Disclaimer: This is a continuation of a collection of my thoughts for a personal film portfolio; ideas deriving from Steven Shaviro’s Post-Cinematic Affect (2010): ‘Introduction’ and ‘Boarding Gate’.
On the surface, Oliver Assayas’ Boarding Gate (2007) is not remarkable – it is riddled with a thin plot and vague characters – two elements that can make the dismissal of the B-grade thriller easy. But looking beyond its encapsulation of conventional genre tropes (which can render it as lacking any sort of new commentary), sees an intriguing examination of its transnational backdrop. Stephen Shaviro’s insightful arguments, in his book ‘Post-Cinematic Affect’, attempts to justify Assayas’ choices, incorporating a critical evaluation of its postmodern landscape, and resultant capitalisation of cinematic affect.
Affect, as defined by Shaviro is a primary and unconscious feeling, and differs from emotion, which is derivative and susceptible to be waned. This distinction becomes important when interrogating the “world of global capitalism” that is presented in Boarding Gate, where the profit-driven motives of a modern day society encourages immaterial transaction of products. In this environment that ensues a tactile ‘new world’ away from the roots of historical and cultural society, the paradox is that each location in the film have become “empty spaces”. This is shown through the sterile offices in the Paris scenes, where the juxtaposition of gritty construction worksites and factories, shatters any pre-conception of Paris as a romantic setting, as it is represented in classic movies, such as the An American in Paris, the Before Trilogy, Amelié, etc. Instead, Assayas suggests that the commodification of a modern landscape consequently manifests into a mise-en-scène depicted in Boarding Gate – where the melding of “local” locations (Paris with Hong Kong) makes them virtually indistinguishable spaces – transforming the world into empty, spectacular displays of surface appearances.
It is not only spatial uniqueness that is shattered, but Assayas also stresses that personal identity is under threat in this constant shifting world. The transnational flows of people, goods and money have led to the disposition of individual identity – generating a sense of anonymity, which stems from a world where everything has become “interchangeable and exchangeable”. This is depicted through Sandra’s character, who must rid herself of her legal and social identity as she moves between countries, shown through the close-up of the cutting of her French credit card and passport. It is here that Shaviro draws the link between the personal and business, suggesting that the greases of commerce have penetrated into realm of the affective, such as immediate and unconscious feelings of spatial belonging and human trust.
Sandra’s inability to maintain a stable identity is complicated by the manipulation of these emotions; her love for Lester is only used to his own benefit – illustrating the dire consequences of a fragmented capitalist world where human intimacy has evolved into a commercial transaction. Consequently, Shaviro highlights that in order to survive in this unpredictable context, one must reinvent oneself to be adaptable and flexible to changing conditions and threats.
But where Shaviro asserts that the conclusion of Boarding Gate symbolises hope, through Sandra’s decision to not shoot Lester, I would argue that it is a pessimistic ending. After a 2-hour running time of chases, slow tension and dramatic events, this despondent ending instead represents the powerlessness of individuals to alter a world that has ultimately driven itself into a materialistic and irremediable state. Whether or not Sandra chooses to shoot Lester will not amend anything; this consumerist society will continue to cyclically perpetuate unscrupulous behaviour for economic interests.