Saturday, March 11, 2006

Time at the Cinema and Time at the Life

Author: Gaga Nizharadze

Georgians know American movies almost better than Americans do. Georgians see them before Americans, at least. So, traditional American characters can be even considered part of our everyday life. But there is a “character” in American films (and almost only in American films) that usually remains unnoticed by the audience or cinema critics.
I mean the timer (or a clock) here, which periodically appears on the screen and records the inevitable reduction of a certain period of time. This is the period, during which the hero has to do a lot of things - beat hundreds of bad guys and switch of the timer when the figures on it are about to vanish. Otherwise a global disaster will take place. Our hero is young and brave, so he always manages to solve this extremely difficult problem. But, anyway, the blinking and squeaking timer is typical of American cinema only, and even though it sounds strange, this “character” can be regarded as a symbol of Western civilization. The thing is that it is the West where an absolutely new understanding of time emerged, the understanding related to the invention and spread of a rewindable clock. Before and after that, in non-western cultures prevailed a dual understanding of time. According to one of the understandings time is cyclic, nothing new happens and the rule of life is established once and for all. Such a philosophy is brilliantly expressed in the book of Ecclesiastes. The other understanding implies that some things do happen, life changes, but these changes are determined by physical or external forces. So, you have to live in the present moment; anyway, you cannot change the future and the events will develop in their own way.
Upon the invention of such a clock, i.e. in about XII or XIII century, Europeans placed it just on the chapel of the church (can you imagine a mosque or an Orthodox church with a clock on it?). From that period a new understanding of time is gradually introduced. Time is undimensional, irreversible, it runs forward and what is most important, people are able to change the future. Moreover, the future depends on man’s activity. In short, the concept of progress emerged.
An impressive picture, indeed: once in fifteen minute’s thaqe chime of bells would spread all over Europe. Another fifteen minutes have elapsed. Remember! You have less time left to fulfill your duty on this earth.
The new philosophy of time was not of course introduced overnight, but in Europe more and more people realized the value of time. This process was largely accelerated with the formation of capitalism, especially in England and then in America, where Benjamin Franklin (the one pictured on a hundred dollar note) imposed price on time (“Time is money”).
No other civilization in the history of mankind developed as rapidly as Western civilization. The new understanding of time significantly shaped its type, with all its weak and strong sides. The West is a rapid formation and change of architectural styles, fashions, ideas, and technical inventions. History has preserved a dialogue of a Japanese aristocrat and Dutch merchant about the advantages of their countries. One of the arguments of the Japanese person was such: Does it make any sense to talk with you? Every year you are dressed in a new way. The irony of history is that once stationary Japan has shared Western philosophy. Today it values time even more than the West does and the timer participating in American films is mostly of Japanese production. But Japan is still exceptional in this respect – in no other country or culture time is valued as much as here.
In Georgia, attitude towards time more corresponds to traditional non-western models. In other words, Georgians believe that life goes on and the situation is getting better (You can often hear people saying – This country will settle down, eventually, will not it?) but this is ensured by some external forces, which are not quite clearly defined. People focus on the present but long term plans and, especially their implementation is quite an unusual thing with us. We can say that Georgians are optimists – fatalists. But time is not valued here. Lack of punctuality could be almost considered our national trait. In Tbilisi, with the exception of the underground, there is only one clock (the clock on the municipality building) that works properly.
There is something attractive in such an attitude towards time, and, I would add here, money. But on the other hand such a perspective (if the word perspective is relevant here) is extremely inefficient and in addition to that, is characteristic of the mentality of the poor. It is known that the mentality of the poor (including the irrational use of time) is the cause of poverty rather than its effect. Today Georgia is a poor country and it is up to us whether it remains like this in the future.

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