Absurdity, at its purest, assumes its residual – common sense – exists as a constant. For a situation to feel nonsensical it must exist within the world of this context, but slightly off-center: any art that knowingly stretches or blurs the formal definition of object, for the purposes of critiquing it or commenting on it. If the author attempts to assign meaning, the art ceases to be free-form, in a way that erodes its absurdity. We need to be able to grasp at absurdity without ever reaching it. Absurdity also has a built-in meta component that syncs up with the very real phenomenon cognitive dissonance, holding two or more conflicting beliefs at the same time. When we watch Prizzi’s Honor, we know that the events in this film are unlikely to ever occur, even though they sometimes seem that they could in our own measured existence or even in another mafia-esque film. Maybe we desire this film because we desire absurdity.
In fact, if we use The Godfather (either) as our reference point for clarity, quality and non-absurdity, Prizzi’s Honor feels even the more surreal. Both films are set in fictitious micro-environments where organized family business often exists through crime motifs, or through (as Prizzi’s Honor illuminates it) honor and duty. We understand that crime, as a driver for story and for history, works insofar as purposeful or logical narration will allow. Only in specific context does random killing, for example, not derail an otherwise reasonable character framework; usually this character is molded and guided toward psychotic break, but sometimes a story will include a random killing as a moment of opacity. Purposeful confusion, though, is not a hallmark of absurdity, because the director will likely resolve the issue. The killing will turn out not to be random; the character is hiding disassociative personality traits; there exists a ‘whodunit’ mystery that unfolds. These film tropes, while tricky to clarify (see: The Usual Suspects), guide an audience, as the logic behind the story unfolds. Continue reading