A Ulysses Journey

An eco-feminist salute to the epic book Ulysses by James Joyce ; 'A Ulysses Journey' is art hand crafted film using experimental projection, effects and filters: based on a fantasy backward journey from Castle to Gutter, of a Dublin prostitute called 'The White Lady' so called for the thick white cream she wears on her face. She was scarred in mind and body when a lit lantern was thrown into her locked room :She sees herself as an earth Goddess, if a fading one, like Mollie Bloom in Ulysses, she is a Calypso, held captive by her past and the mirrored reflection of herself. YouTube LINK: https://youtu.be/-30HRgGZX9s

A Ulysses Journey and the Art of Film
A Critique by Art Critic/Author/Historian James Hanley

As a director, producer and editor of her own work, Joyce Garvey consistently seeks to expand the boundaries of the art-house, short film genre. She almost entirely jettisons cinematic realism and linear narrative in favour of a self-challenging experimentation and an atemporal synchronicity. Unlike Homer’s Odyssey, or even Joyce’s Ulysses, the ‘journey’ in her latest film is a figurative, symbolic, spiritual (but not in any religious sense) one. Her work in general - and especially A Ulysses Journey - is visually and interpretatively enriched by the unpredictable interplay and echoic resonances between image, sound (including an atmospheric and compelling soundtrack) and symbolism (stork, mirror, water, fire, apple, cross and, with a nod to her earlier ecofeminist film, Lucia Metamorfosi, burning babies/burning planet/ and also what happened to Monto babies in reality). A Ulysses Journey also engagingly indulges in a postmodernist relativism and irony and a suggestive eclecticism and playfulness in what adds up to a rich and densely compacted filmic experience for viewers. Literary, artistic and mythological allusiveness - Homer, James Joyce, Edgar Degas, the Cyclops myth and an implication of the Narcissus myth, for example - endow the film with a poststructuralist intertextuality which embeds it in broader cultural contexts which complicate any definitive viewer interpretations or conclusions.

The film opens with the flight of a (symbolic) stork. But with characteristic artistic self-consciousness the director offers viewers two images of the same filmic scene - one in black and white and the other in full colour. Viewers are, at least momentarily, invited to compare the relative aesthetic effects of both directorial takes. With even more dramatic and artistic skill, we are then presented with an image of the former prostitute, the White Lady of the Monto-cum- Eve-cum Molly Bloom plucking the flying stork out of the sky and transforming it into an emblem or symbol which she keeps with her. The film zooms in on non-spatiotemporal instances, such as this one, to remind viewers of what cinematic art can do which could not be achieved in the world of quotidian reality. Another example in A Ulysses Journey of film being so adept at capturing and evoking autotelic, visually timeless instants is a Pollockian-like cluster image about half-way through, which appears to allow the image to float free of, and indeed to frustrate, any understandable attempt by viewers to even begin to extrapolate coherent meanings, or indeed stable symbolic interpretations. Yet another example still would be the White Lady unselfconsciously luxuriating in a psychedelic, hallucinatory, dream-like world, detached from any recognisable one. The film, therefore, delights in the anti-mimetic, non-referential jouissance (to use a French term) of its own making. The use of filmic superimpositions are also effectively used to engender other emotional, symbolic and associative connotations.

In keeping with the artistic self-consciousness of the film, the use of symbolism in A Ulysses Journey is, however, not sacrosanct. Some apparently obvious ones interestingly disconcert viewers’ expectations. The stork, for instance, is traditionally a positive symbol, and it largely is so in Joyce Garvey’s film. However, one close-up of a stork’s eye near the end of the film - which also echoes the more baleful Cyclops ( Polyphemus) of Homer’s Odyssey who prevented the hero Odysseus from getting home in time, and the Cyclops episode in Joyce’s Ulysses - is ambiguous because this eye is also the eye of the camera. Art, in this case cinematic art, can tease and manipulate the viewer - not in any malicious sense of course - for its own ends, as well as involving viewers in engaging paradigms about human experience. Eyes are also emblematically and symbolically bound up with the pervasive images of the mirror in A Ulysses Journey. We get a stream of mingling, reflective, even contradictory images-cum- symbols. In artistic and psychological terms we think of Aristotle’s mimesis or Jacques Lacan’s metaphorically psychoanalytical concept of the mirror stage in the merging of the perception of a child’s image in a mirror with personal identity as a unity that is persistent through time. The White Lady who justifiably, given her experience, feels that she is a ‘nobody’ (without an identity) sees an image in the mirror and is slightly startled by her own reflection. Her repeated, Molly Bloom-like, very emphatic ‘Yes’ is testimony to her having resurrected an identity for herself which she enthusiastically celebrates. The mirror, however, could be symbolically deconstructed by simply seeing it as a decorative, luxurious artefact that she likes to carry around with her.

The symbolism of the proverbial apple is a telling one in A Ulysses Journey. There is a scene in which the White Lady eats an apple with great gusto and relish. In this scenario she is a feminist Eve - and also a Molly Bloom - who grasps and celebrates experience and knowledge which is forbidden by a patriarchal society/God. Instead of forfeiting a paradise, she is forfeiting a dystopia and seizing a rejuvenated personal life on her own terms. Viewers, consequently, may feel that at last they have a plausible and coherent meaning to come away with from the film. However, the director may have, consciously or unconsciously, other ideas. A later image shows the remains of the said apple on the ground and its being eaten by insects. Once again, the symbolism is deconstructed. The apple is literally an organic fruit that also supplies sustenance for insects too. We are thus reminded of the sometimes arbitrary and schematic, although understandable, nature of artistic creation, and indeed of the frequently subjective (but not exclusively) nature of any meanings or interpretations which viewers may feel compelled to deduce from it. In an affirmation attributed to Sigmund Freud when discussing psychoanalysis, a cigar is sometimes just a cigar! Nevertheless, one important core symbolic moment in the film does not deconstruct. The White Lady appears to die, but her death is not a literal dying. It is a life-in-death transformation and a Joycean epiphanic experience that suffuses A Ulysses Journey. It is a shedding of her old, unhappy life and the birth of her new, affirmative, liberating one.

YES to that!

James Hanley.

  • Joyce Garvey
  • Joyce Garvey
  • Joyce Garvey
  • Sharon Hogan
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Experimental, Short
  • Runtime:
    10 minutes 29 seconds
  • Production Budget:
    6,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
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  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Joyce Garvey

Dr Joyce Garvey is a visual artist, writer, and award winning filmmaker who uses visual art/film,
/installation/creative writing and photography to focus the observer on her themes of human and global evolution: Age/IdentityDisability/Diversity/Environment and Pandemic.
See full biography in joycegarvey.com

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

Visual Art is my life study (ANCA.BA.MA.PhD). Forever learning, forever discovering through the different stages of my life: The Maiden, The Mother, The Crone.
This is a hand-crafted film using experimental projection to create effects with hand held camera/mobile phone and original creative writing, hand painted filters. It is a cameo story based on historical fact, 'The Monto' was the red-light district of Dublin, Ireland from 1860 to 1925. This film unearthed intriguing references to the 'Monto' in James Joyce's writings with particular emphasis to the 'she' Women in the film fought hard for their rights within a time and a profession and a church that was entirely male dominated.
Nowadays, women are challenging old taboos and the art in this film aims to positively appropriate religiously and culturally misogynistic associations placing the Female in its rightful empowered position in the modern world.