Some stiff stuff ahead. You have been warned
There is something inexplicably tragic about the fact that each rasika's experience of a work of art is different.
It renders an artist's attempt to manipulate the viewer/reader's experience into a pre-determined mould, not only infra-dig but also impossible. That an artist can have no consideration whatsoever about what the receiver's experience ought to be, is something I find hard to swallow. I can at best agree with the argument that such lack of consideration does not necessarily proceed from artistic pride, but due to the sheer impossibility of knowing what kind of experience one's art invokes in the one receiving it.
I keep using 'receiving' which itself is a word which is tainted with my prejudice. A prejudice that coexists with the creeping realization I cannot help liking something, except by appropriating it in ways, which I am aware, are inappropriate. I will default to poojyasri Woody Allen for an example of what I am talking about.
What I mean is..
In 'Stardust Memories', Woody's character (Sandy Bates) takes Daisy, an attractive acquantaince, to watch the classic movie 'Bicycle Thieves'. Daisy, who watches it for the first time, seems to 'get' the crux of the film: about the ethical relativism in times of strife and its meaning for humankind. Sandy, who is seeing it for the umpteenth time, tries to uproot it from its social context - post WWII Italy - and tries to make a wider (deeper?) reading: If the fundamentals of life - which concerned the protagonist of Bicycle Thieves - were provided for, such as for a relatively affluent first world citizen, there would still be issues to grapple with. Issues like the quest for love, its evanescence, the elusive nature of an ideal which disappears upon realization (which, btw, was apparently something repeatedly mentioned by Schopenhauer. Quite important in the (my) reading of the film's crux. Dorrie - who dominates Sandy's memories - is introduced 'speedreading Schopenhauer').
We realize that Sandy is 'distorting' the work to like it in his own way. That is the only way he can like something. And 'Bicycle Thieves' is by his own admission on of his favorite films. And that liking has developed from a strongly distorted reading of the film! That strikes a Woody fan as a perfect note.
That what one likes in a work of art is not 'the thing in itself' but only the way it touches one. In many ways it dismisses the attempt to reach completelty objective standards for art appreciation. It centerstages the giant ego of the receiver, who can only like something to extent that he is able to relate it to his condition, or atleast things he obsesses about.
It is possible to say that such self-obsessions are universal and thus strike a chord immediately. To twist Charlie Kaufman's quotation in Adaptation: the only thing one can read about is oneself and one's own self. This reduces (if that is even an acceptable word) all attempts at art consumption to some form of a Rorschach inkblot test.
It beats me how an artist can live in peace with the fact that, that is how his work is being consumed. It is as if the piece of art does exist as a 'thing in itself' but it does not matter as such. Only what it reflects to the receiver does. I still adamantly use the word 'receiver' though I have kind of invalidated its usage in the above two paragraphs.
Now, would you believe, that all I have said thus far is a set up, a quasi-apology, for what is to follow?
The Author is alive and (I'm) kicking
It niggles me constantly that Woody regards 'Match Point' to be one of his best, and notably better than 'Crimes and Misdemeanors' - a film with which it has a significant content overlap. I am very wary of possessing a reading of a work which runs grossly counter to the artist's own reading of it. I can't help automatically thinking my reading is ridiculous. And that it owes more to my own obsessions than something that can be reasonably inferred from the work. But I have to kick a bit before I yield. And that's what I am about to do.
Chris and Jonah
The predicaments of Chris (Jonathan Rhys Myers in Match Point) and Judah (Martin Landau in C&M) have many common points but one crucial difference.
Chris is making the most of his opportunity. He knows that he would be nothing without his in-laws. He knows his stakes and his worth. Indeed Woody has an explanatory conversation scene with an acquaintance where Chris verbally explains his predicament. His eventual decision to kill Nola (Scarlett Johansson) proceeds from survival instincts and indeed a desire to maintain his lifestyle.
Woody's success is getting the audience (I mean me) to think that, this is indeed quite a reasonable course of action for Chris. Woody shows the subdued antipathy Chris develops once the heat goes out of the affair with Nola. However this is contrasted with the lovelessness of his life, and the ending seems to underline this and his distant existence is shown as some sort of a comeuppance. So, reading that Chris walked away scot-free is, in my opinion, not quite on the money.
Judah too was not going to abandon his wife. The embezzlement that Dolores (played very well by Angelica Huston) knows about, is only a concrete form of his insecure vulnerabilities that she is privy to. He gets his brother to snuff her out and the core of the film seems to be about his agonization with this murder and how he reasoned his conscience out of it. (The advantage about being a reasonable being is that one can reason out of anything - Benjamin Franklin).
So his life is restored much like Chris' is. But the similarity ends there.
Nola is an actress who is not able to make it but it is quite conceivable that her marital options are not bound by Chris, except by her own decision to do so. On the other hand, Dolores is a down and out aging airhostess, whose last chance is Judah. There is a throwaway scene where Dolores is shown on the way to the gym, which her job requires that she attend. She has to run to even just stay in the fray - some masterly writing by Woody.
One can't escape the 'cocktail waitress' condescension that pervades the relationship. Dolores' gushing ignorance seems part of the glue of the relationship for Judah, but it constantly reminds the audience that this just isn't to be.
There are couple of other Woody films where such relationships come to mind. In Interiors, the father of the intellectual protagonists, divorces their mother (a self-destructive 'intellectual' who becomes more and more unmanageable) and settles to marry a simple and good-hearted woman, much to the consternation of the daughters. His argument is that he is able to 'relax around her'. The condescension of that is direct and the honesty of that statement ends the argument. Naturally this does brings down the father in the eyes of the daughters. 'Was this man after all just unable to cope with their mother all these years? Or should we credit him for trying hard thus far and his honesty now? 'are the questions those well written moments raise.
Another striking example is in 'Husbands and Wives' where Sydney Pollack separates from his longtime wife Judy Davis (which seems consensual at first and then drives her crazy) and then begins dating an aerobics trainer - whom Woody immediately disapproves of and keeps referring to derisively as 'cocktail waitress' much to the consternation of Pollack. Pollack too argues that he can finally 'relax' and that with Judy Davis, he always felt like he was 'on audition'.
This conscious condescension forebodes the eventual collapse as he returns to his 'true self' after a vacation and pairs up with Judy Davis again. These traits are unmissable in Judah's affair.
To be fair to Woody he does portray the vacuousness of being so judgmental. Notably poignant is the Pyhrric victory that Alvy Singer feels when he sees Annie Hall take her new boyfriend to watch 'The sorrow and the Pity'.
The dictates of malleable reason
In the shockingly blunt line that succinctly captures ethical relativism, Shakespeare most famously wrote in Hamlet that "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so". That is largely what Judah's journey (and the reading encouraged by its maker) is about. Needless to say, the murder is a placeholder. Which of our crimes we reason and demote to misdemeanors, which of our (or rather others') misdemeanors we blow up into crimes, by simply thinking in certain ways about them?
One can even construct moral and ethical contours, so as to nicely produce a classification of ones actions as one fancies. Note, these outcomes need NOT necessarily be convenient. It would be simplistic to think that comforting oneself is the chief consideration in all this. Reason is hardly ever such an obedient servant.
Empathy and complicity
What Woody achieves in C&M is more than the empathy. Sure we (I again) pine for Judah to get out his predicament. We feel the same with Chris too. But with Judah, there is a feeling of complicity in the greater duplicity of the affair itself. Chris is quite unabashed about his attraction for Nola. We see the turbulent circumstances of her hurt ego (and convenient rain!) invoking a romantic union. We are told the whole story forward in its progression. We are witness to Chris's conscious efforts to yield to his temptation, the ensuing indecision and his final actions.
In C&M the affair is in reverse. We first see the predicament Judah is in, then the affair is told in flashback, where one cannot but see the eventual unraveling of his relationship and thus quite easily infer his insincerity. And yet , Woody makes you identify with Judah's supposed moral turmoil. That is why I rate this work as a significantly better effort of a genius, who grasped the nuances of social life with such an eye, that is spooky and admirable simultaneously.
And now to Kambar..
Now, why did I preamble so long summoning Rorschach and what not? Because I am not done yet (groan!).
I was recently reading the AaraNya kaaNdam of Kamba rAmAyaNam and the Soorpanakai-Rama sections reminded me about Dolores's reaction in the face of condescension. After all wasn't it Judah's brother who actually executed the murder of the woman. A woman whose only fault was that she had no other options and was thus giving it her all.
Soorpanakai is instantaneously attracted to Rama's meditating form.
'எவன் செய, இனிய இவ் அழகை எய்தினோன்?
அவம் செயத் திரு உடம்பு அலச நோற்கின்றான்
நவம் செயத்தகைய இந் நளின நாட்டத்தான்
தவம் செய, தவம் செய்த தவம் என்?' என்கின்றாள்
What more can such a man want, who possesses such beauty?
What for does he strain his wondrous form?
For this man whose eyes can do new things
To do penance, what penance has Penance done?
Knowing fully well that her current form would not be attractive to Rama, she assumes to form of a maiden that will be pleasing Rama. And the initial effect is indeed positive.
பேர் உழைய நாகர்-உலகில், பிறிது வானில்,
பாருழையின், இல்லது ஒரு மெல் உருவு பாரா,
'ஆருழை அடங்கும்? அழகிற்கு அவதி உண்டோ?
நேரிழையர் யாவர், இவர் நேர்?' என நினைத்தான்
None of the great world of the Nagas - nor of anyone else in the skies
Have such a slender form
Has her beauty bounds?
Will any bedecked lady be her equal? ' he thinks
This is Rama's initial reaction and proceeds to start conversing with her.Then Soorpanakai reveals that she is Ravanan's sister and her desire for Rama. This becomes her own undoing. The next few passages mark the brilliance of characterization. The conversation has Soorpanakai alternating between various states of appeal that paint a psychoanalytic portrait to perfection.
>Soorpanakai first disowns her lineage in order to appear attractive to him.
>Says she is unlike her brothers and means only well to the rishis of the forests.
>She then threatens him of dire consequences through her brothers if he dares reject her.
>She flips to supplicatory mode in asking what is it that he may endear her to him.She then appeals to his military senses saying, she could be useful ally against her brother if Rama so intended to use her in the future.
Rama treats her with cold scorn, even brutal sarcasm. Laughs at her offer of military support.
It is only upon seeing Sita that Soorpanakai realizes that she is the reason Rama refuses to be swayed. We, the readers know this is not actually the case, as we are told Rama was quite taken by Soorpanakai at the start.
She calls Sita names. She says, she is a demon in assumed pleasant form. Which again meets with Rama's derisive laughter.
After the attack
After having being shut out on all accounts she wilts in her personal hell. Kambar's description renders her suffering quite palpable. At the end of it she decides the only way out is to snuff out Sita. And that is when Lakshmana slits her nose.
The passages that follow are a replay of her initial appeal only with heightened intensity that make a great impact in the excellent portrayal of the alternating hurt-ego. A stooping appeal for consideration, an immediate burst of anger at the fact that her impassioned appeal had exposed her vulnerability but that too was rejected, then a realization that her outburst was going to get her nowhere so dropping even lower in her appeal for consideration and so on.
I'll try and sample some sections out :
புவனமனைத்தையும் தன் பூங்கணையால் உயிர்வாங்கும்
அவனுமுனக்கு இளையானோ இவனேபோல் அருள் இலனால்
Is Manmadhan too your brother like Lakshmana?
For he too has no mercy for me
மூக்கரிந்து நும் குலத்தை முதல் அரிந்தீர்
By severing my nose, you have severed your race
பூப்போலும் மெல்லியாலால் பொருள் என்னோ புகல்வீரே
What use this gentle maiden (Sita) for you in wars. Can she be any match for me?"
இன் உருவம் இது கொண்டு, இங்கு இருந்து ஒழியும் நம் மருங்கே; ஏகாள் அப்பால்;
பின், இவளை அயல் ஒருவர் பாரார்" என்றே, அரிந்தீர்; பிழை செய்தீரோ?
அன்னதனை அறிந்து அன்றோ, அன்பு இரட்டி பூண்டது நான்? அறிவு இலேனோ?
Didn't you slit my nose in the hope that now I will not be able to seek alliance anywhere
And thus will have to stay with you?
Am I fool not to know the love that motivated this action of yours?
It makes my love for you double!
காம்பு அறியும் தோளானைக் கைவிடீர்; என்னினும், யான் மிகையோ?
பாம்பு அறியும் பாம்பின கால்" என மொழியும் பழமொழியும் பார்க்கிலீரோ?
I know you will not let Sita go, but am I in anyway an additional burden to you,
Won't I not be useful in your battleswhen I know your tricks of your foes being one of them myself'
பெருங் குலா உறு நகர்க்கே ஏகும் நாள், வேண்டும் உருப் பிடிப்பேன்
I can assume the form I want when we return to Ayodhya (note: this means the slitting technically means nothing to her!) so don't be repelled by me.
And the lowest of lows:
ஒருங்கு இலா இவளோடும் உறைவெனோ?" என்பானேல், இறைவ! "ஒன்றும்மருங்கு இலாதவளோடும் அன்றோ", நீ, "நெடுங் காலம் வாழ்ந்தது" என்பாய்.
If you won't take me atleast ask your brother to.
If you can live with a woman who has (almost) no waist,you can ask your brother to take one without a nose.
And when the brothers are unflinching and only more repelled, she saves herself with the parting shot
'ஏற்ற நெடுங் கொடி மூக்கும், இரு காதும், முலை இரண்டும், இழந்தும், வாழஆற்றுவனே? வஞ்சனையால், உமை உள்ள பரிசு அறிவான் அமைந்தது அன்றோ?
Hah...do you think I would have stayed with you after what you have done to me.
I was only schemingly trying to get to know your thoughts.
And she is not yet done.She urges brother Karan and army to attack Rama only to end up having them all killed.When she gets back to Lanka and shocks the hell out of the people and infuriates her brother Ravana.
Even there she cannot but describe the beauty of her assailants
ஆர் ஒருவர் அன்னவரை ஒப்பவர்கள் ஐயா
ஓர் ஒருவரே முதல்வர் மூவரையும் ஒப்பார்
who can be their equal ?
Both of them can individually be said to be the peer of the trinity of Gods.
Such is her the depth of her desire.
Where she scores is in craftily presenting her case to Ravana.She rather hides her own desire and says she met with her fate when she was trying to covet the beautiful Sita as a consort for his Ravana.
She begins describing Sita's beauty and knows the effect she is having on her brother and pauses the description, saying: what is the point in me describing when after all you are going to see for yourself tomorrow (i.e. you cannot contain yourself much longer and you will rush to see her tomorrow)
நாளையே காண்டி அன்றே நான் உனக்கு உரைப்பது என்னோ
And before passing on the baton to Ravana, Kambar makes his presence felt by saying the analogies are useless when describing Sita.
'வில் ஒக்கும் நுதல் என்றாலும், வேல் ஒக்கும் விழி என்றாலும்,
பல் ஒக்கும் முத்து என்றாலும், பவளத்தை இதழ் என்றாலும்,
சொல் ஒக்கும் பொருள் ஒவ்வாதால்; சொல்லல் ஆம் உவமை உண்டோ?
"நெல் ஒக்கும் புல்" என்றாலும், நேர் உரைத்து ஆகவற்றோ
One can say her forehead is shaped like a bow and her gaze is spearlike
One can say her teeth are like pearls and her lips are like corals
But one can only achieve a matching of words without a matching of meanings; is an analogy possible?
Only as much is accomplished as when saying paddy is like grass
Each sees his own obsessions
In the passages that follow Ravana suffers the desire for a woman he has not even seen but only merely heard the description of! To the extent that finally he sees the vision of a attractive woman's form in phantom. He immediately summons his sister to identify for him if it is indeed Sita.
But when Soorpanakai arrives on the sees she can only see the phantom image of Rama and proceeds to describe him ticking her brother off further.
Words are but frail vehicles for the artists to record his obsessions, and they fire up the imagination of the receiver which can't help being all about the receivers' own obsessions. And through this hoary tradition of hopeless miscommunication, art lives on.
The truth is...
I kinda tricked you into reading thus far by saying there was a similarity between this half and first part of this post. Honestly, the only thing common is me. Both these lines of thought occurred to me today and I wanted to write here. I'd rather acknowledge that than grasp at straws trying to connect them like an old fashioned essayist.
Why have one's own wall in the web and apologize for incoherence? What good are ordered words, when we have it on higher authority (see above) that words cannot but miss the essence.
And lastly, even if I were coherent it's not as if you folks are going to read it the way I want you to.