Monday, April 10, 2006

Cassavetes' Shadows: Ambiguous Love

Is it difficult to fall in love? Not really. Does it take time to bloom and flourish? Based on the cinematic facts we have here, it does not seem so. Lelia falls in love with Tony at first sight. She then forgets her good manners and kisses him in front of David to provide evidence on her belief that “if you are yourself, you can’t get hurt”. She is wrong, because she does get hurt in the end. Moreover, it is exactly as David told her: “You can’t always see it coming”. At least, she certainly did not.

Lelia does not even realise that she falls in love. She plays her ordinary game of seduction until it is too late and she loses control. “Who do you belong to, Lelia?” Tony asks her. Feminine is very often discussed in terms of belonging. Girls belong to their father, until they are trade for and become the property of their husband. Levinas, though, leaves some space for equality here between the two sexes: “ Nothing is further from Eros than possession. In the possession of the Other I possess the Other inasmuch as he possesses me; I am both slave and master.”[1] “Well, I belong to me”, bravely responds Lelia, because she did not yet encounter any power that can make her lose control over herself. This power is slowly approaching, Eros will not only make her eager enough to renounce her freedom and seek a uniting bond with her lover, but he will make her both the slave and the master in a way that she would not feel losing her freedom, since, at the same time she makes her lover lose his freedom in his turn.

“Love remains a relation with the Other that turns into need, and this need still presupposes the total, transcendent exteriority of the other, of the beloved.”[2] This is supposed to be the feelings of the same towards the other; i.e. the feelings of Tony towards Lelia. But love can be mutual and this feeling can be inverted, to my opinion. And it is Lelia here who sees her love become need. Lelia is ready for commitment and a more close bond with Tony. She presupposes that love means need, she thinks that Tony must feel the same way and such a question of living together is for her natural. Her lover finds it startling; he cannot be in love yet. She is hurt; she only wants to go home, to the safe closed space for the feminine. Later on, she welcomes him into her home, but he does not show dignity of this welcoming. The situation fails him: he has learnt in his life to abhor total otherness, which for him takes the form of racial otherness. His warm feelings change, a fight occurs between him and Hugh, Lelia’s protective brother and he leaves the house. Lelia cries in her brother’s arms. “But, I love him so much” she exclaims. Is that different from “but, I need him so much?” she says it in the same despair, the same loss of hope. She feels pain, because love is clearly ambiguous. Her love is not altruistic or unselfish, it is not pure love. It is not a love of giving; it is a love of taking—it is a love-need. She cannot be happy if he is happy somehow, somewhere, but she can be happy only if he is there with her, only if he loves her. She is hungry for his hunger.[3]

As soon as he finds out her second layer of otherness, though, he moves to a trajectory of repent. Her quality as other doubles; this is the main reason that he does not forget her, I think. This is why he phones back to ask for forgiveness over his rude behaviour, why he sends his friend as an intermediary, why he goes himself to the house, only to find her leaving with her new date. But then, this is how Irigaray talks about the woman that becomes part of her male lover’s world. “Keeping herself on the threshold, perhaps.”[4] This is what Lelia succeeds in not doing: to stay inside.

[1] Levinas, Emmanuel, Totality and Infinity, pg 261
[2] Irigaray, Luce, The Fecundity of the Caress: A Reading of Levinas, Totality and Infinity, “ Phenomenology of Eros”, An Ethics of Sexual Difference, London: Athlone Press, 1993,
[3] Ibid, pg.213, this is the inverted form of her credo.
[4] Ibid, pg.206

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