Cinematic thinking is most often associated with art cinema. Ideally, art cinema presents a contemplative form of aesthetic, philosophical, and political exploration for an audience for whom such cinematic investigations are important. Most significantly, it constructs the cinematic image as a form of cinematic thinking: imaging thought and imaging as a mode of thought. The Price of Gold (2013), a documentary following three Swedish Olympians through their training and preparation for the Olympic Games, expands this form of analysis beyond the well worn confines of the auteur director, serving our theme week’s occupation with cinematic thinking with equal complexity and precision precisely because we find thought emanating where we least expect it: the body.
The opening sequence appears to offer a simple montage dramatizing the epic scale of athletic theater we call the Olympic Games. But a closer analysis brings to the surface the productive tension between performance and victory, training and sacrifice. It is the latter the film images so strikingly because it asks viewers the very question we see Carolina Klüft pose: “How much can you endure for a shot at the gold?” In documenting the transformation of these athletes through training, the spectator witnesses with a dual awareness the potential of endurance to animate new physiological possibilities through a body stressed from a greater complexity of intensities and the conception of subjectivity it offers.
How, then, are we to make this film, and these bodies, more than a didactic lesson about the cutthroat nature of contemporary sport? The film offers this thought as a reply: a body does not wholly correspond to its present, rather it coincides with its potential. Rather than judge this training as brutal or commendable as the “correct” reading, the challenge is to hold both possibilities in a productive tension. The pain and sacrifice of training is vicious, but the lesson our politics need now, a politics that seem so uninterested in potential and so invested in the reductive pandering to the present, could learn something from these images, these thoughts: the body that endures varies, the subject who varies carries the potential of its continuities, and it is with this potential that the openness for change results. The price is steep, but this film helps conceive the thought that with the proper training our aspirations are attainable goals, whereas a goal without training is merely a wish.