Not all Grief is the Same in ‘Fata Morgana’

Fata Morgana tells the story of a couple dealing with the loss of a child, and provides a brief glimpse into the different ways grief can manifest in different people.

In many character studies, the standard model of the seven stages of grief can provide a very useful basis for understanding a character’s emotional state. With slight variances differing from character to character, many characters will follow similar emotional patterns when faced with the loss of a loved one. However, just as real life will often break patterns in unpredictable ways, people too often break patterns and act in unpredictable ways. In Fata Morgana, when an older couple loses their child, both parents seem surprised in the way the other reacts to this loss.

What is most striking about Fata Morgana is the narrative efficiency. In a story that is driven by a death, the cause of that death would strike many as an important piece of information, but that is exactly the information that Fata Morgana leaves out. The audience isn’t even given a clue as to how Ting Ting passed. While this might seem like an oversight to many, by leaving out this information it forces the audience to focus on the parts of the story that the film makers chose to emphasize; namely Ting Ting’s parents’ respective reactions to her death, and how they differ, and how the difference in these reactions effects the couple’s relationship. Similarly, while tension felt between the husband and wife is never directly addressed, at least not until the end of the film, the audience is still made to feel this tension, a feat which is achieved mostly through very carefully structured shots.

Another interesting feature of Fata Morgana is the way the film forces the audience to choose a side in the unspoken fight between the husband and wife, which is done in the same way that the tension is alluded to in the first place. This framing of who the film portrays as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (for lack of a better word) is so effective that, despite the fact that I’m not even slightly superstitious, when the husband asks his wife how she can cling “to all these old doctrines,” I cannot help but take the wife’s side in the disagreement, against my own beliefs.

Furthering this effect is the way the characters are presented to the audience. While the wife is presented as the main character of sorts, giving the viewer a seemingly objective view of her grief, we only really see the husband’s grief how his wife sees him expressing it, a much less objective presentation to the audience. To me, this is where the title of the film, Fata Morgana, comes into play. A fata morgana is a type of mirage in which the viewer sees something not quite as it is, as the wife sees her husband’s grief, and by extension how the audience sees her husband’s grief.

Overall, Fata Morgana provides a fascinating look not only into how grief manifests differently in different people despite being faced with the same loss, but also how this difference can effect their interpersonal relationships. While the film is framed in such a way that the viewer sympathizes with one character in particular over the other characters in the film, there is not one specific ‘good guy’ or ‘bad guy,’ providing a much more realistic and nuanced presentation of the events and emotions depicted. Beyond that, the film is very well constructed, giving the audience just enough information to understand the important aspects of what is going on in the film without having superfluous information that doesn’t add to the viewing experience, which only serves to make the viewing experience that much better.

Dan Levitan

Dan is an undergrad student at Binghamton University, with a major in creative writing and a minor in cinema. He is also an amateur magician and comic book enthusiast. You can usually find him watching a movie, at fencing practice, or taking a nap.

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