The Repercussions of my/our Transgressions
Cache’s cast of characters form a tapestry of guilt and self-deception, deeply wrought and embedded in their everyday lives and daily interactions. While Georges’s suppressed feelings and subsequent deviant behavior is the most egregious, Anna’s potential adultery and Pierrot’s inability to accept it feed off of each other and create a toxic environment that simultaneously reinforces their behavior, stokes their respective anguish, and breeds paranoia. Michael Haneke’s careful character portrayal of a seemingly intellectual and upstanding middle-class family serves as an excellent backdrop to uncover their shortcomings
It is extremely difficult for a person to understand and grapple with his or her guilt if that guilt has never been acknowledged. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an English poet from the 18th and 19th century, espoused ideas in his famous work “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” that explored how guilt and shame can affect both an individual and a group. In that poem, the Mariner’s initial guilt over killing the albatross is only exposed when the crewmates claim the bird was responsible for their fair weather, saying “And I had done a hellish thing, And it would work ‘em woe, For all averred, I had killed the bird.” Guilt must be exposed for there to be any hope of it being dealt with. Georges’s guilt over sending Majid away was kept from both his mother and his wife, seemingly the two people he would be most likely to confide in.
When Georges visits his mother he tells her he dreamed of Majid. His mother initially didn’t recognize the name saying, “I’d forgotten all about him,” and there is no reason she should, for she feels no lasting guilt over having to send him away. These pent up feelings lead Georges down a path of self-deception, leaving him unable to acknowledge his role in Majid’s swift exit from their lives. Georges has already killed the albatross, but he is without crewmates to tell him of his error. He cannot see that the winds have changed and the fog has thickened, allowing him only one path forward: dissembling his responsibility for Majid’s position in life and society.
Majid’s suicide cements his choice. He now has no opportunity to find his guilt, to respond to it. Like the Mariner, he is the only one who feels the guilt in the end. The Mariner was the only survivor, and even though he was the one who killed the albatross, his crew did not object to his transgression until later. But, like Georges, there is no one left to share his shortcomings with, save the person he is telling his tale to, a person who did not share in his transgression and failure. Someone who could not share in his guilt. Georges never had someone to share his guilt with, and now never will, and like the Mariner’s guilt, it decayed into agony. This shift in the Mariner’s feelings is evident in the lines, “I looked upon the rotting sea, And drew my eyes away; I looked upon the rotting deck, And there the dead men lay…. I closed my lids, and kept them close, And the balls like pulses beat; For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky Lay like a load on my weary eye, And the dead were at my feet.” In Cache, Majid’s suicide ends with a literal “a dead man at his feet.” When Georges is forced to confront a consequence of his unconscious guilt and past transgression, he reacts with the most emotion we have seen from him in the whole of the film, and like the Mariner he must confront “ the curse in a dead man’s eye.”
Georges has a deep seeded feeling of guilt from expelling Majid form his family, who was staying with Georges’ family after his family was murdered in the 1961 Paris Massacre. In order to combat his feeling of guilt, he tries to subconsciously deny that what he did to Majid was wrong. When confronted by his wife about what Georges had done to Majid in their childhood, Georges says it was just normal childhood teasing, when in reality it was much worse. In an interview, Michael Haneke himself said that the film overall is “a tale of morality dealing with how one lives with guilt. Do I accept it? And if I don’t, what do I do? And if I do, what do I do?” Georges refuses to accept his wrongdoings of kicking Majid out of his family and he reacts to his underlying guilt defensively. Because of the guilt Georges felt all the way from childhood, he blames Majid to be the one terrorizing his family with the tapes of his home.
Georges’ actions toward Majid exemplify the collective and individual guilt of the French people for the atrocities committed by the chief French police commander and Nazi collaborationist, Maurice Papon. Papon was convicted for sending Jews to concentration camps during World War II and was still allowed to be police chief in Paris. Under Papon’s authority, the 1961 Paris Massacre occurred, where anywhere from two hundred to three hundred people were murdered by the police force during a protest. The French government and French people attempted to sweep this tragedy under the rug without proper recognition of the crime committed against the Algerians. The French, like Georges who had done horrible things to Majid during childhood, committed crimes against the Algerians and did not accept the guilt. Similar to Georges deals with his guilt, the French carry with them a suppressed generational guilt for the atrocities that were committed, which leads them to paranoia that the people that they had done wrong will come back to haunt them.
Without Michael Haneke’s careful shot composition, the audience would never be able to respond to his themes. His focus on simple clean backdrops with little clutter allows the viewer to focus on the emotional impact of a scene. The article “Shaping Film: A Quantitative Formal Analysis of Contemporary Empathy-Eliciting Hollywood Cinema” of the journal “Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts” in reference to complex backdrops said, “Scenes with many such focal points may be more taxing on viewers’ mental resources, as might scenes with focal points that strongly deviate from the center of the screen or that break the compositional rule of thirds. With this increased visual complexity, empathic engagement may decrease through a shortage of mental resources.” The article also goes on to say that, “further research into the effect of camera angle on the evaluation of characters shows that characters shot from a low angle (forcing the viewer to look “up” at them) were thought to be taller, stronger, less afraid, bolder, and more aggressive than characters shot from a high angle (forcing the viewer to look “down” at them; Kraft, 1987.”) In Cache, there are very few shots that are filmed from a low angle. Most shots are either high-angle or are shot at eye level, making it clear that Heneke wants the audience to look at these characters scrupulously, recognizing both their flaws and their shortcomings so that the audience can easily see the cause and effect of each character’s guilt and subsequent behavior.
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