Certain images have such resonance that they seem to leap from film to film. Do these recurring images represent stirrings in the collective unconscious? Or are they merely motes in the eye of the beholder?
THE BLUE FLOWER is one of the central images in the book and film versions of A Scanner Darkly. It is the source of “Substance D,” the powerful, mind-destroying hallucinogen to which most of the characters in the story are addicted. It is known in street lingo as “Death.” Donna Hawthorne (played in the film by Winona Ryder) is a dealer of Substance D. When Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) asks one of the psychologists who examines him for signs of imminent psychosis what he could do to make his girlfriend, Donna, want to make love to him, the psychologist ironically suggests he could “bring her some flowers.”
The blue flower is also a central image in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, above) must find and bring with him the blue flower that grows only on the mountain slopes of Tibet in order to be admitted and trained by the mysterious “League of Shadows.” As in Scanner, the blue flower in Batman Begins is the source of a powerful hallucinogen. Where, in Scanner, the blue flower is associated with death; in Batman Begins, an exposure to the blue flower-derived drug will trigger a person’s deepest fear.
According to Wikipedia, “The Blue Flower (German: Blaue Blume) is a central symbol of Romanticism. It stands for desire, love, and the metaphysical striving for the infinite and unreachable.” Scanner author, Philip K. Dick, read a lot of German literature, so he was most certainly aware of the role the blue flower played in German Romanticism and its associated youth movements. (There is an element of frustrated Romanticism in Bob Arctor’s love for the physically unattainable Donna.) As for Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, the authors of the Batman Begins screenplay, who knows?
What I find interesting is how the blue flower – once a symbol of youthful aspiration – has devolved into a symbol of addiction, delusion, and death.
THE GIRL IN THE BOX. In Woody Allen’s Scoop, journalism student Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson) meets the magician “Splendini” (Allen) for the first time when he invites her on-stage to step into his magic box (a kind of Caligari-esque cabinet). “It won’t hurt,” he reassures her, “I’ll just rearrange your molecules.” Much to the surprise of both of them, while she is in the box, the ghost of a reporter (Ian McShane) appears to her, offering her the scoop of the decade if she’ll only follow his tip.
The day after I saw Scoop, I happened to play the DVD of Three Extremes, an anthology of horror stories by Asian filmmakers Takashi Miike (Audition), Chan-wook Park (Oldboy), and Fruit Chan. In Miike’s segment, “Box,” the central image is, again, a girl in a box. Not only that but, as in Scoop, she is placed in the box by a stage magician. In Scoop, “Splendini” and Sondra must play the roles of father and daughter in order to pursue the big story. In “Box,” the magician who places the girl in the box is her actual father.
Same image. Different genres. Scoop is a comedy/mystery with touches of magical realism. “Box” is horror with a strong dose of Surrealism. In Scoop, the box is a gateway to another world, the after-life. In “Box,” the box represents that-which-we-dare-not-look-into because it contains the ultimate horror, the thing we are most afraid to confront.
But how about on a deeper or different level? Could the boxes in Scoop and “Box” also represent a desire by the “fathers” to contain their “little girls” so that they might never grow up?
We might also be reminded of Pandora’s Box, or of the mysterious box in Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (see below) holding the power that could destroy the world. Or, at least, most of Los Angeles.
But that’s another story.