Reflexive Mode: The sincerity of the Insincere


Like any other “ism” the metamodern approach can be hard to describe in a few paragraphs, some people still struggle to understand what makes it different from the postmodern and although the concept has been around since the 70’s, the ideas that make the metamodern have been around since the mid 50’s but in 2010 Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker popularized the idea with their notes on metamodernism and then Luke Turner created the Metamodernist Manifesto in an attempt to define the metamodern spirit.

10805729_815797421796513_6044218131998813747_nIn a nutshell, the metamodernist discourse proposes that there is a point in which postmodernism falls short to describe our culture. Metamodernism is a place in between the logic of modernism and the cynicism of postmodernism, it is a way to describe a new feeling that oscillates between the sincere and the ironic.

According to Nichols, the reflexive mode of documentary challenges the realist style of filmmaking and makes the audience “question the power of the camera’s gaze  to represent and misrepresent…” (Nichols, 195) the reflexive mode makes the familiar strange and by using this “alienating” technique,  we become hyper-aware of reality.

Because the reflexive mode seeks the truth through the loss of authenticity it can be considered as the metamodern approach to documentary filmmaking. In this mode the filmmaker “draws our attention to our assumptions and expectations about the documentary form itself” (Nichols, 198) and thus reveals the truth through a construction of reality, the people becomes the messenger but the message.

The film Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989) is a great example of the sincerity of the insincere. Trinh T. Min-ha starts her documentary making us believe she is in Vietnam interviewing woman that experienced the oppression that came after the war, throughout this interviews we are confronted with a series of very stylized shots that make the audience feel “strange” and question the sincerity of the subjects, or at least what we think are the subjects.surnameviet_a

In the middle of the film, Trhin reveals that we are looking at a construction, what we are experiencing is fake but at the same time it’s real. Even though we are aware of the construction and the fakeness of the film, we can also find the authenticity, there is a lot of truth behind the constructed reality, just like Vertov shows the process of cutting a film and makes us aware that what we are watching is a construction, we can still know that we are looking at reality.

It is impossible to completely place a documentary in a specific mode just like is impossible to completely describe culture by putting a tag but it’s useful to make connections that help us understand films better, that is why I think the reflexive mode of filmmaking is in a very metamodern way, the exploration of sincerity through the insincere.

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