Monday, February 16, 2015

Love Hurts: The Dark Side of Romance in the Movies By: Lauren Ennis

Last week's review celebrated Valentine's Day with a tribute to romance in the movies. As classic as those films of last week's review may be, there is no denying that they are glamorous and romanticized in ways that make real-life relationships pale in comparison. In reality, romance is more confusing, complicated, and painful than most of what we see onscreen. As a result, most of us have spent more Valentine's Days arguing with our significant other or spending a solo night on the couch than experiencing an evening worthy of Hollywood magic. Regardless of how your Valentine's Day turned out this year, however, this week's countdown is guaranteed to make you feel better about your own relationship, or single status. Without further ado, here three of the most sleazy, contemptuous, and disturbing classic cinematic takes on romance that I've seen.

1. Lolita: Based upon 1955 Vladimir Nabokov novel of the same name, this movie's as controversial as classic and even modern cinema gets. The story focuses upon a middle-aged professor's obsessive love for his pre-teen stepdaughter. The story begins with Humbert Humbert (James Mason) arriving at the home of writer and pornographic film-maker Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers) and declaring his intention to kill Quilty in retaliation for Quilty's sexual corruption and abuse of underage Lolita Haze (Sue Lyon). The film then launches into a flashback which reveals that Lolita had suffered sexual abuse long before her meeting Quilty; at the hands of her stepfather, Humbert. While sexual abuse has been a topic explored in both real-life headlines and popular fiction, Lolita stands out for its attempt to tell its tale from the abuser's perspective. Throughout the film, Lolita is shown strictly from Humbert's perverse viewpoint, which in turn places her in a sexually charged and often antagonistic light. In following Humbert's view, Lolita is shown to be an underage femme fatale who is fully aware of her actions as she uses her charms to take anything that she wants from the men around her.  In stark contrast, Humbert is portrayed as the bumbling would-be hero of his sordid tale who, despite his despicable behavior, is portrayed as utterly devoted to Lolita and willing to do anything to keep her near him. Despite the disturbing nature of it, the co-dependent relationship that develops between the two is played for laughs in what is certainly the darkest take on the romantic comedy genre. By the finale, this twisted relationship ultimately proves damaging to both parties as Lolita becomes so desperate to end the abuse that she runs away with Quilty, unaware that he intends to feature her in his films, and Humbert is left a broken man who descends into the madness of his own delusions. The film's tagline read, 'how did they ever make a movie out of Lolita?'; even forty-three years of cultural changes later that is still a valid question.
Pedicures were never so perverse

2. Gaslight: Many a film has shown marriage to be the ultimate goal in the pursuit of happiness. For newlywed Paula (Ingrid Bergman), however, her traumas have only just begun when she says 'I do'. Entrusted to her aunt's care following her parents' deaths, young Paula experienced yet another loss when her aunt was brutally murdered in a robbery attempt gone wrong. Years later, she tries to leave her troubled past behind and start over by marrying the charming Gregory (Charles Boyer) after a whirlwind romance. All seems to be blissful for the couple until they move into the house Paula inherited from her aunt, and Paula's mental state inexplicably begins deteriorating. Rather than trying to help his wife, Gregory continually belittles even the smallest action she takes and discredits her at every turn, further adding to her mental descent. SPOILER ALERT Eventually, it is revealed that Paula is not just going insane but being systematically driven insane by her husband's machinations. The lost items, moved furniture, and flickering lights that she has been told are imagined are not only real but are all efforts by him to make her doubt her own sanity. Paula's entire world is revealed to be a well orchestrated lie and her quick courtship and strained marriage just steps in Gregory's plan to finish what he started in her aunt's house years earlier. Released in 1944, Gaslight is distinctive for its exploration of verbal and psychological abuse in an era when marriage was considered a sacred institution. The film also successfully portrays the dangers of relying upon romantic ideals as Paula risks her finances, freedom, and sanity when she impulsively marries Gregory based upon an adolescent infatuation. The film earned Ingrid Bergman a Best Actress Oscar and brought the word 'gaslight' into popular slang where it remains synonymous with psychological manipulation. For a psychological thriller that will leave you guessing at the plot and the merits of marriage at every turn look no further than the flicker of Gaslight.
Till criminal sentencing do us part

3.  The Blue Angel: This 1930 German film made Marlene Dietrich an overnight international success and cemented her place as one of Hollywood's first sex symbols. The story focuses upon the destructive effects of an opposites-attract relationship between an aging professor and a promiscuous showgirl. The film begins with prudish Professor Rath punishing his students for frequenting the decadent nightspot The Blue Angel to see the performances of sexy cabaret singer Lola Frohlich. The professor goes to the club to catch his students in the act next time they try to attend and instead meets Lola herself backstage and is instantly smitten. When her manager tries to pimp her out to a customer Rath,defends her honor and makes it his personal mission to ensure that she is never degraded again. After word spreads of his spending the night at Lola's apartment, however, his reputation is soon ruined and he is promptly fired from his position. Certain that he is acting for the greater good, he proposes marriage, hoping to keep her off the street and out of the club's scandalous review. After their wedding, however, their relationship quickly disintegrates as their association holds him back from finding another teaching job and she resumes her former life. Humiliated by the failure of his career, Rath is further demoralized by Lola's resentment, which she makes a point of constantly reminding him of. After years of struggling to please the ever fickle Lola, Rath finally reaches his breaking point when he joins her revue and performs an embarrassing routine only to find her backstage with another man. The way that the professor ultimately succumbs to his fate after accepting the loss of his marriage, career, and principles is nothing short of tragic. This film is often cited as an example of the femme fatale at her finest, but upon closer observation the story better serves as an exploration of the demoralizing effects of unrequited love. Although she may be an unlikable character, Lola never tries to hide what she is and early in the film tries to dissuade the professor from becoming involved with her. As a result, Lola cannot be held entirely to blame for a situation that she warned the professor was doomed from the start. In Rath's eyes Lola's behavior can be justified by her circumstances if she will only let herself be cured by a respectable life. What he cannot forgive is her inability to reciprocate his love for her. When he realizes that she never did or could love him the professor finally understands how it was his unattainable dream rather than the woman he fashioned it around that was his true undoing. "Falling in love again, never wanted to", Lola sings, and after viewing this film you might reconsider doing so yourself.

Even in garters and panties she still wears the pants in the relationship

1 comment:

  1. Stanley Kubrick said his only regret in his career was making "Lolita". Not because it was about a pedophile, but because he didnt realize how much the studios were going to censor him.....all the more evidence as to why he was such a dangerous mind.

    Still a FANTASTIC review. Well done.