Tuesday, 09 April 2013

Mad Men: One foot in "The Doorway" (Yes, yes, this is yet another one of those visual rhetoric posts.) Midway through Don Draper's life journey, he strayed from the path and found himself in a dark wood: I know that doesn't look much like a dark wood—and the idea that Draper somehow just started his midlife crisis is rather far-fetched—but this is what writer Matthew Weiner and director Scott Hornbacher wanted the audience to be looking at while Draper read the opening lines of the infamous beach book that is Dante's Inferno. Of note is the fact that Don is just beginning the book, and the only evidence that he's finished it is that, when asked by its owner, he replies "It made me think of you." Which means that in all likelihood he didn't read it, and so what follows has less to do with Dante's actual poem and more with what it stands for in this scene, i.e. an epic midlife crisis written in terza rima that no man in recorded history has ever read on a beach. The juxtaposition of Dante's meditative lines and Megan's taut stomach signals the insincerity of Draper's reading. The last time the audience directly occupied Don's head, after all, is when he composed his anti-tobacco letter, an effective but utterly insincere and ultimately petulant rebuke to a suitor who'd already rejected him. But he's trying, for whatever reason and however insincerely, to come to terms with the state of his soul. While on an all-expense paid trip to Hawaii. How well is it going for him? He attends the Sheraton's approximation of a luau: And seems unsatisfied with it: Catching him in a medium close-up with a fuzzy couple in the foreground and fuzzier G.I. in the background is significant because the camera is calling attention to Don in a crowd—a crowd comprised of happy people busy enjoying this simulation of a traditional Hawaiian festival in a way that he can't. It's not because he's unmoored from culture or that he doesn't want to enjoy the proceedings; he feels the absence of something acute here, which ironically enough presents itself, visually, as being the only sole subject in focus. His pain is more real than the joy of the fuzzy faceless crowd to which he belongs—but thinks himself better than. Love, after all, is a feeling invented by guys like him to sell nylons. The folks at this luau are just stupid enough to feel it. So what does someone who can't muster fake emotions at a simulated celebration of nothing in particular do? He drinks. But he doesn't just drink anywhere, no, he drinks immediately before a painting of what is, presumably, an actual version of same ceremony he just witnessed. It's still mediated, only this time by art instead of commerce; and it's still unsatisfying, because he's not even looking at it. It clearly exists, dominating the central area of the frame as it does, but it almost seems to be shaming him, almost as if he...

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