanished from my, well, memory.

    Bits are starting to come back to me now but I still don’t remember why Majid was kicked out of Georges’ home originally.

    In this case, the tapes and pictures represent pure memory rather than an actual person.

    That sounds right. Georges says he never saw a camera, and we see that he had walked right by it without noticing one.

    This seemed to me like an observation about cameras being “invisible” to characters in a film, being functionally a disembodied point of view (effectively a soul, which seems similar to “pure memory”).

    The tape was merely the memory rising to the surface.

    You mean the surveillance tapes, right? Or was there another tape of something else that surfaced later (besides the tape of what happened after Georges left Majid’s flat)?

    Speaking of which, if you rewatch the original scene of Georges and Majid’s conversation in his flat, can you see a camera hidden somewhere, on a table under some cloth or something? That’s one reason I wanted to immediately rewatch the movie.

    By the way, at the very end of the credits we see Majid’s son meet Georges’ son in front of the school, right? Supposedly this was to make us wonder if they had conspired and Georges’ son had been responsible for sending the tapes to his parents (he was portrayed earlier as desiring more attention from them I think). However, I assumed it was just a tease and not a definite “hey, look who it was all along.”

    I suppose it might also be interpreted as an ending of hope (aw, the next generation can be friends), but something about it didn’t make me feel that way either. Again, I can only remember the impression I had at the time, not the detail(s) in the film that made me feel that way!

  9. jeri says:

    Majid’s parents died in the massacre (or at least, they were at the location and never returned), so the family took on Majid. Adult Georges claims that in those days he saw Majid coughing up blood, and either he told his parents and they didn’t believe him, or he didn’t tell them because they wouldn’t believe him. I think it was the former. So that brought on the chicken story – Georges chops off the head of a giant chicken and claims Majid did it to scare him. (Adult Georges has a dream sequence that deals with this, either as a memory, a fabricated memory, or a jumble of the true story and his made-up story.) After this incident, the parents sent Majid to the orphanage.

    One interesting thing Haneke brought up in the interview is that George’s reaction as a child was perfectly normal for a young child, especially a young and privileged child who felt threatened or jealous by sharing his family and life with another kid. And, since it was a small thing to him, and a rather normal reaction for a child, as an adult he has a difficult time admitting that even though the effect of his actions on Majid was mostly unintended, he is still somewhat responsible.

    Ryan, I like your thoughts about why the identity of the tape-sender did or didn’t matter.

    Nobody, that ending scene (besides the identity of the tape-sender) was probably the most talked about thing when I looked it up on imdb. BTW, don’t read the bbs because they really don’t contribute any fresh ideas. First off, I like that Haneke made this scene open for interpretation. Some people, like me (because I watched it on a 5-inch screen), didn’t even see the two sons on the steps outside the school. Those people can have their own interpretation of the ending – yes, some people thinking about the themes of the next generation, but more like wondering about what their outcome will be, especially as products of parents who naturally hide so many aspects of their lives.

    For the people who saw the two sons, I think what that image most evokes is more questions about how long they have known each other, what their true involvement in the story may have been, and how much more to the story is there that we don’t know about (like the backstory behind Georges’ son’s disappearance and his anger towards his mother).

    I love that there are so many layers to think about with this one.

  10. Ryan says:

    You mean the surveillance tapes, right? Or was there another tape of something else that surfaced later (besides the tape of what happened after Georges left Majid’s flat)?

    Just the surveillance tapes. The problem I still have with the idea of the tapes being memory is that Haneke used too many distinct physical properties to define them. They were VHS cassettes in a grocery bag wrapped in child-like drawings. These aren’t some ethereal source, they’re a physical thing that someone made. They also introduced elements that weren’t pure memory, like the tape that leads Georges to Majid. Georges had no idea who Majid was when he first saw him, so it wasn’t recollection that led him there.

    Speaking of which, if you rewatch the original scene of Georges and Majid’s conversation in his flat, can you see a camera hidden somewhere, on a table under some cloth or something? That’s one reason I wanted to immediately rewatch the movie.

    Nope. I looked very closely, but Haneke keeps the observer completely hidden the entire movie. Your statement that the audience is the hidden observer is the best description for the physical location of the “camera,” but it doesn’t entirely work within the reality of the film.

    By the way, at the very end of the credits we see Majid’s son meet Georges’ son in front of the school, right? Supposedly this was to make us wonder if they had conspired and Georges’ son had been responsible for sending the tapes to his parents (he was portrayed earlier as desiring more attention from them I think). However, I assumed it was just a tease and not a definite “hey, look who it was all along.”

    I suppose it might also be interpreted as an ending of hope (aw, the next generation can be friends), but something about it didn’t make me feel that way either.

    Yeah, that was my impression as well (just a tease, not an answer). There seems to be a sort of familiarity between them, but I could just as easily buy that it was the “polite” son introducing himself to Pierot in hopes of some sort of reconciliation.

  11. Ryan says:

    Adult Georges claims that in those days he saw Majid coughing up blood, and either he told his parents and they didn’t believe him, or he didn’t tell them because they wouldn’t believe him.

    Quick point of clarification: the whole Majid coughing up blood thing was entirely Georges’ lie. Majid never coughed up blood. Haneke points out in the interview that Georges’ nightmares don’t represent what actually happened. Georges told his parents this to make Majid look bad, but a doctor came and examined Majid and nothing was wrong.

    So that brought on the chicken story – Georges chops off the head of a giant chicken and claims Majid did it to scare him. (Adult Georges has a dream sequence that deals with this, either as a memory, a fabricated memory, or a jumble of the true story and his made-up story.)

    It was actually Majid that chopped the head off the chicken. Georges told Majid that his father wanted it done, so that Majid would get in trouble. In the dream, it is still Majid who chops the chicken’s head off, though the part where he then swallows Georges’ head was just Georges’ nightmare.

    I only know this because it’s still fresh in my mind! (And I got to see it on a bigger screen – it must have been really tough watching this on a 5 inch, Jeri! I would have been thinking, “Crap, did I miss a clue? What was that? Was that the camera??”)

    I feel like we should move this to the Movies folder. Here we are, carrying on a rare actual movie discussion!

  12. Nobody says:

    For continuity’s sake I’ll just post a link there.

    Ryan keeps referring to this interview, which makes me curious how much of this is “in” the movie and how much of it is Haneke’s personal interpretation of his movie?

    I understand a director clarifying things or pointing out details, but sometimes I don’t buy it when a director (like del Toro) states authoritatively that something means something if there is no internal “textual” support for it (e.g., the Pale Man = the Roman Catholic Church).

  13. jeri says:

    Ryan writes:
    Quick point of clarification: the whole Majid coughing up blood thing was entirely Georges’ lie. Majid never coughed up blood. Haneke points out in the interview that Georges’ nightmares don’t represent what actually happened. Georges told his parents this to make Majid look bad, but a doctor came and examined Majid and nothing was wrong.

    For some reason my impression was that the chicken story was the lie and that he may have actually seen Majid cough up blood (we saw a clip of a boy coughing up blood somewhere in there, and I wasn’t sure if that was another dream or not).

    It was actually Majid that chopped the head off the chicken. Georges told Majid that his father wanted it done, so that Majid would get in trouble. In the dream, it is still Majid who chops the chicken’s head off, though the part where he then swallows Georges’ head was just Georges’ nightmare.

    Oh, wow, my memory fades so quickly! Yes, of course, you’re right. I like how the dream shows the audience how Georges presented the story to his parents (of course, also mixed in is his own guilt, showing a fear of Majid and discovery of the hidden truth with the way Majid approaches young Georges holding the axe in the dream)

    I only know this because it’s still fresh in my mind! (And I got to see it on a bigger screen – it must have been really tough watching this on a 5 inch, Jeri! I would have been thinking, “Crap, did I miss a clue? What was that? Was that the camera??”)

    Yes, definitely. I will have to rewatch it on my big tv at home sometime – I’m sure I will pick up on a lot more. Some movies are okay to watch while I’m in the Fitness Center on a machine; this is definitely not one of them.

    So Ryan, with your thoughts on why it matters for the identity of the tape-sender to be known, do you have any theories? The childlike drawings were interesting to me, as was who received them.

    Nobody writes:
    Ryan keeps referring to this interview, which makes me curious how much of this is “in” the movie and how much of it is Haneke’s personal interpretation of his movie?

    I understand a director clarifying things or pointing out details, but sometimes I don’t buy it when a director (like del Toro) states authoritatively that something means something if there is no internal “textual” support for it (e.g., the Pale Man = the Roman Catholic Church).

    I think Haneke likes to remain rather ambiguous on many of the points, but brings up many ideas in the interview. I think he enjoyed playing with the variety of interpretations that are possible, from explanations of plot to understandings of the themes. I don’t really think he stated anything very authoritatively, though.

    As for Haneke’s other films, I haven’t seen any others yet, but plan to in the future now that I have seen this one.

  14. jeri says:

    Oops, I guess I made a cut in there somewhere by accident. You get the gist. The paragraph that starts “for some reason” was by me, not Ryan.

  15. Ryan says:

    So Ryan, with your thoughts on why it matters for the identity of the tape-sender to be known, do you have any theories? The childlike drawings were interesting to me, as was who received them.

    I had theories, but once Haneke said he didn’t even know, it was hard to care. It’s just fruitless speculation trying to examine clues that don’t mean anything. Haneke is very pomo about it all: “Maybe the mom did have an affair, I don’t know. Maybe it was their son who set it up, I don’t know. What do you think?” He’s God in this story. He’s the author. Truth in the story has to come from him, and if he says there is no truth, or that he’s not concerned with the truth, there’s not much you can do.

    I’ll let you know what I thought before watching the interview: when I saw the two sons at the end, it suggested that they were in cahoots. But what interest does it serve Majid’s son for him to drive his father to suicide? He would obviously have thought his father wronged, so why would he make his dad relive all that pain? Then there is the fact that I don’t think Pierot was smart enough to have kept his involvement secret. And I believe Majid’s son when he says he had nothing to do with the tapes, so that would mean Pierot would have had to handle that end. He never appeared clever enough for that.

    So, ultimately, I think the meeting scene at the end was just an attempt at reconciliation, that Pierot was acting weird because he figured out his parents were hiding something from him (but didn’t know what — he guesses an affair), and that the tape maker had to be some unknown third party with completely indiscernible motives (given that he hurts both parties).

  16. Nobody says:

    On Saturday night I saw Lost Highway for the first time, catching it on TV between 2 and 4 am. (Talk about the perfect movie to watch in the middle of the night: slow, dark, and dreamlike.)

    Anyway, the film begins with a couple finding a videotape left for them anonymously. The first tape shows — what else? — the front of their house!

    Subsequent tapes are more disturbing, but it soon becomes clear — from the words of Bill Pullman before the story demonstrates it — that the videos represent repressed memory.

    I shouldn’t say more than that, but I loved the movie. It is the Lynch movie I kept expecting his earlier ones to be but they weren’t. It’s fairly easy to make sense of Mulholland Dr. but Lost Highway is deliciously elusive and has the deep, inky shadows Mulhholland’s television-intended style lacks.

  17. Ryan says:

    Sounds interesting as a companion piece to Cache.

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