Kharms: To Portray A Poet in the Poetic Rhythm and Outlook
The film Kharms (2016) presents challenges to the patience of the audiences and great difficulties if they try to put together all the puzzles, since the film is not only pulled itself away from the historical background but also negligent on characters’ logics behind their behaviors and emotion. The film is only about describing the living spaces and statuses of characters. While restoring such spaces, it weaves in people’s memories, imaginations and highly abstract and conceptualized images, making the entire film jumpy and full of breaks, delusional and confusing. The audiences would have no clue about the characters and their relations, nor would they know much about the storyline or themes.
The film Kharms cruelly deprives the pleasure of following the story of the audiences. The reasons why it is so may not just be the intentional attempts by the filmmakers to break free from fixed narrating routines but also the actual background of the main character. Kharms (1906-1942) was a poet and children literature writer in the early Soviet era. His poems, proses and children stories feature absurdness and surrealism, which focus on the facts that people fail to understand each other, life is ridiculous by nature and one’s fate could never be controlled. The images in his poems mix the realistic textures with the unpredictable randomness of ideas’ streaming and jumping, coupled with the poet’s unique insights of the world, life and himself. Therefore, the creators of this film choose to follow the poetic rhythm and outlook to set the plot, portray characters and make the entire emotional and thinking logic of film embody all the features of poems. The audience have to pull the intricate strings and connect characters’ feelings with all the little details, piled-up images and irrationally streaming and developing plot, so the constructing endeavor turns movie watching into interpreting a really absurd poem.
Kharms lived in the Stalin era. If the film aims to reveal how history damages individual souls and destroyes personal happiness, the filmmakers could have followed the pattern used in Burnt by the Sun (1994). But this film sets all the disasters and pains as backdrops as much as possible, and demonstrates the character’s idly wandering, his hollow soul that has nowhere to rest, the occasionally exciting love and the embarrassment and misery of being rejected over and over again. This means that the film doesn't adopt the drama structure to show the obstacles that the character encounters when he tried to pursue some strong motive and his extraordinary persistence and courage to overcome these obstacles. What’s more, it doesn’t use the narrative structure which is often used in documentary-style movies to build up some facets of the character’s life through several scenes and examples. Instead, the film uses poems to loosely piece up the character’s experiences, his life stages and diverse emotional states. From the accumulated images and details, the audiences can feel his pain, his anxiety and helplessness towards life and his agony and desperation in the suffocating political atmosphere.
Now the audiences may have a clearer picture of the unclearness and obscurity of the film. Kharms lived in a highly uniform and tightly controlled period of time, and his free and unique personality put him on the opposite side. His relationships with Marina and Esther reflected how an individual could get into a dilemma in relationships, and he tries so hard to disperse the shadow of his time with Marina’s optimistic, enthusiastic, native and simple nature. Neighbors of Kharms’ are representatives of the people of that time and implications of different life choices: some subject to power, some go peacefully with the flow, some find joy in ordinary life, some choose to go numb to avoid pains and some abandon themselves after struggling… As for those who fall off from windows, the idea comes from one of Kharms’ essays, Falling Old Ladies. The essay is a sarcastic comment on people’s useless curiosity, and also a reflection on the non-meaningful nature of life.
It is difficult to deny that the film Kharms intentionally distance itself from the classic drama genre in terms of the character building, plot and theme. It tries to explore a new textual structure and writing method so that it could get closer and closer to the style of Kharms’ actual literature works, which shows the utmost respect for him. Such ambition and attempt should be recognized, but we should also notice that filmmakers ignored the differences between poems and movies and they forcefully lined up the reality, past, fiction and imagination via stream of thoughts. This method lacks the power in leading the audience into the film. Moreover, it forcibly stops the audiences from feeling the moving. The audiences have to be busy with analyzing the details and pieces that keep popping out, so that they couldn't be able to figure out the whole storyline. Therefore, the audiences wouldn't resonate with the character’s personality and feelings, which wouldn't help with the theme, either.