A Reality Out of This World
by Shannon Tegeler

© 2006 Shannon Tegeler

Originally Submitted for English 401: Studies in Film (Documentaries)
Professor David Johnson

            What happens after death?  What happens before birth?  What makes people alive, really?  Producer and director Elliot Jay Rosen seeks to answer these daunting questions in his documentary Experiencing the Soul.  Rosen’s film purports that every human being has a soul that exists before birth, during life, and after death.  The documentary attempts to support this claim specifically through the participatory mode and the poetic mode of documentary filmmaking as outlined by Bill Nichols in Introduction to Documentaries (34).  Rosen combines these elements most clearly in a segment dealing with one Mrs. Hinze’s account of a divine healing event that occurred before the birth of her daughter.

            Experiencing the Soul’s interviews do not rely heavily on mis-en-scène décor.  When Mrs. Hinze appears on screen for the first time, she is with her husband Brent in ordinary casual clothing – she in a black dress suit and he in a southwestern shirt.  Behind the overgrown flowers that frame the couple, people can be seen moving about.  All this lends a relative realism that stems from Rosen’s seemingly relaxed attitude with the people whom he interviews.  Another key aspect to this informality, is the fact that when Mrs. Hinze’s tale is recounted, the film notably has no non-diegetic sound, such as narration or music, but relies only on the diegetic sound of her voice for the duration of the scene.

            Rosen likes to participate actively with his subjects in both eager dialogue and with the camera.  He does not speak on every take, indeed he edited his prompting during Mrs. Hinze’s story, but where he does not question the camera acts as insight into the directness of what has occurred to his subjects.  One of the ways this is most apparent is in his favoring of the close-up.  The initial footage is of Mr. and Mrs. Hinze consists of medium-shots and a long-shot of a hospital room full of physicians in the first brightly tinted cut-away, but as Mrs. Hinze begins to get into the more intense descriptions of her supernatural occurrence, the camera slowly zooms into a close-up where it stays for the duration of the entire scene.  When Mrs. Hinze describes mystical figures, such as Jesus, Rosen tilts and zooms in on modern artist Alex Grey’s portrait of Christ.  He seems to tend to keep the focus on his subjects’ faces to impart their emotions through the action of their facial expressions.  In another segment, the camera starts on a close-up of a painting of two celestial beings looking at a bright white light and then ends with a zoom-out.  Overall, he seems to be emphasizing the importance of the details and nuances of human sentiment involved in understanding the soul.    

            Montage plays a key role in the climax of Mrs. Hinze’s story.  When describing the time of the birth of her daughter, she warns how dangerous the birth was, as well as the fact that the hospital room seemed like an exact replica of the one she had seen in a previous vision.  During this sequence, Rosen uses a montage of close-ups which focuses on a hospital room that showcases doctors, the bright lighting fixtures of the hospital, a compression valve, and a heart monitor.  By quickly showing all the mis-en-scène that Mrs. Hinze would have experienced, the viewer is put in the position of a key remembrance – the hospital indeed looks like the version she recounted only moments earlier and recalls the initial shots of the brightly-lit crowd of doctors that opened the scene.

Rosen expresses his idea that the soul is real through editing techniques as well.  At first, he seems to only use a simple cut-away for several of the initial shots of Mrs. Hinze as well as archival footage of long shots of the earth from outer-space.  Yet, when he begins to use dissolves over the artwork in the film, his effect can be felt in an attempt to convey the authenticity of the otherworldliness of his film.  In the instances where he shows footage of the picture of Christ or of a painting of ghostly figures, he moves the camera so that in each shot the dissolve occurs over the lightest part of the paintings directly on to Mrs. Hinze’s forehead.  All this suggests that Rosen is aware of and supporting the spiritual practice of opening the crown charka or third eye, which is located at the center of the forehead and is known among many spiritual seekers to be the seat of the soul.

The main problem with Rosen’s film is that he relies heavily on the accounts of various people with a wide range of different paranormal experiences.  While many suggest similar ideas (white lights, feelings of intense love, family members), the amount of subjectivity from person to person is jarring.  Rosen’s work comes across as uneven due mostly to his arrangements – he does not create a compelling case when he lacks juxtapositions of astonishingly similar events.  Mrs. Hinze’s account, though fully illustrated through archival footage, reenactment, and artwork, none the less still comes across simply as one woman’s experience of how she dealt with the trauma of a previous miscarriage during her next pregnancy.  He supports his spiritual beliefs ardently, but does so without presenting his argument in an authoritative or objective fashion.  Rosen has simply reported and recorded stories with visual accentuations.  In a sense, Experiencing the Soul is like reading a collection of short stories written by a multitude of authors in an anthology that’s true ulterior motives or purposes remains unclear.    

Works Cited

Experiencing the Soul. Elliot Jay Rosen. GO-KART RECORDS, 2005.

Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

 

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