Wednesday, October 10, 2012

(Performing) Work

            As noted in lecture and by Berlant, Time Out is a film focused on the middle, or, as Berlant puts it, “we begin and end in the middle of a story” (212). This is most obviously and viscerally represented in the film’s driving scenes—Vincent is coasting, constantly just moving along the road with, as we know, no pressing goals. Berlant maps Vincent as both in an impasse and as impassive. He is floating in the present (Jean-Michel makes this clear when he points out that Vincent’s scheme can only go on for so long), the impasse, and Berlant paints this as all the more affecting when, in her discussion of the film’s end, she notes that even when his “time out” is over and he has apparently begun to interview for a new career, he is still in an impasse, only now “he is no longer driving in spirals but in circles, in team meetings and modes of conviviality that fake optimism in the hope that eventually it will have to be worth it” (221). (Transcribing that sentence, I wanted to put “worth it” in scare quotes, which really speaks to just how circular that optimism is.) And his impassivity is in the repetition of the “mild theatricality” of his movements, of the “intimate spaces” he is trying to protect by not moving or allowing the event to take place (220). As the English title suggests, Vincent seems to be biding his time, holding something off.
            The sense that Vincent is just ‘taking a break’ from life’s normal demands/responsibilities (I can’t think of an appropriate word right now that doesn’t evoke either a job or an expectation of progress) is reiterated throughout the film by the repeated images of action behind glass. Vincent seems to always be witnessing—through windows—“real life” being lived and acted on, or, alternately, simulations of real action. Early in the film, at the school fair (itself an almost blunt statement on the nature of capitalism, as these children buy and sell and can’t understand profit motives), Vincent and his wife argue outside. As they walk, in front of them there is a gym with glass walls where a Judo class is being taught. The young boys are sparring—fake fighting, fake action, practice for a crisis that will never happen. This sense is echoed when, later in the film, Vincent argues mildly with his son (after the son’s competition), with a roomful of adults sparring (behind a glass wall) between and behind them. These two scenes rhyme with the two office scenes—first, when Vincent finds a way into the UN office and walks through a hallway, looking in on “work” being done in the series of glass-walled offices and in the conference room (where he overhears what is basically jargon), and second when Vincent returns to his old office to confront Jeffrey and we witness silent work in the rooms before the inhabits notice their observer. These images of Vincent witnessing real work/action from the other side of a glass not only illustrate his state relative to them. Their visual pairing—the sparring with the office work—seems to imply that they are not so different, and thus that Vincent’s charade of office work is, also, not very far from what those people in the offices were doing. 

No comments: