Burning

Burning ★★★★½

"…one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favour. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point, it vanished…"
--Scott F. Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Burning directly references The Great Gatsby, as it relates one of its characters to Gatsby himself, with the characteristics of being young, rich, and mysterious. Gatsby's whole persona can be seen embodied in his smile-- an oscillation between presence and absence. It's entrancing, elusive, and illusive. For it's right in the gap between presence and absence where mystery is created, and where Gatsby swells into a larger-than-life character. In that gap the viewer inserts themselves-- and so his smile understands you "as you wanted to be understood"; believes you "as you would like to believe yourself." When something or someone is both there and not there, well then you inadvertently construct what you wish to see. This is where Burning comes into play. It's about the nature of meaning itself-- where we look for it, and how we create it. The burning force of mystery that sears along the fault lines of fiction and reality.

Borders. Just as the border of presence and absence creates mystery, the border of two nations is conflict, the border of two people is connection, and the border of night and day is an evanescent sunset. And metaphor itself is a border between two things; it brings them closer and intersects them with the force of a charismatic, alluring smile. Metaphor creates a new sort of meaning, and then invites you to judge exactly what it is. Yet, Ben says: "I don't judge anything. I just accept it." The rain falls, a river overflows; it does not judge (this opens another avenue, that of the divide, the yearning, between human and nature). This refusal to judge, however, stands in tension to the film itself-- as a work of art, it, to an extent, exists to be judged. Even more so in the case of this particular film, which hinges on the nature of interpretation. It practically begs you to interpret it, to look deeper, to not take anything at face-value. But at the same time (especially considering the end), the film warns about the dangers of interpretation. When presence and absence erupt together in a conflagration, it is the observer who gets drawn into the blaze. The enticing nature of a mystery lures them in from the sidelines and once invested with the burgeoning of metaphors, patterns, meanings-- they are enveloped.

Little hunger: literal hunger. The quotidian, mundane, straightforward.
Great hunger: the hunger for the meaning of life. Profound, abstract, fulfilling (but the closer one draws towards it, the more unrepresentable it becomes).

Little Hunger turns into Great Hunger-- like the film itself; it begins straightforward, but then gradually shifts into something more abstract. Something that can't precisely be put into words, but must be seen or imagined. A transcen(dance) that collapses the mundane and the profound together, or perhaps continually shifts between the two. And sometimes, in a rare moment, against the light of a sunset, you can simultaneously burn away, disappear, and feel the whole warm weight of existence.

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