Tuesday, April 12, 2005


All of the critics are wrong about Eros, the triptych featuring "The Hand" by Wong Kar-Wai, "Equilibrium" by Steven Soderbergh, and "The Dangerous Thread of Things" by Michelangelo Antonioni. Mostly they are right about the contributions of Wong and Sodergbergh, but they have collectively missed the boat on Antonioni's piece. Even Roger Ebert doesn't get it, which is disappointing though not entirely surprising. Antonioni's story is about eros, eroticism and cinema, but its mode of presentation is stunningly obvious and direct, too direct apparently to be understood by professional film critics.

"The Dangerous Thread of Things" is in simple terms a myth, a story about Mercury (Christopher) and Venus (Linda) and a character I take to be Vesta (Cloe) though it doesn't quite square with Bullfinch's. In any case the characters clearly represent Roman dieties wrapped up in a love triangle, which Antonioni portrays with a good measure of mythopoetic license.

Mercury dresses in black and tools around in a Maserati convertible with power mirrors--you know, the kind that fold like wings. He seems shallow, peevish, saturnine at turns, perhaps even venal. Make what you will of the telephony. Tomes could be writted about the hermeneutics of boredom/desire as revealed through the messages of Antonioni's Mercury, though most critics seem to be satisfied with a snarky comment or two.

Vesta is down to earth and homey even when she's not at home--and one gets the feeling she's not quite at home in this story until the final frame in which she appears to find some relief for her nostalgia, so to speak. Her most revealing scene isn't focused on her sheer blouse (which is like ironic, duh), but the glass of laughter scene in the restaurant. She's rather blasé about this goddess of the hearth business. Hmmm.

Venus, played by Luisa Ranieri, radiates sex. Pure eroticism by Jove, and a voluptuous eroticism at that. Antonioni's Venus loves horses and public nudity, ascends staircases to her otherwordly abode, calls herself beautiful ("Linda"), prominently fore-somethings her mound of Venus, and sports a heart-shaped pillow on her loveseat. When she lets Mercury into her house she plays with being eristic, but this can be taken as another expression of her essential curvaceousness. She does love a good laugh.

Why is Venus so childlike? Why does she roll around in the seafoam? Do we really need to see her breasts? I don't know. I imagine if the critics had asked these sorts of questions in earnest rather than mocking the strangeness of it all, they might have actually enjoyed the film. Of course one does not expect Venus to behave like an ordinary dramatic character, like a person. Antonioni's Venus is both true to herself and true to his cinematic vision. If for all that she also appears to be untrue to life, that's a bit of irony worthy of reflection.

I guess I sort of knew that Roman gods and goddesses were imperfect, markedly so, but the implications of that had rather escaped me. What do they represent? Ideas? Not pure abstractions, perhaps, but ideas about living. Personifications. Narrative elements of a particular sort, or perhaps a mode of representation, significations, a metadiscourse. And continuing to pilfer from Roland Barthes, we see in Antonioni's Venus the imposition of second order (tertiary, quartenary...) semiological system upon a perfectly fine pair of breasts--who would want to denaturalize such a natural beauty? Well, it couldn't be avoided. Such is cinema. It empties its objects of meanings so as to prepare them to be filled with new significations--or rather, it places original meanings at a distance.

But the essential point in all this is that the form does not suppress the meaning, it only impoverishes it, it puts it at a distance, it holds it at one's disposal. One believes that the meaning is going to die, but it is a death with reprieve; the meaning loses its value, but keeps its life, from which the form of the myth will draw its nourishment. The meaning will be for the form like an instantaneous reserve of history, a tamed richness, which it is possible to call and dismiss in a sort of rapid alternation: the form must constantly be able to be rooted again in the meaning and to get there what nature it needs for its nutriment; above all, it must be able to hide there. It is this constant game of hide-and-seek between the meaning and the form which defines myth.

From Myth Today

So now we can understand why Venus plays in the seafoam as she does, when she does, and in what capacity our gaze becomes part of the experience/critique. Something to do with the irrepressible.

And what does it say, this myth? There's something kind of horrible about the thought of being Mercury or Venus for an eternity. Then again, not really. It's not like they are objects of pity. We can see our delusions in their delusions, and it puts our mortality in a different light. Make of it what you will.

It has occured to me that my interpretation might be pretty far off base. Nevertheless, I'm confident that it's in the right ballpark, playing baseball and not soccer or hockey. I say this not as an Antonioni-ite or as one especially enamored of his work. I simply like good movies, and Eros is very good. Serious film connoisseurs will need no other reason to see Eros than Wong Kar-Wai's "The Hand." Everybody else can go enjoy the whole thing, despite what the critics have said.

UPDATE: At least one critic gets it, which is great for the dig and scroll crowd (to which you surely belong, dear reader).

posted by Fido the Yak at 11:51 PM.


Post a Comment

Fido the Yak front page