Film, Psychology

Before Being Executed – Death, Desire and Disgust in Film

Baise-Moi (Fuck Me). Directed by Virginie Despantes and co-directed by Coralie. Remstar, 20005

     “…why not turn criminal and become an agent of Heaven?”6 The Marquis de Sade

     Baise-Moi tells a story about two girls; Manu a thuggish looking girl, played by Raffa Anderson and Nadine a part-time prostitute played by Karen Lancaume. Two of them meet at the train station after a couple of “misfortune” events in their lives.

     Before meeting Nadine Manu and her only friend, a drug addict, are rapped by three degenerate street punks. After the rape Manu goes to her brother and tells what has happened. Manu’s brother reacts by vowing to find and take revenge upon the rapists, but is killed by Manu instead. Manu takes all his money and leaves.

     Meantime in another part of the town Nadine returns home from her job as a prostitute to find her roommate all pissed of because Nadine has smoked all her pot and has drunk all the alcohol in the house. After some argument Nadine attacks her roommate and suffocates her. Later Nadine goes to meat her only friend a drug dealer and her pimp in a hotel. Her friend gives her a package with documents and asks Nadine to bring them to Paris. When Nadine’s friend leaves Nadine hears gun shots and witnesses her friend being killed on the street right before her eyes. Nadine quickly leaves the place and heads towards the train station. She misses the train but meets Manu instead.

     Manu and Nadine exchange words with each other. They realize that they share common feelings of anger and together begin go on a violent road trip characterized by the pattern of meeting men, having sex with them, and then killing them.

     Finally, after much killing and aimless driving, the two women enter a swingers’ bar and kill many of the couples there. The pair discuss what they have done, and agree that it has all been pointless because nothing has changed inside them even though they have become country’s most wanted.

     They keep going on the killing spree, but Manu is suddenly shot in a convenience store after her attempt to rob it. Nadine runs inside the store just to find the dead Manu’s body. Later Nadine decides to burn Manu’s body and to commit suicide. She flees to a remote cabin to do it, but gets arrested by the police right before she wants to finish with her “worthless” life.

     The Marquis de Sade enters his Bedroom, puts on a face of one of his libertines and says in a philosophical tone:

     “…that it’s only human pride which makes murder into crime? For the murderer just turns the mass of flesh that today appears as a person into tomorrow’s clump of earthworms. Does nature care more about one than the other?”7

     I remember traveling with my friend through a desert in California. What amazed me was that there was no greenery around. I remember thinking: “How strange,” but meanwhile I had another thought: “How strangely beautiful, those rocks and sand with some brown grass.” At that exact moment, even though I was adoring the scenery, I understood that I missed the greenery I was accustomed to every day.

     Closer to the evening we came to a house in the middle of the desert. Surprisingly it had a tree and a few patches of brown grass around it. The hostess of the house greeted us with warmth and asked us if we would like to sit in the shadow of the lonely tree. We agreed and sat in the shadow waiting till the hostess brought us some lemonade.

     While sitting on a bench I looked at the branches of the tree and realized that the leaves of the tree had thorns. It was impossible to touch them. The hostess saw my interest and told me that this tree was planted by her father and that it is dear to her soul. I remember thinking: “Strange, this type of tree in the place I was living would be considered poor and not worth anything, while here it had a great importance, not only because it was planted by somebody’s father, but also because it threw a shadow on patches of grass growing below.”

     Suddenly the hostess exclaimed: “How do you like my garden?”

     First I was puzzled and started looking for a garden the hostess was asking about, but there was only one tree and the brown grass patches around it. After the hostess saw my puzzled look she pointed to the tree and the grass and told that that was her garden.

     Later I learnt that she had been living in the desert her whole life. When I returned home I went to visit my garden. My garden was green and full of life. Roses in the garden had just bloomed. They were giving me the most beautiful colors I could imagine. I bent over to feel their scent when my attention caught some grass growing in the shadow of a rose bush. It wasn’t there before I went to California, so I grabbed it and rooted it out. Then I touched a rose’s blossom, but was stung by a thorn on the rose’s stem.

     “How beautiful, yet with thorns,” I thought.

     The lifeless desert and colorful garden made me understand something. To understand the beauty of a rose I needed a weed to grow next to it. To understand importance of a weed I needed a desert and a tree. To understand the impossible I needed a rose and a desert.

     Nadine and Manu’s need for each other is obvious. They were meant for each other as the rose and the weed was in the garden. People see a weed growing next to a rose immediately suggest that the owner of the garden is lazy, but in reality the gardener wants the rose to have company of the weed. Maybe he wants to enjoy the differences between the two of them. The rooting out the weed is making the controversial disappear. The norm of how the garden should look is forced upon the gardener.

     That spring I met somebody who made me think about the beauty in desert.

     I have always been drawn to deserted places. In the city one would call them seedy, lonely, sad, sometimes, the places where your dreams tell you their own scary fairy tales. There are only a few people who would go there just to be surrounded by all that mystery, the mystery only our unconsciousness can explain. I would go there sit and watch people who would play In the Realm of the Senses8 right in front of me. I don’t know why I was drawn to those places. When I was there it was almost like having a conversation with evil; who would answer my questions god knew no answer to. I believe George Bataille got some answers from those kind of places. I don’t know for sure if we were looking for the same excitement though. Dialogs between Eros and Thanatos were definitely happening there where Bataille got his inspiration (he was frequent visitor to bordellos). Bataille’s main idea is that sex is death. Through the sexual act we give birth to death; thus Eros and Thanatos are the same. Greek/Roman mythology says that they looked similar, with wings and were very handsome men; thus dialog between them is inside of our inner soul.

     One of those nights I met a person who came there to unleash his “fairy tales,” or let Eros and Thanatos go and make love to each other freely. He saw me sitting in the corner and watching. First he moved around the room, then he came to me and introduced himself. Suddenly he invited me to his house to read his poetry. I was intrigued. Was that my personal “fairy tale teller” saying to me: “go explore the unknown,” or was it my soul searching for that something Freud calls “the value of dreams?” So I went, even though I knew nothing about the person. I was surprised that I wasn’t thinking about anything bad that could happen in that kind of situation. I was interested in what the meeting would give birth to. Strangely enough, on the way to his place I remembered Pier Paolo Pasolini and his nightly escapades with male prostitutes. Still we don’t know if he was killed by one of them on the eve of All Saints. Most of the times our unconsciousness leads us to places where shadows become reality. Suddenly I imagined being taken by Nadine and Manu from Baise-Moi (Fuck Me) and executed without mercy. Nadine and Manu were so real at that moment that I even started thinking: “is it going to happen the way it happened in the film?” I don’t know how I could understand their pain at that moment, but I understood, or thought that I understood; maybe because at that moment I was without a place, going somewhere I could be raped and left as Pasolini was left:

     “Just because it’s a holiday. And in protest I want to die/ of humiliation. I want them to find me dead/ with my penis sticking out, my trousers spotted with white/ sperm, among the millet plants covered with blood-red liquid. / I am convinced that also the last act, to which I alone, the actor, am witness, in a river/ that no one comes to – will, eventually,/ acquire a meaning.”9

     Nothing made me be scared of the situation I was physically in at that moment. I was more involved in thinking of why Baise-Moi was born and how it was made. Was it born as a result of Eros and Thanatos having sex? Crazy thought! My mind flew into the realm of shadows, shadows which created “evil” films. German philosopher Leibniz in his Théodicée (‘Theodicy,’ 1710) explained “that in order to perceive light [good], there has to be shadow [evil], that a life containing nothing but sweetness would be cloying.”10

     Hm, I wasn’t expecting to talk in this sweet tone after watching Baise-Moi, one of the “evil” movies. Wasn’t I supposed to talk about killing somebody or having sex in unthinkable places?

     My mind began writing notes to my undersoul. They were very personal. I could not imagine how I could censor them. They were my nature, my experience, my life. Missing one or another part would just hurt my being. I would not be able to understand what was happening right then without looking at my own soul’s intelligence somebody would like to censor. I would not be able to write the second note to my undersoul if I pretended that what happened didn’t happen. So, before I was in love, I had to be alone. To be alone meant to be with my raw senses. I became like the butterfly which Thanatos was always carrying. I felt like Kierkergaard was yelling to my ear: “There are well known insects which die in the moment of fecundation. So it is with all joy: life’s supreme and richest moment of pleasure is coupled with death.”11

     I was fearless as fearless were Manu and Nadine, but “wait!” somebody said, that is not right, exposing yourself on screen is censored. But how can I show that I’m not afraid to be exposed? To be naked meant to show death. The naked body is a picture of death, thus evil, Bataille explained. Nobody likes death. We need to cut it out or censor it. You want to say you want to execute me? But I have not been in love.

     To be continued…

Endnotes:

5. Certification status of Baise-Moi today:

Australia: Refused Classification (re-rating) (2002); Australia: R (original rating); Belgium: KNT ?; Canada: 18 (New Brunswick/Nova Scotia/Prince Edward Island); Canada: R (Alberta/British Columbia/Manitoba/Ontario/Saskatchewan);Canada: 18+ (Québec); Canada: R; Chile: 18; Finland: K-18; France: -16 (original rating); France: -18 (re-release); France: X (re-rating) (2000) (court decision); Germany: 18; Hong Kong: III (heavily cut); Iceland: 16; Ireland: (Banned); Italy: VM18; Japan: R-15; Luxembourg: 17 27; Netherlands: 16; New Zealand: (Banned) (video rating); New Zealand: R18 (re-release); Norway: 18; Peru: 18; Singapore: (Banned); South Africa: 18; Spain: 18; Sweden: 15; UK: 18 (cut); USA: Unrated

6. The Marquis de Sade quoted in Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought: an Alternative History of Philosophy. (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2002), 184.

7. The Marquis de Sade, Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom, and other writings (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1965), 519.

8. Suggestion to the film by the same name (In the Realm of Senses. Dir. Nagisha Oshima. Perf. Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji. Genius Entertainment and Wellspring, 1979)

9. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bestia da Stile [Stylish Beast]

10. Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2002), 223.

11. Starrs, Deadly Dialectics, 97.

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Film, Psychology

Notes from Underground – Death, Desire and Disgust in Film

Introduction

     My head is splitting and I need some air. Just finished watching Baise-Moi, (2000) by Virginie Despentes; In The Realm Of Senses (1976) by Nagisa Oshima; Cannibal Holocaust (1980) by Ruggero Deodato and Gianfranco Clerici; Caligula, (1979) by Tinto Brass and Gore Vidal; and Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

     I need somebody to talk to. God knows why I have chosen to watch these films. Is it because I am fed up with films which leave nothing in my mind, are pre-chewed by their creators and put in my mouth without any spices for me to sense? Yes, I would agree, I have become a consumer of “films without taste.” I have swallowed them. They have left nothing to think about. I don’t even remember that I have watched them.

     I got plenty of “taste” after watching the films I am going to tell you about. Every one of them went deep inside of me and left their marks on my thinking. My consciousness was saying “stop watching them, stop watching them,” but my unconscious was giving me plenty of reasons to continue what I had started. I understood that those films were very personal to me, personal to somebody, as personal as one’s life could be. So I kept watching.

     I was more interested in what those films have left in my mind, how they have provoked my thoughts, and how they have created an absolutely different world I hadn’t been used to. If I said that I wasn’t disgusted, I would be lying. If I said that I wasn’t moved, I would also be lying. So then why was my unconsciousness telling me to keep watching, when I clearly saw and read that those movies are “bad seed,” “evil,” controversial, and banned? What made them become like that and what part of human nature or psyche did they touch so that they became completely unpalatable and without merit to some people?

     My thoughts are splattered in my head and I don’t know how to get a grip on them: where should I start? Should I start by discussing my emotions and my psyche, or should I dive straight into the films somebody has forbidden me to watch? Really, there are so many thoughts and there are not many words I know to make my thoughts reflect the way these films spoke to me.

     I want to be as personal as I can be by discussing the feelings I experienced watching these films. They are somebody’s experiences. They are feelings and thoughts brought to the screen. Somebody dreamt about something and said: “What could it possibly mean?” or had some question about themselves, their sexuality, their need for something that life – as it is – could not provide.

     I dived into reading Freud, Jung and other psychoanalysts looking for some answers. There were too many “somethings” in my mind. I began reading philosophers looking for the meaning of what I had experienced. I found a lot of guidance in their books, but my feelings wanted to discuss something else, even though that something else was already discussed by Sade, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, Camus, Dostoevsky, Bataille, or Mishima. That gave birth to my “notes from the underground,” to my notes from “undersoul,” to my notes of “intellectual feelings.”

To be continued…

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Film, Psychology

Approaching the Subject of Death – Death, Desire and Disgust in Film

Prologue

There are not many people who can truly say that they are not afraid of death. The second humans are born, in effect, they are born to die. Death has many faces; many of them are mysterious, frightening, and it is most often the case that when humans are faced with death they lose their “cool.” What humans do not understand or are afraid to understand makes them suffer. Humans suffer not from life itself, but from living it. A human being’s consciousness is defined by intellect or by a way of thinking. The knowledge of how thinking is born gives humans their perspective on how to live. Death, desire, and disgust go hand in hand on the road of the unknown. Humans bravely walk this road of disgust looking for answers, although usually emotions get in the way, of rational understanding. The mind dictates the norms born in a society, while inner souls are drawn to experience an unconscious story.

The social and psychological use and function of human experience is fundamental. It defines and at the same time breaks down boundaries. Inevitably, in modern times, cinema has played a huge part in defining those boundaries. And because cinema story and aesthetics are constantly metamorphosing, the boundaries do as well. What is unknown today might be known tomorrow; what is evil now, might be good tomorrow.

The act of reproduction itself is an act of death. By producing a new life humans actually produce another being for death. This circle of human nature is morbid but not unfamiliar. Humans all understand that they live by Nature’s order; and in that way, similar to animals. But the big difference between humans and animals is humans’ unique consciousness of the paradox of death and their unstoppable instinct to impose intellect on the natural order to make sense of it all. What is often not understood becomes a taboo.

In these series of writings, I will attempt to draw a distinction between human intellect and human experience. Most of the time humans approach lives through their experiences. The experience of others is nothing for us at the age when our intellect is forming. A child will still put a fork into an electric socket even though his mother said that it will hurt. Humans’ experience of pain defines knowledge of that pain. Through that experience the senses gain “intellect.” Human souls “read” these senses. That way they become “intelligent.”

Alongside each film I screened I read certain philosophers and psychoanalysts to gain insight as to how to react to it. They touched the parts of my brain which connect creativity, common sense and compassion. The written works of Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and Bataille gave me the stylistic approach for writing the series; the idea of using the “soul’s intellect” to better understand my own feelings towards the controversial. With their help I put my thinking into impressionistic writing, because my creativity is provoked by that which makes my brain work.

Intellectually explaining a feeling can sometimes kill the understanding of it. This is why I am going to take on a “personal tone” in the series. Unconsciousness is very important to me while constructing my sentences. Sometimes I explain myself through “free association,” the method many psychologists use on their patients. The flow of the “research” is accessed through my “dreams” along with the films and philosophical literature. The feelings provoke my thoughts, and written words get onto paper.

Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground is my main guidance in the structure of this work. Dostoevsky, in the first part of Notes, explains and narrates his feelings through a character, but leaves the actual events that affected him for the second part. He tells about affected feelings before the reader hears what caused them.

I often pay homage to Nietzsche and his construction of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. His lonely man’s voice provoked in me the tragedy of the human psyche. I want to call him a “psychologist of philosophy.” I play with his way of writing and, maybe, at some point even pretend that I am that voice. “With knowledge, the body purifies itself; making experiments with knowledge, it elevates itself; in the lover of knowledge all instincts become holly; in the elevated, the soul becomes gay.”1 “God is a thought that makes crooked all that is straight, and makes turn whatever stands.”2

Georges Bataille’s explanation of how he used his personal experience while writing Story of the Eye gave me guidance as to how to express something that I was not able to express or explain.

These are the keys one should know while reading next chapters. If it feels “too impressionistic,” let it be, because explaining a feeling is sometimes censoring the thinking of the soul. Personal experience through feelings for me is the soul’s intellect. At some point one might feel that there are too many people speaking at the same time and the main thought is buried somewhere in between. That is my purpose. Many times controversial films are censored and then uncensored or re-released. Why this is happening is also buried somewhere between “defined censorship.” The real question is: who gives the power of censorship to one or another group of people? How do they decide that something is inappropriate and can provoke “evil?” Are they not “evil” themselves who see movies with their own dirty minds? Are they not reflecting like a mirror what is wrong in their own lives? Is it not, in Freudian terms, “a fear of the unconscious?”

“In his denial of the unconscious, of the deeper self that is expressed in dreams, one may sense his fear of depths, of anything not visible to the naked eye – for he is, after all, the ‘objective’ observer par excellence.”3

I am very much on Nietzsche’s side when he says that “all instincts that are not allowed free play turn inward.”4

Oscar Wilde’s novella The Picture of Dorian Gray written in 1891 comes to my mind. The ironic part in the history of writing The Picture of Dorian Gray is that the book was used to accuse Oscar Wilde of “evil doings” and “helped” him to become a convict. A similar thing happened with the Italian director Deodato after his Cannibal Holocaust was released in 1980. The film’s mis en scene was so vivid and believable that he was actually accused of killing his actors during the filming. To avoid jail time or even a possible death sentence he had to find the actors and bring them to the court to show that they had not in fact been killed during the shooting of the film and were very much alive.

The play with the human psyche and hidden evil is what interests me while writing the series. Humans who would not know good without knowing evil.

So these are my “notes from the underground” after screening the films. Each “note” is affected by a specific movie and by a specific controversy the film touches.

To be continued…

Endnotes:

  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a book for all and none (New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1966), Pg. 77
  2. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Pg. 86
  3. Roy Starrs, Deadly Dialectics: Sex, Violence, and Nihilism in the World of Yukio Mishima (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 130.
  4. Starrs, Deadly Dialectics, Pg. 128
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