Gone

 

                This
paper is about a documentary drama called “Gone”. The film represents the trauma
of loss and guilt. The short film is based on a true story, where a married
couple in Cairo, Egypt, Abdel Rahman and Lina, were on their way to celebrate
their first anniversary. Abdel Rahman was the one driving, and he was speeding,
thus losing control over the car, and crashed. The crash was devastating, and the
married couple were taken to the hospital. Abdel Rahman had multiple injuries, however
surviving the crash, but Lina was announced dead due to the injuries being
fatal. Abdel Rahman lived in guilt and blaming himself, as he believes he killed
her. “Gone” is a documentary drama that represents Abdel Rahman’s trauma. In
this paper, I will be discussing the reasons of not making this story a
documentary, but a short film instead.

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                The
film starts by showing how the protagonist is celebrating his 5th anniversary
with his wife. It shows that he is in love with his wife, and how valuable she
was in his life. Then, the audience see that his wife is dead, and that he is traumatized
by her loss, and he blames himself for being responsible for her death.

Cowie (2011) stated that a
documentary is an embodied storytelling, that provides the audience with visuals
and sounds. However, documentaries face problems between Epistemology and Ethics
especially when there is a trauma presented. According to Piotrowska (2011), it
is hard to tackle a trauma in a documentary because of the ethical implication
of what might happen to any of the subject if they had to re-live their trauma
in order to tell the story. “Is the element of exploitation a necessary evil in
these encounters, or are there ways that can minimize the emotional impacts of
repetition of trauma for those who are called to speak up about their
suffering?” (Piotrowska, 2011, p3). However, some people had different points
of view. The debate was divided into two points of view, according to Piotrowska
(2011), the two camps about the relation between epistemology and ethics, some
argues that getting the testimony is the more important than any possible ethical
implication, but the other camp conversely advices caution at best when it
comes to sensitive topics, as it might cause harm and suffering to the
subjects.  

I’ve decided to use fictional
characters to present Abdelrahman’s story in “Gone”, as not to cause harm to
the participant. There was another method to get the testimony, which is to
interview him, and ask him about his feelings about this, but this would risk
putting the subject in harm, as this might make him re-live the trauma. An
example of subjects suffering from filmmakers is the documentary shoah (1985)
made by Claude Lanzmann who forced Abraham Bomba, a barber from Treblinka, who
was forced to shave the female inmates in nazy camps before they were sent to
the gas chambers. Lanzmann interviewed Bomba, and Bomba becomes emotional and
refuses to continue the testimony, as he was hurt and devastated by the trauma
he had experienced, and re-living such trauma causes him harm. However,
Lanzmann kept pushing Bomba to continue the testimony by telling him “You know we
have to do it”. This scene raised many ethical questions as Alan Rosenthal
(1988 & 2005) mentioned that a filmmaker should always make sure not to
exploit or disrespect his subjects and treat them in a way that would not cause
any harm or suffering.  On the other
hand, Omer Fast’s film “5,000 feet is best” (2011) tackled a trauma without
harming the subjects. The film is about a drone operator whose job is to kill.
The operator is seduced by the technological sophistication of the drone,
however not realizing that this drone is a killing machine. Fast didn’t break
any ethical code with his film although he was tackling a sensitive subject.
The reason behind it was choosing not to show it as a documentary, but rather a
fiction, while he blurred the operator’s face giving him more freedom for his
testimony. Fast didn’t record all the information, however he used many information
that he gained from the operator offline. This made the operator to open up to Fast
easier without any pressure. “Fast’s decision to abandon the documentary mode
of representation therefore frees him to create a text which is both powerful
and truthful, painful and ethical”. (Piotrowska, 2016, p14).

In “Gone”, I didn’t want to break
any ethical code by putting my subjects into any harm, however, the story had
to be told. What were my options into getting the testimony without harming the
subjects? Krzysztof Kie?lowski stated in (1992) that there are some
stories that documentaries shouldn’t attempt to tell. Things that are too
traumatic or intimate should either be left alone, or left to fiction. According
to Kie?lowski statement, I’ve made “Gone” a fiction. “Waltz with Bashir”
(2008) by Ari Folman tackled a sensitive and a traumatic events, capturing the Lebanese
– Israeli war in 1982. Folman decided to tell the story using animation, this
gave a powerful effect to the story, however staying ethical, and not showing
horrific footage to the audiences. Viljoen (2013) stated that in animation the audience
does not expect there to be any reference in the real world except the story in
itself. The audience would understand that they wouldn’t face a crucial footage.

A trauma occurs when a person
experiences a traumatic event that causes a psychological, emotional, physical,
or spiritual harm. The traumatized person may not know how to respond, or would
stay in denial for the event. According to Meiselman (1990), a
traumatized person may usually have strong reactions emotionally, get a sudden dramatic
mood change, denial, depression, the fear of the trauma happening once more, and
other physical symptoms such as nausea and headaches. Some traumas are more
severe on specific people than others, Meiselman added. A traumatized person
should seek professional help when experiencing emotional outbursts, aggressive
behavior, or continued obsession with the traumatic event.

The reason for me to work on “Gone”
is due to the feel the need to tell the story of losing a loved one, and how
that can cause trauma. The subjective reason for choosing such a topic, is
because I’ve personally experienced losing a loved one.

In “Gone” the protagonist starts by
saying “happy fifth anniversary my dear”, which indicates that he celebrated the
anniversary 4 previous times, however, according to what actually happened, the
wife died in the first anniversary. This raises the question of how he is
celebrating the fifth anniversary? This shows that he repeats the same event
over and over, which is a sign that he is facing a trauma. In the psychoanalysis
of Sigmund Freud, Afterwardsness (nachträglichkeit) is an effect from a trauma
that occurred to the person in the past. It is linked with repetition, as Freud
mentioned that what can’t be remembered is repeated. We then see that the protagonist’s
glass is stained with blood. The blood comes from his hand, as this shows that he
is hurting himself. According to Prigerson (1997) a trauma of guilt usually
comes with self-harm, as the patient is punishing himself for what he has done.
The protagonist show that his hand is bloody, this is a reference that he feel
guilty as the phrase is “There is blood on his hand”. This shows that he feels
that his wife’s death is on him. When the protagonist says “because you were
gone” we find that the 180-degree line is broken, and he becomes on the left
side of the screen. This is symbolic, as before he says “because you were gone”
audience would believe that the protagonist is on a date, and his wife is
sitting in front of him, however, when the camera turns and show that the chair
is empty, this is when everything changed. It also serves the story, as he was
telling their story before she died, but then when she died, his life turned
upside down. We will also notice that his glass is broken. This symbols a
broken promise, because he said that he promised that as long as she is with
him, she is in safe hands, then she died on his hands, thus he broke his
promise. We see that in the film, everything is black, even he is wearing
black, and we could barely see his body. This shows how he sees the world,
black. It also takes us inside of the protagonist’s head. The reason we barely
see his body, is to just see his head and hands most of the time. Seeing his
head symbols that what is going on is happening in his mind, and seeing his
hands symbols his actions. Lastly, the shot when he was seen behind the chair symbolized
him being trapped in his own mind.

Ethical codes were followed during
the make of the film, as no names appeared in the film or pictures of the
subject affected by the incident. The reason for not showing the subjects
involved in the story, is because the event is traumatic, thus might have negative
impact on them, such as re-living the trauma. As Žižek (2009) stated, that
there are some topics that are better to be avoided, because talking about it
will necessarily bring pain and suffering to the subject, thus violating ethics.
This was the first reason why I didn’t risk my subjects to re-live their trauma.
On the other hand, I didn’t present any real pictures of the accident or the
married couple in the car crash, as this would be disrespectful for the wife,
as she is dead, and it may offend her family and friends. On the other hand,
the husband feels guilty for what he has done, so as many people who feel
guilty would do, he might be afraid to go live and tell his story, as he is
ashamed of what he did.

In the editing process, I’ve made
sure that the story would go chronologically. The reason for doing so, is to tell
the story on how the protagonist saw it. There were many decisions made during
editing aiming to share the experience of what is going on inside the protagonist’s
mind. This was applied by darkening the scenes, as it shows that his mind is
full of darkness. Also, there are many jump cuts during the editing, and that
is to show his state of mind not being stable. In the editing, I’ve decided not
to show who is sitting in front of him on the table, as audience would normally
think that he is celebrating the anniversary with his wife. Later in the film, when
he says that she was gone, the audience would understand that he wasn’t talking
to anyone this whole time. I wanted to show that he was lying in empty space, he
was alone in the world after her death. The scene is meant to resemble what’s
inside of his mind, and what was inside, was nothingness.

Some of the challenges faced during
production included the lighting. I wanted to give a romantic, yet dark setting.
Usually I would adjust the exposure in the camera to get a darker feel to the
film, however, when I did that, the flame on the candle didn’t look as if it
was lit and emitting light. The candle light killed the mood instead. I had to
re-adjust the lights in the location in order to brighten the exposure in the
camera enough in order for the candle to lit in the scene. Another problem
faced during production was that the microphones available to record the voice
on had a very poor quality. I had to get the microphone as close as possible to
me, otherwise it would capture too much noise. In many shots, I wasn’t able to
have the microphone close enough, or pointed directly at me. I’ve overcame this
by hiding the microphone from the frame as much as possible, and then in the
post production, I’ve enhanced the audio and removed the noise completely to
get a clear voice and sound effects. Another problem faced was that the blood
stain wasn’t visible on the glass. I had to remake the fake blood to be thicker
in order to be clearly visible on the glass, and in the editing, I’ve increased
the saturation of the color with an unnoticeable amount, to keep the same look
of the film, in order to make the blood stain on the glass easily recognizable
and visible by the audience.  

This experience taught me many
things. Most importantly, to have a freedom of speech, and to tackle any topic
no matter how sensitive it is, but to handle it ethically without harming
anyone from the subjects or audiences. I’ve covered what my project was about,
discussed the difficulties of talking about trauma in documentary, as the epistemology
and ethics may contradict each other in many situations, however most
importantly, how to overcome this conflict ethically. I’ve mentioned other
filmmakers who faced the same ethical dilemma, and how they’ve approached it. My
project tackles a traumatic event that caused the protagonist to have a trauma
of loss and guilt. I’ve explained how trauma occurs, its effects, and how to
handle them in a film. Then I’ve demonstrated how I approached my project in
terms of symbols and decisions taken. I’ve learned from the challenges faced,
and I knew how to overcome it.

 

References

1.      
Cowie, E. (2011). Recording Reality, Desiring
the Real. London & Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press.

 

2.       Jeanne-Marie
Viljoen (2013) Representing the “unrepresentable”: The unpredictable life of
memory and experience in Waltz with Bashir , Scrutiny2, 18:2, 66-80, DOI: 10.1080/18125441.2013.828413

 

3.       Meiselman,
K. C. (1990). The Jossey-Bass social and behavioral science
series. Resolving the trauma of incest: Reintegration therapy with
survivors. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 

4.       Piotrowska,
A. (2016). ‘5,000 feet is the best’: Drone Warfare, Targets and Paul Virilio’s
‘Accident’. Hellmich & Purse.indd

 

5.       Piotrowska,
A. (2011). Animating the Real: A Case Study. An Interdisciplinary Journal, 6(3)
335–351.

 

6.      
Piotrowska, A. (2014). Psychoanalysis and Ethics
in Documentary Film. London and New York: Routledge

 

7.      
Prigerson, Holly G; Shear, Katherine; Frank, Ellen; Beery, Laurel C; et al. (1997). The American Journal of Psychiatry; Washington Vol. 154, Iss. 7 :
1003-9.

 

8.      
Rosenthal, A., & Corner, J. (1988). New
challenges for documentary. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

 

Films

 

1.      
Fast, O. (2011). 5,000 feet is the
best. Italy

 

2.      
Folman, A. (Director). (2008). Waltz
with Bashir Video file. United Kingdom: Artificial Eye

 

3.      
Lanzmann, C. (1985). Shoah. France. Les Films
Aleph. (DVD: IFC Films)