Sunday, January 17, 2016

"In fear" - an intense study of psychological collapse

"In fear" - an intense study of psychological collapse

One of the greatest, most intense fear of Man is the thought of getting lost: physically, psychologically or spiritually. Self-consciousness and rational thought, our twin vehicles of success on this planet, is definitely a boon considering whatever we have achieved as Humans. But the flip side is the perpetual, persistent goal driven life that such self-conscious thought projects and sustains. Other species don't face this problem. They live with an intensity in the moment, and die as naturally as they live. I wonder if they even know what a "goal" or an "end" means? Curiously, our fear is not about total annihilation per se (unfortunately we all know that we have to die), but this nagging existential feeling of not knowing what would happen after that. We assiduously cultivate our moral, intellectual, social, ethical and spiritual walls in such a way that we are, at the very least, lulled into a false sense of being in control and know where we are going. We build our heavens and hells to shield us from this unknown. And we take refuge in them like a child curling in its mother's womb. Every kind of insecurity we face, is a repercussion of our compulsive need to remain in control of our destination. It we can’t reach it, we will then find solace in creating an idea about it and try our best to stay in tune with that idea. Meticulous planning, knowing each other, investing in a future, believing in a God - all of them are examples of shields made of tortuous thought material to make us feel safe and secure - for God knows what, I don't know!!!.

Horror and slasher films exploit this deep sense of fear and insecurity admirably well. Some of the best made movies in this genre are ones where protagonists are driven to face something they never expect. All common notions of right and wrong, happy and sad, good and bad, darkness and light come into question, and the emotional walls of everyday life crumble slowly into nothingness. In a typical slasher movie, a group of young kids would take off on a road trip for sheer fun. Initially full of confidence and positivity; slowly, without warning or forethought, they would reach a dead end, or take a wrong turn finding themselves in unknown terrain, where hell breaks loose in the form of a killer, a ghost, a vampire - or some form of unknown, unplanned, unsought phenomenon. Their bonds of friendship are stretched, passions erupt, distrust builds, and what began as a pleasure trip soon turns into a nightmare. In conventional B- grade slasher movies, you could switch off at this point, because all that happens next is bodies piling up one after another in gory ways. And after sometime, it gets monotonous, predictable and boring. What they miss out is the psychological state of Human beings caught in such a predicament - the slow degeneration of mental stability and health. That needs a master director and good actors to bring it off, and conventional slasher movies don't work with that kind of budget.

I just got off watching a wonderful 2014 movie titled "in fear" directed by Jeremy Lovering. His first effort in movies. It is set in Ireland, where a mature, serious, intellectual couple, barely having known each other for two weeks, set off on a car trip to join their friends for a music festival. Enroute, they choose to stay a night at a fancy hotel (advertised on a website). The movie revolves around their drive to this hotel. The road maps, GPS takes them though rough terrains, dark and narrow roads with overarching, brooding branches; but they never seem to reach their destination. Sign posts at regular intervals direct their progress, but it takes them back in circles to same place. Tom and Lucie (couple) make intelligent conversation trying to make sense of their platonic relationship, but slowly as night creeps in, light begins to fade, and a slight drizzles adds to the heaviness of the moment - they start losing their balance ever so slightly. What started as a "knowing" relationship now begins to come apart at its seams. Their conversation dwindles; silence and darkness fills the screen; Tom opens his bottle for few quick swigs. All along the camera traces the car, fuel gauge and the volatile faces of Tom and Alice as it moves from trust to distrust to fear. They continue to believe that they are in control, and the hotel is just a turn away; but as time progresses that certainty fades, and distrust, loneliness and uncertainty creeps in. For ninety minutes, Director Jeremey gives us a taste of psychological condition of two individuals whose tough walls of emotional and physical security cracks. He has wonderfully captured that transformation. There is, of course, a little bit of blood and gore, as a third actor joins them during the journey, but it doesn't take anything away from this marvelous study of insecurity that Lovering brings to screen.

The ending was ambiguous. It looked like the director did not know where and how to finish. But that is excusable in a first time effort. Few years ago, I remember watching another film titled "Dead end" with a similar theme. But "in Fear" the treatment of gaping psychological spaces is bit more sincere and real than the other.

To conclude, Art like myth is symbolic, and Movies are perhaps the best modern art form to depict fluidity of Human behavior in visual terms. Drama also offers a great stage to do this, but Movies can perfect this art to no end. Alfred Hitchcock froze terror for all times in single slashing frame in "Psycho", and Richard Donner packed ages of evil into a single innocent smile from Damien. "In fear" - its director has aspired high, and to a great extent touched the bar as well.

Watch it if you care for quality film making.

God Bless…

Yours in Mortality,


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The life and legacy of Marquis de Sade.

Donatien Alphonse Fran├žois de Sade - Known to us as Marquis de Sade.
( P.S : It is amazing how these essays are born. Yesterday evening, over dinner, a friend casually used the word "sadist" referring to someone of his acquaintance over a very trivial affair. Though I acknowledged his judgment, somehow at the back of my mind, I was uncomfortable with his use of that word. Marquis De Sade was a significant writer, thinker and trail blazer in his own right. And it didn't seem right that a word coined around his name should be bandied about so frivolously. So I woke up in the middle of the night to pen this short essay, almost without a break. The subject may not be to everyone's liking, but life is such. Though Sade remains a controversial figure after 300 years, there is no taking away from the fact that his life opened a new leaf in understanding Human freedom and the limits to which he one can go to achieve an end.. Read on....)
It is considered a matter of pride, and to a large extent, sign of life lived well, if one’s name gets into a language as a noun or an adjective. English has few such distinguished entries which have entered common speech: Victorian, Machiavellian. Keynesian, Platonian, Caesarian - all denoting a specific feeling, intellectual trait or undaunted physical courage. To have been born in a Victorian era defines a person as prudish, straight jacketed and not open to liberal changes, or to call someone Machiavellian immediately freezes in our minds a picture of shrewd, manipulating, power hungry individual who will do anything it takes to assume and keep political power; or to address an idea as Platonic would invariably indicate its abstractedness, stoicism not practical enough for daily living. These categories then become a pigeon-hole that defines a person. However, it is not easy to achieve this fame, if one may wish to call it so. It takes a life time to get into history books and prevalent language. To get an entire generation of Men and women to associate a particular mode of living to a particular person, is a rare distinction to obtain and sustain. And in that line, I think the name of Marquis de Sade is unique, and perhaps unparalleled in recorded human history. To call somebody a “sadist” or to refer to an act as sadistic or sadism as a state would mean the lowest form of derogatory abuse one can ever hope to heap on others.
Here is how Oxford dictionary defines Sadism
“The tendency to derive pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on others.”
What is important in this definition is the fact that Sadism refers primarily to Sexual gratification and not to any other kind of pleasure. It is not antinationalistic, antireligious, political or personal pain, but merely state of sexual arousal triggered by physical inflicted on oneself and others (Both Men and Women). Unfortunately, the word has come to be used rather loosely these days. It has come to mean pain in any form caused by third person. Marquis de Sade or Donatein (his birth name) would turn in his grave on such a misplaced interpretation of his life’s work.
Sade lived during a time in 1700’s when France was going through a period of great flux - politically, morally and culturally. The ages of both Louis’s, though stabilizing in many ways, let loose the leash of human restraint that held together civilized life of France till then. Corruption, debauchery, favoritism, prostitution, slavery, atheism, infidelity and a complete abandonment of common decency in human dealings was more a norm than an exception during that fateful century. There was a delectable sense of freedom in the air. The delightful and prodigious fury of Renaissance held left in its awake a society that was quite unclear what it should be doing with itself. A life of pleasure was all that was preferred, no matter what the moral costs or physical price to be paid. Monarchy was beginning to be questioned, and revolution was round the corner. God as a binding force was losing its reputation, and the Church was begetting priests and popes whose aims were more to guard their frail public positions and continue uninhibited with private vices. Common man had enough to eat, live and frolic about. It didn’t matter to them whether whom they served as long as their interests were taken care of.
Marquis de Sade comes from an illustrious family who trace themselves to Laura - that elusive, chaste lady who caught Petrarch poetic imagination leading him to compose some of the finest Italian poetry ever written; ushering in the Humanist movement in 14th century. Sade’s Parents were from French nobility, but were dysfunctional leaving the young Sade in perpetual state of insecurity. His education was desultory and unstructured; his uncle - a priest took care of his well-being in his palatial abbey. During the day Abbe would read Mass to gullible public, and nights were spend in the arms of ladies (usually mother and daughter together). Young Donatien would hears noises creeping out of cloistered Gothic bedrooms. In such an atmosphere, young Sade grew up to disregard religious injunctions and to accept Sexual perversion as normal, not eccentric in any way. In his mind being religious had nothing to do with exercising bodily needs - A way of living he would acknowledge throughout his life
By Nature the Marquis was impulsive, selfish and given to moody outbursts; but he was also very literate, compassionate and easily reconciled when he needed to be. His greatest blessing was to be married to young Pelagie, from a rich, established noble family. Never could a man of Sade’s temperament and proclivities hoped for better life partner. She gave him three children at regular intervals, and in between she refused to believe in any misadventures of her capricious Husband. When the whole world was hunting for Sade, she would hide and protect him using means only a wedded wife could use. Her Mother (Sade’s Mother in Law), initially supported Sade financially, but when things started getting out of hand, she conspired to get him arrested and put away. In all of this, Sade lived a life completely oblivious of what he was putting people through. He would retire to his Family estate at La Coste, gather around him Young women and Male servants, engage himself in all manner of sexual perversions; and then once the physical excitement exhausted itself, he would retire to study philosophy, history of Catholicism and a connoisseur of exotic pieces of art.. He was a committed bibliophile and would order books from remote corners of France, and oftentimes delivery of such conspicuous parcels would leave a trail for Police to find him wherever he lived. In his mind, he had no guilt. It was not that he was deriving pleasure through pain to deride or discredit religious beliefs; but he merely engaging in them for purely sexual reasons and joy of it. After all, it was an age of freedom for moneyed class. In modern terms, He needed something to give him a “Hard on”. And his willing partners obliged him with means. I say willing because, none of his “victims” ever testified openly against him. They were all either bought by money, or they loved being in Sade’s company. The reasons then for his prolonged periods of imprisonment was more out of political vindictiveness than of any charges of sexual misdemeanor brought against him.
In a way, his long sentences in Prison (where incidentally, he was treated with importance) were good for him. It was during those solitary moments that he wrote his Gothic novels impregnated with sexual details: Justine, Juliette - 120 days of Sodom and Philosophy in the bedroom, were all born in that solitude when he could bring to bear his knowledge of Gothic imagery, fuse it with his own sexual imagination, elevate his fantasies to flowery heights of prose and shock the world with its candid depiction of Man’s innermost desires. French reading public did not know what to make of these novels, but surreptiously printed, distributed and read them. It was banned, revoked and again banned; until they found that there was no use regulating its spread. With free commerce between England and France, aided by wars - Sade’s work had engulfed a larger audience than imagined.
After the revolution in 1789 and Napoleon’s rule soon after, Sade’s mental health deteriorated. He died with explicit instructions not to touch his body for forty eight hours, and never to open it. But the fascinated French scientists wanted to have deep look at the brain of Sade and ignored his request. Such was the fascination of this iconical man. Three hundred years later, Marquis de Sade is now looked upon as one of the first existential philosophers of the modern age: a Man who was more concerned about his “being” than others. Simone De Beauvoir, Camille Paglia and Poet Guilaume called him “the freest spirit of that age “. He lived his life according to his terms, and never mixed his fantasies and sexual desires with anything else. He was not sexually deviant as a protest against society and its oppressions or prove a point. No! He believed that each man must live life to the fullest in whatever capacity he or she is intrinsically equipped, and Sade believed that is consummation lies in realizing his sexual fantasies. He wanted to push himself to see how far it would go, and at what point would he reach sexual fulfillment… An important experiment that still remains unresolved in the 21st century. An irony that is not lost on those who criticize Sade.
In my opinion, One of Sade’s enduring legacies and the reason why his name and work evokes so much disgust among people is because he touched a raw nerve in Human psyche. Never before was sexual instincts of Man placed more openly on the table or with such graphic detail on paper. Becoming increasingly civilized, in Sade’s time, had come to mean a state of uncomfortable repression, and sexual motives begun to be clothed in flowery words of culture, taste and emotional diplomacy. Sade freed himself of such encumbrances and lived true to himself. Freud at the turn of 20th century revolutionized understanding of the Human mind by unequivocally declaring and positing that Man’s innermost motives are often sexual in nature. Sade preceded him by 200 years. Psychology today may have moved a little away from that hypothesis, but to a large extent it still remains vitally true. Whether we acknowledge it or not, it is a fact that even today most of us are unconsciously (or subconsciously if you prefer) moved by sexual triggers, though we may or may not openly exhibit its results or declare in public. Decency is only a word that camouflages indecency lurking round the corner. Ignoring does not necessarily mean it is not there as a fact. It will manifest itself subtly in day to day activities, gestures and behavior. The question is only a matter of degree; and one never knows when the pendulum will swing from extreme to the other, or what circumstances will trigger it. And to that extent Sade’s life and works will always be relevant to us, and “Sadism” will remain a potent word in English language.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,