What finally emerges in Marker’s quite disparate work is a welcoming sense of paradox, a feeling that radical incoherence somehow has an inner lining of coherence. Thus, the unconventional combination of phenomena in a film like Sunless is still a combination; a combination that is structured around the conventions of various kinds of documentary, voiceover, a familiar correspondence of letters and a recognisable image repertoire (which is perhaps where the cats come in). This is even true within the more radical terrain of the deterritorialised, deconstructed and distorted synthetic images of Sunless ’ the Zone. Coming to the end of this fragmentary essay, I feel that, like Sunless ’ narrator, I may have achieved no more, though no less, than “a piece of chalk to follow the contours of what is not. Or is no longer. Or is not yet.” In the end, these few lines may best articulate, though never sum up or stand in for, the complex play of space, place, memory and temporality to be found in Marker’s work (and which the images of cats are situated within). I started with the idea of tracing the image of the cat across some of Marker’s work and had little idea of where it would lead me – or whether it would lead anywhere in particular. I return, again, to the images of various cats across Marker’s work. I can’t see “happiness” in the pictures, but at least I can see the cats.
“What’s that got to do with Okinawa?” you may well ask now, and I’m not sure the movie will give you a satisfactory answer. All of Marker’s philosophical explorations are tinged, at the very least, by his own cinephilia (like many French filmmakers of his generation, he was active as a critic and in a sense remained so throughout his life), and for those who like their probings into historical trauma straight down the alley and digression-free, “Level Five” will be a very frustrating and arguably overly French experience. I say “French” because the movie partakes in a kind of discourse that’s very much in a French intellectual tradition, the discursive semiotic inquiry in which one’s own cast of mind is necessarily grist for the cerebral mill. In other words, it’s Marker’s position that he cannot make a film “about” Okinawa even if he and his cinematographer travel and shoot there (which they did); he can only make a film about thinking about Okinawa. That being what this is, if you can hook into it, “Level Five” is not just witty, insinuating, and penetrating; it’s also unexpectedly moving and, as deliberately threadbare as it often looks, cinematically rich. Its imagery derives directly from a time when computer graphics were so much cruder than they’ve become that it’s almost difficult to believe. Laura’s interaction with protocols, mysterious individuals in user groups and chat rooms of the late ‘90s, underscores the way technology is constantly seeming to redefine epistemology; this makes “Level Five” a kind of prophetic text in a way perhaps Marker himself didn’t even anticipate. Is it a “masterpiece?” Who’s to say; but like every other film Marker made, it’s an exemplary and resonant address on the life of the mind and the life outside of that one.