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Analyse the ways composers generate diverse and provocative insights about people and landscape. In your response, make detailed reference to your prescribed text and at least ONE other related text of your own choosing.
The representation of the exterior landscape is a projection of an individual’s interior psyche, in which one’s identity can be understood through their diverse experiences within their surroundings. As such, the nature of an individual’s relationship with the landscape, whether real, remembered or imagined, can transform one’s identity and reflect one’s inner state. Colm Toibin’s novel, Brooklyn (2009) explores the shaping of identity as moulded by experiences and memories in mutually exclusive landscapes through the centralised character development of Eilis. Woody Allen’s film, Midnight in Paris (2011), provides insights into the Golden-age thinking that forces Gil Pender to inhabit conflicting landscapes of an idealised past and inadequate present. Hence, both texts present a unique experience of the profound influence landscapes have on an individual’s identity and psyche.
Brooklyn’s insightful portrayal of the migrant experience reveals the dynamic power of new and unfamiliar landscapes in reshaping an individual’s identity. The Brooklyn setting reinforces a strong absence of home and emotional rift in familial relations that plagues Eilis’ fragmented identity; her room is likened to a physical and emotional “tomb”, serving as a reminder of her isolation from the security and warmth of a home she may never recover. As Eilis accumulates experiences in the real Brooklyn landscape, she demonstrates her newfound independence through the high modal language of being “answerable to no one”, highlighting the diasporic bildungsroman nature of the novel in which Toibin portrays Eilis’ change in identity and personal growth. This is reiterated through the contrasting characterisation of Eilis as a reserved, passive character forced into a world of emotional turmoil to an empowered individual who develops independence and confidence. Eilis’ acknowledgement of personal transformation is exemplified through the limited third person perspective to indicate her underlying detachment from the remembered landscape of Enniscorthy, demonstrating the impact of meaningful reflection on one’s sense of self. Thus, an individual’s identity is a product of the multi-faceted experiences and memories forged within unique landscapes.
In Midnight in Paris, Gil undergoes a shift in identity through his surreal journeys between the expatriate Paris of the Roaring Twenties to the Paris of today. The real landscape is a world of a more objective, contemporary reality that contrasts the imaginary landscape of the 1920’s, a fabricated utopia existing only in Gil’s fragmented mind. Gil initially conforms to the mainstream, inartistic scriptwriting industry, as demonstrated through his self-deprecating soliloquy, “I’m a Hollywood hack who never gave real literature a shot,” and only finds his identity as a writer through his interactions with luminaries of the past such as Ernest Hemingway. Through his escapist desire to withdraw from the present to take shelter in a utopian past, Gil realises the objective realities of imagined landscapes, glorying in prosaic vulgarities that lose their quotidian character through the passing of time, “If I ever want to write something worthwhile I have to get rid of my illusions that I’d be happier in the past”. Thus, the motif of the Golden-Age thinking that “a different time period is better than the one one’s living in” proves incomplete and ultimately unfulfilling, such that Gil discovers its limitations and liberates himself from its grasp. Hence, a nostalgia for an abstract past can stimulate renewed perceptions of oneself and the ostensibly unfulfilling realities of the world around them.
Brooklyn explores how an individual’s perception of and attitude towards the landscape varies according to their emotional state of mind. The representation of Brooklyn fluctuates between Eilis’ difficulty in assimilating to the uncertainty of a new environment and her contemplative tone of feeling a “stronger sense of home than she has ever imagined”. The tactile imagery of “their expression seemed alarmed by the cold, made desperate by the wind and freezing temperatures” draws on pathetic fallacy to emulate Eilis’ initial displacement and detachment, representing the environment as hostile from which her lingering feelings of alienation are underscored. Eilis’ shifted perception of Brooklyn is portrayed through the vibrant visual imagery of “she observed how beautiful everything was, the trees in leaf, the children playing,” where she adopts an enlightened state of mind and re-evaluates her attitude towards unfamiliar landscapes. This accumulation of the familiar aspects of an idyllic “home” emphasises Eilis’ stream of consciousness and evokes optimism, which cohesively reflects her overcoming the overwhelming inertia elicited by an unfamiliar landscape. Moreover, Eilis’ perception of “home” becomes ambiguous once she returns to Ireland, as if she were metaphorically “two people” – her divided loyalties reflective of her growth and adaptation to Brooklyn whilst being pervaded by a sense of nostalgia and loss from Enniscorthy. Thus, the reader realises that one’s perception of and attitude towards the landscape is contingent upon their personal development and psychological disposition within.
Similarly, Midnight in Paris depicts a multi-faceted Paris that fluctuates with Gil’s appreciation of cultural authenticity and Inez’s conflicting hedonistic values. The opening montage of extreme long shots of Paris establishes the clichéd tourist view of the real landscape through the cumulative transitions of monuments and cafés, and panoramic views narrated by repetitive non-diegetic saxophone pieces. This glamourised version of Paris aligns with Inez’s values, who superficially appreciates the aesthetic and materialistic value of new landscapes through the high modal language of “Oh God no! I could never live out of the United States”. Whereas previous depictions of the rain were in the fictionalised 1920’s, the rain reappears in present-day after Gil breaks up with Inez, symbolising his embracement of the cultural authenticity offered by remembered landscapes and reinforcing his detachment from the past. This reinforces Gil’s appreciation of the intrinsic beauty of landscapes, as the rain’s status as an irritant to the layman is to him a display of the metaphorically “drop-dead gorgeous” Paris. Hence, there exists no one true landscape that every character objectively shares, existing only in the phenomenology of the observer’s perception.
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