In the opening minutes of The Darjeeling Limited, Adrien Brody runs after a train in slow motion. His long limbs devour the platform, but they do so with leisure and grace. He is an impossible creature, encased in a perfect grey suit, and he clambers through the air as if he has received a temporary reprieve from the normal obligations of gravity. His fingers unfurl from the handle of his suitcase, one by one, and each release is a moment of solemn and breathless delight.
Every time I watch it, I feel like I am witnessing a magic trick.
Details are inevitable when watching something in slow motion. You are granted the opportunity to dilate a moment and wander across it, nose pressed right up against the little things you might otherwise have missed. The creases on the underside of a wrist are cavernous; the long pull on the side of a mouth nearly unbearable on account of the anticipation. The slowness unfolds everything particular or odd from even the most old-hat and ordinary of events, relieving the dullness of familiarity and introducing you as strangers.
It’s an effect I often see in my favorite works of fiction, with an accumulation of words standing in for overcranked film. In “Backbone” by David Foster Wallace, the careful, lingering descriptions of the contortions a boy pursues while attempting to press his lips to each part of his body methodically consume you until you are standing, unexpectedly, on the inside of his strange and isolated obsession. In Neil Gaiman’s “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains,” there is a single paragraph of description of cloud and light that lifts you out of the unsettling narrative to a quivering pause before leaving you to fall back into it. And in Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, the vertigo-inducing swings between wallowing detail and speeding incident transform you into someone whose head is ripe to be turned inside out.
In real life and personal application, it is sometimes even stranger. Habits as boring as brushing your hair or assembling a sandwich or running after the dog are, when seen in slow motion, an alien thing, a collection of gestures that seem like they wouldn’t fit if you tried them on.
It can also be beautiful and a shock to the system. That wonderful, impossible creature, the one who is running for the train in slow motion, is, in fact, someone you know.
PROJECT: Record yourself (or someone you know well) doing something normal. Drinking a glass of water, opening a can of tomatoes, making a bed. Slow it down. Watch it. Be disturbed/pleased/stunned. Feel like the lady who got cut in two in a magic show—sliced open and put back together again. I’d love it if you shared. Let us know in the comments!