Peter Greenaway’s Drowning by numbers produced in 1998 is arguably one of the greatest film artwork that is encompassed by puzzles, riddles, obscure references and obsessive schematization that is truly astounding. In this masterpiece, Greenaway portrays employs a variety of techniques in film production such as self-formation, language, the sublime to claim an audience attention. The purpose of this essay is to analyze and interpret some of the recurring themes from Peter Greenaway’s Drowning by numbers on the basis of self-formation, language, the sublime.
One of the strategies that have been widely used by Greenaway in this powerful film is the application of sublime. There are traces of physical disgust that is demonstrated by flesh and food. The combination of lovely scenes encompassed by deep emotional feelings that are also sickening such as an array of apples in the first murder scene, in the presence of ugly snails and insects on top of the ripe fruit illustrates how much Greenways employs sublime in this film that can be best described as “mettle-testing extremes”. In addition to the above, recurring theme of love from romantic thought is clearly spelt out by the use of feminine character (Cissie Colpitts), to demonstrate obsessive schematization.
One fact that emerges clearly is the use of feminine characters in films to develop the recurring themes of self-formation, language, the sublime through feminine perspective. The role of female characters in the film industry has till the recent past risen and now the question is whether femininity in filmdom is a matter of ticket sales increment or simply legitimacy and superficial. Greenaway has effectively deviated from these approaches and intertwined the presence of feminine characters in film with advancement of core themes in Drowning by numbers. On one hand, Greenaway has portrayed femininity in the light of self determination and nurturing of female personalities to change the perception of the alpha-male that dominates the testing extremes of films that center on sublime as a central theme. Such steps have led to the realization of the modern female ability to do duties earlier considered male dominated roles in film production.
One of the themes that have been laid in focus in speculative fiction is science fiction. As a result, artists in this genre have been able to explore social conventions with clear definition of gender, the role of gender, and tenets about gender. The science fiction genre just like any other form of literature has always reflected the popular perception in ground following responses to stereotyping and the role of gender. A number of science fiction writers and directors have traditionally ignored questioning the role of gender but instead reflect their own opinion regarding the role of gender in the movies produced. Besides the earlier beliefs in human gender, the role of science fiction has been felt in hypothetical aliens and the robotics to incorporate trans-real genders; also referred to as the third gender or hermaphrodites.
Through science fiction films, movie makers have tackled a number of issues in the society: biological sciences, sexual preferences, and a range of alternative models the society would accept regarding the language and self formation. Greenaway has explored these alternative models through extrapolation of current ideas into a possible human behavior via studying the marriage ideals, chromosomes, and both historical advancement in sublime formation. The ideals of fantasy themes in science fiction movies have been widely accepted by the females. As a result women actresses have been given additional roles in science fiction other than their traditional fiction in romantic movies. The ability of this film to explore the future and give a range of different community set ups gives this work the strength to define gender roles and preconceptions.
The recurring themes in this film has however been presenting to the audience by the use of numbers that also give structure to the whole narrative. According to Maslin (1991), “this film maker's audacity, which is indeed formidable, has much more to do with testing the limits of his audience's patience, curiosity and tolerance for outrage than it does with intellectual challenge.”
After watching Drowning in Numbers by Peter Greenaway and aliens both films have extensively explored the life aesthetic application of language, music and sublime to reach out to the audience. Whereas the Drowning in Numbers centers on painful tragedies in the lives of three main, it mirrors more social aspects of love, tribulations that encompass women lives and murder in the larger human society. Greenaway has figuratively made use of Cissie Colpitts to present the “revulsion for food and flesh -- and the free-spirited nudity that help to foster the impression of a larger honesty, though none is particularly forthcoming” (Allen, 2004).
The promise of the love that is never forthcoming but revolves to pain and shock as presented by Greenaway is a sublime depiction of the life that prevails in the wider American society. Greenaway in this piece of work illustrates that the language in society is that which full of illusions and unrealistic dreams; seldom leading to tragic consequences. This is an extensive examination of the blind belief in the human dream that is encompassed by the search for material wealth and self gratification - driving Cissie to commit more and more revolving and horrific murders.
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In addition to the above, the analysis of Cissie’s language formation as a character shows that the larger human society that is compounded by irreconcilable domestic tensions and contradictions. It is therefore a pointer to the empty dreams and illusions that are harbored by the young women during that particular period.
Just as the Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, the Drowning in numbers is a presentation of the intrigues life in the wider human society and the impacts of unfulfilled ambitions. Troy is used as a character to illustrate the frustrations the resource-less blacks faced in a competitive environment where they have the greatest challenge of surviving within the realms of the law – leading to a disastrous ending.
Drowning in numbers is different from other types of literature in which the audience cannot guess the next stage of the game because one stage is not coherent with the next immediate stage. The consecutive episodes are weaved in a thread like manner that gives each room for each and every individual episode to explore its own storyline. This has involved the application of a series of inevitable points to project the fold back story structure. According to Hirst (2009), “to contrive an example, a series of inevitable points in a fold back story structure can be used to construct the story arc that plays out through a game as a whole”. The application of the arc has been widely used in both the movie and the game.
In addition to the arc, Drowning in numbers has used the language formation of three act structure with each of them separated into the three normal parts of story. These include part one (setup), part two (confrontation) and part three (resolution). In the beginning the film introduces the audience into the set up of the film and only gives a glimpse of what it aims to present. These involve the characters, the situation just as the movie introduces the viewer to the ensuing conflicts and the characters. The artwork also introduces its major themes and characters in the setup. According to Hirst (2009),
In the Beginning you introduce the reader to the setting, the characters and the situation (conflict) they find themselves in and their goal. Plot Point 1 is a situation that drives the main character from their “normal” life toward some different conflicting situation that the story is about.
In conclusion, it has been projected that all almost all aspects of life are mirrored in art. This link between art, identity and globalization has been echoed by Moon (2001) in stating it could be argued that all art objects concern themselves ultimately with identity, either explicitly or implicitly. My contacts with this film led to intense emotional feeling and sympathize with the women and, simultaneously, to feel horror at the crimes they commit. While this can be said to be the same feeling I was harbor for excellent and highly rated films, whether institutional or personal, and the critical apparatus that envelops the production and presentation of art, I believe this film represented the creativity of the dilemmas faced by women. Furthermore, the artistic expression as presented by Greenaway in this film is a powerful work that depicts primary and playful aspects of art using the basic resources to evoke human emotions.