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‘Biyi Alexander’s ANTISTROFI: “Are You Watching Closely?”

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The Prestige is a 2006 film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. It stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, rival stage magicians who are obsessed with one-upping each other at all costs, even at the expense of their own health and relationships with others. At the beginning, the audience is informed about the three stages of a magic trick, namely: the Pledge (in which an apparently real situation is set up), the Turn (in which the original setup is challenged), and the Prestige (which signifies a return to status quo).

Nolan uses the text of The Prestige to comment on the medium of film, similar to what he does in Inception (2010). The Pledge, Turn, and Prestige can be applied for the most part to the structure a conventional three-act film. in Act 1, the audience is presented with a status quo. By Act 2, that situation is challenged or “turns”.  Act 3 builds up to a moment where the rug is pulled from under the audience, sometimes more than once. ‘Biyi Alexander, in his short film, ANTISTROFI, applies this logic with commendable dexterity.

‘Biyi Alexander – Filmmaker

The movie begins with a woman bleeding to death on the floor while her murderer, still holding the weapon, observes the whole thing. A ringing sound blares out. The woman is Folashade (Jumoke Odetola). Her brother, Deji, is on the warpath, looking to avenge his sister’s death. This is the Pledge. The audience is made aware of this in the next scene where two men in the woods finally come to consciousness. One of them, Deji, doesn’t remember how they arrived there. The other guy seems to be able to recall. He tells Deji his version of the story before knocking him out again.

“Antistrophe” is derived from a Greek word which means “turning back.” It involves the repetition of the same words at the end of consecutive phrases, clauses, sentences and paragraphs. This device is used in literature, music and sacred texts to place emphasis on a particular thought or idea. Typically, in film, according to the rule-of-threes, screenwriters and directors will show a particular object, character or idea which they deem important, at least three times so that the audience can properly grasp and process it. Twice might be a coincidence. Three times is definitely a pattern.

What ‘Biyi Alexander does in ANTISTROFI is present the audience with a mystery (who murdered Folashade?) and provide them with three separate clues as to what the answer might be. Again, like Nolan, he chooses to tell the story non-linearly which heightens the mystery and maintains the momentum of the movie. Whenever we watch a film, deep down, we know that what we are seeing is a construct, a mere illusion, even though we might choose to suspend our disbelief during its runtime, at least the first time around. This is how cinema functions as escapism. By creating a world and inviting in the audience, who are willing to believe in its existence.

In ANTISTROFI, the solution to the mystery is hidden in plain sight and yet, we do not immediately take notice, probably because we want to be fooled. Like with a magic trick, we don’t really want to know how it works because then we would ruin the illusion for ourselves and the trick would fail to dazzle us a second time. Much has been made of cinema being a machine that generates empathy but here, instead of appealing primarily to our emotions, Alexander goes for our minds. The equivalent of a schoolteacher snapping her fingers in front of a pupil who looks lost in thought, in an effort to get him to pay attention. Where she might ask, “Are you sleeping,” or “Are you following me at all?”, ‘Biyi asks us, with all the air of a magician who is about to pull off one of his simplest yet greatest tricks, “Ladies and gentlemen, are you watching closely?”

If you get to the end of the ten-minute short and still find that you don’t quite get it, the solution is simple. Watch it again, carefully this time. And if the outcome is the same, do it again.

Antistrofi implies a repetition, after all.

Joseph Osamudiamen

‘Biyi Alexander’s ANTISTROFI: “Are You Watching Closely?”
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