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Still Dots #83

Hunched and toadlike in this strangely unpopulated train station cafe (there seems to be no one working), Holly seems to be studying his coaster closely as a way of hiding his face. As we know from the last two posts, Holly has made a deal trading Harry for Anna, and of course, Anna knows nothing […]

Second #5084, 84:44, Image © Studio Canal

Hunched and toadlike in this strangely unpopulated train station cafe (there seems to be no one working), Holly seems to be studying his coaster closely as a way of hiding his face. As we know from the last two posts, Holly has made a deal trading Harry for Anna, and of course, Anna knows nothing of any of this. This decision has been made by Holly alone, and maybe not even the whole of Holly’s personality, but really his overblown moral code. As we are in Freud’s Vienna, it might be appropriate to refer to this structure as an exaggerated superego. That begs, a deeper entrance into Freud’s psychoanalytic system of classification. For instance, here’s how Freud explains the conflict Holly is experiencing:

“Whereas the ego is essentially the representative of the external world, of reality, the super-ego stands in contrast to it as the representative of the internal world of the id” (Sigmund Freud, The Ego and the Id, Norton, 1960, pg. 32)

The ego, being in our case the Holly’s personality, history, memories, the accumulated detritus of experience that makes him what he is, is for Holly standing in direct contrast with his superego, the conditioned sets of understandings for what he should be. The superego, which Freud refers to alternately as “the conscience” or “the ego ideal,” meaning the ideal that one “ought to be,” contains within it that strongly implanted set of moral codes that have haunted Holly through all of his soul-searching. When, in Still Dots #81, Holly decided between the two images of Harry, the rambunctious youth and the hardened criminal, what we really saw was an internal fight between these two mental agencies. When it comes down to the wire, though, neither of these agencies can truly prevail. Holly cannot decide whether or not to narc on his old friend, until he is influenced by Freud’s other big drive, the libido.

And that brings us into today’s frame, where Holly hides beneath the wide brim of his fedora as the object of his affections comes in to deduce the meaning of his presence. As it slowly dawns upon Anna just how she has become the currency in this sordid affair (she will say “If you want to sell your service, I’m not willing to be the price.”) it will become apparent why Holly is hiding. He should be. While his own feelings for Anna have pushed him into a morally suspect decision, snitching on and setting up his best friend, Anna will not fall for the same trap. Her moral system is not so hopelessly over-structured as Holly’s and when she finally discovers his plan, whatever feelings she may or may not have for him will not be enough to convince her to do something she finds emotionally repellant. Of course, choosing to help Harry in his second-hand genocide is also morally repellant, so Anna’s solution to the problem is really the only imaginable choice, save for those powered by Holly’s moralism. As Anna, the stalwart pacifist will opine: “I don’t want him any more. I don’t want to see him or hear him, but he is still part of me, that’s a fact. I couldn’t do a thing to harm him.”

All of that moral perplexity, though, is yet to come, for today’s frame places us in Anna’s blissful ignorance. She is seemingly delighted by the coincidence that brings Holly to this empty cafe. Of course, Holly is really here because he has arranged Anna’s exit from Vienna, an arrangement that, ironically, would have gone off without a hitch if he hadn’t come to “see her off”. But, just like when Holly’s loose lips killed Harry’s innocent porter, Holly is unable to just mind his own business, and now Anna’s safety will be forfeit. After assuring that Calloway was serious and that Anna was to go free, Holly could have simply stayed in his hotel room, maybe even worked on the next book, and let Anna safely leave the city. Instead, he meandered his way down to the train station to watch through the window as Anna is put on a train, putting himself in the perfect position to reveal the truth about her safety–that it comes at the cost of Harry’s freedom. By being here, by being present to be seen, he will spoil Anna’s chances of safety and freedom and relegate her to the dreaded Russian zone.  As Holly will soon ask her, “You…Anna, don’t you recognize a good turn when you see one?” The answer to Holly can come from us. Of course not, though she could have if you had just kept away and let her be freed.

A side note regarding the Russian zone: one of the worst reviews for The Third Man when it came out came from the British communist paper, The Daily Worker, which said “no effort is spared to make the Soviet authorities as sinister and unsympathetic as possible.” I can’t say that I particularly disagree with that sentiment, since the Russians remain  as a 1-dimensional force of evil in this film. In contrast, our other complex villains, Harry, Kurtz and Popescu, seem definitely human, and in Harry’s case, even likeable.

Contrasting heavily with the somewhat morose sentiment of the moment, the grinning face advertising booze in the background seems to be almost taunting us. Matt discussed the presence of advertisements in this film in a great post, but what is striking about these particular advertisements is their positivity when compared to Anna and Holly’s heavier emotional states. The presumably bright coloring of these signs, and the rub-your-nose-in-it way they have of making our characters seem even more depressed in comparison, is reminiscent of one of my favorite moments of advertising in film, in Jean Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou. This conflict is turned on end; instead of seeing morose characters contrasted with bright advertising,  Godard turns the people, literally, into living, breathing, colorful advertisements. Only our hero, the film’s nominal Crazy Pete, can’t find the joy in this deliberate self-commodifying, and in a truly French fashion, goes off to seek despair.

Over the absolute length of one year — two times per week — Still Dots will grab a frame every 62 seconds of Carol Reed’s The Third Man. This project will run until December 2012, when we finish at second 6324For a complete archive of the project, click here. For an introduction to the project, click here.