Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Watching You -- Writer's Poke #360
In Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue, one of the recurring characters, “the Observer” (my unofficial name for him), never says a word. He’s just there, watching. Tomek, it might be argued, momentarily takes the Observer’s place in Decalogue VI. He’s an observer, too, but perhaps he crosses the line by becoming involved with the person he observes.
One interesting question to consider is: What role does (or should) the Observer play? In Decalogue I, he spends the movie sitting by his lakeside bonfire, but when Pawel drowns, he is markedly absent. In Decalogue II, he is the medical attendant who watches as Dorota tells her unconscious husband that she loves him; he is also there when the Consultant reviews the husband’s medical slides. In Decalogue V, he is there right before Jacek carries out the murder of the taxi cab driver. This scene may be the one where he almost becomes involved; he shakes his head slightly, as if to communicate to Jacek that he shouldn’t carry out his plan. It’s enough to get Jacek’s attention, but not enough to stop him.
Finally, in Decalogue VI the Observer has apparently packed his bags. Tomek has asked out Magda for ice cream, and she has accepted. As Tomek wildly pulls his milk cart through the apartment’s courtyard celebrating, he accidently splashes mud on the Observer. The Observer simply looks at Tomek in astonishment, but doesn’t his look also contain a sense of approval? Perhaps the Observer’s presence here is no longer needed? But the Observer’s trip is cut short, for when Tomek later flees Magda’s apartment in sexual humiliation, the Observer has returned to witness the moment. He doesn’t make another appearance in the movie, but we know he is there.
Meanwhile, Magda, once the one being watched, is now the one doing the watching. Now she is the one using her opera glasses to watch for any sign of Tomek in his apartment. Her attempts are not successful, however, as his window either remains dark or has its curtain drawn.
Nevertheless, Tomek has taught Magda a valuable lesson -- how to look at herself, and this is what makes the ending of extended version, A Short Film about Love, so much more fulfilling than the original ending to Decalogue VI. At the ending of Decalogue VI, Tomek simply tells Magda that he is no longer watching, which is ironically a rather sad ending to a story about voyeurism. In A Short Film about Love, however, Kieslowski alters the ending to allow Magda one last look through Tomek’s telescope so that she can imagine how Tomek saw her when he was watching. From this perspective, she sees that he was her protector. While an Observer should not become directly involved, the scene illustrations that the Observer offers a comforting presence nevertheless. In essence, Magda's view through Tomek's telescope teaches us that we are not alone.
Do you agree that Kieslowski’s “Observer” has metaphoric or symbolic value? For example, is the Observer “God” or a guardian angel? Or, do you think that the Observer is simply a person that lives in the apartment complex. Explore your thoughts about the Observer, as well as your thoughts about Kieslowski’s intentions for including him as a recurring character in the Decalogue films.
“The observer, when he seems to himself to be observing a stone, is really, if physics is to be believed, observing the effects of the stone upon himself.” – Bertrand Russell