Author: Nina Lee
A month after filming wrapped, hundreds of hours of footage finally begins to feel like a film. Speaking with Nathan Shields gave me a chance to understand how much of the final film is in the editor’s hands and how he has managed to illustrate the changing facets of Anna and her worldview.
Over the past month, Shields has been piecing together a film that, until just a little while ago consisted of words on a page and snippets of scenes taking up terabytes of space. In his editing suite, he’s had nothing much more than an idea, a script, and some director’s notes and cues embedded in the footage to work with. With these details, Shields is charged with merging the script and the performances to make the director’s imagination a reality. Until now, the film had existed only in the minds of a few people. Using the idea of wunscherfüllung, or wish-fulfillment, Shields had a clear direction to start editing the film.
A non-linear story, Drowning constantly switches between real life and Anna, our protagonist’s imagination. Anna is a woman who has lost control of her autonomy, her life, and even where she lays her head at night. So out of control is she in her life, her only opportunity to have any control is in her dreams. She strives for power at a time when she has none. This need to fulfill her wishes is a common theme in psychoanalysis. Originally coined by Freud in 1900, wunscherfüllung or wish-fulfillment occurs when unconscious desires stemming from guilt and societal taboos are repressed in daily life. Dreams are attempts by the unconscious to resolve these repressed conflicts. Sounds simple enough. But how does this idea translate into film?
The various dream-like sequences were filmed in a different style compared to the real-life shots, explained Shields. Using a shallow focus and close-up shots spinning around the actors convey a sense of vertigo and loss of control, while harsh cuts between these scenes and real-life give audiences a sense of awakening to the harsh light of reality. In comparison, Shields brings audiences into Anna’s fantasies and dreams gently, as if we were drifting into a restful sleep. Using simple cutting techniques, rather than dramatic colour distinctions he avoids distracting the audience and creates a clear and simple flow to the story.
Anna’s need to sleep is vital. Long have we known about the importance of sleep - it helps reset our internal clocks, allows us to heal contusions and other physical ailments, it helps your heart and other organs function properly, reduces inflammation, and helps us focus and concentrate. But our dreams are just as important to our mental health as sleep is to our physical well-being. When we dream, we have a chance to unconsciously fulfill our wishes and hopes, which are often based on our daily activities. This ability to unconsciously consider our past experiences offers us an outlet, it gives us freedom when we are held captive. However, interpreting our desires through our dreams is a practice of imperfect methods. A wriggling fish could symbolize personal struggle just as easily as it could symbolize a penis or even a player’s astrological sign. What is known, however, is how our dreams help us release pent up feelings that we generate when we are awake.