Zarathustra’s Planet

I watched films made by Andrzej Zulawski.

The Third Part Of The Night (1971) starts with a reading of Revelation 8:7-12.

Helena is with her husband Michal in the countryside, with their young son Lukasz and Michal’s father. Michal is recovering from an illness that caused him to “swell to monstrous size” but he doesn’t remember the details too well.

While Michal is out walking with his dad, soldiers on horseback attack the house and kill the occupants. Michal gets back in time to see them dying.

Michal returns to the city (Lvov during German occupation. We do not see any swastikas and there are not many uniformed men about). He returns to the job of “feeding lice”, which is the process whereby volunteers assist in the creation of Typhus vaccine at the Institute by acting as hosts for lice that are later harvested for the serum.

Michal is also working for the underground resistance. He gets chased and shot at by plainsclothes Gestapo men.

The aftermath of his shooting on the staircase puts everything in to chaos – he seems to witness another man being shot soon afterwards in his place, and he encounters a pregnant woman in one of the flats nearby, who seems to be identical to Helena. She gives birth.

Michal seems to recover from his injuries quite quickly, and is soon meeting Marta regularly, as well as continuing his resistance contacts in the dangerous city where civilians are often rounded up and rich people who pay for bogus papers find themselves cheated and summarily executed. But at least anyone involved in the vaccine harvesting is safe.

At the vaccine lab, the volunteers strap on the little feeder boxes of lice.

As well as hallunicating the lab assistant as another double of Helena, Michal gets in to discussion with the other intellectuals at the table.

DONOR 1: Yesterday I saw invaluable books in a second-hand bookshop. Works by Nietzsche, Celine, Spengler.

MICHAL: What about Conrad?

DONOR 2: It’s too late to read Spengler.

DONOR 3: It’s too late to read.

DONOR 1: I saw some beautiful volumes of the Encyclopedia, richly illustrated.

DONOR 2: And nobody wanted to buy them?

DONOR 1: Somebody will. It’s a time for intensive reading.

DONOR 3: You’re wrong. Books are read out of derision.

MICHAL: I don’t agree. The fate of non-existent people has never been more important than it is now.

In the end Michal is pursued again and spirals down in to the basement and a confrontation with his own corpse that leaves most of the previous story in an ambiguous state between existence and non-existence.

Let’s head in to outer space, for an epic unfinished work that was mostly made in 1977 before the Culture Ministry cancelled it. We have the 2.75 hours version from 1987 which is the completed material, linked together by Zulawski reading out what the script required in the missing section, the visuals filled in by footage of contemporary Poland.

You will see a film made ten years ago; a shred of a film; a two and a half hour story one fifth of which is missing. That one fifth dating back to 1977 when the film was annihilated, will never be recreated. In place of the missing scenes you will hear a voice which will briefly explain what was to be. We are bringing On The Silver Globe to an end in the year 1987.

Figures on horseback travel through a snowy waste to reach a grand old house now in a state of disrepair. They are bringing a recovered space probe to be examined by the astronauts inhabiting the top level. Widdly electronic music plays in the background, a bit prog.

The recovered probe is about 50 or 60 years old. One of the astronauts has the first of the many abstract reflective moments characters will have in this story.

ASTRONAUT: Are we the last of those who retain power or the first of those who are defenceless?

They take the recovered probe to an underground installation – here we get the first of the bridge sections, as footage of commuters in an underground railway station fills in whilst the voiceover tells us that the astronauts recover the video recording in the probe showing the events of a crashed flight on another planet.

Peter, Martha and George are the three survivors of the crash in the mountains on a planet that is “the ideal image of Earth”. They pass through ruins of an extinct civilisation, and head for the sea. George is soon the only one concerned to continue taking recordings of the events of the mission. It’s not totally clear if we are to understand the camera as being part of his suit, or having power to float about, drone-like, independently; usually it is established that the camera is being held in a scene by George (it is turned around to show his face) but occasionally it wanders off the follow someone rather more like the immaterial God’s eye of conventional film-making. The business about being recovered footage only relates to the first hour of this film anyway – once the astronauts have finished reviewing the returned probe contents, all subsequent events are viewed by an omniscient director.

But first of all, we have to watch the other crashed astronaut Thomas die after a lot of raving.

THOMAS: I know that whatever you say must carry at least a grain of truth just because you are capable of saying it…. Don’t forget: whatever you say is the truth, unless you say it to impose your will upon us.

Of the survivors, George adopts a detached, sceptical pose of disengagement:

GEORGE: I don’t demand anything, I don’t believe in anything. I believe only in perfect freedom, ours, mine… For it is not us that are lost in contemplation of the world. It is the world that is lost in our contemplation.

Martha and Peter get on with having kids and soon a huge community has grown from them, who must all be each other’s cousins but never mind about that. The first son is named Thomas and he takes over as King when Peter is mysteriously killed; later his son refers to himself as “Thomas the Second” and the wise old man George corrects him to “Thomas the Third”, a reference he does not understand. After Martha died as well, it was only George, the wise old man in the mountains, who retained the deep and detailed knowledge of history, because he was still recording it.

He wants to simply melt into the world.

GEORGE: There is suffering, but there is no subject of suffering. There is action but there is no subject of action. There is solace but there is no man to reach it. There is a road but there is no one to follow it.

After one of the tribe murders another, evil finally becomes present in this Eden, and George notes “Record it carefully – for you are recording a half-God-animal”.

The younger generation ruled by Thomas III think it would be a jolly good idea to build boats to travel over the waters and see or conquer what will be on the other side of “beyond”. The old man doesn’t think this is a good idea, and indeed the expedition comes back disastrously, so George goes back to the crash site and sends up his recordings back to the home world, as they were found by the astronauts at the start.

They decide it would be a good idea to send another mission out, and this one lands safely near a monastery in the mountains. Astronaut Mark is sent out to do the initial inquiries. It turns out that the community was enslaved by the bird-men creatures called the Shern, who were encountered by the sea expedition and thus provoked into invading, Mark’s appearance was part of a prophecy by the underground religion of the humans, and he triggers off a revolt to overthrow and drive out the Shern and their collaborators. The High Priest Malahuda acknowledges his redundancy: “the faith has come to an end, reality is beginning.”

Mark is shown the underground dwellings of the human religion, and the places where the Shern would mate with human women to produce their “Morque” warriors.

Being treated as the Saviour of course goes to his head a bit. He screams against a captive Shern, trying to understand what if anything they could have in common and how they could communicate or live together. He tells his juniors not to slaughter the captive Morques that remain, though they don’t show much gratitude for his mercy. He feels he is “an eunuch in the landscape of despair”.

MARK: Why does evil act selectively and why is its methodicalness absurd?

Society has advanced quite a bit during the Shern oppression: we now have horses, and artillery and other new devices whose exact manufacturing basis is obscure; there is also quite an advanced dramatic tradition in this culture, with plenty of actors ready to enact stories of the nation. One of the females remarks upon “masculine creative power and feminine readiness” which does draw attention to a feature of this world (and also war-time Lvov, to some extent): it is one in which the male characters get to be mouthpieces for different viewpoints, whilst the females are all Woman, the one in the many.

There is a movement in favour of going off to fight the Shern over the water once again. Mark can’t stop it or give a clear pronouncement on the foundations of this society or its ethics.

MARK: Everything is everything, it is a well without echo and bottom.

We cut back to the base in the mountains where the spaceship landed, where young Jack is angry at losing contact with Mark, so he goes off out to get a pill from some guy in the tribes of travellers outside, after an angry call with his girlfriend. Then he has a giggly fit and drives around in a zany batmobile-like car.

Of course then he has the comedown.

JACK: Ultimately every reduction to physiology is the fascism of the soul. It is shrinking instead of growing, just as if everything came down to the judgement that while living, man does nothing.

He has further arguments with his girlfriend, who is working as an actress in a 1920s-themed auditorium. The soundtrack is quite 70s rock, it turns out its coming from the car radio and can be turned down.

Meanwhile Mark is leading his army through the Shern city, which is very similar to Lvov, and its inhabitants seem to be giving little resistance to being invaded.

When he finally comes back home he finds war fever has driven the civilians to dismbowel a few unbelievers and put them up on poles. Jack joins up with the roaming horsemen and travels down to the beach to see the crowds turn against Mark just as he has decided to adopt a new liberalising policy direction, downgrading the importance of religion and emphasising more freedom of thought. He gets stoned and crucified.

But at least the actor and the unbeliever that Mark told to go back to his spaceship and fly away in it followed his instructions, so someone escapes from this world.

In the closing minutes Zulawski narrates the demise of his production, and the official instructions for all remaining props and costumes to be destroyed. Telling us this as we see a street in Poland, we then get his reflection in a shop window, the last example in this story of a documentarian recording himself in his message.

Since this film features a lot of oracular pronouncements about humanity at the edge of existence and revaluating all its values, perhaps we should end with a look at another example of that, and see how often “globe” appears – just the once, in this translation:

XLVI. THE VISION AND THE ENIGMA.

—And must we not return and run in that other lane out before us, that long weird lane—must we not eternally return?”—

Thus did I speak, and always more softly: for I was afraid of mine own thoughts, and arrear-thoughts. Then, suddenly did I hear a dog HOWL near me.

Had I ever heard a dog howl thus? My thoughts ran back. Yes! When I was a child, in my most distant childhood:

—Then did I hear a dog howl thus. And saw it also, with hair bristling, its head upwards, trembling in the stillest midnight, when even dogs believe in ghosts:

—So that it excited my commiseration. For just then went the full moon, silent as death, over the house; just then did it stand still, a glowing globe—at rest on the flat roof, as if on some one’s property:—

Thereby had the dog been terrified: for dogs believe in thieves and ghosts. And when I again heard such howling, then did it excite my commiseration once more.

And what about “moon”?

XXII. THE BESTOWING VIRTUE

Only as image of the highest virtue came gold to the highest value. Goldlike, beameth the glance of the bestower. Gold-lustre maketh peace between moon and sun.

XXXVII. IMMACULATE PERCEPTION.

When yester-eve the moon arose, then did I fancy it about to bear a sun: so broad and teeming did it lie on the horizon.

But it was a liar with its pregnancy; and sooner will I believe in the man in the moon than in the woman.

To be sure, little of a man is he also, that timid night-reveller. Verily, with a bad conscience doth he stalk over the roofs.

For he is covetous and jealous, the monk in the moon; covetous of the earth, and all the joys of lovers.

Nay, I like him not, that tom-cat on the roofs! Hateful unto me are all that slink around half-closed windows!

Piously and silently doth he stalk along on the star-carpets:—but I like no light-treading human feet, on which not even a spur jingleth.

Every honest one’s step speaketh; the cat however, stealeth along over the ground. Lo! cat-like doth the moon come along, and dishonestly.—

This parable speak I unto you sentimental dissemblers, unto you, the “pure discerners!” You do I call—covetous ones!

Also ye love the earth, and the earthly: I have divined you well!—but shame is in your love, and a bad conscience—ye are like the moon!

To despise the earthly hath your spirit been persuaded, but not your bowels: these, however, are the strongest in you!

And now is your spirit ashamed to be at the service of your bowels, and goeth by-ways and lying ways to escape its own shame.

“That would be the highest thing for me”—so saith your lying spirit unto itself—“to gaze upon life without desire, and not like the dog, with hanging-out tongue:

To be happy in gazing: with dead will, free from the grip and greed of selfishness—cold and ashy-grey all over, but with intoxicated moon-eyes!

That would be the dearest thing to me”—thus doth the seduced one seduce himself,—“to love the earth as the moon loveth it, and with the eye only to feel its beauty.

And this do I call IMMACULATE perception of all things: to want nothing else from them, but to be allowed to lie before them as a mirror with a hundred facets.”—

Oh, ye sentimental dissemblers, ye covetous ones! Ye lack innocence in your desire: and now do ye defame desiring on that account!

Verily, not as creators, as procreators, or as jubilators do ye love the earth!

Where is innocence? Where there is will to procreation. And he who seeketh to create beyond himself, hath for me the purest will.

Where is beauty? Where I MUST WILL with my whole Will; where I will love and perish, that an image may not remain merely an image.

Loving and perishing: these have rhymed from eternity. Will to love: that is to be ready also for death. Thus do I speak unto you cowards!

But now doth your emasculated ogling profess to be “contemplation!” And that which can be examined with cowardly eyes is to be christened “beautiful!” Oh, ye violators of noble names!

But it shall be your curse, ye immaculate ones, ye pure discerners, that ye shall never bring forth, even though ye lie broad and teeming on the horizon!

Verily, ye fill your mouth with noble words: and we are to believe that your heart overfloweth, ye cozeners?

But MY words are poor, contemptible, stammering words: gladly do I pick up what falleth from the table at your repasts.

Yet still can I say therewith the truth—to dissemblers! Yea, my fish-bones, shells, and prickly leaves shall—tickle the noses of dissemblers!

Bad air is always about you and your repasts: your lascivious thoughts, your lies, and secrets are indeed in the air!

Dare only to believe in yourselves—in yourselves and in your inward parts! He who doth not believe in himself always lieth.

A God’s mask have ye hung in front of you, ye “pure ones”: into a God’s mask hath your execrable coiling snake crawled.

Verily ye deceive, ye “contemplative ones!” Even Zarathustra was once the dupe of your godlike exterior; he did not divine the serpent’s coil with which it was stuffed.

A God’s soul, I once thought I saw playing in your games, ye pure discerners! No better arts did I once dream of than your arts!

Serpents’ filth and evil odour, the distance concealed from me: and that a lizard’s craft prowled thereabouts lasciviously.

But I came NIGH unto you: then came to me the day,—and now cometh it to you,—at an end is the moon’s love affair!

See there! Surprised and pale doth it stand—before the rosy dawn!

For already she cometh, the glowing one,—HER love to the earth cometh! Innocence and creative desire, is all solar love!

See there, how she cometh impatiently over the sea! Do ye not feel the thirst and the hot breath of her love?

At the sea would she suck, and drink its depths to her height: now riseth the desire of the sea with its thousand breasts.

Kissed and sucked WOULD it be by the thirst of the sun; vapour WOULD it become, and height, and path of light, and light itself!

Verily, like the sun do I love life, and all deep seas.

And this meaneth TO ME knowledge: all that is deep shall ascend—to my height!—

Thus spake Zarathustra.

XLI. THE SOOTHSAYER.

“-And I saw a great sadness come over mankind. The best turned weary of their works.

A doctrine appeared, a faith ran beside it: ‘All is empty, all is alike, all hath been!’

And from all hills there re-echoed: ‘All is empty, all is alike, all hath been!’

To be sure we have harvested: but why have all our fruits become rotten and brown? What was it fell last night from the evil moon?

That’s enough.

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