Content Warning: Mentions of trauma, bombings, violence, and death.
Marguerite Duras’ and Alain Renais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) has been most famously celebrated as one of the pioneering films of French New Wave. Two strangers meet wholly by chance, and spend the next twenty-four hours ruminating on the poetics of loss, suffering and memory. Of course, the title itself alludes to the bombing of Hiroshima, which immediately situates the film within the challenging politics of re-presentation. Can we ever do justice to the atrocities of war? Is it crude to talk about Hiroshima through a lover’s discourse? How to talk about Hiroshima? How can we not talk about Hiroshima?
To this end, Duras herself affirms in the synopsis of the screenplay that it is impossible to talk about Hiroshima, for any attempt to represent Hiroshima would amount to a “made-to-order picture … a fictionalised documentary” (10). To begin representing such devastating violence then, is to first foreground that we are unable to talk about it nor accurately articulate what had objectively happened. For this reason, Duras says that the lovers’ “personal story, however brief it may be, always dominates Hiroshima” (10). She does not negate that Hiroshima had happened, but rather acknowledges that our inability to empirically represent the event also means all we have is our personal perceptions of the event. For Duras, it is only through the personal can we approach, and interrogate the political. It is thus unsurprising that the establishing shot of the film is an extreme close-up of the two lovers in a tender embrace: we are unable distinguish them, and their skins are soaked in what Duras describes as “ashes, rain, dew, or sweat, whichever is preferred” (15). The juxtaposition between the ashes from the bombing and their loving embrace blurs the boundaries between the personal and political, and shows us that perhaps the two aspects are not as disparate as we would like to believe.
In fact, I argue that Duras and Renais shows us that approaching the political through the personal allows for a possibility of an ethics, where the radical difference and heterogeneity of another is respected. For context, the real world we live in is clearly far from ethical. All we do is reduce people to essentially fabricated categories (i.e. race, gender, sexuality, etc) for the purposes of violent classification. Such categories may be constructs, but they are constructs with harrowing material consequences all the same. They are constructs we have made in order to comprehend another according to our history, our knowledge, and our genealogy. To fix the other in our own image is to neccessarily transform them into an object, rather than allowing them to acquire their own subject status. Through this process of comprehension, we eradicate radical difference, and thus fail to cultivate an ethical relation with those around us. Continue reading “What ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ Teaches Us About Ethics and Faith”