The other night, I stayed up watching The Babadook (2014) until at least 2am. Like the protagonist Amelia, I felt exhausted but the act of sleep itself had become so fraught with anxiety that I forced myself to stay awake, cramming my brain with the toxic ooze streaming out of my laptop. Not that the film was toxic by any means; it is an excellent film. More that the attachment to looking at a screen has become a panacea for the deeper afflictions that might be better addressed through sleep, diet, exercise and other creative—less passive—pursuits. But therein lies the rub…
The Babadook captured this condition very effectively. Blurring states of sleep and awake and the human wreckage that ensues: paranoia, hallucinations and the overwhelming physical ache. (I myself, seem to be suffering a severe lower jaw jutting and clenching issue, akin—though hopefully not quite as terrifying—as Keira Knightley’s depiction in a A Dangerous Method). It is the complete antithesis to the creative state, a point inferred when Amelia is quizzed on her previous work as a writer by a group of women at her niece’s birthday party. This is the first insight we gain into the expressiveness Amelia was once able to exercise, a prospect so impossible to entertain given her nightmarish, despondent reality.
I can very much relate this landscape. The heaviness, the uncontrollable mood swings, the oppressive mundanity of it all, the general absence of mind and spirit. However, an additional or rather concurrent—even contradictory—feature of this depressive condition is the inability to filter and, in turn, process what feels like an assault of information. A friend of mine recently described her state of mind as being one of a crowded pub: an intrusive murmur interspersed with cackles of laughter and shouting, but with no discernible voice or conversation. In other words, there was so much noise going on in her head, so much fear, so many worries and anxieties, that it was impossible for her to separate them out into any manageable form, and thus totally inhibiting her ability to function like a ‘normal’ person performing day to day tasks.
A few days later, I then watched Wake in Fright (1971). For different reasons of course, the film left the same desolate residue on me: that the world is nasty, cruel, angst-fuelled and perniciously confining. It also triggered another cycle of vegetarianism in my diet, as there’s nothing more stomach churning than watching footage of beer-soaked alpha males experiencing some form of sexual gratification by opening fire on unsuspecting wildlife. Though what we see are actors spliced with culling footage, those working on the film suggest that there was little difference between the violent, drunk, orgiastic tendencies of the real hunters and those depicted on screen.
The finale in my unintentionally bleak movie marathon was Interstellar (2014). I was cautious with this one, as I always am with blockbusters but it gripped me from the start—thanks, largely, to the Hans Zimmer soundtrack who is seems is becoming increasingly minimalist in his oeuvre; a move I can only applaud. Furthermore, it incorporated a number of my profound archetypal fears. Gargantuan black holes, enormous tsunamis, global apocalypse and the vastness of space itself are each recurring features in my dreams (as they are in many people’s dreams, I imagine) and are thus phenomena which fill me with a complex combination of incredible fear and almost incomprehensible wonder. While the sense of desolation provoked by the previous two films was the same in this instance, Interstellar crept up on me much more than I suspected it would, curling its dark arms around me and setting in for the long nap. Its obvious plot holes dissipated into insignificance and I was left with a leaden, haunting sensation, as if the film itself had a heavy gravitational pull, sucking me into a space beyond the realm of the physical. I spent the next day wandering the woods of Streatham Common in the freezing cold, staring at the sky like a nutcase, imagining how I would respond if a giant meteor came into view.
With this tendency toward such a lugubrious disposition, I feel that most days there’s no space for creativity to bloom, even if I had a kernel of it. Time, which I had always thought myself reasonably good at managing, seems to constantly slip through my fingers and I find myself scrambling for breath in a sea of dreary daily demands, like emails and scheduling tools, to more overarching thoughts of how I’ve squandered my twenties and whether or not I’ll ever amount to anything personally and professionally, to great looming fears like the future of the planet and my children living in some dystopian future where they may be raped and eaten by their own kind, like in a Cormac McCarthy novel. How does one shut out all that noise? Someone recently commented on a post that I needed to ‘unclench’ and stop looking down on people. Perhaps there’s some truth in that. Or perhaps she should just go […] herself.
One thing which has emerged out of this recent move-induced miasma, is that space (in the cosmological sense) and darkness (in the vast expanse of nothingness sense, both physically and mentally) doesn’t invoke as much fear in me as it once did. There is a comfort in it—its quietness, its implacable mystery, its ability to provide a contrast to the perpetual cacophony of existence. I always envisaged my mental precariousness as the precipice of an abyss, a great void—a black hole. But a black hole, with all the matter it compresses and devours, represents great potential for creativity to bloom (not being an astrophysicist, I’m obviously meaning this in a figurative sense). Perhaps those vast, seemingly vacant, dark spaces are to be explored, not feared; fed, not denied. If only one could get past the punishing gravity…
*Images courtesy of IFC Films and Zentropa