Analysis of ‘Le Amiche’

Le Amiche (“The Girlfriends”) is a 1955 film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, written by him, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, and Alba De Cespedes, and adapted from Tra donne sole (1949), a novel by Cesare Pavese. The film stars Eleonora Rossi DragoGabriele FerzettiFranco Fabrizi, and Valentina Cortese, with Yvonne Furneaux (who was also in Repulsion), Ettore Manni, and Madeleine Fischer. It was shot on location in Turin, Piemonte, Italy.

Le Amiche received the Silver Lion award in 1955 from the Venice Film Festival; it also won the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Silver Ribbon Award for Best Director (Antonioni) and Best Supporting Actress (Cortese).

The name of the film is ironic and somewhat deceptive, since Nene (Cortese), Momina De Stefani (Furneaux), Rosetta Savoni (Fischer), and Mariella (played by Anna Maria Pancani) are girlfriends in little more than a superficial sense. There’s actually a considerable amount of conflict between them, at varying levels of intensity, due to jealousies over their rivalries over men, as well as their varying degrees of vanity and narcissism.

Indeed, jealousy, envy, vanity, and pride are major themes in Le Amiche. A few minor comparisons between this film and Othello can be made, as far as the themes of jealousy and envy are concerned. Rosetta can be seen as the Othello of the film (Nene, too, in an opposing way); her doomed, jealous love of Lorenzo (Ferzetti) leads to a failed suicide attempt at the beginning of the film, and a successful suicide towards the end, just as the Moor kills himself at the end of Othello. Momina, cynical and envious of others’ happiness in love, is the scheming Iago: she encourages Rosetta’s pursuit of Lorenzo, leading to a conflict she finds most amusing to watch, just as Iago enjoys watching the Moor go insane with jealousy.

In a way, a vague comparison can be made also between Le Amiche and Romeo and Juliet, since the film involves pairs of lovers from incompatible worlds. The pairings of Clelia (Drago) and Carlo (Manni), and of Rosetta and Lorenzo, are incompatible not because of feuding families, though, but because of conflicting class relations and sex roles.

Clelia, as the manager of a new fashion salon opening in Turin, is–like her boss (played by Maria Gambarelli)–as an Italian woman in the conservative 1950s, a career woman ‘before it was cool.’ Thus, Clelia is a bourgeois. Carlo, her love interest, on the other hand, is a worker. The sex-role assumption of the time was that, were they to marry, he’d be supporting her financially, not vice versa…a rather hard thing for him to do, with the lower amount of money he’s making than she is. She’d also suffer an unacceptable lowering of social rank in such a marriage.

Similarly, Rosetta is from a well-to-do family, while the man she’s in love with is a struggling artist, one struggling so much that Nene, his fiancée, is actually more successful as an artist than he. Again, the sex-role assumption is that Lorenzo is supposed to be the more successful of the couple, and therefore the more monied one, not Nene or Rosetta. Neither of these women care that he is of modest means (nor should they, of course), but his pride and male chauvinism make him envy Nene’s success, just as she and Rosetta are jealous of each other with regards to him.

Though Clelia is as bourgeois as Momina, both women are on the opposite ends of the narcissism spectrum. We can see this contrast early on in the film, when we are introduced first to Clelia, who is unassuming and, with a smile, tells the hotel maid either “signora” or “signorina” is an acceptable way to address her; then later on, we’re introduced to Momina at the front desk of the hotel, where she treats the man working there contemptuously, saying he’s “ridiculous” to think her friend, Rosetta, has already left the hotel, then orders him to call her room. We see the contrast in their attitudes towards workers, and towards class differences.

Clelia may walk around in a beautiful fur coat, but she does so not out of narcissistic ostentation; as the manager of the new fashion salon, she has an image to maintain, hence the nice clothes. Similarly, her annoyance with the workers’ slow progress in getting the salon ready isn’t out of a condescending attitude to them, but from the pressure she feels from her boss to have everything ready on time.

In Clelia and Momina we can see the Venn diagram, as it were, where narcissism and capitalism overlap. In Momina, both are apparent, since she uses the class hierarchy of capitalism as one of a number of rationalizations to demonstrate her ‘superiority’ to others. In Clelia, we just see the pressures of capitalism making her dress and act with an air of superiority, but narcissistic tendencies are minimal in her: her looking at herself in mirrors, for example, is brief. Momina, in contrast, will look idolatrously at her reflection with that of Cesare Pedone (Fabrizi) in a window in her home, idealizing the image as one of a ‘perfect couple,’ when actually, she’s married–though temporarily separated from her husband–using Cesare as one of many lovers.

A recurring issue in this film is various characters’ preoccupations with such superficialities as what dress to wear, what facial lotion to use, how is one’s reputation or social status, etc. Note again that this preoccupation with one’s public image is directly related to one’s social class, where narcissism and capitalism meet.

The big mystery early on in the film is why Rosetta has tried to kill herself by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. On the train ride back from the girlfriends’ disastrous get-together at the beach, Rosetta confides in Clelia about her reasons for her suicide attempt: namely, she speaks of the emptiness of, for example, wondering what dress she’ll wear; soon after, she confesses the more central reason–she can’t have Nene’s Lorenzo. Still, that earlier reason carries considerable weight, and in fact it bears a relationship with the second reason.

She loves Lorenzo because she sees in him a gruff honesty that doesn’t exist in such superficial friends as Momina and the pretty, but air-headed Mariella, the latter’s preoccupations being little more than how beautiful others see her, and who will be her man. Rosetta doesn’t care whether Lorenzo is successful or not: she loves him for how he’s made her feel, in the portrait he’s painted of her.

Though Momina predictably doesn’t think much of the picture, Rosetta is touched by Lorenzo’s efforts. It felt to her as if, with his brush painting her face, he was caressing her. To look at her portrait is, for her, to look in a metaphorical mirror: in painting her, he’s created an idealized version of her to which she cannot measure up if she can’t have him. Hence, when she tries phoning him prior to taking the overdose of sleeping pills, she wishes he’d destroy the painting, as she’s destroyed all her photographs, other metaphorical mirrors of herself. She’d wipe out all traces of herself prior to her suicide.

Of course, Lorenzo being by his own admission much too vain to destroy his painting, also sees it as a kind of metaphorical mirror (i.e., of his painting ability), since apart from having painted it, he sees, in her face, her love reflected back on him, titillating his vanity. Indeed, he looks at her smiling at him, and he feels she has ‘the most beautiful smile in the world.’ His narcissism isn’t of Momina’s malignant kind (i.e., he doesn’t consciously intend to hurt Rosetta or Nene, whereas Momina finds it amusing to stir up drama in this love triangle), but it is sufficient to make him enjoy an affair with Rosetta, enjoying her charms and flattery while leading her on and causing Nene to suffer.

Now, Momina is eager to find any insights related to Rosetta’s suicide attempt, including whom she tried to phone prior to taking the pills. Momina acts as though she only wants to help, but her real agenda is to find out the truth about Rosetta and Lorenzo, in order to exploit it.

Other examples of Momina’s superficiality, narcissism, and general meanness are seen in the early scene when she asks Clelia, in her hotel room, about whom Rosetta phoned. Momina gives Clelia a backhanded compliment about how well she dresses, as good publicity for her salon, when also pointing out how, apparently, ‘fashion designers usually dress like tramps.’ She then asks about Clelia’s facial cream, Clelia getting the hint that Momina is implying how cheap it is. Clelia, lacking Momina’s narcissism, doesn’t judge a product’s worth by its price.

Now, Clelia’s unassuming, but her sense of social class nonetheless must exclude Carlo, as much as she likes him. Workers are typically talked down to by not only Momina, but also Cesare, who is condescending to Carlo in the diner scene when he’s with Clelia; though Mariella acknowledges Carlo is a ‘hunk.’ Clelia tries to be kinder to workers, as I pointed out with her interaction with the hotel maid, as well as with her accommodation of the vagabond in the trattoria scene, when Lorenzo fights with Cesare.

Clelia, therefore, represents the liberal capitalist, who would like to be kinder to the poor, but the pressures of her social class won’t allow her to go beyond a few token gestures of generosity. Hence, she enjoys Carlo’s company in the diner, as well as during their walk to look at furniture for the fashion salon…but marriage with him is out of the question. Just compare her coat with his to see why.

During their walk, she shows him the poor area of Turin where she lived as a little girl. Yes, she was once poor, and was able to rise out of it, so she lacks the snobbishness of Momina and Cesare. Carlo, nonetheless, can feel her airs of superiority, however much Clelia tries to minimize them, and he cannot hide his annoyance with her.

At the end of the film, when Clelia is to leave Turin by train and return to Rome, Carlo wants to be there when she leaves, but he is too ashamed of his lower social class to show himself to her. As he follows her to the train she gets on, he hides behind a vendor’s tall cart. Note how this carrier of things to sell, a symbol of capitalism, is a barrier separating Carlo from Clelia.

Rosetta similarly would love Lorenzo with all her heart, and not care that he has less money than the wealth of the snobbish family she feels little affection for. (Indeed, when her mother visits her in the hospital and is scandalized by her suicide attempt, instead of focusing on her daughter’s pain, she steps aside and looks at herself in her compact. Her narcissistic preoccupation with her own looks, her image, is a more pressing concern than Rosetta’s health and happiness.) She sees herself and Lorenzo in a large mirror while he’s lying on a bed; seeing their reflection together is her idealizing of their relationship, but for the opposite reason of Momina’s idealizing of her time together with Cesare, seeing their reflection in the window in her home. Momina loves the status of having a man like Cesare; Rosetta sincerely loves Lorenzo for himself.

It isn’t Rosetta who sees the class divide between herself and Lorenzo as a problem, though: it is he who does. His masculine pride won’t allow him to marry up, as Clelia’s pressure from the capitalist world won’t allow her to marry down (she wouldn’t want to give up her career and be a housewife/mother for a wealthy husband, but she especially won’t do so for a working-class husband–Carlo…Couldn’t she continue to work, and he be a househusband?).

In these contradictions, we see how career women rising in the context of capitalism will never assure equality of the sexes. A wiping out of sex roles–including the assumption that men are supposed to be more successful (recall Momina’s comment in this connection, during the scene in her home, something with which Rosetta vehemently disagrees), more monied, and generally ‘superior’ to women–is indispensable to such an attainment of equality…and it must be achieved in a socialist context, with a wiping-out of class differences, since sex roles, along with such things as racism, are among the many things the ruling class uses to keep the working class divided among each other.

Lorenzo, however, has internalized the social expectation of masculine preeminence, and his pride won’t let him let go of it. Hence, his fight with Cesare, whose taunts about Nene’s artistic success over Lorenzo’s failures push him beyond endurance in the trattoria scene. Cesare, of course, pretends he’s just joking around, an obvious falsehood, but one of the main themes of Le Amiche is the keeping up of appearances.

As I mentioned above, “The Girlfriends” is an ironic, deceptive name for this film. These women (and their men) largely go about keeping up the appearance of friendship, all for the bourgeois sake of saving face. Actually, all manner of animosity and hostility abound, coming to a head in the three fight scenes–first, at the beach with Momina slapping Mariella, then in the trattoria, with Lorenzo and Cesare trading punches, and finally, between Clelia and Momina in the fashion salon.

Mariella, always opening her mouth without thinking, speaks of how only Rosetta doesn’t have a man, and not noticing that Rosetta has just walked by and heard her. Wishing to avoid losing face and to keep up the appearance of them all bearing no gossipy ill will toward Rosetta, Momina scolds Mariella for speaking so foolishly. When Mariella tries to defend her choice of words and repeats the tactless remark, Momina slaps her. Rosetta, however, prefers Mariella’s tactlessness to Momina’s hypocrisy. As another manifestation of animosity thinly veiled with phoney friendship, Mariella gets even with Momina for the slap by hugging and kissing Cesare in the sand, he being Momina’s boyfriend of the moment, then confessing her motive of revenge before hugging Momina in a pretence of reconciliation with her.

Clelia’s job as manager of a fashion salon is her participating in the business of keeping up appearances, producing glamorous clothes that allow their women wearers to maintain the illusion of exquisite beauty. Capitalism is compelling Clelia to reinforce women’s socially-induced need to hide behind the illusion of beauty, reinforcing this insecurity for the sake of making a profit. Her relationship with Carlo cannot last, him wearing that dull, scruffy coat as against her fur coat, because her association with him would tarnish her glamorous image–it’s bad for business. She even has to hide a love note between the two of them from her models, one of them finding it and laughing at her boss’s expense.

The two women among the girlfriends whom one would assume to be the most mutually rancorous are actually mutually empathic–Rosetta and Nene. The former has stolen the latter’s man; Nene has seen the proof from a sketch she knows Lorenzo did of Rosetta on a matchbox, then given to Rosetta. But instead of privately fighting with her while publicly smiling with her, to keep up appearances among their girlfriends, Nene has a sad, candid conversation with Rosetta about him in private. Rosetta can’t deny being in love with Nene’s man, yet she’s also remorseful about causing Nene’s suffering.

These two, ironically, are the most like friends of all the women.

The final moment of animosity that comes to a head is between Clelia and Momina after Rosetta’s successful suicide. Weeping, Clelia calls Momina a murderess for having goaded on Rosetta to continue her doomed relationship with Lorenzo, all for Momina’s narcissistic, cynical entertainment. That Clelia has blown up at Momina right in front of her boss, a scandalous loss of face in the salon, means Clelia assumes she will lose her job. Fortunately, her boss forgives her and offers her a job in a salon back in Rome, which Clelia accepts.

The boss actually envies Clelia for having been able to get her pain off her chest. The boss, always pressured to keep up appearances, has had to bottle up all of her feelings, a suppression she jokingly claims must be causing her some kind of gastrointestinal problem.

Le Amiche is a movie all about social hypocrisy, narcissism, pressure to keep up appearances, and punishment for those who dare to break society’s rules. It’s also about how class and sex roles divide us all. One hopes that those who watch this film will learn, by example, how not to be friends.

The Sixth Poem from ‘Diverging Paths’

Here I’ll be looking at Poem #6 from Jason Ryan Morton’s collection, Diverging Paths. Recall that I’ve looked at many of his poems in previous posts, if you’re interested in looking at some of those. As usual, I’m setting his words in italics to distinguish them from mine. Here’s the poem:

This isn’t real this is a dream, 
When I wake I swear I will 
Never sleep again, 
Every waking moment a sin, 
God knows I’ve tried, 
But I’m lost in this, 
Magick and emotion, 
Turning down the podium, 
To stare into the heresy, 
Spiral unreality, 
Shadowing in moments lost, 
A vision of Holocaust, 
Sadly no divine intervention, 
Only death, 
And God a blemish,

And now, for my analysis.

The speaker, I suspect, is someone other than the poet, since, though I know the poet to be someone going through some difficult times emotionally, I don’t think he’s experienced a psychotic break with reality, as seems to be the case with the speaker here.

The speaker seems to be rejecting both dream and reality as too painful to bear. By a rejection of all, I mean a refusal to take in and accept any forms of stimulation from the outside world, Wilfred Bion‘s beta elements. In Bion’s theory of thinking, raw sensory data from outside, initially irritating, has to be processed (through what Bion called alpha function) into detoxified material acceptable for thought (alpha elements). In layman’s terms, this means that emotional experiences have to be processed in order for the brain to cope with them. (Click here for more on Bion’s and other psychoanalytic concepts.)

If external stimuli aren’t processed and made into thoughts, one cannot sleep, dream, or even experience waking thought. Without this ability to process thought, one becomes psychotic.

Bion explained it thus: “If the patient cannot transform his emotional experience into alpha-elements, he cannot dream. Alpha-function transforms sense impressions into alpha-elements which resemble, and may in fact be identical with, the visual images with which we are familiar in dreams, namely, the elements that Freud regards as yielding their latent content when the analyst has interpreted them. Freud showed that one of the functions of a dream is to preserve sleep. Failure of alpha-function means the patient cannot dream and therefore cannot sleep. As alpha-function makes the sense impressions of the emotional experience available for conscious and dream-thought the patient who cannot dream cannot go to sleep and cannot wake up. Hence the peculiar condition seen clinically when the psychotic patient behaves as if he were in precisely this state.” (Bion, page 7)

I discussed this issue in my analysis of The Machinist, in which the main character, Trevor Reznik (played by Christian Bale), goes through a psychotic break with reality when he refuses to process his own emotional experiences, namely, his guilt over having hit and killed a child in a car accident, then driving away without taking responsibility. As a result, he doesn’t sleep for a whole year, descending into madness.

To get back to Jason’s poem, the speaker rejects what he’s experiencing, calling it a dream. He says he’ll never sleep again upon waking, since what he’s experienced is so intolerable, so impossible to process and turn into detoxified thought. Yet, “every waking moment [is] a sin,” so waking moments are as impossible to process as unconscious ones.

He’d rather be in a world respecting old ways and old gods, one represented by such archaic spellings as “magick.” Such an idealized world is one the speaker feels lost in, since it’s so much better than the painful one of today. He finds himself “turning down the podium” (i.e., not wanting to go up, be seen by an audience, and communicate with them). He’d rather “stare into the heresy” of an alternate reality not accepted by mainstream society (i.e., the Church), which is seen as “spiritual unreality,” but also the unreality of not wanting to face the painful, but real, world. “Moments lost” are shadowed-in traumas, that is, erased from memory, hidden in the darkness of the mind, repressed.

The pain of a trauma so severe that it must be rejected is seen as a “vision of Holocaust.” There’s “no divine intervention,” either of the Judeo-Christian or pagan kind, when psychosis has replaced coping with reality. So one experiences “only death,” and God seems to be only “a blemish.”

Note that “God” can represent an authority figure, like a stern father. So as a blemish, this harsh authority figure could be the root of the trauma that has caused the speaker to want to run away from painful reality, and to reject all stimuli and all thinking that makes a connection with the world possible.

That way madness lies.

What Love Is (And What it Isn’t)

I: Introduction

No, Alannah Myles, it isn’t what you want it to be.

I’m no expert in the art of loving, and I’m far from practicing it ideally myself, but I do know it’s something more specific than “what you want it to be.” Love isn’t just a sentimental, ‘nice’ word that we can throw around any way we like. It actually means something.

I believe it’s potentially dangerous to toss this word around like a panacea to any relationship problem. We can’t just say, “I love you,” or “We love you,” and expect conflicts in families or with intimate partners to be resolved, as if those three little words were like saying, “Abracadabra.”

Again, I’m not anywhere near giving the final word on what love is, or how it’s to be properly given; but there are some fundamentals that are indispensable. I bring up the issue because narcissistic and other toxic people tend to sidestep these fundamentals:

  1. Love is accepting people as they are, and not demanding that they conform to how one ‘should be.’
  2. Love is wanting what is right for you and actively trying to help you achieve that, not wanting what I merely claim is what is right for you.
  3. Love is speaking well of you and focusing on the good in you, not speaking of and focusing on the bad, or merely speaking of loving you to make oneself look good.

There are other things one could mention, to be sure, but I’d like to focus on these three, since as I said, narcissists and other toxic types don’t do these three, while hypocritically claiming to be loving.

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II: Accepting People as They Are

While those who love you may need you to change certain aspects of yourself because they’re genuinely bad for you (drug abuse, alcoholism, criminal behaviour, etc.), these people don’t go around trying to mould you into what they’d like you to be: a mirror of their narcissistic selves.

A narcissistic parent, for example, may manipulate his or her children into conforming to particular roles, like the golden child, the lost child, or the scapegoat. My late, probably narcissistic mother (she was never diagnosed) did such manipulating of my elder siblings and me.

I’m sure that Mom rationalized her tactics by imagining that my sister, J., as golden child was merely being guided into being the best version of herself that she could be. She also would have justified her making of me into the identified patient (through a bogus labelling of me as autistic, or having Asperger Syndrome) by claiming that identifying what’s ‘wrong’ with me will be the first step to helping me get ‘better.’

The point is that neither J. nor I should be what our mother merely wanted us to be–in J.’s case, an idealized version of our mom, and an extension of Mom’s narcissistic self; and in my case, a projection of everything Mom hated about herself. J. and I should simply be ourselves.

And because Mom tricked J. into being her notion of the ‘ideal daughter/sister/mother/aunt,’ tricking her into thinking that that manipulation was for her own good (i.e., a form of love), J. tried to make me into her idealized version of a younger brother, thinking that doing so was also an act of love. It was nothing of the sort.

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III: Wanting What is Right for You

Granted, even the best and most loving of families and other relationships will have their share of frustrating moments. Sometimes, what they think is right for you is at odds with what you want or know to be right for yourself; sometimes, they are utterly wrongheaded in thinking that this or that is right for you, in spite of having the best of intentions.

But at least these loving people have good intentions!

They aren’t trying to drag you down, they aren’t subjecting you to emotional abuse, and they aren’t using the most vicious of tactics, as a habit, to express their own frustrations with you. When the bad moments inevitably happen, when the fights happen, you are assured that there will be apologies later, and there will be far more good times with them, affectionate times, to compensate for the bad, and by a wide enough margin to render those bad times insignificant in comparison.

If, for example, you were being bullied at school when a kid, your loving elder siblings would have wanted to help you build up the courage to stand up to those bullies, and they would have done all they could to help you. They certainly wouldn’t have jumped on the bullying bandwagon and reinforced your sense of learned helplessness, as my two older brothers, R. and F., did (J., too, in spite of her claims to want to help me with such problems)!

Elder siblings helping you learn to assert yourself would include them actually listening to you assert yourself when you need to tell them they’re angering you. They won’t just pay lip service to how you should fight back, then when you try to do so, they double down on their own bullying and silence you, because they’d only intended for you to stick up for yourself against bullies other than them.

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J. used to be hypocritical with me in this way, when preaching that I should be assertive and tell her, R., and F. off when they were giving me a hard time. But when the time came for me to stand up to her, did she step back and listen? Virtually never. Instead, there was usually some excuse why ‘now’ wasn’t the right time to speak up. Apparently, I was too late with it; apparently, there’s a time limit for asserting oneself. One should speak up more or less immediately, in her opinion. (No logical reason was ever given for the need to be so quick with one’s sticking up for oneself, of course. It was just manipulation on her part to silence me with her ‘speak now, or forever hold your peace’ tactic.)

Wanting what’s right for you also includes wanting you to grow into the best version of yourself. Well-intentioned parents, for example, might occasionally speak inadvisedly, and accidentally say things that hurt their children. But how is a mother telling her adolescent son that he is “only good at things that don’t make money,” spoken calmly and matter-of-factly, an accidental comment? My mother once actually said that to me when I was a teen.

Similarly, back in the mid-1990s, when I, in my mid-twenties, told her that two psychotherapists, each of whom I’d been seeing over a period of several months, told me they saw no autistic symptoms in me, she seemed rather unhappy about the news. After arguing with her over a lengthy time that doubt had been established over whether or not I am on the autism spectrum, Mom–having none of the authority or expertise in psychiatric matters that those two men obviously had–insisted she was right and they were wrong. She clearly wanted me to be autistic, or at least make me believe I was: what loving mother wants that for her son?

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IV: Speaking Well of You

Finally, for my purposes here, a minimal requirement of loving you will include having kind words to say about you. Again, there will be a time and a place for critical words, when one genuinely needs to hear them; but such times should be a minority, not a majority, of the time.

The critical words should also be controlled, not wild, thoughtless, and abusive. Even anger can be expressed in measured ways. People who love you are not going to be making a game of regularly insulting and belittling you. I say this because, though it should be obvious to most people, victims of emotional abuse and gaslighting are often confused by traumatic bonding, with its switches back and forth between nasty to nice.

My mother and J. used to rationalize the horrible things they used to say and do to me, as well as what R. and F. said and did, through victim-blaming (i.e., making out every conflict with me as if it were always exclusively my fault for getting them mad, without considering that maybe they could have tried reacting to my faults in a manner that actually has a bit of loving in it), giving me long-winded speeches supposedly meant to edify me, when these speeches typically went far off-topic (e.g., J. reacting to my accusation of our mom lying to me by talking a load of irrelevant nonsense about Mom not being able to handle every problem ‘perfectly’), or saying the meaningless words, “We love you,” when the last thing I’ve ever felt from any of them is real love.

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Saying you love someone isn’t about pointing out how good you, the giver of love, are; it’s about seeing the good in the receiver of your love. Narcissists fail–or rather, refuse–to grasp that simple fact. If you see no good, or never mention any good, in the person you claim to love, then why do you claim to love this person? Is it just out of family obligation (i.e., if this person wasn’t a member of your family, wouldn’t you hesitate to abandon him or her)?

There’s no doubt in my mind that my mother and J. would say, or would have said, that they love(d) my cousins, L., S., and G. You wouldn’t know this, however, to hear how Mom and J. (have) spoke(n) about them. My mother in particular bad-mouthed our cousins in the most vicious ways over a period of decades, especially G., the youngest. On one occasion, she said G. “was being his usual boring self, talking and talking, and we all wished he would just go away.” On the other side of the coin, over all those decades, I’d never once heard her or J. say a kind word about him. Not even one. It’s not as though it couldn’t be done; Mom and J. simply didn’t want to.

People don’t love other people for no reason; they do so because they value those they love, which means seeing the good in, and therefore speaking well of, the beloved. Providing food, clothing, and shelter for someone, and only these three–without also providing loving words of comfort during sad times, encouragement during challenging times, and congratulations during successful times–is merely fulfilling material obligations, treating the receiver of ‘love’ as a job to be done. The loving person fulfills these obligations with joy; he or she would never regard the receiver of love as a burden.

My family heaped a mountain of verbal abuse on me over the decades. Words of kindness were a small minority, and they were generally insincere. Their insistent words of “We love you” sounded a lot more like them flattering themselves than making me feel valued. Such talk isn’t love. Now, I’m no expert on love, but at least I know what love is not.

J., just a week before the publication of this post, found me on Twitter and tweeted me a happy birthday wish, hoping that my wife and I are doing well. I didn’t respond, because I know this kind of graciousness from her is superficial and meaningless, given all I’d endured from her and the rest of the family for decades before. Her message was an obvious case of hoovering, and I’m not going to fall for that. She’ll have to do a lot more than send me birthday wishes if she hopes to get back in my good graces. She, R., and F. must confront the wrongs they’ve done to me over my life, and I know they don’t want to do that.

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V: Conclusion

As I said above, how I’ve defined love is pretty obvious except to those who have been abused, then subjected to the gaslighting that it was all done “out of love.” My definition is far from exhaustive, and while it isn’t made up of the sufficient conditions, it certainly has some of the necessary ones.

If those who ‘love’ you aren’t accepting you as you are, and are demanding that you be someone else, whom they prefer (I’m not talking about changing a few bad habits as necessary), they aren’t loving you.

If those who ‘love’ you don’t want what’s right for you and aren’t, on at least some level, trying to help you achieve what’s right for you (I don’t mean what they merely say is right for you, but what actually is right for you), they aren’t loving you.

If those who ‘love’ you either can’t or aren’t willing to do such a simple, straightforward thing as to speak kindly to you and emphasize the good, rather than the bad, in you (I don’t mean that loving people should never criticize you, but that they don’t harp on criticism constantly), they aren’t loving you.

These three things are fundamental and indispensable. If they aren’t there in the relationship, it doesn’t matter what other good things the person who ‘loves’ you does (i.e., such superficial things as buying you stuff or meaninglessly saying “I love you”). Other good things ought to be added to these three, but the three must be present.

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Remember: loving you isn’t about how great they think they are, but about how great they think you are…despite your faults.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book IV, Chapter Twelve

A month had gone by. That look of stupid contentment on Peter’s face was still in stark opposition to how he felt inside. Yet if he even thought in opposition to the new way–critical thoughts, rebellious thoughts, conspiratorial thoughts–he would feel a sharp migraine that seemed to split his head open. He didn’t understand how Price and Hammond were able to endure such a painful death for the sake of ‘liberty.’

To feel comfortable, he had to repress his honest feelings and go about with that mindless grin…not something he was wont to do. His only consolation was that he had Michelle at his side…in body, if not in spirit.

“Years back, I complained about viruses, vaccines, and mask mandates,” he said. “Those were days of carefree happiness compared to now. Unh!” His splitting headache came back.

“Be content,” she said. “We have our homes back, and we’re sharing the extra rooms with the poor, as we should be. The Bolshivarians’ work will be all finished any day now, and they will leave. Then we’ll have our heads back.”

“I’m not…holding my breath…for that. Oh!

“Let’s turn on the news,” she said, walking over to his TV. “Maybe George will have a new speech.”

“Oh, yes,” Peter said, rubbing his head. “Our beloved dictator. Oww!

She turned the channel to CNN. “If you’d just stop thinking ill of them, the pain would go away.”

“I can’t help it. It’s in my nature…to rebel. Oh!

“George asked no less than four times to step down as leader,” she said. “They won’t let him resign because they love him so much. He’s a great leader.”

“You believe that bullshit, eh? Ooh!

“Here we go. He’s about to give us a speech.”

“Friends, comrades,” George began. “The time has finally come. Our work has finished. Your Earth is healed, democratic systems of government have been established around the world, and the gulf between the rich and the poor is no more.”

“Wonderful,” she said with a wider than usual grin.

“Hooray,” Peter grunted. “I can feel the…democracy…swimming in my head. Unh!

“You are free!” George shouted to cheers from his listeners.

Free? Peter wondered, with another stinging pain in his head. Could there have been some justification in Price’s opposition to the Bolshivarians?

“The time has come for us Bolshivarianss to say goodbye to you Earthlings,” George went on. “So this is the end.”

They’re going to kill us, Peter thought, his head throbbing in pain. I knew it. They’ve fixed up the Earth. They don’t need us anymore. They’ll split us all up into pieces, scatter our body parts everywhere, and they’ll enjoy our Earth without the need of human flesh for clothing. We’re all dead.

“We Bolshivarians wish to apologize to all the better Earthlings for having occupied your bodies for so long,” George said. “We know many of you have been bitterly opposed to our use of mind control, but with all the deaths we Bolshivarians have suffered, we were given no choice. The saving of the Earth was growing far too urgent for us to allow a protracted struggle with the likes of President Price. A shortened, but aggravated, struggle was necessary. But now, we will release you. We will let you go.”

Good, Peter thought. Kill us all and get it over with.

Oddly, though he didn’t feel a headache after those thoughts.

He and Michelle saw the little dots of light emerging from their bodies. They floated out and hovered before astonished Peter and Michelle.

“I knew it,” she said with a tear rolling down her cheek. “The mind control would only be temporary.” A grin lit up her face that to Peter could only be described as genuine.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “I’ve got my brains back.” Now he was grinning.

On the TV, they saw the lights come out of all the people listening to George, and out of his body, too. The lights all floated up to the sky as everyone looked up.

“I’m free,” George said. “I can resign my position. I no longer have the burdens of leadership.” He let out a loud, triumphant laugh.

Peter and Michelle felt a gentle ‘farewell’ energy emanating from the Bolshivarian lights as they floated towards the living room windows. They were about to pass through the glass like ghosts and fly outside before Michelle stepped forward.

“Wait!” she said. “What about my mom and dad? I don’t wanna lose them!”

You will never lose us, Siobhan said in her mind. We will always be with you.

As will we, Peter, the energy of Peter’s parents vibrated throughout his body.

“But isn’t your energy linked with the Bolshivarians?” Michelle asked. “If they leave Earth, won’t you go with them?”

No, sweetie, Siobhan’s soothing energy buzzed in Michelle’s brain and heart. The Bolshivarians shared their energy and our energy with yours. So we’ll always be together, even after they leave the Earth. There is a common oneness that transcends all space and time, so we’ll always be together, no matter how far away the Bolshivarians are, even to the other side of the universe.

“Wait a minute,” Peter said. “That could mean that the Bolshivarians are still, secretly, controlling us.”

“Oh, will you stop with your paranoia?” Michelle said. “You have your mind back, don’t you?”

“It seems that way,” he said.

“Any headaches?” she asked, sneering at him.

“No.” In fact, he’d never felt better.

“Then stop worrying about it.”

“But what if, in some subtle way, the Bolshivarians are still–“

“Oh, please, Peter!”

The little lights were all outside now.

She rushed to the front door and went outside. Peter followed her. All of his neighbours were out on their lawns, watching the Bolshivarians floating up into the night sky. Soon, it became impossible to distinguish their alien visitors from the stars.

The people of Earth felt one last message sent into their minds: Remember, if you humans return to doing harm to each other and your world, we Bolshivarians will be forced to return and save you from yourselves again. Remember the lengths to which we are willing to go to ensure that salvation, so be good to each other and to your planet.

“How could they tell us that if they’re really so far away from us?” Peter asked.

“Through their advanced technology, of course,” Michelle said.

How does it feel to have a healed world, Michelle? her mother asked her in her mind.

“Like paradise,” she said with teary eyes and a wide grin.

“Yeah,” Peter said with a grin of his own. “It’s great to be free. I guess it was all worth it in the end.”

All of his neighbours were thinking the same way.

Every single person was grinning.

THE END

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book IV, Chapter Eleven

Peter and Michelle, having heard the breaking of the glass on the front door to the restaurant, shuffled over to the back door leading out to an alley. They heard the shuffling of feet entering the restaurant; the footsteps grew louder as they, presumably carriers, were approaching the back.

“They’re gonna find us in here soon enough,” Peter whispered, then listened at the door. “I hear nothing out there. Let’s sneak out before they turn on the light in here.” They went out the door.

In the alley, they hid between stacks of crates and garbage bags to the right of that door. They heard it open, a pause, then closing the door.

“What do we do now?” Michelle asked.

“We don’t wanna go in the direction of that door,” he whispered in her ear. “Any of them could be out there waiting for us. We should go in the opposite direction.”

One of us should go first,” she whispered in his ear. “Then, if the coast is clear, we’ll go out together.”

“OK, I’ll go.”

“Stop being so gallant. I’m smaller than you, so I should go. I can hide more easily than you.”

“OK, but don’t take long. I don’t like you going out there alone.”

“I’ll be super-fast. Don’t worry.” She kissed him on the lips, then went.

Shaking with worry, he peeked past the crates and garbage bags to see what was out there, but it was mostly darkness.

Thirty seconds of agonizing waiting passed.

I thought you were going to be super-fast, Michelle, he thought.

Finally, she came back.

He got up from his crouching position to see her better. “So?” he whispered. “Can we go? Is it OK?”

“Yes, it’s OK,” she said with a wide grin on her face. “Everything is just fine.”

“C’mon, Michelle. Don’t joke around. We don’t have to–“

“Join us, Peter.” She was still grinning. “It’s for the best.”

“Oh, no!” His heart sank with his lower jaw. “Please, God, no! Not you, too, Michelle.” He was choking up.

“Peter, just accept the new way. The Bolshivarians’ work is almost done. Just a few more months, and all the vestiges of our old, sick world will be annihilated.”

“With our souls,” He began weeping.

“No, Peter! As soon as the Bolshivarians are finished, they’ll free us and leave the Earth. I promise you.”

He just kept crying. “I love you.” He held the can of bug spray in his hands, but couldn’t bear to use it on her, for fear of even hurting her with it.

“I love you, too. And everything will be OK. Trust us. The souls of our parents are telling me, right now in my head, that all will be well.”

He looked at her and frowned. “Didn’t you tell me during our meal in there, that when I sprayed the lights coming from Sid’s hands, that our parents’ souls were destroyed, never to come back?”

“That was a white lie they told me, I must confess.”

“You Bolshivarians are all liars, like the ruling class here on Earth. You’re no better than they are.”

“The ruling class here is almost all obliterated. We had to lie about your parents. It was a desperate attempt to stop you from killing more Bolshivarians.” The lights were coming out of her fingers and were hovering before him.

“I remember when we lost our fear of these things.”

“I don’t fear them now, Peter.”

“They’ve taken your will, Michelle; but I know, deep down, you’re still in there, and I don’t wanna lose you.”

“You won’t lose me, Peter. They’ve reaffirmed my faith in them. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter, let them in, the voice of his father said in his head.

We’ll all be together again, his mother’s voice said.

As Don and I are with Michelle, Siobhan’s voice said.

“I can’t bear to lose you,” Peter said in sobs.

“You haven’t, and you won’t,” Michelle said, still with that grin that told him those words weren’t her own.

“Well, being a Bolshivarian slave with you is better than not having you at all.” He stretched out his arms to receive the lights in his body. “I guess this is my suicide.”

“Oh, nonsense,” she said with a laugh as the lights went inside him.

Analysis of ‘Carnival of Souls’

Carnival of Souls is a 1962 independent horror film produced and directed by Herk Harvey, from a story by him and John Clifford, the latter having written the screenplay. It stars Candace Hilligoss, with Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison, and Harvey as the main ghoul who torments Hilligoss’s character throughout the film.

Carnival of Souls was shot on a low budget, using guerrilla filmmaking techniques, in Lawrence, Kansas, and Salt Lake City. It was Harvey’s only feature film. It has a unique film score, played solely on a church organ and composed by African American composer Gene Moore.

Though the film went largely unnoticed upon release, it has since become a cult classic, influencing such filmmakers as David Lynch and George A. Romero. Many movie lists include it among the greatest horror movies ever made. It is in the public domain.

Here is a link to quotes from the film. You can watch the whole film here.

The ending of Carnival of Souls seems to indicate that Mary Henry (Hilligoss) didn’t survive the car accident on the bridge at the film’s beginning, and that her nightmarish existence throughout the middle of the film has been her soul’s unwillingness to let go of her physical existence, comparable to the hell Jacob Singer (played by Tim Robbins) goes through in Jacob’s Ladder. I, however, will interpret the car accident and her survival/’death’ metaphorically.

Racing as representative of the pressures of competition in society.

The film starts with her and some girlfriends in a car; they meet some young men about their age in another car, and these boys want the girls to race them. They reach a bridge where their cars are going neck-and-neck, crowding each other on the bridge, and the girls’ car falls off and into the river. Only Mary (so it seems) has survived the car crash; she emerges from the water not remembering how she’s survived.

One thing that is immediately apparent about Mary is that she’s unsociable. She has apparently always been this way, since the organ factory worker says, “She’s always kept pretty much to herself.” She drives out of town without wanting to stop to see her parents; in fact, when asked if she wants to see them, she reacts to the idea with considerable agitation. Right from the beginning of the race, Mary never smiles–her face shows only anxiety, and I don’t think this is just because of the potential danger of the race.

I consider the car accident to be symbolic of a deep-seated trauma, or many traumas, stemming from her relationship with her parents, especially her father (more on this later). A troubled relationship with her parents would explain how distant she is from other people, for our object relations with our parents, the first major people to come into our lives, are blueprints, so to speak, for our relationships with people in later life. If we don’t enjoy our parents’ company, we’re far less likely to enjoy the company of anybody.

This car race, with her bunched together with the other two girls, feels claustrophobic, especially with those boys’ car trying to ram past them. The sense of competition with others can be most distressing to someone as sensitive as Mary. So a near-death experience in such a social context can be seen as symbolic of trauma causing social anxiety.

Mary is a lonely, lost soul.

The water that Mary has fallen into is symbolic of the unconscious mind. The two dead girls in the car with her, engulfed in the water, just like the ghouls emerging from water later in the film, represent so many of Mary’s internalized bad objects. So the car accident represents the repression and the return of bad objects that WRD Fairbairn wrote about.

It’s fitting that these repressed bad objects that come back into Mary’s consciousness should do so in the form of ghouls, or evil spirits; for Fairbairn likens these returning bad objects to evil spirits that possess the suffering psychiatric patient (see page 6 [or 67, from the copied book] of the above-linked pdf, Part 5–‘The Dynamics of the Influence of Bad Objects’).

Another symbolism for this water that kills, and from which ghouls emerge, is Lacan‘s notion of the Real, an undifferentiated mental state that cannot be symbolized (i.e., put into words–Mary can tell Dr. Samuels [played by Stan Levitt] about the main ghoul, but she cannot conceive of whom he symbolizes; could he be her father, or a minister, who may have sexually abused her when a child?), and thus is traumatic.

Her driving out of Kansas to start a job so far away, in Salt Lake City, represents her wish to get away from her trauma. She tells the organ factory boss that she’s never coming back to Kansas. She can try to run away from her problems, though, but she’ll never succeed, because her problems aren’t outside of her…they’re inside.

Mary the organist.

Another fitting thing about this films is its organ soundtrack music, which apart from occasional diegetic music makes up the vast majority of the music heard in the film. Its eerie dissonance provides so many of the atmospheric chills in the movie, and of course Mary is an organist. It’s as if she’s the one playing the soundtrack to her own story. The creepiness of the organ music, especially in the later scene when she’s in a trance, playing dissonant, “profane” music in the Utah church and she gets fired, represents her fear. It is thus a reminder that her problems stem from within (i.e., past trauma), not from without (i.e. literal spooks).

During her long drive to Salt Lake City, she looks at her reflection in the passenger window to her right. She looks there again, but sees the main ghoul, who looks middle-aged, old enough to be either her father or a minister of the church who may have molested her as a child. (Since this film was made in 1962, when the Hays Code was still censoring movies, indications of sexual abuse would have had to have been made most indirectly, subtly.) Seeing his face instead of her own in the reflection makes him a symbol of an internal bad object; seeing him again in front of her as her car is approaching him is her projection of him outside. The shock of seeing him makes her drive off the road and into a ditch, a traumatic reaction that parallels the other car falling off the bridge at the beginning.

She drives by a large pavilion near Salt Lake City that she is immediately fascinated with. What could this building mean to her? I suspect it represents in her mind a church, a cathedral she’d attended as a child. Its draw on her represents a wish in her to revisit her place of childhood trauma, to process those painful feelings and therefore cure herself of them. The place is on the shores of the Great Salt Lake–water, the symbol of her unconscious, where her bad internal objects lie, the Real, the centre of her trauma, which must be confronted.

The pavilion.

After Mary finds lodgings, she takes a bath there one night while waiting for the proprietress, Mrs. Thomas (Feist), to bring a sandwich and coffee up to her room. It’s interesting how, when she’s been in water again, a knock on her door reveals not Mrs. Thomas but the only other lodger, the lecherous John Linden (Berger), whom she’s embarrassed to meet with only a towel to cover her nakedness. Shortly after repelling Linden’s “neighbourly” ways, his thinly-disguised sexual advances, Mary goes out into the hall and is terrified to see the main ghoul looking up at her from the ground floor.

This juxtaposition of Linden, who ogles her through the door crack while she’s replacing her towel with a bathrobe, with the appearance of the lewdly smirking ghoul–a figment of her imagination and an internal object of hers–contributes to my theory that the ghoul represents someone who once sexually abused her. She is frightened of Linden’s lecherous designs, which have triggered the traumatic memory of another man’s lecherous designs.

Later that night, she can’t sleep, so she gets out of bed and looks out the window to see the pavilion so far off. Her fear of the main ghoul makes her want human company, so Linden’s appearance at her door again the next morning is welcome. He’s surprised to learn, as is her boss the minister (Ellison), that her work as church organist is purely professional, with no spiritual interest in it whatsoever.

Since Western society, especially American, was much more religious in the early 60s than it is today, we must wonder why not only is Mary not interested in meeting the congregation of the church she’s playing organ for, but isn’t interested in the religious meaning of the music she’s playing (small wonder some think her playing lacks “soul”). Such disparities reinforce my speculation that she feels somehow betrayed by the church, making her lose faith in it, while nonetheless staying near it as a professional organist–a nearness that suggests the traumatic bonding of one who was molested as a child by her minister.

Seeing the main ghoul.

She feels relatively safe in the daylight, during the waking hours when the conscious mind is dominant, but frightened at night, during the darkness of which the unconscious is given free reign. As she tells Linden, “It’s funny… the world is so different in the daylight. In the dark, your fantasies get so out of hand. But in the daylight everything falls back into place again.” During the day, she can repress her fears; but at night, the repressed returns, in forms she fears, because she can’t recognize their true meaning.

She isn’t, however, necessarily free in the daytime, either. After getting rid of Linden, she goes shopping and tries on a black dress. When changing back in the fitting room, though, we see what looks like a rippling of water before her eyes (water, symbol of her repressed unconscious, is bringing her repressed trauma back to consciousness for her); after this, she temporarily experiences a kind of derealization. She cannot hear anything, especially people’s voices, and these people don’t acknowledge her presence–she seems invisible to them.

The sense of disconnect from other people is a symptom common in sufferers of C-PTSD, caused not by one, but by many traumas. Since Mary is experiencing such a disconnect, I suspect her car accident is really a symbolic abbreviation of many traumas she suffered in childhood.

The many traumas that result in C-PTSD make the sufferer feel as though he or she is completely, irreconcilably different from everyone else, and this in turn results in the sufferer’s withdrawal from society and into isolation, since he or she feels safe only without others around. Hence, C-PTSD can be an accurate diagnosis for Mary, who feels so different from others that, on this and again towards the end of the film, she can neither hear others nor be acknowledged by them.

Mary in the department store.

Terrified by her temporary deafness and invisibility, Mary leaves the department store and ends up in a park. Standing under a tree, she hears the chirping of a bird, symbol of freedom, and so she’s back to normal…by her standards, at least.

She goes to a fountain for a drink of water, and she hallucinates that the ghoul is standing before her. She goes into hysterics and runs into Dr. Samuels, who offers to help her. She goes with him to his nearby office…him with his hands creepily around her.

He isn’t a psychiatrist, but he seems to have dabbled in psychoanalysis, for he hints at some insights as to who the ghoul may be–Mary’s father, or some kind of guilt (i.e., shame associated with having been raped) she has buried deep down in her mind. Her vehement denial of these interpretations should, if anything, help convince us of their correctness, for her denial, calling such ideas “ridiculous,” is a typical example of the patient’s resistance to insights that uncover a deeper pain.

She has her resistances and denials, but also a conflicting desire to cure herself, and her fascination with the pavilion is part of that desire. So she runs out of Samuels’s office and goes straight there.

Now, facing one’s trauma is crucial to curing oneself of it, but one should be guided by a therapist. She thinks she’ll rid herself of the stalking ghoul by entering the pavilion and exploring it; but there’s still that part of her that doesn’t want to face the darkest of her pain, so when she looks around the place, it’s a generally peaceful experience.

Mary looking around the pavilion.

The main ghoul is sleeping in the water, symbolizing how her trauma is still there, however hidden it may be. At one point during her walking around, she sees a mattress gliding down a slide. There’s no reason for it to be there, much less slide down by itself, so it must symbolize something in her unconscious–perhaps a mattress on which she was once sexually abused.

The association of her trauma with water is again reinforced when she passes a sign saying, “Salt Water Bathing,” shortly after having seen the mattress on the slide. Maybe as a child, part of her seduction by her father, or by a minister of the church (maybe her father was the minister), involved bathing her, then bedding her.

My point in all of this is that the whole film could be seen as an extended dream, chock-full of symbols related to her trauma, but presented in a distorted manner that makes them unrecognizable to her conscious mind. The root of the trauma is still buried, like the ghoul sleeping under the water.

She goes back to her rooming house and agrees to a date after work with Linden because she doesn’t want to be alone at night. When practicing the organ at church, she goes into a trance, for night has fallen, and the ghouls are seen coming out of the water of the Great Salt Lake.

Recall that all these ghouls represent the bad internal objects hiding in Mary’s unconscious (i.e., sleeping in the water) during the day, but coming out at night, when the unconscious mind is freer. These internal objects would be not only her molester (the main ghoul we always see), but also family and community members who either turned a blind eye to the abuse she suffered, or perhaps even participated in it. Their dancing, in this connection, is symbolic of sex, pairs of men and women holding each other and moving around to a rhythm.

They only come out at night.

This reliving of her trauma makes her play creepy dissonances on the organ (which she cannot hear, as with her temporary deafness in the department store scene) that her employer, the minister (whose hands grab hers, making her stop playing, and happening immediately after she, in her vision, has seen the main ghoul approach her, his hands out to grab her), regards as “profane, sacrilege,” so he dismisses her. She leaves the church and goes with Linden to a bar for drinks.

He’s drinking while she just sits there, still practically in a trance. He’s annoyed at her unsociability: she won’t drink, talk, or dance. After having just had a vision of the ghouls dancing in the dark pavilion, how could she dance? Young men and young women dancing in a pub aren’t necessarily planning to be sexual, but in the context of dating, they are exploring sexual possibilities. Such possibilities are scary enough for Mary.

They go back to the rooming house and into her room. Linden’s hopes of getting some with Mary are dashed when he realizes how “off her rocker” she is. She looks in the mirror and sees the main ghoul again, who, recall, is a projection from her own mind onto the external world. Such hallucinatory projections are what Wilfred Bion called bizarre objects.

After Linden leaves in frustration, she tries to use the furniture of her room to block all entrances, in a futile attempt to keep the ghoul outside. Of course, she cannot succeed at this, because the ghoul is in her head; no matter how hard she tries to project him outside, he’ll always return, for he is a bizarre object she’s created.

Try as she might, Mary cannot run away from him.

The next day, she packs her things and leaves the rooming house. She’d leave Salt Lake City, too, imagining that leaving the city, just as she’s left Kansas and isn’t going back, will rid her of her trauma. Of course, that will never happen, because her trauma is within, not without.

She drives her car to a mechanic, staying in her car as it’s raised up; she nods off a bit. She then experiences the following set of terrors. First, she imagines someone, the ghoul, presumably, entering the mechanic’s garage and lowering her car back down to the ground. After running out of the garage and into a bus station, we see those waves on the screen again, as in the department store fitting room: she goes deaf again, unacknowledged by others, until hearing the chirping bird in the park; she also sees the ghouls in a bus she hopes to take to escape from the city.

Next, she is in Samuels’s office, but sees the main ghoul instead of the doctor in his chair. It’s interesting how the ghoul tends to stand for men who are at least a potential threat to her: either middle-aged men in authority positions, or father-figures, like Samuels or the minister; or lecherous men like Linden. She screams and runs away.

She wakes up, though we’re not sure if she really went to sleep at first, or just put her head back and closed her eyes for a few seconds. If this moment was a nightmare, could the rest of the film be a long nightmare, too? Could this moment have been a dream within a dream?

She must confront him.

There’s nothing left for Mary to do now but to go back to the pavilion and face her demons. She drives over there just as the clouds are obscuring the evening sky. The inside of the building, accordingly, is much darker than the last time she was there.

Because night is about to fall, all those ghouls sleeping in the water of the Great Salt Lake are waking up and emerging; that is, all the internal objects of her unconscious are returning to her conscious thoughts. As I’ve said above, these aren’t just representatives of the molester(s) of her childhood and/or adolescence; they also represent her family, neighbours, and members of her congregation who, out of a wish to avoid scandal, would never sympathize with Mary or hear her cries for help.

She stands there in the shadows, frowning in her attempt to confront her tormentors. That eerie organ music is playing alongside what sounds like a calliope, or steam organ (what would be heard in a circus or carnival), implying the link between her organ playing, as traumatic bonding, with the abusive church of her childhood that the carnival symbolizes.

Again, we see pairs of male and female ghouls dancing to the calliope music. Since, as I said above, their dancing is symbolic of sex (remember that the film censorship of the time meant that sexual deviancy could only be implied, expressed symbolically), all of them dancing symbolizes the deviancy of an orgy. People with authoritarian, fundamentalist religious beliefs, in their prudery and repression, tend paradoxically to let their sexuality out in the most perverse ways, such as pedophilia, ephebophilia, and hebephilia.

Ghoul-Mary.

Finally, Mary sees, among the ghouls, herself as a ghoul dancing with the main one! Ghoul-Mary has a sad, dazed look in her eyes, the kind of look a victim of sexual abuse might have, a look of helpless resignation. Meanwhile, the smirk on the main ghoul’s face seems one of lewd satisfaction. He dips ghoul-Mary, like a lover, and she is grinning ear to ear, as if tricked into thinking she’s enjoying satisfying his lust.

Mary has thus confronted her trauma. She has remembered what was repressed for so many years, and the horror of it makes her scream and run away. As we all know by now, though, running from her trauma won’t save her; it’s always in her mind, so the ghouls all chase her outside.

Wherever she tries to hide, a ghoul’s face pops up in front of hers. Finally, she runs out and falls on the sand, screaming. The ghouls crowd around her and get down close, as if to gang rape her. To confront trauma, we can’t do it alone. Mary should be facing this with a therapist.

The film ends with Samuels, the minister, and a cop following her footprints in the sand where they unaccountably end. These men, as father figures, would seem to want to help her, but they can’t. After all, weren’t the church community represented in the ghouls just trying ‘to help’ her?

The discovery of Mary’s body in the car represents how trauma kills us all psychologically, for after enduring its horrors, we can never be the same as we were.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book IV, Chapter Ten

As Peter and Michelle continued walking out of the neighbourhood and towards a park filled with people, including kids in a playground, they kept those stupid, mindless grins on their faces. It didn’t matter how sore their faces were…they had no choice.

All they could do was cling to the microscopic hope that they’d sooner or later meet with non-carriers.

Their hopes kept getting frustrated with every person they passed by on the sidewalk.

A man or a woman would be walking in their direction, and while they were far enough away from the approaching person, Peter and Michelle would think, Please, please let this person be normal!

Then, once they got close enough, the man or woman would bare his or her teeth and say, “Hi!” like a robot.

Granted, Peter and Michelle were doing the exact same thing.

Could any of those approaching them have been doing the same grinning act, too?

The sun was going down. They’d passed the park, and were now in an area of the neighbourhood with far fewer people.

Still, they were getting desperate to find somebody who was normal, perhaps someone who had a house nearby where they could stay and be safe.

They were getting tired from all that walking. They were hungry, too. The moon and stars were out.

They walked by a small restaurant with no customers at any of the tables. The owner, wearing an apron and presumably the cook, seemed to be the only one inside. They went in.

“What can I get you?” he asked with that all-too-familiar grin. “I was about to close, so you’re lucky to be my last customers.” He turned the sign on the door from OPEN to CLOSED, then he locked the door.

“This could work to our advantage,” Peter whispered in her ear. “We could spray him, then take control of this place, and eat all we like.”

“Not for too long,” she whispered back.

“Better than nothing.”

The owner approached their table. “So, what will it be?” he asked, grinning and with his pad and pencil ready to write down their orders.

They looked at the menus on the table.

“I’ll have a burger and fries, an orange juice, and a coffee, double-double,” Peter said, handing him the menu.

“I’ll have the same, but with a ginger ale instead of juice,” she said, then gave him the menu.

“Are you the only one here?” Peter asked him.

“Yes,” the owner said as he wrote down their orders. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just curious,” Peter said. “You seem lonely in here.”

“Oh, I’m fine. I’ll go cook your burgers.” He walked off to the kitchen area.

As he was cooking, he could look out from the kitchen and onto the dining area, where he could clearly see them talking at their table. Peter and Michelle were letting their guard down, and he could see them expressing themselves in a most non-Bolshivarian way.

He finished cooking their orders and served them, but as they ate, he kept his eyes on them. Still, they were behaving in a conspicuously non-carrier way, showing emotions other than that fake contentment that was supposed to be the norm. Peter was tactlessly expressing his usual annoyance with the world, and Michelle had a look of worry on her face.

When they finished their meal and went up to pay, the owner looked in their eyes.

“Did you enjoy your meal?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Peter said. “It was great.”

“So, you’re content?” he asked, meaning something more than just the service.

“Sure,” Michelle said. “Of course.”

“You seem a little less sure than that,” he said, always grinning.

“What are you getting at?” Peter asked.

“This,” he said, sending out the little lights from his fingers.

“You fucker!” Peter shouted, then found a steak knife on a nearby table.

Michelle had her can of bug spray already out. She sprayed the lights, dropping them to the wooden floor with the sound of bouncing marbles. The owner stepped back.

“No, Peter!” she said as he approached the owner with the knife. “You don’t need to–“

Peter slashed at him with the knife, slitting his throat. His blood sprayed out everywhere.

“Oh, Jesus, Peter,” she said, wincing at the sight of the owner staggering and coughing blood.

A few passers-by looked in the window and saw the blood, then saw the owner fall to the floor.

Michelle looked out at them. “Oh, shit!” she yelled. “Peter!”

He looked out. “Oh, fuck me! C’mon, let’s get out of here.”

They ran into the back and hid in the darkness of a storage room. They could hear a shaking of the locked front door, then a banging on it. Peter looked over to the back door.

“We can’t stay here long,” he said.

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

A week later, Peter and Michelle made arrangements to meet with Sid, this time in her house.

“He’s on his way, right from his home in Brantford,” she said. “So, we’re gonna go through with this farce again?”

“Yes, crazy as it sounds,” he said.

“Crazy as it is,” she said. “At the worst, he’ll be a carrier who we’re risking turning us into one of them, or one of us will kill him and we’ll risk–this time, my neighbours finding out, since we’re meeting him here this time. At best, Sid will be the way Wendy was acting: he’ll be one of us, but too scared to show his real self.”

“Or he will let his real self show. As tense as this is going to be, we have to try. I’ll go crazy if I have to live knowing only you and I are normal.”

“And what if he’s one of them, and he makes one of us into a carrier? What if I lose you, Peter?”

“I could lose you to them, too, Michelle. And that terrifies me. But that’s why we’ve gotta try to find allies. What’s going on around the world is like the zombie apocalypse, only it’s the Bolshivarian apocalypse. The more of them there are out there, the more desperate we’ll be to find any of us, ’cause we can’t do this alone.”

She let out a big sigh. “OK, let’s do this.”

They kissed.

**************

Five hours later, the doorbell rang.

They took a deep breath, clutched the bug spray hidden in their jacket pockets, and went to the door.

They opened it to see, predictably, a grinning Sid.

“Hi,” he said. “Long time, no see.”

“Yeah,” they grinned back, much better practiced now.

“Come on in,” Peter said.

They went into the living room and sat down.

“So, Sid,” Peter said through his bared teeth, “how are you coping with all of the changes going on?”

“Coping?” Sid said with a tinge of disbelief in his eyes. “What’s there to cope with? The improvements being made around the world are nothing short of miraculous. Schools and hospitals are being built all over Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Decent-quality housing is replacing all the slums, including those in Regent Park, as you both must know. The unemployed are being given work. The climate crisis is practically over. What’s there to complain about?”

“Oh, of course we know about all the improvements being made around the world,” Michelle said. “We’re more than happy about all that. It’s just…well…”

“Well, what?” Sid asked, his smile beginning to fade.

“We don’t…feel as free…as we used to,” Peter said.

“Don’t feel free?” Sid said. “What could be more liberating than the changes we’ve recently seen? No more war. No more poverty. No more wildfires, flooding, or pollution. The people want these changes. Don’t you?”

“Of course we do,” Michelle said.

“But at what cost?” Peter asked.

What cost?” Sid asked. There was an uneasy pause. “Has your loyalty shifted?”

Peter and Michelle couldn’t answer.

“You in your nice palace of a home?” Sid added.

There was another uncomfortable pause.

Then the dots of light flew out of Sid’s fingers.

Peter and Michelle pulled out their bug spray, but they then heard some familiar voices in their minds.

Michelle? Siobhan’s voice called to her.

“Mom?” she said.

Peter, what are you doing? his mother’s voice said.

What George is doing is for the best, Peter could hear his father saying in his thoughts.

“You’re not real,” Peter said, aiming his little spray can right at the dots of light. “You’re a Bolshivarian hallucination.”

Sweetie, you don’t wanna spray me, do you? Siobhan’s voice almost sobbed in Michelle’s mind’s ear. If you do, I’ll die a second time, and I’ll never come back.

“Mama,” Michelle answered in a sobbing voice.

“The voices aren’t real, Michelle,” Peter said.

“Oh, yes they are,” Sid said.

“Mom?” she wept.

“Don’t listen, Michelle,” Peter said. “It’s a trick.”

“If you spray them, you’ll regret it, Peter,” Sid said.

We don’t want to take you by force, Don’s voice said to Michelle, but we will if we have to, honey.

“Daddy, you won’t hurt us, will you?” she sobbed.

“Of course they will,” Peter said. “They’re not our parents.”

“Shut up, Peter!” she bawled.

“Fine,” he said. “Speak, can, for me!” He sprayed at the lights.

Michelle! the voices of Siobhan and Don said, fading out into oblivion as the little dots lost their light and dropped on the carpet.

“Nooooooo!” Michelle screamed.

Peter grabbed her by the hand, sprayed Sid in the eyes, getting a grunt from him, and the two ran out of the house.

Peter and Michelle ran down the sidewalk, almost reaching a corner when he saw a few people farther off, with their backs to them. He stopped running and tried to calm down.

“Bastard!” she hissed, hitting him on the shoulder.

“Stop!” he whispered. “They’ll see us fighting.”

She wiped the tears off her cheeks, gave him a brief scowl, then calmed down and imitated his grin.

As they continued slowly walking down the street, she whispered, “The carriers are all around your home, Sid is controlling my home. We’re homeless now, you know.”

“Don’t remind me,” he said through his grin.

‘The Day that We…’, a New Poem by Jason Ryan Morton

I have a new poem here by my Facebook friend, Jason Ryan Morton, whose work I’ve looked at so many times before. As usual, his words will be in italics to distinguish them from mine.

Here’s the poem:

The day that we fell
Fell so far
Shooting stars
Dividing worlds
Becoming God’s
A future law of three
A past shone in the trees
A photograph that changes
The malice and the rage
The quest for poetry that speaks till it’s raw
By word of mouth
Sometimes stars
One in five none get out alive
But the words
The words
Whisper of forever
And forever we’re denied
Living on in nothing
Just a star fell from the sky
The night that we
Became reality.

And now, for my analysis.

I suspect that the speaker is one of the fallen rebel angels, who “fell so far.” They’re “shooting stars” nonetheless in their rebellious glory, “dividing worlds” into the heavenly and the hellish, as we know them in Milton‘s Paradise Lost.

He and the others are “becoming God’s” in the sense that He will use them to test mankind. “A future law of three” sounds like Adam, Eve, and the serpent being tempted to sin through the commandment not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. One is reminded of Romans 7:8, “sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.” This is “a past shone in the trees” of the Garden of Eden.

“A photograph that changes” reminds me of my connecting of the Garden of Eden myth with the park scene in Michelangelo Antonioni‘s film, Blowup. In the film, Thomas has taken photos in an Edenic park of a young woman and her elderly lover, photos she wants back because they make her feel shamed, as Adam and Eve felt shamed in their nakedness. His taking the photos makes him into either the Yahweh or the serpent figure for interfering with the two. The photograph changes because it, among many others taken in the park, go from being relatively innocent to implying that a murder has been committed there, rather like the shift from innocent to sinful Adam and Eve, a shift caused by the serpent, or by Thomas’s changing photographs. (See my analysis, link above, for more details on that.)

Imagine “the malice and the rage” of the fallen angels, who search “for poetry that speaks till it’s raw.” One wishes to speak one’s own poetry, one’s own language, not that of those who impose their will on us, as God did on His angels and on Adam and Eve. These are words spoken “by word of mouth,” naturally, not edited on the page.

The mortality imposed on us all for defying God’s authority, on man as well as on the rebel angels, means that, to paraphrase what Jim Morrison once sang, “One in five none get out alive.” “The words,” however, presumably those of Scripture, “whisper of forever/And forever we’re denied,” because we disobeyed God.

We’re “living on in” a hell of “nothing.” We, in our defiant glory, are “just a star” that “fell from the sky.” But in our damnation, we were true to ourselves, not mere compliant, willing slaves, for this was “the night that we/Became reality.”

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

“This is getting to be too much!” Peter said to Michelle the following day as both of them flipped through the channels on the TV in her living room. “Every politician and public figure we see on the news making statements on current affairs has that ‘pod people’ Bolshivarian face.”

“They really have taken over, globally,” Michelle said. “The heads of every city-state we’ve seen–London, Paris, Berlin, Shanghai, Tokyo, Riyadh, Ottawa, San Francisco,…”

“You name the city-state, the politicians and CEOs representing them all have that mindless grin, that far-away look in their eyes,” he said. “This is really getting scary!”

“I’m amazed we were able to pacify that neighbour of yours yesterday,” she said. “We barely escaped Toronto without being spotted as non-carriers. And there’s no way we’re risking going back. And again, I have to ask: why’d you have to kill Valerie? We could have run outside without you using your switchblade on her. I’m also amazed they don’t have Bolshivarian cops tracking us. I guess they’re more interested in turning us into carriers than arresting us for murder, they’re more upset about the loss of their own than of human life, and they know we’ll spray them if they try to apprehend us. Instead, they’ll be more cunning about catching us.”

“Again, I’m sorry about stabbing her. I acted rashly. We’re all going a little crazy here. But as you said, at least we got out of there without being chased. I guess our acting skills have improved. But we can’t stay holed up in your house forever. Is anybody out there still normal?”

“I got that message from Wendy Callaghan, which was just like Valerie’s. She claims she isn’t a carrier, and that she’s all tense and afraid of being absorbed by the Bolshivarians. She said she’d like to come here, all the way from Los Angeles, because life there is so hopelessly taken over, she wants to get as far away from the Bolshivarian carriers there as she can. Do you think we should meet her, or will it be too risky?”

“Everything we do every day is a risk now,” he said. “But I’m desperate for us to find someone else who’s normal. If she is, it will be well worth the risk. The more normal people we can find, the happier I’ll be. I’m going crazy.”

“Same here.”

***************

Three days later, Peter and Michelle were in the hallway of a hotel in Toronto, approaching the room Wendy was staying in. They were wearing baseball caps and sunglasses.

“She must be even more paranoid than we are to prefer a small hotel room to accommodations in your house,” Peter said.

“Yeah,” Michelle said. “For all she knows, we could be carriers, and she’ll have her can of bug spray ready for us.”

“As we have ready for her, in case she’s been made a carrier since our last communication with her. So we’ll have to guard our feelings and only let our real selves out bit by bit.”

“She’ll probably be doing the same thing.” Michelle rang the doorbell to Wendy’s room. “Have your dumb smile ready.” They took off their hats and sunglasses.

Wendy opened the door.

She was grinning from ear to ear.

Peter and Michelle mirrored her grin back, hoping she was putting on as much of an act as they were.

“Come on in,” she said, stepping aside for them. “It’s good to see you both again.”

Peter and Michelle entered.

“What a small room,” she said as she and Peter approached Wendy’s bed. “In my home, I could have offered you a much bigger one, and for free.” She and Peter sat on the bed.

“Oh, that’s OK,” Wendy said, sitting on a chair across from the bed. “I don’t want to impose on you.”

“Oh, it’s no imposition at all,” Michelle said.

“Really, I’m fine here,” Wendy said.

“Well, as you wish,” Michelle said.

There followed a few seconds of uncomfortable silence.

“So,” Peter said, allowing his grin to relax a little. “You said in your message, Wendy, that you were really scared of…all the changes going on around us.”

“Yes,” she said, still fully grinning. “But everything’s OK now.”

“So…we can all relax, then?” Michelle asked, also letting go of her grin ever so slightly.

“Of course,” she said, all of her teeth still showing. “I’m relaxed now.”

“Good,” Peter said slowly, relaxing his grin some more.

There were a few more uncomfortable seconds of silence.

Has she been assimilated, Peter and Michelle wondered, or is she just so paranoid that she can’t let go of the act?

“So, what are your plans?” Michelle asked.

“Oh, I’m just doing what I can to help us all heal the Earth,” she said with that ever-present grin.

“Yes, it’s wonderful, all the progress that has been made,” Michelle said, her cheeks getting sore from all that grinning.

“Yes,” Wendy nodded in agreement. “Bolshivarian influence has stopped the wars, cleaned the pollution away, housed and fed the poor. It’s terrific.”

Peter ventured to lessen his grin a little more. “Is there anything you wish could be done…a little differently?”

“Oh, only that it could all be finished quicker,” Wendy said. “But things are being done fast enough, I guess.”

“And then the Bolshivarians can leave, and we can enjoy our new, healed Earth, right?” Peter asked.

“I suppose,” ever-grinning Wendy said. “Or they can stay with us, if they wish.”

“W-why would they need to stay, if all their work here is done?” he asked.

“Oh, if humans are let go, they might return to their destructive ways,” teeth-baring Wendy said. “And then our efforts will have been all for nothing.”

To Peter and Michelle, her choice of words (“humans,” “they,” “our” referring to the Bolshivarians) seemed to indicate she wasn’t acting.

Still, they didn’t dare take out their bug spray cans unless they saw the dots of light come out from her.

Hence, another moment of uncomfortable silence.

“Oh, Peter, I just remembered,” Michelle said. “There’s something I have to do at the Mississauga Exposé. Damn, I forgot all about it, and it has to be done today. Sorry, Wendy, we have to go now. This is so abrupt.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” she said, always grinning. She got up.

Do I detect a tinge of relief in her eyes? Michelle wondered. Or is that wishful thinking on my part, that she isn’t a carrier, and is acting, as we are?

“Yeah, we’d better go,” Peter said, getting up with Michelle. “Sorry to cut this off so quickly.”

“It was good seeing you again, Wendy,” Michelle said, hugging her and regretting the hug as soon as they touched. She felt Wendy’s heart beating as fast as her own. Wendy was also trembling as much as she was.

No lights came out, though, to their relief.

The women let go, and Peter and Michelle went back to the door. “Bye,” they said to Wendy as they went out into the hall.

“Bye,” Wendy said, keeping her grin on her face until the door closed.