Monday, March 05, 2007

What We Talk About When We Talk About Fate: A quick thought on a darker reading of The Double Life of Veronique

(Written for the Kieslowski blogathon.)

The Double Life of Veronique marked an interesting transition for the late, great Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski. Long a purveyor of social realism, he had nevertheless been inching towards a less concrete view of things (i.e. the ethereal finale to A Short Film About Love). Veronique, then, saw Kieslowski abandoning any pretense of realism and launching himself headlong into the realms of abstraction.

As such, there's a lot going on in Veronique. The obvious running trope is the mass of doublings within the film's structure -- not just the expressed similarities between Weronika and Veronique but reflections, twinned shots, repeated actions, etc. Kieslowski, though, is canny enough to give us the symbols but not to lead us to a specific meaning, so that there's all kinds of things that can be divined from the film's fascinating depths. Open interpretation often leads us down some strange alleyways, and there's one major segment of Veronique, as outwardly lovely a film as any, that I believe points towards a deep pessimism concealed underneath the burnished golden glow.

To put it succinctly: Despite its emphasis on commonality, The Double Life of Veronique might be about the possibility that how we're all alone in the universe and God doesn't know what He's doing.

There's two complementary scenes that open up this possibility for me. The first is the scene where Veronique goes to see the puppet show. Initially, she is transfixed by the manipulations in front of her, much like the rest of the audience; eventually, though, she catches a glimpse of the puppeteer reflected in a pane of glass. From that point on, she can only pay attention to the puppeteer and later becomes obsessed with him, going as far as to tell her father that she's in love. She is essentially experiencing a religious epiphany -- she's seen through the mechanics of everyday life and caught a glimpse of the divine. (It's not like Kieslowski's being subtle about this, either -- the puppeteer's truck has an angel painted upon its side.)

It's the latter scene that gives me pause. Veronique receives a package in the mail containing an audiotape; on the tape is cryptic ambient noise. She deciphers the location through vague clues and shows up there to find that the tape was indeed sent by the puppeteer. When pressed as to why he's drawn her out, the only thing he can say is, "Because... I don't know." If he is indeed a stand-in for God, this is possibly the most terrifying answer he could have given. It's bad enough for Veronique that she feels the loss of her dopplegänger (if, as Scott Tobias suggests, the two women share a soul, that would leave Veronique adrift with half a soul), but now she has to deal with God telling her that he has no clue as to the purpose or meaning of everything she's gone through for Him.

(There's also something to be said for the fact that the puppeteer is also an author of children's books -- is this Kieslowski making a snarky comment on the Bible? Or am I stretching?)

So there it is. Are all the parallels in The Double Life of Veronique merely meant to make the underlying chaos and of life that much more arbitrarily cruel? Or am I seeing something that is there unintentionally? The gentle, seductively mysterious nature of the rest of the film would seem to dispel this sort of reading. But I remain intrigued. I'll have to take another look at this to confirm my suspicions, but for me this hews closer to Blind Chance than most seem to think.


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