Texts and images (ideologies) collide in Made in U.S.A., but this seems Godard’s perpetual project. If resolution comes, it’s through the emphasis of a particular object/subject’s mysteriousness—in the way, say, Marianne Faithfull effectively resolves a roundabout discussion in a bar (paraphrase: “a door is more than a door”: onward to and beyond infinity) by singing, a cappella, “As Tears Go By.” The repeated progression: The literal meaning of a thing is called into question; Godard overthinks the problem, relishing its Fibonacci-esque nature; the camera (via Coutard) plumbs the depths of a face (or—as in the last, breathless sequence—a background landscape) in counterbalance/counterpoint, retaining and restating cinema’s essential mystery of faith.
Another mystery: the murder plot, grafted onto the widescreen/color palette from a novel where even the author (Donald E. Westlake writing as Richard Stark) is not himself, much as, in the film proper, “Mizoguchi” is not the filmmaker, but a guitar-strumming, Japanese musician named Doris (Kyôko Kosaka), onto whose corpse is grafted a Beethoven T-Shirt (as simultaneously resonant and hollow, in its representation, as a Che bauble). But perhaps that’s speaking too literally, only humming the familiar bars of the tune in question. “Ruby Gentry” and “Daisy Kenyon,” after all, are paged via loudspeaker in a wet-dream satirical spa/gymnasium (one of the bluntest aural/visual barbs); doesn’t mean they’ll show up, any more than those unseen planes that sonic boom overhead (always obliterating, ’long with those damned ringing telephones, the last name of Paula Nelson’s (Anna Karina) missing paramour Richard P…) will drop the atom bomb. But the threat/promise remains: the borders are permeable, even in this “Atlantic City” that feels like a prison, its inhabitants bouncing off of each other (and the various complots) like the pinballs in the machine in the auto garage where Jean-Pierre Léaud (as “Donald Siegel”—so credited; never, I believe, stated) meets his spastic demise.
Too easy to weight Made in U.S.A. to the personal: certainly it bears the scars of the Godard/Karina breakup, but it’s more than that; as it is more than a politicized response to the Mehdi Ben Barka affair; as it is more than a flippant dismissal of American foreign policy (signified by two Cahiers critics, Jean-Pierre Biesse and Sylvain Godet, playing “Richard Nixon” and “Robert McNamara”). Godard himself assumes the (entirely vocal) role of Richard P…, yammering on about Lefts and Rights, forcing Paula (and Karina) to a final reckoning (where a revolver, upstaged by a woman’s shoe in the film’s first scene, comes to its full, destructive potential). Her tear-stained face, post-shootout with Paul Widmark (Laszlo Szabo) and David Goodis (Yves Afonso), is at once revenge realized and reconciliation attained, though the concerns are as much global as personal. Godard gives the penultimate thought to an actual journalist (Philippe Labro: subtly poking at Paula’s affiliation with Radar; confidently dissecting “never changing” political polarities) and the gorilla-in-the-room final line to Paula. The foreground drama ends on a query, while the Gallic hills and highways stretch to eternity. FIN.
Keith Uhlich is editor of The House Next Door.