The story begins and we meet our character; in time his or her backstory will be revealed, events will transpire, something climactic will occur, and a conclusion will be reached. Such is the accepted standard of storytelling in mainstream cinema. Life in general, however, is not lived in such a format. Though our lives progress steadily forward, a day in the life of anyone is lived in the past, the present, and the future. As the sands of time fall steadily through the hourglass of life, we are constantly filled with memories of that which has come to pass, contemplations of where we currently stand, and grandiose imaginations of what the future may hold. Revolutionary directors, Frederico Fellini and Andre Tarkovsky, took this multi-faceted perception of reality and time and utilized it in their ageless films, 8 ½ and The Mirror, respectively.
In 1963, the Italian born Fellini bestowed upon the world a work of art entitled 8 ½. The semi-auto biographical film, an ingenious blending of real life and dreamscape sceneries, derived its title from the fact that Fellini considered it his eighth and one half movie, having previously completed six features, two shorts, and a collaboration with another director (Wexman, 2009). The movie opens to a scene of the protagonist, a man by the name of Guido Anselmi, stuck in traffic. The iconoclastic opening sequence blends the very real frustration of being gridlocked with fantastical hallucinations and immediately lets the viewer know that the film is unlike anything before it. The plot elements are basic: a struggling writer under the weight of an impending deadline and marital difficulties trying to overcome writer’s block and complete a project. The plot structure, however, is by no means basic. The entire film is a brilliant mix of fantasy and reality that abandons the linear structure of most stories and makes use of time in a sporadic and almost nonsensical way.
In 1975, Russia native Andre Tarkovsky made a contribution to the world of abstract filmmaking as well. His film, which was given a drove of different names while being conceptualized, was ultimately called The Mirror. Much like 8 ½, The Mirror is definitively semi-autobiographic and has no real apparent plot. Instead the film is comprised primarily of dream-like flashbacks and newsreel footage chronicling periods before, during, and after World War II. Alexei, the main character, and his family are the focus of the film, but the stream-of-consciousness style of cinematography clearly speaks a larger message than recollections of life by a seemingly average man. Tarkovsky, like Fellini before him, took the accepted understanding of time and its progression and threw it out the window, going so far as to extend the sense of confusion of reality and dream by using the same actor to portray both Alexei and his son (Acquarello, 1999).
It has been said of non-linear filming that “this rearrangement makes the telling of a story more compelling than if we left the scene progression in chronological order” (Cowgill, 2003). Because of this it is no surprise that both Fellini and Tarkovsky have been praised for their work in the realm of the non-chronological story, with Fellini winning two Academy Awards for 8 ½, and both of their films have been called masterpieces by many people, but why exactly is that? The reason for their choices as directors and the reason the films speak to people so profoundly is that the movies utilize a style that mimics real life, they capture a thought process that occupies people everywhere every day. Take a moment, if you will, and think about your waking hours. Do you daydream? Do you think about the past or the potential future? Do you worry about yourself and your dealing with what faces you at that exact moment? The answer to all the questions is yes, and, what’s more, it’s a simultaneous yes. We as a species think unlike any other animal, and are therefore capable of constantly sifting through whirlwinds of bits and pieces of memories and thoughts. This idea, the concept that people live in all aspects of time at once, is what makes the two films so poignantly beautiful. Each film is a life, it is a mind, it is a complete being in and of itself. 8 ½ and The Mirror are each a cross section of their respective creator’s lives, they are microcosms of real life and the absolutely sporadic nature of thought, and, most importantly, they are small pieces of humanity forever eternalized through the lens of a camera.