Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Of a Kiss (or) What the heck do we know anyway?

I caught the latter half of 'Hannah and her Sisters' on tv last night. Yet another example of Woody's sheer mastery in the art of direction - as I understand it.

In one of the last scenes in the film, Elliot (Michael Caine) kisses his wife Hannah(Mia Farrow) in bed.Earlier that evening, Caine was told, in no uncertain terms, by Lee- Hannah's sister- that their brief affair was over.

Till then he was hoping there'd be some relief from his marriage. A relief which we - sitting outside the film- see as potentially ruinous, because - as he himself says - Hannah is perfect. "Too perfect" is the worst charge he seems equal to laying on her - so much so that one is inclined to think he is grasping at straws to redeem what is simply a primal attraction to his sister-in-law. We do not sympathize with his alleged suffocation in the perfection of his nice wife as we are privy to all his machinations throughout.

With the door now shut on him, they have the only marital confrontation which they seem to have ever had (with a door half-open so we see only one party till it is slammed shut on our face). The circumstances that lead to it are extraordinary in themselves. She asks him uncomfortable questions close to a subject where he has just taken a blow, and is being forced reassess his position. Her timing is an example of superb depiction of typical couple-moments.

They come as close as possible to the frank exchange of emotions but Elliot stops short of yielding to the moment and revealing the unnecessary. The perilous sense of individuality which can hurt loved ones badly, was possibly reigned in because his hopes had just been dashed moments ago, thus (presumably) making his survival instinct come to the fore. A day earlier this conversation would have been different and its outcome possibly longlasting.

But even in that argument, during his pre-emptively angry dismissal he (and we) sees that she considers him above and beyond any shred of suspicion. One can infer that itself would make him comfortably relieved on the practical plane, while simultaneously heavily guilty on the emotional/relationship plane (which by way of constructing this sentence I have inadvertently suggested is orthogonal -sheesh - to the practical plane). In fact she is the kind of person who may feel guilty for making him feel so. This humungous trust surplus is likely to make him feel all the more terrible.

That is the night he kisses her - after ages, we infer- quite intensely and professes love.

What do we make of that moment?
Is that a moment where his animal passion is being 'merely' channeled to his wife?
Now that the temptation is cleared away, is he investing all his emotions sincerely back into the marriage?

We like to believe the above two are different. We see a duplicitious, weak, self-serving man and a innocent, kind-hearted wife.

But it is also quite possible he himself doesn't know the difference at that moment. After all, every moment is labelled and defined at a later point in time.

We see weak man who wants to survive, who doesn't want to cause hurt - now that there is little to gain from doing so.

And, as he indicates in a voice-over in the subsequent scene, feeling change and pass.So, it was indeed wise to keep mum about something which, left to itself, will fades into inconsequence. Or so it seems at that time
“There is no means of testing which decision is better, because there is no basis for comparison. We live everything as it comes, without warning, like an actor going on cold. And what can life be worth if the first rehearsal for life is life itself?

― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being


  1. As a fellow "solipsist perpetually making text edits to the first edition of the hitherto unwritten autobiography" (quoting from another -- also perfectly timed -- Woody post you wrote back in April 2010 on a perpetually perplexing topic "Husbands and Wives" that I derived comfort from reading though I've yet to watch the movie), I must say the Kundera quote you close with here took me back to your Moravia quote from "Two Adolescents":

    "..this is what it meant to live. To go on living. To do with passion and determination, absurd, senseless things for which it was impossible to find justification and which continually placed the person who did them in a state of slavery, of hypocrisy.." which brings me to the topic of this post -- feelings. I do agree that feelings can (and often do) change and pass and so it is indeed wise "to keep mum about something which, left to itself, will fade into inconsequence."

    But here's the thing (and I don't know if this is the appropriate analogy); it's winter and the ocean's busting her bosom (8-meter high waves, we hear) up north in Half Moon Bay. Of course the tides are gonna ebb eventually, so it's perfectly ok to stand by, say/do nothing, and simply watch those waves roll. But that's clearly not the philosophy of the select few big-wave surfers who brave the hazardous conditions at Maverick's for the momentary high riding those rolls. So it is with feelings, I think -- as they relate to matters of the (he)art. Safest thing to do is probably shut up and watch them ebb and flow (which most of us do, most of the time anyways), but it's also OK if you sometimes choose (assuming you are "skilled" enough emotionally) to "ride" those rare highs.

    1. :-)
      If only our actions and choices can hurt only us and no-one else..