Profiles of Finland
Finnish Geography
Saturday, 22 February 1997, at 10am-4pm
Dr Sirpa Tani

The City in the Magic Mirror: Geographical Interpretations of Helsinki Films as Mindscapes

Place means space filled with meanings. Place is always a person's own, subjectively experienced and produced in everyday life. Dr Sirpa Tani examines the relations between individuals and place - especially the city. Her study is closely related to the humanistic tradition in geography and its definitions of place, identity and environment.

The images of environment and our identification with place can never be based on individual experiences only; they also rely on intersubjectively shared meanings. Images and stereotypes produced by media and popular culture shape our landscapes of the mind, or, in other words, mindscapes. Films can be regarded as a magic mirror in that they reflect reality, but at the same time create new realities.

Tani interprets images of Helsinki and its people as represented in Finnish fiction films made between 1945 and 1994. Films create strong images of the city by audio-visual means. They also create new kinds of places which cannot be situated in any specific location: they only exist in "story" space.

Finnish films made before the mid-60s are usually based on mythical urban-rural dichotomy. They are stories about young people who want to change their lives by moving from the countryside to the big city. Innocent peasants try to get used to the urban way of life, but very often fail. The city is represented as a hostile and dangerous place for outsiders.

Finnish cinema changed remarkably in the 1960s. The old film industry did not manage to survive this change. A new generation of directors and producers created new visions of Helsinki and its people. In their films urban life is for the first time represented as a normal way of life and people as insiders in their own city. The yearn for the countryside is gone.

Since the 1980s Helsinki has been portrayed simultaneously as the opposite of the countryside and as a natural place to dwell. The old mythical images of the city are re-examined and reinterpreted, but not without consciously bringing in wholly new urban imagery. People in trouble do not find their refuge in the countryside anymore. Instead, the solution is often prison, death or flight abroad. The role of the city stays in the background. The relations between an urban dweller and the place is defined by day-to-day experiences. This is the basis for our sense of place, Tani concludes. The place lives on through its continuous existence in those experiencing it.


Back to index of issues

The uuslogo.jpg (2750 bytes) in London