Again I find myself at the portal entrance of a mirror that knows that it is such a thing….
There is no way in which, after one watching, I could begin to elaborate on or dissect fully the Jarmusch film The Limits of Control. To be honest, I’m not even sure what I am doing here, dreaming of unraveling the motivation to continue this absurd journey by dreaming of patterns in art that can guide us in living and dying(?) perhaps…such, I suppose, is my post-nihilist-intent, anyway…but that is…neither here nor there. Here is where I find myself – enjoy my rambling slide into decoherence, replete with a lot of use of the word ‘literally’ – here: in this strange middle ground between a pinpoint pinprick assault on a stern stone (Cathedral?) edifice and a Zen’ing zoning (and zooming) out from Life to Art to Life that wraps and refracts until the dizzying realization that “the universe has no center and no edges” turns into a deja vu (repetition and différance?) marathon. Repetitive reminding that it is within the Hollywood-concrete hyperreality that we are capital-carrots, lashed to the slave-stick, tricked into the Matrix//cave – and Jarmusch, this monk of nothing and nobody, again and again inverts and reverses and mirror-images this virtual mirror of artifice. Contorting it, molding it, shattering it, gluing it back together: both incriminating and paying homage to the malleability of the medium (Jairus Grove’s recent (and excellent) paper https://www.academia.edu/5023883/Something_Darkly_This_Way_Comes_The_Horror_of_Plasticity_in_an_Age_of_Control_Do_Not_Cite_Without_Permission_ somehow springs to mind when I type those words) in order, perhaps, to disguise the crack in the hyperreal it presents as Art. A negative-narrative, apophatic image of perspective and perception, the film seems to (much like Dead Man) link up well with my other thoughts re: combatting external control with internal, self-control but in a less ascetic and more literal sense. Active modulation of self, so to speak. Not a simple ascetic limitation, but a constructive self-authored process free from the control of the “images of the past” George Steiner claims rule us in place of the literal past – expressed in this place particularly as an active sabotage of Hollywood tropes in the form of a Hollywood-technicolor experience (a form explicitly drained of content and meaning while being simultaneously an implicit meaning made manifest…I feel Derrida would have several things to say).
That the inevitable end, the target of the Lone Man’s cryptic mission, seems to be itself a self-aware nod to the imagery of control lurking in hero-worship was tremendous: placing patron saint of Hollywood Bill Murray as the image of conservative, anti-“bohemian” Suit that doesn’t care about and can’t even understand what constitutes Art and authenticity. It feels like a spiralling-down through several gauzily reflective dream-layers toward the final conflict with a perfect mirror image, a mirror image on multiple axes: the enemy that looks like a you, a human – the enemy that disguises itself as another actor, levelling the field and subverting its own iconography to achieve further disguise. The enemy that merely wears human clothes – the Suit, the Capitalist, the Politician, The Man. This film is a meditation on how those images of the past – our masters – are being rapidly corroded and corrupted and replaced by images from pop-media in attempts (conscious or sub-) to forge false histories, destroy critical mythologies, and homogenize culture by influencing past art and present life – through endless stereotyping and manipulation of truths.
“No guns, no mobiles, no sex.” is the most obvious anti-capital/anti-control movement in the plot, the protagonist rejecting Paz de la Huerta’s ‘Nude’ even when she is literally naked and throwing herself at him, but the critique goes much deeper, literally counteractive to every stereotype that keeps a typical blockbuster saleable and becoming sort of an odyssey to free oneself from predictable ways of acting and thinking Art, to rid art of any capitalistic model based on consumerism and marketability. The Lone Man wanders these empty corridors on a mission to keep art untainted. His enemy seems to be an aggregate notion of “art industries” that tries to infiltrate his perception and impose its own dynamics in it. The Limits of Control is a clash of these two perceptions where the title of the film refers to the ability of one to “think the right thing”, free from TV-driven emotional response systems. During the final scene, upon being inquired, not so politely, how he got into the heavily guarded building, the Lone Man says “I used my imagination” as if the statement is the only answer to every question.
//”No control machine so far devised can operate without words,” writes Burroughs, “and any control machine which attempts to do so relying entirely on external force or entirely on physical control of the mind will soon encounter the limits of control.”
//”As I descended impassable rivers I no longer felt guided by the ferrymen.” – Rimbaud
Further down, there is an absolute wash of encoded symbolism. Whether it be overt and plot-functional (several codes are presented then literally eaten) or encoded in the filmmaking itself (the dozens and dozens of arthouse/cult references), there is no question the film is intended to appear extraordinarily self-aware. Lines like “reality is arbitrary” and “life is worthless” are repeated literally a dozen times each, Tilda Swinton’s Blonde and John Hurt’s Guitar both autocommenting, speaking directly to-about-of-in-with-as the moment, always the moment in-before-after the Now, adjacent but somehow through the veil that we are still-always-already-mid-ripping/tearing and fully aware of it…Limits aggressively challenges the notion that there is a such thing as progress or superiority in art, that it is all one and everything is subjective – that the mere act of dreaming superiority somehow leads to problems with control: “he who thinks he is bigger than the rest must go to the cemetery.” If this is true, our allowing of others to dream superiority is tantamount to a concretization of their dreams – but if this is true, there is to be no disallowing of any dream. A Cretan Liar paradox, a Henkin sentence, a koan is buried at The Limits of Control.
///”The Sufis say each one of us is a planet spinning in ecstasy. But I say each one of us is a set of shifting molecules. Spinning in ecstasy. In the near future, worn out things will be made new again by reconfiguring their molecules. A pair of shoes. A tire. Molecular detection will also allow the determination of an object’s physical history. This match box for example. Its collection of molecules could indicate everywhere it’s ever been. They could do it with your clothes. Or even with your skin, for that matter. Wait three days until you see the bread. The guitar will find you. Among us, there are those who are not among us.”
Lone Man: I’m among no one.////