|A Reality Out of This World
by Shannon Tegeler
© 2006 Shannon Tegeler
Originally Submitted for English 401: Studies in Film
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.
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.
Experiencing the Soul.
Elliot Jay Rosen. GO-KART RECORDS,
Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary.
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