[1968.1] Rachel, Rachel

I will be watching all 5 nominees from 1968 before I move on to the next year. The goal here is to watch them and have an internal discussion among them to try to piece together a “history” of the year. Let’s get to it. 

83aThe human eye, for its awesome complexity, is imperfect. An average human can distinguish among 10 million colors to varying levels of intensity. Trichromacy is a distinguishing factor among primates from other mammalian species and is responsible for evoking (occasionally vivid) emotional responses. Artists and filmmakers decide that crisp and clear color might symbolize a specific emotion or mood; to that effect, an artist with a different objective might elect to dull a palate of colors enough to push a different set of feelings. A filmmaker’s choice can only really reflect intent, however, as each human, just as she has different eyes also sees things through a unique perspective. Sometimes the human eye, it its awesome complexity, cannot interpret crispness as imperfection causes the physiology to distort.

To examine the history of film is to undertake an impossibly knotty task. Separate, and often collinear threads, like technology’s insatiable progress and public opinion’s often disheartening demagoguery, or a deepening mistrust of authoritarian figures and a shift in music tastes, that have little to do with one another often superimpose one another, intentional or not. The eye, as propagator of one of humans’ most treacherous senses, cannot piece cognitive dissonance together: against evidence to the contrary, what it sees it believes, even at the behest of the other senses; the eye is the human’s most slanderous sense. 1968’s Rachel, Rachel remains honest with intent, but blurry in obscurity. Released during a time of global tribulation, its soft reflection on human suffering seems trivial – but, once again, the human eye deceives. 

Rachel, (Rachel) is a delicate human, traumatized and afraid of nothing in particular. If a guess is necessary, and it often is when attempting to discern intent from expression, teacher Rachel (Joanne Woodward) suffers from a close reading of Sartre’s No Exit, except Hell is not other people, but herself. On its surface, the author (Paul Newman, in his directorial debut) asks his audience to sympathize with Rachel because she seems helpless. Often, the director and script will crush the audience with reasons for the self-hatred and expect either warmth and sympathy (a palate of soft colors) or with conflict (usually deep reds and blacks) and antipathy. Newman does neither, instead favoring neutral colors, but he does use what was relatively common pre-After Effects – a blur to signify the change of temporal perspective; Rachel daydreams to escape her daylife. But Newman dots his scenes with an inscrutable blandness, eschewing, with human’s penchant for meaning at the forefront, that sometimes hue and saturation come without ulterior motive, and sometimes a blur is a welcome respite from the Hell. Sometimes Hell is nothing but a welcome respite from the boredom of existence.

To see through Rachel’s magnificent eyes is to wonder about purpose in the absence of explicit purpose. Regardless of her intentions to avoid interaction, things happen to her: she brushes with God and with homosexuality, she twists love with lust, and experiences the joys (through a blurry daydream of child rearing) and pains (through a nasty host/prey symbiosis with her own mother) of parenthood. Much of her strife is all for naught as she drops everything and moves away seemingly on a whim, but desperate to escape Hell. But Garcin says: “Hell is other people!” then Inez says: “But, you crazy creature, what do you think you’re doing? You know quite well I’m dead.” Newman’s interpretation is not Hell and Death but Fear and Trembling. For when death comes for Rachel, (Rachel), her magnificent eyes will see nothing at all.

Still reeling or demanding escapism, Oliver! won Best Picture in 1968, against Rachel, RachelThe Lion In WinterFunny Girl, and Romeo and Juliet. Thematically, this year runs a gamut, but avoids War all together, instead favoring the delicacies of humanity forever battling against perfection.

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