Derek Jarman’s Final Feature: Blue (1993)

For all of Jarman’s usual mesmerizing and psychedelic visual spectacle that he’s known for, why does Blue — a singularly still image stretched to a 79-minute length — seem to be his most acclaimed piece? In a strange way, maybe it’s because it still is another one of his visual spectacles (the commercialism, the historical ties, etc.) but rather paraphrased. What you are perceiving here is the language workflow of Jarman’s imagination, painting essentially a verbal description of the cerebral, unconventional, and nonlinear narrative we’ve come to expect from him. It’s a Jarman film in words and sound, and a whole other spectrum to that of Jarman’s cinematic accumulation in its visual still framing of an unchanging blue screen. Furthermore though, it is his polarizing sendoff: peaking his content’s ability for darkness moments before death.

Blue is a grim retelling of Jarman’s real life encounters with death, suicide, and sickness, depicting a truly miserable wasteland were everything has gone wrong while AIDs slowly kill him (and firstly his vision) in the process, but all of a sudden in the calamity of this totally blue haze, he’ll suddenly draw our attention to some meaningless everyday life incident, as if none of this tragedy was happening and as if it all didn’t matter for someone who knew he was going to die soon. Things only exist when thought of; we are as blind in the moment as we are when we were without said symptom. In Blue, Jarman seems to either be sucking it up and accepting this degenerate reality, or casually forgetting that it’s even occurring at all from both distractive innocence and incoherent hysteria. 

Sounds and music are sometimes incredibly distorted and tampered with here, causing both memories of life to not appear as clear or as blissful as they would be refurbished in another future: perhaps the bright yet idealistic and unrealistic one of the humanity Jarman wishes for but can’t foresee. It’s both sad and petrifying to see someone go into this state of darkness as their final feelings as a human experiencing life. But it’s truth. Blue speaks on behalf of all who are not happy with the struggles that they were set upon permanently, so much so that they’d be willing to frequently pretend it’s not there during its always present place in time till doomsday.

Verdict: B

“Blue” is now available to stream on Kanopy.

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