Time in film is often an artful edit, a story told in film language. When I was in college I had a brilliant professor who taught me to ‘read’ film, not just see it, or feel it. Film is the great language of symbolism, verisimilitude deconstructed, syntagmatic readings of the psyche in juxtaposition. Propaganda in filmic doses . Montage in the hands of editors and directors who cut into our linear perception and twist the lens of our subconscious, where privacy is vulnerable to the violation.
But what of time in fiction? Is being linear playing it safe? If my characters think in present time their thoughts are random, and like dreams, scuffle and shuffle to their own music. Sometimes, as I sit here in the present I get a flash of myself in 1970. A moment later, I recall the face of someone I knew in 1990. Words flow that might never have existed, emotions surface I might never have felt, but for several seconds, I am transported outside of myself, and the comfort of the present tense, which pales next to the time travel of mental ellipses and the rewriting of history.
In retrospection, time is tempered, retold, suppressed, reanalyzed and reevaluated. But, alas, my life is not a novel. Form is not owed to the randomness of my memories. However, what I have in common with my characters is that we think of what we will do, and have done, more often than what we’re doing right now. The present only holds me by action. When action is broken by inaction, the past surfaces like celluloid negatives. Memories, without warning, appear like burps and cause reactions that settle in the unconscious mind like mine fields. What we recall is sometimes like a bullet, aimed at the heart and meant to shatter the safety of distance.
I keep going back to this one novel of mine that is already written, but probably won’t be published for a couple of years. I keep returning to it because of the issue of time, which has begun to fascinate me. The five characters in my novel are tied together through the past. A reunion is called and they attend, for reasons of their own, but certainly to move toward a linear conclusion. Within the linear telling of the story, their recollections surface and old wounds are opened. So, the novel, in a sense, is a telling of five different interpretations of the past within the same linear story. I can only hope my readers are not made dizzy by these journeys back to my character’s youthful regrets. After all, memories are out of sequence, and oftentimes, without sense, they stare back at you, even when you turn away.
I recently saw the film, Seven Pounds. It’s a good example of how time tells its own story, how memory is the root cause of action, reaction and regret. The film is also a perfect example of brilliant editing. In my heart, I am still a film student, still thinking of that syntagmatic current that manipulates our concept of realism and flirts with our perception of the linear line. I recently found myself using the present tense in a novel I’m writing, instead of the obvious past. I discovered that my character has a mind of her own. I let her have her way and decided to keep her recollections in the present tense. I overstepped a boundary. Maybe I want to jostle my reader, to claim the intimacy I lose when I say: I ran to the rhythm of my own breath; the beat of my heart provided the music of being alive. I could say: I am running to the rhythm of my own breath; the beat of my heart provides the music of being alive. I am no longer writing to tell you. I am writing to claim you, to make you join me, to offend the safety of the past tense with my character’s audacity.
My two published novels are tales and they are told as a linear story, but someday I will take another look at the films, Last Year at Marienbad and Hiroshima Mon Amour. I will read them, comprehend them, and then, do something different. I will write a book that starts at the end and ends at the beginning. I will upset my own sense of balance and never solve the riddle. Are you here today, but it was yesterday we met? Don’t you remember? Then again, perhaps, not until tomorrow, will you turn and find my eyes. I’ll be waiting.
Vera Jane Cook
Award Winning Must Read Women’s Fiction. Dancing Backward In Paradise was published in November 2006 and received rave reviews from Armchair Interviews and Midwest Book reviews, as well as an Eric Hoffer and Indie Excellence award in the Literary fiction category for notable new fiction in 2007. Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough, Ms. Cook’s second novel, was published this year and will be followed by its sequel, At the End of a Whisper, in 2010. To learn more about her books you can visit her web site at www.verajanecook.com
To contact the author send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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