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Rey and the Death of the Sovereign Subject

Published onOct 19, 2021
Rey and the Death of the Sovereign Subject

“Whoever plays with balls will, when the seriousness of the idea overtakes the game, find themselves face to face with an oversized, over-beautiful and over-round orb that inevitably rolls over its players.”

“In structural terms, what we call the end of the world is the death of a sphere”

Peter Sloterdijk

In Rey, Niles Atallah begins at the end, thereby structuring the story of Orélie- Antoine de Tounen’s dream of becoming King of Araucania and Patagonia as a circle. Atallah frames the film as if it were from the early period of cinema. The viewer hears the whirring of the projector and sees simulated celluloid effects, thereby becoming conscious of the film’s projection on the screen. The story begins with a still of de Tounen’s face, who appears as if frozen in time. The reference to immobile time is conveyed by the cool blue, ethereal atmosphere from which his face, and subsequently his reposing body, emerge and fade again. In contrast to the stillness of the story’s beginning, its end is preceded by scenes of an ash-red empty setting to the sound of flames and falling bits of ash. A circle manifests in the shape of a centrifugal kaleidoscope of Antoine’s four masked faces. The latter divide, and meld into one another, as the protagonist’s off-screen voice states in a mantra-like manner that he is king (“Soy rey. Rey sol. Rey estrella. Soy rey. Rey tierra. Rey pájaro...Rey de ratas. Rey de las caras colgantes”). This soundscape augments the mesmerizing effect of the kaleidoscope of Antoine’s masked faces, which continue to fragment in an increasingly rapid tempo. The kaleidoscopic vision comes to an abrupt halt when the speed at which the faces fold and unfold effects a dissolution of their facial semblance. The sphere, made up of the kaleidoscope of masked faces, explodes, banishing Antoine and leaving the viewer in the non-place of the white screen. 

With this brief essay of the text’s beginning and ending as a springboard, I shall explore what I consider key motifs for approaching the apocalyptic imaginary articulated by Atallah in Rey. The elements in question involve spheres (and more specifically monospherism), faciality, and the text’s attention to the media through which the story is produced.


The story’s circular narrative structure and the kaleidoscope of masked faces are suggestive of the sphere motif. This narrative and visual form directs our attention to the fragile nature of spheres. Sloterdijk observes that “Sheres are constantly disquieted by their inevitable instability: like happiness and glass, they bear the risks native to everything that shatters easily” (48). Rey is the story of the catastrophic shattering of a sovereign subject (God?), whose death in the macrosphere of modernity is precipitated by being situated at once in the center and in the infinity of the universe. The subject’s infinitude is suggested by a voice-over, in which Antoine declares that he is king of stars, planets, birds, and rats: “Soy rey. Rey sol. Rey estrella. Soy rey. Rey tierra. Rey pájaro...Rey de ratas. Rey de las caras colgantes”). As noted at the outset, the text’s beginning starts at the end. Thus, a closer look at the prologue shall contribute to better defining the sovereign subject and the sphere that envelopes him.


Por desarrollar: (1) el uso de las máscaras (según estas ideas: In his philosophy of faciality, Sloterdijk notes that like old cultures, modern ones “depend on mask as the means to encounter the inhuman or extra-human with a corresponding non-face or substituting face” [189]. “In both archaic and in modern times, depiction turns what was once a face into a shield to ward off what disfigures and negates faces. The mask is the facial shield that is raised in the war of sights” [189]) y (2) el papel de la ‘naturaleza’ y del “nature contract” que se establece en el filme entre Antoine y Dios.

(Use this at another point: The sovereign subject is also king of a mangled [montruous?] and non-truthful body politic [Rey de caras colgantes, Rey de lenguas mentirosas].)


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