A Poem by Jason Ryan Morton, from His Book, ‘Diverging Paths’

I’d like to look at a short poem by my friend Jason Morton, whose poetry I’ve looked at before.

This one is from his book of poetry and prose, called Diverging Paths, the first poem from Part One, ‘Deliverance’ (on page ten of the document provided). Here it is, given in italics to distinguish his writing from mine:

Was it ever real,
This tragic appeal,
Staging mass reveal,
In the name of God,

Was it ever there,
Basing one’s truth on scares,
Where we appear,
To be nothing but ants,

And then the world fell,
Apart in this shell,
Domed humanity,
Psychopathic hell…

And now for my analysis.

This seems, on the surface, to be another critique of the Christian faith, the “tragic appeal” of trusting in Christ to heal one’s pain and make one whole, when so many have tried and failed to gain that healing, that wholeness…hence, it’s tragic.

I know, however, from personal communication with Jason, that the core of the trauma he’s suffered in his life has been abuse in psychiatric hospitals. So Church abuses can be seen in this poem as symbolic of abuses from the mental health profession.

So, in this context, faith in the Church can be seen as blind faith in the efficacy of the psychiatric profession. The tragic appeal is in the idea that therapists offer some kind of panacea to all our mental health problems, when no such miracle cure exists…not so much because there really is no cure, but more so because so many psychiatrists seem less interested in helping their patients than in controlling them, like Nurse Ratched.

So, the authority of the abusive psychiatrist is symbolized by the omnipotence and omniscience of God, in whose name the cure is applied. “Was [the cure] ever there”? The truth that is based on scares is the fear that, being given no treatment, the patient will err to the point of self-destruction. Many emotional abusers would like to treat their victims, the identified patients, as if they were “nothing but ants,” helpless without the guidance of those claiming to know all the answers.

Such social dysfunction can be extended far beyond the abuses of the mental health profession and the Church, and into the general problem of alienation. Hence, “the world fell,/Apart in this shell”. Note the repeated use of commas at the end of almost every line, even in places where commas don’t seem to be necessary, as in the line just quoted. The enjambment between not only “fell” and “apart” but also between “we appear” and “to be nothing but ants” suggests a halting speech, interruptions that break the flow of communication. When we talk, we seem to be stammering, unable to speak coherently.

This “shell,” this “domed humanity” is the prison of our existence. Note how “domed” can be seen as a pun on doomed, for that’s how we’ll be if we don’t do something about our inability to communicate and connect with each other, be it in the realms of the Church, the psychiatric world, or in society in general. “Psychopathic hell,” the hell of, ironically, the God of psychiatry, can thus be seen as a pun on psychiatric hell, the hell of being exposed, when already being mentally ill, to doctors who don’t care for you.

After all, there are psychiatrists who are psychopaths…at least a few.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Nine

In Michelle’s home that night, she and Peter sat on the side of her parents’ bed. He had his arm around her. Her face flooded with tears, she barely moved, except for a self-soothing, slow and gentle rocking back and forth.

Her eyes would sometimes drift over to the photos on the dresser and bedside table. Photos of her mom and dad at various ages, sometimes with Michelle as a little girl, as a teen, or when she’d graduated from university, this last one with Peter, too, these were all bittersweet memories now.

He looked at the photos, too, having seen her look at them. “Sometimes I go into my parents’ room,” he said. “I’ll stare at their photos and remember when they were alive, thinking about the minority of my memories with them that were good. Then I’ll feel guilty for not thinking of the good memories as a majority.”

Michelle remained silent.

“Michelle! Peter!” a man’s voice shouted from the first floor. “Come down here! You’ll wanna see what’s on the TV now!”

Peter got up, but Michelle was practically frozen sitting on the bed. “Michelle?” he said.

She still wouldn’t say or do anything.

“Well, I wanna know what your late mom’s two bodyguards are watching on TV,” he said, bending down by her. “They may have failed to save her, but they’re here to protect us from any attempt on our lives by anyone who thinks, however mistakenly, that the alien dots of light are inside our bodies. The way you are now, though, I don’t want you left all alone; so you’re coming with me.”

He gently slid his right arm under her legs, put his left arm on her back, and picked her up. He carried her out of her parents’ bedroom, down the stairs, and into the living room. The two security men were watching the new US president making a speech.

“I knew it,” one of the men said. “There’s going to be a war.”

“I want to apologize to you, the American people, and to the world, for not being honest with you about what’s been happening until now,” President Price said at her desk in the Oval Office, looking directly into the camera in a way that reminded Peter of old video from 2003 of Bush looking into the camera and justifying the Iraq invasion. “We didn’t want to cause a worldwide panic; we needed time to plan our response to the alien attack while debates about ‘conspiracy theories’ of aliens softened the shock for all of you. Such planning necessitated keeping our knowledge of the aliens classified information.”

“Oh, of course, Madame President,” Peter said as he laid still-unmoving Michelle in a chair. “You’ve had nothing but the noblest of intentions, haven’t you?” He sat on the floor by Michelle’s feet.

“But now, of course, we can no longer conceal the truth from you,” Price went on. “I assure you, though, our plans are thoroughly worked out, fortunately in time when all of this was so suddenly revealed.”

“Oh, how fortunate,” Peter said with a sneer.

“Please, Peter,” one of the men said. “We need to pay attention to every detail, to know how to respond ourselves.”

“Sorry,” Peter said.

“All those formerly diagnosed with what was called ‘The Splits’ were and are actually people possessed of those aliens…the surviving carriers, that is. I know it will be hard to hear this, especially for those of you who have family and friends who are carriers, but these people are thoroughly compromised. They may still look human, they may sound like the same people you’ve always known and loved, but the alien in them has completely taken them over. The human soul in them was gone long ago, in spite of how well they may imitate human speech and behaviour. This is hard to hear, but you must steel yourselves to hear this and understand. These carriers are not human.”

“You bitch,” Peter hissed at the TV.

“This is an enemy that hides,” the president went on. “It hides in plain sight, in human form. It can imitate human thought, but it has no real human thoughts. Each and every carrier who is possessed of the aliens is completely given over to their agenda. All that the carriers do is in service of the aliens, not in the service of humanity.”

“Oh, and you serve humanity, Madame President?” Peter said with another sneer.

“Please, Peter,” one of the security men said.

“When the carriers, those in high-ranking government/business positions, claim they are making democratic changes to society, improving the lives of ordinary, working-class people, whatever you do, don’t believe them!” Price warned. “All that talk is just a front, a con game to trick you into thinking they are our friends.”

“Right,” Peter said. “Your hegemony is so much better for us all, isn’t it Madame Pres–“

“Peter, we must hear her!” the other bodyguard said.

“Why?” Peter asked, with a sneer now for him. “Is what she’s saying true? Is it all a con game?”

The bodyguard frowned at him and gave no answer.

“I know that it’s hard,” Price went on, “if one of the carriers happens to be your mother, your father, brother, sister, cousin, or a close friend. What you must try to understand is that that carrier, as soon as he or she became a carrier, was as of that time no longer your mother or–“

“Bullshit!” Michelle shouted, jumping up from her chair and startling the three young men, whose eyes darted away from the TV screen and back up at her. With new tears running down her cheeks, she bawled, “She never stopped being my mother, aliens or no aliens! She was my mother right up until she died, when your people murdered her!”

“Please, Michelle, calm down,” the first of the security men said. “We need to hear all of the president’s speech to know how best to react to their plans.”

Peter got up, put his arms around her, and held her as she sobbed on his shoulder. “They murdered her, Peter! They murdered her!”

“I know, sweetie, I know,” he said, rubbing one hand on her back and stroking her hair with the other. Well, at least she’s finally responsive, he thought.

“Behind the mass deception that they’re improving the lives of humanity is a plan for world domination,” the president continued.

The two security men chuckled at this assertion. Peter looked at them and hoped it was sincere.

“Everyone must be the same as the aliens,” Price said with a hint of sarcasm. “No one is allowed to be different, or think for themselves. Everyone must think the same thoughts, have the same opinions. If you don’t agree with the aliens’ plans, they’ll kill you, tear your body up in that horrible, violent way we all originally thought was a disease called ‘The Splits’.”

“Where did she get that idea?” the second bodyguard whispered.

“It’s a lie,” the first said. “Don’t believe her, Peter. Neither of you agreed with us at first, but we didn’t kill you. Remember that.”

“We have been studying, scrutinizing the carriers we’ve had to detain in order to learn as much about them as we can,” Price said. “Over the months, we’ve even experimented on them to extract whatever knowledge we could. We have learned that the aliens hate individuality, free thought, and ambition to rise high in a freely competitive environment. When the carriers talk to you about the ‘collective good,’ what they’re really talking about is mass conformity. I, as leader of the free world, can’t and won’t allow that to happen.”

“Free world,” Peter scoffed. “What free world?”

“One of the carriers we’d caught and detained, Lenny Van der Meer, escaped a month ago and is hiding, we believe, somewhere in Africa with other carriers,” Price said, with a photo of Van der Meer showing beside her. “Here we’ll show you a brief video of him so you can see the kind of ‘people’ these carriers are. I have to warn you, though, that it will be disturbing to watch.”

“The agitprop thickens,” Peter whispered.

The TV cut to a shaky video showing a dimly-lit room with Van der Meer, a blonde woman in a business suit crouched in a corner, and a few black men and women standing around her. She was in about her mid-thirties, shaking, and in tears.

“You work for the IMF, do you not?” Van der Meer asked her. “Your loans keep poor countries like this one we live in forever in debt, don’t they?”

“Look, if they can’t pay back their loans,” she said in a shaky, sobbing voice, “It’s out of my ha–“

Suddenly, the dots of light flew out of his hands and out of those of the other people in the room. The little lights went inside her body, and red cracks appeared all over her face and hands. She shook and screamed in pain for a few seconds before the video was cut off.

The TV showed President Price again.

“As you can see,” she said, “this is not the kind of man we should be sympathizing with.”

“I beg to differ,” Peter said. “I hate the IMF.”

“Remember that every carrier…every carrier in the whole world, has the exact same agenda as Lenny Van der Meer,” she continued. “Make no mistake. The carriers all think with the same mind. They’ll kill anyone who stands in the way of their alien masters. This is why we must stop them–for the very survival of the human race. So report all known carriers in your area to the local authorities. They’ll do the rest. As we learn more about the latest moves of the aliens and their once-human carriers, we’ll inform you of these latest developments. A full military confrontation is being planned, which will eliminate this menace while ensuring minimal human casualties. For security reasons, I cannot at the moment discuss any of the details of these plans, as it’s classified information.”

“Of course not,” Peter said. “War crimes are best kept as secret as possible.”

“So please have faith in the judgement of this government, as well as the governments of the world cooperating with us, to do the right thing,” she concluded. “God bless America, and God bless our Mother Earth.”

One of the bodyguards turned off the TV.

“So, what do we do now?” the other bodyguard asked.

“Go to Africa,” Michelle said in a monotone, almost trancelike voice. “Find this Lenny Van der Meer.”

“Sounds intriguing,” Peter said. “But how are we going to get there with all this global surveillance and security asking questions about our destination and the purpose of our travels?”

“We still have the private planes of our dead parents,” she said, still in a monotone voice, staring straight ahead in a trance.

“Yes, but people working for the global governments/corporations will still be getting in our way,” Peter said. “After all, they’ll know your mom was a carrier, and they’ll suspect we are carriers, too, as you two men definitely are.”

“Many of those people in the governments/corporations are secretly carriers,” the first bodyguard said. “The two of us can network things so that when you go through customs and checkpoints, you’ll encounter only our people.”

“Well, I guess that settles it,” Peter said with a smile.

“I guess it does,” she said, still looking straight ahead at nothing in particular.

Glowing dots of light floated out of the pores of the bodyguards and lit up the living room. Neither Peter nor Michelle even flinched.

A man in a suit, watching from outside and with a pistol hidden in a holster in his blazer, flinched, though.

‘The Last Breath,’ a Poem by Rusty Rebar

‘The Last Breath’ is a poem by Rusty Rebar, a Facebook friend of mine. I gave it a quick read the day before and found it full of meaning, which I’d like to examine below. First, here’s his poem (I’m setting it in italics to distinguish his writing from mine, as always):

the last breath

1.
the way a door slammed
rattles the whole house
or how the wrong word
scorches an open heart
shoes without soles
a torn pair of pants


a moment that breaks
every second after
& you seemingly unable
to put it back together
the terror hidden in
a corner of your fears

like a shy thief lurking
afraid to risk capture
but happy to hurt you
wounds inflicted on
you powerless to stop
what keeps happening

2.
pain an offering then
a solace for all that is
no surprise whatsoever
you sit with your demons
in front of the television
mesmerized by action

quick millionaires running
around in their underwear
tights or pajamas depending
joyful endorphins popping
fulfilling safe anticipations
same play — played night

& day — over & over
spinning endless tomorrows
out of imaginary yesterdays
& what is wrong with that
a world of wonderful rules
& magically infinite chances

bread & circus the holy
flesh of brainwash — firm
faith in the glory of private
property & money as the
measure of all things held
tighter when you have neither

3.
with drugs — the effect
wears off — larger doses
needed to deaden nerves
& block the bad feelings
get back to work before
the rent check comes due

escape from a prison
inside the mind impossible
the illusion of freedom ends
& you find yourself back
in your dark lonely cell
more trapped than ever

luckily — your story also
ends — there is no such thing
as forever & no problem
death cannot solve — best
treasure what you do remember
the last breath of a lost friend

And now, for my analysis.

We have three sets of verses, the first set of which centres around pain, broken or torn things, things with holes in them. The second set centres around forms of escape from the pain: television, the American Dream, bread and circuses, distractions. The third set centres around how the forms of escape, including drugs, don’t work–one cannot escape from one’s prison, since one has to go back to work before the rent is due. Still, there is one last escape…death.

So the three verse sets can be seen as the thesis (pain), negation (escape from the pain), and sublation (return to, and ultimate escape from, the pain). It’s the dialectic, but a very physical one, a materialistic one. Marx is turning Hegel right-side up.

The first set of verses is full of the imagery of violence: slammed doors, verbal abuse, the torn pants and the soleless shoes of a soulless world that doesn’t care for the poor. Moments that break, and you can’t put them back together. Thieves are afraid to get caught, but happy to hurt you: this is a world of alienation. We feel powerless to stop the pain.

The second set of verses deals with what Klein and Winnicott called the manic defence, or any attempt to avoid dealing with the painful, depressive sides of life, and to plunge instead into the manic, or exciting, sides of life (drugs, porn, etc.). One sits a mesmerized zombie in front of the idiot box, following the latest media nonsense, or one tries to identify with the rich, fantasizing that one day, the American Dream will come true for oneself…when of course there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of that ever happening.

One sees millionaires in the media dancing around in their underwear, because only they have the financial freedom to act as inanely as they like. Perhaps they’re wandering about in their pyjamas, like Hef. This empty worship of wealth goes on day after day, a hiding away from one’s secret sorrows. Those sorrows, however unacknowledged, go on “spinning endless tomorrows…”–reminding us of Macbeth‘s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech (Act V, Scene v)–“…out of imaginary yesterdays,” reminding us in turn of Macbeth’s words “And all our yesterdays have lighted fools/The way to dusty death.”

Life is as meaningless for us today, with our “faith in the glory of private/property” (note the enjambment between the two words, indicating how split a concept that one is, as is so much of our psychological fragmentation, symbolized by all the other examples of enjambment in this poem), as it was for the Scottish tyrant of Shakespeare’s play. One believes in such empty capitalistic concepts especially when one doesn’t benefit from the wealth of the 1%.

The third set of verses deals with the coming down, as it were, from the high one felt in the escape of the second set. One now feels even worse than before, unable to escape the reality one keeps coming back to. Still, there’s one last escape…death. “To die, to sleep,/No more…” (Act III, Scene i) Unlike the Dane, though, we in today’s secular world don’t generally worry about “the dread of something after death, —/The undiscovered country,” so “the last breath of a lost friend,” death, is a soft breeze on our faces, and gives us hope in our despair…the hope of despair.

Analysis of ‘Vertigo’

Vertigo is a 1958 psychological thriller produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The screenplay was written by Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor, based on the 1954 novel D’entre les morts, by Boileau-Narcejac. The film stars James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes, with Tom Helmore and Henry Jones.

The film was shot on location in the city of San FranciscoCalifornia, as well as Mission San Juan BautistaBig Basin Redwoods State Park, Cypress Point on 17-Mile Drive, and Paramount Studios. It’s the first film to use the dolly zoom, distorting perspective to create the disorientation of the vertiginous acrophobia of police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (Stewart); hence, the in-camera effect is often called “the Vertigo effect.”

While Vertigo originally received mixed reviews, it’s now considered one of Hitchcock’s best films, as well as one of the best films ever made. The American Film Institute ranked Vertigo #9 in 2007 (up from #61 in 1998) in “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies.”

A link to quotes from the film can be found here.

Apart from changing the setting of the novel from WWII France to late Fifties San Francisco (as well as, accordingly, changing the characters’ French names to English ones), comparatively few changes were made in this Hitchcock adaptation from its source material (in contrast with the many changes made in Psycho, Rear Window, and especially The Birds). Marjorie “Midge” Wood (Bel Geddes) was invented for the film by scriptwriter Taylor; she has no equivalent in the novel. The opening scene, with Scottie and another cop chasing a perp on rooftops, Scottie almost falling and the other cop actually falling to his death–thus establishing Scottie’s acrophobia–was added to the beginning of the story; whereas in the novel, the trauma causing the protagonist’s acrophobia is explained in a flashback. Apart from such changes as these, though, the film follows the novel’s plot quite faithfully.

What triggers Scottie’s vertigo is, of course, looking down from great heights to abysmal depths below, reminding him of not only his close brush with death hanging from that rooftop (his survival of which is never explained), but also the death of the cop he feels responsible for. Looking down causes him vertigo.

He experiences another kind of vertigo, if you will, from looking up…in a largely metaphorical sense, mind you. He is so captivated by the beauty of Madeleine (Novak), the supposed wife of his old acquaintance, Gavin Elster (Helmore), that ‘looking up’ at her–on the pedestal he’s placed her–is causing him to see a distorted, disorienting, and dizzying sight of another sort. Looking up causes him vertigo.

When he speaks to Midge about his proposed attempt to cure his acrophobia by facing it incrementally–and literally step by step, using a step-ladder–he says as he goes up each step, “I look up, I look down.” Now, his method using the step-ladder fails, but he will ultimately succeed in curing his acrophobia by looking up at Madeleine/Judy as she ascends the bell tower stairs above him, then by looking down at the stairs below when he’s almost at the top with her. Of course, this cure comes at a terrible cost–the loss of her life.

Elster takes advantage of Scottie’s phobia by using it to help him do the opposite of putting a woman up on a pedestal–to discard the wife Elster doesn’t love, the real Madeleine. Elster’s discarding of his wife, to the point of killing her, parallels the discarding of Carlotta Valdes by her husband, which lead to her own death, by her own hand, after grieving over not only this discarding, but her separation from their child.

In the identifying of Carlotta with Madeleine/Judy, which is the identifying of discarded, loathed wives with the woman Scottie has put up on a pedestal, we see the dialectical relationship between the despised and the adored, she who is looked down upon with she who is looked up to. The discarded wife, thought to be Scottie’s love, is literally looked down on after Elster has thrown her from the top of the bell tower, right after Scottie has looked up at Madeleine/Judy while following her up the bell tower stairs. And the movie ends with him looking down at dead Judy after her fall.

The duality of this dialectical unity-in-contradiction is expressed in the two-part structure of the plot, these two parts having many parallels. Each part begins with Scottie being freshly traumatized after having seen a death from falling. Judy is made to impersonate Madeleine, first by Elster, then by Scottie, who is twice obsessively in love with her.

Judy is twice going mad. The first time, it’s a combination of feigned madness–in her acting job as Madeleine possessed of the ghost of suicidal Carlotta–with her real torment from being in love with Scottie while being forced to deceive him. The second time, she’s in love with him while being forced by him to play, once again, the very role that has deceived and hurt him, causing her to be racked with guilt.

There’s his being in the restaurant with the red walls, seeing her walking out with Elster; then after the ‘suicide,’ he’s in the restaurant again, seeing a woman who looks like her, walking out with another man. He follows her green car to her home; then after the ‘suicide,’ he sees her car, but it’s been sold to another woman. He sees “Madeleine” in the museum looking at the Carlotta portrait; then, after the ‘suicide,’ he goes there again, only to see a different woman looking at the portrait. Finally, there’s the faked suicide and real murder of Elster’s wife, and the real, if accidental, falling death of Madeleine/Judy.

The opening credits, with their titles and visuals designed by Saul Bass, establish the film’s central themes. A closeup of eyes and vertiginous spirals link the obsessive gaze with dizziness. “I look up, I look down.” Regardless if one sees the idealized or the despised/dreaded, one cannot see straight–one has vertigo.

Two things are significant about Midge, both of which we learn from the first scene between her and Scottie: they used to be engaged (until she broke it off), and she designs brassieres, one of which Scottie takes a close, fascinated look at. These details are significant in how we learn, soon enough, that Midge is maternal in her relationship with Scottie. The implied Oedipal symbolism here indicates once again the influence of psychoanalysis on Hitchcock.

Midge’s calling-off of the engagement, presumably long before the beginning of the film, is symbolically like the dissolution of a boy’s Oedipus complex, his original looking up in adoration at his mother, coupled with his looking down in horror and guilt at the unconsciously wished-for death of his father, triggered in Scottie’s case by his looking down at the death of the cop, an authority figure associated with one’s father.

Without Midge as his symbolic mother/lover, Scottie needs a replacement for his objet petit a, and that new love object becomes Madeleine. Now recall that the objet petit a is the unattainable object cause of desire, a desire coming from the lack of being able to obtain the original love-object, Mother. Because this love-object is unattainable, Scottie can’t have her even though Madeleine loves him back…for she isn’t really Madeleine, she’s just Judy. “Madeleine” is an idea, not a real woman.

Judy never is who she really is; she’s only what men want her to be–an impossible ideal who is, paradoxically, also tossed aside and therefore despised. When Scottie first sees her in that restaurant, her pretending to be Elster’s wife, he sees only an image of her, not the real her. The walls of the restaurant are a vivid red; her dress is a contrastingly vivid green. Red is the colour of dangerous passions (think of, for example, the red lightsabers of the Sith), while green is the colour of life (i.e., plants, etc.). The passion of red leads to death, making it the symbolic opposite of green for our purposes–Thanatos vs Eros.

We see her get up and walk out of the restaurant, framed by a doorway; she’s thus a portrait in a picture, like Carlotta Valdes. As an image, she’s being idealized. We see, just before she and Elster go outside, their mirror reflection; as Lacan pointed out about the mirror stage, the specular image is the unitary, idealized version of oneself, as opposed to the chaotic, fragmentary reality of the person being reflected in the mirror. Scottie sees Madeleine’s idealization in the mirror instead of Judy; he also sees Elster’s idealization as an old friend instead of the villain he really is.

Just as Judy isn’t really Madeleine, Madeleine isn’t really Carlotta, whose ghost is imagined to be inside Madeleine’s body. Carlotta, recall, was a mother who lost her husband and child, then killed herself out of grief. Once despised, looked down on by her husband, now Carlotta (in that museum portrait) is looked up to by “Madeleine.”

And just as Judy is required to imitate the looks of Madeleine (the grey suit, the white pair pinned up), so is “Madeleine” required to imitate the looks of Carlotta (the swirl of hair in the back, as seen in the portrait). She’s bought a bouquet of flowers (which could be seen as symbolic of the vulva) identical to those seen in the picture, in which Carlotta holds the flowers in her lap.

Carlotta was suicidal, so Judy as Madeleine must appear suicidal, too, hence her jumping in San Francisco Bay at Fort Point. Scottie’s rescuing her shifts his obsessive fascination with her beauty towards falling in love with her as a person, for he sees in her a fellow sufferer. His love is not merely physical: his compassion for her, seeing her pain, makes him see himself in her, as if she were a mirror.

The specular image that Lacan wrote about doesn’t have to be a literal mirror reflection; it can be, for example, the smiling face of a baby’s mother looking down at it. Since Madeleine/Judy is the objet petit a replacing Scottie’s original mother transference in Midge, when he looks into the sad eyes of his love, he’s seeing a metaphorical mirror of the pain in his own eyes. That the pain Judy’s expressing in her eyes is an acting job means that Scottie isn’t seeing straight: her feigned pain is his vertigo.

He takes her to Muir Woods, where they see the huge sequoia sempervirens trees; he translates the second Latin word as “always green, ever living.” She notes how so many people have lived and died while these trees have continued to live for thousands of years. Recall her green dress, the colour of life, worn in the restaurant scene; just as the destructive passion of red on the walls contrasts with her green dress, so does the awesome green eternity of the trees, which Scottie and Madeleine both look up to, contrast with her sudden running to the ocean in another (supposed) suicide attempt.

These ‘suicides’ always involve her going down–down into the water of San Francisco Bay, down from the bell tower. Suicide resulted from Carlotta being looked down on by her husband, so Madeleine’s ‘suicides,’ an imitation of Carlotta’s, also involve going down, because Madeleine, supposedly possessed of Carlotta’s spirit, also feels looked down on, in spite of Scottie’s idealizing of her, his looking up at her. Hence, the dialectical unity of looking up and down at her.

Despised Carlotta was a mother. Now, maternal Midge has thoughts of winning Scottie back (accordingly, we see her in a red top, the colour of her passion for him); her plain Jane looks, however, are no competition for the mesmerizing charms of Madeleine/Judy, so when Midge paints an imitation Carlotta portrait with her face replacing the original, Scottie is so unimpressed, he leaves the apartment. The tall man has looked down on the picture on the easel, and looked down on her, who is seated at the time.

As spurned a ‘mother’ as Carlotta was, Midge berates herself for her foolish move. She may be the ideal mate for Scottie, in that her wholesomeness is grounded in reality…as opposed to the fantasy world surrounding Madeleine/Judy; but Midge as Oedipal transference is passé for him.

Scottie’s vertigo, his dizzying distortion of reality coming from his looking up and down, is symbolic of his schizoid relationship with his objects, or other people. WRD Fairbairn wrote about what he called the “basic schizoid position,” which stems from a failure–varying in intensity from person to person–to establish stable object relationships grounded in reality. Such a failure is the basis of Scottie’s problems.

His relationship with Midge would be one between what Fairbairn called the Central Ego (Scottie) and the Ideal Object (Midge); she’s ‘ideal’ in the sense that she’s someone he can relate to in the real world, and such a healthy relationship is thus the best, or ideal, kind. His faux relationship with “Madeleine” is one between Fairbairn’s Libidinal Ego (Scottie) and the Exciting Object (“Madeleine”)–it’s thrilling, but it’s just a fantasy. His relationship with those who fall to their deaths is one between Fairbairn’s Anti-libidinal Ego (Scottie) and the Rejecting Object (the cop, Elster’s wife, and Judy); Scottie looks down on them, he dreads them, he’d erase their memory from his mind if he could.

Another example of Scottie’s anti-libidinal relationship with the world is in the ordeal he goes through with the coroner (Jones), whose insensitive assessment of Scottie’s weakness, his acrophobia having prevented him from saving “Madeleine,” just rubs salt on his wounds. The coroner is another Rejecting Object because he, in his looking down on Scottie, reminds him of the harsh reality he tries to avoid by having Judy dress up as his Exciting Object, “Madeleine.”

Madeleine is dead in two senses: Elster has literally murdered his wife; and she’s dead in the sense that, as an idealization that no living woman in the real world could ever measure up to, she cannot live in the flesh. Judy, however, does exist in the real world, and she just wants to be able to live as her real self.

Small wonder we see her in that green dress in the restaurant, in a green car when Scottie is tailing her in his, and in a green outfit when Scottie talks to her in her apartment. Green is the colour of life (remember those sequoias), and she just wants to live; even when she’s impersonating Madeleine, her green dress and green car represent her wish to feel alive as herself to at least some extent.

He, of course, wants to live, too; hence we see him in a green sweater in his apartment after he’s rescued “Madeleine” from San Francisco Bay. He feels alive when he’s finally met her, because having seen the combination of her beauty and her pain (she’s wearing his red bathrobe, since she’s the object of his passions, and she’ll come to return that passion to him), he’s fallen in love with her.

His love, however, is that dangerous red passion that leads to death. Later, his obsessive wish to have Judy conform precisely to Madeleine’s looks is fully achieved to Bernard Hermann‘s music, which at that point reminds one of Wagner‘s Liebestod, or “love death.” Scottie and Judy are Tristan and Isolde, two lovers who cannot be together in the living world of reality. Their love is a vertiginous swirl.

More must be said of Hermann’s brilliant music. During the opening credits, the prelude, with its swirling arpeggios of an E-flat minor/major 7th chord (the ‘primal cell’ as described on page 4 of this PDF: ascending and descending E-flat, G-flat, B-flat, D–with an added 6th, C) in the strings, winds, and harp, playing in contrary motion, is a perfect sonic counterpart to Saul Bass’s vertiginous swirl coming out of the eye closeup. But back to the symbolism of the story.

The dialectical relationship between the idolized and the despised/dreaded can be vividly expressed through the symbolism of the ouroboros that I’ve used in a number of previous posts. The serpent, coiled into a circle and biting its tail, represents a circular continuum with the opposite extremes meeting where the head bites the tail, and the coiled middle represents every intermediate point between the extremes.

Scottie brings Judy closer and closer to his ideal of Madeleine, bringing her up along the coiled serpent’s body towards its head, the idolized ideal. Once we’ve reached the perfected ideal (the ouroboros’ biting head), a green light shines in the room from the sign outside Judy’s apartment, glowing on both Scottie and Judy (who’s now fully dressed as Madeleine in the grey suit and with her white hair pinned at the back). That green of life shows that Scottie’s life has returned to him, for he has his “Madeleine” back.

Later, though, when he sees Judy in the black dress and they’re about to go out to dinner, he sees her wearing that distinctive red necklace that “Madeleine” and Carlotta once wore. Judy has made herself to be even more like Madeleine…too much like her. Now he shifts further along the circular continuum of the coiled body of the ouroboros; he’s passed the biting head of the Madeleine ideal over to the bitten tail of despised Judy, for now he knows that she more than merely resembles “Madeleine”…she is “Madeleine”!

She is despised because Scottie has figured out that Judy is a mere actress who helped Elster deceive him into falling in love with her, to distract him while Elster murders the real Madeleine, making everyone think her death was a suicide.

In Looking Awry, Slavoj Zižek makes some interesting points about the dialectical relationship between the idealized “Madeleine” and the despised Judy: ‘Recall the way Judy, the girl resembling “Madeleine,” is presented when the hero runs into her for the first time. She is a common redhead with thick makeup who moves in a coarse, ungracious way–a real contrast to the fragile and refined Madeleine. The hero puts all his effort into transforming Judy into a new “Madeleine,” into producing a sublime object, when, all of a sudden, he becomes aware that “Madeleine” herself was Judy, this common girl. The point of such a reversal is not that an earthly woman can never fully conform to the sublime ideal; on the contrary, it is the sublime object herself (“Madeleine”) that loses her power of fascination.” (Zižek, page 85)

Later on, Zižek says, ‘True, Judy finally gives herself to Scottie, but–to paraphrase Lacan–this gift of her person “is changed inexplicably into a gift of shit”: she becomes a common woman, repulsive even. This produces the radical ambiguity of the film’s final shot in which Scottie looks down from the brink of the bell tower into the abyss that has just engulfed Judy.’ (Zižek, page 86)

How is Scottie able to recognize the necklace? He has such a vivid recollection of it, originally Carlotta’s, that he recalls it in a nightmare he’s had shortly after the coroner’s judgement of the “suicide.” He dreams of Carlotta standing with Estler, as if she, rather than Madeleine, were his wife. Since Carlotta, the despised and rejected mother, has been linked with similarly rejected, maternal Midge, we can see in Carlotta another Oedipal transference in Scottie’s unconscious. This in turn makes Estler an Oedipally-hated father transference, since he as the villain is the one who has caused all this pain for Scottie.

The habanera rhythm of the music heard in the museum scene, when both “Madeleine” and Scottie were looking at Carlotta’s portrait, is now heard during the nightmare scene with far more dissonant, tense music. We see a flashing of red, the colour of destructive passion, during much of this nightmare. The bouquet of flowers, symbol of Carlotta’s vulva, is seen to break apart into fragments of petals, symbolizing an unconscious desire to possess the mother transference sexually, even to violate her. This wish-fulfillment cannot come without a punishment, that of the castrating father-transference (Estler, in this context); hence Scottie sees not “Madeleine” fall to her death from the bell tower, but himself! He wakes in a sweaty terror because he imagines he has projected the punishment he’s deserved onto her.

Recall how I said that he falls in love with “Madeleine” because he sees his own pain in her. Seeing himself fall to his death instead of seeing her do so in his dream is another unconscious wish-fulfillment. He can only live–that is, be green with life–if she lives.

Still, he continues to project his pain onto her as Judy, a kind of repetition compulsion, a merging of Thanatos with Eros. Just as he feels responsible for the death of the falling cop, he feels responsible–due to his acrophobia–for her death, the death he feels he should have suffered, as in his nightmare. Yet he drives Judy to her death, not just through her fall at the end of the movie, but also through his refusal to let Judy live as herself, by making her live only as the dead idealization of “Madeleine.”

The idealized woman, “Madeleine,” exists right on the cusp where ideal sits next to despised, shunned, dreaded–that is, next to Carlotta and Judy. Carlotta the mother was supposedly possessing the body of “Madeleine,” pushing her to kill herself. This mother is the objet petit a, the object-cause of Scottie’s desire, a vividly red (i.e., the necklace), dangerous, destructive passion that kills the green of life.

Zižek writes, ‘The elevation of an ordinary, earthly woman to the sublime object always entails mortal danger for the miserable creature charged with embodying the Thing, since “Woman does not exist.”‘ (Zižek, page 84) Later, he writes, ‘The ideal love-object lives on the brink of death, her life itself is overshadowed by imminent death–she is marked by some hidden curse or suicidal madness, or she has some disease that befits the frail woman.’ (page 85)

That cusp between ideal and despised is the dialectical point on the circular continuum of the ouroboros where its head bites its tail, where one extreme opposite phases into the other. At that cusp is the Oedipally desired mother, Carlotta, who is transferred onto “Madeleine,” the unattainable objet petit a. Just as the mother, Carlotta, brought about the death–as is supposed–of Madeleine, so does another ‘mother,’ an elderly nun (associable, at least, with Mother Superior), cause the death of Judy-as-Madeleine by appearing suddenly from the shadows, startling Judy, and making her fall.

Scottie looked up to her as “Madeleine”; he literally looked up to Judy as he angrily made her ascend the stairs, handling her as aggressively as Estler held the real Madeleine before throwing her from the bell tower to her death. Now Scottie looks down ruefully at the girl he despised not only for not being his ideal Madeleine, but also, paradoxically, for being Madeleine, all-too-Madeleine.

I look up, I look down. I look up, I look down.

Slavoj Zižek, Looking Awry: an Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1992

Cars

Driving
makes you

move
forward,

but
driving

drives
you crazy.

Held
inside

a
racing

box,
people

go
together,

but
they’re

all
alone

in
their

drive
to be the

best.
Ambition,

speed,
and power

are
all-important,

not
mutual

aid.
Muffler

filth
blackens

the
white

of
clouds.

We
want

to
outrace

the
others.

We
crash

&
burn

in-
stead

of
finding

glory,
recognition.

Fire
engines,

die
aflame.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Eight

About thirty minutes later, Peter and Michelle were pushing open the front doors of the Mississauga Exposé building. The first floor lobby area was a huge space, with a sea of employees walking here and there.

Michelle’s agitated eyes were darting around, spotting all the female heads and hoping to find her mother’s among them. She noticed some of the newly-hired security men walking about, too, but they gave her little reassurance of Siobhan’s safety.

“Oh, where is she?” Michelle asked in a shaky, breathy voice.

“Chances are…she’s upstairs…in her office,” Peter said in pants.

“Yeah, but sometimes…Mom comes down here…to chat…with her employees…about something,” Michelle panted, her head always shifting from left to right and back again, tirelessly trying to find Siobhan. “And sometimes…she leaves the building…on an errand. If she’s about to do that, I don’t want…to miss her…as she walks out the door.”

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “You keep looking…among these people, if that’s what you want to do; I’ll go ask…the receptionist…if she knows where your mom is.”

“OK, thanks, Peter.” He left Michelle as she looked around, especially by the front doors. “Where are you, Mom?”

Peter reached the receptionist after fighting his way through the crowd; her desk was way off at the back of the lobby. You’d think her desk would be closer to the front doors, he thought.

“Hello,” she said. “How can I help you?”

“Yes,” he said. “I need to talk to…Siobhan Buchanan.”

“Do you have an appointment?” the receptionist asked.

“N-no, but this is urgent,” he said. “Her daughter, Michelle, needs to talk to her. I’m Michelle’s boyfriend.”

“Where’s Michelle? She’s free to see her mom whenever she wants, but unless I see her confirming you’re with her, I can’t let you see Siobhan. There are fears of security breaches. This may surprise you, but there are actually possible death threats against her.”

“Oh, I know all about that,” he said, finally catching his breath. “That’s why we want to talk to her.”

“And that’s why we have to be careful with anyone who can’t be vouched for,” the receptionist said. “Sorry.”

“W-wait–Michelle is with me. I’ll go get her.”

“OK.”

Peter looked around behind him, but Michelle was nowhere to be seen among all those people walking about in the lobby.

He left the receptionist’s desk and slipped back into the crowd to find Michelle. The jostling people were making it difficult for him to return to the front door area.

Finally, when he got to a clearing of the people, he heard Michelle shouting, “Mom! Wait, it’s me, Michelle! I wanna talk to you! Peter, I found her!”

Siobhan was approaching Michelle with two security men walking on either side of her, their eyes always on everyone else in the lobby. Peter raced over to stand beside Michelle.

When Siobhan was three or four feet away from Michelle and Peter, she and the two men stopped walking.

“What is it, sweetie?” she asked. “Why do you and Peter look so agitated? What’s wrong?”

“We–I mean, I just saw an assassin shoot two women–carriers of The Splits in the ladies room in the Northeast Mall just now,” Michelle said. “What Peter told me is true. You’re in danger.”

“Well, that’s what I have these security men here for,” her mother said. “As you can see, they’re watching the whole area like hawks, and I have others in the lobby looking out for me and on the other floors of the building. Remember that I’m not the only one in danger from those hired assassins. Many, if not most, of the employees here had The Splits, and the assassins will be after them, too.”

“Yes, well…I just wanna be with you, Mom,” Michelle said in a trembling voice. “I’m afraid for you. If something happens to you, I wanna be there.” A tear ran down her cheek.

“That’s very sweet of you, Michelle, but I should be OK with these two men here,” Siobhan said. “Now, we have to get going. I have an important meeting to chair in ten minutes in North York. I’m going to be late as it is. I can’t stay and chat. I’ll see you tonight at home. Bye.”

“No, Mom, please!” Michelle sobbed as she saw her mom walk past with the men. “Let me go with you.”

“Sweetie, I’ll be OK,” Siobhan said. “Don’t slow me down. I’m in a hurry.”

“I won’t slow you down, Mom.” Michelle ran over with Peter in front of Siobhan. “Just let me go with you.”

They were all by the front doors now.

“Do you have your own transportation?” Siobhan asked, gently moving Michelle to the side. “If Peter didn’t bring his car, we won’t have enough room in mine for him, you, and my two men here.”

Just outside the front doors was a familiar man with his right hand inside his blazer and his left inside his left pants pocket. Siobhan’s daughter is with her again, he thought. But she isn’t in the way of my line of fire this time. I may have to upset her daughter after all.

“Oh, your car is big enough,” Peter said. “We should all be able to squeeze in.”

Siobhan opened one of the doors. “Oh, this is getting ridiculous,” she said. “With us all squished in like that, it will be awkward and uncomfortable. You worry too much, Michelle.”

The man was standing right in front of Siobhan.

“Mom, please,” Michelle sobbed. “For my peace of mind,–“

The man began slowly pulling his pistol out of its holster in his blazer. The other hand was fumbling with a small can of bug spray in his pants pocket.

The security men’s eyes widened at the sight of the emerging pistol. They reached for theirs.

“I’ll tell you what,” Peter said. “I won’t go. That’ll leave some room in your car, Ms. Bucha–“

The man fired a bullet in Siobhan’s chest.

“Mom!” Michelle screamed.

Peter was so shocked, he almost lost his balance, barely keeping himself from falling.

The can of bug spray fell out of the assassin’s fumbling fingers and dropped to the ground.

The dots of light flew out of Siobhan’s body as she fell to the ground. They also flew out of the hands of the two security men, who no longer needed their pistols.

Those lights entered every inch of the assassin’s body, as others flew in from other nearby carriers both inside and outside the building. He dropped his gun.

Gunshots from other assassins in the area killed a few other carriers, but the other assassins were no more adept at getting out their cans of bug spray than Siobhan’s killer was.

Swarms of light dots were flying into the bodies of the other killers. With Schadenfreude, Peter watched the tearing-up of their bodies as his eyes moved around the area to see the whole spectacle; but Michelle, her eyes flooding with tears as she held her mother’s bloodied body in her arms, focused on the ripping-up of her mother’s assassin’s body.

Yeah, aliens, she thought as she wept, tear that bastard to pieces. Go, aliens, go. You have my sympathy now.

The remaining aliens inside Siobhan’s body were giving her temporary extra life, just enough to let her communicate with Michelle one last time.

“Michelle,” she gasped after coughing out some blood. “Now, you know…who your enemies…are. Fight…them…with us.”

“Yes, Mom,” Michelle sobbed. “I’ll do it for you.”

“No,” Siobhan panted. “Not…for me. For…the world.”

“Mom, don’t die. Can’t the aliens heal you?”

“No….It’s OK, sweetie. Let me go. It’s for…the cause.”

Her body flopped down and stopped moving.

Michelle screamed a mix of grief and rage. She reached for the gun of the assassin, whose body was tearing out of its suit and exposing his brain, heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, and thigh muscles. The widening and narrowing of those huge tear-holes in his body persisted long enough for her to point his gun at his heart; but before she had time to pull the trigger, his body blew to pieces, spraying his blood everywhere, soaking her and Peter in red.

“Eww, God,” he grunted, then looked over at her. “I’m so sorry, Michelle.” He put his arms around her. She hugged him back, bawling hoarsely.

The security men felt the lights fly back into their bodies. They looked around at all the screaming people, obviously non-carriers.

“We won’t be able to hide this,” one of the two said. “We’ll have to accelerate our plans.”

“The news media and governments can no longer pretend this is all just a conspiracy theory, either,” the other man said. “They’ll be accelerating their plans, too. Get ready for a war. A global one.”

Scapegoat

The narcissistic mother rules them all.
The codependent father won’t stand tall.
The brothers are lost children; they feel small.
The daughter is the golden child, Mom’s doll.

The scapegoat takes the fall. He wants to be set free.

The toxic family gangs up on him.
They bully, scream, and shout, on any whim.
His hopes at winning arguments are slim.
The chances of them changing remain dim.

They blame their woes on him. He dreams of liberty.

His mother lies, claims he is mentally lacking.
His father gripes, since he at school is slacking.
His brothers threaten; they’re always attacking.
His sister feigns concern…has he her backing?

Their false image is cracking. One day, he will flee.

His mother fabricates smear after smear.
His father won’t speak out, seems not to hear.
His brothers take advantage of his fear.
His sister gives her voice, but not her ear.

The scapegoat’s out of here. He now begins to be.

Rights

The right,
left, and the centre are defined
in terms of their relations to each other.

The right,
were left and shifty centre moved
(along the spectrum, from their proper places)

rightwards,
wouldn’t seem extreme, like its sworn foe,
the oft-forgotten left. The centre, thus

more right,
would seem a milder kind of right,
while what to us seems left is centre. Our rights

fade right
into oblivion. Fascism
is normalized. The left and centre die.

The right
is all there is, and human rights
are all left in the centre of a dungheap.

We’re right
back where we started, when Hitler
was snuffing leftists, making centrists right.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book II, Chapter Seven

The afternoon of the next day, Peter and Michelle were walking in a Toronto shopping mall.

“I can’t believe those things in your mom went ahead and revealed themselves to you like that,” he said.

“Her identity has been fused with that of the…aliens,…it seems,” Michelle said, whispering aliens. “She trusts me as her daughter, but they needed to gain my trust.”

“OK, but she’s aware…and they are aware…of the danger of these government assassins, right?” he asked.

“If there even are government assassins. But yeah, she says she has armed security patrolling the newspaper, just in case you’re right. I saw them there. She should be OK, for now, at least. I’ll wanna be with her when she goes home tonight, though.”

“And what if an assassin tries to shoot her, but you get caught in the crossfire and he hits you instead? I don’t wanna lose you any more than you want to lose her.”

“If she gets shot, I don’t wanna learn about it on the news. I wanna be there with her.” Michelle began to sob.

“Hey, c’mon. Don’t start crying.” Peter put his arm around her. “Look, I know it isn’t easy talking about this, but…how much of her do you think is her, and how much do you think is…alien?” He whispered the last word.

All of her is my mom!” Michelle shouted, then covered her mouth in embarrassment at all the faces in the mall looking at her. “The…alien part” [whispered] “…is so fully spread around in her, there’s no distinguishing the one from the other. It’s like…syrup on pancakes, you know? You can’t separate them once the one is poured on the other. What’s more to the point, though, is that, maybe, just maybe, I really am beginning to sympathize with…those things, despite what they did to my dad.”

“That’s your attachment to your mom speaking, I’m afraid.”

“It’s more than that!” Again, Michelle caught herself after shouting. “She’s made genuine changes to the paper, and to the governance of Mississauga District, changes she’d never have made before those things got inside her. Pay raises to all her employees, new health benefits for them, cleaning up the air, new regulations about garbage disposal that won’t hurt the environment, better welfare, lots of things like that, obviously the influence of the…aliens.” That last word was whispered again.

“Wayne Grey’s been doing all that in MedicinaTech, too,” Peter said. “When he talks about not caring about profits, he seems to mean it, as do all those on the Board of Directors, who by now have all been compromised by the…aliens.” [whispered] “…Since they won’t come inside me, I can go back there and talk with the staff in all civility. The things fly out of everyone, but they don’t enter me. They just hover in front of me, you know, the way they always do to us. But I’ll bet there’s another reason these people with those things in them are being assassinated: the capitalist governments of the world want to stop these good reforms. I really think those things only kill the bad guys…”

Michelle scowled at him for that last remark, remembering her dad.

“…O-or change the bad into the good, as they did your mom,” Peter said in an awkward attempt at self-correction. “Hey, I include my own mom and dad among the bad guys.”

Michelle continued scowling at him. “My mom may have been misguided in her running of the newspaper and the city, as were your late parents in MedicinaTech, but my mom was never a bad person, Peter. And you shouldn’t talk that way about your parents, as flawed as they were.”

“OK, bad choice of words. I’m sorry, but you know what I was trying to say.”

“Yeah, but still, I’m not so sure if these changes for the good really are well-intentioned,” Michelle said. “I mean, what if those things are really just trying to win our sympathy and support, to gain our help, then when they’ve totally taken over, they start to do really evil things, and it’s too late for us to stop them?”

“I’ve thought of that, too,” Peter said. “Believe me.”

They were approaching a public washroom. “Wait a sec,” she said. “I gotta pee.”

“So do I,” he said.

She went in the ladies’ room followed by three other women. She and one of them immediately went into stalls while the other two were checking themselves in the mirror.

A few seconds after the first tinkling of piss could be heard, the woman at the mirror to the left released the dots of light from her right hand. As soon as the lights entered the woman to the right, she dropped her tube of lipstick and fell to the floor.

Michelle and the other woman in a stall could hear grunts of pain over the sound of their pissing, but felt powerless to help until emptying their bladders, so full were they. They pressed and tried to go as fast as they could to be ready to help, but by the time Michelle had pulled her pants up and opened her stall door, the grunting woman was up on her feet again and grinning one of those creepy grins at the carrier woman, then at Michelle.

“Are you OK?” Michelle asked her. “I heard grunts of pain.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” the still-smiling woman said, then gave a fake-sounding laugh. “I just had a sudden pang of pain in my stomach. It happens to me once in a while. I took a pill, and it kicked in immediately.”

Michelle stared in her eyes for a few seconds. “Really?”

“Oh, yes,” the woman said with another fake laugh and that grin never leaving her face. “Don’t worry, I’m OK.” Her grin wavered a bit as she saw that Michelle clearly wasn’t buying her story.

“Really, Miss,” the first carrier said, also with a fake smile. “It happened just as she said it did.”

“I don’t believe either of you,” Michelle said, now looking at the first carrier hard in the eyes. “I know what really happened, and I know what you are. And you know exactly what I mean by that.”

The woman in the other stall stayed quiet, but was watching everything through the crack in the door.

“Really?” the old and new carriers said together, then released the lights on Michelle. They, of course, just hovered in front of her as usual. “Oh, you’re an ally,” the carriers also said together, seeming to possess only one mind between them.

“An ally?” Michelle said with a sneer. “I don’t see myself as an ally of yours. Believe me.”

“You will one day,” the first carrier said. “So will your boyfriend, when all is revealed. But not now. You still aren’t ready to understand what has to be done.”

“Ready?” Michelle asked. “How do you know about my boyfriend? What do you want from us?” She came out of her stall. The dots of light retreated, returned to, and reentered their carriers.

“You’re not ready to be told everything,” the new carrier said. “Nor is your boyfriend ready for the burden.”

“You’ll know soon enough, though,” the first carrier said.

“How do you know about my boyfriend?” Michelle asked. “Did you see us together out there?”

“We didn’t need to see you together,” the first carrier said. “We know a lot of things you don’t need eyes, ears, or the sense of touch to learn of. But you will like what we will–“

Suddenly, a gun with a silencer went off, the bullets hitting both carriers in the heart and killing them. Michelle screamed and jumped, then looked back.

“They needed their eyes and ears to know I was coming,” the woman in the stall said. She came out with the pistol in her right hand and a small can of bug spray in her left. “They’re nowhere near omniscient.”

The lights flew out of the dead women’s bodies and at their assassin. She sprayed the first half-dozen or so. They all lost their glow, then fell to the floor, hitting it with a sound like dropped marbles.

“And now, it’s your turn…,” she said, but Michelle had already run out of the washroom. “Oh, shit. Can’t go after her. Gotta dispose of these two.” She walked over to the bodies.

As soon as Michelle had thrown open the washroom door, she saw Peter walking past it. She grabbed his hand and pulled him along.

“Hey, Michelle!” he said. “What is it? Where are we going?”

“To Mississauga!” she said, still with her hand tightly holding his and making him run with her.

“Mississauga?”

“Yes,” she said as they were approaching an exit. “To the newspaper. Those assassins you were telling me about are real!”

Analysis of ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’

The Little Shop of Horrors is a black-and-white 1960 horror/comedy film directed by Roger Corman and written by Charles B. Griffith. The story may have been inspired by “Green Thoughts,” a 1932 story by John Collier; it may have been influenced by “The Reluctant Orchid,” a 1956 sci-fi story by Arthur C. Clarke, which in turn was inspired by “The Flowering of the Strange Orchid,” a 1905 HG Wells story.

The film stars Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, and Dick Miller, all of whom had worked with Corman on previous films. The Little Shop of Horrors uses a whimsical, idiosyncratic sense of humour, combining black comedy, farce, Jewish humour, and bits of spoof. It was shot on a budget of $28,000 ($240,000 in 2019), with interiors shot in two days.

It gained a cult following after being distributed as a B-movie in a double feature with Mario Bava‘s Black Sunday. A small, early role for Jack Nicholson retrospectively helped the film’s popularity when promoted on home video releases. It became the basis for an off-Broadway musical, which in turn was made into a film adaptation in 1986, starring Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and Ellen Greene.

A link to quotes from the film can be found here. Since Corman never bothered to copyright the film (thinking it had little in financial prospects), it has entered the public domain. A link to the entire film can be found here.

Seymour Krelboined (Haze) is a clumsy, socially awkward florist’s assistant working on skid row in California. His boss is Gravis Mushnick (Welles), a bad-tempered, penny-pinching stereotype of Jewish humour who speaks ungrammatical English, laden with malapropisms, in a thick Yiddish accent. Seymour will be fired for his ineptitude unless he can impress Mushnick with his new plant.

Seymour, Mushnick, and Audrey admiring Audrey Jr.

All the characters in this film are comically idiosyncratic in one form or another: Seymour’s love interest, Audrey Fulquard (Joseph), the sweet–if rather ditzy (her dialogue, too, abounds in malapropisms)–girl next door; Burson Fouch (Miller), an eccentric eater of flowers who gives Mushnick the idea to save Seymour’s job by using his unusual new plant to attract customers; Seymour’s hypochondriac mother Winifred (played by Myrtle Vail), who considers medication synonymous with food; ever-mourning Mrs. Shiva (aptly surnamed), who always needs flowers for funerals (hoping for cut-rate prices) for the latest death in the family; Sergeant Joe Fink, the narrator, and Officer Frank Stoolie, two Dragnet-style detectives; Dr. Phoebus Farb, a fittingly sadistic dentist; and Wilbur Force (Nicholson), a masochist who loves going to the dentist.

It’s interesting how Fouch, an eater of flowers, encourages the public display of a plant that, as it turns out, eats human flesh. Flowers are the commodity sold in Mushnick’s shop, of course, and Fouch is a consumer (in more ways than one) of them. The addition of ‘Audrey Jr.’, the giant man-eating variant of a Venus flytrap, to the store will cause business to boom in a way all storeowners dream of, but not even Mushnick will want to pay the gory price that Audrey Jr. demands.

The rapid growth of Audrey Jr., coupled with its appetite for human flesh, can be seen to symbolize the predatory nature of capitalism, which must continue growing, being fed on profits (i.e., the improved business of Mushnick’s flower shop), with no regard for the needs of human life.

So, consumption–in its various meanings–is the dominant theme of the movie: the plant’s consumption of human flesh, Fouch’s consumption of flowers, Mushnick’s customers’ consumption (buying) of his flowers, little Audrey Jr.’s consumption (using up) of Seymour’s blood, his mother’s consumption of medicines as if they were food, and the public’s consumption (i.e., reception of information/entertainment) of the display of Audrey Jr. in the flower shop.

Since the setting of the film is skid row, a part of town where the poor try to escape their troubles in such forms as alcohol and drugs, Winifred’s consumption of medicines can easily be seen as symbolic of drug addiction, especially since the tonic Seymour buys for her is 98% alcohol. She has a few sips and is already tipsy by the time he leaves their house with his then-little plant.

Winifred Krelboined

The symbolic relationship between Fouch’s eating of flowers and Audrey Jr.’s eating of people should be seen as a karmic one. Fouch’s eating of flowers symbolizes man’s destruction of nature by commodifying it; the plant’s man-eating is thus nature’s revenge on man, the destruction of the environment being also our destruction, our collective suicide.

Commodification, the making of exchange-values to generate profits, is the basis of capitalism; small wonder Marx began Capital, vol 1 with a discussion of the commodity. Flowers are Mushnick’s commodities, so Seymour’s plant and its growth represent how the profit made from commodities result in another kind of growth: the accumulation of capital. Audrey Jr.’s bloodlust represents the pain and suffering that inevitably result from all this capital accumulation.

Seymour’s social awkwardness reflects the aggravated kind of alienation one would encounter in the poverty of skid row. He loves raising plants, but he is only of any worth to Mushnick if he can nurse Audrey Jr. to health and present it appealingly to his boss’s customers, getting them to want to buy flowers in the shop. Once the plant’s health has revived, and it has grown thanks to its drinking of drops of Seymour’s blood, his boss no longer loathes him, and even starts calling him ‘Son.’

Two pretty girls, who enter the shop out of curiosity about Audrey Jr., and who wish to decorate a float with flowers, treat Seymour like a pop star upon learning that it is his horticultural skills that have brought the plant to life. After Mushnick, dreaming of wealth and moving his flower shop to Beverly Hills, gives ever-grieving Mrs. Shiva flowers for free, he notices Audrey Jr. sick again, regrets his generosity to her, and instantly reverts to his contempt for Seymour. The boy’s alienation arises from only being of value if he can help his boss make money.

His alienation grows worse when he realizes that the only way he can keep Audrey Jr. alive is by murdering people and feeding it the corpses. Since murder is repellant to his nature, his bloody work is now alienating him from what Marx called one’s species-essence.

Seymour Krelboined

One is alienated from one’s work, from oneself, and of course from other people. Seymour alienates himself from others, though he “didn’t mean it,” but he isn’t the only one. Dr. Farb, the dentist who loves drilling holes in people’s teeth, also alienates people with his sadism. There are the teeth that hack up a man, and there’s a man who hacks up teeth, another reversal comparable to that of Fouch vs Audrey Jr.

There’s karmic retribution in Audrey Jr. eating human flesh, in response to what Fouch’s flower-eating represents (destruction of the environment). Then there’s karmic retribution in Seymour’s killing of Dr. Farb, in response to the dentist’s gleeful torturing of his patients; recall how, in the 1986 film musical, Steve Martin’s dentist sings of people paying him “to be inhumane.” Many high-paid professionals–doctors, lawyers, politicians–do awful things on a scale comparable to those of the greedy capitalist.

The suffering of the poor in such places as skid row, people ever held down under the boot of the capitalist, often leads to varying forms of mental illness, as in Winifred’s hypochondria and the sexual masochism disorder of Wilber Force (Nicholson). While most masochists in the BDSM community engage in their kink in a way that doesn’t cause them psychosocial difficulties, Force’s eager willingness to have (imagined dentist) Seymour pull out several–it is safe to presume–perfectly healthy teeth is clearly an impairment of Force’s functioning in social situations.

Added to all of this, the farcical humour we see in Seymour’s clumsiness, the eccentricities of his mother and Fouch, Farb’s sadism, Force’s masochism, etc., should be seen as representative of the absurdist futility of their existence in an alienating, capitalist society that keeps them in poverty and misery. Even Fink and Stoolie, the police investigating the disappearances of Farb and the railroad detective (whom Seymour accidentally hit with a large rock and made fall on the tracks to be run over by a train), react to the death of Stoolie’s son–who was playing with matches–by nonchalantly saying, “Those are the breaks.”

Audrey Jr.’s chewing of human bodies into pieces, Dr. Farb’s drilling and pulling of teeth, and Force’s delight at getting his teeth drilled and pulled, all represent the psychological fragmentation that results from an alienating capitalist society that privileges the few and impoverishes most of the rest of humanity. Even the budding relationship between Seymour and Audrey doesn’t last long; predictably, the talking plant’s incessant demand, “Feed me!”, is what gets in the way of their love. The growing monster of capitalism eats up everything.

Audrey Fulquard

The two girls who want to feature Audrey Jr. on their float fittingly say that their spectators will “eat it up.” The literal or figurative consumption of commodities leads to the consumers being karmically consumed by their own materialism and commodity fetishism. People see only the growing plant; they know nothing of what it is actually fed to make it grow.

The reversals of Fouch’s flower-eating vs a man-eating plant, and of teeth that mutilate vs Farb’s mutilating of teeth, are a fusion of dialectical contradiction with karma.

Though Mushnick is horrified to find out that Seymour is feeding the plant human flesh, he is conflicted about whether to inform the authorities or to keep quiet and enjoy the new success of his business. It is common for business owners to be conflicted over the need to maximize profit vs the need to be humane towards their employees, to care about the environment, etc. We’ll notice however that, no matter how strongly…and sincerely…the capitalist feels about humanitarian concerns, the profit motive will take priority, because the capitalist is compelled to prioritize profit. Hence, Mushnick’s procrastination with telling the police.

Mrs. Hortense Feuchtwanger, a lady from the “Society of Silent Flower Observers of Southern California,” enters the flower shop and is fascinated with Audrey Jr. If the plant’s buds open on the evening she returns to the shop, and if she likes what she sees, she’ll give Seymour a trophy for his plant.

This trophy would represent the kind of recognition that Seymour, a misfit and ‘loser’ that no one has ever appreciated or liked, so desperately craves. Only recently have any women (Audrey, the two girls with the float, Mrs. Feuchtwanger) ever shown him any liking, and if there’s one thing we all desire, it’s that of the Other, to be desired of the Other, to get the Other’s recognition.

As with his romance with Audrey, though, Seymour’s appreciation from Mrs. Feuchtwanger will be short-lived, too. The lady returns to the flower shop to see the budding, and she is horrified–as are Audrey, Mushnick, Fouch, Winifred, and Fink and Stoolie, who are also there at the time–to see the faces of all those eaten by the plant in its opened flowers.

Oddly, the two girls with the float still like Audrey Jr., looking gleefully at the faces in the budded flowers. They represent the extreme of commodity fetishism: so entranced are they by the plant as a finished product that they show no regard for the victims that helped it grow.

Gravis Mushnick

Recall, also, that as horrified as Mushnick is at Audrey Jr., especially to learn that it is a talking plant, he, too, is willing to have it eat up someone–in this case, an armed robber (played by scriptwriter Griffith, who also did the voice of the plant). Guarding his money is more important to capitalist Mushnick than preventing yet another victim of Audrey Jr.

The robber isn’t the only member of the Lumpenproletariat to be fed to the plant: so is an aggressive prostitute who tries to get Seymour to be her next client. For indeed, with Audrey Jr. as symbolic of the ever-growing, ever-devouring monster that is capitalism, such Lumpenproletariat as criminals and streetwalkers are every bit as much victims of the bourgeoisie as are the strata of the working class just above them.

Capital seems to develop a mind of its own, in how it subjugates us all to the will of the profit motive, even when we try to resist it on moral grounds, as Mushnick and Seymour try to do. This ‘mind of its own’ would seem to explain, in symbolic terms, why the plant can talk, and why it can hypnotize Seymour into doing its will, right when he tries so vehemently to defy it.

So many of us on the left try to defy the system around us that we hate so much, but through the mesmerizing bourgeois media (part of the system’s superstructure), now including Facebook, the narcissistic exhibitionism of Instagram, etc., we all get pulled back into complying. Hence, Seymour wanders the streets of skid row, in such a trance as to ignore the charms of the streetwalker, and takes her back and feeds her to Audrey Jr.

When Fink and Stoolie learn that Seymour is responsible for all the killings, they and Mushnick chase him on the streets of skid row in the night. The two cops represent the feeble attempts that an otherwise bourgeois state makes to curb the excesses of capitalism. That feeble effort is demonstrated in their failure to apprehend ineffectual, spastic Seymour, who should be easy to catch.

Wilbur Force

They chase him into some bizarre, even surreal-looking, parts of town, but they are places nonetheless indicative of the capitalist preoccupation with commodities–rather unclean ones, actually. Seymour is chased into the private property of a tire and rubber company, when he runs and hides in a labyrinth of giant tires. One of the few times he doesn’t trip is over resting Mushnick’s leg, though Fink and Stoolie do trip over it!

Then Seymour hides in, of all things, a toilet among a maze of bathroom fixtures (sinks, bathtubs, etc). Mushnick tells the cops that they won’t find Seymour there, though he is most obviously there. In all of this not only do we see the symbolism of a bourgeois government failing to punish the excesses of capitalism, but we also see a capitalist helping in achieving that failure.

Seymour returns to the flower shop a broken man. Racked with guilt over his murders, he’s lost the woman he loves, he’s a wanted man, and it’s all because of that bloody, gluttonous plant that has repaid his services by ruining his life. In despair, he decides to sate Audrey Jr.’s hunger one last time with his own body…and a knife to kill it with.

A karmic reversal has finally happened to the plant, instead of it being an agent of karma; for such is the reality of the dialectical crests and troughs of theses phasing into negations and sublations that become new theses to be negated and sublated. Now Seymour’s face appears in the latest budding flower, to add to all the other faces. The plant dies, too, and just as capitalism kills, so will it destroy itself in the end.