A Time to Love and a Time to die: Deseo y Estructura Narrativa en 21 Grams (Critical Essay) revista de la Asociacion Espanola de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos Atlantis ebook - epub
1. Introduction: "The Earth Turned to Bring Us Closer" "The Earth turned to bring us closer,/it turned on itself and in us,/until it finally brought us together in this dream". These lines from Venezuelan poet Eugenio Montejo, quoted by Paul (Sean Penn) half way through Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's second feature film, 21 Grams (2003), refer to the number of small things that need to come together in a specific space and time for something to happen. Paul is invoking the power of numbers, chaos theory and the geometrical patterns of fractals--that is, those non linear systems formed on the basis of the random repetition of simple designs--and the role they may play in our attempts to explain those aspects of life which defy human reasoning. Underneath these brief observations about his job as a professor of mathematics, he is also referring to the attraction he feels towards Cristina (Naomi Watts) and his growing affection for her, contextualizing his individual desire within a cosmological framework. The lines of the poem link seamlessly a specific attitude towards romantic love, desire and sexual attraction with a view of human life not as a teleological narrative dominated by causality, a linear succession of events and a closed ending, but as a series of random and unlikely events which lie outside human control and powers of explanation. For Paul it is not fate or destiny that has brought them together, but, rather, contingency and randomness, his desire for her falling outside rational understanding. In order to put forward this view, 21 Grams uses the conventions of the multi-protagonist film, a genre that challenges traditional narrative patterns often highlighting instead the same contingency and randomness that Paul posits in this passage. The view of desire as an unstoppable, irrational force goes back to classical antiquity and the Middle Ages and is still a central feature in Renaissance romantic comedy and later cultural representations, but it has, according to sociologists, fallen into relative social irrelevance. While many artistic representations--including numerous instances of the romantic comedy, the literary and cinematic genre that has most often dealt with discourses of intimacy in Western culture--may continue to further promote and even celebrate a more rational, 'reasonable' attitude towards desire, narratives like 21 Grams vindicate the ongoing validity of earlier intimate discourses. In this essay I explore--through a textual analysis of Inarritu's second film--the potential of the multi-protagonist genre, a cinematic form that has all of a sudden become an important player in contemporary cinema, to articulate culturally relevant forms of desire and narrative alternatives to more established generic patterns.
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