I feel as if I need to keep reminding myself that this is not a dissertation nor a review, but a discussion on my best shot. If the submission on Serenity for Nathaniel's series was the best time I had watching a film to participate in this series, then this week’s entry for Raise the Lantern might be the most frustrating. The first thing I wanted to do when the credits rolled for Zhang Yimou film was to go back and watch it again – and I wish that time permitted me to. The film is saturated with colour and texture and as such presents an ostensibly perfect chance for a “best shot” excursion, but being so deliberately laboured in its advancement and so often ambiguous it also makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience. Even though I watched it, then, I feel a bit unworthy of actually discussing it because I have a nagging feeling I have missed much. But….onwards. (Spoilers ahead, tread cautiously.)
Songlian is our “heroine” (used very loosely) who becomes the fourth mistress of the Chen household. This is one of the first shots of the Chen’s house, and it’s curiously one which Yimou insists on revisiting. And, in that way, its effect becomes immediately as much about what Yimou is telegraphing as it is about sussing out what the viewer is feeling. To be explicit, I’d say Raise the Red Lantern would be a fine film to attach a psychoanalytical reading of not only of the characters and the creator but of the audience – it’s constantly forcing us attach meaning to images.
When Songlian’s lie is revealed the lights are snuffed out and covered and we are presented with another image.
A beautiful image, right?
When Meishan is killed, Songlian enters her room and lights the lanterns on her own making the men think that a ghost haunts it. But, what does the shot mean? Different things for different people, I’d assume. The lights are lit, the room is gorgeous, and the covers are on the floor but Songlian has done it all. The lighting of the lantern is something sacred, or is it? Anyone can do it, Yan’er did and Songlian does. I’ve heard people say that madness occurs when the mind is unable conceive “trite” notions of order and structure, and that concept would make sense here. As Songlian stands looking around the room she must have realised that the lanterns really are silly. The lighting of them is something “sacred”, but she’s just done it – and it wasn’t secret. They represent growth and good-luck, but they’re lighted and Meishan is still dead. And, I am attaching meaning (perhaps injudiciously) to the image but it seems to be Yimou’s intent. Songlian has “raised the red lantern” in the shot, and it looks beautiful – but what has come of it? Nothing but the realisation that everything is nothing..
This entry is part of Nathaniel’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series