Misunderstanding Misunderstanding

There is an easiness and uneasiness in being understood and misunderstood. The degree of leniency ranging the pendulum towards each other is not that exclusively truncated in extremes, since experiences can only offer a realistic amount of both in an instance. It is simply easy to understand as much as misunderstand a particular point in shades of unanimity, trust deed, or in matters of relative absurdity – the latter being a confused convergence emanating from the dependent parallelism of two comparative subsets.

What this means in pop culture or indie romantic drama insofar as it is simultaneously embodied is the slow but sure chemical reaction happening in the guy and girl protagonists. Inevitable antiphons misplacing and setting at the same time the supposed synthesis to wrap up a reasonable narrative scatter themselves throughout the course of the play en route for that magical moment. That is to say, that if there is a given erudite chicanery hardwired in the roles of the lovers bound by a linking rendezvous, that would have been the misunderstanding covering up the understanding at the end. A plot can even go trickier when it will initially put a prearranged understanding in the beginning as a formal cause of the end, making sure that the patent misunderstanding is ready to take place somewhere after that imperfect introductory clarity from the start.


As with films in series, trilogies and the like, the prolegomena of a pilot is the most crucial. Impressions on the first movie Before Sunrise (1995) then elucidated what it is to understand in a completely out of nowhere setting, a surreal mixture of the seeking and the midpoint joy of it. What happens there first is a leaping from the tedious narrator-type start, the kind of introduction that freely flows into the characters who make themselves known and get their names out of those spontaneous details. The content with which the conversations derive a vivid vision of subjectivity merits the stream of unconsciousness, an artlessness displaying of honest selves ready to emulate and break the mold of endearing phantasmagorias. Within the exchanges of talks maintained in their core in the sequels Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013), one can find a split-second rejoinder, a unique perspicacity quickly subsuming the characters in an audacious decision of letting be – an understanding that easily transmits and delivers. This is the easiest human connection as far as understanding goes, no matter how short-lived it can be, whether under the list of aggregates or collectivity as social collections: persons randomly hanging out in a bar, two passengers surprisingly making insinuating eye contacts in a departure area only to find out awkwardly that their seats are beside each other in the plane, or just the simple enlightened openness of two persons who share an indulgent imperturbability in the ways they find the luckiest of chances to have had an online chat with each other against the most rational inhibition of the moment – a chiaroscuro focus that highlights parts of themselves that were rarely seen but at that instant were liberally expressed in an artistically white and pure fashion, thinking against thinking that the occurrence in an expanse of a limited time might not anymore contradict in the long run the insecurities, distance, time frame, invalid transgressions, relative absurdities as was meant above, that were looming in the background. Resting on the gratitude of contentment, nobody can take away the feeling that one gets from such once-in-a-lifetime understandings, the mini-heartbreaks too, upon serving the enchanting recesses of memory and the illusive perpetuities recycled and are continuously being recycled by the heart. When two persons finally share a unique feeling of connection, there is, as they say, a ‘moment’ happening between them. Such sparks of understanding, however, are easily given and easily taken away, as if from the start the impending set of misunderstandings cannot help themselves but kill the joy of it all in an ambushing legato manner. Life in its other face is just around every nook and cranny of its delight. But that one shot of light serves as the underlying jollity coloring the moment. As Celine (Julie Delphy) opines:

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” (Before Sunrise, Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan)

The Filipino movie The Thing Called Tadhana (2014) projects the same extemporaneity – from Rome, to Manila, to Baguio, to Sagada – of dialogues and events that foretell the placid imageries of unplanned belongingness and the posttraumatic powerlessness of the unknown or the persistent question what’s next?. There has got to be a preliminary recession that will guide in a smooth-sailing way the preconditions driving the definition of destiny. Tadhana is never going to be the motionless blueprint resembling the related concepts of fate, serendipity and the like – instead it is an ongoing trail that directs actions, inactions, and interventions. For a reason, it may be called upon but never the credit of the entire set of experiences which negates the value of the movements bifurcating and anarchizing the means. But even with this topsy-turvy set up, there is again a glaring understanding, an intuition that shows exactly how events no matter how messy they display themselves can have a known factor.

In the love play, not only is Rumsfeld’s viral known knowns rendition applicable but the missing point acknowledged by Zizek advances the scenario in its other possible levels. In In These Times, Zizek reports:

In March 2003, Rumsfeld engaged in a little bit of amateur philosophizing about the relationship between the known and the unknown: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” What he forgot to add was the crucial fourth term: the “unknown knowns,” the things we don’t know that we know-which is precisely, the Freudian unconscious, the “knowledge which doesn’t know itself,” as Lacan used to say. (What Rumsfeld Doesn’t Know That He Knows About Abu Ghraib, May 21, 2004)


For me, no other portmanteau movie can compare with the beautiful depiction of the film Comet (2014), which precisely rounds up these epistemological possibilities into a narrative that blows conventional storytelling and scriptwriting. It’s a lot to see in terms of watching a graceful dialectic of understanding and misunderstanding, while retaining sincerity of views, even when they tap at times the narcissisms of passion and thought. The impact of such a movie lies in its multifaceted portrayal of a love narrative that matches insights over aporias, the play of time and space in a setting against a celestial spectacle and the quintessential jumping of equally significant sceneries coalesced into a grand orchestra of unpredictability. If there is a misunderstanding that begs to be misunderstood – and when it happens, an understanding beckons – that is the most beautiful misunderstanding of all. Surprisingly, the one known known that stands out is Dell’s (Justin Long) cynicism to love and the five-minute futuristic regret that trumps his Sartrean view on people. At some point, cynical reason’s structure is solid and is based on arguments that fuse reality and revolutionary ideas. However, Peter Sloterdjik thinks that cynical reason operates on believing more on what it is cynic about, so that cynicism becomes an honest desire of a better reality. Dell’s known known is significantly connected to Kimberly’s (Emmy Rossum) known unknown – her expectation of marriage that becomes shrouded by instances which, to her ignorance, triggered Dell’s temperament and relapse to cynicism into flushing the wedding ring when they were in Paris. Aside from the vague introduction that both characters are drawn towards in the meteor shower event, the unknown unknown that navigates and leaves pointblank the lucidity of understanding would have been the arbitrary episodic scenes of the whole duration of their relationship. One is swayed in the interplay of occasions that are encountered strikingly with a parallel candidness to bizarre experience in isolation.


And the unknown known is the twilight zone of that one minute pause before the emphatic credits part, when after a glimpse of clearness in a final array of speeches and the penultimate face of misunderstanding, a finale that instantaneously merged clarity and confusion in everything perfectly transpires. The ending was the height of the magical moment amidst everything. I have nothing but praise; even unfazed at how Geoff Berkshire’s review reconnects – OK I am a little disturbed as it pains me to have found out the idea that someone has already had a semblance of my connection  two years earlier and the ineptitude due to time and circumstances that never gave me the chance to explain two of my favorite romantic films before – a similitude in the above-mentioned trilogy: “In a sense, Esmail attempts to accomplish in a single film what Richard Linklater did over three in his “Before…” series (a comparison underscored not only by letting Dell and Kimberly’s first encounter play out over the course of the film, but also by setting one of their extended conversations on a train).” (Variety Film Review, 2014)

Herein lies the point that Nietzsche wants to convey in opposition to Spinoza and the thinkers working within the confines of knowns (known or unknown) and unknown unknowns. The trap of understanding – sanguinely concomitant with Kantian duty, Socratic scientism, and any imperative rationality of sorts – is commonly set in the conscious way of knowledge, presenting intelligere (understanding) as that systematized order oversimplifying physis into a standardized category. But it is a deception to think that at the end of every romantic and elusive narrative, there is an ultimate fairy tale rationale: a lesson about love or a misplaced desire now set straight. In his words,

Since only the last scenes of reconciliation and the final accounting at the end of this long process rise to our consciousness, we suppose that intelligere must be something conciliatory, just, and good – something that stands essentially opposed to the instincts, while it is actually nothing but a certain behavior of the instincts toward one another. (The Gay Science 333).

Moving away from strict axiomatic formulas then, stating understanding is no other than the subconscious misunderstandings fighting against each other; sometimes one takes the stage, sometimes the other, so that two or three or more misunderstandings configure the chaotic element of a fundamental characterization of understanding as its orderly guise. Only in the tribal conquests beneath the barbaric affects of misunderstanding can a shimmer of understanding reside, a known beneath an unknown and thus an unknown known. Debunking the clichéd corollaries that misunderstanding is against understanding, or that misunderstanding is what prompts consensus, or more so that misunderstanding misunderstanding is in effect a double negation that leads to understanding, a more suitable way of stating it would rather be that misunderstanding is misunderstanding misunderstanding itself, in which along the streaks of its process, it breeds and concocts understanding not as an end but as a rapid riposte in an unending skirmish of exhibitions. From here on, it can already be surmised that this is far from inverting von Foerster’s Understanding Understanding (2002) when it also includes themes of responsibility, discovery, epistemology and ethics. And yet even if desire and cognition are part of the whole organizational structure in a human being, some parts of it are bound to defy or go rogue, and the person has to be ready for that sudden misplacement.

The reason why misunderstanding attracts me is not only because it is real. There will be times when even one’s best friend will surrender that badge without reinstatement, and going towards extreme lines, marriages and remarriages gone wrong, relationships wavering; even a strongly held faith is bound to break. But its reality is founded not just on the level of known knowns, that is to say, that it can easily lead to gross generalities, preempted prejudices, and historical scanning, that the thing about life or ontology if one will have to call it is only so and so. Rather, it fascinates me because it operates on the level of unknown knowns – in the tip of reality and fantasy, something that fuels the magical effervescence within us. So of course it is admirable to see love stories that transgress the world of fiction, a world run by unknown unknowns. A few examples that I like to cite would have been The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) In Time (2011), The Adjustment Bureau (2011) if freedom is a love affair, or The Edge of Tomorrow (2014) if I may insert the romantic emphasis of Tom Cruise’s judicious smile to Emily Blunt in the end. These are commendable versions of misunderstanding reality with coats of human understanding as its intelligibility reaching out to the viewer. What I meant with misunderstanding in the tip of reality and fantasy is the kind of narrative that hinges on a veneer picture of Nietzsche’s Apollonian reality. He makes it clear in The Antichrist how the world of fiction is “vastly inferior” to the world of dreams since the former negates reality while the latter mirrors it as its honest and conscious reflection. And that is where Before Sunrise and Comet dwells; not arriving at the level of exaggerated wishful thinking but not too plain as to express ordinary sensationalized drama. In a dreamlike fashion that builds its way in the characters’ misgivings – in the spotlighting cocktail of misunderstandings – there goes the personal effect that shows exactly the shadowy parts of human fault and longing and the hope of a better version of oneself.


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