Onere; or, the Unconcealment of the Unsayable
By Peter B. Olson, PhD. UW-Stout
July 15, 2016
“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 7 (1921).
In the short film Onere, a cold Gothic natural space opens in media res to reveal a hooded woman dragging a bundle down a wooded and sunken road. The film, written and directed by filmmaker Kevin Pontuti, presents a setting that immediately suggests an allegorical scene redolent of Grimm’s fairy tales. Such fairy tales, or hausmarchen, those children’s fantasy pieces that are rich in psychological insight, provide a nearly universal index of mythic settings and uncanny feelings. Folklorist Joseph Campbell, whose book The Hero with a Thousand Faces is well-established in the field, distinguishes various genres of folk stories: myths, legends, tales, each with generic, historic, and geographic conventions that identify their characteristics. What he finds remarkable is that the “patterns of folk tale are much the same throughout the world” (Campbell 846). Such a view maintains that there is a “psychological unity of the human species,” and such a view underwrites universal claims that support archetypal and myth criticism. Freud, whose work is fundamental to Campbell’s study of myth, found that the psychological unity of folktales correlate with dream images.
For Freud, the strength of the relation between folk tales and dreams rests on the duration of the dream image. Freud thought that if “a belief in the reality of the dream-images persists unusually long, so that one cannot tear oneself out of the dream, this is not a mistaken judgment provoked by the vividness of the dream-images, but is a psychical act on its own: it is an assurance, relating to the content of the dream, that something in it is really as one has dreamed it” (52). Pontuti’s Onere enacts the trope of metalepsis, or transumption, where during the duration of the dream-image the figure is refigured (transumed) by its double. The relation between dreams and folk tales, for Freud, rests on the notion of wish fulfillment, the more persistent the dream, the deeper the longing. And in the film Onere, the contrast between mortality and immortality, that is, of the transience value latent in the trope of metalepsis, is a primary theme and a singular movement of extent duration. Pontuti presents this theme of transfiguration through two central concepts: the unsayable and unconcealment.
One of the distinguishing features of the hausmarchen genre is its emotional subjection of a central figure to a fatal power followed by a subsequent release from that power (Colum xi-xiii). In Onere, Pontuti (with co-directors of photography, Peter Galante and Edmund Jakober) presents an archetypal projection of what critic Northrop Frye would identify as a “mythos of winter” (Frye). W.J.T. Mitchell proposes Frye’s Anatomy as a “four-level system of medieval allegory” (282). “If we adopt this system as a heuristic device for discriminating varieties of spatial form in literature, we note that the literal level, the physical existence of the text itself, is unquestionably a spatial form in the most nonmetaphoric sense” (282).
If some version of spatial form is undeniably an aspect of the literal level of literature, it is more obviously a crucial element of what Frye calls the ‘descriptive’ phase, in which we attend to the world which is represented, imitated, or signified in a work.” (283)
Let us begin, then, with the descriptive phase of analysis: The bleak winter setting, framed by subtly ironic evergreen branches that present the absurdity of a human condition fraught with pessimism, recognize what Frye termed a low-mimetic tragic state. The struggling hooded woman (played by actress Alexandra Loreth), dragging her mysterious baggage, suggests a postlapsarian descent. Her movement through a forest of leafless trees that line the sunken road to nowhere might suggest the possibility of a reversal. Midway in the film the woman stops and enacts an overcoming brought about by a sudden recognition of a Nietzschean amor fati. She seems to accept that an eternal recurrence analogous to a myth of Sisyphus is itself a mode of transcendence.
The essay in its entirety can be read here: Full Essay
Peter B. Olson, PhD. is a member of the University of Wisconsin-Stout's Department of English and Philosophy. His research interests include History of Film, 19th-20th Century American Literature; Critical Theory; Semiotics; Romanticism; Musicology.