What is this thing that gnaws at me at this hour? What’s this feeling of melting down, or being deatomized and flying as dust with the southern winds? What is this creature that has seeped deep in my heart and is clawing at my psyche? Does it have intentions of malice? Why am I spiralling down in this endless abyss when I only looked at it for an hour and no more? I shall hide not and lay bare the thoughts that invaded my mind while and after watching Megalopolis.
Even with such conviction, I cannot put a finger on where to start with my review. For, the film truly is a chaotic artistic genius. Sublimity that’s hard to express in words. Words that are incapable of conveying or carrying the weight of the film within. Let me begin with some of the literary references the film makes use of. Megalopolis relies heavily on William Blake’s prophetic poetry, using it frivolously at times and with such ferocity that for many, it shall be impossible to comprehend the film without some prior knowledge of the works of the Romantic poet. (And remember, this is Romantic with a capital ‘R’, and hence represents a revolutionary movement in art and literature in the 18th century that focuses on the inspiration, subjectivity and the primacy of the individual).
The images of Blake that I could definitely identify were used with great precision and the film pays homage to their meanings by cementing the ideals either by supporting them directly with the scenes or countering them with counter-scenes that would make the idea look far more superior to the counterpart that is later presented.
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The first image we see is that of the “Marriage of Heaven and Hell”, which is Blake’s quintessential work on the concepts of normalised good and evil versus true good and evil, concepts of how the creative energy that is free is essentially chaotic and must not be controlled. This work also gives us the famous phrase, “tigers of wrath are wiser than horses of instruction”. Horses – the blind followers of societal or perhaps religious laws and the tigers, the free-flowing energies of human creativity, comprising of unbridled rage and unending wisdom. That is essentially the idea the filmmaker want to showcase – chaos over harmony, or rather chaos is what leads to true harmony – the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Also, the ‘horses’ here play a very important role throughout the movie.
The next important imagery we see is another one of Blake’s creations – Urizen, the cruel deity of reason and law. As Blake suggested that his contemporaries were Urizen worshippers, so does the movie suggest that people have become nothing but the followers of blind logic (the logic of another) without the capacity to question or the will to stand up to dysfunctional logic and reasoning.
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A brief nod is given to Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem by depicting the final battle between Holmes and Moriarty, that eventually leads to the supposed death of Holmes as well as his arch-rival due to a fatal fall from a mountain cliff, perhaps symbolising the death of logic and reasoning as the famous detective is synonymous with it. Right after this, we shift to a Wordsworthian or perhaps Byronian romantic portrait, featuring the grandeur of nature and comparing it to the puniness of man in front of it. This image of harmony and self-understanding comes right after the destruction of logic through the use of chaos as two mental fighters duke it out with their fists.
Next, we move on to some of the more disturbing imagery used in the movie. Fret not, we shall soon return to the sublime world of literature, after cutting open a few organs, that is. The image of a frozen brain is quite hard-hitting as it depicts the stoppage of all sort of thought – as it is said in the film that everyone is running but everyone has stopped; the great city is nothing but a morgue; the living are dead and the dead are rotting, hence nothing is new.
I applaud the genius use of such vivid visual imagery in conjuncture with narration that sounds like something taken out of a masterfully created haiku-styled poem. Similarly, another imagery pops up in close succession – the severed legs of a horse. This can have two interpretations. The first one being that the horses of instruction (callback) must be slaughtered in order for progress to take place. Second and more probable one is that the horses have lost their legs which have made them even more incompetent. Where previously, they had the capability to destroy their Selfhood (another literary and philosophical concept, greatly debated during the Romantic era) in order to create a new and developed one.
They could at least transform into tigers using their strong limbs to run across from a world of law and reason into a world of chaos and creativity. Also, take note of the Selfhood concept as it is fairly easy and simultaneously quite difficult to grasp and it also propels the movie to a large extent.
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Another great proof of artistic brilliance comes right after the display of these images as they are contrasted with straight, old, rotting buildings that are a clear representation of order – an order that is crumbling and slowly but steadily making way for the revolution that is brewing among those who have broken the shackles of the blind society.
Coming back to Blake again, we have an image of the Book of Thel. This book deals with the concept of true knowledge and the disillusionment of Blake and other contemporary poets with the authority and morality of the Church. The eagle of knowledge is a recurring image, an eagle that soars high and has all knowledge of the surface but its intellect regarding the underground in questioned and for that, it must seek the mole’s assistance.
The silver rod is the Church’s sceptre and its wisdom is questioned for a material object can never hold wisdom. The golden bowl or the chalice of the Church is challenged as a symbol of love.
“Does the Eagle know what is in the pit?
Or wilt thou go ask the Mole:
Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod?
Or Love in a golden bowl?“
The movie in conjuncture, also questions set norms of human civilization. The Daughters of Albion is also referenced in the film. It’s anything but easy to incorporate all of these Blakeian references while maintaining the perfect balance between symbolism, imagery and the plot.
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Now, all these references could have easily weighed down the plot but they do not. But then again, it is absolutely necessary for one to understand the meanings hidden behind these images in order to grasp the true essence of the film. The themes of memory, dreams and immortality are also explored vividly but I shall not go into much detail for it will spoil some of the best parts of Megalopolis.
The way the movie approaches and question the concepts of free will and predestination is interesting, to say the least. The discourses that it is able to invoke are far too complex to be implemented within it. But somehow, it is able to achieve this feat as well.
The movie is no doubt brave, otherwise, it wouldn’t have given a Baphomet reference so openly (another creepy surprise lurking for you) and the way in which it has actually handled all these things is phenomenal. The storytelling style is poignant and gut-wrenching. As we move from the motives, dreams and desires of one person to another, we slowly discover the chaotic psychopaths lurking within us all, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
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I couldn’t help but notice the realism that had been built into the characters. Within the couple of minutes that their monologues lasted I was drawn in. They immediately had my respect and sympathy, as a viewer. As a human, I should absolutely condemn the great act of violence that they were planning to execute, but I was drawn in by their ideology. My own line of sanity was being blurred time and again. I was no longer the same person I was before I started watching the film.
And without any ideological biases, this is what is call true power of a film, the power to influence the mind. And Megalopolis does this brilliantly with its chilling and uncanny portrayals, horrific, awe-inspiring and fear-inducing imagery, gripping cinematography, amazing atmosphere generation through the use of the appropriate background noises and bone-chilling dialogue writing.
To put it briefly, I was mesmerised. Going in, I didn’t know what to expect of it and coming out I no longer know what to expect of myself. The concept of selfhood destruction has been taken so far and used so literally that one character visibly slaughters another in order for him to break away from his old shell and emerge as a new entity. That is, perhaps, exactly what the movie does to its viewers as well.
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The potential of this film truly scares me but this fear is not one of repulsion. It is a fear that has manifested itself in the form of an inkling of doubt and has slowly crept up my spine. It truly is difficult to explain. You’ll know what I mean when you watch the film. And I would strongly recommend it to everyone who hasn’t seen it yet; whoever deems themselves capable of generating a thought process should see Megalopolis for if you don’t, you will be missing perhaps one of the best philosophical debates that cinema can offer.
Rohit Mittal, who also gave us Autohead, is, no doubt one of the best filmmakers out there. The philosophical ideas that are generally confined within the circles of intellectuals are being presented to the general audiences. And no matter how hard they try to resist it, it is a part of their life. The battle between chaos and harmony is continuously ongoing within each and every individual and in order to attain stability, we must calm this battle. But how shall one do that if one is not aware of one’s internal conflicts? By presenting an artistic masterpiece like Megalopolis, Mittal has done us a great service. He brings forth our innermost demons and openly challenges us to resist them.
Have you seen Megalopolis? What did you think about it? Let’s talk in the comments below.
Where to watch: Cinemapreneur, YouTube
By Deepjyoti Roy
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