Féerie in the Cinema: Pataphysics in Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon

© Georges Méliès, A Trip to the Moon, 1902

Long before Apollo landed on the Moon in the 1960s, writers and filmmakers had already dreamt of making voyages to the mysterious planet. Inspired by Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Around the Moon (1870) and H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon (1901), Georges Méliès opened up a new cosmic realm in the cinematic world in 1902. Méliès’ classic silent French film A Trip to the Moon (1902) is only 14 minutes and 16 seconds long, yet it remains one of the most significant works in the movie industry. In less than 15 minutes, Méliès introduces the féerie to the screen. He composes a diegetic narrative which delivers a pataphysical message to mock the modern society’s blind belief in science.

 

© Star Film Company

The féerie-like style dominates the whole film, fantastic images constantly pop up to deny the conventional logical and chronological flows of films. Representing the “reality” as an incoherent puzzle, Méliès piece many paradoxical elements together. Through using overtly theatrical techniques such as absurd visual splendour, fantastic images, and mise-en-scène, Méliès eliminates the boundaries between science and fantasy. It is hilarious to see the astronomers dressing in medieval wizards’ costumes, the rocket crashing into the Moon with a funny gigantic face, and the underground legion of the Selenites chasing the astronomers off – Méliès turns the whole lunar dream of the scientists into a jest. When the astronomers escape, they fall from a cliff and suddenly find themselves back on the earth again. In this particular scene, the boundaries between the earth and the Moon, which represent the real and the fantasy respectively, are entirely erased. A strong sense of irony emerges as Méliès portrays modern scientists, who consider themselves pioneering explorers of the universe, as laughable witches who call their imaginary interpretations authoritative. Such pataphysical narrative toys with ‘logical’ interpretations of reality, which conveys Alfred Jarry’s idea that “the virtual or imaginary nature of things as glimpsed by the heightened vision of poetry or science or love can be seized and lived as real” in a mocking manner.

 

A Trip to the Moon is surely a piece that irritates all the science lovers in human history but they are not the only ones who are humiliated in barely 15 minutes of a surrealist carnival. A lot of scholars have given the masterpiece an anti-imperialist reading as well – the ‘cultural crash’ that occurs in the encounter of the astronomers and the Selenites represents the colonial power crash when France was on her conquest expanding its territory all over the world. But no matter what you read in this film, it is unlike anything you have ever seen – the content of the film is astonishingly rich that it still never fails to amaze people in 2019.

By Chan Tsz Yan Audrey

 

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