Meshes of the Afternoon – a very serious analysis

So here’s the second part of my Maya Deren film analyses that I wrote back in college. I remember this one being significantly more of a pain in the ass to write than the one for At Land, going through countless rewrites before I was at-all satisfied with it. Once again, I recommend watching the actual film itself before reading any further for any of this to make sense. Here’s a link to Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren on YouTube.

Maya Deren - Meshes of the Afternoon painting
Here’s an old painting I did inspired from a scene from the film. Unlike the At Land painting I did, I still have this one.

Like I did for At Land, in this essay I will analyse the 1943 film Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid by breaking it down scene by scene, discussing the symbolism and what it means. Wikipedia has described this film as “the product of Deren’s and Hammid’s desire to create an avant-garde personal film that dealt with devastating psychological problems”, and I will analyse it as such.

The film begins with a flower being placed on the ground from above, as the hand appears to be coming from the sky. Maya then walks over and picks up the flower and appears to smell it. For most of this scene we don’t actually see her, but her shadow that is being cast upon the wall beside her. Maya then sees a man walking off in the distance disappearing around a corner. This man is played by Alexander Hammid. Maya decides not to follow him however, as she instead decides to turn to her left to walk up some steps into a house of some kind. She arrives at the house she knocks on the door, but no-one answers. She then looks in her purse, still holding onto the rose from the first scene, to find something. She finds a key which is used to open the door. However, she drops it back down the stairs she walked up to get here. She returns picks up the key and then proceeds to open the door.

When she enters the building the camera pans around it, showing a regular house of some kind. Inside we see a fairly ordinary living room. Further over to the left we see a staircase and next to it a small dining table. Upon the dining table is a loaf of bread on it with a knife in it. Maya decides to move closer to the table, when she does the knife appears to fall out of the bread, which is likely to notify the importance the knife will have as the film progresses. She then notices a telephone by the staircase, which is currently not on the ringer. Maya proceeds to walk up the staircase to find herself in a bedroom where a record is playing. Maya then switches off the record player and leaves the room to go back downstairs.

Maya returns downstairs and sits down on an armchair next to a window, where she begins to close her eyes as if falling asleep. I have concluded that in this scene Maya is entering a dream state in which the following events in this film take place within. While Maya is sleeping in the chair the camera shows us a shot of the outside through the window, which shows the outside area where the film began. The camera pans out slightly, making it appear as if we are looking at the outside through a tube of some kind. Through this “tube” we see a hooded figure holding the same flower Maya was holding earlier in the film. The figure turns around and we see that it has a mirror instead of a face. The mirror character walks off in the distance and around the corner, just like the male character did at the beginning.

Maya proceeds to chase this character for a while. This scene appears to be an alternate version of the opening sequence in this film where instead of chasing Alexander, Maya is chasing after the mirror character. After chasing the mirror character for a while, Maya finds herself back at the house and proceeds to enter it. This time things are slightly different; here the knife from the beginning of the film lying on the stairs, in the same place that the phone was from the first time she came here. She stops by it for a moment and then proceeds to run up the stairs. The footage of her running up the stairs is slowed down, which could suggest that time and space is slowing down around her, as if the entire concept of logical time and space is different or doesn’t apply here which supports my hypothesis that this part is taking place within a dream.

When Maya gets towards the top of the stairs, the scene then cuts to Maya coming through what appear to be the curtains of a window, which is deliberately incongruent with the previous scene of her running up the stairs. She finds herself in the same bedroom from earlier in the film. Here she finds two things: the knife from downstairs and the telephone from earlier. While she’s here she sees her reflection in the knife and the puts the phone back on the ringer. I believe that the phone and also the record player motif are symbolic of how time is constantly resetting in this film, as events keep looping over and over again representing no matter what Maya does in the dream nothing really changes. No matter how often Maya puts the phone back on the ringer and switches off the record player they return to their original state. She then exits the room by “falling out” of the window she entered the room through. She then proceeds to fall down the stairs she walked up. When she gets back downstairs she sees another Maya Deren sleeping in the armchair from earlier. This is likely Maya from earlier when she fell asleep and the dream sequence began. This means that Maya in the dream is technically seeing herself from a 3rd person perspective. Next to where Maya is sleeping the record player from earlier is playing. Maya from the dream switches it off. When she does she looks out of the window of the house to see the same scene from earlier where Maya chases the mirror character outside of the house, suggesting that events in this dream appear to be looping and starting again.

The Maya from the outside of the house goes to enter the house just as before. When this happens we then cut back to present Maya, where a key appears to come out of her mouth. It appears to be the same key that was in her purse when she first entered the house at the beginning of the film. As this happens at the same time the Maya from outside is entering the house, this could suggest that Maya from upstairs is letting the Maya from outside into the house. When the Maya from outside enters the house, the mirror character is here as well and he proceeds to walk up the stairs. Maya follows him up the stairs. The placement of the mirror character is inconsistent with the previous scene, as he was just seen walking past the house just like he had done before. Maya appears to stumble up the stairs, following the mirror character into the bedroom. The mirror character then proceeds to place the flower on the bed. While this is happening Maya appears to be talking to the mirror character, though since the film is silent we can’t hear what she is saying. The mirror character seems to acknowledge what she’s saying and then disappears. After this Maya then appears to teleport up and down the stairs which suggests that reality is breaking down even further, as the concept of time and space presented in this film is inconsistent and unpredictable.

After the mirror character disappears, Maya looks out of the window to see the same scene from earlier where she chases after the mirror character outside, suggesting that events are coming full circle once again. The key comes out of Maya’s mouth again, just like it did last time. I believe that the key represents Maya’s connection to her other selves presented in this film, as the key appears during some kind of interaction with her other selves. Maya holds the key in her hand and it then turns into the knife from earlier in the film. Maya from the outside that was just chasing the mirror character enters the house again. When she does things are different once again. Firstly she is seen entering the house holding the knife, which links to the scene where the key transformed into the knife from upstairs. This could mean that this Maya is actually the one from upstairs, which due to the way time and space is depicted as inconsistent, is entirely possible. Secondly two other Maya’s are waiting at the dining room table for her, which are likely previous iterations of herself that have been present throughout this film. The Maya who has just entered the house walks over to them and places the knife onto the table. When she does the knife transforms back into the key. She sits down at the table and one of the other Maya’s decides to pick up the key. When she does the key it re-appears back on the table exactly where it was as if nothing has changed. The second Maya then proceeds to pick up the key and it once again reappears back on the table. The final Maya, the one walked through the door goes to pick up the key. When she does she turns over her hand and we can see that the palm of her hand is black. The key then transforms back into the knife. When this happens the other two Maya’s cover their faces, as if they are scared of something or trying to protect themselves. We then see the Maya who is sleeping in a chair where the dream sequence began. The Maya with the knife walks over to her, this time appearing to wear some kind of glasses or goggles. I believe the knife motif represents Maya’s desire to escape this dream, as the knife appears when she attempts to alter what is going on in the dream. She walks over to the chair, appearing to traverse through scenery unrelated to previous locations in the film, including grasslands and a beach. When she reaches the chair she stabs sleeping Maya in the throat. This action ends the dream sequence.

In the next scene we see Alexander in the place of Maya with the knife, who looks as if he has just kissed the Maya who is sleeping in the chair. Maya covers her face briefly, as if to mimic what the other Maya’s at the table did. Alexander pulls Maya up from the chair and he walks over to the stairs. We can see in this scene he’s holding the flower from earlier in his hand. The rose in this film seems to symbolise her desires, which is why she spends most of the film chasing after it. This interpretation would make sense as Alexander Hammid was her husband at the time and he is seen carrying the rose over the course of this film. By the stairs we can see the phone from earlier in the same place it was at the beginning of the film. He puts the phone back on the ringer and walks up the stairs and Maya proceeds to follow him. He rests the flower on the bed and Maya lies down on the bed next to it. He then picks up a mirror, lies down next to Maya and caresses her body. He moves closer to her. When he does the flower transforms back into the knife. Maya sees the knife, picks it up and throws it at him. However it doesn’t actually hit him, instead it hits a reflection of him in the mirror, shattering it. Fragments of the mirror appear to land on a beach somewhere, which are then washed away by the tide. Upon watching this film through several times I have concluded that Alexander is in fact the mirror character. Evidence for this is not only related to his connection to mirrors in this scene, but also that his actions and the mirror characters actions mimic each other over the course of this film. For example the man’s actions in this scene are almost exactly the same as the mirror character’s actions in the dream when it was in the bedroom.

In the final scene we see Alexander walking over to the house. Outside he finds the rose, picks it up and walks in the house. He opens the door to find Maya lying dead in the chair. All over her body and on the floor next to her are shards of a mirror. This final part of the story is quite difficult to interpret. To me this final scene and the previous scene in the bedroom suggests that events that occurred in the dream have actually effected what happens in this world but not in the way Maya intended. Instead the act of Maya stabbing herself in the dream actually killed herself in the real world. I believe this final scene is symbolic for the obsession of wanting to alter the past, but only at the cost of ruining of the future. This film uses repeated motifs and situations to convey a scenario where the same vents keeps playing out with slightly different outcomes each time, which seems to suggest that this film is based around the anxiety of wanting to relive the past differently to have a better future. However, since the past is unchangeable this effort is wasted. This is proven by the fact that Maya actually kills herself in this film trying to alter the past.

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