Gets one heck of a cerebral movie review, and we get a chunky philosophy refresher:
One of the knots that Ms. [Lena] Dunham requires you to untie while you’re watching “Tiny Furniture” is the extent to which she is playing with ideas about fiction and the real, originals and copies. Is the character Aura actually Ms. Dunham (the unique woman who lived in that loft) or is the director playing a copy of herself? Ms. Dunham doesn’t overtly say. One hint, though, might be the character’s unusual first name, which suggests that Ms. Dunham, at the age of 24 and herself a recent graduate, has read the social theorist Walter Benjamin’s 1930s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” one of the most influential (and commonly classroom-assigned) inquiries into aesthetic production and the mass reproduction of art.
Benjamin argued that an original work of art (say, a Rodin sculpture), has an aura, which creates a distance between it and the beholder. But aura decays as art is mechanically reproduced (say, for postcards). This decay is evident in cinema, where instead of individuals contemplating authentic works of art, as in a museum, a collective consumes images in a state of distraction. While there were dangers inherent in this shift, and while cinema could uphold what he called “the phony spell of a commodity,” its shocks might also lead to a “heightened presence of mind.” (“The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, while the truly new is criticized with aversion.”) Cinema, in other words, might spark critical thinking.
“Tiny Furniture” is at times more pleasurable to think about than it is to watch, more of a conceptual coup than an enjoyable experience. Ms. Dunham hasn’t made a movie that hews to familiar notions of commercial narrative cinema (she doesn’t mind boring you), and she hasn’t created an aesthetic object that solicits oohs and aahs. Yet in her at times exasperating, at times touching fashion, she has created a work that addresses a constellation of ideas that speak to how we live now, on screen and off, in an age of multiplying types of technological reproductions. By playing a version of herself (and asking her family to go along for the ride), and by closing the distance between art and life, she has gotten at something real.