Aspects of the Normalcy and The Uncanny in Human Life

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The significant aspect of normalcy in the lives of humankind thrives on the universal perception that the surrounding environment which we constantly, and impulsively, immerse ourselves in materializes before us without pretenses; however, the veneer of this perpetually dynamic world holds no true reality within the lurking labyrinth of ambiguity that plagues our unconscious without detection. Through the exploration of the often vague and intrinsic boundary between reality and the imagined, modernist authors like Sigmund Freud and renowned filmmakers such as Andrei Tarkovsky implore the audience to reevaluate our perceptions of surrealism in the mundane that is often overlooked and overwhelmed by the facade of mediocrity, delving deeper into the intrinsically-tied relationship between idealistic and animistic ideologies that are still pervasive even in the digital age.

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Through his psychoanalysis of the uncanny, Freud pinpoints how “an uncanny effect is often [] easily produced” (Freud, 244) when there is no “distinction [established] between imagination and reality” (244); thus, in order to surpass the mask of the mundane and tread into the territory of the unknown, the notable boundary between the tangible and intangible must be subtlety “effaced” (244) to evoke the feeling of “unheimliche” (226) within a literary or aesthetic work. Freud further defines this concept in his comparison of fairy tales to reality and how it elicits a sense of absurdity, rather than uncanny, due to the explicit separation from what is perceived to be substantial in the fairy-tale realm and what is substantial in real life itself. More specifically, in Freud’s example of “The Three Wishes,” a woman and her husband quarrel over the woman’s desire for a sausage which concludes with the sausage “dangling from her nose” (246). Although the notion that a sausage dangling from one’s nose is perceived as ludicrous and “not in the least [bit] uncanny” (246), if the explicit partition between the story and reality were obscured or removed, if the husband’s intent for his wish was revealed to be nefarious and driven by ill-intentions towards his wife, then the story would provoke a less comical tone and, instead, conjure a more highly disturbing scenario between the husband and wife. In particular, the specific mechanism of blurring the confines between abstract imagination and reality plays a direct role in augmenting one’s feelings of “intellectual uncertainty” (3) regarding obsolete concepts and beliefs that we, as a society, have seemingly “surmounted” (244).

This form of “intellectual uncertainty” -- of what is imagined or real -- is highly exemplified in Tarkovsky’s film “The Mirror” which is set against the backdrop of Russian social turbulence during the 20th century. Although Tarkovsky utilizes rampant hyperrealistic imagery that frequently obscures the border between the imagined and the real, a notable dreamlike sequence from the young protagonist showcases how an ordinary afternoon of routine can metamorph into a grotesque visual composition of distortion and unfamiliarity in something as mundane as hair washing. By nulling the external static of the surrounding environment and focusing on the sound of the mother’s movements and the dripping water as she is washing her hair, Tarkovsky amplifies the effect of how something ordinary and familiar can readily mutate into the bizarre by merely dulling our sense of hearing and awareness of time. Furthermore, the instantaneous crumbling of the house’s walls and the sudden rush of water from the prominent cracks that have appeared on the wall at the end of the scene is a hyperbolic reflection of the violent sociocultural events occurring in the protagonist’s reality, symbolizing how the crisis experienced in reality can oftentimes seep into the dream world. Because Tarkovsky never implies if what the young boy is experiencing is real or not, a primal fear is evoked within not only the young protagonist but also the audience, embodying the Freudian postulation of the conflation of imagination and reality. As a consequence of the enigmatic yet highly intrinsic link between imagination and reality, the combination of the young protagonist’s naive perspective and his surrealistic vision of his mother washing her hair reinforces Freud’s assertion that our “primitive beliefs are most intimately connected with infantile complexes” (250), even when we have long conquered the “residues of animistic mental activity” (240).

Despite the fact that the uncanny is often disregarded and suppressed by the banality of everyday living, even with today’s accessibility to unbound knowledge and innovation, the uncanny continues to linger in the background; an ever-present force that creeps along the peripheral of our vision, straddling the fringes of imagination and reality, awaiting its chance to rear its ugly head once more.

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