Analysis of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a 1984 horror movie written and directed by Wes Craven. It stars Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Robert Englund, and Johnny Depp in his film debut.

The film got rave reviews and is considered one of the best horror films ever made, spawning a franchise with six sequels, a TV series, the crossover film Freddy vs. Jason, and a remake of the same name. It shares many tropes of the horror films of the 70s and 80s, such as Halloween: these include the killing of sexually promiscuous teenagers (an implied moral judgement on them), and the final girl trope.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

A striking feature of A Nightmare on Elm Street is the blurred distinction between dream and reality. These two can be seen to correspond respectively with the unconscious and conscious minds, for as Freud once said, “the interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.”

That dream and reality overlap to such a great extent in this movie, implying a corresponding overlap between the unconscious and conscious minds, helps us understand the true relations between these two mental states. Hence, the psychoanalyst‘s preference of the term unconscious over “subconscious”: the hidden world expressed in such things as the symbolism of dreams is not ‘beneath’ consciousness, it isn’t in another realm relative to consciousness; rather, it hides in plain sight, right in the conscious realm of reality. We see and hear that hidden world all around us in waking life–we just don’t recognize it as such. It isn’t known to us…it’s unconscious.

This is why Freddy Krueger (Englund) manifests his presence in both the dream and the waking worlds. He’s there in conscious life, but what he represents remains unknown to the conscious minds of the teens he terrorizes: he personifies what Melanie Klein called the bad father.

Krueger attacks teenagers, who are full of conflict over their love/hate relationships with their parents. They love and need their parents, but they’re also sick and tired of being told what to do by them. This love/hate relationship is personified in the image of the teen’s parents as good mother/father vs. bad mother/father, a result of the defence mechanism known as splitting, what Klein called the paranoid-schizoid position (PS). ‘Schizoid’ refers to the splitting into absolute good and bad; ‘paranoid’ refers to the paranoid fear of being persecuted by the bad internal objects of the parents, as represented by Krueger.

An important insight of ego psychology is the fact that, since much of the ego is unconscious and preconscious, much of the defence of the ego is also unconscious. The ego “…contains complex unconscious defensive arrangements that have evolved to satisfy the demands of neurotic compromise, ways of thinking that keep repressed impulses out of conscious awareness in an ongoing way. Unlike unconscious id impulses that respond with enthusiasm to the prospect of liberation in making their presence felt in the analytic hour, unconscious ego defenses gain nothing from being exposed. Their unobtrusive, seamless presence in the patient’s psychic life is perfectly acceptable (ego syntonic) to the patient; they often function as a central feature of the patient’s larger personality organization…The ego, charged with the daunting task of keeping the peace between warring internal parties and ensuring socially acceptable functioning, works more effectively if it works undercover.” (Mitchell and Black, page 26)

What the teens in this film are really terrified of isn’t Freddy, but rather the return of repressed bad objects, which WRD Fairbairn compared to demons who emerge and possess their victims (PDF, page 6). Freddy is a child murderer who was hunted down and burned to death by such parents in the Elm Street community as Marge Thompson (Blakley), mother of Nancy (Langenkamp); he’s come back, however, as a demon to continue his terrorizing of the young–the return of repressed bad objects. His immolation, thus, represents a temporary victory of the good parent internal objects over the bad ones.

So the movie is really about teenage rebellion (e.g., the lovemaking of Tina [played by Amanda Wyss] and Rod [played by Nick Corri] in her parents’ bed) vs. the wrath of their authoritarian parents (symbolized in Tina’s being killed immediately after that lovemaking).

The film begins with Freddy assembling his glove, attaching the blades to its fingertips. These phallic razors represent what Klein would have called the bad penis. In the original script, Freddy was supposed to be a child molester; though this aspect was excised from the movie, a kind of repression in itself, it can be seen to be hovering in the background, an implied dark sexuality to Freddy’s violence. In this way, he as bad father can be linked to the precursor of Freud’s notion of the Oedipus complex, the seduction theory.

Tina is terrorized by Freddy in a dream. Her mother comes to her room to see if she’s OK, and she says it was just a dream, though she’s still visibly shaken. Her father comes by and shows affection to her mother, the kind of thing that can provoke unconscious jealousies in parents’ children, as well as such night terrors as the contemplation of the primal scene.

Tina grabs the crucifix from the wall above her bed; but what does the crucifix indicate? God the Father sending God the Son–who said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”–to an excruciating death. Since, as Freud noted, belief in God represents a need to continue to have one’s father’s protection, the crucifix indicates again the frustrations of the parent/child relationship, so it won’t save Tina, and she knows it. “Five, six, grab your crucifix,” from the rope-jumping little girls’ chant right after this scene, is a meaningless warning to her.

Indeed, the next night, when she has her friends sleep over with her so she won’t be alone, that is the night when Freddy kills her. He appears in her nightmare, stretching out elongated, phallic arms, suggesting the sexual undertones of his terrorizing of youth, as well as reinforcing the phallic symbolism of those finger-blades.

Tina calls out, “Please, God!”, to which he replies, “This…is God,” referring to those finger-blades. God the Father here is the bad father, the phallic, seductive father who destroys teens with, symbolically, the same sexual defilement that he judges them guilty of (i.e., Tina’s and Rod’s moment in her parents’ bed) and punishes them for.

At one point during the chase, he uses the blade-glove to slice off a few fingers on his other hand. This dismemberment is a symbolic castration, which in turn symbolizes the lack that gives rise to desire–in Freddy’s case, a desire to merge the libido of Eros with Thanatos, the drive to kill, but to do so in a sexually symbolic way. Furthermore, this self-injury, meant to terrorize Tina all the more, merges Freddy’s sadism with masochism. Recall Freud’s words: “A sadist is always at the same time a masochist.”

Freddy typically attacks his victims in an old boiler room where he, when alive, killed his child victims. This place, dark and fiery hot, symbolizes the dark passions of the unconscious, also the realm of the repressed, bad internal objects of these teens who are so conflicted in their attitudes to their parents.

Freddy’s killing of Tina, the use of his phallic finger-blades to tear up her guts, is a symbolic rape, a hint back to Craven’s original intention to make Freddy a child molester. With her death comes the introduction of Nancy’s overprotective, domineering father, Lt. Thompson (Saxon, who also played a cop in Black Christmas, a film about a serial killer who sexually terrorizes young women, and which warps Christian meaning into something obscene and violent).

Though little children are in awe of parental authority, imagining Mom and Dad to be faultless fountains of knowledge and wisdom, when these kids become teens, the flaws of their parents become harder and harder to ignore, and so that naïve awe wears off. Their disappointment in their so-imperfect parents, combined with their having grown weary of Mom’s and Dad’s dos and don’ts, causes them to want to rebel. Thus comes the return of the splitting of their parents into absolute good (the vestiges of that original, awesome authority) and absolute bad (the disappointingly human, all-too-human parents, exaggerated into something much worse in the unconscious mind).

With this schizoid splitting into absolute good and bad comes the paranoid anxiety that the bad aspects will come after, punish, and persecute the rebellious teens. This splitting, as a defence mechanism, tends to be unconscious: hence, Freddy as the bad father appears in the teens’ dreams.

The disappointing faults we see in the parents include not only Nancy’s father’s annoying overprotection, but also that of the father of Glen (Depp), who imagines that Nancy’s ‘craziness’ is a potential danger to his son; hence, he wishes to have Glen no longer see Nancy. Another flaw is seen in Nancy’s mother, an alcoholic.

Parental transferences are made in other authoritarian figures for the teens to scorn: teachers, student hall monitors, and policemen, regardless of whether they’re authoritarian or merely perceived to be so.

After Tina’s death, Nancy is in English class, nodding off at her desk from not having slept well recently, for obvious reasons. Her teacher is discussing Hamlet, a play dealing with much parent/child conflict, as between the Danish prince, his mother the queen, and his uncle, the usurping king, who married her after killing his father, the ghost of whom wanting him to get revenge by killing his uncle. (Freddy, the bad father, is also seeking revenge for his murder.)

The teacher mentions Hamlet’s “mother’s lies,” and has a student read a passage from Act One, scene 1, lines 112-126, spoken by Horatio after he and two of the castle guards, Marcellus and Bernardo, have seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father. The passage is full of spooky imagery, full of omens presaging the assassination of Julius Caesar; the eeriness of what Horatio is describing is meant to be compared with that of his having just seen Old Hamlet’s ghost for the first time, a possible omen for the downfall of the kingdom of Denmark by Fortinbras.

This creepy speech is also an ill omen for nodding Nancy, who now hears her classmate recite lines occurring much later in the play, when Hamlet says to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” (2, ii, 253-255)

And indeed, Nancy beings to have a bad dream of her own.

She sees Tina’s bloody ghost, wrapped in a body bag in a way suggesting the veil of the Virgin Mary, a juxtaposing of extreme good and evil imagery suggestive of splitting. Nancy follows her, soon to be stopped by a nerdy female hall monitor nagging her about a hall pass. Nancy’s defiance against this annoyance, from a transference of her domineering parents onto the hall monitor, brings about the unconscious splitting of her parents into all good vs. all bad, the paranoid-schizoid position (PS).

With the splitting of the schizoid aspect of PS also comes the paranoid aspect; hence, the hall monitor is seen to resemble Freddy more and more, first with his red and green striped sweater, then with his bladed glove. Soon after, Freddy himself is chasing her in that boiler room.

Her method of escape is significant: to wake herself up, she–cornered by Freddy–burns her arm on a hot pipe to her left. Such self-injury, to get her away from the violence of the bad father, is symbolic of an unconscious ego defence mechanism, turning round upon the subject’s own self.

If a little child is being abused by his or her mother or father, contemplating that the parent is a bad person is far too terrifying for the helpless child to bear; so turning the badness round upon him- or herself, though painful in its inducing of wrongful guilt, nonetheless saves the child from the far more unthinkable realization that the parent he or she depends on has evil intentions. If it’s the child who is bad, then at least Mommy and Daddy aren’t bad; splitting is thus overcome.

Nancy wakes up screaming in terror and is sent home. Since she has spoken to Rod in prison–who in spite of the charge of Tina’s murder on him, insists he’s innocent–and she has learned that he, just like Tina, has dreamt of Freddy, too, she realizes these are more than just nightmares.

Nancy is taking a bath that night, and she’s nodding off, her head almost going underwater. Her mother, just outside the bathroom, warns her about the danger of falling asleep in the water and drowning. Nancy is annoyed with her oversolicitous mother, especially when she says she’ll give Nancy some warm milk, which seems infantilizing and associative of breastfeeding.

Just before her mother’s warning, Nancy dozes off briefly, and in an iconic scene we see Freddy’s bladed glove rise out from the water between her legs, just below the crotch. With the phallic symbolism of the glove, this image is suggestive of Klein’s notion of the terrifying combined parent figure, Nancy’s internalized phallic mother, a reaction to her mom’s nagging, overprotective attitude. Freddy’s near drowning of her in the bathwater only reinforces her terror of the unconscious bad mother internal object, a terror ended by her mother’s intervening, a re-establishment in Nancy’s mind of her whole mother, both good and bad.

Later that night in her bedroom, The Evil Dead is playing on her small TV, Ash‘s climactic confrontation with the demons in the cabin in the woods. It’s interesting that this, of all movies, would be the one she’s watching, for as I explained in my analysis of that film, the demons also represent repressed bad internal objects.

Her boyfriend Glen, who lives across from her home on Elm Street, goes over to see her not by knocking on her front door to ask her parents if he can see her, but by climbing a trellis to her second floor bedroom. This clandestine meeting of teen lovers, in defiance of their parents, reminds us of another Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet, which also involves parent/child conflict (i.e., Old Capulet‘s fury when Juliet refuses to marry Paris). Indeed, Glen climbing that trellis to Nancy’s bedroom suggests the famous balcony scene in Act Two, Scene ii of the play.

She wants Glen to watch her while she sleeps, to wake her if he sees her having a nightmare. She dreams of bloody Tina wrapped in the body bag, but with a centipede crawling out of her mouth, then a pile of snakes slithering on the ground where Tina’s feet should be. This juxtaposition of hateful images with that of Nancy’s beloved friend, in that veiled Marian look, again suggests unconscious splitting into absolute good and bad.

Nancy also sees Freddy about to kill Rod in his sleep in his prison cell. She needs Glen to wake her fast so they can go to the police station and get to Rod before Freddy does. They’re too late, of course: it looks as though Rod has hanged himself, though of course we know that Freddy killed him. To understand this film from a psychoanalytic perspective, however, if we see Freddy as the personification of a repressed bad father internal object, we can understand Rod’s nightmare of Freddy (as well as Nancy’s nightmare) as the two teens’ having projected Rod’s suicide onto Freddy.

Rod has every reason in the world to want to kill himself. A criminal type already from the start of the film, he’s had trouble with the law through his involvement with drugs and violence. Seeing the gory killing of his girlfriend is beyond traumatizing, and to pour salt on his psychological wounds, he is blamed for killing the last person in the world that he’d ever want to kill, with no way of proving his innocence. (Or has he, in spite of his love for Tina, killed her in a brief fit of psychosis [we know he’d had a fight with her, and that he was “crazy jealous”], and he’s now unconsciously projecting his violence onto Freddy?)

As a criminal, Rod despises authority figures like Nancy’s father, people who no doubt are transferences of his own parents, with whom he must have a troubled relationship. Projecting his hanging onto a bad father figure thus makes his suicide easier to commit, since in his despair there is nonetheless another part of him that still wants to live, and he is thus conflicted about whether to be or not to be.

Nancy is getting increasingly traumatized, and therefore unwilling to sleep. Her rejection of what Freddy represents, the bad aspects of her parents that have been split off from the good aspects and projected outward, has resulted in her being terrorized by that projected representation of the bad father. Since there’s a blurred distinction between dream and reality in this film, it’s legitimate to doubt the physical, objective reality of any of the supernatural phenomena seen in the film.

So much of what we see, if not all of it, could be collective teen hallucinations based on their neurotic, conflicted feelings about their parents and other authority figures. Wilfred Bion observed in his psychotic patients an inability, or unwillingness, to process the raw sensory data of emotional experiences for use in such things as dreams; if his patients didn’t dream, they didn’t sleep [Bion, page 7], as is the case with Nancy, who it would seem is having a psychotic break with reality. (See here for more on Bion’s concepts, as well as other psychoanalytic terms.)

Bion wrote of a particular kind of hallucination he called a bizarre object, which is actually something projected from the psychotic onto the outside world. This is how we can interpret the teens’ experience of Freddy, particularly Nancy’s experience of him, she who is resisting sleep to avoid dreaming.

After Rod’s funeral, Nancy’s mother drives her to see a doctor who will examine her while she sleeps. She’s still too afraid to dream, but Dr. King (played by Charles Fleischer) tells her that if she doesn’t dream, she’ll go (he points to his head, implying that she’ll go crazy, like Bion’s psychotics). She has a nightmare from which she awakens and her bed seems to produce Freddy’s hat; I interpret this as a hallucination that she imagines others have shared with her.

Back at home, she and her mother argue about whether her experiences with Freddy are real or not. Nancy learns his name from reading “Fred Krueger” on his fedora. Her frustration with her mother’s denials provoke her to make an impertinent remark about Marge’s alcoholism, making her slap Nancy.

In this moment, we can see an example of the root cause of Nancy’s psychopathology: her traumatic disappointment in realizing that her mother, like everyone else, has faults. The idealizing child in Nancy can’t accept these faults, so in her unconscious she uses the defence mechanism of splitting to keep her mom’s good side pure.

The problem is that the bad side turns into Freddy.

Later, Glen tells Nancy about how the Balinese deal with nightmares, something called “dream skills.” They wake up and write down the dream content, using it in their art and poetry. This sounds like the defence mechanism known as sublimation, taking unacceptable unconscious feelings and turning them into art. Glen also says the Balinese will turn their backs on whatever scares them in their dreams, taking away the evil spirits’ energy and thus defeating them. This turning one’s back on the anxiety-producing elements of the unconscious sounds like denial.

Nancy returns home to find bars on all the doors and windows. Infuriated at this latest manifestation of authoritarian parental repression, she confronts her mother. Marge takes Nancy into their basement, a symbol of the unconscious. There, Marge tells her about Freddy when he was alive, when he preyed on children and killed at least twenty of them. Though arrested, he was let go on a technicality, so the parents of the Elm Street community hunted him down and burned him to death in his boiler room.

Marge takes his bladed glove from the furnace to reassure Nancy that he’s dead and gone; symbolically this killing of Freddy is an attempt by the good in parents overcoming the bad, yet another attempt at splitting. Still, Nancy of course will not be convinced of any of Marge’s assertions; she’s convinced that Freddy is an avenging demon; he’s a projection of her unconscious persecutory anxiety brought on by the bad father she’s internalized and tried to project into the outside world.

Nancy would have Glen help her catch Freddy once she’s summoned him in her next dream, but Glen has an overprotective father of his own who, seeing craziness in Nancy, doesn’t want his son around her anymore; so when she calls Glen on the telephone, telling his parents she urgently needs to speak to him, his father hangs up on her and leaves the receiver off the hook. She can’t contact Glen at all now, but Freddy can terrorize her by making her phone ring and speaking to her on it…after she’s yanked the cord out of the wall. His claiming to be her new boyfriend not only implies the killing of Glen, but also suggests the bad father of Freud’s seduction theory.

I discussed in my analysis of Black Christmas (link above) not only sexually charged phone conversations, but also how the use of the telephone can be symbolic of alienation, in that we communicate with it, but don’t see the person we’re chatting with face to face (rather like the alienation felt today when communicating with others through social media–we’re still far away from them). Nancy can’t connect with her boyfriend on the phone, thanks to his grumpy, authoritarian father; but she can get unwanted communication with her projected bad father object.

Speaking of alienation, media, and meddling parents, Glen is in bed with headphones on and a small TV nearby. His mother comes in his room to nag him to go to sleep, but he wants to watch Miss Nude America, not caring what she has to say, just fetishizing her body.

Given what’s just happened with Glen’s officious parents, it’s interesting to note specifically how he dies once he’s fallen asleep. Freddy’s blade-gloved arm comes up from a hole formed in the bed, and he pulls Glen in, his victim screaming for his mom.

Freddy, as a representation of the bad aspects of either parent, is usually shown as the bad father, with that phallic bladed glove. We saw the symbolism of Klein’s combined parent figure, the phallic mother, in the bathtub scene with the bladed glove between Nancy’s legs. Now, Freddy’s phallic glove emerges from a yonic hole in Glen’s bed. He and his TV get sucked in the hole, the mother’s baby killed by bringing him back, ironically, to his uncanny place of birth.

Blood sprays up from the hole to the bedroom ceiling, in a geyser of red. Since the hole has yonic, maternal symbolism, the blood can be seen as symbolic either of menstrual blood or of the blood coming from the emasculated phallus. Menstruation indicates that a woman isn’t pregnant, hence, no baby, no life. Emasculation means a man can’t get a woman pregnant–no baby, no life. The parent who fails to be a parent can be seen as a kind of bad parent, flawed, infertile; or bad in the sense that he or she wishes the child had never been born, hence Glen’s return to the womb, so to speak.

Nancy screams in hysterics over Glen’s death. Her father goes to Glen’s house with the coroner, paramedics, and other police; she now has only her father to help her catch Freddy. To deal with the bad father, she needs help from the good father. We hear the love of the good father in Lt. Thompson when he, full of concern for his daughter, tells her to get some sleep, shows his eagerness to catch the killer, calls her “sweetheart,” and tells her he loves her.

This goodness in her father contrasts with the bossy, bad-tempered father we saw before. In this new side of him that we see, the bad and good are seen as one. The splitting that resulted in Freddy is being overcome, and in this union of good and bad, we can see a way to defeat Freddy.

Before confronting Freddy, Nancy spends a moment with her mother, who’s drunk in bed. Instead of feeling anger toward her, Nancy is reviving feelings of affection for her, just as she has with her father; again, this will be part of how she’ll stop Freddy, as I’ll explain further below.

After this moment with her mother, she begins booby-trapping her home using instructions from a book she showed to Glen when he told her about Balinese “dream skills.” (If one didn’t know better, one might think of her booby-trapping as anticipating the Home Alone movies.).

She goes to sleep and provokes an attack from Freddy, getting him to run into the booby-traps, and even lighting him on fire, which triggers his own traumatic memory of when the Elm Street parents burned him to death. This violence that she inflicts on him, as a desperate act of self-defence, represents the defence mechanism–introduced by Sándor Ferenczi and developed by Freud’s daughter Anna–known as identification with the aggressor: on one level, her violence identifies her with him; on another level, it identifies her with those parents, including her own, who burned him the first time. Since Freddy represents these parents’ bad aspects as neurotically experienced by the teens, both levels can be seen as essentially the same thing.

She screams through the window for the police across the street at Glen’s home to get her father, but the policeman who answers doesn’t cooperate as she so desperately needs him to, so she reverts to defying authority by calling him an “asshole” and demanding he get her father.

At one point in the chase, Freddy significantly tells her he’ll “split [her] in two.” Well, naturally: as I’ve been arguing all along here, the terror of this film is based on psychological splitting.

Nancy’s father finally arrives, and the two of them are in her parents’ bedroom. Freddy kills her mother there; she is sucked into the bed, similar to how Glen was. Since her affection for her parents is being revived, the thought of Nancy losing her mother is causing her to feel what Klein called depressive anxiety, which overshadows the persecutory anxiety of the paranoid-schizoid position (PS); and so her splitting can be cured. Nancy is now experiencing the depressive position (D); she wants her mother (and friends) back.

Since her splitting is dissolving, Freddy doesn’t seem so real to her, so she isn’t afraid of him anymore. Now she can apply those Balinese dream skills: she turns her back to Freddy as he’s emerging from her parents’ bed, and she tells him that she’s taking back all the energy she gave him.

Without her fear, Freddy no longer has power over her. In denying that he’s anything other than a dream, she’s using the defence mechanism of denial. When he tries to pounce on her, he vanishes.

The next and final scene seems too good to be true. Not only do we see a beautiful sunny morning outside the front door of Nancy’s house on Elm Street, but she and her (resurrected!) mother seem a little too blissful.

All of a sudden, Marge just ‘doesn’t feel like drinking anymore’; what alcoholic is able to do that? It would seem that in Freddy’s defeat, he’s given back Nancy’s mother and her three friends, who are in a car ready to take her to school with them…a car with a red and green striped convertible roof. Nancy gets in, and the teens are about to drive away.

Since Tina, Rod, Glen, and Marge have all come back to life, it would seem that their deaths were all hallucinatory fantasies. Freddy has returned, though, in the form of that car, which locks the screaming teens in and drives them away without the control of Glen, who’s in the driver’s seat. Marge, at the door, is grabbed and pulled inside through the door window by Freddy’s gloved hand.

She hasn’t responded to her daughter’s cries for help: her idealized, good mother state has had the bad parent state, personified in Freddy, split off from her. We see the little girls’ jump-roping and chanting of the creepy Freddy Krueger rhyme from the beginning of the film, with “five, six, grab your crucifix.” In this, we see again the blurred line between dream and reality. Are our protagonists being killed again for real, or is it just a terrorizing of the mind?

One doesn’t move from PS to D once and for all; these two positions–splitting vs. integration–oscillate back and forth throughout one’s life, especially during the turbulent years of adolescence. Bion, a Kleinian psychoanalyst who developed her theories to a great extent, expressed this oscillating relationship graphically, like this: PS <–> D. (Bion, pages 34-35)

Will Nancy and her friends switch back to the integrated peace of the depressive position, or will they stay trapped in the psychotic splitting of the paranoid-schizoid position? I suppose the sequels, outside the scope of this analysis, will answer that question.

In any case, the very title of the film suggests psychological splitting, with the street’s name suggestive of the stately trees lining the sides of the street to give a sense of the peaceful opposite of nightmare. To offset the extremes of nightmares, one must be willing to lessen the peacefulness of those elm trees. That’s how we get rid of Freddy for good.

The End of the World?

I: Introduction

As the above title implies, I’m afraid that this isn’t going to be a very rosy, positive post, Dear Reader.

Some readers who have read my posts about my family, and who know about my C-PTSD, might think that what I’m about to describe is just a reflection of my tendency to catastrophize the problems of the world, and I’d really like to think that that’s all that is going on here in my reaction to current events.

But I don’t think it’s my attitude to the problems.

I think it’s the problems themselves.

Now, before you think I’m just putting you on a real downer here, Dear Reader, consider that the first step in dealing with problems is acknowledging that they exist, rather than denying and running away from them. So let’s acknowledge these problems, where they began, how they’ve progressed, and what they’re escalating into now.

II: Background

First, with the ending of the great majority of the socialist states of the world, the capitalist class no longer felt the need to soften the plight of the working class with such things as welfare; for without any significant existing Marxist alternative to capitalism, the ruling class needn’t fear revolution if things grow intolerable for the poor. Hence, the rise of neoliberalism.

(For those of you who don’t think of the demise of 20th century Marxism-Leninism as a bad thing, please read this to understand why I think its demise was bad.)

That problem, however, was only the beginning.

With contemporary capitalism always comes imperialism, and with the end of the anti-imperialist bloc of Soviet states came, from the point of view of the imperialists, the gleeful realization that they could do anything they wanted, to any country, with impunity. The September 11th attacks, regardless of whether you choose to believe they were caused by radical Muslim terrorists or were an inside job, gave the American imperialists the perfect pretext to start carving up the Middle East any way they liked, as a general explained was the plan in this video.

With the “War on Terror” came the Patriot Act and the beginning of the decline in civil liberties. The state of permanent war has also meant a rise in the profits of the likes of Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, etc., profits that must be kept up to counteract the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, so the perpetuation of war has made it into a kind of addiction.

With war always comes war crimes, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were of course no exceptions. Chelsea Manning sent classified government documents of such crimes to Wikileaks, exposing the murderous American military and arousing its wrath. The persecution of her and Julian Assange has been the first major recent example of a threat to the freedom of the press, something that has gotten much worse in the 2020s.

Similarly, when Edward Snowden publicized the NSA’s plan to monitor the cellphone conversations of ordinary Americans, an Orwellian act rationalized as a form of counterterrorism, he was forced to leave the US for ‘treason,’ really a defence of freedom.

I’ve made this summary to set the stage, as it were, for what’s been coming since. The rise of neoliberal capitalism, an unfettered “free market” version that allows the rich to get richer and to exploit and immiserate the poor, has resulted–far from the right-wing libertarians’ fantasy of “small government”–in the wealthy being so rich that they can buy the government and make it do their bidding. The imperialist drive to find new markets in, and export capital to, other countries results in a further bloating of the military-industrial complex…big government, capitalist government.

The current-day depredations of imperialism aren’t limited to the countries of the Middle East. Any country that runs foul of the globe-spanning hegemony of the US and NATO is a target. Such targets have included the DPRK, Venezuela (with her vast oil reserves), Bolivia (with her lithium, so coveted by Elon Musk), and…of course, Russia and China.

And here is where things start to get especially scary.

III: The Threat of World War III

Not only has NATO, an extension of US imperialism, inched further and further eastward towards the Russian border over the past three decades, making Vladimir Putin more and more nervous, so has China been surrounded by American military bases in places like Australia, the Philippines, the Marshall Islands, Okinawa, Japan, and South Korea in what John Pilger has quoted a US strategist as calling “the perfect noose.” There is also the US navy in the South China Sea, and there are the over-a-billion-dollars worth in weapons the Trump administration sold to Taiwan to point at China.

A reminder: the US and Russia have thousands of nuclear weapons, and China has hundreds.

So, we have all this dangerous and totally unnecessary nuclear brinksmanship going on with these three countries, which instead of competing with each other could be working together for the greater global good, a potential multipolarity whose balance of power could, if developed properly, actually improve our chances for world peace. Instead, the US is jealously fighting to preserve its unipolar hegemony, and would rather risk the annihilation of all life in a nuclear WWIII than share global power.

IV: Media Censorship

To make matters worse, as the Russian/Ukraine war rages on, one that even the Pope has acknowledged was NATO’s fault, the culmination of a thirty-year (and especially an eight-year) provocation of Russia from that eastward expansion I mentioned above, the mainstream Western media is censoring any dissident voices questioning the narrative that the war is ‘all Putin’s fault.’ Putin is no saint, to be sure, but the Russian intervention was far from unprovoked.

You know the old cliché: in war, the first casualty is the truth, and such a casualty is certainly here with Ukraine. Though the mainstream news media admitted to the presence and influence of neo-Nazis in the Ukrainian government and military before the Russian intervention, since then their presence is either denied, downplayed, or outright ignored. Yet it is precisely this neo-Nazi presence that provoked the Russian response by killing ethnic Russians in the Donbass region in the eight years between the 2014 coup that ousted Viktor Yanukovych and the Russian military operation beginning this February to protect that Russian community.

One can claim the pro-Russian side is biased if one wants to, but so is the anti-Russian side. The point of having a free press is to allow publication of both sides of the story, for the sake of balance. Justifying censorship of “Russian propaganda” has only reduced the Russophobic coverage of CNN, the BBC, MSNBC, etc., to nothing more than Western propaganda…and hypocrisy.

The censorship of the pro-Russian side–properly understood, the actual anti-war side, since the only real end to this war will be granting Russia’s security requests, i.e., giving the Donbass region its independence, as well as ensuring a neutral Ukraine (no NATO membership)–has gotten so bad that the US set up a Disinformation Governance Board, in effect, a Ministry of Truth directed by a self-styled Mary Poppins. Added to this, many dissident voices, including those of Caleb Maupin, Mint Press News, etc., are no longer being given access to PayPal; so in not getting paid for their journalism (something that had precedent with Wikileaks about twelve years ago), these people are in effect being silenced, for one can’t be expected to focus properly on one’s journalism if one has to use up one’s necessary time making money doing another job.

And if we aren’t given access to dissenting voices that might otherwise dissuade us from going along with the manufactured consent for more and more war, we’ll find ourselves inching all that much closer to a nuclear WWIII.

V: A Love of Death

So what is the mindset behind all this pushing for more and more war? Obviously, part of it is the profit motive, as I mentioned above (i.e., Boeing et al), since war is a business and a racket. But with the ever-growing dangers of nuclear annihilation, which will also halt the growth of those profits, we must look for an additional motive behind all this warmongering: what Erich Fromm called the necrophilous character.

By “necrophilous,” Fromm wasn’t referring to the sexual perversion, but rather to a pathological preoccupation with death, with the non-living: “Necrophilia in the characterological sense can be described as the passionate attraction to all that is dead, decayed, putrid, sickly; it is the passion to transform that which is alive into something unalive; to destroy for the sake of destruction; the exclusive interest in all that is purely mechanical. It is the passion to tear apart living structures. [Fromm, page 369, his emphasis]

Fromm’s idea of the necrophilous character orientation is an elaboration on and a refining of Freud‘s notion of the death drive, which with Eros, the life instinct, is conceived as one of “the two most fundamental forces within man” [Fromm, page 369]. The death drive, just like the drive to achieve pleasure, involves a removal of tension to achieve a state of rest. As Hamlet said, “To die, to sleep, no more…”

It shouldn’t be hard to see how endless wars, leading to the risk of nuclear annihilation, as well as capitalism’s immiseration of the poor leading to their deaths through suicide, drug abuse and other addictions, the epidemic of homelessness, and the yearly starvation of millions in the Third World, are all manifestations of the necrophilous orientation in the ruling class, who adamantly refuse to do anything about these problems. This orientation, however, has manifested itself in other ways, too, which I’ll describe now.

VI: Economic Collapse and the Oligarchs

At the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic blew up into what it’s been since, there were already predictions of a global economic meltdown, which the pandemic, of course, has only exacerbated (and served as a political distraction). Masses of people have lost work, have been threatened with (if not already subjected to) homelessness, and/or have developed serious mental health problems; the horrors of Third World poverty have gotten much worse, and the gig economy has found new, particularly heinous, ways of exploiting workers desperate for money.

Such Western oligarchs as Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk have all, in their own ways, exploited the covid pandemic to get even more obscenely wealthy as all this global suffering continues. Their combined wealth, as well as that of the other multi-billionaire oligarchs of the world, could end world hunger, end homelessness, and be used to build schools and hospitals, among other benefits; but they always seem to have excuses for why doing such good for the world ‘won’t work.’ Instead, they fly off in rockets or buy social media platforms.

These men know they could help the world. People have nagged them to do it. Still, they won’t: this isn’t merely because of greed and selfishness, as I see it; I think they have at least an unconscious urge to kill off masses of the poor. Recall Bezos‘s connections with the CIA, as well as his ownership of the Washington Post; he is one of many examples of oligarchs who have undue influence over the government and the media. Gates, with not only all the money he’s given to control the WHO, but also the money he’s given to many, many media sources, is another “philanthropist” who has similarly excessive influence.

Recall how Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to allow mergers and acquisitions in the American media, resulting in about 90% of that media being controlled by six corporations. Hollywood is essentially required to make the CIA, an evil organization dedicated for decades to bringing about regime change after regime change, look good in films. See how the government, media, and oligarchs are working hand in hand to deceive and screw us all.

VII: The Oligarchs’ Love of Death

Let’s connect the dots: wealthy oligarchs control government organizations and the media, the latter of which is now silencing dissident voices, first about covid, then immediately after about the Russian/Ukraine war, which as I said above, could go nuclear. (People denigrate ‘authoritarian’ countries like Russia, China, the DPRK, Venezuela, Cuba, etc., for having state-controlled media; yet with Western oligarchs controlling the American government and media, both of which, through organizations like NATO, control other countries’ governments and media, do these Western “democracies” really have anything other than state-controlled media, if only indirectly so?) Manufactured consent for war, with no dissident media voices allowed to reverse the influence of this evil: the necrophilous orientation, on full display…if only people could see it.

Elsewhere, we see the number of covid deaths in the US has recently reached around one million (this assuming that they, as the ever-so-dubious mainstream media maintains, have all died of covid as opposed to having died with covid, especially since the omicron variant, though spreading faster, is less deadly than the previous variants, of which the survival rate has always been the great majority of those who have caught it). A single-payer, universal health-care system would suit these patients, in the richest country in the world. Yet the American government still prefers to spend billions of dollars on the military (while having upwards of a thirty-trillion-dollar deficit), and to send over a billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine, to make Ukrainians cannon fodder in the US/NATO proxy war against Russia. There’s money for war, but not for health: this is the necrophilous character, in a nutshell.

VIII: Roe vs. Wade

Now, one thing has happened recently in the US that, on the surface, doesn’t seem all that necrophilous: the Supreme Court’s leaked majority vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade. If we examine this right-wing outrage more thoroughly, though, we’ll see that it’s hardly life-affirming at all: the compassion that the anti-abortionists have for the unborn ends when the unborn are born. These right-wingers are adamantly opposed to providing any kind of childcare, maternity leave, or any other form of financial relief to struggling single mothers (or fathers now obligated to help raise babies both parents would otherwise not have had). Life may “begin at conception,” but compassion ends at birth, apparently.

And in a world with not only the pandemic forcing children to wear masks and therefore get very little chance to learn how to read facial expressions (as older generations have taken for granted), with not only the looming threat of a nuclear WWIII, and with not only an economic meltdown so bad that it could be the end of capitalism (replaced not with socialism, but either barbarism or some kind of neo-feudal totalitarianism), but also skyrocketing inflation (made worse by rising gas prices in a bid ‘to stick it to Putin,’ a cutting-off of one’s nose to spite one’s face if ever there was one), bringing excessive life into such a shitty world is anything but “pro-life.” Birthing unwanted babies in the worst of economies, with very possible food scarcities (conveniently blamed on Russia, mind you, while the West is completely unwilling to grant Russia’s most straightforward requests to end the war that’s exacerbating this food crisis) on the way: what could go wrong?

IX: Compassion

Bible-thumpers call life (before birth, mind you) “sacred.” Buddhists, however, say, “Birth is Ill, decay is Ill, sickness is Ill, death is Ill: likewise sorrow and grief, woe, lamentation and despair. To be conjoined with things which we dislike: to be separated from things which we like–that also is Ill. Not to get what one wants–that also is Ill. In a word, this body, this fivefold mass which is based on grasping–that is Ill.” [Smart and Hecht, page 236]

Small wonder Schopenhauer, greatly influenced by Buddhism, had a pessimism regarding non-life as preferable to life; but being far removed from those of the necrophilous orientation, he confronted human suffering with an attitude head and shoulders above that of these Bible-thumping anti-abortionists–he espoused compassion for sufferers.

We socialists also have compassion for those who suffer; this is why we advocate universal healthcare, housing, education, and employment for all, and a society that produces things not for profit, but to provide for everyone. Such a beneficial transformation of society would reduce suffering to a far more tolerable level than we have in the current neoliberal nightmare. Such vast improvements are far more pro-life than the Bible-thumpers could ever offer.

X: Climate Change

Now, if we don’t end all life on this Earth through nuclear war, there’s another, equally sure way that will do it: through climate change. The warnings have been given for decades, and while conservatives outright deny the existence of this danger, liberals offer woefully inadequate solutions to the problem. All of the efforts of ordinary people to mitigate the problem–e.g., recycling, plastic straws replaced with paper ones, cleaning up pollution on the beaches, etc.–fade into insignificance when compared to the gargantuan contributor, which if anything is only getting worse: the US military as the greatest polluter in the world.

The climate change issue is not only very real, it’s an urgent problem that must be reversed, and soon, before its devastating effects can no longer be rectified. Sea levels are rising now. Wildfires have been raging in countries all over the world. This issue cannot wait, yet as I said above, the efforts to deal with it so far have been nothing more than puny compared to what must be done.

As for those right-wing libertarians who deny climate change, and who are no doubt informed by the greedy heads of corporations who put profit before human life, those right-wingers should consider the implications behind the underground bunkers that the super-rich will have when a world-ending disaster like the ultimate effects of climate change happen, or when there’s a nuclear war, or when the civilizational collapse brought on by the self-destruction of capitalism renders money useless. Will the boot-licking, climate-change-denying conservatives ever admit to themselves what the super-rich have known all along–that climate change is real, and that the super-rich thus have been lying to the conservatives?

Indeed, a number of blog posts by Rainer Shea discuss how the oligarchs plan to deal with the very civilizational collapse they themselves have been responsible for bringing on. In one such post, a CEO euphemistically referred to “the Event” (i.e., the end of the world via climate change or nuclear war), worrying about the loyalty of the armed guards of his bunker when money has become useless. As always, these necrophilous types care only about themselves, and they plan to hide out in their bunkers while the rest of the world burns.

XI: Conclusion–Revolution is the Solution

To make matters worse, the return of fascism, as a way of tightening the elites’ grip of power on us, is but one of many examples of how ‘democracy’ has revealed itself to be an illusion. The rich have militarized police, robotic dogs, and fascistic-minded bootlickers among the working class and petite bourgeoisie, all ready and willing to protect them. Liberals, though pretending to be progressive, are in their very defence of Ukraine revealing fascist sympathies. Though the sanctions on Russia have resulted in many countries, such as China and India, dropping the US dollar, which will help bring about the end of the Anglo/American empire, such a Western decline won’t come without a fight.

Chelsea Manning sent out an interesting tweet recently, about the need not only to be armed, but also for the armed to come into communities to train together. People, time is running out. Voting out the bad guys won’t work. There is no kind and gentle way to end the corruption in politics. We will have to fight our way out of this.

We can no longer just sit around and share memes on Facebook about revolution. We have to do it, and soon. Right-wingers among the masses, convinced by bourgeois propaganda that socialism is “Satanic,” will fight us tooth and nail, as will the police and standing armies of the ruling class. A revolution is not a dinner party.

In my heart, I don’t like violence; but it isn’t a matter of liking it. We have no other choice. If we on the left don’t organize, train, and act now, the end of the world will come, in the form of nuclear war, climate change, or neo-feudalism brought on by civilizational collapse, with that of capitalism. And with the media as censored as it is now, many won’t even see it coming.

Let’s get our act together, people.

Analysis of ‘One Hour Photo’

One Hour Photo is a 2002 psychological thriller written and directed by Mark Romanek. It stars Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, and Michael Vartan, with Gary Cole, Eriq La Salle, Clark Gregg, Erin Daniels, and Dylan Smith.

One Hour Photo was both a commercial and a critical success. Williams’s performance earned him a Saturn Award for Best Actor.

Indeed, it was gratifying to see him in a dramatic role for a change, finally going against his usual typecasting as a zany character in such superficial, feel-good films as Patch Adams and Bicentennial Man. In playing a mentally-ill man in One Hour Photo, Williams demonstrated the range of his acting talent; if only he’d done roles like Seymour “Sy” Parrish more often.

Here is a link to quotes from the film.

Sy is a lonely photo technician in a one-hour photo in a big box store called Sav-Mart. He has no family, friends, or partner. He values his job above and beyond anything else in his life, believing he’s providing a “vital service” to his customers in developing quality photographs. This job gives his life meaning in the absence of loving human company.

Photos are of extreme importance to him for reasons to be discovered in full by the end of the film. At the beginning of the story, he idealizes photography, insisting that one takes pictures only of the happy moments in life, never the sad ones. By the end of the film, though, we discover that this idealizing of taking pictures is a reaction formation against the fact that, as a child, photos were taken of him in extremely unhappy, traumatizing circumstances.

He also points out that no one takes pictures of the banal, mundane, “little things” that we don’t normally pay attention to…yet at the end of the film, after he’s revealed to Detective James Van Der Zee (La Salle) the source of his trauma, we see his recently-taken pictures of such banal things as the objects and furnishings of a hotel room. It seems that, with these pictures, he’s sublating the thesis of happy photos with the antithesis of traumatizing ones.

The trauma he suffered as a child was to have been exploited as a participant in child pornography photography, exploited by his own parents. This trauma explains his loneliness: his parents betrayed his trust at such a tender age, and so he has distanced himself from them. Since one’s primary caregivers are, as internal objects, those blueprints, so to speak, for all subsequent relationships in life, this alienation from one’s parents tragically leads to social alienation in general.

Still, Sy must try to pull himself together, to rebuild some sense of psychological structure, since with such extreme trauma as he’s suffered, the threat of psychological fragmentation is never far away. Heinz Kohut‘s model of the bipolar self is useful for understanding Sy’s personality. One pole is that of the grandiose self, which we see in the pride Sy takes in his photo developing. The other pole is that of the idealized parental imago, which he can’t get from his own parents, of course, so he has to do a transference of them onto the Yorkin family.

Nina (Nielsen) and Will Yorkin (Vartan) are Sy’s idealized mother and father transferences, and their son, Jake (Smith), represents the kind of happy boy Sy wishes he had been when he was a kid. His idealizing of the Yorkin family comes from all the ‘happy’ photos he has developed for them over the years…while keeping a copy of each one for himself to put up on a wall in his apartment, too.

This wall of Yorkin family photos is Sy’s altar, so to speak, where he can worship his idealized conception of the family he wishes he had. The photos, as idealizations, are collectively a metaphorical mirror reflecting his love of them back to himself. This ties back to his job as a mirror of his grandiose self.

Recall the scene of him in front of the bathroom mirror in SavMart, where he looks at himself, and words on the glass remind him and all other staff to “check [their] smile” at work. He internalizes this capitalist ideal for the worker, and so it becomes his Lacanian ideal-I. This ideal-I is extended to photographs in how he takes Nina’s camera and, not wanting to waste a shot, takes a picture of himself for the Yorkins to add to the family photo collection. His ‘selfie,’ as it were, is a metaphorical mirror adding himself, “Uncle Sy,” to the Yorkin family.

These images, frozen in time, of the Yorkins on Sy’s apartment wall are thus, as a collective metaphorical mirror, Sy’s reconstruction of the Imaginary, his need for narcissistic acknowledgement and recognition. “Man’s desire is the desire of the Other,” Lacan once said, a desire to be desired by other people, for recognition from other people. This is what Sy needs from his idealized conception of the Yorkins, and this is why he obsesses over them.

His idealization of them is, of course, an illusion based on wish-fulfillment, for the Imaginary Order, established by the infant when seeing itself in front of a mirror for the first time, gives form to an illusory ego. As a narcissistic psychological state, the Imaginary’s setting up of the illusory ego, the ideal-I one strives one’s whole life to live up to but ultimately never succeeds at, is seen in an extreme form in Sy’s idealizing of his job as a “vital service.” His job is his narcissistic False Self.

Another part of his False Self, a defence against fragmentation, is his persona of mild-mannered innocence (a defence against the molestation he suffered as a child), given physical, symbolic expression in the predominantly white and light grey colours we see him wearing. This whitish innocence is extended to his light blond hair (we can see how dark-haired Williams most obviously dyed his hair, to the point that it seems as if Sy dyed his, too) and the whites and light greys of his apartment and car, as well as the predominant whites and light greys of SavMart, his idealized place of work.

When he leaves SavMart to go home one night, though, we see a greenish-yellow light (colours of envy and jaundice) as he goes to his car, the windshield glass of which is smashed. This reflects the bitter reality of his life, which hides behind his idealized fantasy world.

Like Lacan, Buddhists understand that the self is an illusion, for the world is too fluid, transitory, and impermanent to include the existence of permanent souls or egos. Sy’s False Self is just such an illusory ego, and those frozen moments in time, his photos of the Yorkins, are also such illusions, making us forget about the eternal flux of life.

He’s nowhere near as good at his job as he imagines himself to be, not by his boss’s standards, or by any reasonable standards. The photos he gives Nina early on in the film are larger than what she wants, and the SavMart manager, Bill Owens (Cole, who here plays a kind of serious version of Office Space‘s Bill Lumbergh), is full of complaints about Sy.

In Sy’s obsession with the Yorkins, his collection of copies of their photos means he’s printed far more photos than have been ordered and paid for, a discrepancy that Bill cannot tolerate. Sy has also spaced out on the job, taken ninety-minute lunch breaks, given Jake a free disposable camera for his birthday, and had a loud altercation with the repairman for the photo developing machine, an altercation heard by the customers all over SavMart.

While some of Bill’s complaints reflect real faults of Sy’s work performance, others reflect the kind of conflict between boss and employee typical of what Marx described in his theory of alienation. Sy’s job is practically a religion for him. It gives his life meaning, it’s part of his species-essence; whereas for Bill, Sy’s mundane job is just one among many to be overseen in SavMart; Sy should just do it right and not make waves. Bill’s pragmatic attitude to Sy’s job-as-mission thus alienates Sy from his species-essence, which only adds to Sy’s alienation in general.

Bill fires Sy, which devastates him because not only can’t he do the Yorkins’ pictures anymore, he’s also lost one of the two poles of his self that give him psychological structure–he’s lost his grandiose self, that False Self of the photo developer performing a “vital service” to customers like his idealized Yorkins.

Sy has been a victim of capitalism through his conflict with Bill as described above, and he was a victim of it as a child when exploited and commodified by his parents through kiddie porn photography. The commodification of photos links both experiences for him in how photos are fetishized commodities. The customer sees the finished product and pays for it, but he or she doesn’t see the process the workers went through to produce the commodity.

In the case of kiddie porn photography, the drooling pervert masturbating to the disgusting pictures sees only the fantasy that’s presented in them; he doesn’t take note of the pain and fear in the naked children’s eyes as they’re forced into doing the shameful things they do in front of the camera. Similarly, and in reverse fashion, though Sy is the seller, not the buyer, he sees only the happiness of the Yorkins in their photos; but he knows nothing of the very real problems in their far-from-ideal family. Of course, he’ll learn of those problems soon enough.

When Maya Burson (Daniels) shows up at SavMart and gives Sy her photos to be developed, he recognizes her from somewhere (actually, in one of the photos in his Yorkin ‘altar’). He later flips through them and discovers some of her with Will Yorkin, having an affair. His whole image of the ideal Yorkin family has been shattered. The other pole of his self has been compromised. He’s now in danger of fragmentation.

Because of the extreme abuse he suffered as a child, Sy would have engaged in the defence mechanism of splitting from right back in those early years. This means that, instead of regarding his parents in the normal way, as a complex combination of good and bad traits, he’d have seen them as just the bad father and bad mother. No grey or white, only black.

Sy nonetheless needs to believe in the idea of the good father and good mother, for the paranoid-schizoid position that he feels himself permanently trapped in demands a white, or at least light grey, area to counterbalance the black area that he cannot deny.

This counterbalancing is what the Yorkin parents are meant to personify in Sy’s fragile inner mental life. Other ways in which he tries to achieve this white counterbalance include the old black-and-white photo of the pretty woman he buys; significantly, he later shows it to Nina, of all people (the good mother of his transferred idealized parental imago), telling her that this woman is his mother. This would be the good mother meant to offset his emotionally neglectful bad mother, who allowed Sy’s bad father to take those obscene photos of him as a child.

His notion that photos are always of happy occasions, never of things we want to forget, is his white counterbalancing of those black photos taken of things that he most intensely wishes he could forget. All of this black vs white opposition is a reflection of his psychological splitting, the paranoid-schizoid position, as Melanie Klein called it. “Schizoid” refers to the splitting into absolute good and bad, or black vs white; “paranoid” refers to the fear that the rejected, bad internal objects will return to persecute Sy again.

Since Will has proven to Sy that he isn’t the good father Sy needs him to be, in his paranoid-schizoid mental state, Sy can regard Will as only the bad father. Of course, we the audience have known of Will’s faults almost from the beginning: we saw his argument with Nina about his emotional neglect of her and Jake. Since he rationalizes his preoccupation with his work at their expense (and there’s some truth to this, though he can carry this excuse only so far), we see again how capitalism contributes to the problem of alienation (i.e., he has to work to pay for everything to make his family’s life more comfortable).

His mistress, Maya, however, cannot be included in his excuses for not being as emotionally available to his family as he should be; hence, Sy deems him a bad father, and he scratches Will’s face off of all the photos on his ‘altar.’ Not only has Will become the bad father, though: photography for Sy has changed from being a white source of happiness to a black form of predation.

Indeed, Sy discusses the origin of the term “snapshot,” which he says wasn’t at first associated with photography, but with hunting–that is, quickly firing a snap shot from a rifle at an animal without taking the time for careful, preparatory aim. Sy’s camera has become his weapon, his gun…just as his parents’ camera was a weapon used on him as a child.

Now that Sy can no longer hide behind his False Self as the white-and-grey-clad, mild-mannered photo developer doing a “vital service” for customers he can no longer work for, and now that his system of white idealizations has been sullied by Will’s black adultery, Sy must face his own darkness, all that blackness inside himself that he’s been repressing, splitting off and projecting outwards.

First, he gets a little revenge on his former boss by taking predatory photos of Bill’s daughter. This taking of photos of her–though she’s fully dressed, playing innocently with her dolls, and is insouciant of any voyeuristic danger–nonetheless anticipates the revelation of, and cruel meaning behind, the photography of Sy when he himself was little and defenceless.

Since Sy can no longer use his grandiose self and idealized parental imago to shield himself from his childhood traumas, he must find a way to release and eject the emotional tension he feels from that trauma. A common way to do that is through projection, and projective identification, which ensures that those who receive the projections internalize and embody them.

So Sy steals a large knife from SavMart, a phallic symbol representative of the rapes he suffered as a child. He tracks Will and Maya down to a hotel where they’ve planned to have a sexual encounter, and there he’ll use his camera on them the way his parents used their camera on him: to shame the adulterer and his mistress by capturing their sexual encounter in a set of pornographic photos.

Sy not only forces Will and Maya to pose nude and simulate sexual acts; he’s also verbally abusive in the orders he gives them, behaviour diametrically opposed to his usual, mild-mannered False Self. This verbal abusiveness, it is safe to assume, is derived from the verbal abusiveness he as a child must have received from his photographer father. Sy must release all this pent-up pain by taking it all out on Will and Maya, by projecting it onto them.

After taking the photos, he leaves his traumatized victims and goes into a neighbouring hotel room he’s booked for himself. There, he lies on his back on the bed and looks up at the ceiling; he seems temporarily relieved, having gotten so much of that tension and pain off his chest.

He’s also taken photos of such banal things as a closeup of the rings on the curtain rod on his room’s shower curtain, as well as closeups of taps on the bathtub and bathroom sink. After all the good photos of the Yorkin family, then the bad photos of Will and Maya, he needs to take these neutral photos, to sublate the good vs bad dichotomy. This sublation is part of his healing shift from the black-and-white duality of the paranoid-schizoid position to the grey neutrality of the depressive position.

Switching from paranoid anxiety to depressive anxiety–the fear and sadness coming from losing our internal objects–is crucial for Sy’s healing process, and it’s related to the grey sublation of the black vs white mentioned above. The depressive position involves acknowledging how our caregivers are actually a complex combination of good and bad, and we must accept both the good and the bad in them. One must also mourn the abusive parents who failed us as children, our lack of good parents, as when we see Sy break down and cry when revealing to Detective Van Der Zee how he as a child was sexually abused.

Sy cannot see any good in his parents to counterbalance the bad, nor can he see any good in Will Yorkin. He can, however, still see Nina and Jake as good people (even though he’s frustrated to see her not showing anger at Will after seeing the photos of his affair with Maya). He also feels convinced that Van Der Zee must be a good husband and father. So these conclusions are enough for Sy to reconcile the good and bad in parents in general.

Now we can end the film with him looking at his banal photos of closeups of bathroom objects, their banality being his resolving of ideal vs shameful pictures.

Though called a psychological thriller, One Hour Photo actually has a rather sad tone, for though we would never condone what Sy does, we can’t help feeling empathy for him and the troubled life he’s lead. This kind of empathy, even for those who do ‘creepy’ things, is important for us to be able to heal collectively from all of our own traumas, for we all need to help each other process our grief. (Recall how Williams suffered from depression and committed suicide.)

Analysis of ‘Memento’

Memento is a 2000 thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, based on a pitch by his brother, Jonathan, who wrote the 2001 short story, “Memento Mori.” The film stars Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano.

The film’s non-linear storyline presents one set of events backwards and in colour, giving the audience a sense of the anterograde amnesia of its protagonist, Leonard Shelby (Pearce; in the short story, the character’s name is Earl). A black-and-white sequence of events in chronological order is presented in scenes that alternate with the reverse-order, colour scenes. The reverse scenes and chronological ones meet at the climax of the film, with the black and white switching to colour.

Memento was critically acclaimed for its non-linear structure and themes of memory, perception, and self-deception. It received Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. It’s widely considered one of Nolan’s best films and one of the best films of the 2000s.

Here is a link to quotes from the film, here is a link to Jonathan Nolan’s short story, published in Esquire, and here‘s a link to him reading his story.

“Memento Mori” gives the reader the sense of Earl’s inability to form new memories differently from the film’s back-and-forth, reverse vs chronological order: the short story instead presents scenes with large gaps of time between them to disrupt continuity. And instead of the film’s use of “Teddy” (Pantoliano) and Natalie (Moss), who both help and manipulate Leonard, in the short story, the narration shifts back and forth from first to second to third person, leaving the reader to wonder if all three are the same person (my guess), or if someone else is actually helping Earl.

There’s a sense of depersonalization, of derealization, in Earl’s switching from I to you to he to us within the space, often, of just a few paragraphs. Given the extreme disorientation he feels from his condition, such a confusion of identity is perfectly plausible.

The short story directly and indirectly references Hamlet. Given the dominant theme of revenge for the murder of a loved one, such allusions are fitting. Apart from the “to be or not to be” quote, Earl also discusses how the passage of time can weaken one’s resolve for revenge, something Claudius discusses with Laertes in Act IV, Scene vii, lines 108-123:

I know love is begun by time,
And that I see, in passages of proof,
Time qualifies the spark and fire of it.
There lives within the very flame of love
A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it.
And nothing is at a like goodness still.
For goodness, growing to a pleurisy,
Dies in his own too-much. That we would do,
We should do when we would, for this “would” changes
And hath abatements and delays as many
As there are tongues, are hands, are accidents.
And then this “should” is like a spendthrift sigh
That hurts by easing.—But to the quick of th’ ulcer:
Hamlet comes back. What would you undertake
To show yourself in deed your father’s son
More than in words?

After the contemplation of this need to act on revenge, Earl finds the motivation to do it. In the film, however, Leonard is, if anything, much too motivated for revenge, since he kills again, and again, and again. Leonard’s revenge truly “dies in his own too much.”

The short story begins with Earl waking up, looking up at a ceiling in an all-white room–a colour suggestive of innocence–in a mental institution. His innocence is that of one, in his oblivion, not knowing what’s happened to him. As his lacunae of lost memories are filled in through his notes and photos, the surroundings get darker: first, yellow, from having almost knocked over a lamp of incandescent light that floods the room with yellow, a symbol of jaundice, his bitterness over his predicament; then, he’s in a dark room where a tattoo artist is inking a message on his arm: I RAPED AND KILLED YOUR WIFE.

In contrast to the ‘innocent’ beginning of the short story, the film begins with Leonard already demonstrating his vengeful nastiness, shooting “Teddy” from the (as we later learn, mistaken) belief that he is his wife’s rapist and killer. A clue to who the real culprit is, however, can be gleaned from that tattoo just mentioned on Earl’s arm. Of course, Leonard’s changing of “I” to “John G.” simply demonstrates Leonard’s propensity for projection.

The movie’s beginning of the story with the film going backwards establishes the idea that the coloured parts are presented backwards, to help with audience comprehension. This retrograde motion also represents how what we perceive in the film is the other way around from what’s really happening.

Indeed, those characters we find trustworthy turn out to be untrustworthy, and–even more significantly–those we assume are bad turn out to be largely good. In this connection, the casting of Pantoliano–an actor we tend to see playing villains–is important in how this casting reinforces those prejudices in the audience, for later, we learn that he isn’t so bad after all.

Knowing that Leonard has written “DON’T BELIEVE HIS LIES” on the photo for “Teddy,” combined with his toothy grin (which hardly establishes trust), blinds us to the fact that “Teddy” is largely the only real friend Leonard has in the movie. He even openly admits that his real name isn’t “Teddy” but John G., for Gammell. His only dishonest moments are getting Leonard to kill some criminals for him, such as Jimmy Grantz (another “John” or “James G.”, played by Larry Holden), making Leonard think these guys are each the “John G.” he wants to get revenge on. “Teddy” just wants to get his hands on the money in the trunk of Jimmy’s car.

The fact is, undercover cop “Teddy” acts as a kind of psychoanalyst for Leonard, trying to get this forgetful fellow to engage in a bit of ‘know thyself.’ As we learn by the end of the movie, all of Leonard’s distrust of “Teddy” and “his lies” is really just an analysand‘s resistance.

Leonard’s search for his wife’s killer and rapist centres around finding a man named “John G.” or “James G.”, a name so ridiculously common that, convenient for forgetful Leonard, the anterograde amnesiac can keep searching for, killing, then searching for and killing again, and again, and again. One of my brothers is named John G. (in my posts about my family, I refer to him by the initial letter of his middle name, as I do for many of my family members): that’s just how common the name is, that my brother will remain essentially anonymous.

It isn’t just that Leonard forgets having gotten his revenge; it’s the very seeking of it, forever and ever, that satisfies him. The seeking is what gives his life meaning and purpose. Seeking revenge is Leonard’s objet petit a, the unattainable object-cause of desire, only this is not a desire of the sex drive of Eros, but one of Thanatos, the death drive.

The non-linear narrative, splitting up the continuity of the film into alternating colour scenes in reverse order and black-and-white scenes in chronological order, is symbolic of Leonard’s psychologically fragmented perception of the world and of himself. An investigation of what’s really happened to him, leading to the unified narrative at the end, puts the pieces of the puzzle together to reveal Leonard’s real problem.

The crucial element, in working out exactly what Leonard’s problem is, is in another man assumed to have anterograde amnesia: Samuel R. “Sammy” Jankis (played by Stephen Tobolowsky). Leonard’s job, originally, was investigating insurance claims, and Sammy, after being tested, is believed to have a psychological, rather than physical, reason not to be able to make new memories, according to Leonard.

As it turns out, though, “Teddy” in his all-too-blunt honesty tells Leonard that Sammy was simply a faker. Leonard’s ‘memories’ of Sammy repeatedly giving his wife insulin shots, one immediately after the other because she wants to test his memory, and leading to her death by overdose, are really projections of Leonard, after his diabetic wife’s rape and his knock on the head, giving her such a series of insulin shots, killing her.

This raises an important question: is Leonard the one whose inability to make new memories is for psychological, rather than physical, reasons? Has he, inspired by Sammy’s fakery, deluded himself into thinking that the knock he got on the head gave him anterograde amnesia? If so, why?

I’m guessing that he couldn’t bear to see his wife’s suffering, the pain on her face, after the rape. He couldn’t bear to remember her post-rape life, so Sammy inspired him to use his knock on the head, actually not strong enough to have caused brain damage, to give him an excuse to believe he can’t make new memories.

Added to this, his wife’s despair over what’s happened to both of them–from the intruders in their home–has made her suicidal. There’s the trauma of her rape, compounded by the fact that her husband is no longer the man he used to be. He, deep down in his unconscious, wants to put her out of her misery, too…and conveniently for him, he’ll ‘forget’ it. Of course, his repressed guilt that he’s his wife’s real killer drives his delusion of having anterograde amnesia even further.

For if his inability to make new memories is physical, we are left with a number of unanswered questions. He should remember nothing from when he got the hit on the head knocking him unconscious. How does he even know he has his “condition”? Every time a set of memories goes, he should feel as if he’s just woken up, with no idea of how he got from being knocked out in his bathroom after trying to stop his wife’s rapist, to wherever he is at the moment. He has no memory of anyone telling him he has anterograde amnesia.

Another thing: he speaks of how “everything fades” when the memory of a new moment vanishes from his mind. If he doesn’t remember any of these new memories, how does he know that they fade?

To go back to Jonathan Nolan’s short story, it also makes little sense how Earl, forgetting everything approximately every ten minutes, could ever get his revenge off the ground. Even with help, he’d have to spend every one of those ten minutes or so reviewing everything, and then how would he be able to use his, presumably, ever-so-few remaining seconds to advance his plot of revenge…only to have to write the new things all down, then have to spend more of that ever-so-little time reviewing more and more notes? Leonard would have comparable difficulties with his short periods of consciousness.

So, anterograde amnesia in this film should be understood as a metaphor for repression. Leonard isn’t really forgetting all these post-rape experiences: he’s simply pushing them deep down into his unconscious mind. As with all repressed material, though, the new experiences resurface in forms that are unrecognizable to him.

He speaks of a condition that he can’t possibly remember being told he has. He speaks of all new memories fading, when he shouldn’t even be able to remember the fading. What he calls ‘fading’ is really just the process of repression.

The unrecognizable form of his memory of giving his wife the all-too-quickly repeated insulin shots is his projection of that memory onto Sammy, when he has no way of knowing anything about Sammy supposedly giving the excessive shots to his wife.

Other little slips come out, suggesting that deep down, Leonard is remembering more than he lets on to. His angered, paranoid reaction to finding “Teddy” hanging out in the passenger’s seat of his car (Jimmy Grantz’s, actually) suggests that Leonard remembers how “Teddy” has reminded him of the uncomfortable truth that he killed his wife with the insulin, not her rapist, and that it wasn’t Sammy who overdosed his wife.

Leonard appears at Natalie’s house with a photo of Dodd. His asking her, angrily and full of suspicion, about who Dodd is suggests that he has a trace of the memory of her taunting him about how she’ll manipulate his inability to form new memories, of how she spoke abusively about what a “retard” he is, and about his “whore” of a wife, provoking him to hit her and put that cut on her lip.

In fact, when Natalie taunts him by saying his “whore” wife must have gotten a venereal disease from sexual contact with so many men behind his back, and that his getting the disease from her could have caused his anterograde amnesia, he finds this especially triggering. We can connect this trigger with his sticking of a phallic needle into his wife’s thigh, close to her own genitals; his giving her the excessive shots in this way, leading to her death, can be seen as a symbolic rape. This fact dovetails with that tattoo on Earl’s arm: he reads those words himself–I RAPED AND KILLED YOUR WIFE. Remember that Earl is both I and YOU.

Indeed, it’s interesting how, after Leonard kills Jimmy Grantz, he puts the body in the basement of the abandoned building, this basement being symbolic of Leonard’s unconscious; this placing the body there is symbolic of repression. Leonard also puts on Jimmy’s suit and takes his car, symbolically identifying himself with the man he imagines is his wife’s rapist and murderer. We see Leonard in that suit for the vast majority of the coloured sequences in the film, implying that he has been the real killer all along.

Leonard gets triggered when he hears dying Jimmy whisper Sammy’s name; it shouldn’t otherwise matter, since as “Teddy” points out, Leonard tells everybody about Sammy. The implication behind him telling everybody about Sammy is that it is a circuitous kind of confession of his own guilt in killing his wife.

There’s no reason to believe “Teddy” is lying about everything he reveals to Leonard about what really happened to him and his wife, she who survived the attack and therefore wasn’t killed by the intruder in their home. “Teddy” has nothing to gain by lying about any of that; in fact, the ugly truths he reveals, too painful for Leonard to face, ironically cause Leonard to write “DON’T BELIEVE HIS LIES” on his photo for “Teddy,” which in turn ultimately leads to Leonard killing “Teddy.” The fact is, Leonard is the real liar, and he’s projecting his mendacity onto “Teddy.”

The real reason none of his photos or notes can adequately replace his memory is that they’re static: they don’t flow with time, since reality is fluid, not static, so they lack the crucial context needed for their meaning to be correctly interpreted. This lack of context, nonetheless, is convenient for Leonard, since he doesn’t really want to remember, anyway. His notes and photos fool him into thinking he’s remembering what’s essential, but this of course is nonsense. He talks about “facts” being better than memory, but static facts without context are useless.

That ending of the film, when he consciously decides to forget the ugly truth that “Teddy” has told him, is representative of what his unconscious mind does after every so many minutes of each new, post-rape experience. He forgets new things not because he can’t remember them, but because he doesn’t want to. This last scene simply presents that unwillingness to remember–an unwillingness that pervades the whole film–in its most blatant, naked form.

To get back to Jonathan Nolan’s short story again, the narrator, just before the end, says something significant: “Time is an absurdity. an abstraction. The only thing that matters is this moment. This moment a million times over.” In the paragraph before this quote, he says, “Time is three things for most people [i.e., past, present, and future], but for you, for us, just one. A singularity. One moment. This moment.”

These passages remind me of how Buddhists speak of the eternal NOW as the only one time that has any real meaning or existence. The past and future are just mental constructs with no material validity. If we could just ground ourselves in the NOW, and not ruminate over our unhappy pasts or worry about our futures, we’d be happy–we’d have peace.

That Earl would speak of having only the present to live in, with no sense of moving time, always forgetting the (recent) past, he seems to be living a perverse version of this Buddhist wisdom. Of course, neither he nor Leonard will ever, or can ever, attain peace of mind.

Now, his past isn’t completely in a state of oblivion–he still remembers everything up until his wife’s rape, and as I’ve explained, it’s not that he’s forgetting everything after her rape, but rather he’s repressing the post-rape memories–and this lack of complete oblivion makes all the difference. These voids in his mind, from her rape onwards, are repressed traumas that make up the undifferentiated, inexpressible psychic world of what Lacan called the Real.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, the Real–or Bion‘s O–can be traumatic or blissful, depending on one’s attitude towards it. The Buddhist experiences the oblivion of past and future, focusing on the present, as blissful because he lets of of his ego. Earl/Leonard, on the other hand, experiences this oblivion of the Real as traumatic because, apart from not completely forgetting the past, he’s still attached to his egoistic experience of the world.

After all, the whole point of attaining bliss, peace of mind, is to extinguish desire, craving, attachment; but Earl/Leonard is doing the opposite. Our forgetful protagonist not only desires revenge, but is perpetuating the seeking of that revenge by creating an unsolvable mystery… the ever-elusive identity of “John G.” His murderous objet petit a can never be extinguished, because it can never be attained.

In fact, the key to ending his trauma is precisely to remember it, to recall it in all of its excruciating brutality. Yet Earl/Leonard is really just an extreme version of all of us. None of us wants to remember what has hurt us, so we conveniently try to forget our traumas, or we only selectively remember them, cherry-picking what’s comfortable for us and discarding what isn’t.

Our therapists tell us we’ve got to feel the pain in order to heal it…but who wants to do that? Leonard certainly doesn’t want to; that’s why he burns those photos of himself (smiling upon achieving his revenge…or so he thought) and Jimmy. He burns them in the fire of a desire he never wishes to blow out, because Thanatos is his new life.

Not to be, that is his answer.

Analysis of ‘Dr. Strangelove’

I: Introduction

Why I’m analyzing this film now, during these perilous times, should be self-explanatory.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a 1964 black comedy co-written, produced, and directed by Stanley Kubrick. Loosely based on the 1958 thriller novel Red Alert, by Peter George (who, with Terry Southern, co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick), the film stars Peter Sellers (in three roles), George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, and Slim Pickens.

Considered not only one of the best comedies, but also one of the best films in general, of all time, Dr. Strangelove was ranked the third funniest film, and of the best films, ranked #26 in 1998, then #39 in 2007, according to the AFI.

Here is a link to famous quotes from the film, and here is a link to the novel.

II: Sex in a Film about Death

One striking thing noticed as early as the opening credits, and recurring in various forms throughout the film, is the use of sexual themes and symbolism. That phallic/yonic refuelling of planes in midair is obvious. There’s Major T.J. “King” Kong (Pickens) reading a Playboy magazine (the cover of which shows seminude Tracey Reed, who as the only [and, of course, totally objectified] female in the movie, also plays Miss Scott, the bikini-clad, high-heeled secretary and mistress of General Buck Turgidson [Scott]). Other examples of sexual themes will be mentioned later.

What is interesting about sexuality permeating a film dealing with the threat of annihilation of all life on Earth is what this paradox could mean. Desire gives rise (pardon the expression) to sex, which brings about life. Hate, fear, and egotism have given rise to the Bomb, which ends all life.

Desire, understood in the Lacanian sense, is caused by lack, specifically that of the symbolic castration a boy experiences in not being able to be the phallus for the Oedipally-desired mother, a privation coming from le Non! du père. The child, as he’s growing up, tries to replace the mother (the unfulfillable objet petit a) with any other woman he can find. Any threat to the satisfaction of his desire will trigger the original narcissistic trauma of the Oedipus complex.

The triggering of such a trauma is the basis of how to understand the madness of Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Hayden), whose comical name change–from that of his serious equivalent in George’s novel, General Quinten–is apt, given how his namesake, the misogynistic serial killer, mutilated the abdomens of prostitutes, removing internal organs. If one can’t have the object of one’s desire, one will destroy it. In this, we can resolve the paradox of sex and killing in the film.

Ripper’s paranoia about “the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify [sic] all of our precious bodily fluids” (in his case, his semen) is this symbolic castration. He’s afraid that the commies will make him less of a man, like Daddy keeping him, as a little boy, from having his mother. Such a humiliating infantilization is intolerable. Male insecurity thus threatens all life on Earth.

III: The Turds of Turgidson

Parallel to Ripper’s experience is that of Turgidson, whose sexual encounter with Miss Scott is interrupted by his summons to the War Room. The wish to kill is caused by the failure to get laid.

More insights into Turgidson’s personality can be gleaned right from that first scene of his with his mistress. Not only is he using the bathroom, meaning she has to answer the phone for him, but he’s in there for quite a while, making it safe to assume that he’s taking a shit. While the comical name “Turgidson” indicates his turgid personality (i.e., he’s bombastic, something immediately apparent in the way Kubrick manipulated Scott into playing the role in the over-the-top way we see him do it), I also hear in his name a pun on “turd son.” Now, “turd” and “turgid” lead to my next point.

His very first act in the film is crapping. He therefore has what Freudians would call an anally-expulsive character, which means someone given to such traits as cruelty, emotional outbursts, disorganization, ambition, conceit, suspicion, rebelliousness, and carelessness. We see all these traits, in one form or another, in Turgidson. He’s someone who liberally ‘lets it all out,’ as opposed to the tight-fisted, orderly, and fastidious anal retentive who ‘holds it all in.’

It should be noted, in connection with anal expulsiveness, that dropping bombs can be symbolic of dropping turds. The anally-expulsive cruelty, ambition, conceit, and carelessness of nuclear war amounts to shitting on the enemy. As a pre-genital fixation, anal expulsiveness can also be understood as the result of sexual frustration seen not only in Turgidson’s having to leave his mistress for the War Room, but also in Ripper (as in ‘ripper of farts’) not wanting any sapping of his “precious bodily fluids.” Note Karl Abraham‘s comments on the association of defecation with “enormous power” (PDF, page 6), which can be seen as a narcissistic reaction against the loss of sexual potency or opportunity.

Such anal fixations, understand, are a manifestation of erotic feeling (“anal erotism”), from the anal stage of psychosexual development, and therefore they are an example of the film’s link between sexuality and nuclear annihilation. (Now, if you, Dear Reader, consider Freud to be a heap of hooey, understand that his ideas were more in vogue at the time of the making of Dr. Strangelove, and therefore psychoanalytic interpretations of it are valid. Besides, I’m not concerned with the scientific accuracy of these theories; I’m merely using them for their symbolic value.)

IV: The Main Characters

We ought now to look at the three characters Peter Sellers plays: an Englishman (Group Captain Lionel Mandrake), an American (President Merkin Muffley), and a German (Dr. Strangelove, or Merkwürdigliebe). The nationalities of these three characters is significant in how they represent not only Anglo-American, western imperialism, but also another element of North European origin–a German immigrant whose Nazi proclivities personify Operation Paperclip. That the same actor would play all three characters strongly implies the sameness of all three countries in their roles in the Cold War.

Mandrake is the stereotypically reserved, timid Brit. Dr. Strangelove’s maniacal Naziism, to the point of his alien hand syndrome (i.e., his involuntary Nazi saluting), suggests self-alienation (i.e., Muffley, to whom he gives his salutes, is Strangelove’s metaphorical mirror–played by the same actor–and therefore his narcissistic ideal-I“Mein Führer!”) and psychological fragmentation resulting from his extreme, fascistic, narcissistic defence of capitalism. Muffley is less comical, except for the sexual suggestiveness of “merkin” and Muffley, implying a male sexual inadequacy similar to that of Turgidson and Ripper.

Along with the British and German stereotypes of Mandrake and Strangelove, there’s also the American cowboy stereotype of Pickens’ Major Kong. Pickens practically played himself in the movie, to paraphrase a comment James Earl Jones (who played Lieutenant Lothar Zogg, the B-52’s bombardier) made of Pickens.

Since this movie was made by liberals, they couldn’t of course limit their satirical stereotyping to targets of the West; so they made sure to make fun of Russians, too. When Muffley talks on the phone with Russian Premier Dmitri Kissov, the latter is drunk…naturally. Furthermore, according to Ripper, Russians drink vodka instead of water.

V: The Plot (and Current-day Parallels)

Now, as for the plot, to show detail by detail how relevant this film is for our time, I’ll parallel what happens in it with recent events. It doesn’t matter that Kubrick, George, and Southern had no foreknowledge of today’s geopolitical tensions: nuclear brinksmanship is as insane an idea now as it was then, and it’s driven by the same basic motives: paranoia, lust for global dominance, and ambition…regardless of whether Russia is communist or capitalist.

Ripper (Quinten in the novel, remember), in his madness, orders a nuclear strike on Russia, claiming that it’s in retaliation for a strike against the US that hasn’t happened. The US/NATO, deceiving the global media for years about “Russian aggression,” have expanded NATO right up to Russia’s border, put NATO troops there to do military exercises in obvious preparation for war, have been trying to get Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO, achieved a coup against the government of Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 (replacing it with one including neo-Nazis), and provoked a Russian intervention in Ukraine, all increasing the likelihood of a nuclear WWIII (read this for more details; scroll down towards the end).

Next, Ripper ensures that all communications are cut off, making it impossible for the president to recall the planes. An interesting parallel to this in today’s predicament is in how, alongside the heavy sanctions and wanton discrimination against all things Russian, there has also been a draconian censoring of all Russian media, including the shutting down of media sources merely associated with the likes of, say, RT (e.g., Lee Camp‘s ‘Redacted Tonight’).

Just as the inability to recall the planes, to tell them to call off the attack, heightens the danger of nuclear war in the film, so does denying the Russians of today the right to tell their side of the story in the war with Ukraine heighten the danger of a nuclear WWIII. For if everyone in the world just mindlessly and uncritically goes along with the ‘Putin bad’ narrative, such one-sidedness more easily manufactures consent for war with Russia, which can pull in its ally, China. These two countries’ nukes, combined with those of their provocateurs, the US/NATO, spell disaster for all of us on the planet.

The ‘Putin bad’ narrative is every bit as much propaganda as any ‘Putin blameless’ narrative would be; this is why both sides of the story must be allowed to be freely expressed–the combined two will bring balance and could very well lead to a much-needed détente. The war-mongering Western imperialists, the Jack D. Rippers of today, don’t want that détente. They keep funnelling weapons to Ukrainian neo-Nazis, Facebook is ‘temporarily’ allowing the incitement to violence against Russia and defence of the Azov Battalion, and the US/NATO, instead of militarily helping Ukraine, is allowing this war to be protracted in the hopes of slowly bleeding out Russia à la Brzezinski (i.e., the Soviet/Afghan War of the 1980s).

VI: One-sidedness and Chatting on the Phone

With this one-sidedness of communication in Dr. Strangelove comes a recurring motif: chatting on the telephone. Indeed, the tagline for the film is “the hot-line suspense comedy,” seen on the theatrical release poster showing two men on the phone.

Miss Scott, Turgidson’s secretary/mistress, chats on the phone in his place with the one who needs him in the War Room. Ripper phones Mandrake about the strike on the USSR. Later, Mandrake needs to contact the president by pay phone to tell him the three-letter recall code. And there is that hilarious phone conversation between Muffley and Kissov.

Showing all these phone calls means hearing only the voice of the speaker in the room, not the speaker on the other end. This presentation of the phone conversations symbolizes the one-sidedness of communication that is bad for keeping the peace. This one-sidedness is so much at the root of all war: a failure to listen, to empathize with the needs of the other side.

Consider the absurdity of Muffley’s call to Kissov, how awkward it is for the former to tell the latter that one of his generals “did a silly thing” and attacked the USSR. The hilarious climax to this ridiculous conversation is the competition between the two heads of state as to who is sorrier than the other for the crisis. Even an apology can be turned into a fight.

VII: The Idiocy of Pushing for Nuclear Armageddon

George’s novel tells the story as a serious thriller, but the film improves on the tension through the ironic use of black comedy; for only comedy can send the message home of the madness of nuclear brinksmanship. Only an idiot would risk the annihilation of all life on Earth just to get “the Russkies.”

Part of the idiocy in taking such a risk is the belief that, somehow, the West can hit Russia with such thorough force that a retaliatory attack can be prevented, and therefore only the enemy will be wiped out, the West suffering no losses, or suffering minimal losses. In other words, there is the chimeric hope that a sizeable portion of life on Earth will survive.

This hope of surviving life is part of what the film’s sexual themes represent, as they are juxtaposed with the themes of death and destruction. The penile-vaginal symbolism of the plane refuelling at the beginning of Dr. Strangelove is the refuelling of a B-52 bomber. The very name of the film suggests sexual perversity, one that I’ve theorized of as being a regression to a pre-genital libido, the anal stage, when satisfying the genital stage‘s libido has been frustrated (Ripper, Turgidson). Added to this is grinning Strangelove as he discusses the polygynous arrangements to repopulate the Earth underground after the nuclear holocaust.

Turgidson’s optimistic estimates of ‘only’ twenty million people killed, as against 150 million people killed–that is, from the US hitting the USSR without the latter’s retaliation, as opposed to a US hit with that retaliation–is another example of this absurd hope of preserving life after a nuclear holocaust. With this comes the cruel one-sidedness of thinking that only American lives matter, not Russian ones.

This absurd hope of life after nuking is satirized beautifully at the end, with the song “We’ll Meet Again” playing during the showing of a series of mushroom clouds indicating the wiping out of all life on Earth, symbolic phallic ejaculations, or droppings of turds splashing in the toilet bowl water. These paradoxical juxtapositions–sexuality vs destruction, and genital vs anal eroticism–symbolize the foolish hope of life after nuclear war.

Among the things that saved us from nuclear war during the Cold War, apart from the sheer luck of evading a number of close calls, was the understanding of Mutual Assured Destruction, having the apt acronym of MAD. Yet some in recent years have been advocating the making of more nukes in the US to counter the supposed double threat of Russia and China. And some in the American government actually think a nuclear war against Russian and China can be won.

VIII: The Attempt to Apprehend Ripper

An attempt is made, in the novel as well as in the film, by the American military to penetrate the base where the mad general is and get the recall code from him. Seeing the sign, “Peace is our Profession” (the actual slogan of SAC!), reinforces the absurd contradiction noted before of sex and death, and of the genitals and the anus. That hope of fighting wars to establish peace is no less chimeric than that of life after the use of nukes.

Some of the firing on the base results in bullets going through the windows of Ripper’s office, where he not only brings over a large, phallic machine gun to fire back with, but he also congratulates the soldiers shooting at him for putting up a good fight. The firing of guns is symbolically like ejaculating phalli, especially for Ripper, who I believe is firing back at his attackers more out of a wish to demonstrate, symbolically speaking, his sexual prowess than out of a wish to defeat the enemy. Significantly, it’s during this time that he tells Mandrake how he devised his “bodily fluids” theory “during the physical act of love.”

Ripper’s bizarre theory of fluoridation as a ‘commie plot’ (actually, it began in the US to reduce tooth decay) covers what suspiciously sounds like his fears of losing sexual potency. His self-assurance of the “power” that “women sense” in him sounds like a reaction formation against his fears of his waning sexual power (after all, Ripper would be in at least his late 40s).

IX: Ripper, the Chinese King?

His ideas about “purity of essence” actually sound like old Chinese notions of , “virtue” (but also magical power), which was something an old Chinese king, or so it was believed, needed to have nourished and perpetuated in himself through a large number of female sexual partners–namely, his queen, consorts, wives, and concubines (Gulik, pages 12 and 17).

Sex for the Chinese not only resulted in the birth of needed sons to continue the family line in the old patrilineal system; it was also said to strengthen the man’s vitality (his yang-essence) by making him absorb the woman’s yin-essence. To maximize his vitality, he’d stay inside her, getting her yin-essence, while practicing coitus reservatus (Gulik, page 46). So when Ripper says he denies women his essence, it sounds as if he’s emulating the old Chinese practice, as a kind of narcissistic identifying with the Chinese emperors; when actually, as I suspect, he simply can’t come.

X: Quinten’s Projective Motives

In the novel, Quinten’s reason for ordering the nuclear strike is in reaction to the many atrocities he claims himself or others to have seen communists perpetrate (Chapter 11, PDF pages 82-90). When he speaks of Mongolians raping any females aged six to sixty, or of the Soviet tanks rolling into Hungary and firing at crowds of helpless women and children, or of the Soviet willingness to strike the first blow, Quinten is engaging in pure projection.

American soldiers were sexually exploiting South Korean women from the Korean War onwards in their military occupation of the area. They bombed every inch of North Korea, killing helpless civilians; and they struck the first nuclear blows, ever, on Japan, not even a socialist state. Quinten talks the usual rubbish about Americans never initiating nuclear war, yet he has done exactly that.

He speaks of the Soviet lust for world domination, yet the US and NATO have continued with that very lusting long after the dissolution of the Soviet Union: all one has to see is what the Western alliance has done to Yugoslavia and Libya, as well as how they’ve been provoking Russia by expanding eastward. The US will never accept a multipolar world, sharing power with Russia and China, because the US wants unipolarity to be permanent–in other words, they want world domination.

In spite of the contrast between Ripper’s comical motives to start nuclear war and Quinten’s serious, if hypocritical, ones, we can actually fuse them. The neurotic need to maintain American political dominance over the world can be linked to the insecure male need to maintain sexual virility. This is why I associated Ripper’s obsession with “purity of essence” with Chinese emperors’ maintaining of the yang-essence with a maximum of female lovers and through coitus reservatus. In denying women his essence, Ripper can feel like a Chinese king. Similarly, in wiping out the Soviet Union, he in his madness thinks he’ll achieve “peace on Earth,” imagining the lack of an enemy will make war a thing of the past. “Peace on Earth” through “purity of essence”…through this, Mandrake has found the recall code.

XI: Ripper’s Suicide

Ripper succumbs to despair when he realizes that his soldiers’ defence of Burpelson Base has failed, and that he’ll be apprehended, probably tortured, and forced to give up the recall code. What’s interesting is that he has succumbed to this despair just after having discussed his obsession with “purity of essence” with Mandrake, and telling him how it relates to his sexual prowess with women.

Since, as I mentioned above, his boasting of his “power” over women is really a reaction formation hiding his lack of such power, I suspect that his despair comes from realizing that he feels he’s a failure as a man; his true, repressed motives have returned to consciousness. His soldiers’ failure to defend the base reinforces that sense of failure in his mind, so he kills himself.

What anal expulsion (including the ripping of farts), ejaculation, and even the burps of Burpelson Base can be seen to symbolize is not only the projection of what is bad in oneself, but also the projective identification of that badness. As I said above, so much of the evil Quinten sees in communism is just a projection of the evils of US/NATO imperialism; and since projective identification involves provoking the receiver of the projections to manifest essentially the same evils, then it’s easy to see how Ripper’s/Quinten’s nuclear strike can, or actually does, provoke a retaliatory strike from Russia.

XII: Splitting–Retaining the White and Expelling the Black

Since Ripper’s retention of his semen, the denial of his “essence,” during his lovemaking is, in his narcissistic imagination, his retaining of what is good in him, we see in his attitude the need to keep what’s good inside oneself and the need to expel what’s bad.

This retention of what’s good in oneself (semen) and expulsion of what’s bad (shit, flatulence) is rooted in a psychological state that Melanie Klein called the paranoid-schizoid position. It’s “schizoid” because it involves splitting everything into absolute good and absolute bad (black and white), then keeping the good and expelling the bad; it’s “paranoid” because there’s a fear of the bad returning to oneself (in Ripper’s/Quinten’s case, the fear of a Soviet nuclear attack based on the wish to attack the Soviets).

A healthy mind, however, can see the inner and outer worlds as being a mix of good and bad, not a white inside and a black outside. Men like Ripper and Turgidson, in their paranoia about “commies,” fail to understand this ambiguous reality, what Klein called the depressive position. Ripper, though, in his suicidal despair, acknowledging he’ll have to answer for what he’s done, has finally come to understand that he has some evil inside himself, and his attempt to expel that evil, to dump nuclear turds, so to speak, on Russia, will never purify him of that evil. Hence, his suicide.

Projective identification onto the USSR is successful, however, not only through the Soviets making their own nukes, but also in their creation of the “doomsday device,” which has been inspired by the Americans’ apparent creation of a similar device, something the Soviet ambassador, Alexei de Sadeski (played by Peter Bull), says the Soviets learned of from reading the New York Times. In the novel, the equivalent of the doomsday device is a group of nuclear bombs in the Ural Mountains.

XIII: “Preverts”

Colonel Bat Guano (played by Keenan Wynn) comes into Ripper’s office and points his rifle at Mandrake. As he’s taking Mandrake out of the office and they reach a pay telephone, he says he imagines that Mandrake and his followers were being “preverts.” This fits in not only with the sexual themes of the film in general, but it is also another link between Mandrake and Sellers’s third character, Strangelove, if only in name.

Lacking sufficient pocket change for the pay phone, Mandrake tells Guano to fire at a nearby Coke machine. That Guano, a military man, is concerned about damaging private property is a reminder to us all that during the Cold War, Western armies worked for capitalists, not mere government. Armies for the most part still do so today.

Speaking of sexual themes (in a symbolic sense, at least), when Guano fires holes into the Coke machine and the coins come falling out, he bends down to pick them up, but gets a facial from Coke spraying on him from one of the holes he’s shot bullets into.

In effect, a money shot.

Does this make him, at least symbolically speaking, one of the “preverts”? Mandrake never was one: did Guano project his “preversion” onto Mandrake?

In any case, this ejaculation of coins has made it possible for Mandrake to call the president and tell him the recall code, which as it turns out is correct. The bomber planes have all been either recalled or shot down by the Soviets…all of them, that is, except for Major Kong’s plane, which has only been damaged.

XIV: A Constipated Plane?

The plane has reached the point where it’s supposed to drop a nuke, but damage to the plane has made it unable to release the bomb; so Kong has to go down to where the bombs are and fix the problem.

To go back to a discussion of how dropping bombs can be symbolic of defecating, we can see–in Kong’s problem getting the bomb to be released–not only the symbolism of constipation, and of anal retentiveness as opposed to anal expulsion, but also the genital symbolism of someone–like Ripper, as I’ve speculated–who can’t come.

As Karl Abraham once noted (PDF, page 6), “If we recognize in the child’s pride in evacuation a primitive feeling of power we can understand the peculiar feeling of helplessness we so often find in neurotically constipated patients. Their libido has been displaced from the genital to the anal zone, and they deplore the inhibition of the bowel function just as though it were a genital impotence.”

Later, Abraham says (PDF, page 11), “In individuals with more or less impaired genitality we regularly find an unconscious tendency to regard the anal function as the productive activity, and to make it appear as if the genital activity were unessential and the anal one far more important.” Then (PDF, page 12), “certain neurotics…retain the contents of the bowel or bladder as long as they possibly can. When finally they yield to the need that has become too strong for them there is no further holding back, and they evacuate the entire contents. A fact to be particularly noted here is that there is a double pleasure, that of holding back the excreta, and that of evacuating it. The essential difference between the two forms of pleasure lies in the protracted nature of the process in the one case, and in its rapid course in the other.”

These elements that Abraham spoke of tie in with the sexual dysfunction I find in Ripper, as well as the sexual frustration of Turgidson in not being able to be with his mistress; they also tie in with Kong’s initial frustration with the bomb, and with his ultimate, triumphant joy in finally releasing it, him cheering as he’s going down with it. We see in the hilarious, iconic shot, his riding the dropping bomb like a man riding his lover, but also the symbolic pleasure of the final release of faeces. The anal and genital zones are thus fused.

This fusion of genital and anal symbolism reflects the neurotic Western capitalist need to be always dominant, and to hog all pleasure to oneself. If one can’t have the pleasure, one must destroy everything. If Ripper can’t have his “purity of essence,” then he must nuke the world. The dominant crapper must rule the world from…the throne.

XV: Underground

So, the film ends with a discussion in the War Room about how to ensure the survival of the human race, underground in mine shafts, after the nuclear holocaust and the global spread of nuclear fallout from the doomsday device over 93 years. Dr. Strangelove recommends a ratio of one man to every group of ten “highly stimulating” women, to breed and repopulate the Earth for when the 93 years are over. Again, we have a juxtaposition of death and sex.

The underground has multiple symbolic meanings. As the ‘bowels of the Earth,’ so to speak, the underground can represent the intestines and the rectum, so we return to our anal symbolism. The “prodigious” breeding that will go on underground, since there will be little else to do, provides the erotic aspect. The breeding human race will be retained underground for the 93 years, until finally let out, expelled, to return to the surface and enjoy the relief therefrom; in this experience, symbolically, we have a fusion of genital and anal eroticism.

The underground is also symbolic of the Underworld, the land of the dead–Sheol, Hades, Hell, a world resulting from the death caused by the nuclear holocaust. Yet prodigious breeding, the creation of life, will be happening there, so we have a juxtaposition of death and life, paralleling that of the anus and genitals, and of shit and the yang-essence…the ejaculation of semen.

A third symbolism of the underground mine shafts is the unconscious mind, where all the repressed drives dwell. These drives would be Eros, the life instincts that include libido, and Thanatos, the death drive.

Now, dreams, the interpretation of which is “the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind,” involve wish-fulfillment. This is why Dr. Strangelove is grinning lewdly as he describes this underground orgy: he, deep down in his mind, fantasizes about being part of the fun. This unconscious is also expressed in slips of the tongue and other parapraxes, such as his accidentally addressing the president as “Mein Führer” (which reinforces the connection between the ultra-capitalist US and fascism), as well as his (involuntary?) Nazi salutes.

Yet another thing that should be mentioned, in connection with the underground mine shafts as a place to survive the nuclear fallout, is that in real life, the super-rich currently have underground bunkers in anticipation of a nuclear WWIII. This should help explain the recklessness with which the US and NATO have been tempting fate with Russia and China. Again, they imagine they’ll survive, while they don’t care the tiniest, most contemptible bit that all of the rest of us will die horribly from their irresponsible scheming.

XVI: Conclusion

The ironic difference between the bitterly comedic ending of Dr. Strangelove and the serious but happy ending of Red Alert–in which one is relieved to have just barely prevented nuclear war–is that the former ends with a trivializing spirit of levity towards nuclear brinksmanship that results in a nuclear holocaust, while in the latter, only the most serious commitment to preventing nuclear war will save us. The film is superior to the novel, in my opinion, because of the former’s emphasis on how human foolishness will kill us all, and preventing that foolishness depends, in large part, on our being made aware of that folly.

So, like Ripper and Turgidson, the Western imperialists of today desire more and more (e.g., more and more countries added to NATO, and therefore more and more resources to plunder–Operation Barbarossa redux), and if they don’t get to have what they want (i.e., the growing power of Russia and China sapping the West of its power), then to hell with everybody (nuclear brinksmanship leading to nuclear war).

So many of us around the world, however, are too distracted by social media, and whatever the current outrage or crisis is, to take seriously the dangers that provoking Russia and China will lead to. We hate whoever the media tells us to hate without looking deeper into the historical context that has led to the crisis.

The Western governments project the evil within themselves onto external bogeymen, thinking such expulsions will rid them of what’s wrong inside them, like Turgidson’s expulsions on the toilet. Conversely, instead of sending out goodness to everyone else, the ruling class denies us its “essence,” like Ripper with his coitus reservatus. Hence, the toiling masses in the West are denied basic necessities while being told to blame it all on Putin or Xi Jinping instead of looking inward and fighting for social justice.

Meanwhile, the world keeps inching closer and closer to its end, if not by nuclear war, then by environmental self-destruction. People can’t even recognize real Nazis anymore. So we try to crap out our problems while refraining from…coming…to our senses.

Hope is running out, folks.

We have to stop letting the dicks of the Earth tell us how to think.

So, please…let’s not be assholes about this.

Satanist?

I’ve been getting a fair amount of trolling lately for my more overtly political articles.

First, I got called an “extremist” Marxist, and this comment was on an article in which my criticism of capitalism was quite mild. Then, in response to the article (first link above) in which I defended my “extremist” leftism, I got a particularly grumpy comment.

He called my article a bunch of “garbage,” and repeated the usual propaganda (which my article had already explained away) about the suffering of those in the socialist states whom the bourgeoisie usually weep for (all the while ignoring, as usual, the many millions more who have suffered and died under capitalism). He was particularly irked by my comment that included Solzhenitsyn among writers of “fiction,” a generalization I’d qualified as both literal and figurative, directly and indirectly so, though my qualifications seemed to have been ignored.

He then went on about me being “delusional” for having my political views (he, of course, is utterly free of delusion of any kind), and he ended off his mini-rant by saying…get this…I’m “probably also a Satanist.”

The melodrama of this new label makes “extremist” sound…well…moderate.

To any right-wingers out there who happen to be reading this at the moment: calling me a “Satanist” is not going to hurt my feelings, let alone discourage me from having the left-wing beliefs I have, or from promoting them. What the commenter had said prior to this new label might be hurtful on some level (my considering the source easily mitigating such hurt), but using such a ridiculous word quickly deflated what little force his counterargument originally had. Really–I chuckled at having been called a “Satanist.” Who was he, some Bible-thumper?

More importantly, what was meant by “Satanist”? Does he literally believe every commie out there worships the Devil just because we don’t buy into all that neoliberal crap about the “free market,” TINA, and anti-communist propaganda?

(Incidentally, actual Satanism is nowhere near as shocking as most of us have been led to believe.)

Or by “Satanist,” did he have a more metaphorical meaning? Was he just saying that I, as a communist, am espousing some kind of heinous, inhuman evil? Did he, so typical of Christian fundamentalists, imagine that people of my political persuasion are unwittingly worshipping the Devil in the form of idols of “the god that failed”? Am I unwittingly helping bring about the Satanic NWO?

Egad.

Let’s just go through all the ‘evils’ that I espouse.

According to this troll (my deleting of whose comment can be seen as a compassionate preserving of him from having embarrassed himself):

If you advocate lifting the Third World out of poverty, you’re a Satanist.

If you advocate free housing, education, and healthcare for all, you’re a Satanist.

If you advocate ending world hunger, you worship the Devil.

If you advocate ending all wars and imperialism, you’re evil incarnate.

If you advocate equal rights for women, people of colour, LGBT people, etc., you love Satan.

If you advocate employment for all, but wage slavery for none, you have horns and hooves.

By the same logic, the following result from Christian virtue: leaving the Third World in poverty and despair, allowing homelessness to continue existing, and keeping education and healthcare too expensive for the poor. Other Christian virtues, apparently, include allowing people around the world to die by the millions of malnutrition, when we produce enough food to feed them all, and have been able to do so for a long time (in this connection, recall Matthew 25:31-46).

Also, it’s apparently Christian to allow all the imperialist wars to continue (remember Matthew 5:9). It’s also Christian to oppose equality for women, people of colour, and LGBT people (no irony this time). And finally, one is a good, God-fearing citizen if one advocates for a reserve army of labour to keep wages down.

Now, as for the more metaphorical meaning of “Satanist,” we must look into the psychology of those paranoiacs who imagine that communism is part of a grand scheme to bring about a “one-world government,” deemed to be the greatest evil and tyranny possible (as if it were even possible to establish one, or that many governments in the world were less evil and tyrannical, or that they couldn’t actually be worse).

These people, especially if they’re Christian fundamentalists, tend to deflect blame for the world’s problems from capitalist imperialism onto such scapegoats as Jews, Freemasons, and communists (and in doing so, they tend to show a thinly veiled sympathy for Naziism). In denying the fault of the world’s problems as that of the economic system they defend, and in putting the blame on the shoulders of these scapegoats, these paranoiacs are engaging in projection, just as I observed in my article about the “extremist” communist as a projection of the capitalist extremist.

Another defence mechanism to be noted in the thinking of these paranoiacs is splitting. Just as with the Christian dualism of God vs Satan, these people have a black-and-white, dichotomous view of anyone who thinks differently from them. So if you espouse socialism, you’re an “extremist” and a “Satanist,” rather than simply someone who opposes capitalism. (For a more thorough examination of the psychology of the capitalist, go here. And for a more thorough defence of Marxism-Leninism, go here, here, and here.)

As for my branding of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn‘s writing as “fiction,” a number of things must be kept in mind. First of all, he did write fiction: here‘s a list of his novels. True, he also wrote ‘non-fiction,’ though I’d take his biases as a historian with a generous grain of salt.

The Gulag Archipelago, among his most famous writing, though understood to be non-fiction, was described by no less than his ex-wife, Natalya Reshetovskaya, as “folkloric and frequently…mythical.” She implied that he exaggerated the hellish existence in Russian prison camps (which even the CIA secretly acknowledged as not being anywhere near as bad as the media has portrayed them); she also said that he was “an egomaniac who brought government censorship upon himself with his searing criticism of the Soviet system.” The book’s very subtitle, An Experiment in Literary Investigation, sounds suspiciously like an admission to its (at least partial) fictionality.

During WWII, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and sentenced to eight years in the Gulag for having written a letter criticizing Stalin. On the surface, this naturally would sound like an excessive punishment for mere political dissidence. One must, however, see his offence in its proper historical context. At that time, the Soviet Union was in an existential, life-and-death war with the Nazis, and Stalin’s government had not too many years before dealt with traitors who were trying to tear apart the first workers’ state from the inside.

Solzhenitsyn, an avowed Russian nationalist, surely should have supported the Great Patriotic War with all his heart, and even if he had a few points of ideological disagreement with Stalin, her surely should have been prudent enough to refrain from discussing such points for the time being, in favour of supporting the military campaign against the invading Nazis. Surely this would have been so…unless at least a part of him, consciously or unconsciously, supported that invasion. Because of this suspicion, some of us on the left feel it’s at least understandable to imagine Solzhenitsyn as having had fascist leanings.

And though he was anti-Soviet, even he was irked to see how the neoliberal capitalist West had weakened his beloved Mother Russia in the 1990s. And from what had been done then to what is happening there now, as well as between Nazi threats to Russia then and Nazi threats there now, we must move on to the next topic of discussion.

The historic relationship between Ukraine and Russia is complicated. Parts of Ukraine, originally Russian–including Crimea and the Donbas region–were added to Ukraine when it was an SSR. Some Ukrainians, going back to WWII, have had nationalistic feelings approaching, bordering on, or lapsing into fascist sympathies.

Their hero is Stepan Bandera, a far-right Ukrainian nationalist and Nazi collaborator back in WWII. The extremists among these Ukrainian nationalists, while also hating the usual groups–Jews, the Roma, LGBT people, and feminists–have an especial hate for Russians. Such is the historical context in which such far-right Ukrainian groups as the Azov Battalion and Svoboda should be understood today.

NATO, never a friend to Russia, is an extension of US imperialism. Even anti-communists should be able to acknowledge that this Western pact hasn’t needed to exist since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Yet here it is, NATO, stronger than ever, and right on Russia’s north-western border, with troops doing military exercises there.

Though on the reunification of East and West Germany, Gorbachev was promised that NATO wouldn’t move “an inch” to the East, it has most certainly moved much more than that. Democratically elected Viktor Yanukovych, leaning towards Russia (unacceptably so, in the opinion of the West), was ousted in a violent coup d’état in 2014, replacing his government with a pro-US/NATO one including the above-mentioned neo-Nazis.

These neo-Nazis, given generous amounts of weapons from the West, have been killing ethnic Russians in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine for the past eight years; the death toll is up to 14,000 Russians. The Nazi-influenced Ukrainian government has banned the Russian language, taken down statues of Soviet heroes, banned communism and glorified fascist leaders. The Nazis have attacked the Roma, LGBT people, and feminists as well as the ethnic Russians.

The biased Western media denies the significance of neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine based on their relatively small percentage (though their influence has been huge) and the fact that Zelenskyy is a Jew (incidentally, if he does anything against the wishes of the neo-Nazis [i.e., make peace with Russia], they’ll kill him). That a Jew would never collaborate with Nazis is refuted by the fact that, among other unsettling facts, Trotsky was willing to do so to oust Stalin.

The dishonest liberal Western media, in its disingenuous denial of Nazi influence in Ukraine–implicitly supporting them–reminds us of what Stalin once said: “Social democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism.” Now, social democracy is the left wing of liberalism; so if social democracy is moderate with respect to fascism, liberalism, right-wing libertarianism, and conservatism in general are all that much closer to fascism.

Putin tried everything to deescalate the tense situation in Ukraine, in which the totally disregarded Minsk accords were meant to end the violence. The US/NATO and Ukraine government wouldn’t budge when he reasonably insisted on such security assurances as Ukraine not joining the inimical NATO, which would point weapons at Russia. All of the above provides the context needed for understanding why Putin intervened in Ukraine.

For my part, I hate all war, I wish this intervention (tankies‘ sheepish euphemism for invasion) could have been prevented, and I feel bad for all the innocent, ordinary Ukrainian civilians caught in the middle of this conflict. That said, though, it’s the fault of the US and NATO that the war has happened, not the fault of “Russian aggression.” When the Western media claims Putin was “unprovoked,” they’re lying.

As for Putin, he’s far from representing my political ideal. He’s the leader of a reactionary bourgeois government; today’s Russia is nothing like the Soviet Union, and he doesn’t want to bring it back. Still, he’s nowhere near the imperialistic “Hitler” the Western media is calling him, a truly silly claim (Russia as a whole is by no means imperialist, in the Leninist sense, either); and sanctioning all things Russian, and all this censorship and banning of all Russian media, is showing how increasingly undemocratic the West has become.

Now, since it’s no use crying over spilt milk, we should instead hope for the best possible outcome of this conflict: may it end as quickly as possible (not likely, given the insistence of the US, NATO, and the Ukrainian neo-Nazis wanting it to continue), may the US and NATO back off (again unlikely, for obvious reasons), and most important of all, wipe out those neo-Nazis!

No reasonable person wants war of any kind, but to resolve this issue, we must think dialectically. Any ratcheting up of hostilities against Russia (and, by extension, against China) could easily escalate into WWIII, which in turn could go nuclear. In smearing Putin for his intervention, the Western corporate media is trying to manufacture consent for a bigger war against Russia and her ally, China. This is dangerous, and it must be avoided at all costs. To stop the big war, we’ll have to let the little war run its course, and hope for the best.

The US and NATO don’t care about the suffering of Ukrainians any more than they care about the suffering of those in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Yemen. Ukraine, for the imperialists, is just another pawn on the chessboard for their scheme to prevent the emergence of a much-desired multipolar world, one that would deny American global hegemony.

All of this leads me back to my point about ‘Satanist’ politics. Those who believe in an emerging “new world order,” that is, those on the political right, tend to believe it’s a secret, Satanic cabal that is orchestrating the whole thing, step by step. They imagine that a confederacy of Jews, Freemasons, and communists (note the implied bigotry) are conspiring to rule the world with the establishment of one, global government. What they fail to understand is that the real new world order has existed ever since the fall of global communism thirty years ago.

So if one wishes to know who the real ‘Satanists’ are (I refer to that metaphorical meaning given above), one need look no further than the neoliberal capitalists in the American government and NATO. We communists are bitterly opposed to these ‘Satanists,’ whose love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). All capitalist bootlickers who, however unwittingly, are supporting an economic system that unswervingly leads to imperialism, should realize that, in calling us leftists ‘Satanists,’ they are engaging in the same projection I said previously of those who call us “extremists.”

The unipolar world is run by the US and NATO. Their economic system isn’t socialism, it’s “free market” neoliberal capitalism. Allowing for the emergence of Russia and China will replace unipolarity with multipolarity, something the American empire will never tolerate.

These people who see people like me as ‘Satanists’ don’t want to look inside themselves, see what is psychologically broken in themselves (i.e., their alienation), and understand that supporting–directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly–fascism and nuclear brinksmanship is about as Satanic as Satanic gets. Because supporting these evils in our already tense world is going to get everybody…EVERYBODY…killed.

As for us commies, who want to end the wars, end corporate greed, feed the world, provide housing, education, and healthcare for all, and–far from establishing a one-world government–hope for the eventual withering away of the state…if wanting these things makes us ‘Satanists,’ then I don’t want to be ‘Godly.’

And to you right-wing trolls, by all means, keep your snarky comments coming. Far from discouraging me, you’re actually inspiring me to write up new blog posts. It really helps me.

Hail Satan!

Analysis of ‘The Fly’

I: Introduction

The Fly is a 1958 horror/science fiction film produced and directed by Kurt Neumann. It stars Vincent Price, Patricia Owens, David Hedison, and Herbert Marshall. The screenplay was written by James Clavell, based on the 1957 George Langelaan short story of the same name.

The Fly had a mixed-to-positive critical reception on release, and it was a commercial success, boosting Price into a major star of horror films. Now, criticism of the movie is more uniformly positive. Two black-and-white sequels followed: Return of the Fly (1959), and Curse of the Fly (1965). A superb remake, starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, was directed by David Cronenberg in 1986, with its own sequel in 1989.

Here is a link to quotes from the 1958 film, here’s a link to the complete script, and here is a link to the short story.

II: My Radical Reinterpretation

What ought to be emphasized about the story isn’t the notion of scientist André Delambre (Hedison) bring transformed into a fly-human hybrid, the result of a freak accident in his attempt to teleport himself (and, without his knowing, a housefly that got into his “disintegration-reintegration” machine), but rather what such a notion could be seen to symbolize.

What is far more apparent in the short story, if its contents are not naïvely taken at face value, is that its narration–by André’s brother François (played by Price in the film) in the outer frame, then in the middle by André’s wife Hélène (played by Owens in the film) as she tells it in a handwritten manuscript–is given by traumatized people whose reliability is in question.

The film relates the story in a manner implying that everything happened just as told, though, by the end, no proof survives of the more fantastic elements of the story. Still, there are subtle indicators, in the behaviour of François and Hélène, that suggest that affairs aren’t as they look on the screen, implying that the narrative unreliability of the short story has been translated to the cinematic medium.

In the film, François admits to having romantic feelings for beautiful Hélène; though she denies ever having paramours (or André having had them) to Inspector Charas (Marshall), we can easily regard her words as dishonest. Could there have been an affair between her and François, a result of workaholic André’s neglect of his family? Claims of a husband and wife being perfectly happy together can easily be dismissed as a façade.

III: Unconscious Guilt

It is insisted throughout the story that Hélène could have killed André only out of madness. Where could such a madness have originated? Guilt feelings over an affair? Families in France (where the short story is set), or in Montréal (where the film is set), in the 1950s would have been Roman Catholic ones, in which adultery would have been regarded as a serious sin (a sin compounded by a man betraying his brother and, as her son’s uncle, committing incest of a Hamlet-like sort). The mind tries to repress guilt as best it can, but the repressed returns to consciousness in unrecognizable forms.

In the case of this story, the return of the repressed has come in the form of imagining André as having his head and arm traded with the head and leg of a housefly. Such a hybrid symbolizes the bestial side of human nature. His experiments are done in the basement, symbol of the unconscious. In contrast, the ground floor of the house, the upstairs, and outside can be seen to correspond to the conscious mind and the world of superficiality, appearance, what only seems to be true.

IV: Appearance vs Reality

There is much to note in the contrast between the illusory surface and hidden reality in The Fly. The marriage of the Delambres only seems perfectly happy. Similarly, André seems to be the kind, gentle husband who’d never hurt an animal. Yet his workaholic obsession with his basement experiments means neglecting his wife and son, Henri in the short story, or Philippe (played by Charles Herbert) in the film. Furthermore, this supposed animal lover overconfidently and recklessly puts the family cat, Dandelo, in the teleportation machine and disintegrates it.

Hélène, after killing her husband, confesses to the killing with perfect calmness, though François and Charas conclude that she must be mad; indeed, in the short story, she even kills herself in despair. And when François answers the phone at the beginning of the film to learn that she has just killed his brother, he’s quite calm; whereas at the beginning of the short story, he speaks of being “uneasy” from telephones, having to restrain his agitation when answering them.

In fact, in Cronenberg’s remake, this theme of appearance versus reality is revisited in how Seth Brundle (Goldblum), upon emerging from the teleportation machine as “Brundle-fly”–far from being the shocking monstrosity André is with his fly’s head and leg for an arm–looks exactly the same as before on the outside–in fact, he’s also physically superior. It’s only later that we realize that Seth is a monster hiding inside, that inside showing itself more and more to the end of the remake.

V: Implausible Science

Now, this difference between the 1958 and 1986 movies brings me to a point that I hope will help explain the particular angle at which I’m interpreting the original movie and the short story. I don’t believe André has actually had his head and arm swapped with the head and leg of a housefly–I believe this transformation really is a fabrication of his wife’s mad imagination, just as Charas does. The reason for my disbelief should be obvious: the science behind the transformation is preposterous. Hardly anyone apart from Hélène even believes it!

How do a fly’s head and leg grow to the comparable sizes of a man’s head and arm, while the latter two shrink to the sizes of a fly’s equivalent body parts? How is the man’s intelligence maintained in the giant fly’s head, even if only temporarily? And how is there a comparable intelligence, enough to squeak “Help me!” because of an approaching spider, in the miniature head of the fly caught in the web?

Small wonder that in the 1986 remake, the writers wisely spread the fly’s DNA equally throughout Brundle’s body. Surely even Langelaan and Clavell realized that the swapping of heads and limbs, as given in their respective versions of the story, is unbelievable scientifically. Hence my contention that Hélène is genuinely insane, an insanity brought on by the trauma of her husband’s violent death, a suicide with her assistance (as she describes it). François is similarly addled by this trauma. I believe his confession of love for her provides the vital clue to the reason for their narratives’ unreliability, something easily maintained in prose writing, but not so easily translated onto the big screen, since we, the watchers of the movie, tend to have credulous eyes.

VI: Unreliable Narration, in the Text, and Onscreen

Though his confession of love for Hélène isn’t found in the short story, I believe there are plenty of subtle hints of an affair between him and her in Langelaan’s words, however carefully the two guilty ones try to tiptoe around any mention of their guilt. Such tiptoeing is also evident in the film, in their innocent conversations throughout.

I see the visuals of the film as representing their unreliable narrations, and since the film is largely faithful to the short story (except for such–mostly minor–changes as the setting, Henri’s name becoming Philippe, which of André’s arms is switched with the fly’s leg, his head being revealed as all housefly or as a mix of fly and the cat, whether or not Hélène kills herself, and whether it’s François or Charas who kills the fly in the spider web), I feel it isn’t too far out of place to assume that François is (unreliably) telling the outer frame of the story through visuals, and her telling of the inner narration, instead of writing it in a manuscript, is unreliable.

VII: The Telephone

I’ll come to those subtle hints of an affair later, as they arrive in the sequence of the plot. For now, I’ll start with François’s answering of the phone. In the film, he’s calm enough, though in the short story, this calmness disguises a terrible agitation from hearing the phone ring, especially in the middle of the night, as happens at the beginning.

The reason for his unease comes from a feeling that the caller is coming into the room, intruding on his private space, breaking into his home to talk right into his ear. It seems odd that the short story should begin this way, yet if one compares this transmission of a voice–instantaneously from one place, far away, to another–to the teleportation of whatever (or whoever) is in André’s “disintegration-reintegration” machine, such a beginning of the story, along with François’s agitation, becomes explicable. The one instantaneous transmission is associated in his mind with the other.

Recall that I don’t take the human/fly hybrid story literally; also, François is beginning a narration–one after the events of Hélène’s story have been made known to him–with a discussion of the, if you will, ‘teleportation’ of the human voice. This aural teleportation feels like a frightening intruder to him, like the intrusive fly in André’s machine, and like the human/fly monster he becomes, which is an intrusion into the lives of François and Hélène.

VIII: Nothingness

The pertinent thing about teleportation, like the instant movement of the human voice from here to far away, or vice versa, is the sense of no intermediate area for teleportation to move through. The displaced entity–be it a voice on the phone, or a plate, a newspaper, a cat, a guinea pig, or a man (mixed with a fly)–disappears, vanishes in the place of origin and reappears in the destination. That lack of an in-between route to travel through, that gap, feels uncanny, a land of nothingness. This gap, I believe, is what frightens François so much.

Similarly, when André’s body is discovered in the Delambre brothers’ factory, his head and arm crushed under the steam hammer, it isn’t so much the blood that is horrifying, but how the head and arm are so thoroughly flattened as to have been reduced to nothing. The hammer’s impact has been set at zero, a setting the drop is never given. François notes in the film that zero “means level with the bed”; such a setting “would squeeze the metal to nothing,” as has been done to André’s head and arm.

The purpose of this extreme setting is ostensibly to annihilate even the slightest hint of a fly’s head and leg, instead of André’s head and arm; I’d say, though, that it’s that very nothingness, revealed when the hammer is raised, in “the ghastly mess bared by the hammer,” that causes François (in the short story) to be “violently sick.”

IX: Resistance

When Charas questions Hélène about the killing of André, she is fully cooperative about explaining what she did, and in detail (except for her odd forgetting about having dropped the steam hammer twice, to crush his fly-leg/arm). She adamantly refuses, however, to explain why she killed him.

In the short story, François describes Charas as being “more than just an intelligent police official. He was a keen psychologist and had an amazing way of smelling out a fib or an erroneous statement even before it was uttered.” So his questioning of her puts him in the role of psychoanalyst, and her in the role of analysand. Her insistence that she cannot explain why she killed André can be seen as a form of resistance.

Of course, she eventually does explain why, but in the form of a bizarre monster story that hardly anyone can believe; certainly the science behind the story is so ludicrous that even Langelaan and Clavell must have had their own doubts about it, as I’ve explained above. This fly-human hybrid story must be a case of the return of the repressed in an unrecognizable form…but what could the fly-hybrid monster symbolize for mad Hélène? I’ll come to this soon enough.

X: The Gap In-between

It is insisted that her marriage with André was a perfectly happy one…but we are suddenly ‘teleported,’ if you will, from perfect marital bliss to her killing of him, and with the refusal of a proper explanation, except for this bizarre fly-monster story. Just as there’s a gap between the caller’s voice at one end of a phone call, and his voice heard by the receiver on the other end; and just as there’s the gap of the disintegration of what’s teleported at one end, and its reintegration at the other end; so is there a gap between the couple’s marital bliss and the killing…that dreaded, uncanny nothingness in the middle.

Above, I wrote of André’s basement laboratory as symbolic of the unconscious, where the “disintegration/reintegration” machine causes that in-between gap of nothingness. In the short story, the laboratory isn’t in his basement, but in a separate building right by the factory with the steam hammer. Now, the laboratory doesn’t have to be underground to represent the unconscious…or the “subconscious,” where Charas imagines the fly to have meaning for Hélène. Psychoanalysts don’t speak of the repressed as being ‘beneath’ consciousness, but as being unknown to consciousness, for the repressed comes right back to the surface and hides in plain sight, as it were. A fly is buzzing around, in the air, much of the time in the movie.

XI: The Lacanian Unconscious, and the Gap as Lack

In The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Lacan speaks of how “the Freudian unconscious is situated at that point, where, between cause and that which it affects, there is always something wrong…what the unconscious does is to show us the gap through which neurosis recreates a harmony with a real–a real that may well not be determined…and what does [Freud] find in the hole, the split, in the gap so characteristic of cause? Something of the order of the non-realized.” (Lacan, page 22)

This gap is between cause and effect, like the gap between disintegration and reintegration, the empty space replacing a path on which something, otherwise not disintegrated and reintegrated, would travel, rather than be teleported, from A to B. This gap is also the Lacanian lack that gives rise to desire, and discovering what the desire is in this story is key to understanding the symbolic meaning of the fly.

XII: Freudian Slips

We must fill in this gap to determine what is being repressed, what is not being said or shown in the short story or the film, but what is rather hinted at through the occasional Freudian slip, or symbolic interpretation of whatever in the story is described as something otherwise mundane or in a matter-of-fact physical way.

One such a slip, as I see it, occurs when Henri/Philippe is not regarded by Hélène as her son. In the short story, François in his narration calls the six-year-old boy, his nephew, “the very image of his father”; but as I’ve said above, this narration is unreliable. Because of André’s death and Hélène’s declared madness, François has been made the boy’s guardian, in effect, his new father; yet any suggestion that he really is the boy’s father will be guiltily denied.

In the film, François even says to Charas, “She acts as if the boy were mine and not hers.” Charas speculates that Hélène is trying to protect her son, or that perhaps she fears or hates him, something François dismisses as an insane idea, and it is at this point in the film that Charas asks if François is in love with her, to which he immediately replies, “Yes.”

Why would a scriptwriter of Clavell’s obvious ability add this element to the story without developing it, if it didn’t serve much of any purpose? Note that François’s declaration of love comes immediately after a claim that Philippe is supposedly his son and not hers. Could he be her love-child by François in a love affair, one she feels so guilty about that, in her mad guilt, she denies her own maternity? The way the film ends–with François, in effect, as the boy’s new father, and Hélène having not committed suicide but being, also in effect, his new wife–looks suspiciously like wish-fulfillment. Such wish-fulfillment reinforces the visual presentation of the film as really being François’s unreliable narration.

XIII: Forbidden Desires and the Fly

Naturally, François rules out even the possibility of an affair with her by saying, “I don’t think she ever noticed me,” though a close look at Charles Herbert, the child actor chosen to play Philippe, looks more like he could be a son of Vincent Price than of David Hedison. Finally, during the scene when Philippe has caught the fly with the white head, and he sees his mother with his uncle, he is annoyed to be told by her to let the fly go; but as he is going outside and closing the front door, he looks back at her and his uncle with a split-second look of suspicion in his eyes, as if he sees the two adults acting a little too familiar at that particular moment.

That this suspicious moment happens on the very day when the heads and limbs of André and the fly are switched is significant. Here we come to the very symbolism of the fly. Male houseflies, during their short lives, have a voracious sexual appetite and are constantly on the lookout for females to mate with. In this we can see a symbolic link with my suspicions of a guilty sexual tryst between François and Hélène.

This guilt results in feelings of shame, disgust, and worthlessness, which can all be associated with houseflies. André’s constant preoccupation with his work, even to the point of writing out a new formula for teleportation on the program pamphlet to a ballet he’s supposed to be watching with his wife, means he’s emotionally neglecting her, which not only can drive her into the arms of his brother (who we already know is amorously infatuated with her), but which also makes André as worthless to her as a fly. So the exchanging of his head and arm with the head and leg of a fly is symbolic of this depreciation of his worth to her.

XIV: The Buzzing

With the guilt and shame that an adulteress feels, especially as one who, according to the short story, “had ever been a true Catholic, who believed in God and another, better life hereafter,” Hélène would have been desperately afraid of anyone finding out about her extramarital affair. Hence, her agitation whenever hearing the buzzing of a nearby fly.

Let’s recall the multiple meanings of the word buzz. Apart from the insect noise, buzz has been used to refer to the sound of telephones (remember in this connection the irritation François feels at the sound of a phone ringing), and also to refer to rumours. These additional meanings had existed long before the writing of the short story and the making of the movie. So her agitation at the sound of buzzing symbolically suggests her fear of gossip, or rumours from people knowing about her affair.

XV: Obsessions with Flies

Also, her nervous breakdown at the asylum after seeing a nurse swatting flies can be attributed to a triggering of her guilt over an affair that, in betraying André, reduced him to the worth of a fly, and so killing flies feels like a killing of him again. She also speaks of wanting François to destroy the white-headed fly if she tells him why she killed André; this contradiction suggests an emotional conflict in her–killing it kills evidence of her guilty affair, yet it also represents killing André again.

Now, she is not the only one to raise her eyebrows at the idea of houseflies. François, after hearing about her obsession with them, is curious to hear Henri/Philippe bring up the fly with the white head during lunch with the boy. Previously, Charas brought up her fly obsession immediately before he and François discuss her denial that the boy is her son, and François’s admitting he loves her. So we see here a significant juxtaposition of houseflies with the boy’s parentage and François’s love for Hélène: I don’t think this juxtaposition is coincidental.

XVI: Love Triangles, and the Remake

My speculation of a hidden, repressed love triangle between André, Hélène, and François can be seen overtly in the equivalent three main characters in the 1986 remake–respectively, Seth Brundle, Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (played by Davis), and Stathis Borans (played by John Getz). Brundle, knowing Ronnie has had a relationship with Stathis prior to her current relationship with him, gets jealous when he suspects that her reason for leaving him early to meet Stathis, when she’s supposed to be celebrating the recent success of his teleportation pods, is to get back together with Stathis. (Actually, she’s meeting Stathis to confront him over a veiled threat he’s made out of a jealousy of his own, over her new relationship with Brundle.)

And right when all of this jealousy is building, Brundle gets drunk, a fly is buzzing around, and both of them go into one of the pods to be teleported…and fused. Again, we have the juxtaposition of a buzzing fly with a love triangle; it’s as if the scriptwriting of the remake subliminally picked up on the veiled rivalry between the Delambre brothers and Hélène.

Another theme picked up from the 1958 movie and put into the remake is the relationship between external, illusory appearance and inner, hidden reality. When Brundle first comes out of the second pod, we of course don’t see a fly’s head and leg replacing his head and arm, but he looks as perfectly human as before. It’s only later, as his body parts start corrupting and falling off, leading climactically to the outer human shell all coming off and he’s revealed to be a giant bug, that we see he isn’t human anymore.

When Hélène begins telling François and Charas her story, in the film we see a scene of what appears to be the perfectly happy family. André is seen tickling Philippe, playing like a loving father, and all seems well. The shot is so ideal that it looks a bit too perfect. A hint already as to how things are actually not so good is in how André tells the boy he can’t play with him at the moment. It will become increasingly apparent that he is so obsessed with his work that he’s spending more time in that basement laboratory than with his family.

Yet another element shared between the 1958 and 1986 movies is the narcissistic grandiosity the inventor feels on seeing the amazing success of his teleporting machine. André boasts of having made the greatest invention since the wheel; he imagines that his “disintegration-reintegration” machine will allow food to be sent anywhere immediately, at minimal cost, thus ending world hunger.

Brundle’s narcissism is a bit different. On having unwittingly fused himself with the fly, he mistakenly imagines his pods have given him superhuman abilities: increased strength, agility, stamina, and sexual potency (recall what I said above about the sexual symbolism of the eager-to-mate housefly). Yet both André and Brundle are about to see their pride fall and crash.

With André, this fall is immediate upon his reintegration: we see no intermediate, transitional process–only the gap in between is understood to be there. With Brundle, however, the transitional process is slowly, agonizingly shown to us, inch by inch. We see his physical fragmentation, as well as his corresponding psychological fragmentation (against which he had only his initial narcissism as a defence), a fragmentation that’s a direct result of jealousy–a result I also see in André.

XVII: Fall of Pride

Now, André’s fall of pride upon reintegration as a fly/human hybrid should be seen as symbolic of his pride as an obsessive scientist and neglectful husband/father, which has led to Hélène’s affair with François (the shame of which, being too intense to bear, causes it to be erased from memory, repressed, and therefore never shown on screen or in the pages of the short story), and which has in turn led to André (as I imagine it) finding out about the affair, making him feel humiliated, cuckolded, and reduced to feeling the worthlessness of a fly. He kills himself.

Recall my association of Hélène’s incestuous affair with her brother-in-law with that of Hamlet’s mother and uncle. The notion of a fly’s worthlessness can also be associated with Hamlet in how the Danish prince derisively refers to foppish, buffoonish Osric as a “water-fly” (V, ii, 83).

The trading of André’s head and arm with the head and leg of a housefly reinforces this sense of worthlessness in how the head houses the brain, and either of the hands (the switched arms, remember, are different from short story to film) represents the skillful manipulation of scientific instruments and equipment with the hands, thus making his wife’s devaluation of him based on her dislike of his obsessive work, which has left her feeling so neglected.

XVIII: Nothingness and the Real

The nothingness of the gap between disintegration and reintegration represents more than just the repression of the unconscious. That void also represents Lacan’s Real Order, a traumatic realm where experience cannot be symbolized or expressed in language, because the differentials of the Symbolic Order (the realm of language, society, culture, etc.) no longer exist. Lacan called the Realimpossible,” just as Hélène calls André’s disintegration and reintegration “impossible.” Disintegration leads to a world of undifferentiated atoms, the Real (as experienced psychologically), Bion‘s O, Milton‘s “void and formless infinite,” or the Brahman of the Hindus. It’s nothing, yet everything; it’s heaven and hell, nirvana and samsara… ineffable.

XIX: Monstrosity

The hellish aspect of the gap manifests itself especially for André, in the short story, when he goes through the teleportation device again and reappears not only with the fly’s head, but with a mix of fly and the head of their cat, Dandelo! He’s now more bestial than ever, an aggravating of monstrosity that is paralleled in the 1986 remake when Brundle reappears as part man, part fly, and part teleportation pod.

This sense of the fly as representing self-hating monstrosity and worthlessness is intensified in Brundle’s “Insect Politics” speech, as well as in André’s sense of his brain deteriorating towards the end of the story. Ultimately, André’s self-hate, as symbolized in his monstrous transformation, drives him to commit suicide–as I reimagine it, by putting a pistol to his head and blowing his brains out, right in front of Hélène who, his laboratory being near the factory in the short story, has only to move the body a short distance to the steam hammer.

XX: Destroying Evidence of Suicide

As I see it, she needs to crush his head and arm (i.e., with the pistol in his hand, in order to destroy it, too) to destroy all evidence of a suicide that, if investigated, will lead to a revelation of her affair with François. Since her guilt has driven her mad, her faulty reasoning will lead her to believe that it’s better to be thought mad from delusions of a human/fly monster than to be known an adulteress with her husband’s brother (adultery and incest), driving André to suicide.

Her needing to use the steam hammer twice, because she forgot to put the arm (in my interpretation, holding the pistol) under with André’s head, represents her psychological conflict: part of her wants to be punished for her guilt in the affair by being found out, while the other part of her wants still to conceal that guilt. Later, she forgets the second use of the steam hammer out of a Freudian parapraxis, again, an expression of her conflict between wanting to be found out and wanting to conceal the guilt.

François’s own guilt over the same sin would have driven him over the edge, too, to the point of entertaining her fly delusion as true, to assuage his guilt. In this connection, it’s important to consider the ending of the story, especially in terms of how Clavell changed it from Langelaan’s short story. (Ironically, in the film François and Charas rationalize a conclusion to the case as, indeed, André’s suicide, freeing Hélène from guilt or commitment to an insane asylum. The reason for the suicide remains a mystery; she and François, thus, can privately entertain the fly-human hybrid story to help them forget the guilt of their affair.)

XXI: The Ending

The fly that is understood to be the one that got André’s head and arm is referred to as a fly with a white head. By “white head,” it’s assumed to be André’s head, though it’s never explicitly called such. In the film, we see a fly with a white spot on its head, and only in the scene with the spider’s web do we see a tiny human head and arm poking out of the web trapping the fly’s body, with the hybrid’s faint squeals for help.

Part of the reason for these differences, of course, is the limitations of the technology of the time; but I believe something else is going on. First, when François is sitting on the bench by the spider’s web, he doesn’t notice the squeals of the fly-human, begging anyone nearby to save it. They should be audible enough: after all, Charas later can hear them. François thus seems to be willingly deaf to its cries, part of his wish, symbolically speaking, to avoid responsibility for the consequences of his affair (in my speculation), and how it’s led to his brother’s suicide.

Later, when he and Charas see the fly about to be eaten by the spider, François can’t pretend it isn’t there. As a symbol of his guilt, the fly is something he cannot bear.

Now, an important distinction must be made: in the short story, it’s François who kills the fly, not Charas. As I’ve said above, I consider François’s narration to be as unreliable as Hélène’s, and that the film is their narration given in visuals. Having Charas kill the fly is thus, in my interpretation, François projecting his guilt onto Charas. Clavell’s changes to the presentation of the story are to give us an ambiguous way of thinking about it: is it an unreliable narration, or did the fly-human hybrid story really happen?

I believe François has hallucinated the fly with his brother’s head and arm, due to the stress of his guilt and what his beloved Hélène has gone through (and in his unreliable narration in movie visuals, Charas has shared his hallucination). Philippe/Henri, in this interpretation, has really only found a fly with a white head and leg, an ‘albino-like’ one, if you will, which his mother’s and uncle’s imaginations have turned into a fly/André hybrid.

Clavell’s changes to the short story included removing François’s opening narrative frame (and his dislike of ringing telephones); such an omission doesn’t prove he hasn’t been narrating, but only that we don’t see explicit proof of him telling the story. I believe that having Charas see the fly/André hybrid, thus opening up the possibility that outsiders have seen the proof of Hélène’s story–that what she has narrated is reliable after all–was Clavell’s way of making the story more intriguing: could this otherwise scientifically implausible story have happened, and should the audience just willingly suspend their disbelief?

I don’t think we should, or need to. The ending of the film, with François as Philippe’s new guardian, and with living Hélène present, comes off as wish-fulfillment for François. As with Claudius vis-à-vis King Hamlet and Gertrude, he got his brother’s wife, he can directly be a father to Philippe, and in his and her shared delusion, their folie-à-deux of the disastrous teleportation/fusion of André and the housefly, François can tell the boy that the lesson to be learned from his father’s death is how dangerous scientific experimentation, coupled with overweening pride, can be, rather than how dangerous incestuous adultery can be.

Analysis of ‘Anastasia’

Anastasia is a 1956 film directed by Anatole Litvak and written by Arthur Laurents, based on the 1952 play by Marcelle Maurette and Guy Bolton. It stars Ingrid Bergman (in the title role), Yul Brynner, and Helen Hayes.

The story is inspired by that of Anna Anderson, the best known of the Anastasia imposters who emerged after the execution of the Romanov family by Bolshevik revolutionaries in 1918.

Bergman won her second Best Actress Oscar for her performance in this film (her first being for Gaslight). Anastasia was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture for Alfred Newman. Bergman also won a David di Donatello Award (Best Foreign Actress), as well as a New York Film Critics Circle Award (Best Actress) and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture–Drama (Hayes was nominated for this last one, too). Brynner won Best Actor for the National Board of Review Awards, which also ranked Anastasia in eighth place for its Top Ten Films.

A link to quotes from the film can be found here. Here is the complete script.

The film begins with narrative text about the execution of the Russian Imperial family in 1918. In the ten years following the executions, rumours that some of the family survived floated about, rumours fuelled in part by Soviet cover-ups of the killings. There is no conclusive evidence that Lenin gave the order to kill the family, though he certainly had nothing but disgust for them. There is also no doubt that claims of survivors are all false.

A few things need to be taken into consideration regarding the making of this film, and how much sympathy should be felt for the Romanov family. First of all, the play and the film were produced in the 1950s, when Cold War propagandistic vilifying of “commies” was at its height. A film generating sympathy for the Tsar’s family would have been of immense appeal to the Western ruling classes, especially in the US, “the only country left with a proper respect for wealth,” as is observed among the con men in the film.

Second, sympathy for the Russian Imperial family hardly deserves validation, given all the suffering of the poor Russian working class and peasants, all while under the thumb of the wealthy, privileged, and incompetent Tsar, who was hugely unpopular. As biased against the Soviets as Orwell‘s polemical allegory, Animal Farm, is, his representation of Nicholas II in the mean, insensitive, and alcoholic farmer Mr. Jones, is at least reasonably accurate.

Third, given the tensions of the Russian Civil War, it’s easy to see how many among the Soviets, if not all of them, would have considered the Romanov family too dangerous to be left alive. Had the White Army been successful, with the aid of other countries in their attempt to force bourgeois/semi-feudal rule back on Russia, the Romanovs could have had their rule restored, the Bolsheviks and other left revolutionaries would have all been executed in a bloodbath, and the vast majority of the Russian people would have been relegated to poverty and despair.

The bourgeoisie can always find room in their hearts to pity the suffering of a few of their fellow rich, even when those sufferers are of the feudal world the capitalists have supplanted; but they feel minute compassion, at best, for the impoverished and starving millions of the world. It is in the above historical context that we should understand Anastasia, a bourgeois film with all the relevant symbolism.

The film begins during Easter celebrations in Paris in 1928, ten years after the executions, and right when Stalin has established himself as Lenin’s successor and is about to begin building socialism in the USSR…not that Anastasia wants to deal with any of that, of course.

Anna Koreff (Bergman) has been found by some associates of General Sergei Pavlovich Bounine (Brynner) near a church among the exiled Russian community in Paris, where participants of the Orthodox Church are celebrating Easter. Such a juxtaposition of elements–the supposed survivor of the Tsar’s family, the Russian Orthodox Church, and Easter–is symbolically significant when one considers the film’s class agenda.

The Tsar and the Orthodox Church worked hand in hand to maintain power and authority over the Russian people. The Tsar was said to have been appointed by God, and he gave the Church financial rewards for spreading such propaganda among the poor peasants, who were led to believe that Russia, God’s land, was intended to be just as the peasants found it. So, since the peasants were piss poor, they were supposed to be content with their lot, and neither to complain about it nor wish for more.

If Anna really is the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, then if she’s reinstated, she can gain followers who might help her oust the communists and restore the tsarist autocracy. That she’s been found on Easter symbolically suggests a resurrection, the brining back to life of the executed duchess, making “Anastasia” a kind of Christ figure. Notions of an evil empire–like that of the Rome that crucified Christ, as well as the imperialism that the communists strove to defeat–can thus be projected onto the USSR.

Such bourgeois propaganda is as perfect as a dream for a ruling class so threatened by Marxism-Leninism.

Now, Anna is a deeply troubled, destitute, and traumatized woman. She suffers from amnesia…to what extent we don’t know for sure…and she is frightened of everyone. She has been from asylum to asylum; we don’t know who she really is for sure–not even she knows. We do know, however, that in her last asylum, she told a nun there that she is Anastasia. She presumably said it in a fit of madness; but “she has certain surprising features,” as Bounine says, that strongly suggest she could really be Anastasia, or that at least can be used to con people into believing she is the duchess, so that the con men can get at a large sum of money.

…and this is where Bounine and his associates, Boris Andreivich Chernov (played by Akim Tamiroff) and Piotr Ivanovich Petrovin (played by Sacha Pitoëff) come in. That Chernov is a banker, Petrovin is a former student of the theological seminary, and Bounine was a general in the White Army who fought in the Russian Civil War is all significant, since these three are the con men itching to get their filthy hands on that money. They all represent different facets of the ruling class (banker, theologian, and military man) working to deceive the public, promote tsarism, and get wealthy.

…and who is this Anna woman, really?

The ambiguity in the film, as to whether or not she really is Anastasia, reflects the conflict between the reality that she couldn’t possibly be her, or that it’s at least extremely unlikely that she is the Grand Duchess, and the microscopic hope that she is her, which is bourgeois wish-fulfillment.

Her seeming to know personal details of Anastasia’s life could be the result of a fixation on her, motivating her to study these details from various biographers in, say, newspaper articles. Putting these details in her mind, when she can’t possibly have known them, is in all likelihood part of that wish-fulfillment in the film’s producers.

The real Anna Koreff, though, is a woman whose tragic life has been so full of “disappointment, anger, dismissal; out in the street, failure, fake, nobody!” that she has been on the verge of falling apart, of experiencing a psychotic break from reality, of experiencing psychological fragmentation. Narcissism, as has been observed by Otto Kernberg, can be used as a defence against said fragmentation; and Anna’s claim to be Anastasia–to the nun in the asylum–could have been such a delusion of grandeur, however brief, meant to protect her from totally falling to pieces at the time.

After she runs away from Bounine at the church, she walks by two homeless men (seen with bottles of alcohol, in order, no doubt, to minimize any sympathy for such ‘dissolute louts’). the placing of her near them, if she really is Anastasia, is meant to intensify our sympathy for her, this female Lear who has gone from riches to rags (though, she shows no pity for the derelicts, as Lear does to the “poor, naked wretches…” when he has “ta’en/Too little care of this!” Act III, scene iv). The bourgeoisie will pity her as a royal wretch, for they like to see themselves and their ilk as victims, as I’ve observed elsewhere.

If she really is, however, as destitute by birth as those two winos, then the capitalist class won’t care at all about her. We, however, should care, in such a case, for then she would be one of the true wretched of the Earth, not of those victimized by nothing more than their own bad karma.

Before her attempt to drown herself in the Seine is stopped by Bounine, she looks at her reflection in the water. Is she seeing the Grand Duchess as an ideal-I she can no longer live up to, causing her a narcissistic injury that only suicide can cure? Or, rather than contemplating the narcissistic metaphorical mirror of Lacan‘s Imaginary, is she seeing the dark, formless waves of the traumatic, undifferentiated Real? Or is it both the Imaginary and the Real, phasing back and forth with each up-and-down movement of the waves?

She doesn’t know at all who she is: the trauma of her whole life has placed her at the borderline between a hazy sense of a lack of self (the Real) and narcissistic delusions of grandeur, Anastasia as False Self (Imaginary), an ego-defence against psychotic breakdowns. The bourgeois wish-fulfillment that she is Anastasia is their sharing of those delusions of grandeur, a collective narcissism one can easily associate with the capitalist class.

So when she says, with a laugh, that she’s “the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna” to Bounine, and that maniacal laugh switches to hysterical bawling, we see a manifestation of that cusp between Imaginary and Real, or between the dialectically paradoxical extreme merriment and traumatic despair of the laugh of the Joker.

Her switch from laughing to bawling, as interpreted by the bourgeoisie in their wish-fulfillment and narcissistic identification with her, would be because of her modest doubts of her royal lineage switching to a confrontation of her traumatic experience in the cellar, watching her family get killed before her miraculous escape. A more realistic interpretation, however, would be that she laughs at how absurdly untrue it is that she’s Anastasia, switching to crying over how, deep down, she wants to believe she is the Grand Duchess, knowing also that that way, madness lies.

In any case, had Anastasia survived, she would have been 26 going on 27 as of Easter of 1928; whereas in the film, she is being played by an actress who was 40-41 years old at the time. Thus, the age difference between Anna and Anastasia already causes us to doubt that she’s the Grand Duchess.

Who she is is an empty void, the kind of emptiness a narcissist might fill up with a false, grandiose self. The emptiness, in her case, is the result of amnesia. This amnesia seems to have been caused by an injury to the head, “a narrow depression, extending almost to the forehead,” as Bounine points out to Chernov and Petrovin.

When the three men ask her where she got her scars on her hands and head, she says they are “a gift from an unknown admirer.” Where? She doesn’t remember. It’s easy to imagine this admirer to have been one of Lenin’s men, as the bourgeois hearers of her story would like to believe. For all we know, though, this “unknown admirer” could have been a rapist beating her into submission, and her amnesia may not be from a physical injury so much as from repressed traumas returning to consciousness in the disguised form of an Anastasia fixation.

In any case, Bounine finds her amnesia “most convenient,” so he can exploit her to get at that £10 million belonging to Anastasia held by an English bank. It is fitting that he is also the owner of a nightclub in which Russian performances are enjoyed by his bourgeois clientele, where he’ll make Anna another of his cigarette girls if she doesn’t cooperate with his Anastasia scheme. Bounine, as general of the White Army, businessman, and swindler, is the consummate capitalist exploiter of labour.

Bounine has only eight days to get “Anastasia” ready to be presented before stockholders and convince the world that she is the Grand Duchess, so she is put to work immediately, being taught to memorize various details of Anastasia’s life, to dance, to play the piano, and to walk with a book on her head. Just like those musicians and dancers who are employees in Bounine’s nightclub, she is being made to put on a performance. She is just another of his exploited workers.

Though he has introduced himself, Chernov, and Petrovin as her “friends,” they are actually hard taskmasters who are overworking her and bossing her around. She shows a defiant individualism that annoys Bounine and brings out his stern, authoritarian, and paternalistic nature; but over time, he begins to have feelings for her…and she for him.

Now, a combination of her beauty with a budding sense of compassion for her, and how she has suffered, can easily explain why Bounine would start to fall for her; but why would she come to love such a peremptory, domineering man as he? His playing the guitar and humming to her is charming, but not enough in itself, nor is his dancing the waltz with her that she likes so much. Could his very strictness be the decisive factor in her loving him?

In bed one night, she has a nightmare and wakes up screaming with, in Newman’s film-score, tense, descending arpeggios in the high register of the piano. Bounine finds her in their apartment in a state of hysteria, her crying of how she wishes to be the real her, and not some faker of nobility. (This wish of hers, incidentally, could be seen to symbolize the worker’s alienation from his or her species-essence.)

When he can’t calm her down, Bounine shouts at her to “go to bed at once!” This reminds her of her “very strict” father (recall earlier when he ordered her to eat the borscht she doesn’t like), which she tells him with an almost Oedipal smile. Her growing love for him, therefore, could be the result of a father transference; it could also be trauma-related, that “unknown admirer” rapist I speculated of above. She may feel compelled thus to love dominant men, for it seems that Bounine is her new “ringmaster in a circus,” a scam circus he’s running in an attempt to get his hands on that £10 million.

Now, she is beginning to have feelings for him, but only beginning to. She also hates being exploited and bossed around by him, and in her frequent moments of defiance, she tells him so.

There is a paradox in his using her and telling her what to do, while at the same time entertaining in her mind the idea that she is of a social rank far higher than he. He is indulging her grandiose self, being a mirror of it for her, and she reacts accordingly by, for example, scolding Chernov for smoking in her presence without her permission, a sudden outburst that impresses the otherwise skeptical, gout-afflicted Chamberlain (played by Felix Aylmer).

The essence of Anna’s pathology can be traced to her lack of a stable psychological structure, described by Heinz Kohut as the bipolar self, the two poles of which are grounded in, on the one side, the mirroring of the grandiose self, as Bounine is providing for her, and on the other side, an idealized parental imago, which will be provided for her if her trip to Copenhagen with Bounine is successful.

What she needs is to have her identity and existence validated. Desire is the desire of the Other, as Lacan observed, and Anna’s desire is the empress’s desire, to be given recognition from her, she who deep down desires to have her long-lost family back. As much as Bounine tells the public she is Anastasia, it will never be good enough for her, since so many people doubt her authenticity as the Grand Duchess…devastatingly for her, Bounine himself doesn’t believe in it. They know, however, that there is one person by whom, if she accepts this troubled woman as her granddaughter, the whole world will have to accept her as Anastasia Nikolaevna.

The old woman in question is the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (Hayes), and she lives a bitter life in Copenhagen, presented over and over again with fake family members. She has been shown two Tatianas, an Alexei, a Maria, and an Anastasia; she is so jaded with frustrated hopes of seeing long-dead family members that she must use an icy exterior to shield herself emotionally from further disappointment. For Anna to get validation from “Grandmama” will be a formidable enterprise, indeed.

Still, Anna must do it, for the Dowager Empress, being genuine Russo-Danish royalty, is just that idealized parental imago, transferred from parent to grandparent. Anna’s meeting of the empress, cutting her way through all that thick ice, will be so frightening for her that she will express her fear in an idiosyncratic manner that we viewers of the film have by now found familiar–through coughing.

This nervous reaction of hers represents her wish to eject painful parts of herself: bad memories, traumas, and bad internal objects. Ironically, and what seems a most fortuitous windfall, the Dowager Empress recalls Anastasia having coughed whenever frightened, and this memory convinces her that this young woman really must be her granddaughter.

In holding weeping Anna close, “Grandmama” is doing what Bion called a containment of the troubled girl’s agitations, detoxifying them for her and thus healing her. Old and young women here have healed each other. “Anastasia” has rebuilt her bipolar self, and finally has stable psychological structure.

In all well-written stories, we observe that the main characters go through growth, development, personal changes. We’ve seen how this happens to Anna, who begins as a traumatized, suicidal amnesiac with fantasies of what Freud called the “family romance” (i.e., her fantasy of having been born into nobility, which actually disguises a traumatic disappointment in her real parents); and through the rebuilding of her bipolar self with the mirroring of Bounine and the idealizing of the empress, she’s found stability and thus no longer needs such fantasies to keep her from psychologically falling apart.

Anna, however, isn’t the only character to have undergone important changes. Apart from the obvious thawing of the icy heart of the empress, Bounine has finally seen, though the hurt he’s caused the woman he’s exploiting and falling in love with, the error of his money-loving ways. Another source of the opening of his eyes is Prince Paul von Haraldberg (a fictional character played by Ivan Desny), another fortune-hunter who’s trying to win the charms of “Anastasia” and who is therefore enflaming Bounine’s jealousy, since the prince is to be engaged to her.

Prince Paul’s gold-digging is assuredly a mirror being held up to Bounine’s face, and therefore piquing his conscience, since his growing love for Anna is in large part due to his compassion for her suffering. Not only does Bounine want her for himself, but he also realizes that he cannot go on exploiting her for that money.

Now, Anna no longer needs the royal fantasies to help her hold herself together, but this doesn’t mean she no longer gets pleasure from indulging in such fantasies. Jealous Bounine points this out to her before the empress is to make her announcement that this young woman is Anastasia.

He no longer cares about the money…as amazing as such a development is. He hates how she has changed: her pain aroused his compassion. Now that she’s comfortable with who she is, in what feels like a phoney persona, she no longer inspires his compassion, but his contempt. Still, he wants to love the troubled woman he treated precisely with the therapy of that persona–he wants her back.

With this therapy, if you will, that he gave her, he has also treated his own faults. For in helping her establish an identity and social acceptance, he has learned the value of human relationships over money. This is why, at the end of the movie, he runs away with her, she doesn’t get engaged with Prince Paul, and neither she nor Bounine bother with the £10 million.

The empress, though wary of Bounine’s schemes, is so content in her belief that she has really been reunited with her granddaughter that she will let him run off with her. For the empress, too, appreciates the value of human relationships, and she’d rather see ‘her granddaughter’ happy with Bounine than in an emotionally sterile relationship with the prince.

Thus, there is, on at least some level, a shared understanding among all three of them that the Romanovs are “dead and buried and should be.” What we’re seeing at the end of the film is, of course, far from an advocacy of a triumph of communism (hence, the blacklisting of Laurents, Anastasia‘s screenwriter, was totally unjustified Cold War paranoia at the time), but rather a bourgeois liberal concession, a consigning of tsarism to the cobwebs of history.

Indeed, it is painful for the empress to let her granddaughter (as she still believes Anna to be, despite the allegations of Mikhail Vlados [played by Karel Stepánek]) go free and be happy with Bounine, who loves her for her, rather than be with the prince, who wants that money. This ability to make selfless sacrifices for the happiness of others can be seen, despite the film’s ruling class agenda, as the beginning of a series of steps from aristocracy and oligarchy to bourgeois liberal democracy, then–one hopes–finally to a classless, stateless society.

When I first watched Anastasia as a teenager (at the height of my crush on Ingrid Bergman), I was impressed at the graceful display of etiquette that the characters usually show each other. There are also, of course, brusque moments of ill temper here and there. The contrast between the two emphasizes the phoniness of the former and the blunt honesty of the latter. That we call the former ‘high class’ behaviour and the latter ‘low class’ behaviour is instructive.

To be ‘high class’ is to put on a performance of a supposed superiority worthy of wealth. Anna’s presenting of herself as the Grand Duchess is such a performance. We need to end such performances and help the wretched of the Earth to be just who they are, as she ends up doing. Then, we can see the empress smile and say, “The play is over. Go home.”

Analysis of ‘Fargo’

I: Introduction

Fargo is a 1996 crime film directed by Joel Coen, produced by Ethan Coen, and written by both of them. It stars William H. Macy and Frances McDormand, with Steve Buscemi, Harve Presnell, and Peter Stormare.

At the Cannes Film Festival, Joel Coen won the Prix de la mise en scène, and Fargo was nominated for the Palme d’Or. The film was also nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won two of these nominations: Best Actress for McDormand and Best Original Screenplay for the Coens. A TV series of the same name, based on the same story, premiered in 2014.

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

Though the opening text of the film claims it’s based on a true story, having happened in Minnesota in 1987, the fictitious persons disclaimer shown during the closing credits contradicts the opening claim, as does Joel Coen’s explanation in 2015 that the story was “completely made up.”

Still, elements of the otherwise fictional movie can be traced to factual events, such as the 1986 murder of Helle Crafts from Connecticut by her husband, Richard, who disposed of her body with a wood chipper. Furthermore, I will argue that another kind of historical fact, if you will, can be gleaned, via allegory, from Fargo: that of the petite bourgeoisie, personified in Jerry Lundegaard (Macy, who fought tooth and nail to get the part, which he correctly believed he was perfect for), using fascism, personified by Carl Showalter (Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Stormare), to rein in the greedy excesses of the haute bourgeoisie, personified by Wade Gustafson (Presnell).

II: Snowy White

The opening shot begins with an all-white background that soon reveals itself to be a road in the Minnesota/North Dakota area on an extremely snowy day–so snowy that one cannot at first make out the horizon, or anything, beyond such a dense snowfall. As it says on page one of the script, “A car bursts through the curtain of snow.” (Coen and Coen, page 1) It’s a brand-new, light brown Cutlass Ciera.

The production crew had the bad luck of having to film during one of the least snowy winters of the area’s history, so artificial snow was added through the use of an ice chipping machine.

Anyway, what we have in the opening title sequence is first, white lettering on a black background (the spurious claim that the movie is based on a true story), and then, black lettering against a white background. This black-and-white contrast gives a hint as to one of the themes of the movie: the dialectical relationship between the white of innocence versus the black of criminality; these opposites being sublated in the character of Jerry.

The dense curtain of snow obscuring the horizon and everything else, causing total non-differentiation, suggests the disorienting trauma of what Lacan called The Real. This unsettling feeling is important for setting the emotional tone of a film depicting the horror of Jerry’s crime. Desperate to get out of a tight financial predicament, Jerry hires Carl and Gaear to kidnap his wife, Jean (played by Kristin Rudrüd), in order to extort a large sum of money from Jerry’s rich, but cheap, father-in-law Wade, to pay the ransom and give Jerry the money he needs.

One must ask: what kind of a man does such a thing to his own wife? He seems like such a nice, mild-mannered guy…on the surface. The symbolism of him driving the Ciera out of the white background is thus fitting. The Real is where he’s coming from, a senseless, inexplicable horror, a horror of icy cold isolation and desolation.

III: So Far to Go

Jerry reaches Fargo, North Dakota, and three brief scenes in the screenplay not included in the film have him in a hotel and a restaurant (Coen and Coen, pages 1-2). Though they add nothing to the character that we won’t find out later (hence, their exclusion from the film), they already give us a sense of his incompetence and isolation, particularly when he lies about his name (“Anderson,” a name he’ll use again at a motel where he’s arrested at the end of the movie) to the hotel clerk when signing in, then almost finishes writing “Jerry Lundegaard” before realizing his mistake. At the restaurant, he sits all alone.

Then we get to the film’s actual beginning in the King of Clubs pool hall and bar (actually filmed in the northeast section of Minneapolis, not in Fargo, according to the story). In fact, none of the movie was filmed in Fargo; and since this scene in the bar is the only one in Fargo as far as the story is concerned, why name the movie Fargo?

The Coen brothers considered Fargo a better-sounding name than Brainerd, where, or near where, scenes much more central to the plot occur. I’d like to add an interpretive explanation of my own: the film is about how far you go to get money.

The odd thing about starting the film with Jerry–rather than with Brainerd police chief Marge Gunderson (McDormand), who doesn’t appear until half an hour into the film (i.e., she being the true protagonist, not Jerry)–is that with this arrangement of character introduction, considered heterodox according to scriptwriting conventions, causes us to sympathize not with the heroine, but with the one who, due to his desperation, incompetence, and poor planning, sets in motion the chain of events and misadventures that end in tragedy. The script scenes mentioned above that were cut from the film reinforce Jerry’s centrality–hence my placing of Macy’s name before McDormand’s in the opening paragraph.

So we come back to the black-and-white paradox starting the film off, a paradox of which Jerry’s character is central. We sympathize with him, since he’s the first person we, the audience, connect with; yet he is, in effect, the central villain, since the kidnapping that starts the chain of violent events is his idea.

Related to this sympathy/antipathy is how, on the surface, his mild-mannered nature is an example of “Minnesota nice,” which is a veil of politeness covering his darker motive–his wish to use the kidnapping of his wife to extort money from her rich father. As the Coen brothers noted in the featurette to the Special Edition DVD, it’s the nicest people who are the most violent, for they are the most repressed.

Connected with Minnesota nice (and nasty) are the idiosyncratic accent (expertly taught to the cast by dialect coach Liz Himelstein) and mannerisms of the Minnesotans, which add a whimsical comedy to an otherwise dark and tragic story. Apart from being a fictional crime movie supposedly based on a true story, Fargo is a black comedy; so the paradoxes pile up.

So Jerry is a tragicomic character. His bumbling, nerdy exterior (i.e., his coat and hat, his accent, and his spastic temper tantrums), him fittingly from an area including a city fortuitously named Brainerd, hides a dark interior that would go far, go way out, to the point of putting his own wife in danger just to get money from his father-in-law. His nervous stammering–delivered faithfully by Macy according to the script–really comes out for the first time when Carl and Gaear grill him about why he wants his wife kidnapped.

IV: Petite Bourgeois Jerry

Also, Jerry as a personification of the petite bourgeoisie shows us the tragicomic aspects of this class, as well as how they’re perceived to a be a social ideal in the context of capitalism; yet they have this slimy underbelly that resorts to recruiting such people as fascists whenever they feel the pressures of the capitalist system that normally idealizes them.

Contrasted with the proletariat who works for others, and the capitalist class who doesn’t really work, but just exploits others and gets rich off of their work, the middle class (e.g., small businessmen, managers, etc.) are seen as those who work for themselves. The petite bourgeois is seen as representing all the virtues of the hard-working self-starter.

Because, as Marx noted in Capital, vol. 1, “One capitalist always strikes down many others” (Marx, page 929), we can see how the big capitalist makes life difficult for the small capitalist. After all, class conflict isn’t limited to the bourgeoisie in general exploiting the proletariat. There is actually a three-way conflict between the upper, middle, and lower classes. We socialists don’t talk much about the problems of the petite bourgeoisie because, well, those aren’t our problems.

Still, it’s important to discuss these problems as they relate to the genesis of fascism. I’ve discussed, in previous posts, how the ruling class uses fascism as a weapon against proletarian uprisings. We mustn’t neglect, however, the crucial role that the middle class plays in promoting fascism when they have financial problems of their own, and Jerry’s hiring of Carl and Gaear to extort money from Wade is, allegorically speaking, a vivid illustration of such a promotion.

The economic problems of Germany in the early 1920s, with the gargantuan inflation of the time, hurt everyone, including small businesses, unbearably. It was tempting for many, therefore, to seek out quick-to-find, simplistic diagnoses of the problem (blame the Jews and communists), and to find quick and easy solutions (support the Nazis). The violence of Carl and Gaear easily parallels the violence of the SA and SS.

The petite bourgeoisie is, from time to time, held down by the haute bourgeoisie, but as fellow capitalists, the former must blame the latter in a way that doesn’t indict the economic system that normally benefits both classes. Neither class is the working class, who sees both as unequivocal class enemies. So the middle class must diagnose the problem in a non-anti-capitalist way: to deflect blame from capitalism, one must blame the problem on the ‘corrupters’ of capitalism–the Jews, the ‘corporatism‘ caused by the government, the NWO, the Freemasons, or the communists as believed to be a Jewish, Wall Street conspiracy that has nothing to do with promoting workers’ rights.

V: Alienation

Now, what’s conspicuously absent in Fargo, from the point of view of my allegory, is anyone personifying a worker’s struggle against capitalism. All we have, instead, is the class conflict between the petite and haute bourgeoisie as represented respectively in Jerry and Wade.

Recall how the movie introduces that relationship when Jerry first talks to Wade, who’s watching the TV and never looks back at Jerry to acknowledge his presence. When Jerry tries to convince Wade about a deal he wants to make, one that will benefit his wife and son, Scotty (played by Tony Denman), Wade says, “Jean and Scotty never have to worry,” completely excluding Jerry, and further isolating him.

So, we see here a continuation of the themes of isolation and loneliness. The alienation that capitalism causes cuts right into the bourgeois family, as we see here in the first conversations between Jerry and Wade. On the surface, things would seem pleasant in the family when Jerry enters the house, with Jean cheerfully telling him that her dad is visiting; but as soon as the two men start chatting, that wintery coldness returns, as if it had blown in from outside.

Further signs of alienation in this family appear when Scotty wants to leave the dinner table early, and Wade disapproves of the naughtiness he imagines the teenage boy will be indulging in with his friends in McDonald’s. This family would represent the petite bourgeois ideal of the father as breadwinner, the housewife, and the grandfather whose wealth will ensure security for all of them…except that it’s only Jean and Scotty who won’t need to worry, apparently.

VI: Guilty and Not Guilty

That paradox of innocence vs guilt is apparent later in the film when Scotty, annoyed that he may have to quit hockey because of his bad grades at school, says “there’s no fucking way…”, causing Jean to gasp at him in wide-eyed horror, as well as a reprimand from his father to watch his language. This is all when we already know what Jerry wants his two hired thugs to do to Jean.

Similarly, the smiling, mild-mannered persona Jerry uses at work (the illusion especially given in that photo of him as a used car salesman on the office wall), making an irate customer pay extra for a sealant he never agreed to adding to a car he’s buying, hides what “a…fuckin’ liar” he is, as the customer strains to say, with an effort that breaks the ‘Minnesota nice’ stereotype. Of course, if Wade would just help Jerry with his financial troubles, he wouldn’t be so desperate for money that he cheats his customers and puts his wife in danger. When Marge, at the end of the movie, tells Gaear that there’s more to life than money, she should be saying it to Wade, for it’s his parsimony that has actually driven Jerry’s desperation so needlessly over the brink.

VII: Ill Communication

To get back to the theme of loneliness, consider the conversation…one-sided…between Carl and Gaear as they drive over to the Brainerd area to kidnap Jean. Carl is so annoyed at how laconic Gaear is (Stormare says a total of 80 words18 lines of dialogue, no more than a sentence at a time…in the whole movie!) that it feels as if he’s all alone in that Ciera.

That, prior to the kidnapping, Carl and Gaear find a pair of prostitutes to have sex with is more indication of alienation and loneliness (this solicitation can also be connected to fascism through such things as the ‘Joy Division‘ and ‘Salon Kitty‘). For these two small-time criminals, sex is a mere transaction, not part of a loving relationship. That Carl later enlists the services of another hooker (services interrupted by the vicious attack of Shep Proudfoot [played by Steve Reevis]) shows that this manner of ‘looking for love’ must be a habit, at least for Carl.

There certainly doesn’t seem to be much love between Jerry and Jean.

VIII: Safe at Home?

As for the kidnapping itself, it’s ironic that it happens while Jean, a housewife knitting while watching TV, is at home where she would presumably be safe. The petite bourgeois, patriarchal family organization, with the man as protector/provider and wife whose place is in the home, is rationalized with the idea that she is kept safe and protected there, when what we see in Fargo is the opposite. Not only is she kidnapped at home, but it’s her ‘protector’ husband, of all people, who has arranged the crime.

It’s important in this connection to recall how, in my allegory, Carl and Gaear represent fascism and its violence. We see the kidnapping of the housewife right in the home of the patriarchal family. This juxtaposition of symbolic fascist violence in a petite bourgeois, patriarchal home is in turn symbolic of how fascism is rooted in such a family.

Wilhelm Reich, in chapter five of his Mass Psychology of Fascism, famously discussed how the family is the first cell of fascist society: “From the standpoint of social development, the family cannot be considered the basis of the authoritarian state, only as one of the most important institutions which support it. It is, however, its central reactionary germ cell, the most important place of reproduction of the reactionary and conservative individual. Being itself caused by the authoritarian system, the family becomes the most important institution for its conservation. In this connection, the findings of Morgan and of Engels are still entirely correct.”

Reich also saw the rise of fascism as a symptom of sexual repression. We’ve certainly seen much repression in the form of ‘Minnesota nice’ in, for example, the aversion to swearing, the use of the word fuck being particularly upsetting. Fargo‘s prominent use of euphemisms (e.g., ‘Jeez,’ ‘darn,’ ‘heck’) is one of the many examples of whimsical humour, behind which Fargo hides its darker side, that black-and-white paradox.

These paradoxes of the nice vs nasty husband come out when he comes home in that nerdy hat and coat, saying, “Hon?…Got the growshries…” (Coen and Coen, page 29). On the surface, we have this ‘nice’ man who helps his wife with the grocery shopping, yet the kidnapping was all his idea.

Added to this is when he practices what he’ll say to Wade on the phone about the kidnapping (Macy’s dialogue idea, not the Coens’). He sounds all distraught, but when he picks up the phone and calls Wade, he calmly says, “Yah, Wade Gustafson, please” to the receptionist. This change in tone, showing how fake the dismay in his voice is during the practice, is obviously for humorous effect, yet it should also disconcert us: he doesn’t really care about Jean. Such is the tragicomic aspect of the black-and-white paradox.

IX: Black Night

The scene of Carl and Gaear driving down the road at night with Jean in the back seat is fittingly surrounded in black, a contrast to the white we saw at the beginning of the film. We saw Jerry emerge, with the Ciera, from the white of the undifferentiated, traumatizing Real of the snow; now, we see Carl and Gaear, in the Ciera, driving through the black of night of the Real. Black and white are thus dialectically unified opposites, as are Jerry’s ‘Minnesota nice’ and the nastiness of his two hired thugs.

With the entrance of a state trooper (and, soon enough, Marge) stopping Carl and Gaear near Brainerd for not displaying temporary registration tags, we see a new element in our allegory: the conflict between regulated forms of capitalism (as personified in the state trooper and Marge) and the unregulated, “free market” version (as personified in the lawless two thugs and in Jerry).

Yes, I have linked fascism with right-wing libertarianism, which shouldn’t be surprising, since the latter ideology has often lapsed into the former. Normally, the petite bourgeoisie advocates “small government” out of a wish to minimize their taxes, but when times get tough, as they do for Jerry, the middle class often turns to fascism and its violent, authoritarian government for help, with no particular concern for how contradictory or hypocritical the sudden switch from ‘small, non-intrusive government’ to big, authoritarian government is.

More juxtapositions between nice and nasty, and between comic and tragic, occur when Carl tries to sweet-talk the trooper, and when this doesn’t work, Gaear pulls out a gun from the glove compartment and puts a bullet in the trooper’s head. A car comes by, the driver in a hat and coat to rival Jerry’s in their dorkiness; the driver and passenger of that car are now witnesses to the cop-killing, prompting Gaear to chase after and kill them. We feel badly for the dorky guy who runs away and gets a bullet in the back; but we feel worse for the passenger in the car crash, who looks pleadingly and helplessly at her killer before she gets “this execution-type deal” (Coen and Coen, page 42)

X: Wholesomeness

Finally, we’re introduced to Marge, and in the most banal way possible. As the personification not only of justice and goodness in the movie, but also of all that is considered wholesome in mainstream American society, she is found in peaceful sleep next to her husband in the wee hours of the morning, that peace interrupted by a call telling her about the killings.

Reinforcing that wholesomeness, yet modifying it with a contemporary liberal reversal of sex roles, Marge’s husband, Norm (played by John Carroll Lynch), insists that before she goes out to do her police work, he’ll cook her some breakfast. Even more wholesomeness is shown by the fact that she is seven months pregnant.

Since this is a Hollywood movie, the moral values it represents will be those of the mainstream, bourgeois liberal variety, so those values will be personified in cops, defenders of the more regulated version of capitalism.

XI: One Capitalist Always Strikes Down Many Others

The toxicity of “free market” capitalism has affected the family, as we can see in Wade’s curmudgeonly reaction to the kidnapping of his daughter. He is so cheap, he wants to try offering the kidnappers half a million dollars instead of the full million demanded (Coen and Coen, page 47). If he’s willing to cut corners on paying out money to save his own daughter, imagine how much more he’d resist paying his fair share of taxes, or dealing with any other profit-reducing regulations.

Jerry, as the personification of the petite bourgeoisie, has to deal with such resistance to help him out of his financial tight spot, the kind of resistance that, in my allegory, the haute bourgeoisie (Wade) would give to the small capitalists to prevent them from rising to a point where they’d be a threat to the big capitalist. Wade’s resisting even when trying to save his daughter.

“And for what? For a little bit of money.” Jerry would have Jean kidnapped for that “little bit,” too (this thoughtless act is paralleled with that of the petite bourgeoisie’s embrace of fascism, who gave no thought at all to how this embrace would lead to one of the bloodiest wars in history, destroying millions of families). Here is how capitalism poisons the family.

XII: Trauma and Tripping

Speaking of poisoned families, Jerry needs Stan Grossman (played by Larry Brandenburg) to make him take note of how his son is taking this kidnapping. Naturally, Scotty is traumatized and weeping in fear for his mother. Inept Jerry never thought about this; all he’s ever thought about is the money.

Another example of the tragicomic paradox is when Jean, her hands tied behind her and a hood over her head, arrives at a lakeside cabin in Moose Lake with Carl and Gaear. When she’s let out of the car, she frantically and spastically tries to run to freedom, her every fall and clumsy misstep getting laughs from Carl. Her awkwardness may be amusing to watch on the surface, but we shouldn’t forget that that awkwardness is a natural result of how terrified she is.

Indeed, she is going to die here.

XIII: TV

An interesting juxtaposition of opposites occurs when we see frustrated Carl trying to fix the bad TV reception in the cabin. Preoccupation with superficial forms of entertainment from such things as the idiot box, as well as the aforementioned seeking of prostitutes, is a manic defence against the depression felt from loneliness. Next comes a scene with Marge and Norm in bed, not yet asleep, watching her functional TV.

Carl is yelling, cursing, and swearing about being stuck with “a goddamn mute” (Coen and Coen, page 56), his manic rage hiding his actual sadness, loneliness, and despair within. The happily married couple, however, look exhausted, as if depressed, though of course they aren’t. In this juxtaposition we see more examples of the intermingling of opposites.

XIV: Mike

Later that night, Marge is woken up by another phone call–not one about homicides this time, but one from an old friend, Mike Yanagita (played by Steve Park). In a sense, there is still a connection between these two calls. Mike feels dead, as it were, inside, a death of loneliness, a problem he hopes Marge, as personification of goodness and wholesomeness, can solve, just as she’s trying to solve the case of the triple homicide.

This loneliness of Mike’s is so extreme and full of desperation that when he meets with Marge in a restaurant, he unabashedly hits on her, an awkward moment amplified by her visible pregnancy and marriage. Again, on the surface, the awkwardness of the moment is comic, but also tragic as it reinforces the theme of cold loneliness, isolation, and desolation.

XV: Escalation

The triple homicide has heightened the tensions, pushing Carl to demand the entire ransom from Jerry. This tension exacerbates the contradictions between Jerry and Carl on the one hand (allegorically speaking, between the petite bourgeoisie and the fascists), and between Jerry and Wade on the other (i.e., between the middle and upper classes). Overall, the violence and financial strain are representative of how the contradictions of capitalism come to a head, as we see in Wade’s insistence on delivering the money himself to Carl, which as we know from the movie will end in disaster.

As I said above, the contradictions of class in Fargo do not involve any organized proletarian resistance. Allegorically speaking, it’s just different strata of the bourgeoisie struggling with each other. So when working class or lumpenproletariat characters are in conflict, they tend to fight among each other.

When Marge learns that the kidnappers (Carl, presumably) have phoned Shep Proudfoot, she can link him to the triple homicide. Being a parolee, Shep is in such a rage about the danger of being put back in jail that he finds Carl (while having sex with his second prostitute), beats not only him up, but also a neighbour, and he makes the prostitute run naked and terrified out of Carl’s room.

Now, in my allegory, Carl and Gaear personify fascism (the racism of which can be heard when Carl tells Shep, a Native American, to “smoke a fuckin’ peace pipe” [Coen and Coen, page 78]), but as small-time criminals, they–like Shep and the prostitute–are literally lumpenproletariat, people so far down the social ladder that Marx didn’t consider them to have any revolutionary potential. All they have is each other to take out their frustrations on.

XVI: Fargo and Neoliberalism

Fargo, recall, was made in 1996, five years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and therefore at “the end of history.” Socialism was deemed a failed experiment, and the notion of TINA has been the predominant ideology ever since (i.e., neoliberalism). This means that the poor have had no recourse to solve their problems; all they can do is fight with each other, as we see Shep do with Carl.

So in my allegory, we have personifications of the middle and upper classes, and of fascism (supported by the petite bourgeoisie, but including many disaffected members of the poor and working class, so in Carl and Gaear we have some overlap between lumpenproletariat and personifications of fascism), but not of organized labour (i.e., a communist movement). Imagine WWII being fought without the Soviet Union or Mao’s communists: different factions of the bourgeoisie (i.e., the Western Allies alone against the Nazis and Italian fascists, and the KMT alone against imperial Japan) would have simply eaten each other up in a bloodbath. The violence in Fargo (the triple homicide, the deaths of Jean, Wade, and Carl, etc.) can allegorically be seen to represent such an, at best, even more pyrrhic outcome in WWII.

It’s significant how, during the confrontation between Wade and Carl, grumpy Wade refers to Jean as his “damn daughter.” Oh, the love of a rich, cheapskate father, who’s clearly more annoyed at the loss of his money than at the danger of losing her.

That Carl fills him with bullets, and he fires at Carl, the bullet grazing the side of his face, is also significant: it symbolizes how capitalism destroys itself through its own contradictions. The bloody scar on Carl’s face is also symbolic of the kind of injury that gives rise to capitalistic and fascistic narcissism. Recall how enraged Hitler and the German nationalists were to learn of how their beloved country lost WWI, when they falsely believed they were winning…and to save face, they blamed Germany’s loss on the ‘treachery’ of the Jews and communists.

XVII: At the Breaking Point

Carl finds a place on the side of a highway in the middle of nowhere to hide a portion of the money he plans to keep from Gaear. The hiding place, in the snow by a barbed-wire fence, would be absurdly impossible to relocate after Carl’s going back to the lakeside cabin and giving Gaear his short-changed cut; for as it says twice in the script, as Carl is looking both ways from the hiding place, “A regular line of identical fence posts stretches away against unblemished white.” (Coen and Coen, pages 90-91)

The undifferentiated nature of this worst of hiding places, coupled with Carl’s facial wound, represents the cusp where the narcissistic Imaginary meets the traumatizing, indescribable Real. The extreme of his agitation from his injury, combined with his hopes of enjoying all that money for himself (as unlikely as he is to find and enjoy it, even if Gaear weren’t to kill him), emphasizes how close to utter madness Carl is…his extremes of pleasure and pain.

Jerry is, of course, at the breaking point himself. Having followed his father-in-law and discovered his bullet-ridden body, Jerry takes the corpse home in the trunk of his car, and he has also seen another victim of the rage of Carl’s itchy trigger finger, the parking lot attendant. It finally seems to be dawning on Jerry what a dreadful mistake he’s made in his ill-conceived plan to have Jean kidnapped to extort money from Wade.

One wonders, in this connection, when it began to dawn on all the petite bourgeois and working class Europeans, who’d supported fascism in the 1920s and 30s, what a bad mistake they’d made, too.

XVIII: Minnesota Not-so-nice

Jerry’s next conflict will be with Marge when she makes her second visit to his office to ask about any cars being unaccountably taken from his lot. In my allegory, this is the conflict between the libertarian-leaning, conservative petite bourgeoisie (lawless Jerry) and the more statist-oriented liberal (Marge).

In this scene, we also see the contrast between the superficial, phoney politeness of “Minnesota nice” and the rudeness that lies underneath when the pressure is on. There’s “no call to get snippy” with Marge, but Jerry’s “cooperating here.” (Coen and Coen, page 94) Just as the capitalist, when financial times are good, takes on a generous, congenial persona, he gets gruff, authoritarian, and outright fascist when times are bad.

XIX: More Violence

The conflict between Carl and Gaear comes to a head back in the lakeside cabin, when they argue over who gets to keep the Ciera. Gaear’s killing Carl with an axe, then disposing of the body in the wood chipper, can be seen to represent, in my allegory, such things as the violence of the Night of the Long Knives (especially the violent death of Gustav Ritter von Kahr, his body hacked to pieces with pickaxes), which included Nazis killing other Nazis; it could also represent all the attempts on Hitler’s life, resulting in the executions of the conspirators.

Yet another way one could allegorize all this mutual violence among different sections of the bourgeoisie, or of society in general as represented by Wade, Jerry, Carl, Gaear, Jean, and Shep, is to see it symbolizing the kind of social destabilization caused by the CIA’s use of mind control (MKUltra) to popularize LSD in the 1960s and weaponize the lumpenproletariat against class struggle for the benefit of keeping the ruling class in power. One need only think of the Unabomber and Charles Manson; some fear, in fact, that such violence could soon erupt again, amidst the current aggravation of neoliberal class conflict.

XX: Conclusion

Of course, the film’s way of resolving all this conflict, violence, and mayhem is a liberal one, with Marge finding the Ciera at the lakeside cabin and arresting Gaear. She, as statist liberalism personified, gives the charmingly simple question to him: don’t you know there’s more to life than money?

Now, it’s easy to pretend that money isn’t all that important if you don’t have to struggle for it, as Marge, the successful police officer, doesn’t have to. And being happily married to a good man like Norm, as we see the two of them in bed together at the end of the film, means she doesn’t have to deal with the pain of loneliness and alienation that Jerry, Carl, Gaear (who’s so isolated, he hardly even speaks), Mike, and Scotty feel.

Marge may be the hero of the story, as well as the embodiment of all that’s good and wholesome, but as an officer of the law, she also works to serve and protect the system that gives rise to the contradictions that, in turn, give rise to people like Jerry, Wade, Carl, and Gaear. She has a happy family (soon to be one of three), but the system she protects has helped tear apart the Lundegaard family. Yet another example of the black/white paradox.

Jerry, through his incompetence and lack of ethical principles, has lost everything and is in jail. Wade, through his grumpy parsimony, has lost his life. Poor Scotty, who never did anyone any wrong (all he did was say a bad word, and for all we know, he probably was just drinking a milkshake at McDonald’s), may have inherited the family wealth, but without parents or a grandfather, he has no one to be there to take care of him.

His trauma, the trauma of a loneliness and desolation as cold as that horizonless, wintery white of Fargo‘s beginning, is a blackness that can only be overwhelming for him. This pain is what results from a world in which the bourgeoisie is left off the leash, with no organized labour to curb its excesses.

Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Fargo, London, Faber and Faber, 1996

Analysis of ‘Rhinoceros’

Rhinoceros is a 1959 play by Eugène Ionesco, associated by Martin Esslin with the theatre of the absurd in his book on that topic. There is, however, much more to this play than just an exploration of absurdism. Other important themes in Rhinoceros include antifascism, conformity vs. individuality, mob mentality, culture and civilization vs. barbarism, logic (treated satirically), and morality.

As a young man in Romania, Ionesco found himself surrounded by people who were being seduced by fascist ideas. Though raised as an Orthodox Christian, Ionesco was part Jewish ethnically (on his mother’s side), and he was troubled by the growing antisemitism he saw everywhere leading up to WWII. Everyone in the play transforming into rhinoceroses except the protagonist, Bérenger (representing Ionesco), personifies this seductive fascist danger.

The original Broadway production in 1961 won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play, for Zero Mostel (as Jean). Joseph Anthony was nominated for Best Production of a Play, and Rhinoceros won a Special Award from the Outer Critics Circle Awards.

The play was adapted into a film in 1973, directed by Tom O’Horgan and starring Mostel as John (Jean in the play), Gene Wilder as Stanley (Bérenger), and Karen Black as Daisy. The film was poorly received, faulted by film critic Jay Cocks in Time magazine for having an “upbeat, frantic vulgarization” of Ionesco’s text; he also complained of O’Horgan having “removed not only the politics but the resonance as well.”

Here are links to the text in English translation, an English performance of the play, and the 1973 film.

Bérenger is an everyman, yet also a bit of a social misfit, among those of whom Lacan described in his dictum, “les non-dupes errent.” Bérenger, not duped into believing in illusory social convention, nonetheless errs throughout his life: he’s late for work and get-togethers with his friend, Jean; he’s slovenly, and he drinks.

Jean, on the other hand, is quite the opposite: he’s punctual–only late for his get-together with Bérenger because he knows his friend will be late, so he adjusts his time of arrival to be just before he correctly predicts Bérenger’s tardy arrival–well-dressed to the point of foppishness, and temperate with drinking. Jean is well-schooled in Lacan’s notion of le Non! du père.

Their characters thus can be seen as dialectical opposites of each other. Their doubles can be seen in the Logician and the Old Gentleman, whose dialogue often parallels that of Jean and Bérenger, respectively (PDF, page 10–see link above). Similarly, the Housewife (with her cat) can be seen to parallel pretty, desirable Daisy (with her…I beg your pardon). Just as Bérenger has a romantic interest in Daisy, so does the Old Gentleman try to be gallant with the Housewife at every opportunity.

And just as Jean’s attempts to teach Bérenger the ‘rules’ of how to behave socially–le nom du père–attempts that fail miserably to edify his uncouth friend, so do the Logician’s attempts at giving examples of syllogisms come off as laughable (PDF, page 9). Here we see Rhinoceros demonstrating the absurdity of the human condition.

What must be emphasized here is that in all of this seemingly conventional social intercourse, we have what would appear to be the sanest moment of the play. Only one rhino has appeared as of this point in the story, and so ‘rhinoceritis’ hasn’t yet taken over society. Yet the irrational conformity that the rhino takeover to come symbolizes is already apparent in these absurd discussions.

The doubling of characters suggests this conformity, as does the frequent repetition of cliché lines by different characters (“Oh, a rhinoceros!”, “Well, of all things!”, etc.–PDF pages 4-5). The integration into society, a sharing of cultural mores, customs, laws, and language, is the essence of what Lacan called the Symbolic Order, a sharing of signifiers, of what can be symbolized in language.

The Symbolic is, mentally, the healthiest order to dwell in, for it is here that one leaves the narcissistic, mirroring dyad of the Oedipal mother/son relationship of the Imaginary, leaving the one-on-one other for the Other of many people. Also, in the Symbolic one can give verbal expression to experiences, and one can differentiate aspects of the world; but because one cannot do such things in the undifferentiated chasm of the Real, this third order is so traumatizing.

So, the socially conventional world of the Symbolic is healthy, as things are, relatively speaking, at the beginning of the play. The sighting of the one rampaging rhinoceros is seen as a mere freak occurrence. The absurd discourses of the Logician and the Old Gentleman, and the repetition of dialogue already heard, are a foreshadowing of the far more absurd expression (unintelligible, trumpet-like grunts) and conformist uniformity of the rhino epidemic to come.

One of the defining features of fascism is the use of violence to achieve its ideological ends, as I’ve described elsewhere. Since the rhinos represent the growing fascist menace that Ionesco saw all around him in Romania, the killing of the Housewife’s cat by the second rhino represents, on one level, that fascist violence.

An absurd debate ensues about whether this was the same rhino as before, or if they were two rhinos, did one of them have only one horn, and the other, two horns, and was one an Asiatic rhino, and the other an African one (actually, a satire on racism)…as if such quibbling over minutiae were even relevant. Such debating is an example of the inanities of social discourse, indicating that even the Symbolic Order isn’t all that healthy.

So the not-so-healthy realm of social convention is where the rhinos have sprung from, just as the scourge of fascism grew from the more mundane class contradictions of capitalism. The rhino, with its phallic horn (or horns), kills the Housewife’s cat (symbolically, her pussy), suggesting the toxic masculinity of fascism, a connection I made elsewhere. The phallic rhino’s killing of her cat can thus be seen as a symbolic rape.

Bérenger and Jean argue about which rhino, the Asiatic or African, has one horn or two. Their arguing escalates into them angering each other and using racial slurs (i.e., Jean saying of Asians, “They’re yellow!” –PDF, page 15). Jean thus leaves his friend in a huff, not wishing to be his friend anymore. In this exchange, we see symbolically the beginning of the breaking down of social relations, a descent from the not-so-healthy to the even-less-healthy of Act Two.

With this breakdown of social relations, we see the shrinking of that Other of many people to the dyad of other, a move from the primacy of the Symbolic to that of the Imaginary. As of Act Two, Scene One, Bérenger still cares about Daisy (though I suspect it’s mostly lust), and he wants to apologize to Jean for having angered him earlier (though instead of getting a proper reconciliation between the two friends in Scene Two, Bérenger watches in horror as Jean transforms into a rhinoceros before his very eyes). Mrs. Boeuf still loves her husband, in spite of his having transformed into a rhino, though her jumping on his back and riding off with him highly presumes that she is soon to become a rhino, too.

These are the only instances of love as manifested among the characters in the play, and even these instances are dubious, as I explained above. Instead, the pervading feeling is one of alienation, a fertile breeding ground for the hatred of fascism. Much of this alienation is worker alienation, as is felt in the office scene of Act Two, Scene One. Bérenger is late for work and drinks because his job is boring and meaningless; only the sight of Daisy cheers him up. One can hardly find such a job as anything other than boring, with its drudgery and repetition.

Just as Bérenger has his way of dealing with the dullness of bourgeois life, so does Botard, a left-leaning, unionized coworker in the office. Botard refuses to believe in the existence of the rhinos until their attack on the office staircase makes disbelief no longer possible. He argues with Daisy, who has seen the rhinos, and with coworker Dudard, who cites the newspaper as evidence, something Botard dismisses with a “Pfff!” (PDF, page 19). His distrust of the media, though wrongheaded here, would be far more justified today.

What’s interesting is how leftist Botard–as much a buffoon as all of the other characters in Ionesco’s play–upon realizing the reality of the rhinos, comes to think of their presence as a plot, an act of treason (PDF, page 27). Though liberal Ionesco had as much contempt for “Stalinism” as he had horror of Nazism, and accordingly he put comically Marxian slogans into Botard’s mouth (“Just like religion–the opiate of the people!”–PDF, page 22) to express this contempt, nonetheless, fascism was…and still is…a tactic used by the capitalist class against the gains of the working class.

There were traitors in the Soviet Union in the 1930s allying with the Nazis to undermine and overthrow the first workers’ state, which necessitated Stalin’s purge. What most people don’t want to admit is that it was Stalin who wasn’t “capitulating,” and the sacrifice of 27 million Soviet Russians is what saved Europe from the fascist rhinos, not some liberal centrism. The appeasers of Hitler in Munich, encouraging him to go East to invade the USSR, were all turning rhino, and they would only oppose him when he was threatening their own imperialist interests.

The rhino’s smashing of the office staircase symbolizes more fascist violence; one might think of Krystallnacht. The office workers’ boss, Mr. Papillon, insists that they resume work as soon as possible after being taken out of the building with the help of the firemen and their ladders (PDF, page 27). To the bourgeois mind, work and the making of profits must never stop. Not even fascism, growing out of capitalism, can stop it.

In Scene Two, Bérenger goes to Jean’s apartment to apologize for having upset him. It is during this scene that Jean transforms into a rhinoceros before Bérenger. What is interesting about this scene is how Jean presented himself to be so much more the cultured, thinking man than Bérenger, yet now we see Jean retreating into barbaric animalism, and Bérenger defending human civilization.

Jean, the one who knows far better than Bérenger how to fit in with society, is now showing how his fitting in is little more than mere conformity, by going along with the current trend of joining the rhinos. Since rhinos represent fascists, Jean is demonstrating how any normal member of society can be susceptible to extremist, even despicable, attitudes merely because this is what most other people are doing.

The society of the Symbolic Other is degraded into the collective narcissism of the Imaginary other: instead of seeing Other people as entities unto themselves, one sees a collective other as an extension of one’s own ego, and oneself as an extension of that collective other. The narcissistic mirror reflects both ways.

Jean’s turning green, and his ranting about “natural laws,” reflect the ideology of the Romanian fascist Iron Guard, who upheld “natural laws” as a bulwark against what they saw as the “Jewish inventions” of the modern West’s humanist values. Similarly, the Iron Guard wore a green uniform, hence Jean’s skin turning green.

Since he and Jean are switching roles, Bérenger, as the new defender of culture, civilization, and humanistic values, is trying to discipline himself to drink less, while Jean is making more and more of those trumpet-like rhino grunts. What’s more, Bérenger tries to convince Jean to see a doctor, yet Jean muses, “Doctors invent illnesses that don’t exist.” (PDF, page 31)

The breakdown of relationships continues when Jean says, “There’s no such thing as friendship. I don’t believe in friendship,” which Bérenger finds “very hurtful” (PDF, page 31). Indeed, Jean speaks of being “misanthropic,” and liking it (PDF, page 32).

What we see here is the seductive threat of fascism, something not only small-c conservatives and right-wing libertarians can succumb to, but even liberals can. Consider the backing that such liberals as those in the Canadian government, the Democratic Party, and Hollywood liberals have given to a Ukrainian government littered with fascists, just because they don’t like Putin.

Surely this sort of thing is what Stalin meant when he said, “Social-Democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism.” Modern liberal democracy, more accurately called the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, puts on an affable, smiling face when all runs smoothly for the ruling class; but when the capitalists feel in any way threatened, that smile quickly turns into a fascist scowl. Put another way, people transform into rhinoceroses.

This is how we should think of Jean, who normally holds it all together so well, but who now turns into a rhino. At first, he’s against the transformations into rhinoceroses, as everyone else is at the beginning of the play. Then he grows more lenient to the idea, more ‘open-minded’ in his attitude. Finally, he transforms into one.

A similar mentality can be seen towards fascism ever since the end of WWII. First, we were horrified by Nazi victimization of the Jews (even though a considerable number of ex-Nazis were given prominent government jobs in the US and West Germany). Then, demonization of the Soviet Union during the Cold War allowed us to regard such people as right-wing nationalist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn as ‘champions of freedom.’ Then, Ukrainian neo-Nazi propaganda like the Holodomor hoax was uncritically accepted as ‘truth’; and now, NATO is backing up those very neo-Nazis in a dangerous escalation with Russia that could lead not only to WWIII, but also nuclear war. Rhinos, rhinos everywhere.

Lenience and open-mindedness can lead to one’s brain falling out.

In Act Three, Dudard visits a very distraught Bérenger in his apartment. He’s had a nightmare, and he is terrified of turning into a rhino. According to the stage directions, his apartment bears a striking resemblance to Jean’s (PDF, page 35), suggesting more doubling of characters, another variation on the play’s theme of conformity.

Yet again we have this character doubling in the form of Bérenger debating about the validity of the rhino transformations, but with Dudard this time, him now taking on Jean’s lenient and open-minded attitude. More doubling still is in Dudard’s fancying of Daisy, as Bérenger does. We sense the rivalry between the two men over her when she arrives with a basket of food, though Dudard pretends that he doesn’t wish to intrude on her get-together with Bérenger. And like Jean, Dudard will eventually become a rhino, too.

We learn over the course of the three characters’ discussions that Botard, Papillon, and the Logician have all become rhinos (PDF, page 44). It’s easy to see how their boss would transform: after all, fascism grows out of the ranks of the bourgeoisie. Left-leaning Botard’s change is a bit more puzzling, though far from inexplicable or impossible; opportunism can spread like a pestilence throughout the left (consider Trotsky‘s flirtation with Nazis in a hope to oust Stalin from power). The verbal absurdities of the Logician seem to anticipate the obscurantist, reactionary post-modernist French intellectuals, used by the CIA to lead leftists astray.

When only Bérenger and Daisy are left, and he is growing desperate, she starts showing signs that eerily remind us of the path that Jean and Dudard have just taken. She says that everyone has the right to change his mind about whether or not to turn into rhinos, even Botard (PDF, page 44). Rhinos’ grunts are heard on the telephone and on the radio (PDF, pages 49 and 50).

Bérenger wants her to help him repopulate the Earth (PDF, page 51), rather like Noah’s sons and their wives after the Flood wiped out all of humanity, but she is cool to the idea. She eventually comes to find the rhinos to be passionate; she imagines they have a language, something Bérenger scoffs at. Could the rhinos have entered the Symbolic, while he and she have left it? Indeed, she imagines it could be the remaining humans who now need saving. She imagines the rhinos to be singing. When he slaps her for sympathizing with them, it would seem that he is the barbaric one, and not the rhinos.

In her disillusionment with Bérenger and growing sympathy with the rhinoceroses, Daisy leaves him to join them, leaving him the sole remaining human. Being all alone with neither the Other of society (as radical alterity) nor the dyadic other of one person to mirror and be mirrored against (i.e., Daisy could be seen as a transference of Bérenger’s Oedipal feelings towards his mother), he has left the Symbolic and is in danger of being trapped in the traumatic, undifferentiated world of the Real (traumatic, because being surrounded by horned representations of fascism can only be thus; undifferentiated, because there’s no differentiation between all those who used to be human).

Significantly, Bérenger looks at himself in a mirror, the only place he’ll ever see a human face again. He acknowledges that he’s “not a particularly handsome specimen” (PDF, page 52). In near despair, he calls out to Daisy, begging her to come back to him. Like the crushed cat, he’s a “poor little thing,” being “left all alone in this world of monsters” (PDF, pages 52-53).

He can feel himself coming apart, in danger of psychological fragmentation, against which his only defence is the narcissistic illusion of the egoistic Imaginary. Hence, he continues to look at himself in the mirror as he talks to himself. He sees himself in the reflection, but he talks to the reflection as if it were another person. He’s lost everyone else who could act as a metaphorical mirror to himself, including Daisy, his love, his ‘other self,’ as it were, so all he has left for this mirroring purpose is himself. He’s like an infant seeing itself in a mirror for the first time, paradoxically recognizing itself and establishing its sense of self, yet also, in seeing itself ‘over there,’ sees itself as other, and is therefore alienated from itself…fragmented.

His defiance of the rhinos should be understood in this context. As representations of fascism, they are a real evil to be opposed to, but one must also consider Bérenger’s fragile mental state as one alone against the world. He would try to communicate with them, but he can’t speak their language (PDF, page 53)…he has left the Symbolic and its linguistic connection with society, culture, customs, laws, etc. He’s so confused, he’s not even sure if he’s speaking French (or English, as far as the play’s translation is concerned). Does his language even exist anymore, if he’s its only speaker, and no one else can understand him? Are the trumpeting sounds of the rhinos, the only shared form of communication left in the world, the only true language? And by extension, has fascism become no longer just an extremist ideology, but the truth?

His defiance, his “not capitulating,” is for obvious reasons noble on one level, but it’s also proud, narcissistic, on the other. He has gone full circle, from the slovenly drunkard who didn’t fit into society to the sole human who still doesn’t fit in. He wouldn’t capitulate to the lifestyle of a sober, well-groomed, and punctual contributor to society then, and he won’t conform now.

Like a narcissist, he goes from hating himself for being an ugly human (since being a rhinoceros has become the new aesthetic ideal) to being a proud defender of his difference from the rhinos. His honest humanity is, paradoxically, his False Self. He regrets being unable to change into a rhinoceros; then he puts on a false front of pride for not being one of them.

As Esslin comments: “His final defiant profession of faith in humanity is merely the expression of the fox’s contempt for the grapes he could not have. Far from being a heroic last stand, Bérenger’s defiance is farcical and tragicomic, and the final meaning of the play is by no means as simple as some critics made it appear. What the play conveys is the absurdity of defiance as much as the absurdity of conformism, the tragedy of the individualist who cannot join the happy throng of less sensitive people, the artist’s feelings as an outcast…” (Esslin, page 183)

Esslin continues: “If Rhinoceros is a tract against conformism and insensitivity (which is certainly is), it also mocks the individualist who merely makes a virtue of necessity in insisting on his superiority as a sensitive, artistic being. That is where the play transcends the oversimplification of propaganda and becomes a valid statement of the fatal entanglement, the basic inescapability and absurdity of the human condition. Only a performance that brings out this ambivalence in Bérenger’s final stand can do justice to the play’s full flavour.” (ibid, p. 183)

So, the absurdity of the human condition is universal in Rhinoceros. Every character without exception is flawed in one way or another. The human rhinos are absurd in their extreme conformism, and Bérenger is absurd in the narcissistic extreme of his individualism.

The paradox of the Symbolic is in how, though it represents the healthiest of mental states, it is also rife with social hypocrisy, hence “les non-dupes errent,” as exemplified in Bérenger and his gaffes. This paradoxical sane phoniness of society is extended into the illusion of freedom in modern-day liberal democracy, or the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, as, as I said above, it should be called; this ‘freedom,’ it should be noted, extends only as far as the border of the nation-state. Thus, it should be no surprise that ‘democracy’ degenerates into fascism, or some other form of authoritarian rule, whenever society feels itself to be endangered.

Slavoj Zižek elaborates: ‘This leftover to which formal democracy clings, that which renders possible the subtraction of all positive contents, is of course the ethnic moment conceived as “nation”: democracy is always tied to the “pathological” fact of a nation-state. Every attempt to inaugurate a “planetary” democracy based upon the community of all people as “citizens of the world” soon attests its own impotence, fails to arouse political enthusiasm.’ […] ‘What is at stake in ethnic tensions is always the possession of the national Thing: the “other” wants to steal our enjoyment (by ruining our “way of life”) and/or it has access to some secret, perverse enjoyment. In short, what gets on our nerves, what really bothers us about the “other,” is the peculiar way he organizes his enjoyment (the smell of his food, his “noisy” songs and dances, his strange manners, his attitude to work–in the racist perspective, the “other” is either a workaholic stealing our jobs or an idler living on our labor).’ (Zižek, page 165)

Now, how can Rhinoceros be relevant to today’s world?

Well, apart from the recent resurgence of fascist tendencies around the world (Golden Dawn and their ilk in Greece, Svoboda and the Azov Battalion in the Ukraine…and its backing by the US/NATO, Marine Le Pen‘s near-win in the French elections, Bolsonaro in Brazil, and “MAGA,” among many others), we can also see rhino conformity as a symbol for all the mask-wearers of today, as well as the authoritarian measures of governments all over the world to mandate universal vaccination.

The absurdity of the extremes of both conformity and of individualism as seen in Rhinoceros, to be fair, can be seen in the whole ‘rona debate, too. I oppose the vax mandates and the capitalist media manipulation and scare-mongering, to be sure; but I do so not from the excessive ‘individualism’ of the right-wing libertarians, who simple-mindedly call all these anti-covid authoritarian measures a form of “communism.” Similarly, one can receive the vaccines–either through personal choice or coercion…”no jab, no job”–and still be opposed to the mandates.

The absurdity of Bérenger’s “not capitulating” can be seen in anyone stubbornly refusing to wear masks and having to pay fine after fine, or refusing the jab and remaining unemployed, then evicted. In some countries, such as Canada with its defiant truckers, a real effort is being made to undo the mandates; but in such places as the small East Asian island I live on, the locals are so uncritically compliant with the government that it doesn’t even occur to them that resistance exists as a possibility. Here, I am a Bérenger among mask-wearing rhinos; my resistance is futile because it’s meaningless.

The lesson to be learned from Rhinoceros is to find a comfortable middle ground between conformism and individualism; les non-dupes errent, but they must still hang onto some sense of society to maintain their sanity. Remember how the individualism of ‘anti-state’ right-wing libertarianism often leads, ironically, to fascism. What many today call the “communism” of the emerging NWO is really the capitalism of Bill Gates and his flying monkeys in the media he pays to control the narrative about the pandemic.

By all means, don’t capitulate; but don’t stare at the mirror for too long, either.

Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, London, Penguin Books, 1961

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