Many years have passed since Louis Althusser taught us those enumerated, abbreviated insights about culture’s trap doors–false consciousnesses, ISAs, cozening non-truths, convenient wheels-within-wheels, each cog a tunnel toward a pit of snapping crocodiles, patiently waiting to crunch us with the powerful dentition of ideology. My favorite agon for this ineluctable game of ‘now-you-dupe-me, then-I’m-interpelated’ happens in film.
And, by the way, all Thoreauvian apologies shall be in full effect with this one. I’ve hung a sign across my wooden door that reads: “No Admittance” which has then been crossed out–like a no smoking sign that crosses out the picture of the smoking cigarette–as if to say, “I dutifully apologize for certain ambiguities in the conveyance of this thing. When transporting the cumbrous kernel of ideology, only the decrepit jalopy will do.” And so it goes with my language, an OW-OO-GAH horn as a matter of course, and for that, I duly say–woops and mea culpa and watch out for all those frickin’ candles up ahead!
But to get to the matter at hand….the latest telling detail of the effect of labor being disappeared for us–of literally appearing before us as an automatic transference of magical stuff to be deleted, cashed out, crossed off, and annulled–appears in several horror movies, thrillers, romantic comedies, and (more unforgivably) in serious dramas. I’m certain you’ve seen the scene I’m thinking of. It’s the one with all those candles sputtering against the encroaching darkness in the background.
You’ve probably seen it a hundred times. “Come with me to the secret room in the basement!” That’s where I’ll read from the ancient book to speak aloud the names that haven’t been uttered since the time of Christ. Remember? Only then will we be rid of the demons or vampires, those were-elves or furry things that bay and howl, bite or writhe. And, of course, once we get down there into that room, which you can tell used to be an old boiler room or a broom closet or even just an old, non-descript hallway (it’s the cobwebs that give it away), you’ll note the world of candles. Tons of candles. A veritable sea of candles. Rows and flickering rows of them. Already lit, too, which is oddly the point.
As we move through filmic space, we depend upon adequate lighting for the medium to work. Naturally, we don’t complain that there appears to be something close to three hundred unbelievable candles lit in our dusty, thoroughly cob-webbed, otherwise non-descript space. After all, if some anonymously generous soul hadn’t come down here to set them all up and light them all, well…then, we wouldn’t now be enjoying the desperate wrap-up to this foolish plot, now would we? We are thankful that these candles are lit. They grease the luminescent wheels of our narrative exit. We don’t do the math or work out the presumed labor that must have gone into either the acquisition or the ignition of these teeming little lights. Our smooth retreat from verisimilitude depends upon our flexibility at such moments. Looking too hard into the light is never a good idea. One could go blind with the economics.
God knows, for example, that these flames aren’t burning my favorite scent from Yankee Candle Co. (Evening Sleep Walking with Fingers Sticky from Popsicles Bought from an Ice Cream Truck that only had the Banana Chocolates Left on the Fourth of July). If that were so, it would set this crew of post-teen fighters of the zombie apocalypse back a cool forty bucks a pop. With at least a dozen candles on every row (and now that the camera is panning across this room briefly I see that there are at least ten rows of these candles) that would bring the dollar amount of all this ambitious ambiance to five large!
Money talks as they say, whilst bullshit ambulates, and candles sputter and spume and get the heck outta Dodge. The very best of them flicker, steadily and reliably, emitting three lumens, two watts, and four metric winces. The real incalculable disappearance in all of this is time. How long did it take to light each of the candles in this room ablaze with burning wax? How many people did it take? Was a ladder used to get to the topmost row? Who will put these candles out? Surely, the whole edifice will burn to a crisp if the end of dayz demon-vampire-zombie-were-fool doesn’t do us all in first.
Alas. The scene is nearly done. It scrolls by in a flash. Since Kubrick and Ryan O’Neal’s surfer-dude candleabrian imitation of Barry Lyndon’s braggadocio, we’ve been trained to hardly notice the glorious spectacle of all these candles falsely lighting a scene that is more truly brought to light by virtue of that unfilmed phalanx of halogen lamps perched off-screen. But if we were to strain to imagine the time all of the lighting took, we’d still be stuck in that room, straining to light candle number one hundred and thirty seven–only seventy four to go!–waiting for the actors to stroll by with their shadows stretching like budgets along the fake cave walls, whose stalagmites took the Platonic key grips nearly three hours to glue into place.