Film, Psychology

Before Falling in Love – Death, Desire and Disgust in Film

Ai no corrida. (In the Realm of Senses (USA title) or Bullfight of Love (literal English title)) Dir. Nagisha Oshima. Perf. Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji. Genius Entertainment, Wellspring, 197612

    The film is set in 1936 Tokyo, where Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) a former prostitute, now works in a hotel as a maid. Sada with her coworkers witness a sexual act between hotel’s owner Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji) and his wife.

     After one innocent meeting on the porch Sada and Kichizo begin an intense affair that consists of little other that sexual experiments, drinking, and various self-indulgences. Sada’s obsession with Kichizo grows to the point that she has to have his sexual organs always inside of her. Sada falls deeper and deeper in love with Kichizo. One day they perform a very similar ritual as if they are getting married. After the ritual Sada feels that Kichizo belongs to her. She cannot stand even an hour without him. She follows Kichizo even when he is finally visiting his wife. Sada becomes obsessed with Kichizo and wants him all the time. She threatens to kill him if he so much as looks at another woman (including his own wife).

    Their obsession with each other escalates to the point that Kichizo lets Sada strangle him during the love making. Finally Sada kills Kichizo while Kichizo’s organs are inside of her. After that Sada severs Kichizo’s genitals and writes “Sada and Kichizo, now one” in blood on his chest.

    RENEE: The world is filled with people who despise what they cannot imagine. They enjoy their afternoons napping in the hammock. But before they know it they acquire breasts of brass, a belly of brass, and they sparkle if you polish them. You know your kind, when you see a rose you say, “How pretty!” And when you see a snake you say, “How disgusting!” You know nothing of the world where the rose and the snake are intimates and at night exchange shapes, the snake’s cheeks turning red and the rose putting forth shining scales. When you see a rabbit you say, “How sweet!” and when you see a lion you say, “How frightening!” You’ve never realized what blood they shed on a stormy nights out of love for each other. You know nothing of nights when holiness and shame imperceptibly switch appearances. That is why you plot to exterminate such nights, once you’ve finished mocking them with your brains of brass. But if there were no longer any nights, not even you and your kind could again enjoy untroubled sleep.13

    Have you ever felt a body ache from something your senses feel, but cannot define? Yes, that physical pain which comes from somewhere inside your mind and body. Somehow it gets activated by an atom or a small part of undefined sense. It keeps bouncing around the soul until it gets so aggravated that there is that unavoidable need for cry. And what if you cannot cry? What if you are born in a place where a “cry for body” is considered evil? But “I have an infinite hunger for love / for the love of bodies without souls,” Pasolini wrote.14

    The controversy of this film consists of pain which is born of a mind without reason. The reasonless pain gives birth to a helpless feeling. Not many can accept that undefined feeling which makes them squirm and writhe. They would rather go and kill it with knowledge of something which cannot be explained. Kant is helpless. His guidance for reason hits the wall, when the soul cries for the need to be physically touched. That pain just grows deeper when one meets another and “understands” that there is no way away from it but death. The pain which is born by reason and will to be touched hurts more. It doesn’t let the body go. The reasoning mind wants to come and help. But in that case the help is destructive. It is full of undefined sadness. The shaken soul goes asking “undersoul” why it is so that one soul cannot satisfy another body’s reason, the reason for another body’s pain? Descartes said in the Treatise on the Passions of the Soul: “That to know the passions of the soul, one must distinguish its functions from those of the body”; in Sade it became: “To know the passions of the body, one must distinguish its functions from those of the soul.” In the [Lucienne Frappier-Mazur] Writing the Orgy it reads: “To serve the body, one must first tame it. As always, the head is committed to the service of the body.”15

    It seems like it all gets round and lost in circle, a circle which doesn’t let one go. Is that another person who feels the same pain, but has no explanation for it?

    One needs to stop that future pain which comes from our depth. What can one do?

    Nietzsche said that to feel no pain one must despise one’s body: “body am I entirely, and nothing else; and soul is only a word for something about the body.”16 What if I knew that “soul” is not the only word for something about my body? What if I feel the pain not within my body, but within my soul? I know that there is no body without a soul unless one dies. My body has an aching soul. It comes not from my wisdom, but from my knowledge of another body. Is it possible that my body thinks? Does it really know the difference between the pain and pleasure? What if the pain comes from pleasure and pleasure comes from pain? The soul is helpless here. It cries: I want “to go under.”

    A soul is asking, but it gets refused and banned from the future.

    In the Realm of the Senses, Sada kills Kichizo, thus becoming one with him. Again Eros and Thanatos are together within soul and body. Sada has Kichizo’s sexual organs. She gets what she is missing; thus she fulfills the void in her body.

    “Did you suck my penis all night long?” asks Kichizo.

    “I want to have it inside of me all the time,” smiles Sada.

    To understand the controversy of the film, one has to be repressed. If one is free and listens to one’s body, one understands the need for touch. Freud “thought that the taboo generally countered the desire to touch.”17 Touching a naked body equals touching a dead body. To touch a dead body is taboo. The fear of giving birth to death appears. If a body does not get the touch it needs the body starts aching. If bodily pain is too hard to handle without knowing why, one gets confused, thus undefined. The reason for censoring the film comes from the undefined body or from the soul which refuses to be touched.

    From the early ages when there was a superstition that you need to eat another body to fix your body’s ache, one went, got that body, and ate it. Kichizo lets Sada “eat” him. Nietzsche says: “One must cease letting oneself be eaten when one tastes best: that is known to those who want to be loved long.”18

    Sada will never heal her body ache, because her body does not have the organ she retrieved from Kichizo. One never should censor body parts if one does not want to have his soul cry over it.

    To be continued…

    Endnotes:

  1. In the Realm of Senses was banned in most countries upon its initial theatrical release. Certification status of the film today: Argentina: 18; Australia: (Banned) (1992-2000); Australia: R (re-rating) (2000)Australia: X (original rating); Canada: R (Ontario) (1991); Canada: R (Manitoba) 28; Canada: R (Alberta) (1998); Canada: (Banned) (Nova Scotia); Canada: 18+ (Quebec); Chile: 18; Finland: K-18 (uncut) (1979); Finland: K-16 (uncut) (1979); Finland: (Banned) (uncut) (1978); Finland: (Banned) (uncut) (1976); Finland: (Banned) (cut) 1977); France: -16; Germany: 18; Hong Kong: III; Hungary: 18; Iceland: Unrated; Ireland: (Banned); Italy: VM18; Japan: R-18 (Re-rating); Japan: (Banned) (original rating); New Zealand: R18 (Re-rating) (2001); New Zealand: (Banned) (original rating); Norway: 18; Singapore: (Banned); South Korea: 18 (1999); Sweden: 15; UK: 18; USA: X (Original rating); USA: NC-17 (Re-rating) (1991) 29
  2. Yukio Mishima, Madame de Sade (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1967), 73.
  3. Barth David Schwartz, Pasolini Requiem (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 52.
  4. Lucienne Frappier-Mazur, Writing the Orgy: Power and Parody in Sade (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 122.
  5. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 34.
  6. George Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality (New York: Walker, 1962), 47.
  7. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 72.
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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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