I just watched the entirety of the American version of The Ring for the first time. At first I thought I would deem it superior to the original Japanese version, but ended up rating them about the same as films. Having said that, there were aspects of the American version that made me prefer it. "Who's that actress?" I asked Kim, thinking that I found her inexplicably alluring. "Naomi Watts," she replied incredulously, making me feel dumb for asking. I'm sure, though, that my misrecognition is part and parcel of a desire I'd rather not recognize. The fact that the Seattle-area setting reminded me of Twin Peaks no doubt contributed to my condition. As I was writing that last sentence I perceived all of a sudden that Mulholland Drive completes the circuit. Pushing things a step further, I also realized that La Otra, the Mexican woman's noir -- Mildred Pierce is another member of the category -- that I saw in L.A. last July, actually provides the conspiracy theorist's ideal intertext for most of David Lynch's oeuvre. And that brought me back to The Ring, which is itself all about reproduction, mechanical or otherwise.
Not that it's a huge revelation or anything, but I kept thinking "Walter Benjamin" throughout the picture. The horror in this film is that the aura doesn't go away as a result of the artifact being copied. There are lots of spooky tales about original, one-of-a-kind texts and objects. The Ring, by contrast, takes the exact opposite tack. The key scene for me is the one where Naomi Watt's ex-lover ponders the fact that the tape lacks the unique code that tells you where it came from. The original is indistinguishable from the copy. That makes its "parentage" impossible to pin down, which is precisely the case with the girl that Richard and Anna Morgan bring back with them after their absence. No one knows where she came from either. It's interesting to note that The Ring also plays, however inadvertently, on another film set in Seattle, one of my favorite horror films ever The Changeling. In that film too, doubling is the central problem.
The deeper I write my way into this entry, the more I recognize that I'm breaking rules I don't normally let myself break in a public forum. But it's fun. What if David Lynch really were troping on The Changeling in Twin Peaks or on La Otra in Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive? Why not sustain the conviction that The Ring is aware of what it's doing when it invokes the specter of mechanical reproduction in conjunction with female characters for whom sexual reproduction is an obvious problem? And, while we're at it, shouldn't we throw in some X-Files storylines for good measure? No, my hermeneutic is not watertight. Sometimes, though, it's leaky arguments that carry the most force.
After Skylar asked me lots of questions about our life in California, I showed her bits of two video tapes made when we were living in Vallejo, one from a year or so before she was born and one from when she was around five months old. It had been a long time since I'd watched either one. The experience was pure melancholy. "Wouldn't it be nice if we could go back in time and live our life the way it was then?" she asked me and then, "Did you like that life better than the one you're living now?" I couldn't answer her truthfully, because to do so would be to make it seem that I'm unhappy with her when nothing has ever made me happier than she does. But, yes, I'd hop on the time machine without a moment's hesitation. I suppose she picked up on my silent affirmatives, because she followed the questions by stating, "You know, dad, if you hadn't gotten a job at the U of A, we could still be living in that house."
"If only," I thought to myself. The more I reflected on my desire to return, though, the more I realized that the happy life depicted through the video camera lens was more construct than reality. Back in March, 1999, when Skylar was five months old, I was absolutely miserable. Kim was back at work far sooner than she wanted to be. Communications between the two of us had devolved largely into technical questions about child-rearing, brightened only by the occasional moment of shared wonder at our beautiful daughter. I had lost all traction in my progress towards completing my dissertation. And I was spending so much time alone with Skylar at 617 Napa Street that I'd developed strange habits like experimenting with dozens of different recipes for poached eggs. Had it not been for the free tickets Kim got me to Cal games at the skybox in the Oakland Arena, I might have gone completely insane.
Yet when I look at the video now, taking in my perspective on the world, listening to myself talk with and through the camera, all I see at first is a golden age of delight. The footage lies, in other words. But it also manages to reveal a deeper truth that was lurking under all my superficial unhappiness, a love that ended up surviving the stranglehold of everyday stress. I'm hoping that all the pictures I've taken since getting the digital camera last year will turn out to have done the same thing. Right now, though, they are still too close for me to tell.