At Land

At Land ★★★★

Dominant feelings/motifs/whatever the hell:

- The seeker.
- Clear dividing lines; between the ocean and the land, civilization and nature, man and woman, stages of self.
- Systems of control.
- Imposition of roles on women.
- Multiple visions of self.
- Chess.

Maya Deren's a film jazz artist and a lot of her style informs At Land. Visual beats like repetition of action in 1-3 second snippets and straight lines cutting through scenes serve as a signature. The dominant notes are those concerned with the smashup between the natural world and organized human systems, distilled into the game of chess. The vision of femininity as being somehow more in tune with wild nature is given credence throughout, and some of the most arresting imagery has to do with the disadvantageous position that puts our protagonist in. The shots of her barely able to pull herself up and walk after washing up on the beach, followed by a crawl across a grand dining table are the most resonant.

In this world you don't challenge Death to a game of chess, you're dead once you decide to play. Doppelgangers are another Deren thing and she unnerves well with them. The movements of the pieces in this film are apparently modeled after a famous game, becoming a distillation of a world of logic in which the movements of pieces by long-dead hands are preserved in notation forever. It's used as a specter to dissociate and threaten the protagonist, who chooses disappearing back into the dunes over giving over fully to the portion of herself in a more perfected form of servitude. Reverse Omar Sharif.

Rich imagery that's worth meditating upon, like staring out into the waves.