Monday, September 03, 2007

An Epiphenomenal French-Canadian Short Film

At the One Reel Film Festival in Seattle, a short film called "Moi" is the story of Alexis, a 15 year old boy who is somewhat pretentious. Passionate about cinema, he dreams of becoming a film director. But his life collapses the day when, through the gaze of others, he suddenly becomes aware of his reality. He's is actually mentally retarded, and throughout the film the audience was made not to notice. Suddenly Alexis undergoes a metamorphosis while at a movie theater and discovers his own interminable retardation. We are then shown bits and pieces of his interaction with his family from the earlier half of the film, except now we are given a privileged perspective to see what is really going on. We then understand why other people had reacted to him in strange ways. By the end of this short film, we feel deeply disappointed by the reality we are faced with.

The duplicitous filming on the director's behalf, compels me to say something about the problem of mental causation in this film. On the face of it, it would seem that Alexis's mental events cause his physical events. Nevermind the fact that I don't believe there are any real mental events for the moment. The problem is that how can his mental events, the mental being a completely separate substance, ever have any affect on the physical events?

The film does a good job of pointing this out. At first, we believe Alexis is acting the way in which he thinks he is acting. There is no other option. We believe what we see on the screen at this point. The way Alexis thinks he is acting is presented to us as 'mental events'. In fact, we believe he is even a bit pretentious at his filmmaking interest because of this presentation--we see how his creative mind works when he's storyboarding his films. However, to a large extent he is not really doing the things he thinks he is doing. So his mental events are causally disconnected from the chain of physical events that are going on. To say that he has a "different" set of mental events going on is to miss the point, however. They are anomalistic events. To talk about them as this way is irrelevant. They're physical events, but the kind of mental events we're shown don't play any role in the causal chain whatsoever.

Some critic may respond to this and say that, in fact, the film actually shows what Alexis mental events are by showing us how he views the world, and how the world actually, physically is. Since the world is show from Alexis's point of view for the first half of the film, this point must be taken seriously. However, this specific point of view is simply the "what-is-it-like" quality, which happens to be Alexis's consciousness. It has nothing to do with mental events. There are no mental events that are not the result of a language problem that makes it seem as if there are such "mental" events. There are only physical happenings, and Alexis's dementia can be explained in terms of physical disorders, physically.

This is a provocative film on many levels, the least noticeable of which is probably the problem of mental causation, as I have pointed out. The most strikingly provocative message of the film is that, here we have a young man who is in fact retarded, and look at the way people are treating him with such disrespect. All along we, the audience, understand that inside he is a smart boy and aspiring film director worthy of our respect.

No comments: