Monday, January 26, 2015

The Circular Square (For the Plasma, 2014)

Helen (Rosalie Lowe) lives in a big house off the coast of Fort Clyde, Maine, a location that is seemingly cutoff from the rest of civilization.  We see another woman, Charlie (Anabelle LeMieux), moving into the house at the beginning of the film.  Charlie is Helen’s research assistant.  Their daily work consists of Helen looking at CCTV monitors that display images of the woods that surround the home.  Meanwhile, Charlie spends a day, sometimes a night, going to, gazing at, and analyzing the spots filmed by the cameras.  Suspended in the air, large grey squares indicate where these spots are.  These strange goings on are all in the service of Helen’s talent for predicting the stock market just by interpreting the images of the forest.

Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan’s first film is a mystery.  The film knows it’s a mystery, one that’s whimsical, one with its own rules to abide and break, recalling Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating.  Where Rivette’s film is loose, limber, and improvisatory, Bingham and Molzan’s is precise, cerebral, and yet tranquil.  Considering the secluded location, there are no signs of cabin fever.  Helen and Charlie stave off restlessness by the work they do.  Or, should I say, the games they play. 

For the Plasma is all about making meaning from the environment around, about converting the natural world into data to interpret.  Although different in terms of agenda, mood, and genre, For the Plasma belongs in a conversation with a recent spate of Hollywood films fascinated with data: Zero Dark Thirty, Gone Girl, Blackhat.  Where those films are epic (globe-trotting) depictions of worlds swamped in images, generating paranoia for whoever has to look and analyze them.  For the Plasma, on the other hand, is more reassuring.  It seems to say, this work, this analysis offers stability in one’s life.  Stability turns into stasis though if unchecked, if pursued for too long of an interval, then its time to leave this hermetic environment, cocooned by the familiarity of people, places, and especially things. 

Even if the film presents us with squares (monitors, screens, windows, suspended metal frames, the use of academy ratio), For the Plasma is actually a circle, a circular narrative in fact.  In one key moment in the film, one that inspired me to write this post, Helen explains her peculiar method of interpreting the market in the newspaper, circling a section with a red marker.  In turn, Charlie demonstrates how the fictionalized insect in Kōbō Abe’s The Ark Sakura, the “clockbug,” survives.  At a slow pace, the insect moves in a circle, eating its own shit.  The clockbug’s movement conveniently describes the film’s movement, with its looping structure in which Helen and Charlie frame, observe, analyze and repeat.  The square becomes the circle.

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