Clare has come to Havana, Cuba to attend a Latin American Film Festival. Her late husband, Richard, was the film expert and, after his death a few weeks earlier, she decided to attend as he would have. Clare admits she is feeling disoriented, which the reader assumes is part of her grief and mourning. But she adds to this quality by pretending to be other people and having a different profession (she actually inspects elevators). She gives names that are those Richard had told her were used in horror films for the female survivor, the “Final Girl,” because they were androgynous rather than female.
Here she had given everyone who asked a different name, Laurie, Ripley, Sidney. She claimed to be a film critic for a newspaper. She could walk around an imposter and who would be able to tell; this was the seduction of traveling unaccompanied.
Laurie, Ripley, and Sidney are characters in Halloween, Alien, and Scream respectively.
Clare is soon shocked to see Richard, or his double, and wonders how to locate this man. She starts her inquiries at the festival information booth, showing the attendant a photographs, she realizes the futility of this avenue. If she follows the usual channels, she will have to admit that she is chasing a ghost.
If she were to keep pressing, if this woman were to summon someone from the hotel and if that person were to summon a police officer and if that officer were to ask when her husband had last been seen: nothing she knew in any language could sufficiently describe her situation.
The film that she has come to see, Revolucion Zombi, was made by director Yuniel Mata. In a talk he gives about horror film theory, he states that substituting one kind of truth for another is key to making the viewer feel terror.
[T]he foundation of horror is a dislocation of reality, a dislocation designed to reveal the reality that has been there all along, and such dislocations happen all the time.
His words are the same as her own about her mental state upon arrival.
What was she doing in Havana? . . .
She might have said,
I am experiencing a dislocation of reality.
Van den Berg includes allusions to both novels and films in which the female protagonist feels she is becoming detached from reality. One evening as Clare is preparing to attend another reception for the festival, her confusion and exhaustion nearly overtake her. She is enveloped in a waking dream about an endless descent down a staircase.
Without even sitting down, let alone falling asleep, Clare dropped a layer below consciousness into a dream in which she was descending an unending staircase; every time it seemed that she was getting close to the bottom, a dozen more marble steps unfurled at her feet.
This dream mimics a legendary scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. As the heroine tries escape from Nazi spies, she descends a grand staircase. To increase the suspense, Hitchcock focused on the feet on the steps and, with additional shots, made her walk down more steps than were actually on the staircase.
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