[S]oñaba que cerraba y abría los ojos muchas veces, y que, cada vez, como si estuviera regresando de un viaje, lo estaban esperando, firmes e inalteradas todas las formas y los colores, el mundo tal y como lo conocía. Por debajo de esta certidumbre tranquilizadora percibía, no obstante, la agitación sorda de una duda, tal vez se tratase de un sueño engañador, un sueño del que forzosamente despertaría más pronto o más tarde, sin saber en aquel momento, qué realidad le estaría aguardando.
José SARAMAGO: Ensayo sobre la ceguera, 16.
Contrary to those who view filmmaking as a major source of entertainment or as a profitable industry, Alejandro Amenábar commits himself to portraying cinematography as one of the most authentic and compelling art expressions. Born in Santiago de Chile in 1972 and living in Spain -his mother's native land- since 1973, his entire family moved to Madrid weeks before Augusto Pinochet took over on September 11. Up to the present, this young director, led by a deep-rooted fascination, has successfully entered in the most intricate endeavors of filmmaking with passion, lucidity and rigor.
Building upon classical canons, and inspired by new ones, Amenábar's approach proves to be both surprisingly mature and innovative. American and European models alike blend in his works through an eclectic view that invites future exploration. In addition, his three films -Tesis (1995), Abre los ojos (1997) and The Others (2001)-combine a careful and comprehensive analysis of techniques with the display of a narrative charged with philosophical depth. In these three cases, the psychological thriller undergoes a renovation that opens up a path shared by both fantastic literature and metaphysical discourse. While Tesis dives into the remote and dark areas of the human psyche bringing out the mystery and inexplicability of existence, Abre los ojos and The Others alternatively put the very nature of existence into question. While the intensity of suspense builds up in these three films, the plot narrative discloses a shocking end. As a consequence, the realms of metaphysical and moral discourse, science fiction and fantastic literature vanish in a sequence of images enriched with visual impact.
The present paper focuses on the trends mentioned above, especially obvious in Amenábar's second film Abre los ojos -Open Your Eyes- a work charged with literary and philosophical connotations. The need for an approach of this kind comes from the nature of the film itself, since within Amenábar's works, and also within other contemporary productions, Abre los ojos is most likely to require a philosophical as much as a literary reading due to the heavy network of implications that make up the film's narrative. Likewise, the way in which suggestion becomes a powerful technique, emphasizing the complicity and involvement of the spectator's imagination, parallels the role assigned to the reader in significant literary works. This, combined with a meticulous interest in the camera's point of view -visual as much as emotional- creates a narrative with anticipated repetitions that progressively unfolds the plot and the characters' outlook.
Running away from action-oriented movies, special effects and the spectacular display of high-tech devices, Amenábar uses his art to explore, through action and suspense, the inner world. Through his eyes, a genuine interest in metaphysical issues is transferred to the camera in a direct and honest manner, while the spectator realizes that common events and ordinary things are not necessarily so. Reality and the human mind become a mystery.
In addition to the warm welcome that Amenábar's first film, Tesis, had in Spain, collecting seven Goya awards, the growing success of his career has also granted him a solid international reputation. Critics all over the world have held a high esteem for his works and the actor Tom Cruise, impressed by the compelling story in Abre los ojos, decided to buy the rights of this motion picture to present in 2001 Vanilla Sky, his own version of Amenábar's second film.1 Most of the reviews that came out regarded Abre los ojos as a steamy and complex psychological thriller for which the line between reality and fantasy is hopelessly blurred. The story tells about César, an attractive, popular and wealthy young man in Madrid who, after a car crash that leaves his face grotesquely disfigured, tries to make sense of his life. Confined into a psychiatric penitentiary for a murder he doesn't remember committing, César's only hope is to dive into the depths of his mind, since the answer of his living nightmare lies in his dreams.
The need for a literary approach comes also from the role that metaphors and the recurrence of duplicated images play in Amenábar's works. As he himself admits, they are "frequently used tools" in Abre los ojos that push their way in his other projects: "[L]a metáfora y la repetición son dos instrumentos muy usados en Abre los ojos y que cada vez están más presentes en mi cine" (Rodríguez Marchante 71).
The film's narrative structure, that both Amenábar and Mateo Gil conceive, is complex. Composed with flashbacks highlighting the fragmentation of time, the story presents parallel sequences and recurrent images that end up creating a thrilling and emotionally charged atmosphere.
Among other goals, Amenábar has set his mind to use efficiently a system that recycles genres as much as techniques, themes and narrative structures. This is obvious in Abre los ojos, a film that not only combines realism with the discourse of fantastic literature, but also the psychological thriller with science fiction. The narrative takes the spectator from a love story to one of suspense and eventually to a futuristic speculation. As Antonio Sempere claims in Alejandro Amenábar, cine en las venas -a study with a detailed biographical account and a comprehensive analysis of Amenábar's career centered on his first two films- Abre los ojos is mostly "a brilliant exercise of dualisms:" moral, aesthetical, and metaphysical dualisms that blend contrasting entities -reality/dreams, beauty/ugliness, love/heartbreak, life/death- in the format of a psychological thriller with small twists of science fiction (86).
Shortly after the release of The Others, when Nicole Kidman was asked in an interview with the Spanish journal Cinemanía what made her decide to accept the film's main role, her answer was quick and straightforward: "Alejandro Amenábar."2 Being able not only to direct, but also to write the script and largely compose the music involves a systematic and comprehensive approach quite valuable in filmmaking. This can be seen as a distinctive accomplishment. But it is not the only one, particularly in Abre los ojos. In fact, the point of making either a philosophical or a literary reading can be crucial.
Whether or not a specific masterpiece in either literature or philosophy influences the design and content of Abre los ojos may not be as relevant as unfolding the film's meeting points. It is indeed possible to find potential sources or parallel themes making up the network of inter-textual connections. To name a few, the writings possibly coming from J. L. Borges, J. Cortázar, P. Calderón de la Barca, and F. Kafka could establish stimulating links. In philosophy the works of R. Descartes, G. Berkeley and D. Hume would also be good candidates. In any case, the alleged "influence," be it deliberate or not, does not matter as much as sketching the dialog that Amenábar's film can hold with those authors. We know positively that his interest in science fiction literature dates from an early age. This, together with his attraction to the thriller, marks the beginning of a career already rich in accomplishments.
The specific impact that certain films and techniques have had on Amenábar's works is a topic currently being explored and carefully evaluated. In El cine de nuestros días, José María Caparrós maintains that Amenábar borrows heavily from the American film tradition, yet he also believes that his films bear their own distinctive trend. In fact, according to this critic's learned opinion, Tesis already presents techniques that will reappear in Abre los ojos and The Others:Narrado a modo de thriller, se nota tras la cámara a un cinéfilo y amante del cine norteamericano. De ahí que en la película esté presente el "suspense" psicológico de Hitchcock, y la sombra de Spielberg, Coppola, Kubrick y James Cameron -de quienes el joven cineasta se considera deudor-; aunque todo ello, sin perder el estilo propio y su personalidad como autor. 3
Amenábar's own accounts confirm Caparrós' remarks. As he himself admits in an interview with Miguel Juan Payán, the incorporation of film techniques and features was at times intentional, as it happens with Abre los ojos in relation to Vertigo.4 This admitted debt and acknowledgment, however, comes along with a critical attitude as well, for he has also deliberately tried to distance himself from his British maestro. In any case, a close analysis of this particular source leaves no doubt that A. Hitchcock has nevertheless left a significant impact on him at the time of blending intensity with suspense.5
Another important source worth noting here is S. Spielberg. The efficient way in which Spielberg handles the spectator's emotions and his keen psychological insights are also attributes that Amenábar appreciates. This is a feature fully accomplished in Abre los ojos. As the protagonist's inner perplexities and emotional chaos build up, the spectator's involvement also intensifies by being led to wander, reckless, in an emotional and intellectual labyrinth. Feelings of loss, anguish and alienation gradually take over in unexpected ways leading the main character in Abre los ojos to question, along with the spectator, the world of the senses. The borderline between dreams and reality vanishes leaving behind a world of fleeting appearances with no actual entity beyond the mind. It is a world with several close parallels in philosophy, such as the Cartesian reality that precedes the cogito ergo sum principle, or the disintegrated mental scenario of fleeting perceptions as portrayed in D. Hume's Treatise of Human Nature.6
When Abre los ojos approaches its end, a shocking truth emerges for César, the film's protagonist: Reality, understood as the displayed world of solid objects supposedly extended in space and lasting in time, is a mental creation. And the people standing by him in the memorable final scene, shot at the very top of the Picasso Tower in Madrid: his beloved Sofía, his friend Pelayo, and his psychiatrist, Antonio, become nothing but fictional characters, dreams of a dreamer. Most importantly, as Borges would further argue, the very dreamer turns also into a dream.7
The existential implications that shed light on the film's narrative cannot be more perplexing. Through the main character, the spectator gets a glimpse of life with all its intense colors, shapes and solid objects as nothing but a fiction of the imagination. In fact, the lack of corporeal entity, disclosed at the end of the film, challenges the spectators' common sense beliefs, including their deep-rooted, cognitive approach to space and time. Existence, as in the final jump from the Picasso Tower, seems to be suspended in the air from beginning to end. And the fall -memorable, arcane and intimate- symbolically opens up life to a cyclical existence.
Abre los ojos starts and ends itself with the very same scene: the soft voice of a woman saying, "Open your eyes" while a dark screen emerges before us. This is indeed a highly symbolic ending . . . and beginning. It could well be interpreted as the search for truth, illustrated in César's constant pursuit to find an exit to his life's chaotic labyrinth. And, in fact, according to Spanish film director José Luis Cuerda -Amenábar's friend, mentor and producer in Tesis, Abre los ojos and The Others- nothing else could ultimately lie at the very heart of those films but the search for truth and its painful discovery:
Desde mi punto de vista las tres películas de Alejandro Amenábar tratan, a fin de cuentas, de la búsqueda de la verdad, de cómo esa búsqueda es muy dificultosa y de cómo el hallazgo de la misma produce dolor.8
The portrayal of existence as a mental parade, a flux of perceptions, brings the film's epistemology close to Hume's depiction of the mind as "a kind of theater where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations" (T 253). As a matter of fact, the film discloses the Berkeleyan principle to be is to be perceived in a rather alienated and solipsistic world, incidentally matching the spirit of Borges' writings. The use of Borgesian metaphors with all their intense symbolism -be it deliberate or not-such as the presence of mirrors, for instance, or the equally powerful presence of dreams, duplicates the protagonist's feelings of isolation and delusion. This, on the other hand, turns out to be a topic of great interest to Amenábar, as he admits: "Todo ello tiene mucho que ver con la alienación; alienación que genera el mundo de la ciudad. La incomunicación, que es un tema que me interesa mucho, está en parte en el personaje de Chema ". (Rodríguez Marchante 96).
And it is isolation, beyond any doubt, the distinctive mark also present in the lives of César and Grace in Abre los ojos and The Others respectively.
Contrary to what seems to be the case at the beginning of the film, isolation and deception end up defining the main character's life. Unlike Descartes's Mediations or The Discourse of the Method, here the Cartesian cogito ergo sum lies suspended in the air with no glimpse of God in the horizon. In the film, there is no room for certainty, no trace of either an emotional or an intellectual support.
Alienation takes the shape of a nightmare, embodied in a labyrinth with no hint of an exit. The characters in Abre los ojos eventually raise questions about God. Such is the case with Nuria, a female character who alternatively replaces Sofia in a mirror of contrasts and duplicity. Before committing suicide in a fatal car crash, Nuria ironically asks César while driving: "Do you believe in God?" The spectator's increased involvement reaches at this time a climax. And to a great extent it is also a calculated effect brought about by the activation of visual and narrative mechanisms of suggestion. This is why Nuria becomes perhaps the most extraordinary and enigmatic of all the characters in Abre los ojos, since her presence triggers the film's drama totally changing directions.9
"Do you believe in God?" is also the question raised in the confined cell of a psychiatric prison by Antonio, the psychiatrist, and ultimately César's father figure as well. César's attitude, straightforward, reluctant and distant, creates an atmosphere of realism and credibility equally captured by both young and mature audiences. Likewise, through the intricate galleries of the protagonist's mind, spectators are bound to learn an unexpected truth. As it happens in Borges' "Las ruinas circulares," the end in Abre los ojos discloses a disturbing and ironic revelation: the characters in the story have turned into a dream. Antonio, César's psychiatrist, refuses to accept his fate. For him, the painful realization that his world is a delusion, someone else's mental representations --and, most importantly, that his own existence is nothing outside César's mind, his creator-- is unacceptable. In Borges' own words at the end of "Las ruinas circulares": "Not to be a man, to be the projection of another man's dream, what a feeling of unparalleled humiliation, of vertigo!"--"No ser un hombre, ser la proyección del sueño de otro hombre ¡qué humillación incomparable, qué vértigo" (OC I: 454, emphasis added).
A parallel theme can be found in Augusto Pérez, the character created by Miguel de Unamuno in Niebla -Mist. The connotation of this image, as in the case with The Others, embodies a powerful metaphysical metaphor. Yet in Abre los ojos, on the contrary, the intensity of colors, the wind, the sunny blue sky in the final scene, together with the clear portrayal of objects and people, never give the least indication of their mental quality. The film also evokes the classic and tormented Segismundo from La vida es sueño by Calderón de la Barca:
Ni aun agora he despertado;
que según, Clotaldo, entiendo,
todavía estoy durmiendo:
Y no estoy muy engañado;
Porque si ha sido soñado
Lo que vi palpable y cierto,
Lo que veo será incierto.
(La vida es sueño, Jornada III)10
And although far from Unamuno's existential angst and tragic sense of life, that very idea, central in the Cartesian philosophy, and implied in Berkeley's doctrine -once the transcendental image of God is removed from it- is also present in the subtle and lucid nostalgia evoked by Borges' writings:El mayor hechicero (escribe memorablemente Novalis) sería el que se hechizara hasta el punto de tomar sus propias fantasmagorías por apariciones autónomas. ¿No sería ése nuestro caso? Yo conjeturo que así es. Nosotros (la indivisa divinidad que opera en nosotros) hemos soñado el mundo. Lo hemos soñado resistente, misterioso, visible, ubicuo en el espacio y firme en el tiempo; pero hemos consentido en su arquitectura tenues y eternos intersticios de sinrazón para saber que es falso. 11
The suspense technique mastered by Amenábar in his three films proposes an increasingly agonizing search through the intellectual, emotional and moral channels of an existence that stems from and leads to the absurd. Having touched, then, upon speculative areas shared by various disciplines, on the one hand, and still having managed to reach a large public, on the other, is no small victory. As Francisco M. Benavent notes in Cine español de los 90, Amenábar's early debut in filmmaking not only matches youth with talent and sound judgment, but also gives Abre los ojos the first place in the '97 Spanish film production: "Considerada como la mejor producción española del 97, Alejandro Amenábar confirmó con Abre los ojos que talento y sensatez no están reñidos con la edad " (41).
But Tesis does not remain far behind, nor is it a playful attempt to test the film industry, for this, his first film -released when Amenábar was only 24- already starts his production in a committed search for the internal mechanisms of suspense and ambiguity.
As far as film narrative is concerned, Amenábar has openly talked about his criteria: "Sigo un proceso de depuración" (Andrade 193). For this reason, the oppressive atmosphere in his films is built upon a restricted, yet sophisticated technique that maximizes the psychological and emotional impact of images and dialogues from a minimum of elements.12 Tesis puts that approach into practice by having the spectator's imagination fill the gaps otherwise covered by special effects:Por muy buenos que hubieran sido los efectos especiales, el efecto producido en el espectador habría sido de asco o de disgusto, pero no habría logrado llamar la atención precisamente sobre el hecho o el acto de mirar la realidad violenta. . . Opté por el camino opuesto, mirando hacia el otro lado, a la cara de los actores, jugando con la proyección psicológica del espectador, con lo que no está viendo, con lo que se está imaginando.13
Up to the present, the refinement of techniques has been a major goal in Amenábar's career, very especially in The Others. The most glittering and spectacular effects of filmmaking are here replaced, once again, by an approach that emphasizes acting and favors the mechanisms of suggestion through visual images charged with ambiguity, and through sequences operated with powerful dialogs. And as he states in his interview with Oti Rodríguez Marchante, ambiguity, or rather, contradiction, is something he pursues, as if the characters' internal mysteries were ultimately the guiding force in his creation: "Lo importante son las aristas y los recovecos, los lados oscuros de los personajes, y por eso mis películas, hasta ahora, han quedado resueltas en una cierta ambigüedad."14
César, the character played by Eduardo Noriega, shows an intriguing duplicity built in most cases on the cunning elimination of superfluous elements. Through the use of the character's mask, for instance, and therefore with no display of facial expressions, the camera is sometimes set to evoke -with the aid of music and dialogs- the complexity of feelings and emotions. With great skill throughout the film, then, Amenábar manages to get the spectator's attention and involvement. As the story unfolds and its drama intensifies, every single piece of belief or certainty disintegrates. The mind's labyrinth expands. And the unavoidable presence of dreams displays the forking paths of their internal duplication. This may puzzle -and even disappoint- a sector of the public, but others may nevertheless see it as an asset. The film's structure -conceived as a labyrinth- and the intellectual challenges it presents are most likely to be valued, for instance, by those familiar with Borges' works, for the labyrinth -a recurrent motif in the writings of that celebrated author- turns ultimately into a metaphor of the universe and into a learning experience that discloses the most personal, yet global and unanswerable metaphysical riddles.
Far from being a frivolous work of nonsensical ambiguities, Abre los ojos raises more questions than it answers: "Mi cine no es un cine de respuestas, sino de preguntas," warns Amenábar (Rodríguez Marchante 87). This is also the case with The Others, a film designed to create an atmosphere in which real, dreamlike and poetic motifs coexist and overlap. Thus, Amenábar explains in an interview with Isabel Andrade, shortly after the release of The Others that at the time of having the public exposed to a ghost story, he had to use a more engaging vision, realistic at times, and, even lyrical:..........Tuve que adoptar una visión más sugerente, realista a veces y, ¿por qué no?, poética, a ..........la hora de meter al público en una historia de fantasmas." And taking up a trend already ..........present in Abre los ojos, he reiterates his interest in having the end of the story framed ..........within the scope of uncertain or inexplicable facts: "Quería también dejar preguntas ..........abiertas (175).
By emphasizing ambiguities and leaving open-ended questions, the characters finally emerge from a dreamlike, phantom reality. In Abre los ojos, common facts and ordinary events, affecting a set of characters with credible life styles, evolve into a chain of disquieting nightmares and illusions. In The Others, the domestic world that surrounds Grace and her two children emerges from a mysterious and captivating setting. Here, an emotionally charged and disturbing atmosphere keeps growing until dreams and the unknown gradually invade and transform ordinary events. As it happens in Borges' writings, or in Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo, reality, time and space turn into a delusion.
But the process itself, at least the way the plot precipitates the characters with intense fear and bewilderment to a shocking end, resembles some of Julio Cortázar's writings. A similar theme and a narrative technique can be found, for instance, in the already classic "La noche boca arriba," a masterpiece of short story fiction. Cortázar's story not only presents parallel themes, but also elaborates on the Borgesian duplicity of the self -"el otro, el mismo"- and on contrasting metaphors that split the self into two broken and overlapping images. The resemblance is striking: the story's main character, after a motorcycle accident, lies in a hospital bed having no control of his dreams. And, as it happens in Abre los ojos, the conclusion is a shocking enigma: the powerful recurrence of dreams becomes so pressing that neither the reader nor the story's character will be able to distinguish dreams from reality.
In "La circularidad de las ruinas," Ivan Almeida presents a valuable study relating various philosophical texts to Borges' story, "Las ruinas circulares." Most of the views elaborated can also be applied to Abre los ojos. One of them -a stimulating topic not covered in the scope of this paper- relates to the last section of Almeida's article entitled "El genio maligno y el cerebro en el balde." Here, Almeida elaborates on Borges' interest in science fiction, especially on the hypothesis of a disembodied brain hooked up to electric stimuli that help the brain create a mental world ultimately taken to be real. Borges became interested in this hypothesis early in life by reading and writing essays on Olaff Stapledon's novels. In fact, in a book review he wrote in 1937 on Stapledon's Last and First Men, Borges advances the futuristic vision of "large brains installed in metal towers, manlike species conceived and brought about by those sedentary brains": "vastos cerebros instalados en torres de metal; especies de hombres concebidas y ejecutadas por esos sedentarios cerebros" (OC 4: 304). Thirty years later, guided by irony as much a by wonder, Borges and his friend Bioy Casares return to the subject in "Los inmortales," included in Crónicas de Bustos Domecq.
The science fiction and futuristic elements in Abre los ojos, mostly related to the topic of virtual reality, also build interesting relations with The Matrix (1999), written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski. Although clearly a Hollywood-oriented film with spectacular special effects, The Matrix hides behind its popular and commercial elements, a layer of Biblical, prophetic and futuristic symbols. Literary references -e.g., L. Carroll's Alice in Wonderland- are also present raising epistemological questions about perceptions and virtual reality. As Amenábar himself notes, his second film somehow speculates about the future: "Es una especulación sobre el futuro" (Andrade 194). Yet it is certainly one that leaves open-ended questions about the present.
The first person narrative voice in "El Zahir," one of the stories included in El Aleph, states that, for the idealist doctrine, the verbs living and dreaming are synonyms: "rigurosamente sinónimos" (OC I 595). Here, Borges presents himself as a fictional character and talks with a voice that echoes other voices emerging, as in a dream, from the depths of the history of philosophy. If we grant dreams to have an overwhelming presence in Borges' literature, there should be no doubt that they equally play an essential role in Cartesian philosophy. To illustrate the dream motif in Amenábar's film the following passage from Descartes' Meditations can be considered:
I am sure, as I now look at this paper, that my eyes are not closed; that this head that I shake is not asleep; that I hold out this hand intentionally and deliberately, and that I am aware of it. What happens in sleep does not seem as clear and distinct as all this. But in thinking about it carefully, I recall having often been deceived in sleep by similar illusions, and, reflecting on this circumstance more closely, I see so clearly that there are no conclusive signs by means of which one can distinguish clearly between being awake and being asleep, that I am quite astonished by it; and my astonishment is such that it is almost capable of persuading me that I am asleep now (I: 7).
In Abre los ojos, too, the main character learns that the world of phenomena, firm and tangible, is not what it looks like. The world displayed by the senses, extended in space and lasting in time, and supposedly existing outside the mind, is an illusion, for actual facts and events are no longer distinguishable from dreams nor from the fiction that virtual reality creates. The puzzle that both Amenábar and Mateo Gil put together in this film leaves the spectator with no definite clues for a possible solution because the line separating dreams from facts has become so thin, and the story has moved from one realm into the other so often, that neither the film's protagonist nor the spectator can tell on which of the two realms nightmares or events happen to take place.
Perceptions, Berkeley taught, are necessarily mind-dependent. This lucid and impeccable doctrine conflicts, according to Hume, with common sense beliefs that supposedly compel us to assume an external world beyond our perceptions.15 Yet for Berkeley it posed no problem:Some truths there are so near and obvious . . . that a man need only open his eyes to see them. Such I take this important one to be, viz. that all the choir of heaven and furniture of the earth, in a word, all those bodies which compose the mighty frame of the world have not any subsistence without a mind-that their being is to be perceived (67).
In Abre los ojos, however, the light shed by Berkeley's principle uncovers a disturbing existence. Knowledge, far from providing any comfort, as Descartes assumed, increases torture.
"The truth?" asks the mysterious representative from the hibernation firm Life Extension. And he warns César he may not be able to bear it: "Puede que no la soportaras" (Abre los ojos 1:18:49). The protagonist, then, ends up learning that the fate he chose has imprisoned him in a self-created and fearful mental labyrinth for which the prospect of an exit involves rebirth into an existence most likely duplicated, once again, in the reflection of uncertain mirrors and illusions.
Abre los ojos ultimately turns the spectator's views of space and time upside-down. Real and fantastic components are intertwined in the film to the point of merging into a cyclical bifurcation of both space and time. One path leads, for instance, to the depiction of space through familiar and daily settings. Such would be the case with the film's opening scene, a down-to-earth and simple approach: César's apartment, the morning shower and the regular sound of water falling. Then, a sequence of events that usually opens the day: the common sound of a car being started, the busy streets in Madrid. Other examples of familiar and commonplace settings that give the story strokes of realism would be César's apartment at his birthday party, the credible portrayal of Sofía's home, the crowded disco, or even the impersonal settings of modern architecture -meeting rooms and offices on the upper floors of tall buildings with windows overlooking the city, as in the doctor's headquarters or in those of the firm Life Extension. A different approach to space, however, takes the spectator through a sequence of images that gradually depict a subjective, emotional, futuristic and, above all, unreal space.
In Litterature et cinéma en Espagne Antoine Jaime calls attention on the present topic, claiming that the portrayal of space through mental states plays a significant role in current Spanish cinematography. Although there is no clear stylistic or thematic unity among the diverse spectrum of Spanish filmmaking, Jaime points out a prevalent tendency to enrich the film's narrative through the visualization of mental states rather than through action.16 One way to achieve this is by having the characters' emotions reflected, suggested, or even intensified in the creation of a proper setting that, with music, dialogs and silence, stimulates the spectator's imagination in creating an emotionally charged atmosphere. Images of specific surroundings, then, draw paths that lead the spectator into the character's subjectivity and most intimate world. Amenábar, no doubt, consciously refines that technique in his films shifting different levels of space representation to connote mental and emotional states. The faster the shift the stronger its impact, but his camera also plays with the calculated anticipation of a change.
In the opening scenes of Abre los ojos, for instance, the camera -enhanced by the appearance of background music- suddenly shifts the visualization of sequences presenting commonplace and familiar settings to the portrayal of a fantastic, or dreamlike space. The streets in Madrid -with their buildings, stores, houses, balconies and windows- all look absolutely real, and familiar . . . except for their complete emptiness and silence. The successful combination of both real and fantastic elements transforms the most common situations and objects into mysteries.17 An empty city, standing still and inexplicable under a bright sky, devoid of human life except for the sole presence of the film's protagonist, becomes unreal. The great visual impact, for instance, of César running, puzzled and disoriented, through an unusually deserted Gran Vía is one of the most powerful scenes in Abre los ojos. Its presence in the opening scenes of the film not only marks the tone and ambiance, but also serves in the story's narrative as a symbolic premonition of its final revelation: the imprisonment and loneliness of a mind that cannot go beyond its own unreal and phantasmagoric creations.
The representation of space, then, used by Amenábar in Abre los ojos shifts levels and contributes to different combinations of genres; from the realistic parameters of comedy, the film moves to those of a thriller and finally to science fiction. The powerful final scenes, shot at the top of the Picasso Tower in Madrid, blend suspense into the images of a futuristic city in the horizon: What will time bring? What reasons can we give to a mysterious present that turns into a no less mysterious past? The final scenes, sparse in dialogue and prone to silence, present again a bright sky, a soft breeze, near and far away objects, and César's friends standing in front. Everything, however, is a mirage; one of the many left behind in the film, for space, as it happens in The Others, has ultimately turned into a metaphor.
According to Antonio Sempere, Abre los ojos is both a kind of Chinese box showing dreams inside dreams and a story blending present, past and future altogether: "Es una especie de caja china en la que aparecen sueños dentro de un sueño, un relato en presente que es futuro sobre un pasado que es presente" (86). Time, then, becomes a mystery, and the life defined, or determined, by it is rendered incomprehensible.
Along with space representation, the coexistence of both real and fantastic elements also presents a bifurcation of time; on the one hand, the film conveys the portrayal of an objective and external time, understood as irreversible succession and, on the other, as a subjective and internal entity. The images of clocks, for instance, especially the repetitive emphasis on César's alarm clock by his nightstand, in the opening scenes of the film, point at a regular and mechanical conception of time. It also shows a path of irrevocable choices, a chronological sequence delineating the road not taken. Time, however, lived through emotional experiences, blends its internal nature with dreams and turns into fiction.
There is no doubt that the present topic unfolds major metaphysical questions and, as critics have pointed out, also gives Abre los ojos an engaging internal structure. The question, for instance, on the time span in the film's narrative can have multiple answers. As Sempere points out, it could take just the blink of an eye for a nightmare to exist, or the 150-comatose years of an intense virtual reality: "Desde el instante que dura un parpadeo, y la tremenda pesadilla que cabe en él, hasta siglo y medio de estado comatoso a lo largo del cual se puede vivir una intensísima existencia virtual" (95). In the story "El milagro secreto," Borges poses similar challenges. Time splits into two when the story's protagonist, Jaromir Hladik, standing before the German squad about to kill him, lives internally the period of one year through just the fraction of a second. This fascinating story presents links worth noting with Amenábar's film. There is a clear emphasis on time understood as an irrevocable and external entity. Yet this conception presents internal gaps that eventually draw a subjective bifurcation of time. The opening lines of the story already contain the ontological ambivalence of being:La noche del 14 de marzo de 1939, en un departamento de la Zeltnergasse de Praga, Jaromir Hladik . . . soñó con un largo ajedrez . . . en los relojes resonaba la hora de la impostergable jugada; el soñador corría por las arenas de un desierto lluvioso y no lograba recordar las figuras ni las leyes del ajedrez. En ese punto, se despertó. 18
In Abre los ojos the protagonist, César, runs puzzled and alarmed through an urban desert: the impressive desolation of the Gran Vía with its buildings, billboards and traffic lights under a clear sky. He also wakes up, finds himself in the familiar surroundings of his bedroom, recognizes the sound of the alarm clock on his nightstand and the bright light coming from his window. It is a new day. But the film's narrative, broken and split in so many reflections of the past and the present, points to both an inexorable and uncertain future. Abre los ojos ends, then, with many a riddle. Yet the film's ability to raise questions, its openness and inner mysteries present challenges certainly worth taking.
Producción: Las producciones del Escorpión.
José Luis Cuerda.
Productor ejecutivo/ Exec. Producer:
Emiliano Otegui Piedra.
Alejandro Amenábar, Mateo Gil.
Guión/ Screenplay: Alejandro Amenábar. Director de fotografía: Hans Burmann. Director artístico/ Art Dir: Wolfgang Burmann. Montadora/ Editor: María Elena Sáinz de Rozas. Música: Alejandro Amenábar, Mariano Marín. Sonido directo/ Sound: Goldstein y Steinberg. Intérpretes/ Cast:
Ana Torrent (Angela), Fele Martínez (Chema), Eduardo Noriega (Bosco), Rosa Campillo (Yolanda), Miguel Picazo (Figueroa), Javier Elorriaga (Gálvez), Nieves Herranz (Sena).
Duración: 2 horas, 6 minutos. Lugares de rodaje/ Location: Madrid. Fechas de rodaje/ Filmed 23 de agosto - 27 de septiembre, 1995. Estreno/ Premier: 20 de abril, 1996, Madrid. Ventas mundiales/ Distributor: Sogepaq Internacional, S.A.
ABRE LOS OJOS
Producción: Las producciones del Escorpión-Sogecine (Madrid)
Canal Plus (España/Spain)
Les Films de Alain Sarde (Paris)
Luck S.R.L. (Roma)
José Luis Cuerda.
Productor ejecutivo/ Exec. Producer:
José Luis Cuerda, Fernando Bovaira. Guión/ Screenplay: Alejandro Amenábar. Director de fotografía: Hans Burmann. Director artístico/ Art Dir: Wolfgang Burmann. Montadora/ Editor: María Elena Sáinz de Rozas. Música: Alejandro Amenábar, Mariano Marín. Sonido directo/ Sound: Goldstein y Steinberg. Intérpretes/ Cast: Eduardo Noriega (César), Penélope Cruz (Sofía), Fele Martínez (Pelayo), Nawja Nimri (Nuria), Chete Lera (Antonio), Gérard Barray (Duvenois). Duración: 1 hora, 57 minutos. Lugares de rodaje/ Location: Madrid. Fechas de rodaje/ Filmed 12 de mayo - 8 de julio, 1997. Estreno/ Premier: 19 de diciembre, 1997, Madrid. Ventas mundiales/ Distributor: Sogepaq Distribución.
Producción: Las producciones del Escorpión-Sogecine (Madrid)/Cruise-Wagner (USA).
Alejandro Amenábar. Productores/Producers José Luis Cuerda, Fernando Bovaira, Sunmin Park.
Productores ejecutivos/ Exec. Producers:
Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner. Guión/Screenplay: Alejandro Amenábar. Director de fotografía: Javier Aguirresarobe. Director artístico/ Art Dir: Benjamín Fernández. Montador/ Editor: Nacho Ruiz Capillas. Música: Alejandro Amenábar. Sonido directo/ Sound: R. Steinberg. Intérpretes/ Cast: Nicole Kidman (Grace), Fionnula Flanagan (Ms. Mills), Alakina Mann (Anne), James Bentley (Nicholas), Chistopher Eccleston (Charles),Eric Sykes (Mr. Tuttle), Elaine Cassidy (Lydia). Duración: 1 hora, 50 minutos. Lugares de rodaje/ Location: Madrid-Santander (Spain)/Oheka Castle, New York (USA) Fechas de rodaje/ Filmed 2000 Estreno/ Premier: New York, 2 August 2001 Ventas mundiales/ Distributor: Sogepaq Distribución.
ALMEIDA, Ivan. "La circularidad de las ruinas, variaciones de Borges sobre un tema Cartesiano." Variaciones Borges, Journal of the J. L. Borges Center for Studies and Documentation, University of Aarhaus, Denmark, 7 (1999) 66-87.
AMENÁBAR, Alejandro. Abre los ojos. DVD. Santa Mónica: Artisan Entertainment Inc. , 1997.
- Los Otros. Madrid: Suma de Letras, 2002.
ANDRADE, Isabel. "Una entrevista con Alejandro Amenábar." Los Otros by Alejandro Amenábar. Madrid: Suma de Letras, 2002. 163-205.
BENAVENT, Francisco M. Cine español de los 90. Bilbao: Mensajero, 2000.
BERKELEY, George. The Principles of Human Knowledge With Other Writings. Ed by G. J. Warnock. London: Collins Press, 1975.
BORGES, Jorge Luis. Discusión. Obras completas I. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1999.
-. Ficciones. Obras completas I. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1999.
-. El Aleph. Obras completas I. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1999.
-. "El Golem," Obra poética 1923/1977. Madrid: Alianza Tres/ Emecé, 1985.
-. Crónicas de Bustos Domecq. Obras completas en colaboración. Barcelona: Emecé,
CALDERÓN DE LA BARCA, Pedro. La vida es sueño. Ed. Augusto Cortina. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1960.
CAPARRÓS LERA, José María. El cine de nuestros días. 1994-1998. Madrid: Rialp, 1999.
CORTÁZAR, Julio. Obra crítica. Madrid: Alfaguara, 1994.
DESCARTES, René. Discours de la Méthode. Ed Etienne Wilson. Paris: Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1939.
-. Meditationes de prima philosophia. Texte latin et trad.du Duc de Luynes. introd.. G.
Lewis. Paris. : Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1946.
HUME, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. Ed Selby-Bigge. Oxford: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1975.
-. Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and The Principles of Morals. Ed.
L.A. Selby-Bigge. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1902.
JAIME, Antoine. Literatura y cine en España (1975-1995) Trans. from Litterature et cinéma en Espagne. (1975-1995) by María Pérez Harguindey y Manuel Talens. Madrid: Cátedra-Anaya, 2000.
PAYÁN, Miguel Juan. El cine español actual. Madrid: JC, 2001.
ROIG, Emma. "Nicole Kidman," Cinemanía, Septiembre 2001: 60-74.
RODRÍGUEZ MARCHANTE, Oti. Amenábar, vocación de intriga. Madrid: Espuma, 2002.
RULFO, Juan. Pedro Páramo. El Llano en llamas. Barcelona: Planeta, 1980.
SEMPERE, Antonio. Alejandro Amenábar. Cine en las venas. Madrid: Nuer, 2000.
SARAMAGO, José. Ensayo sobre la ceguera. México: Alfaguara, 2000.
UNAMUNO, Miguel de. Niebla. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1975.
MARINA MARTIN is Ph. D. and Professor at St. Jonh´s University and College of St. Benedict College (Minnesota, USA).
NOTES AND REFERENCES:
Abre los ojos had a favorable reception at both the Berlin
and Tokyo Festivals. As Francisco M. Benavent reports In Cine español
de los 90, Amenábar's international trajectory was not only a commercial
success, but also an attractive project for the US film industry: "La
cinta [Abre los ojos] consiguió una buena acogida en el festival
de Berlín y ganó el Gran Premio del XI Festival de Tokio, teniendo
una excelente carrera comercial. Tom Cruise y su socia Paula Wagner adquirieron
los derechos de la historia para hacer una nueva versión made in Hollywood
de ella, lo mismo que Jim Sheridan había hecho con los de Tesis (42)."
"Alejandro es un auteur, me produce mucho respeto, es inteligente
y lleno de fuerza y su integridad está intacta, algo que es importante."(Cinemanía,
September 2001, p. 70). Text by Emma Roig.
3. The text reads: Narrated in the fashion of a thriller, it is possible to detect behind the camera a film lover fond of North American cinematography. For this reason, the type of psychological suspense used by Hitchcock and elements borrowed from Spielberg, Coppola, Kubrick and James Cameron are present in the young director's works, although this does not prevent him from having his own style and his personality as a creator. (Caparrós 76)
4. "[E]n Abre los ojos sobre todo había influencias de Vértigo, de la que me apasiona la historia aunque no termino de verla bien resuelta" (Miguel Juan Payán 42) -"There were above all traces of Vertigo in Open Your Eyes, for I am very passionate about the story, although the end does not quite convince me."
5. In Amenábar: Vocación de intriga, Oti Rodríguez Marchante warns us not to be misled by Amenábar's occasional criticisms of Hitchcock, but rather keep in mind his devoted admiration for that director's legacy, reflected in his own films: "Amenábar critica a Hitchcock, o a Vértigo, o incluso se le ha atribuido el comentario como un acto de soberbia artística y juvenil: Yo lo hubiera hecho de otro modo... Cuando es evidente que Amenábar ha observado con la minuciosidad de un entomólogo cada milímetro del celuloide del maestro del suspense y se desprende, tanto de sus palabras como de su propio cine, algo más que admiración por él: Estudio, recorrido, análisis y se diría incluso que una especie de llamamiento o vocación (15-16)".
6. The current observation refers only to Hume's "negative doctrine" -i.e. to Hume's skepticism as elaborated in the epistemological analyses contained in Book I of the Treatise. Here is a famous passage that in this particular case can highly illuminate the philosophical implications in Abre los ojos: "I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement. Our eyes cannot turn in their sockets without varying our perceptions. Our thought is still more variable than our sight; and all our other senses and faculties contribute to this change (T 252-253)".
7. Borges elaborates this issue in both his
fiction and his essays. The story "Las ruinas circulares," included
in Ficciones and his poem "El Golem" are significant examples.
As far as personal identity is concerned, Borges shares Hume's views on the self
and scatters them throughout his writings.
Rodríguez Marchante 7. José Luis Cuerda's films -such as La viuda
del capitán Estrada ('90), La marrana ('92), Tocando fondo
('93), Así en el cielo como en la tierra ('94), and in particular
La lengua de las mariposas ('99)- gained him a respectful rank in the current
Spanish cinematography. According to Antonio Sempere, the moment both Alejandro
Amenábar and José Luis Cuerda met marked a turning point in their
careers: "Un momento decisivo de la biografía de Alejandro Amenábar
se produce cuando José Luis Cuerda se cruza en su camino. Aunque habría
que matizar que fue al revés" (Sempere 24) There is no doubt that
for Cuerda, Amenábar's early production was a precious finding. And from
the very beginning, Cuerda himself has openly admitted his admiration for this
young director: "He sido profesor durante años de la especialidad
de audiovisuales en la Facultad de Bellas Artes de Salamanca. He dado decenas
de cursos de guión, dirección y dirección de actores. He
participado en los tribunales que han examinado para el ingreso en la especialidad
de dirección en la neonata Escuela de Cine. He conocido, por lo tanto,
a centenares de alumnos, y tengo que admitir que, a lo largo de estos últimos
diez años, sólo una vez alguien llamó la atención
como la llamara Alejandro Amenábar. Esa vez fue el día en que vino
a verme a mi estudio" (Sempere 25).
Antonio Sempere claims "Nuria representa la personalidad enigmática,
el riesgo, el deseo, la pasión, la inestabilidad, y la aventura. . . .
Es el personaje menos explicado, pero el más impactante. Cumple la misión
de desencadenar la tragedia. Y sus escasas apariciones están llenas de
morbo y de capacidad de sugerencia (84)."
10. The text reads: I have not yet awakened,/ For, as I understand, Clotaldo,/ I am still sleeping./ And I am not quite mistaken./ If what I saw to be real and certain/ Has been a dream,/ What I see now is uncertain.
11. The text reads: The greatest magician (Novalis has memorably written) would be the one who would cast over himself such a spell that he would take his own phantasmagorias as autonomous representations. Would not this be our case? I conjecture that it is so. We (the undivided divinity operating within us) have dreamt the world. We have dreamt it as firm, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and durable in time; but in its architecture we have allowed tenuous and eternal cracks of unreason to remind us it is false (OC I: 258).
12. Stanley Kubrick has been a powerful inspiration in this respect. In addition to Kubrick's meticulous approach, Amenábar also admires the way Kubrick accomplishes a cryptic ending through silence and visual metaphors, as it is the case, for instance with 2001, Space Odyssey (R. Marchante 57). He also praises Víctor Erice in El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) for the perfectionist technique he uses and the way the film evokes the spectator's imagination: "Para mí Víctor Erice es el Kubrick español" (R. Marchante 94).
13. "No matter how good the special effects could have been, their impact on the spectator would have nevertheless produced revulsion or disgust at the most, yet they would have been unable to call attention to the fact or the act of looking at violence . . . I chose a different approach and focused on the actors' faces inviting spectators to imagine, through their own psychological insights, the things not perceived" (Rodríguez Marchante 59).
most important thing to consider is to be found in the characters' twists and
turns, as well as in their dark sides. For this reason, my films happen to end
with a touch of ambiguity" (88).
See Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding, Section 12.
See Chapter 6: "Lo literario en el corazón del cine."
17. This is indeed a technique frequently used in art and literature. In Latin American literature, for instance, Borges, Cortázar and Rulfo share that trend despite their stylistic differences.
18. The text reads: The night of
March 14, 1939, in an apartment in the Zeltnergasse of Prague, Jaromir Hladik
. . . had a dream of a long game of chess
The clock struck the hour for
the game, which could not be postponed. The dreamer ran over the sands of a rainy
desert, and was unable to recall either the pieces or the rules of chess. At that
moment he awoke (508).