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Voyages of the Soul

Reflecting on the classic idiom “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” we, as human beings, often ponder life's enigmatic mysteries and our personal transformation, or sometimes, the lack thereof. Cinema often serves as a medium that puts everything into perspective and helps us address our own yearnings. Much like life itself, movies challenge the concept of a final destination, and every so often, they focus almost entirely on the journey. It can be literal or metaphorical, and it may appear to bring the main characters to a standstill by the film's closure. However, it would be misguided to assume that nothing has changed due to an apparent lack of closure in their journeys. In fact, even if not overtly depicted, these often incite significant transformations within the characters' psyches. To dissect this cliché, this article embarks on an exploration of two thought-provoking films that tackle the themes of time and journey in divergent manners (and no, there won't be any Nolan films). The first one being Martin Scorsese's After Hours, entirely set in one evening, while the second David Lowery's The Green Knight whose narrative sprawls across months and even years. We delve into the profound themes, enigmatic symbolism, and the interplay of time that shape these captivating cinematic odysseys.




Profound Journeys

After Hours invites us into a disorienting journey through the night streets of New York City. Within this surreal realm, time takes on a distorted nature, warping and stretching in alignment with the protagonist's psychological state. As the night progresses, each passing moment feels eternal, while hours slip away in a mere heartbeat. This manipulation of time intensifies the sense of disorientation and uncertainty that permeates the journey of the protagonist, Paul Hackett. The relentless ticking of the clock serves as a constant reminder of the fleeting nature of life, propelling Paul forward on his quest for self-discovery and personal transformation.


Like a modern-day Dorothy, Paul embarks on a surreal journey, reminiscent of the classic tale, The Wizard of Oz. Just as Dorothy encounters a cast of eccentric characters in the mythical Land of Oz, Paul encounters his own array of intriguing personalities throughout his nighttime odyssey. Each encounter represents a facet of his own psyche, forcing him to confront his deepest desires, fears, and existential dilemmas. This narrative parallel adds depth to the film, emphasizing the transformative power of confronting inner struggles. For instance, Paul's pursuit of meaning amidst life's absurdities becomes evident during his frantic chase for a taxi, a comically futile quest in the chaotic cityscape, or his encounter with the bizarre sculptress, Kiki Bridges, which forces him to question his own complacency and the mundanity of his own life.




Cyclical Reflections

David Lowery's The Green Knight, an Arthurian tale about honor and duty, presents a profound exploration of existential themes through a cyclical narrative structure. Time becomes a central element, mirroring the cyclical nature of life itself. As Gawain embarks on his quest, the passing of seasons becomes a reminder of the fleeting nature of time and the inexorable march towards destiny. Each challenge and moral dilemma faced by Gawain reflects the complexities of the human condition, inviting profound introspection and existential musings. Through this transformative odyssey, Gawain is forced to confront his mortality, grapple with questions of honor and fate, and ultimately undergo a profound personal journey.


In The Green Knight, time emerges as the relentless force that propels Gawain forward on his transformative journey. The passing of time serves as a reminder of the ephemeral nature of existence and the inevitability of mortality. As Gawain navigates through the challenges set by the mystical Green Knight, time becomes both a reminder and an impetus for self-reflection. Each decision he makes carries weight, as he contemplates the consequences and confronts the complexities of human nature. The interplay between Gawain's quest and the inescapable ticking clock deepens the existential dimensions of the film, highlighting the transformative power of time and the choices we make in the face of its unyielding passage. One could argue that the title character symbolizes time itself, and the color green — representative of the earth — serves as an extension of this symbolism; as Essel states “When you go, your footprints will fill with grass. Moss shall cover your tombstone, and as the sun rises, green shall spread over all, in all its shades and hues.” effectively telling Gawain that green, therefore time, will cover and consume everything he knows to be real and valuable.




Symbolic Vistas

Both After Hours and The Green Knight utilize symbolic imagery to underscore their existential narratives. In After Hours, the surreal nighttime streets of New York City, including those beautifully framed diner scenes, serve as a metaphorical landscape reflecting the disorienting and unpredictable nature of existence. Paul's repeated attempts to find his way home through this labyrinth-like city not only mirrors his disoriented state of mind but also represents the universal human struggle to find order amidst chaos.

On the other hand, The Green Knight juxtaposes awe-inspiring natural vistas with intimate moments of introspection. For instance, the recurring motif of grand forests, desolate wastelands, and formidable castle interiors serves not only as visual backdrops but also as reflections of Gawain's inner turmoil and transformation. These landscapes evoke a sense of the sublime, a feeling of overwhelming vastness that makes human concerns seem small in comparison, inviting viewers to contemplate the grandeur of the world and their own place within it.


The chaotic city streets and the overwhelming natural landscapes serve as arenas for the characters' personal journeys, reminding us of the vast, often challenging terrain we must navigate in our own process of self-discovery and personal growth.





 

Through their profound themes, enigmatic symbolism, and narrative structures, After Hours and The Green Knight invite viewers to reflect on the complexities of existence. They challenge us to confront our fears, question our identities, and grapple with the mysteries that lie at the heart of our being. These films serve as illuminating mirrors, urging us to embrace the transformative power of introspection and self-discovery. By immersing ourselves in these cinematic odysseys, we not only explore the depths of our souls but also acknowledge the transformative journey that each of us must embark upon.


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