Culture & Values: Michael Haneke and Wislawa Szymborska Essay
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Texts reflect the culture and values of their eras by presenting and addressing perspectives of the composers on the issues of the context. The poem The End and the Beginning by Wislawa Szymborska and the Austrian film 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance by Michael Haneke accomplish this by exemplifying issues in 1990s society such as the increasing influence of media and the breakdown of interpersonal communication.
The End and the Beginning is a Polish poem by Wislawa Szymborska which captures a wars aftermath on its innocent citizens and how, in time, both the war and its origins are forgotten.
It thus shows how the values of a country or society may change over time as the views and opinions of its citizens change.
The overall tone of the poem is grim and bitter, with both clear references and poetical allusions to death throughout. The poem can be rendered into two parts the first focusing on rebuilding and the second focusing on the fading of memories with the passing of time.
In the first part, the third and fourth stanzas highlight the citizens perspectives, accomplished through references to rebuilding on a much smaller scale, Someone must glaze a window, rehang a door. Szymborska addresses the fact that we are shown the impact of war on a much larger scale and highlights the importance of such small, almost mundane tasks that are required in the process of rebuilding a country. In turn, this can be seen as a microcosm for the larger effects of war on a country, such as the nations economic stability and global connections both of which became increasingly important in the 1990s, with issues such as globalisation and consumerism having profound impacts on the world.
Szymborska also addresses the issue of the increasing impact of media in the 1990s. The opening lines allude to the news media and how it subsumes such tragic events into clichéd headlines and sound-bytes. We, as viewers, automatically assume that the devastating effects of war would be righted and our minds are immediately focused on the next article. Szymborska highlights the contrast between this assumption and actually having to deal with the rebuilding in the line Things wont straighten themselves up after all. She continues in the fifth stanza with the line Photogenic its not, wryly commenting on the scopophilia of society in the 1990s. She also highlights the negative, shallow and sensationalist qualities of the media with its attraction towards violence rather than rebuilding with the line All the cameras have left for another war.
Towards the end of the poem, Szymborska addresses the loss of knowledge with each generation. She is yet again commenting on the values of her society; on the obsession with the future, resulting in our forgetting the important events of the past events from which we must learn rather than repeat, particularly in the last stanza. The knowledge of the event has basically faded into as little as nothing. In contrast to the imagery used before, the tone suggested here is more relaxed, as seen with the words stretched out. However, the lines also carry dark, negative undertones with allusions to death someone must be stretchedgazing at the clouds, showing that as memories fade, we are liable to make the same mistakes again.
Likewise, the Austrian film 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (71 Fragments) by Michael Haneke offers a critique of Austrias affluent society and analyses the general breakdown of communication and understanding in a world with increasing technology and changing values. Set in the 1990s, it also takes the media to task for its desensitising role in society. The film is based on the news item of a bank shooting by a 19-year old, who then kills himself.
Haneke uses the film to depict what he himself says is a cross-section of society. He exemplifies the breakdown and degradation of human interpersonal communication within our culture, despite the emergence of technologies in the 1990s which allowed us to communicate more effectively. By structuring the film into 71 fragments, Haneke splits up the narrative, reinforcing the theme of alienation and the breakdown of interpersonal communication. This fragmentation is also visually portrayed through the jigsaw-like paper game. Part-way through the film, a student fails to solve the puzzle leading to an outburst of anger, foreshadowing his final act of violence.
Haneke has also used subtle film techniques to add to the sense of a breakdown of communication. The camera is always positioned in such a way that makes the audience feel detached from the characters. Rather than connecting emotionally with the characters, the audience is made to analyse them, thus reflecting the emotionless state which our society has assumed with changing values. The characters themselves are not named, allowing them to become representative of types within society. The use of media is also present throughout the film with Haneke showing the increasingly invasive presence of media within society as values change and mankind becomes more technological and industrialised. By repeating the same articles at the end with the embedding of the films event as another story, Haneke comments on how the media subsumes any disturbance into the even surface of society and integrates it into the unending stream of trivialised information.
The film also serves a didactic purpose, as Haneke highlights and criticises the blatant use of violence in Hollywood action films, saying that his films are intended as polemical statements against the American barrel down cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator. The explosion of violence in the final scene is abrupt, with the gunshots seeming harsh and cold and the cries of agony of the characters chilling. The victims are not portrayed, thus adding a sense of ambiguity as to who the casualties actually are; the characters or the viewers for appreciating violence.
The long take following this scene also tests the audiences patience, showing the grueling process of blood pooling around a body, allowing the responder to reflect upon the tragic events which have just taken place. Haneke also challenges the news medias desensitising role on individuals and society, as seen with the various stories on the conflicts in Northern Ireland and Sarajevo, which are ironically juxtaposed against news of Michael Jackson, whose pleading seems almost humorous in comparison.
An analysis of the poem The End and the Beginning by Wislawa Szymborska and the film 71 Fragments by Michael Haneke reveals the changing values and culture of the 1990s. The texts highlight the breakdown of communication and the increasing importance of media within a society which is becoming increasingly technological and thus, can be seen as a reflection of our own, slightly more advanced culture. Thus, they are examples of texts which reflect the culture and values of the era in which they are composed.
Szymborska, Wislawa. The End and the Beginning (Poem). Retrieved from: http://www.threepennyreview.com/samples/szymborska_su97.html.
Haneke, Michael. 71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls (Film). Released in 1994.