By Michael Morgenstern
An essay about abstract films, narrative, and wanting to change the world.
I write abstract because it's easier. Thoughts and patterns without the yoke of narrative write their own meanings, eventually. It's closer to real life because things connect without trying to, a symphony of disparate parts with emergent properties that flow cohesively. When ideas don't connect (which depends on the observer, really) their discord opens a small crack, a window into something entirely, or a mirror into ourselves.
Let me be more specific. Or at least, let me try. The world is an optical illusion. Close one eye, squint the other, and you'll see a room full of people needing to be loved, sitting lonely in pools like streetlights, harsh shadows cast by their limbs and pupils glimmering. Switch eyes, and watch a laugh jump from mouth to ear, a smile meditated by a brain and an awareness. See an emergent property.
My relationship to the world has changed over time. I wanted to change the world: an idea which, wrapped in prose, bares its own ineptness. But we each see ourselves as able to do these things, or on the cusp of being able to. What we see with our eyes why can we not control? An anxious, burrowing feeling. An awakening that it was not just my own mind which believed it, but that truly in this world that we live in all is not right. An outrage: at the trash and the waste, the poverty and misery, the glazed-over complacency of a mass of humans. As I thought longer and harder, it was our inability to love ourselves and each other. We are lost and adrift and I could not take it.
I wrote activist on my business card. Filmmaker/Activist. Every film is a statement, every stab at truth an act of defiance and love. Truth is love and it heals though it stings bitterly. "And the truth will set you free."
Nobody knows the truth, though, and perhaps that explains our current situation. A shift in perspective, a zoom in or out, and the fractals of our world shimmer out of existence, back into new places like a kaleidoscope. The concrete causal binds give way easily. They set in again, ironclad once more.
Narrative is so difficult because it is meaningless, yet so important because it defines us. Narrative turns the simple into the complex, so that we have something to do instead of fuck and die -- or perhaps so that we can spin the stories that leave us fucking and not dying.
But my narrative is so many pieces of confetti, struck out on the wind.
I once asked myself, if I had a megaphone to the ear of the world what would I say? There's some implication in the career choice of a Filmmaker/Activist that I would have some idea of an answer. The best thing I could come up with was the first thought I had: all you need is love. It's been four years and I haven't thought of anything better. It all comes down to that.
Whatever is truest rings hollow: that's the trouble in describing our experience: . If it were possible to discuss these things directly as I'd like, I don't know if they would need to be discussed. They are massaged and packaged until they resemble the fractured monotony of our everyday, so that the narrative parts for a moment to reveal a glimpse of a suggestion of some thought that I'd rather scream from the rooftops.
Because I love a story about a boy and his dog, a king and betrayal and mystery and a runner who wins against odds. It speaks to the human in me navigating this eternity of stuff and situations. But it remains hollow. Stories end.
I'm in fear that this passionate angst has died. Somewhere in my twenties, perhaps a year or two ago, I realized that I was not going to change the world in the way that I hoped. It's no consolation that I am not unique in that fact. We are all designed as parts of a whole, multitudinous voices competing but not conquering. And it is only this arrogant naive notion of correctness that led me to believe -- if it could be me to set the world I could set it right.
What is right? Would there be no pain, no war, no lack of acceptance or glassy-eyed sloth? Because I had something to teach the world? That I could have on some level ever believed this to be so is heartbreakingly beautiful.
But I think it is for me to accept more than to teach. In seeing how broken the outside world was, I was trying to convince myself that I was whole. It's easy to feel peaceful and graceful when watching a war on television or reading about a sweat shop. The enormous barrier of scope makes it possible to imagine that "if only I ruled the world, it would be healed." But can a leaf change a tree, when its very DNA is so intertwined?
As mature and synergistic and beautiful as this new awareness may sound, it is not. It feels like a death sometimes, like a hollow gnawing in my middle chest, a decay from within. That part of me which used to hope is on probation. It must still yearn, but it does so quietly. When I criticize another, I try to look at my flaws.
I think this is called adulthood. I think it's what we were warned about: that innocence would be lost. And it's far subtler and far more painful than I could have imagined, a sense of settling into what is. Imagination, meet death, and understand your own limits.
I hope that this is but a dip in a cycle. I know that there is possibility. And I KNOW that in a human those parts that feel dead have a way of springing forth unabated and unquestioned. I know that facts and reasoning follow emotions.
And perhaps a full realization of limits will bring me completely into this world, and when I lift myself I will know gravity. Perhaps it is only then that I have a hope of fulfilling that childhood dream of making a difference, only in a way I had never imagined.