Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Caché -- guilt and sins of the past
Director: Michael Haneke, 2005.
Caché is a French suspense thriller that defies traditional Hollywood norms. Moodily sad, it ratchets the tension but leaves the ending ambiguous with no real closure. This is intentional, as Haneke wants the audience to reflect on the various possibilities and come up with their own interpretation of the film. For a typical American viewer this may be quite frustrating. For European viewers this will resonate.
The movie opens with an extended camera shot, sans music, of an apartment viewed from an adjacent alley. With little action or movement, we wait patiently until we see the Parisian couple who live there: Georges (Daniel Auteuil), the host of a TV talk show, his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche, Blue), and their teenage son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky). When this long, boring surveillance video tape anonymously arrives at their doorstep they are puzzled. But when additional tapes and gory child-like drawings show up, it is clear they are being stalked by a mysterious enemy with an unknown agenda.
When the tapes start to open closets containing skeletons and dreams unearth images of the past, Daniel suspects a culprit. He remarks to Anne, "I have a hunch." But he refuses to share more than this with her. "Can't you tell me?" she shouts. "No, because it's only a hunch." This leaves her furious. Haneke uses this pivotal scene to spring the trap that will catch Georges and force his hand. Anne despairingly cries out, "You never heard of trust?"
Anne has a point. She is, after all, his wife. She deserves his trust. But he is unwilling to open up. A marriage is built on trust. Without this as a foundation it will begin to collapse inwards on itself. Jesus told a parable about faith using the imagery of a house built on sand (Matt. 7:26-27). This is similar. Trust is integral to a healthy relationship. Where this is missing, deception takes root. And this is what occurs in the Laurent house. Georges' lack of trust begins a slow disintegration of his family.
The French title is translated "Hidden" and so much is hidden here. The truth is hidden from Anne by Georges. He hides his emotions from her. She hides depths of relationships from him. Even the cinematography employed by Haneke is designed so that image hides image. According to the director, this is just like reality. He claims that we see only what we want or think, that we never know the truth because there are thousands of truths rather than just one. It is certainly true that different perspectives often offer contradictory takes on reality. Yet, Jesus came claiming to be "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn. 14:16). He did not soften this absolute statement. He is truth. There is truth. We need to look carefully for it.
As Georges goes looking for the truth he resurrects long-forgotten memories, and he finds something he wished had remained lost. Not wishing to share his discovery with Anne, he further damages their fragile trust by lying to her, a lie that will come back to haunt him.
This is one of the themes the Haneke plays with here. We may consider a lie to be trivial, a little white lie. We may rationalize that untruths like this are not bad lies, or that we are fudging or hiding the truth simply to protect our lover. But the director points out that one step in that direction and we have to follow a path that is now defined. Referring to Christian moral terms, Haneke in a commentary refers to sin as a deviation from the righteous path, that once committed leads us further and further down.
Of course, the non-believing Haneke does not allow for repentance, confession and forgiveness. This is the way to break this one-way path to destruction. By admitting the sin, the lies in this case, and not simply defending oneself, true repentance can lead to restoration of relationship. This is what God offers to us, his creatures who have turned aside and gone our own way (Isa 53:6). We have forsaken his path, we have lied to him, we have sinned. Forgiveness is available in Jesus (Ac. 13:38), who paid the price for us at the cross (Rom. 3:25-26).
Haneke extends the concept of hidden things from the personal sins of the man to the public sins of nations. With a clear reference to events that took place in 1961, he puts a spotlight on the 200 Algerian corpses that floated down the Seine during the Algerian War. The French denied this incident for over 35 years before acknowledging in 1998 that at least 40 people died. The shameful acts of the French nation's past still could not remain hidden. These sins of the past eventually caught up with the present and became public. What is true at the personal level is mirrored at the national level.
So, with his sins catching up to him, Georges has to deal with his guilt. The central theme, then, of Caché is how can a person live with guilt. Will he accept it and deal with it? Or will he ignore it? And if so what does this do to him? In this movie analysis, guilt is not such a simple thing. Others, such as Georges' mother, come under the microscope. Even Anne has veiled secrets of her own. There may be enough guilt to share, but the spotlight remains true and focused on Georges. He cannot escape. His sins are no longer hidden. His guilt is center-stage. It has had impacts rippling beyond his own life.
Guilt itself is not a bad thing. It is there to prick our conscience, reminding us that we have transgressed, crossed the line. If we heed guilt's rooster call, we can confess and make course correction. We can come back to God; we can come back to our families. But if we ignore this call, we suppress guilt causing it to fester like a sore. When this happens we have seared our conscience (1 Tim. 4:2), and we begin to develop a guilty conscience, that will come back to bite us at some point. Even if we "get away" with it in this life, we must still face God. Better to 'fess us now, kneeling before the throne of God and leaving our sin at the cross, than carry this burden to the throne later.
Unlike an American thriller, where the conflict faced by the couple would be the catalyst that brings them back together, the conflict here leaves the Laurent family broken and hurt, much like real life. And like real life, the answers to the film's resolution will differ.
Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM