“The Seashell and the Clergyman”

The Subconscious Mind Unleashed

“Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy,” Sigmund Freud. The movie “The Seashell and the Clergyman,” brings this quote to a whole different meaning. The dreams we have mostly consist of the repressed feelings we have. They unleash a side of us that we have never known. “The Seashell and the Clergyman was directed by Germaine Dulac.  The movie is with actors Alex Allin, Genica Athansiou, and Lucien Batalille. This early movie is known by many to be the first surrealist film.  It premiered in Paris on February 9th, 1928.  The story captures a man’s deep infatuation that turns into an odd obsession for the wife of a general.  The interesting element is that the man deeply intrigued by this woman is a priest. He releases all these feelings he possesses for the woman through very vivid hallucinations. The message behind the film is deep and thought provoking. I characterize the feelings the priest has for the women as obsessive because he becomes more violent and sadistic as the movie progresses.  The movie emphasizes the power of thought and how our subconscious mind can take a real hold on our lives.

The setting of the film takes place in a dreamlike environment. We are put in the unconscious mind of the main character. All the events are taking place through his eyes. The film depicts different dreams that the clergyman sees.  In many scenes, the clergyman is shown following the women. In one of the scenes, he is shocked to see the ghost of the woman in a ballroom setting. He sees the woman in different forms. For instance, he envisions the women once with her tongue sticking out and another time with her cheek out. This may symbolize the inner beliefs the man poses against the woman. He believes she is teasing him and in a sense she is. He has profound feelings for her, but can never have her so he feels some anger that turns into rage and violent behavior.

It is interesting to mention that the music played throughout the movie moves along with the plot. As the movie moves at a faster pace, so does the music. The instruments played are the same but the tempo and speed change to match the series of events taking place. Furthermore, the music complements the action taking place in the movie. The lighting of the film is very dark and gloomy. Sometimes the emphasis is instilled in the characters face and everything around the character’s face is blurred. This allows us to capture the facial expressions of the characters. The movie is obviously silent, therefore we must rely on the facial expressions that are used among the individuals. Much of our thought revolves around what is not said or non-verbal communication. We focus on the characters body language, which speaks for itself.

The mood of the film creates suspense and a feeling of emptiness. We could feel with the main character and sense the loneliness that was taking a toll on him. We all have needs and wants that we cannot always acquire. In this sense, we can relate. The priest has two main different moods, which contrast from one another. At times he is scared and hesitate while at other times he is happy and confident. Near the start of the film, the priest starts crawling on the floor as he enters civilization. The crawling on the floor may symbolize inferiority and a lack of confidence because one is no longer on the same level as other people.  This obsession the priest has of the women is extreme. He is found chasing her throughout the whole movie. He becomes violent towards the general and envisions choking him as well as his wife. The priest wants the girl for himself and no one else. He abhors the general for being able to have her.  His sexual desires for her are expressed near the end of the film when he takes of the seashell bra that was never on her to begin with.

Many emotions are expressed in the movie, mostly through the main character. Happiness is shown through the nature such as water, the sky and sunlight. In general, happiness is depicted through open areas.  The element of love sparks a lot of jealously to the clergyman. Whenever he sees how in love the general and his wife are, he becomes angry and unleashes all his hatred mostly through violence. He strangles the general and envisions his hands around the women’s neck.  Lust is revealed through his sexual desires for the general’s wife. He takes off her bra and then the bra sets into flames, which may symbolize his burning desire for her. The clergyman also has many looks of confusion. The camera is instilled at many times on the clergyman, which gives us a feel of how this character is feeling.

The approach the movie takes is very compelling. The movie takes place solely in the mind of this clergyman. We get a sense of whom this man is and all the feelings, confusion, and kind of character he possesses. The subconscious mind may partially be an explanation of how we actually feel and in the end we come to certain revelations.  The story is set into motion by the plot that takes place. The music moves along with the scenes and leaves us in suspense. We know something bad or spectacular may happen from the music that is being played. The strengths in the movie are clearly shown by all the effects that are portrayed such as the general’s face being manipulated and cut in half, the seashell bra being turned into flames, the chandelier moving along with the scene and music, and the blurriness to show emphasis on the person’s face. The main character is indeed brilliant because he expresses everything he is feeling exclusively through his actions and facial expressions. The setting of the film is very surreal but fits in perfectly with the plot. We are somehow in the character’s mind. If the film were to be made in this day and age, there would probably be more elements of technology being used. This film was made most likely for people interested in surrealist movies. The start of the movie was a bit slow, but the plot becomes more interesting as we have more of an understanding of what is going through the clergyman’s mind.  John Herbert Matthews once wrote, “Surrealism was a perception of reality over which reason was denied the opportunity to exercise confining restrictions.” This surrealist movie does indeed go beyond all reason and manifests itself in the unconscious mind of a man who unleashes all his repressed feelings through hallucinations and dreams. The term surrealism is defined in this film.


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