The Face of Time and life's trajectory

Thomas Bjørner

The Face of Time shows in a very lyrical and metaphorical way a number of faces typical of various stages in life. The doubleness of the title contains the essence of the overall theme, in that the film not only portrays a variety of typical states of mind in the year 2000, but also depicts how human beings age, in an inevitable and natural process over time, from the beginning of life towards death – a state of gradual decay.

The sole setting of the film is a Swedish bathhouse, a closed room with women only. The female paradigm elucidates "life," for life is after all conceived from women. The bathhouse serves as a contrast to a reality outside, yet at the same time as a mirror to the real world.

The Face of Time takes its point of departure in a shot of a pregnant woman, the beginning of life. Next, we see a newborn baby lying helpless and totally dependent in its mother’s arms. In the following shots, the baby slowly frees itself from the mother and progresses from carefully crawling around while exploring the world to washing its own hair. The mother/child relationship is at one and the same time inseparable and separable: inseparable because the umbilical cord once connected child and mother, and separable because the child needs to free itself from the mother. A child pushing away a baby doll in the water portrays this metaphorically. Yet the child is not ready to free itself totally and therefore quickly catches the doll again. Later, two girls playing with a yo-yo present a similar theme. Their nakedness tells us in which stage of life they are. One of the girls is pre-pubescent, while the other is still a child. Suddenly the older girl is distracted from the game and stops playing with the yo-yo – a natural progression away from playing and the role of a child – while the other girl continues playing unhindered.

Another common theme in the closed bathhouse of life is variety. Here high and low, fat and slim are seen naked, liberated from their usual environment, everyday clothing, and matching roles. And the formation of identity intensifies concurrently with increasing age in the baths, as is the case in real life. Furthermore, a number of ethnic minorities are represented here. Children and young people are seen playing together across ethnic boundaries. However, at no stage in the film are older people seen together with other ethnic nationalities. In this way, the director holds out a socio-critical mirror as to how different peoples meet in real life.

A teenager is depicted in her exaggerated vanity, putting on make-up. Her face is a mask which is quickly going to crack, not only in the pool of the bathhouse but also in real life, where one’s identity is hidden behind an assumed mask. In contrast to this, a stout and more self-assured girl is shown putting on her goggles. This is not a false mask that is going to crack but rather an act that will help her find her bearings in the water of life.

The mirror plays an important role in this short film. Since you cannot see your face with your own eyes, only the mirror can artificially reflect your appearance. Thus, you compose your own character and identity via the mirror. At a point when the music suddenly turns very gloomy, the face of a dreary 50-year-old woman appears in a mirror. It is obvious that her life experiences have given her a sound beating. When she moves away from the mirror (and we as viewers realize that it was only a reflected image we had observed), we can now see that she has deep scars on one side of her face. Life has given her a mask that cannot be changed. Yet she still has not lost her spirits, and in her vanity she combs her hair so as to make life go on.

The aging process is depicted very differently. Two older women – twin sisters – are sitting on a bench holding each other, closely connected in an inner joy and an outer harmony. They are wearing identically coloured bathing caps in contrast to the monotonous, clinical white tiles of the baths. In contrast to this, some very lonely old women are portrayed: a prostrate, cigarette-smoking woman who seems to have resigned herself to the conditions of life; an elderly woman trying to straighten her eyebrows and to wipe clean her discoloured teeth in a denial of age and in an attempt to cling to something which has disappeared.

The short film ends with an older woman walking slowly toward the camera with the aid of a cane along a passage, the passage of life, in a certain and inevitable journey towards death. When the older woman reaches the end of the passage, the film ends in blackness.

The Face of Time is a very beautiful film, rich in symbolism and masterfully executed from beginning to end.

to the top of the page