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By Beste Alpay


The Montréal Review, March 2012


Red Road (2006)


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Red Road is a movie which uses visuality to create the sensation of touch and most of the time leads the viewer to associate the visual material with sensations of the "haptic". In general the movie can be associated with feelings of security and vulnerability; the sensations of coming out of a narrow and safe space and going out into the wider unknown unsafe areas trigger a bodily sensation of insecurity. The protagonist keeps changing environment within such sharp contrasts that it gives the feeling of putting one's hand from warm water into cold ice and vice versa. Themes to create disgust and fear together with the feeling of unknown have been used in a smooth way. Vivian Sobschack's views on the experience of cinema can be related to the sensations the movie Red Road evokes in the viewer; especially the haptic dimension of perception and how this dimension might be related to the visual and auditory perception.

"We do not experience any movie only through our eyes. We see and comprehend and feel films with our entire bodily feeling informed by the full history and carnal knowledge of our acculturated sensorium" (Sobschack, 2004).

Sobschack criticizes the fact that contemporary film theories have focused more on the meanings the movies try to convey rather than the spectator's bodily sensations of visuality. She claims that this approach is wrong because a person experiences sensations that result from the visual material and those sensations are directly experienced by the human body before the viewer makes cognitive sense of it. In other words, sensory experience is one thing and cognitive reflections about the symbolic meanings of the movie is another thing. The body senses both the objective knowledge and also the subjective sensations and can distinguish between them. When movies are sensed visually and auditorily our minds relate this to other sensory feelings, the human brain makes meaning of those senses constantly and relates them to each other ( Sobschack, 2004) but if the spectator tries to make sense of those feelings cognitively he/she is going to relate them to an image in the movie and its characteristics, also relate them to his/her previous experiences about this image, to explain why he/she felt this way. Those experiences might also lead the spectator to link them to other sensory experiences. This can be related to the psychology of learning; if the spectator hears the sound of the dinosaur in the movie, his/her body relates this to other images of the dinosaur, its teeth and so on. This might arouse the feeling of its sharp teeth on one's flesh and the body could make meaning out of this if the person already knows the feeling of a knife cut. Since it depends on individual learning and since one cannot have an experience about dinosaurs, this learning would be through media, books and so on. In sum we can say one's visual imagery which is triggered by auditory stimuli might be dependent on previous exposure to media.

"Sub-veillance", Space and Insecurity

According to Jessica Lake, Red Road is a movie which challenges the traditional surveillance narrative and in this way becomes a part of what she calls the sub-veillance narratives where looking is done from below (Lake, 2006). Normally surveillance is done in order to protect other people, who are "below" and according to the patriarchal tradition those people are women and children because the male figure is constructed as the figure which has control over them. Thus traditionally in surveillance cinema the watcher is always white men. In the film Red Road, this tradition is contrasted with the female figure that works as the CCTV operator and is responsible for the safety of other people. Lyon defines surveillance as 'the watching of some by another in order to create the effect of looking after or looking over the latter, it is an enabling and constraining activity'. So according to this view surveillance can be the case when there is a disparity of power (Lake, 2006). In Red Road the female operator is looking over and after the people in the area she is responsible for. The power puts her into a superior position which is similar to that of a police in society. The interesting part is that she can use the power to watch other people to fulfill her individual curiosity. In one scene she does not hesitate to watch a lady through her window while she is dancing, and she probably feels like she has the legitimacy to do so because of her job.

One can feel Jackie's gazes on the people being watched, the cold environment in the CCTV room reflects itself upon Jackie's cold eyes which gaze into the cold mechanic screens. The feeling Jackie's gazes give contrasts with the "effect of looking after other people". It is more like as she is barging into other people's lives which they take for granted as secure and private. Another interesting thing is that the people look more vulnerable in those small screens, whereas outside in real life everything would seem more natural and peaceful. The camera, screens and Jackie who watches the monitors create a haunting feeling, make the spectator feel uneasy about the cameras because seeing Jackie monitoring the screens makes one feel that something bad is going to happen. Moreover the sensation continues when Jackie goes out, subconsciously the viewer knows Jackie is still in the visual field of the cameras, and continues to feel uneasy. It is as if the feeling of insecurity passes from the cameras to the streets and each place Jackie goes to conveys this feeling. One who watches Jackie going to the party in Red Road, in front of the tall buildings can feel the coldness of the large space around her; the spectator's own body is also symbiotically going through this agoraphobic experience. The feeling of agoraphobia is also conveyed when Stevie opens the window to give the sensation of touch of wind and fear from empty space.

The Cinesthetic Experience of Red Road

The spectator of Red Road is a "cinesthetic subject" who can "commute seeing to touching and back again through sensual and cross modal activity experiencing the movie both on screen and off screen symbiotically" ( Sobschack, 2004).

Sobschack mentions the off screen and on screen subject position that a spectator experiences while watching a movie; while one is experiencing their own subjectivity, they also experience the subjective positions of other people in the movie. In her discussion of Jane Campion's film The Piano Sobschack states: "I feel not only my own body but also Baines' body, Ada's body and what I call the "film's body". As if we have a second psyche we emphatize and sense other character's feelings while we are watching a movie. Sobschack states that all the bodies in the film experience; the ones on screen and off screen are in diffusion and the viewer becomes the cinesthetic subject while he/she is experiencing this. The notion of the "cinesthetic" is related to "synaesthesia" which refers to a clinical situation that causes an involuntary transfer of feeling among senses. According to Sobschack all the sensory information is transformed into one another, she gives the example of a person who reads the recipe and can taste the food (Sobschack, 2004). This person can imagine how the food tastes and his/her body experiences the taste. A child who is reading the story of Hansel and Gretel not only could see the witch's house which is made of chocolates and candies but also could taste it. Red Road contains many possibilities for cinesthetic experiences.

What makes Red Road a thriller is the disturbing elements rather than the plot, these are elements which target sensations about taste, smell and touch interchangeably. First of all the music used in the film often gives tactile feelings on one's body as if something threatening the body is about to touch it. The elements are chosen specifically that they can emotionally be related to Jackie's suppressed feelings of depression, sexual and emotional dissatisfaction. For example the sound that the toy in the car makes gives an awkward and sad feeling that can be related to the strangeness of the uncomfortable sex scene that comes after it.

When Jackie spots Clyde for the first time through camera, he is making love with the girl next to the wall Jackie who takes the role of a "static voyeur" immediately, touches the joystick as if she is experiencing it herself, this is a point where she takes the position of cinesthetic subject, linking the visual data she gets from the screen to feelings of touch, although she is not there herself her body is experiencing it as the space between her and those people almost disappear (Lake, 2006).

That night when Jackie goes to Clyde's room, and he touches Jackie's feet it is possible to feel his callused hands and how they hurt the skin. The sound of the foxes at night is combined with the flame like color of the lamp which gives the unsafe feeling again. Similarly to Sobschack's (2004) example about the woman who sees/hears her husband's laughter as a "golden brown buttery toast" literally, the narrator of the movie wants the spectator to "literally" see the sound of the foxes, experience it in different senses and then link it to the unsafe feeling that Jackie has just experienced when Clyde's wild looking hands touched her, these are the same hands that were carving a tree. Was he trying to give it the shape of a fox? The thoughts of the spectator jump from one association to another which involve different sensations.

Sobschack says as the spectator is watching the movie, his/her body would sense the figure on the screen that is desired so the body reverses its direction to the subjective body without a cognitive reflection in this way the spectator "senses his/her own sensuality". Moreover when we are watching ourselves on the screen we feel ourselves feeling, we feel how we are passive as well as active during this experience and the sense is enhanced since "we are not only touching but are also touched". Nevertheless this is not as strong as a real experience ( Sobschack, 2004). We could not make sure what the plate tasted like as Clyde was licking it, since we do not know what he has been eating but we can imagine it. It is possible to experience the taste of the food as disgust, as if it has a disgusting taste. However this might be because we are experiencing everything in a diffusion; The spectator does not think whether he/she is disgusted by the environment or by the fact that Clyde is licking the plate, in a strange way the taste of the food is also perceived as disgusting, this is because the spectator sees the unclean environment of the restaurant and similar visual sensations affect the off screen sensation of the food as disgusting.

The desire of the spectator to feel the objects rebounds from screen to the real objects around him/her, and then again to the screen ( Sobschack, 2004). In Red Road as the viewer watches the girl put the dog food on the floor he/she might have the desire of touching it and then the spectator wants to remember that this feeling of disgust is not real and then rebounds to the subjective body. This might provide some kind of fulfillment without real harm; the person who touches the dog food may fulfill the desire that results from curiosity without actually touching it.

In relation to Sobschack's understanding of how the spectator experiences cinema, it is possible to conclude arguing that cinema is an environment where another body emerges; this body is the one which involves the sensations of on screen experiences of language and sensation and also the off screen sensations of one's own subjective body and cognitive thoughts. However one does not reflect upon the experience of the movie while watching it, instead there is an immediate sensation and reaction which affects all means of sensation in the body. The body senses everything on screen even at times the bodies in the movie are not in interaction with them. Cinema is experienced in diffusion where all the components on the screen are part of the sensation, from the greasiness of Stevie's girlfriend's hair to the unclean feeling of the mug Jackie holds in the restaurant as she is sipping tea we experience every single thing in a symbiosis.



Lake, Jessica, ' Red Road (2006) and emerging narratives of 'subveillance'', Continuum , 24:2 (2010), pp. 231-240

Sobschack, Vivian, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (University of California Press, 2004), 340 pp.


Beste Alpay is currently studying Global Studies (M.Sc.) at Lund University, Sweden. She received a B.A in International Relations and the EU, and also a B.S in Psychology in 2009 from Izmir University of Economics, Turkey.


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