Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Loss and Transformation: Mourning and the Finished People

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Loss and Transformation: Mourning and the Finished People

Article excerpt

IF REPRESENTATION CAN BE UNDERSTOOD in relation to the kind of "work" it does, one of the fundamental aspects of this work is the labor of facilitating pleasure, pain, sorrow, or comfort. This essay aims to examine a recent Australian film, The Finished People (2003), in regards to the way that its production and its address to an audience operate in terms of the value and efficacy of the emotions of sadness and loss. One reviewer describes The Finished People as "the first real film about the cruel country we have become" (Byrne). This comment is testament to the way the characters and events in the film reference the contemporary Australian public sphere. Composed of multiple narratives dealing with homelessness, poverty, and drug abuse, this film explores the lives and desperate decisions made by three young men living in Cabramatta, a Sydney suburb. The despair and despondency demonstrated by these characters will be examined in order to understand how the viewer is addressed in a manner that encourages particular kinds of resonance and recognition regarding the pain of loss. It is the loss not only of material security but of hope, the loss of the promise of diaspora, that saturates the lives of these individuals. The representation of this loss seeks an emotional recognition in the audience of particular ethical failings within the social and historical world itself, such as the deficit of affective bonds of community.

In understanding the value of these emotions in regards to the social function of representation, my aim is not simply to identify a sense of loss for the characters and in the social imaginary, but to theorize how, through a process of mourning, this loss and sorrow might be transformed, politically, for a reconfigured and enabling approach to these lost or absent objects. I draw on the work of psychoanalyst Melanie Klein because her theorization favors the productive capacity of the emotions and demonstrates what Kathleen Woodward calls the "metapsychological process," which is concerned with surviving or transforming loss through re-presenting or reinterpreting it (97). Translating this psychical process into an interpretation of a text that tries to affect its audience offers a way of exploring how The Finished People might circulate in the very world-contemporary Australia-it seeks to represent.

The Finished People is an unusual and difficult text to categorize, both in its generic attributes and because of its awkward fit in the taxonomy of recent Australian cinema. This awkwardness owes something to the context out of which the film emerged: it began as a project at a community welfare center and was scripted by the director-producer, Khoa Do, in collaboration with a number of the nonprofessional actors who make up the cast. The Finished People began with a group of unemployed youth who were taking classes in mathematics and English at the Open Family Youth Social Services Centre in Southwest Sydney suburb of Cabramatta. One of them suggested making a film, and Do was asked to work with the group. The film evolved out of her classes in camera work and scriptwriting. The group worked with Do in creating characters and drafting a screenplay that reflected the environment that exists in and around Cabramatta and attempted to represent the subjective experience of homelessness and drug abuse.1 So while the narrative's three plotlines are fictional, they draw on the experiences of the writers. Moreover, the filmmakers' use of digital video technology, cinéma vérité-style camera work, and voice-over commentaries that sound as if they were recorded during an interview, result in a formal sensibility associated with documentary representation. This sensibility coexists with sequences that seem highly choreographed and feature awkward acting and improvised dialogue.

The three distinct storylines the film is organized around represent condensed chapters in the lives of the male protagonists. …

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