It would be very easy to watch the event which forms the center of this beautiful video essay from David Cairns for Criterion, on Jacques Tati’s Playtime, and think it was merely a gag, nothing more, nothing less. Monsieur Hulot breaks a glass door at a fancy restaurant because he is trying to enter too politely; everyone pretends it’s still there; madcap and hilarious hijinx ensue. But, in fact, there’s more to it than that. As Cairns sagely points out, the gag has its own architecture, as the door’s parts become markers for a scene within a larger film. Beyond that, though, the gag is a telling one, about human nature and the desire to pretend, beyond hope, that everything is fine. The doorman continues to hold the door handle "open" for restaurant customers, even though there is no door; when the shards of the door replace ice in a champagne bucket, the drinkers think they are at fault when their champagne is warm. The short scene anatomized here points out something immortal about so much of physical comedy, and reminds us of an oft-forgotten fact: whatever it is we think the mind is, or may be, it is ultimately a product of the brain, and the body. What happens in the body, such as smashing into a door, ultimately happens within the mind as well.
Watch: A Video Essay About Jacques Tati, A Glass Door, and The Importance of Appearances