Mysticism in Film: ‘The Inner Scar’ (‘La Cicatrice Intérieure,’ 1972) Part 2

❉ We continue our mind-blowing odyssey through ‘The Inner Scar’ and pause to admire Nico’s cheekbones.

We’ve already seen how ‘The Inner Scar’ has autobiographical elements woven into its weird, dreamlike narrative and painterly visuals. However, as the film progresses, and we submerge deeper into the trip, we’ll soon find ourselves drowning in obscurity and near-surrealism, to the point where any meaning becomes seemingly impossible to discern. But this like the very alchemical nature of film itself, is illusion. There is meaning there, but boy, are we going to have to dig deep…

The Archer arrives in a new land.

Last we week, we faded out on Nico being led out of the wilderness by her son, Ari. This week, we fade in on a Young Man (Daniel Pommereulle), riding the same horse across a valley where he is hailed by Nico. The Young Man on the horse seems to be Ari grown up, as is implied by the clothes he wears, which are similar to that of the boy’s.

We then jump to a road winding through the valley. Nico stands in the foreground shouting directly at us, whilst the Young Man, holding a white flag of surrender, sits on his horse at the roadside to her left and behind her. Philippe makes a return too, herding hundreds of goats along the road between them.

Nico screams, “Nonsense to my right! Mercy to my left… There is no Mercy! There is no justice! The seas shall rise over your heads and drawn you all! All of you!” Leaving her hysterics behind, and accompanied by Absschied (another track from ‘Desertshore’) Philippe continues to shepherd his flock, and this will be the last we see of him.

On one level, it looks like the surrogate father figure is leaving, now that the child has become a man (Philippe and Nico don’t look any older, though), but on another lever, what with Nico’s ravings, it’s like the artist, Garrel, is going off on his own, carrying the burden of his own troubles, represented by the goats, with him, as his muse impotently screams in defensive frustration at those who don’t understand him (in other words, the audience). Either way, there’s a sense of closure in the way Philippe leaves, as though he must go off to continue his journey alone.

The character of Philippe does not appear again in the film after this, but there might well be another personification of Garrel, in the male figure who replaces his own .

The Archer canters along the shoreline. Clearly no one warned him about the Icelandic climate.

The shift in focus is heralded by the arrival of the Archer (Pierre Clémenti), who lands on the shores of a black, rocky coastline, naked, and with nothing but a bow and arrow (which is never utilised). He mounts a conveniently placed horse, then canters along the beach, pausing when Nico calls out to him from the rocks. He hears her, but does not see her and eventually moves on.

Who is this new arrival? What does he embody? Well, given that the film was made after Garrel had undergone electro-convulsive therapy, and Nico has stated that ‘The Inner Scar’ of the title refers to his own mental illness, perhaps this new arrival is a reconstituted, perfected Philippe, stripped bare, beautiful, armed, and seemingly fearless? Could they be the same person represented by two different figures? Was Philippe herding his flock away so that he would return as a new man? When Garrel was receiving ECT, Nico was not allowed to be in the room with him, and he emerged walking with a temporary club foot. Can we read the Archer as his ideal self, physically fit and mentally alert?

This might be reading too much into it, but if Nico’s Janitor of Lunacy is Garrel / Philippe, (as in the man, and the character), then the Archer could well represent the new Garrel. Why? Because, being an Archer, we could regard him as a Janissary; one of the Ottoman Empire’s elite soldiers whose title means door servant. The etymology is similar to that of janitor, which also derives from the Latin for door, but refers to a door keeper. It might also be significant that he remains somewhat elusive to Nico, unlike Philippe, who was constantly at her side, no matter how much abuse she heaped on him. She even seems placated by the knowledge that he could leave at any time. Throughout the rest of the film, Nico and the Archer will show no sign of co-dependency. A healthy distance is mostly maintained, with only a few, peaceful, almost tender, interactions between them.

You’ll be seeing a lot of those buttocks before the film is out…

There is another possibility, one that we’ll look into in more depth in Part 3, but the two halves of the film seem to mirror each other in odd ways, almost like scenes replayed in two entirely different worlds and under different circumstances, which leads one to muse, what if the first half of the film mirrors Nico and Garrel’s relationship from one of their perspectives, and the second from the others?

It should be noted that Garrel took LSD in preparation for the making of this film and, since the film’s imagery is of a personal nature, one has to approach it with the same hallucinatory logic as a fever-dream. In fact, with its obscure dialogue, deliberate pacing, and sudden tonal shift halfway through, ‘The Inner Scar’ is one of the very, very few films that genuinely captures that weird otherworldliness of being in a dream. One wonders what Jung would have made of it all…

Let us pause to admire Nico’s cheekbones.

With the departure of Philippe and the arrival of the Archer, there is also a marked shift in the landscapes as well; all the scenes between Archer and Nico were shot in volcanic, Icelandic locations. They are primal, and almost give a sense of creation. In one scene, shortly after his arrival on the shores of this strange land, the Archer sits on a cliff at night and intones a magic word, which prompts massive eruptions of bubbling steam. It feels almost as if he were imbuing the land with something, even impregnating it.

For now, let us draw the line at what is possibly the most striking scene of the film; The Archer rides down a vast, glacial valley until he comes face to face with Nico, standing on a rock in the middle-distance, set against the back drop of a mind-blowingly epic waterfall.

The Archer stops as the camera slowly zooms in on her as she intones: “We can never be here! We can never be here until we die! We know that! You know that! We can never be here! Not until we’re gone! Not until we’re gone!

It’s the sort of cryptic, lucid dreamer’s monologue that somehow makes sense on an unconscious level. To the waking observer, the words only feel somehow appropriate, but indefinably so. Maybe she’s talking about happiness, or perfection. Maybe she is referring to all those things we seek in life, yet that forever elude us. Maybe, given what title, ‘The Inner Scar’ actually refers to, she is talking about peace and sanity.

And on that note, next week we’ll conclude our odyssey of oddities through this labyrinthine mind-scape of sand, fire and ice…

❉ About the author: Jonathan Sisson studied Moving Image at the University of Central Lancashire and produced several short films. After that, he became and actor and has appeared in several film and television productions.

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