Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Disclosure



Apart from being a perverted twist on the femme fatale, Disclosure is a surprisingly sophisticated examination of surplus value in a capitalist economy. The unusual correlation between the film's techno sci-fi and women in the workplace is that - as the film sees it - they are both sources from which capital extracts surplus value. Technological innovation provides capitalists with a labour substitute and temporary profit advantage over competitors, before it "becomes obsolete in a year". Meanwhile, women are given the executive role not necessarily because they're best for the job, but because they're cheap labour. As Mary Anne Hunter says early on in the film, "women work twice as hard for the same job for less pay". The film daringly (for a ostensibly capitalist, Hollywood pic) aligns this experience of being 'surplussed' with the experience of being raped, on the level of both narrative (the secondary plot to 'screw' Tom Sanders out of a job) and language (the film tells us early on that the euphemism for 'surplussed' is sodomised). Indeed, it's the surplus in language itself - the perceived minimal difference between yes and no, "rich" and "really rich", gossip/rumour and news/truth - that motivates the rape accusation and the corporate conniving. In a capitalist system increasingly tied to what the Other believes (the stockmarket, corporate mergers), language is revealed to be the ultimate source of surplus value.

All of this is conveyed in the film's first seven minutes. Virtuality, production lines, status, wealth, rumours, the 'feminine threat', are all tied together in this brilliantly concise opening. Especially interesting is the camera roaming the wealthy, upper-class family home with just the sound of early-morning domestic talk in the background, but no people. Home/family is here pure signifier - of class, wealth, happiness - performed directly for the audience. The shot will suggest the central crisis of the film - how to signify status? From the 'closed' space of the family home, the film shifts to the 'open' transparent, modernist architecture of the company before venturing into the 'invisible' hallucinatory palace of virtual reality. In terms of the Other, we move from the Invisible (the big Other), to the Multiple (little big Others), to the Virtual (the big Other in the Real or the Other of the Other). As Zizek points out, the subject constructs the Other of the Other - a secret agent pulling the strings from behind the scenes - as a paranoid response to and compensation for the demise of the big Other. For Sanders (Douglas), it's Meredith's promotion that creates this crisis of the big Other (hence the dream of Garvin sexually harassing him), and, appropriately, it's when Sanders starts suspecting Meredith is setting him up that the virtual reality machine first appears .

Sanders' experience with virtual reality is crucial in allowing for a kind of fetishistic disavowal that will restore his symbolic world. When he enters the virtual palace, Sanders denies the knowledge that tells him it isn't real, and instead acts as if it is: "I know very well what I see is an illusion generated by digital machinery, but I nonetheless accept to immerse myself in it, to behave as if I believe it." It's a similar attitude that's adopted in the film's climax. Sanders knows Meredith is setting him up, but he nonetheless acts as if he she has no ulterior motive. Instead, he 'innocently' reminds her it was her decision to alter the technical specifications - effectively sabotaging her by identifying with her act. On a closer look, however, Meredith is in fact the scapegoat here. As she tells Sanders in her final scene, it was Garvin who came up with the idea to fire him in the first place yet she's one that takes the blame. Getting Meredith fired merely allows Sanders to disavow Garvin's central complicity in the matter.

Yet as a consequence of this secret knowledge, Garvin is restored as the big Other and the 'closed' and performative status symbols of the opening return - though not without their own hallucinatory quality. The end sees Sanders publicly celebrated as "epitomising the drive and inventiveness of his division" and he is named the "right hand" of the new female executive Stephanie Kaplan. Kaplan also tells Sanders he is the division's "past and its future", restoring unity to the split introduced by Meredith's Oscar Wilde quotation, "I like a man with a future and a woman with a past". In the final scene, Sanders receives an email of a child's picture telling him 'A Family' misses him - alluding to the shadowy, behind-the-scenes anonymity of the previous 'A Friend' emails while at the same time restoring Family as pure signifier.*

*The film's insane continuity between paranoia and domestic familiarity extends even to the first anonymous email asking 'Is Your C-ck Hard?' - assumed to be sent by Meredith but never actually explicated as such. For all appearances, it's sent in the same anonymous form as A Friend and A Family. (Of course, Michael Douglas playing a family man is by itself a paranoid construction.)

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