PLEASE NOTE: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
My heart lives between silence and hope […]
strong, fearless, bold and never beaten,
in the middle of a horrific labyrinth
desires a lot, hopes too much and is not afraid of anything.
I want to talk about the postmodern maze as a gradual evolution of the labyrinth as both a metaphor and a physical structure. The postmodern maze is Kafkaesque and often warps time and space. Memory, of a lack of, often plays an important part in the process of navigating the spaces. The postmodern maze is usually three dimensional and may be analogous to a network: a branching of lines that interconnect in complex ways. The internet is, currently, the ultimate manifestation of the postmodern maze.
This type of maze is often a type of prison which entraps and tests its victims, and it may have a kind of sentience, technological or supernatural. The Overlook hotel is an example of a timeless evil taking over the minds of men (albeit weak-minded and violent men), and it creates its own labyrinths through this slowly pervasive influence. These labyrinths trap and doom their victims to an inward spiral, a walk of madness.
Let’s take, for an example, the environment of Cube (1997), a low-budget indie horror film made in a single room on a Toronto sound-stage. Imagine this scenario:
You wake up in a room measuring 14ft by 14ft. There is nothing but cold steel walls and a hatch in the centre of each face of the cube. Each hatch opens onto an identical cube, the only difference being that sometimes the lit panels have a different colour hue: red, white, green or blue. You can’t remember how you arrived in this place, but you are wearing a uniform that bears a name. You move from cube to cube randomly or perhaps you decide to move in a straight line. Then, in one of the rooms, as your boots hit the floor you are aware that something is different. A metal net, almost invisible to the naked eye, slices your body into neat cubes which remain stacked, in a grotesque child’s play of form, before toppling to the floor.
You have died.
You wake up again as another character. The stages of realisation and decisions made are similar to before. However, this time you discover you are not alone in this maze. There’s an escape artist, a teenager, a policeman, a doctor, an office worker and a savant. Together you will try and find an exit: it seems reasonable to assume that any maze has an exit.
Cube has no dead-ends –the maze is provided by the traps, which the occupants must avoid, while getting to the edge of the cube. Each cube has a nine digit number, split into three sets. Eventually, through trial and error and the photographic memory of the young girl, they realise that the numbers are significant. By the end of the film they have solved the riddle: the numbers are coordinates of starting positions of the cubes along an x, y and z axis, and the cubes move through a cycle of positions according to permutations of the numbers. One cube, in its starting position, bridges the gap between the entire cube superstructure and the outer shell and it aligns with the exit for a short period of time.
This rat maze is like a giant Rubik’s cube filled with mechanical minotaurs. It moves around you, constantly creating new mazes, the navigation of which requires huge computational power. Like the maze in A Solar Labyrinth, only a master game player can solve it although it is possible to get a certain distance on luck and instinct.
The Cube is really a mirror of the real minotaur.
The minotaur is you.
As desperation, hunger and thirst all take their toll, the characters begin to unravel and one, the chosen one, takes on the role of Jack Torrance –he becomes the hunter. The Cube is, on one level, simply a physical manifestation of our inner drives, of the paths we can take, and since they can realign and reset, we can all be the hero or the villain. The Cube, possibly running on algorithms amassed from big data, is silently calculating, and like the director who controls the fates of his characters, it knows who will win as soon as the characters wake up. Or perhaps it nudges the story from time to time, setting off a trap here and there to bring the narrative back under control –we don’t know. However, the Cube allows for a winner, and like the virgin girl in horror films, the victor is an innocent.
The only one not fouled by the human condition, and thus doomed to walk in purgatory, is permitted to leave the maze. What lies outside hell may just be another version of it however, and it is hard to believe in the white light that beckons in the final seconds of the film.
Very few of us believe in heaven, or any utopia. Our worldview, influenced by two world wars and the doom-game of the media, is framed by dystopia. The characters struggle to understand why anyone would build the Cube, but it is like the house that Jack built –it is indirectly linked to all the contents of the world. It is the hedge-maze at the end of The Shining: a metaphor that passes through the eye of a needle into the world.
If enough people will it, then it will be.