What is the common point between Matrix by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, fight club by David Fincher Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick Sixth Sense by M. Night Shyamalan Where In the skin of John Malkovich of Spike Jonze? Released in 1999 in the United States, exactly twenty years ago, these unforgettable films with strangely similar scenarios all dealt with deceptive appearances.
“What was most striking that year was the abundance of films that get trapped in their narrative: they seem to tell something but ultimately tell something else.explains Rafik Djoumi, a journalist specializing in Hollywood who wrote in 1999 to MadMovies. Sixth Sense is literally designed to be returned to its final scene and seen again with information that changes the direction of the plot. fight club also works on a twist. Matrix explains to us that what we see is not reality because we are trapped by our a priori. And Eyes Wide Shut is the latest film from a major filmmaker who tells us to beware of our fantasies.
If script trappings are not a new phenomenon (Jacob’s Ladder in 1990 or Usual Suspects in 1995 were already built on twists), these 1999 feature films all feature characters openly pushed to change their view of reality. A dialogue of Matrix speaks of the matrix as the “world they put in front of your eyes to hide the truth from you» and Morpheus says of Neo (Keanu Reeves) that his “eyes had never been used».
This idea of blindness is also central in Eyes Wide Shut, whose title indicates that the hero Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) has “the eyes wide closed”. The first line of the film is thus “Honey, have you seen my wallet?» and this New York doctor will discover over the course of the story secret desires and rituals of which he had never suspected the existence. The humiliation he suffered after his intrusion into an orgy turned out to be a masquerade, his friend Victor admitting that the sanction was “fake” and that’“there was no second password”. Likewise, in Matrix, “the spoon does not exist” (“there is no spoon”).
Open the eyes
fight club also shows a distorted office worker (Edward Norton) who does not realize that he is inventing an anarchist double (Brad Pitt). The voiceover says that“with insomnia, nothing is real, everything is a copy of a copy of a copy» and the narrator will very late become aware of his hallucinations and his schizophrenia. The final dialogue addressed by Norton to Pitt will thus be “My eyes are open”.
Sixth Sensewhose most emblematic replica is “I see dead people” (“I see people who are dead”) follows a child psychiatrist (Bruce Willis) who is unaware that he himself is dead. His eventual discovery of the truth will sound like a tragic awakening. “The important thing is that we are awake”concluded Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut. Awakening from sleep and illusion to better take control of one’s destiny is also what the end of Matrix where Neo addresses the viewer before the Rage Against The Machine track “Wake Up” plays.
Why is this waking up and hangover theme so present? “To understand these 1999 movies, you have to go back the whole decade.believes Linda Belhadj, film critic and author of the book The erotic thriller. In the United States, the 1990s were those of disillusionment, it was the end of the party. There were a lot of paranoid thrillers, like in the 1970s. The Pelican Affair, Strange Days, Conspiracies, Full powers Where State enemy spoke only of urban alienation and defiance of authority. American society was also very troubled by the OJ Simpson affair and then by the rape charges leveled by Juanita Broaddrick against President Bill Clinton, which resurfaced in late 1998. We forget it today, but the Clinton years were a big disappointment for many Democrats.
In this dark political climate, 1999 presents, according to Linda Belhadj, a cinematographic specificity. “With the return of Kubrick and the explosion of the Wachowskis, we came back in a way to the director-kings who have an author’s vision. Their films came to put their feet in the dish as if, with the fear of the bug of the year 2000, there was a start and an even more explicit desire to express paranoia.
Visions of authors who turn out to be linked by the same darkness. “In Eyes Wide Shut, there is no longer any trust in the couple; nor in the elites, who form a sectarian secret society. Matrix tells that each individual is manipulated and that it is necessary to choose between such and such pill to decide to remain alienated or not; the traitor Cypher thus wants to be put back in the womb, he prefers falling asleep. In fight clubit’s downright the end of the world, the workers are so depressed that it is better to let everything fall apart and start all over again.
Arrival of the internet and consenting public
This last year of the century, which in Hollywood was to be that of Star Wars episode I: The Phantom Menace, moviegoers will therefore have favored instead films exploring the notion of simulacrum. “For these works to be appreciated, the public of 1999 had to be ready and accept the idea of being had, says Rafik Djoumi. These films constantly tell the viewer that he is no longer fooled and that the tools with which he is told about the world are suitable for manipulation.»
Why such an evolution of the public? “The major change at this time is the massive arrival of the internet. With the web, the idea is spreading that our representation of society can no longer be limited to the physical. Because the internet is a representation of the world which we are aware is a representation. People became very sensitive to this theme in 1999. Even a success like In the skin of John Malkovich just play on convention of the story while having fun with our representations of spectators. The game was consensual.»
Rafik Djoumi therefore noted that year a change, both aesthetic and intellectual, in the way films and the public communicated. “1999 is also the phenomenal success of Blair Witch Projectwhich is based on the concept of “false true”. American Beauty speaks exclusively of fantasies, Bowfinger is a comedy about the manipulation of images and GalaxyQuest a comedy about fiction. And in Revelations by Michael Mann, there is a striking sequence – in a Japanese restaurant – which breaks the 180 degree rule (according to which the camera must remain shot-reverse shot on the same side so that the characters do not change places in the frame) . It’s a real moment of change, visual and physical, where the spectator is asked not to think as he thought in the first part.
This feeling of changeover sublimated in 1999 by the seventh art will have marked a whole generation of spectators. “I am fascinated by the scene ofEyes Wide Shut where Tom Cruise, with a confused face, understands that the costume rental company is indeed prostituting his daughter, says Linda Belhadj. This collapse of certainties also runs through Matrix and Sixth Sense –where the discovery of the world of death offers a different vision of existence. The bodybuilder Brad Pitt of fight clubwhich recalls the plastic beauty of the bodies ofEyes Wide Shut, embodies the world of appearances. But when this mirage of protective power crumbles, you realize there is nothing behind it. The arrival of the year 2000 was ultimately the promise of a black hole that was not necessarily negative; it was a rather salutary plunge into the unknown as the 1990s were so disenchanted.»
A lingering doubt
Once past the milestone of the year 2000, these films then continued to produce concrete effects. “Public disbelief and defiance in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 was partly driven by what had gone on in people’s minds with all these warnings against the system of representation, continues Rafik Djoumi. If the internet was such a reservoir of rejection of the official theory and then of contestation of the Iraq war in 2003, it is also because these cinematographic fictions had lit the fuse. People began to doubt what they were told. In 1999, something really special happened in our way of representing the world.»
A cinematic golden age?
Mentioning famous works themselves (Matrix shows a cover of Mocks and simulation by Jean Baudrillard and quotes Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll or The Wizard of Oz by Victor Fleming, two references also present in Eyes Wide Shut), these 1999 films which invited us to go to the other side of the mirror still constitute today models of audacious fictions, with an intact cultural and societal dimension.
Has American cinema been able to find a similar inspiration in the following twenty years? “We were at a turning point, both technological and artistic, concludes Rafik Djoumi. It was also the beginning of the downloading of films on the Internet, which redistributed the cards in Hollywood. A standoff pitted studio executives who wanted to maintain a policy of creating original films against executives whose plan was to get their hands on the franchises. Dematerialization was underway and studios were not going to survive digitization by producing only DVD and 35 film.»
What were the final consequences of this showdown? “The round was won by supporters of absolute copyright control. Today, Disney has absolute control over everything that bears the Marvel brand in the world and its fortunes are ensured by the fact of perpetually producing Marvel. It’s a different view than other studio executives had in the late 1990s..»