"They is" - Control and Chaos

Julie Budtz Sørensen

Life is fundamentally chaotic and human beings are in a constant battle to organize it and make it controllable.

As a child grows up it is gradually taught to master the chaos with which it was initially in harmony. It begins to categorize things and occurrences and put them into systems, and the questions which the child used to pose slowly cease to be asked: Life becomes predictable.

To a certain extent this is good, not to mention unavoidable; man is not fit to live in total chaos and therefore needs systems and predictability. But this organizing of chaos has a negative consequence since it tries to exclude the possibility of something unexpected occurring and ignores the fact that life does not always make sense.

Life's absurdity is noticed mostly by children and is reflected in their honest statements about it. As is well known kids say the darndest things, and we laugh at them and think that they are cute (understood as naïve.) Thereby, and quite conveniently, we reinforce our image of a completely logical world.

When everything becomes predictable, life itself and the way we lead it become mechanical and this is what has happened to the protagonist Anders in the short fiction film Bullet in the Brain.

As a literature teacher with a deep contempt for his mediocre students, Anders considers himself an intellectual. One may argue, though, that if an intellectual is understood as one who is constantly searching for a deeper meaning in life, Anders is not in fact one. He has stopped searching and has lost his naïve interest in the world. His existence is based on predictability and control, nothing surprises him and nothing amazes him.

Even the poems of the great writers he used to admire have become profane to him since he has memorized them so as to be able to 'shiver at will.' This paradox - to shiver at will - seems symptomatic of his life, where the things which might move him only tire him. His wife, his mistress, his work.

Anders' lack of interest in his surroundings not to mention his arrogance and ironical attitude make it difficult for us to like him. When he gets shot in the head during a bank robbery for making a sarcastic remark at the robber we feel indifference, perhaps even a hint of malicious pleasure. Why should we care about him?

'Life happens without applause', Anders notes when lecturing his students. The same could be said of his death which happens in silence.

However, our somewhat blank perception of Anders is altered by the flashbacks from his past.

In the beginning of the film Anders takes out an image painted by Picasso and speaks the following words:

See, you can't sell us cubism or a blue period or any of that shit without the base. Without the ability to tell how it really is first. Without the ability to show us beauty on its face.

In the same way we, the audience, cannot judge what Anders has become before knowing what he was. It is impossible for us to fully grasp his actions and his exhaustion with life, but in watching the flashbacks which make up the final part of the film (and describe what has happened after the bullet has entered his brain) our perception becomes nuanced as we peek into his life. By seeing the base, we begin to understand his blue period, so to speak.

What is depicted in the flashbacks is a particular life - Anders' life - but at the same life in general is portrayed with all its changes: passion, misery, joy, sorrow, ups and downs. The unpredictability of life for all of us.

The events from the past are not connected to each other by any unifying thread other than the voice of the articulate narrator who could have been chosen by Anders himself.

Anders does not remember his mistress, his wife, his mother's last words or a woman committing suicide the day after the birth of his daughter.

What he does remember is a small detail from his childhood; an event that does not at first seem to have much significance but nevertheless takes on an essential role in the film. Anders remembers playing baseball in a field one childhood summer. Here, he was confronted with a sentence which, in all its simplicity, changed him and lingered in his mind. One boy, visiting from Mississippi, was asked which position he wanted to play, and uttered: "Shortstop. Short's the best position they is." Anders was mesmerized:

Anders is strangely roused - elated by those two final words, their pure unexpectedness and their music.

The boy's incorrect grammar touched something fundamental inside of Anders and he wanted to make the moment last forever.

The words indicate the chaos in the man-made cosmos which is founded on reason and predictability. They shine due to their unexpectedness and that is why they touch Anders so deeply. It is an experience of something more than trivial life.

Earlier when mocking a student in the classroom Anders asks:

Do you believe in the chance that you could be changed by something as timid as a word? The chance to move and be moved? The chance at salvation from the rational? Do you believe?

'They is' is exactly this: the beauty of the irrational. It is a shift in elements and meanings which has a liberating effect on Anders.

When Anders is shot he is lifted into a new consciousness. Here "under the mediation of brain time" he finally escapes the rational. He is no longer subordinated to time and space but by virtue of this mediation a single moment becomes elastic and is stretched out. In this moment the monotonous and repetitive order is replaced by a reality where the logic of "they is" can be repeated for all eternity. They is, they is, they is.

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