Landscape Suicide

Landscape Suicide ★★★★★

This is one of the best films I have ever seen.

On one side we are in June 23, 1984, along Bernadette Prott, a teenager from California who stabbed a friend to death over an insult.

On the other side we "remember" December 16, 1957 from the perspective of a present time and are along Ed Gein, a farmer from Wisconsin and multiple murderer who taxidermied his victims.

In the middle and above it all we have James Benning applying his philosophy called "landscape as a function of time". Benning utilizes the space-time continuum not as a theoretical background to play with scientific hypotheses, but as an element of our perception of time and existence. One of the courses taught by Benning is called "Looking and Listening", a mechanism of communication and feedback I have always applied to every single person I meet since I was in my adolescence. This trend was one that strongly influenced me to become a psychologist back when I was seventeen years old. God changed my professional course before I could ever choose it, however, and I could see the reason why until three years ago: my vocation is teaching minds as young or younger than me. To teach is to share knowledge and personal appreciation of life and existence through an individualized approach that, at the same time, will be reasoned individually by differing intellects, each with its own appreciation of life, history and national identity.

Landscape Suicide is a study of experimental structural storytelling that refuses the trascendence of acts from human tangibility and assigns it to the everlasting perception of people, never rejecting the influence that the surrounding physical and social environment exerts over individuals, even to the extent of psychologically driving us to extremely mundane motivations. His approach is murder, but documents collective memory and individualized thoughts and feelings towards a topic that could be easily sensationalized through audiovisual stimuli. He is concerned with how history is currently structuring the present and drawing an indiscernible line for the future. The consequences of acts are permanent; we are constantly engaged in an inescapable Butterfly-Effect chain of consequences both as victims and as perpetrators. His exploration of Americana is more psychological and minimalistic than documentary-like, investigating both narrative and anti-narrative methods while assembling a very personal cinematic approach to what is also perceived as subjective by the conscious mind.

Benning impressionistically captures the language of landscapes as a variable in the function of space and time as how they both precede and proceed the eyes of both the beholder and the perpetrator. Watching the opening sequence and how the film is divided by segments interrupted by blackouts irremediably refers us to the future work of Haneke, particularly The Seventh Continent (1989) and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), both being essays on the psychological motivations of violence for both the executer and the appreciator. Benning uses a tennis player and Haneke uses a tennis ball player. Haneke definitely took notes from this. However, Haneke uses this blackout technique to separate mutually exclusive scenes which find their coherence by a single thematic thread; Benning uses it to resemble the human act of blinking. Blinking means to lose an almost indivisible amount of time, missing a scene for the fraction of a second you will never get back. "Blink and you'll miss it", they say. From a procedural investigation perspective, blinking means to overlook a tiny piece of psychological evidence that might be used as irrefutable evidence. That's the extent of human complexity. That's the extent of the complexity of this tremendous "alternate hypothesis" of a masterpiece.

It also catches my attention how this could be complemented with Buttgereit's Der Todesking (1990), one being an essay of motivations and the other being an essay of death seen from multiple angles that range from the physical decomposition to the philosophical. The best scene of Buttgereit's controversial film has one silent bridge scene where you can only hear the traffic noises of the highway. Slowly, it explores the points in which individuals, identified by name and occupation, committed suicide from the bridge. It is nostalgic, sad, contemplative: a mournful in memoriam. That's the common denominator between Buttgereit and Benning. Buttgereit shows the effect and Benning is concerned with the cause, but the landscape is an essential component of both phases.

With such a personal approach, the message will be evident for some and not for others. For those that do get a message, it will differ from person to person just like perspective defines our individuality: our uniqueness as distinct human beings makes us translate reality in different modes, BUT we live the same reality and suffer from the everlasting transcendence of the consequences of acts. We just suffer them differently. Ideologies collide in the same space-time spectrum but the difference in approach begins with the role you carry: a victim, an observer, a listener or a perpetrator. All of these roles invite to the possibility of judgment. Empathy does exist in Benning's realm but it is out of the question. It is a reflection on tangibility versus reality, the latter necessarily having to go through a phase of personalized recollection of memories and then translating them into acts.

I cannot help but to point out that the 80s segment opens with a narrowed down explanation of God's Salvation Plan for humanity, whereas the 50s segment reflects on how violence is one of the manifestations of man's willingness to deny the nature and consequences of sin. The last thing that Benning's intentions are is religiosity... but that's just a huge "MAYBE", because God is my entire life and the mundane motivations I once found myself into that translated into acts that translated into a lifestyle have been gradually changing since I accepted Christ into my heart.

It is one of the most fascinating psychological studies of Americana in cinema.


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