Catalogue essay for Practices in Isolation by Gary Popovich April 19, 1986


In A Trilogy, the film's focus is on the relationship between the filmmaker and her son, structured both to allow and to refuse easy dissection, whence is generated the main tension of the film. 


Breaking down A Trilogy into three separate pieces or even searching for parts of the trilogy as distinct sections is misleading, for trilogic elements abound in the film (three sets of rolling titles, three seemingly distinct ages at which the young boy is shown, the three days marked out by CBC's "World Report," the three distinctly separate letters read by the mother, et al). Furthermore, the film has three major distinct sections which weave in and out of each other throughout the film: 1) a woman diving into a swimming pool and a man running down a road; 2) a narrative section in which a husband and wife are having breakfast; 3) a collection of personal images, home movie footage, and memories, most of which are optically printed and most directly evocative of Sternberg's emotions vis-à-vis the themes of the film. 


Each of these elements constitutive of the whole is always separate and distinct, yet always resisting separation. As if the active voice of the filmmaker was everywhere trying to assert its presence amidst the roar of emotion which has already denied the voice these easy delusions... the absences join together by a fiction situated outside of presence representing loss...two movements—one always moving inward toward some unity of expression, and offering from filmmaker to viewer; the other a visual and oral representation of the coming apart... the recognition of hole in whole; the parting of mother and son. 


The opening shots record these very movements. A woman poised at the edge of a swimming pool hesitates to dive into the water. A man runs down a country road, his panting breaths are broken by occasional remarks about water, sinking, love and giving. A breakfast scene depicts the habitual ritual reducing emotion to empty gesture; a kiss, a spoken good-bye while "World Report" talks about disaster at sea. And throughout the film a mother and her young son are together or moving apart, at beaches in or near the water. As images race by and emotion comes to a pitch, the now submerged swimmer from the beginning of the film breaks the surface as the loud cry of a newborn baby and the subsequent cutting of the umbilical cord mark the representation of the first significant separation. 


As the boy is always running or moving away from his mother, so in the end does the running man keep running. But the camera no longer stays close to him. It stops to watch the man disappear in the distance, then it returns to the woman poised at the edge of the pool to capture her dive expressing its affinity with her situating itself in the water with her. 


A Trilogy begins unveiling itself at the title so that 'title' is passed from the filmmaker to the viewer and from the filmmaker to the son by means of the film. The two movements then (moving together and coming apart) both unite and separate filmmaker and viewer, and mother and son.  As the filmmaker passes the title to the audience she also passes it to her son—title as a form of recognition, title as film—the emotion into which both must plunge.