An Angel at my Table and The Sweet Hereafter: a Difference in Time The two movies An Angel at my Table and The Sweet Hereafter tell stories about the trials of being human. They both show the viewer a world that they with any luck do not have first hand knowledge. Though they both talk of the human condition, they do so by using stylistic differences that in their own right pull the viewer into the story. The way that time is manipulated is the most obvious way the two films differ in the way their respective stories are shown to the audience. While Atom Egoyan use time, in The Sweet Hereafter, to alter the way the viewer sees the different characters, while Jane Campion, in An Angel at my Table, uses it so the viewer can feel the hardships the main character has had to endure.
The cutting continuity of the films differs greatly and gives each film a distinct tone. The Sweet Hereafter's use of time is especially interesting. The film winds through about five different periods. The viewer watches and is sucked in to the story by all that is not known.
The viewer is told of an accident long before it is ever shown. They see two scenes of fathers and daughters interacting in ways that do not seem like we are being told the whole story. This keeps the viewer wanting information that will clear up all of these compromising situations in which the characters are immersed. The character that is best shown with this flip flop cutting continuity is Nicole. Nicole is the character that we learn through as the narrator of the pied piper poem.
After the accident, we are supposed to see her as the lame boy who could not keep up. We watch as she goes from being the center of her father's attention to being a way for him to get rich quick. The sequence we see this happen is not linear. One step does not necessarily follow another. We learn of her incestuous relationship after we learn she has survive the accident even though this is not chronological. This adds suspense to the proceedings.
It also bends our perception of Nicole from seeing her as the lame boy to almost becoming the Piper. In the scene where Mason ask Nicole why the Pied Piper didn t use magic to make the villagers pay him she responds by saying he wanted to punish them. This scene can be compared to the scene when Nicole lies about the accident. In both stories there is another way out but the person in control, whether it be Nicole or the Piper, want punishment.
The Piper for non-payment and Nicole for reasons that is unclear. It could be for the abuse that her father has subjected her to, or the loss of the misguided affections of her father that she feels she has lost because of the accident. In any case, Nicole is transformed from the lame boy to the Piper. While Egoyan uses time as a device to bend and mold as he sees fit Jane Campion, in An Angel at my Table, uses it to in a linear straightforward way. She tells us the story of Janet Frame from a very young age to her return to home to become a full time writer.
Campion takes us on a journey from childhood loneliness to shock therapy finally the realization of Janet's competency as a writer. The three actresses that play the different ages of Janet are remarkable. They allow the viewer to move along the time line with out being distracted by different people playing the different roles. Although the film encompasses a large time, the viewer does not feel that it is contrived. It is very natural feeling, without the distraction that reminds us that this is a film. The viewer flows through the story.
The scenes of when Janet is put into the asylum demonstrates this very well. Many of the scenes are short and not overly developed they give a sense of disorientation, much like that which Janet herself must have felt. When they begin the shock treatment is a good example of this. The nurses come by and take everyone's false teeth. This causes a sense of anxiousness in Janet that the audience too becomes anxious. Then we here the other patients in pain as they begin their treatments.
We want Janet to get up and run. Instead, she reluctantly submits to the treatment and the viewer realizes that Janet has been lead astray from the truth of her condition. Campion lets the audience feel for Janet's situation because we have seen her grow up and realize that they have diagnosed her incorrectly. Through out the movie the audience is drawn in to the life experiences of Janet. We are shown her liberating experience in Spain and her down fall in England, where she is correctly diagnosed and begins to write in earnest. The audience continues to care for Janet's story because they have seen it from the very beginning.
Egoyan and Campion manipulate time to draw the audience into their stories. While Egoyan floats through time as if it is water going back and forth up and down at will. Campion, on the other hand, uses time like a conveyed belt; it is fixed and can only move in one direction. They both use time to draw the audience into their respective stories.