Beginning in the End: Poetry of Greek Tragedy in Theo Angelopoulos's Ulysses' Gaze and the Weeping Meadow
Sohi, Behzad Ghaderi, Khojastehpour, Adineh, Literature/Film Quarterly
T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) considers "not only the best, but the most individual parts of" a poet's work "those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously" (48). In Eliot's idea "no poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists" (49). This "historical sense," he contends, is related to the presence of the "tradition" of the past. What he calls "tradition," however, is more than something that could be inherited; one "must obtain it by great labor" (49). The past and consciousness of the past are of great significance and a poet "should continue to develop this consciousness throughout his career" (52).
In this view "Greek tragedy" may be seen as a "tradition" that is still present today. This idea, however, is rejected by George Steiner, who, in The Death of Tragedy contends that the Greek form of tragedy can never be present in today's world, since modern man has lost those mytho-poetic references that were significant to the ancient Greeks: "The ancient is not a glove into which the modern can slip at will" (329). Steiner illustrates this by reviewing Eugene O'Neill's and T. S. Eliot's dramas as failed attempts. He further argues that these modern writers try to give "the classic fable a novel twist" (326) but the end result is, in O'Neill's case, "vandalism by sheer inadequacy of style" and, in Eliot's case, "stuffed ghosts" even with Eliot who has "tact and formal skill" (327).
This article demonstrates how Theo Angelopoulos (1935 - ) gives a new twist to Eliot's notion of the presence of the past in Ulysses' Gaze (1995) and The Weeping Meadow (2004). Viewed as the "creative helm of the New Greek Cinema" (Georgakas), Angelopoulos makes such an ample use of historical and mythical structures and elements of Greek tragedy that some critics tend to see him as a director who is after "re-presenting" or "modernizing" Greek tragedy. But a closer look at his films shows that he is in fact deconstructing the very idea of mythical destiny. He seems to be playing with mythology itself, going deep into the past in his wandering around the present and the future. In this way his films are historical, even if they narrate only the present. We shall illustrate in this article that Angelopoulos gives a new significance to what can be seen as the historical reality. In other words, we will argue that by highlighting such motifs as river, source/origin, home, and exile Angelopoulos poetizes history, and, without "re-presenting" Greek tragedy's "form" and structure, he utilizes its poetic essence in an attempt at "re-creating" it.
Ulysses' Gaze: Epic Body, Tragic Soul
The plastic artist, like the epic poet who is related to him, is absorbed in the pure contemplation of images. The Dionysian musician is, without any images, himself pure primordial pain and its primordial re-echoing.
Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
Greek tragedy is said to be a "flood of poetry, music, and dance" (Kitto 5). However, as many have tried to show, Greek tragedy is not poetic just because of its metrical techniques. There are other aspects that may enrich its poetic spirit. Some critics refer to the familiarity of the Greek spectator with the mythical base of Greek tragedy as what could made it function as poetry. Just as the reader of a poem tries to "see" the formation of an achieved structure in the mind of the poet, the Greek spectator "knew that what he saw was a stylized reenactment of an ancient story as distilled through the mind of the poet" (Hadas 2). The most famous comment on the poetry of Greek tragedy is made by Nietzsche, whose The Birth of Tragedy celebrates the emergence of Greek tragedy from the spirit of music, which, "having reached its highest manifestation in tragedy," can "invest myths with a new and most profound significance" (75). Regarding the harmony of the forces of "Apollo" and "Dionysus" as what enlivened Greek tragedy and gave it its unique spirit, Nietzsche saw in Greek tragedy the beauty of "pleasure, grief, and knowledge" (46). To him, Greek tragedy was the poetry of "the bliss born of pain" (46-47).
Nietzsche relates the epic poet to the plastic artist. Both of them are fond of die contemplation of images. They live in images, "and only in them, with joyous satisfaction" (50). They never get tired of "contemplating lovingly" even the "minutest traits" of these images (50). To an epic poet such as Homer, he observes, "even the image of the angry Achilles is only an image," whose expression "he enjoys with the dreamer's pleasure in illusion" (50). Nietzsche further compares such a poet with the Dionysian musician, or "the lyric genius," whose lyrical poems, "in their highest development," are "tragedies and dramatic dithyrambs" (50). Such an obsession with the contemplation of images in epic poetry is also discussed by critics such as Huxley, who even more plainly differentiates between epic and tragedy:
To make a tragedy the artist must isolate a single element out of the totality of human experience and use that exclusively as his material. Tragedy is something that is separated out from the Whole Truth, distilled from it, so to speak, as an essence is distilled from the living flower. (358)
It should be noted that the "truth" of which Huxley speaks "is in fact no more than an acceptable verisimilitude" (353). He contends that "[w]hen the experiences recorded in a piece of literature correspond fairly closely with our own actual experience," then we might say, "inaccurately no doubt: This piece of writing is true" (353). This is what he finds in epic but not in tragedy. And that is why Huxley believes "Wholly-Truthful literature cannot move us as quickly and intensely as tragedy" (353).
However, Greek Tragedy, according to Barrett, "makes ample use of the Homeric poems and contains many reminiscences of them" (42). Today, there is almost no difference between epic and tragedy regarding aspects such as performance and representation, for both tragedy and epic are mainly read today, and both of them can be adapted and watched on the stage or on the screen. In such a context, Angelopoulos in his To Vlemma Tou Odyssea [Ulysses' Gaze) has utilized the peculiarities of both genres. The film is about a Greek film director (referred to simply as "A") who has lived in America for thirty-five years. He returns to his hometown in northern Greece to track down three missing reels of film shot by the pioneering Manakis brothers, who introduced cinema into the Balkans at the beginning of the twentieth century. He embarks on a search for the missing reels, an Odyssey which takes him, consequently, across the torn countries of the 1990s "War in the Balkans," to the heart of this war, to a destroyed film archive in Sarajevo, where he finds the three undeveloped reels and loses some of his new friends.
In an analysis of the film, Rutherford refers to the "fluids" as the affective poles of Ulysses' Gaze. The fluids dominate the structure of the film: "frozen in ice, driven in rain and snow, suspended in mist, swirling in the river currents, and singing in the developing lab" (63). She also considers "an economy of fluids" as what defines Angelopoulos's shooting style: "frozen moment, fluid mobile camera" (63). Her discussion calls our attention to an interesting contrast that seems to dominate the whole structure of the film. What she sees as the opposition between fluidity and freezing can be said in other words to be the contrast between stability and moving along, between wandering and staying, or maybe between home and exile. A key symbol in showing these contrasts is the river. "Yugoslavia is full of rivers," says the journalist who leads "A" to Sarajevo. "A" travels round the Balkans mainly through (as well as across) the rivers. And the fragmented statue of Lenin is transported down a mythical river: the Danube, or, as referred to in Hölderlins poem, "The Ister." This poem and this symbol will be discussed in the next section. But here it is important to note how Angelopoulos uses this symbol to emphasize the sense of wavering between home and exile; a feeling of being neither here nor there, what is known as liminality.
To Angelopoulos, "every film is a voyage, everything is voyage, search" (Angelopoulos, in a conversation with Bachmann). He considers himself a man who is "always, without stopping, searching, searching" (Bachmann). His obsession with the feelings mentioned in the above paragraph manifests itself in his emphasis on borders. To him, borders are not simply "geographical borders": they are "divisions, between here and there, between then and now" (Bachmann). Through Angelopoulos's specific techniques in making time malleable, Ulysses Gaze violates the typical beginning and ending, looking as if it begins and ends simultaneously. This point is emphasized in "A'"s words in one of the early scenes of the film where he says "In my end is my beginning," which is also Angelopoulos's catchphrase, paraphrasing T S. Eliot. Again in one of the early sequences, "A" repeats the lines from Angelopoulos's previous film, The Suspended Step of the Stork: "We've crossed the border, but we are still here. How many borders do we have to cross before we reach home?" The film is, on the one side, "A"'s "personal journey," as he himself insists on connecting it only to personal reasons. On another level, the whole film is a journey into the past. The Manakis' story moves alongside "A'"s story; his journey is merged into theirs and theirs into his. The Manakis brothers, as the director states, were "not concerned with politics," ignoring national and international strife and recording just ordinary people on film. But in fact they were involved in politics, since in the midst of shooting their documentary they were hampered by the war. Almost the same happens to "A." He insists on having personal reasons for his journey, but in his search drifts into the war areas, and he boards the same ship that carries, up through the Danube, the now stony and fragmented, yet still massive and seemingly awesome/sublime, Lenin.
Motifs such as travel and search have long been associated mainly with the epic genre. Tragedy has generally been related to the city-state, or the polis. The city-state has defined the "identity" of the tragic individual. Fischer-Lichte contends that the tragic poets "cultivated and articulated the concept of a particular identity" through the metaphor of "the polis" (11). Wallace also argues that "the city provided the social bonds which formed an individual's identity" (149). Wallace even goes further to state that "to be exiled in ancient Greece was indeed to become no one. Nothing" (149, original emphasis). Yet such critics also observe that this could not be the whole truth. The surviving tragedies "represent a highly developed, mature product, characteristic of the state of Athens" (Fischer-Lichte 1 1). Generally, Greek tragedy is associated with "a period of transition between the dominance of an archaic theocracy and the emergence of a new, 'modern' order" (Girard 91). However, a closer look at these surviving tragedies shows that they may question "the order of the city, from which one might be exiled" (Wallace 150-51). This is felt more than with any other poet in Sophocles, who, in Philoctetes, presents the city as the source of deception and treachery.1 Even such Sophoclean characters as Oedipus and Creon who are punished by exile, choose this punishment themselves. They want their punishment to "match their own internal sense of transgression and alienation" (Wallace 150). This "alienation" or not being at home in the society was praised by the Romantic critics such as Schelling as being central in tragedy, which involved "a real conflict between freedom in the subject and objective necessity" (251).
Angelopoulos seeks to create such an impression in his films. The feelings of distance, disconnection, and alienation are evident even in his way of shooting. If, according to most critics, long takes are the dominant characteristics of Angelopoulos's cinema, what makes his camera's looking at the world historicalis his use of long-shots. Through long-shots, the spectator remains an observer both detached from, and above, history. From this point of view, people and events seem dwarfish, tiny, and trivial, or, in the Manakis brothers' words, "like puppets." Tb illustrate this, consider the foggy Sarajevo sequence at the end of the film. It consists of a set of long, one-take scenes in the first of which we see "A" and Ivo Levi walking in the fog, rather cheerfully after their success in the lab. Eleni Karaindrou's2 haunting theme accompanies them in a soft, sedative tone. We also see other people strolling in the fog. The tracking camera moves with them, itself like a wandering and wondering spectator, among the strolling people. The tracking movement continues until we reach a wall-like structure on top of which a music band is playing. The camera then quits "A" and Levi in order to climb this wall and focus on the band. The theme we hear now is not a new one. In fact it is another variation of the main theme, or Ulysses Theme, which we first heard at the beginning of the film, with the sailing of the cryptic blue ship at the sight of which Yannakis dies (and "A"'s journey begins).
A different variation of this theme is also heard in the Danube sequence, in which a ship carries the fragments of the statue of Lenin. This sequence is also a long take. People at the banks of the river follow the ship, running and making the sign of the cross. The Theme, in which the sounds of strings are dominant, softly blends with, and becomes a living part of what we see: the fragments of the statue; the flowing river; the sailing ship; the running people following the ship (who, with their detached looks and their queer gestures recall the chorus members in Greek tragedy). We observe all this from above and in a long-shot. At the arrival in Belgrade, with the turning movement of the camera we can go deep into Lenin's "stony" gaze and finger, both directed at some uncertain point in the sky; this could be a hint, perhaps, at the shift from history as progressive, linear movement to the Schillerian/postmodem notion of history as a "sublime" entity. Back to the end-sequence discussed above, it seems that all we can experience is a weird, foggy sense. The players of the musical ensemble in this sequence, standing on a platform surrounded by the ruined buildings, are nearly hidden in the fog. AU we get from the mise-en scène in the above sequences is the feeling of distance. This could be one of the examples of the "selection" to which Huxley refers as a pivotal element that separates tragedy from other "wholly-truthful" genres such as epic; and this is where Ulysses Gaze shows the tragic, rather than epic, essence of the journey.
Angelopoulos does not usually use flashbacks; he rather fuses the past in the present as if the past were a part of the present. For instance, the first sequence, in which Yannakis's assistant tells "A" about Yannakis's longing to photograph the blue ship as it sailed, is in fact one long take, without any cuts, dissolves, or fade-ins that throw us (as well as "A") into the time that is narrated by the assistant. "A" enters walking through this scene into the narrated time, which, being a strange fusion, is not clear whether it is past or present, since, curiously, the space has remained the same. It is the same bay, and the same queer blue ship is sailing while "A" is walking alongside the tracking camera from the right to the left. The only difference is that when "A" has completed his movement to the left, Yannakis, his camera, and his assistant are no longer there. Yet to what point in time, past or present, can the ship and the bay belong? Can they be pinned down in time at all? Deleuze's reading of Bergson in Cinema 2 may be of some help here. In that book, Deleuze argues that "[w]hat is actual is always a present" (81). But the present "changes or passes," and "becomes past when it no longer is, when a new present replaces it" (81). In this way, time has to "split itself in two at each moment as present and past," or, it has to split the present in two directions, "one of which is launched towards the future while the other falls into the past" (81).
Inspired by Deleuze's notion of the "split time" and the two "directions of the present," we cannot place the ship in an actual historical present or past. The flashback technique would not satisfy Angelopoulos since it "usually refers to the subjectivity of a character that is experiencing a recollection" (Makriyannakis). Angelopoulos, however, does not want to show recollections of the past. He wants the past to live in the present. The ship mentioned above cannot be related to a specific point in time because "it is in constant motion" (Makriyannakis). If this is the case, how about the ship that carries Lenin's fragmented statue? Is it not too in constant motion? Is it not simultaneously the coffin of the Enlightenment "mimesis" and the cradle of the post-Enlightenment "sublime?" Perhaps a hint of this is given in the people/chorus running at the river bank, some sad and some elated.
In the prologue, we "gaze" at the weavers the same way the Manakis brothers gazed at them through the lens of their gazing camera. And in the Belgrade scene, the camera gazes at the statue, who is itself gazing strangely at and pointing to some uncertain point off the screen (on its pedestal, Lenin points to and gazes at some predefined point). So whose gaze is, in fact, "Ulysses' Gaze"? Who is Odysseus? "A"? Lenin's statue? The Manakis Brothers? Or even the camera itself? Angelopoulos makes the riddle more complex with "A" s question in the prologue: "Is it the first gaze?" Are we not, then, forced to be Oedipus the Kings of contemporary life, like "A" who returns home to undo the riddles?
The question "Is it the first gaze?" makes us want to see "A" and his journey through some new light. Why is this director referred to only as "A"? His search for the three reels is not of a practical nature. His insistence on setting out on this bizarre search and even throwing himself into the center of the war to carry it on may make us want to regard the search in a religious context. This view draws the film closer to the nature of Greek tragedy and its connection with "religious cults" (Girard 250) or, as Kitto puts it, with "religious duty" (3). "A"'s main motive to find the three reels is that they belong to an age of innocence when cinema was associated with new hopes, and was itself a new beginning. He wants to seek the essence of childhood, "the origin," to put it in Heidegger's terms.3
What "A" is seeking in those three reels could be his own childhood. He is after a period of innocence; he seeks an Eden-like land in which he had once lived but from which he has fallen out quite rapidly. In this way we can see "A" as an Adam who has risen again after his fall and come back in a weird experience to his "lost paradise" hoping to find his early age of innocence and also the origin, the source. But can he find what he is looking for?
The image of Adam takes us even further. Among other things (including the name "Angelopoulos" itself), the letter "A" reminds us of "America," a distant place where "A" has lived for nearly thirty-five years. In this way the figure of "A" can be defined in connection with another myth: that of "the American Adam." The American myth "saw life and history as just beginning" (Lewis 5). This Adam was then "the hero of the new adventure"; he was "an individual emancipated from history" (Lewis 5). An important aspect of this new American hero was his innocence. As the first man, "Adam's moral position was prior to experience, and in his very newness he was fundamentally innocent" (Lewis 5). "A" has returned home, after a long stay in America, to seek his innocence. Cannot we see him as the collapse of a new myth? Where is that innocence to be found?
Although referred to earlier, the ending sequence needs to be discussed further. The sequence is especially important as it is the coincidence of "A"'s moving and staying; and it is in this sequence that "A" can be seen as something of a tragic hero. It was mentioned that after finding the three reels in Ivo Levi's archive, "A" and Levi, as well as Levi's daughter and some other people, walk happily in a foggy scene. It is important to note where they are taken through this stroll. They continue walking until they reach a river. Others still continue to go ahead while the camera remains focused on "A", who is standing alone watching others, now the off-screen voices talking with the soldiers. The harsh off-screen gunshots and "A"'s face tell us that "A"'s friends are killed. "A" and the camera rush toward their corpses.
"A'"s "discovery" coincides with, or in fact is, death. Even "A'"s journey, begun with the vision of the queer blue ship (at the sight of which Yannakis is dead), and his search among the "archives," accompanied by the stony symbols of the dead ideals, can be seen as a journey into death itself. In the last scene, "A" watches the films on the screen. What he watches is in fact nothing but darkness. He sees but in a way as though he were blind; an Oedipus whose discovery leads to blindness. This is perhaps close to Hegel's reading of Plato's catharsis, where he regards tragic character as inspiring fear in us; a fear of the power of an "order that he has violated" (452).
The Weeping Meadow. Poetry of Pleasure and Pain
Yet the river almost seems / To flow backwards, Hölderlin, "The Ister"
My films never really end. To me they are all "works in progress." Theo Angelopoulos
The first film in Angelopoulos's intended trilogy, To Livadi pou dakryzei [The Weeping Meadow) is set entirely in Greece between 1919 and 1 949. It begins with Greek refugees' flight from Odessa due to the entry of the Red Army, and their arrival in Thessaloniki. Among the refugees are Spyros, his family, and Eleni, an orphan whom they found in Odessa in the midst of the turbulence. Years later, Eleni falls in love with Alexis, Spyros's son, and secretly gives birth to their twins. The two sons are forced to be kept hidden and adopted by another family. Eleni and Alexis flee from Spyros, who is now supposed to be Eleni's husband, on their wedding day, and Spyros is determined to track them down. Their story is merged in the events of Greece in the twentieth century. The film ends in 1949 with the end of the Greek civil war, in which Eleni's twins are killed.
The film is apparently centered on the contemporary history of Greece, narrating the individuals' story shadowed by the historical events. Although it does not give any obvious hints about the mythical plot lying beneath the surface story, The Weeping Meadow seems to be more purely based on Greek tragedy than any other work. Characters are dominated by different ways of the latter-day Fate's intruding, and most important events are narrated rather than shown on the screen. This narration has different levels in the film and demonstrates how Angelopoulos has grasped the poetry of Greek drama, taking into consideration the poetic function of sound and voice and their imaginative and evocative possibilities in Greek tragedy.
As Loraux indicates in her analysis of the mourning voices in Greek tragedy, the Greek word "aei" (usually translated as "always") may be related to an interjection that could best express the sorrowful feelings ("aiai"). In this way, this interjection that Loraux calls the "naked cry of sorrow" (35) could indicate the desire for the timelessness of the music of mourning (30-36). To refer again to Nietzsche's famous discussion, the "spirit of music" out of which tragedy is born is a result of the interaction of the Apollinian and the Dionysian forces. If Apollo, "the shining one" as Nietzsche calls him (35), rules over the beauty of calmness and restraint, and is the one in whom "the calm repose of the man" is wrapped up and receives its "most sublime expression" (36), and if Apollinian music is the music of calmness and soothing beauty, Dionysian music is that of "emotion"; it is "the emotional power of the tone, the uniform flow of the melody, and the utterly incomparable world of harmony" (40). Based on these words, we would not move too far if we infer that Nietzsche sees music mainly as Dionysian. To him, Dionysian music is what can express "awe and terror" (40); it expresses the pleasure of pain:
Only the curious blending and duality in the emotions of the Dionysian revelers remind us - as medicines remind us of deadly poisons - of the phenomenon that pain begets joy, that ecstasy may wring sounds of agony from us. At the very climax of joy there sounds a cry of horror or a yearning lamentation for an irrerrievable loss.
Especially in The Weeping Meadow, Angelopoulos seems to have noticed the division between Apollinian and Dionysian music. Of course, he has his own way of using music. Unlike figures such as Wagner, Angelopoulos does not need the glory of opera to create tragedy. The music in his films is independent of musical instruments; rather, each single sound by itself is of musical significance.4 The condensed speech of characters is full of music, and the silence is as important as any of the instruments. In The Weeping Meadow the sounds can be divided into the two groups of Apollinian and Dionysian ones. On the one hand, we hear the shrill, piercing whistle of the apparently ever-existing train that often passes into and out of the shots, the sounds of the passing trucks and cars, the harsh, staccato sounds of the gun-shots, and the ecstatic, energetic voices of the young soldiers singing their "hymn of victory." On the other hand stand sounds such as the soothing melodies of the waves in the sea and the lake and the serene sound of the flowing river, the calm sound of the rain, and Eleni's moaning being both "aei" and "aiai" - always joyful sorrow. To this group we can add Karaindrou's soothing theme, which is often heard in the scenes where the image of "water" is dominant. And to the first group can be added the human voices, especially shouts and screams: Spyros's, and Alexis's shouts calling "ELENI," and also Eleni's "cries of sorrow" at the death of her sons.
Eleni, however, cannot simply be placed in either group. Like sounds of the second group, she is mainly associated with the water-image: walking in the rain, standing by the sea, sailing through the river, shown in medium shots (Angelopoulos almost never uses close-up) in the two occasions to which the "source" of the river is referred. One may speculate that Angelopoulos sees a unique relationship among Eleni, water, and music - especially with reference to the above mentioned division. This relationship is not a plain one. Water is not simply soothing and calm, or better to say, Apollinian. It has the Dionysian energy to destroy the village in a flood. The river is not simply a flow-forward. With the emphasized image of the "source," it seems, as does Hölderlins ( 1 770- 1 843) "Ister," to flow backwards as well, mingling the sense of being at home with a feeling of Dionysian homelessness. A glance at Heidegger's analysis of the above-mentioned poem may shed some light on the above points.
In "The Ister," a poem about the river Danube (Ister is an ancient name for a part of the Danube), Hölderlin brilliantly hails the poetic connection of the river with gods. In this poem, the "source" of the river is referred to as a poetic concept. In 1942, Heidegger delivered a lecture course on this poem (eventually published in 1984 as Hölderlins Hymn: The Ister). To Heidegger, the distinguishing feature of "The Ister" is that in this poem, Hölderlin calls our attention to "the poetic essence of the river" (11-12). The river, Heidegger contends, "comes to language" in Hölderlins poetry. On the one hand, the rivers are "detached from human beings," having their own "spirit"; on the other hand, they are a locale at which human beings find their dwelling place. Unlike the metaphysical interpretation of art, Heidegger does not regard the river in this poetry as the "symbolic" image of a higher content. Seeing the river as what brings human beings into their own and maintains them there (20-21), he considers the river to be of assistance in the becoming homely of human being. To Heidegger, the river is the journeying, or, rathet, the very locality attained in and through journeying (27-31).
The contrast between journeying and home, or what was mentioned about Ulysses Gaze as the opposition between "fluidity" and "freezing," is even more clearly felt in The Weeping Meadow. In the introductory scene, Spyros and other refugees who have fled from Odessa stop at a river to answer some distant, off-screen voice. The voice asks them who they are and where they are going. In a long shot we see the characters, the river, and the characters' images in the river. Whose is the off-screen voice? It is not clear. The tone of the scene, however, tells us that it may be the river itself, holding their image, embracing them, offering them shelter and support, providing them with "a poetic ground," upon which they can dwell. (Later in the film, we see how the same river does the opposite and destroys their villages in a flood.)
Mentioning the lines from "The Ister" in which Hölderlin talks about a hero that came to the river's source: "That's why the hero preferred / To come to the water's source," (Hölderlin, 36-37), Heidegger states that The Ister is a river poetry that "never forgets the source? in its "issuing and flowing" from the source (138-39).
Although The Weeping Meadow apparently moves forward and reflects on the events of the twentieth century, Angelopoulos's emphasis on the source urges us to question the simple linear flow of the film. Though mentioned only twice in the film, the river's source is a key symbol in The Weeping Meadow. The quest for the river's source dominates the poetic structure of the film, unites its beginning and ending, and even gives a particular significance to the title. This quest is apparent even in the main characters' names; "Eleni" is another form of "Helen," and "Spyros" is the nickname for Greek Spyridon, meaning "spirit."
Let us review the general atmosphere, and especially the mise-en-scène, of the two scenes in which the source is mentioned. The first is one of the early scenes in the film. Eleni, having been forced to give birth to het and Alexis's twins in secret, has just come back to the village. In this night scene, Alexis tells Eleni about the time they were parted. He mentions "the river," stating that during that time, whenever he missed het, he sat by the river and "looked at the watet." He asks Eleni if she remembers the time when they ran along the fiver, seeking its source. And Eleni, so far only heard, is now seen, in what comes to be one of the only close-ups of the film, weeping.
A span of nearly twenty years passes until the source is referred to for a second time. During this period, Greece has suffered the ravages of World War II and the Greek Civil War. It is the last scene of the film in which this symbol is mentioned again. Eleni, now a weary and forlorn woman, sails toward the ruins of the village-house to see her dead son, Yorgis. It is curious as to why he is lying there. It is also mysterious how these cryptic women know everything about Eleni's life and are aware of her sons' meeting and their deaths. In the light of Angelopoulos's use of elements of Greek tragedy, however, one may see the women as the chorus members of this Greek tragedy, having curious powers in being aware of the events and being able to narrate them.
Eleni, having been told of her son's death in the civil war by one of these choruswomen, sails in a boat to the ruined house. As the sailing camera follows her, Alexis's voice is heard off-screen, reading probably his last letter to Eleni. This letter was, as the jail guard told her, "found in a dead American soldier's pocket." In this letter Alexis refers again to the "river" and their quest for the source, asking once more: "Do you remember the time we ran along the river, seeking its source?" But this time Alexis talks about a dream in which he at last discovered the source. He found it to be a vast, green meadow, on which one could see thousands of water drops. It looked as if the meadow was weeping. The letter finishes when Eleni has reached her dead son and is weeping.
The association of Eleni with the source, and also the subtle link between her name and Helen of Troy, makes us reconsider Eleni's role as a mother, or, a mother-nation. The first time the source is referred to, Eleni and Alexis are teenagers; their quest for the source of the river is tasted with innocence and childhood. Their search for the source seems to be child's play, just as their love affair and Eleni's giving birth to the children all look like child's plays. The next time the source is mentioned, however, Eleni is not a child; she has passed lots of sorrowful experiences. It is interesting that in both scenes she is weeping. Perhaps we have to go further to her early childhood. In the prologue, Spyros points to Eleni and says: "She is not ours. We found her crying over her dead parents' corpses in Odessa." Eleni in Odessa was a small child. However, she had experienced the close encounter with death. Here, like the two scenes in which the source was mentioned, she was weeping.
We may now reconsider Alexis's dream in which he discovers the source of the river as the "weeping" meadow. In one of the last sequences, we see the same village women taking care of Eleni like they did when she was a child. In the scene in which she is speaking in fever, we hear her as if reciting a poem. In her fever, she identifies herself with her childhood, when she was "a three-year-old girl crying alone." Even when Eleni and Alexis are both adults, Alexis calls her in his letters "my little Eleni." And the actress who plays Eleni (Alexandra Aidini) has a childlike appearance that helps Eleni look like a child even when her sons are both mature men. It seems that she never grows up, even though she is forced to be a mother at an early age. It is not important whether she wanted to be a mother or not: the important thing is that throughout the film, she is simultaneously the mother and the child.
The mother/child image does not seem to imply the sense of lack of experience; rather, it is an emphasis on the purity of the source. In Eleni alone we can find what Heidegger refers to as the "purest poetry." The mother of the twin brothers fighting each other on two opposite sides in a Civil War (also reminiscent of Antigone's brothers), Eleni is the pivotal image of the film in which the dualistic structure is embodied. She is the image that contains innocence and experience, past and present, home and exile, pleasure and pain. She could be a manifest example of Nietzsche's reconciliation of the Dionysian and the Apollinian music. The film closes with her "naked cry of sorrow" at the death of her son. But it does not end immediately after that. We should wait a little until we hear the soothing melody of waves in the backgrounds.
Angelopoulos embarks on a search in his films, a search that is both Homeric and Sophoclean, a search in which the source and the end converge in a flux, a search for a vague notion of "home," in which one always asks "how many borders are we to cross in order to reach home?" His cinema is rooted in Greece, a country that was once "the cradle of civilization" but has now forced hundreds of its citizens into emigration or, rather, "exile." Angelopoulos himself doubts whether what he sees as Greece today can be his "home": "I feel somehow like a stranger in Greece. I live here in a situation that is as if my house wasn't here, as if this wasn't my home" (Angelopoulos in conversation with Bachmann).
An important sequence in The Weeping Meadow is "the theater sequence." The "theater" referred to is nothing but a run-down refuge for desolate fugitives. After their elopement, Eleni and Alexis stay in it for a while, and Spyros, who has been following them, finds them there. In the first scene of the sequence Spyros's sturdy, lighteninglike yell is heard, awakening the sleepers. A cut throws us into the next scene that shows Spyros alone in the auditorium. As he walks up the stage, reciting as if a theatrical monologue, and as the camera circles around him, we see hundreds of torches, gazing at him like amazed spectators. Spyros's brilliant performance presents to us the now shining theater.
Perhaps Angelopoulos is after such shining; a shining that is related to the Heideggerian notion of poetry; the poetic thinking (Andenken5); and this may be what Angelopoulos has probably found in Greek tragedy.
1 In this play, Odysseus petsuades Neoptolemus (Achilles's son), to inveigle Philoctetes, who had been living fot ten years in a desetted island, to Troy.
2 The composer.
3 See Sojourns, which recounts Heidegget's first visit to Greece. In this journey he expected to find the essence of Greek character, from which the historical Greece had sprung.
4 Such a musical significance is also observed in Eastern poetry. An example could be the contemporary Iranian poetess Fotough Farrokhzad's poem "Only the Sound Remains." In this poem the sound is also related to movement, or fluidity, with Farrokhzad's asking anxiously throughout the poem: "Why should I stop?" It is intetesting that Fanokhzad also paid attention to the relationship between cinema and poetry, observed well in her brilliant documentary, The House Is Dark.
5 In Heidegger's philosophy, the true way of thinking (Andenken) resembles the process of "poetizing." Heideggerian thinking is after "meaning" (Sinn) rather than "concept" (Begriff). Meaning (Sinn) is rooted in "contemplation" (Sinnen). This way of thinking, Heidegget contends, is lacking in todays world. For more information see Michael Inwood, Heidegger: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000).
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Behzad Ghaderi Sohi, University of Tehran, Iran
Adineh Khojastehpour, University of Tehran, Iran…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Beginning in the End: Poetry of Greek Tragedy in Theo Angelopoulos's Ulysses' Gaze and the Weeping Meadow. Contributors: Sohi, Behzad Ghaderi - Author, Khojastehpour, Adineh - Author. Journal title: Literature/Film Quarterly. Volume: 38. Issue: 1 Publication date: January 1, 2010. Page number: 59+. © Salisbury University 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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