Effectiveness of the Self Referential Technique in the Movie Ararat

Effectiveness of the Self Referential Technique in the Movie Ararat

            Documenting important historical events and turning them into films is not something new - Effectiveness of the Self Referential Technique in the Movie Ararat introduction. But there are several controversial events in history that need to be told but aren’t easily delivered for there remain unresolved issues or questions on what really happened. An example of a controversial issue that is being debated upon today was the Turks-led genocide of the Armenian race that took place on the town of Van. This event is one of the most horrifying events of world history. But Turkish government denies such occurrence and insists that Armenians have provoked the killings. Tackling on a difficult issue, it is hard to verify what really happened then. The dilemma on the factual reality of this event is the inspiration of Atom Egoyan in his powerful film entitled Ararat.

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The film, which was released in 2002, is about the making of a film with the same title that talks about the Armenian genocide attack in the town of Van. Ararat used the technique of self-referentiality to deliver and strengthen the plot of the story. Self-referencing is usually applied in literature or in movies by building the context or concept of the work around the work itself. Though the technique posed complicatedness in the plot, it is still a useful and an effective device to narrate a sensitive issue such as this terrifying event between the Armenians and the Turks.

Basically, there are two films entitled Ararat in the concept. The bigger picture is the whole, external film that was directed by Egoyan that shows the making of a film and the lives of all the people affected by the goal and the consequences of producing the film. It follows several characters with intertwined lives and how their paths are considerably changed by the production of the film. The second one is the non-documentary movie about the horrifying assault on the town of Van, the truths that are hidden by the Turkish government, and the general effect of the genocide. Although, this controversy is still facing several unanswered realities, a film veteran director named Edward Sorayan (Charles Aznavour) still opted to push through with the non-documentary film about Armenian genocide that could be commercially promoted. And he intended to use real people, events, and locations to strengthen the authenticity of the film. Sorayan and the rest of the characters all have significant relationship to the process of completing this film and to the realities of the Armenian race. As the filming for Sorayan’s film began, several lives are placed into a web of interconnected realities and circumstances.

With the movie’s complex story line, the film within the film served as a very significant factor that linked all of the individual characters, stories, and events in Ararat. The film possesses a multi-layered story. One narrative is focused on the life of the artist, Arshile Gorky (Simon Abkarian). The movie opened up with him drawing a portrait of himself with his mother. Gorky’s role in the film is also self-referential, as he is a subject of discussion by other characters of the film, while through the non-documentary film his life is actually seen and realized. Gorky’s character was a late addition to the script of the film that Sorayan was working on and he is the character that the filmmakers used to encapsulate the whole Armenian experience in the hands of the Turks.

The introduction of Gorky’s character in the non-documentary film paved way for the filmmakers to hire Ani (Arsinee Khanjian), an Armenian art historian and author who was also an expert on Gorky’s life. She became a consultant to Sorayan’s film and provided the needed information to complete Gorky’s role in the film. Ani’s participation in the film is huge because her interest in Gorky had shed light to some of the character’s mystery and has provided the completion of the film’s hero. Ani is also the source of the conflicts that some of the other characters outside the film that was being shot experienced.

Another important character in the film is Raffi (David Alpay). He is the son of Ani and their mother-child relationship is one of the most significant subplots in the story. Despite not being in good terms, both of them are part of Sorayan’s movie. Raffi works as a production assistant in the film. One of his assignments was to go to Turkey, and former lands of Armenia, to shoot background scenes and related materials that could be integrated in the film. This journey had an important impact in Raffi’s life as he learned more about his culture and his family. In the film, Raffi’s character was someone whose life was in disorder because of the dilemmas he faced from the two most important women in his life. But one of his biggest issues in life was to understand his father who was killed as he was trying to assassinate a Turkish government official. As Raffi attempted to go back to Canada carrying the rolls of film he had taken in Turkey, he was arrested and detained by David (Christopher Plummer), a customs officer who also has an indirect connection to Sorayan’s film. A great part of Raffi’s role was spent in detainment and at one part of the movie he had showed to David his shots from Turkey where he visited ruined shrines and even Mt. Ararat.

David’s character has a subtle relevance to the film because his son had a relationship to one of the movie’s actors, Ali (Elias Koteas). He is tormented by his familial problems and he gave Raffi a fair share of trouble. But Ali plays a more significant character in the whole film. Ali is a Turkish-Canadian actor who brought to life the image that Armenians have on Turks when he played the evil role of a Turkish official in Sorayan’s non-documentary film. As Ali continues with the filming, he also began growing weary of his Turkish race and at a point become uncomfortable in acting out his role. The self-referential technique of the film becomes more apparent in the lives of Raffi and Ali for their personal lives have been consciously altered by the Armenian genocide and the decision to create a film about it. The dual reality caused by the Ararat being self-referential was really an effective technique to show the implications of the controversial events that are still unverifiable and not completely recognized by the Turks.

            Another significant character in Ani and Raffi’s family that has her own subplot in the story was Celia (Marie-Josee Croze). Being Ani’s stepdaughter and Raffi’s lover and stepsister, she has a link to the people behind the film although she has no direct role in the film that Sorayan was making. Celia is angry with Ani as she accuses her of being the murderer or the direct cause of her father’s death. Ani’s distraught is caused by the continuously widening gap between her and her two children.

            Several secondary plots indeed surround the making of the film about Armenian genocide. This highlights several messages from Egayon. First, it goes to show that even though the future generations of surviving Armenians have already got past the Turkish cruelties, the sacrifices of the people who have died in the past should not just be forgotten. Second, though the people who have escaped are probably in better situations compared to those who have died in the siege of Van, they are neither completely safe nor unaffected by the implications of their ancestors’ terrible experiences.

Aside from the personal narratives of the Egoyan’s characters in this self-referential film, Ararat also portrayed terrifying scenes of violence wherein even innocent children and their mothers die brutal and unjustifiable deaths in the hands of the Turks. The violent killings of Armenian people were cinematically efficient in highlighting the reality of the genocide attack as they know it, although, probably to keep the movie safe, Egoyan depicted these cruelties in the context of the film within the film. Scenes that involve violence were only shown through the film that was being made by Sorayan as the movie does not claim to have authentic documentation of the events as they transpired.

The most lingering impact of Ararat was that people understood the message of the film inside the film while at the same time seeing the measures or realities that complicate the delivery of this message through the external film. This is probably the most significant reason behind the use of self-referencing in the complete actualization of the film. This technique emphasized that there are still a lot of people who firmly seeks for the recognizance of the Turks horrifying Holocaust to the Armenian race. But most importantly, self-referential also gives avenue for the movie to expand exploration to the aftereffects of the Armenian genocide and the attempts of the Turkish to conceal the truth. Through a film that shows a making of a film, Ararat summarize the inescapable reality that there lives from the Armenian race that were hurt, damaged, or completely terminated in the hands of the Turks. It is an issue that was not yet verified nor confronted, but it is continuously enduring.

The intention of director in making a self-referential film would be probably be to encapsulate the whole genocide attack of the past and all the other realities that have transpired and affected today’s time into one full length film. Sorayan, Ani, and the rest of the other major characters are all Armenian descent and the siege of Van has powerful implications in their lives. Because of the controversy of the event, they also have their own personal take on what really happened and how they want their present lives to be justified after it. A self-referential film is a good device to employ on such a controversial and sensitive issue because the audience could focus on the implications of the event rather than debating who is lying and who is telling the truth.

Director Egoyan has indeed produced a complex, emotional, sincere, and intellectually gratifying film. He is successful in producing a film that is inspired by historical events but is not only about these events. Rather, Ararat depict a bigger, multifaceted reality that exists within the characters that were part of the production of the non-documentary film. Though this does not guarantee positive reception from all the audience, I think that Egoyan was still right producing a self-referential movie. Because although the film appears to be a bit difficult to follow because of its self-referentiality, the messages that Egoyan wants to convey to the public are apparent and powerful. The plot that make use of the movie self-referencing to itself has become an additional reason for the success of the director’s attempt to narrate the story of Armenia effectively.

As a whole, Egoyan’s film Ararat has its flaws but it is a movie whose concept is well-thought off. Creating a self-referential film inspired from a historical event that is considered sensitive and controversial is not easy. The combination of characters whose lives are interconnected to each other and to the film that was being produced is significant and effective in the film. The concept of making the film about Armenian genocide in the town of Van works for the whole impact of the movie that intends to deliver the truth behind the terrifying reality between the past relationship of Turkey and Armenia and the implications of the terrible events that transpired between them to the future generations.

Work Cited

Ararat. Dir. Atom Egoyan. Perf. David Alpay, Charles Aznavour, Christopher Plummer, and Marie-Josee Croze. Miramax Films, 2002. Film.

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