Alienation And Alienation In Jia Zhangke's Still Life

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In his 2006 film, Still Life, Jia Zhangke creates an enigmatic case study of alienation and displacement. Through the use of space, both literal and figurative, and long, extended takes that expand the perception of time Zhangke tells the story of a people who are victims of their own environment. What is perhaps most striking of the film, beyond even the existential and political undertones, is the division drawn between the cold and demonstrative attitude the government adopts towards its citizens and the warm, caring daily interactions between the people themselves. The film opens with the protagonist, Han Sanming, arriving to the city of Fengjie in a fashion almost as languid as the boat ride there. The story follows a narrative, albeit nonlinear, plot with characters coming in and out of this tone-driven piece of cinema. Yet for every random appearance and non sequitur a small impact is made upon the viewer, slowly immersing them in the world the people of the film live in. The audience comes to feel a kindred spirit in Han's struggle to comes to terms with self and life, and share in his victories as well as his defeats. The people and places in the film are not unlike the experiences we must endure in our own lifetimes, though not literally, but in attitude and approach. Just as Han, we have all felt the kind support of trusting friends as well as suffered losses that cannot fully be expressed in words. The most personally defining moment of Still Life is the juxtaposition of the final dialogue between Han and his friends and the government graffiti sprayed across condemned buildings. Han arrives to Fengjie as a time capsule, holding only memories of the city before the construction of the Three Gorges Dam that has now inun... ... middle of paper ... ...ot help but be torn by the strife and struggle the people of Fengjie are forced to accept as a convention on the mantel of normal behavior. Still Life is remarkable in that it allows for open interpretation from the audience. Different aspects of the film hold varying degrees of personal relevance and one may extrapolate as much or as little as they see fit in order to unravel its underlying meaning. Personally speaking, there is nothing more important than the steadfast loyalty of dependable friends and, to someone of such inclination, Still Life certainly embodies that ideal. Through the visualization of a discrepant world Zhangke puts the human condition under a microscope to show that it is not the externalities of our environment that impact us the most greatly, but it is the very malleable social domain in which we inhabit that gives us identity and definition.

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