The anatomy of Desire

The Shirt

The shirt touches his neck
and smooths over his back.
It slides down his sides.
It even goes down below his belt—
down into his pants.
Lucky shirt.

-Jane Kenyon (via)

-SPOLER WARNING- (for both Matador and A Streetcar Named Desire)

I know I promised a post about Matador some time ago already, and it's been a week now since I've seen it, but I've had a hard time articulating my feelings about it. I loved it, that much is for sure. And I am eager to discuss it, to talk about the odd but fascinating world Almodovar's movies take place in, about how matter of fact and logically he presents the outrageous, about the incredibly dated jackets his women wear, but I have a hard time finding a point, finding the core of what I want to say.

Luckily, I popped exactly the right DVD into my player tonight, one that is very different but shares some core themes, one that, well, only made me more confused, but eager enough to ramble to overcome my writer's block. The movie was "A Streetcar named Desire."

Now, Tenessee Williams and Kazan have a very literal way of introducing the theme: naming a streetcar the main character takes in the beginning after it, even referring to that literally later. Almodovar manages to be even more direct: his movie opens with a man jerking off to a montage of killing shots from slasher movies.

In both movies, desire and destruction are connected, but it's hard to say which is cause, and which is consequence. Or is it perhaps desire and fear? The former has Marlon Brando smoldering in his wifebeater, but it's not just his physical appearance that draws us towards him: it's that we are never sure whether he will kiss or slap us/Stella/Blanche. He drinks, he curses, he eats like a pig, he smashes things... and he wouldn't be quite as attractive without it. And for a 1951 movie, it's incredibly frank about this: we can see that the main reason Stella stays with her husband is that she lusts for him. She tells her sister that on her wedding night, Stanley smashed all the light bulbs with her slipper. Blanche is appalled, but Stella confesses "I was sort of thrilled by it."

In Almodovar's movie, two of the main characters, (former) Matador (the word literally means killer) Diego and lawyer/fellow killer Maria are attracted to each other because of the thrill of never knowing whether the other will kiss them or kill them. And we cannot simply dismiss them as two crazy people made for one another, because the other characters in the film are similarly obsessed. Angel (played by a still gangly and baby-faced Antonia Banderas) wants to be like them so much that he confesses to both their crimes, and -rather unsuccessfully- tries to project a sense of menace himself. Eva, Diego's girlfriend,dressed as a corpse to try to win him back, and when she finds out about his murders, she isn't repelled by it, but wants him even more, enough to risk her life for. What's more, they're not the only one seduced: the audience is also. I was, in any case.

What is it about the human psyche that makes us link fear and desire? What is it that makes us lust for danger? Or should I stop generalising and simply ask: what fascinates me so much in the combination?

Take another movie I recently saw for the second time: Closer. Here there is no physical danger from the protagonists, who are all -at least superficially- sophisticated modern people. But the four characters show the whole spectrum of human desire, in a way. Alice wants what she loves. Dan wants what he cannot have, Anna what she does not have. As for Larry, he's the character closest to his animal instincts, someone who just wants, and takes. Not surprisingly, he's the most interesting character to me, Clive Owen's fierce performance managing to make Jude Law make thoroughly wimpy and unappealing.

Now, Closer doesn't really fit into this rant, I realise, mostly because it's not so much about desire as it is about honesty and purity, the most innocent and blameless character oddly being the most deceitful one, who even states that "lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off".

Which brings me back full circle, to "A Streetcar Named Desire", though Blanche would probably not agree. She doesn't lie for fun but out of desperation, because she's afraid she alone would not be enough. I have a postcard on my desk which says "only people without imagination flee in reality". Maybe that's a quote more fit for her to take in.

Well, this was rambling indeed. I warned you though. I'll try to make the next post more coherent.

Until then,


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