Monday, March 1, 2010

Men, Women, and Wolves

Popular movies are fairytales, and fairytales explore the psyche. The Wolfman, a Hollywood fairytale, gives dramatic shape to children's fear of abandonment, paternal violence, sibling drama, and the hero-child's struggle for power. Like Beauty and the Beast, The Wolfman expresses a male concern about his own brutishness, and a hope that some beautiful woman will love him in all his beastliness, and that her love will set him free from beasthood. Most importantly, The Wolfman is about male rage. Rage is the source of his beastliness.

The film is full of images that give expression to a rapacious male capacity for violence, and the fear that, were he to let the beast in him out, he would rip the people he loves to shreds. Benicio Del Toro's Wolfman starts out as a gentleman, but contact with a beastly father turns him into a raving, murderous creature who disembowels and kills the people toward whom he directs his rage.

The film focuses particular attention on how the destructive capacity of male rage affects intimacy with a woman. Emily Blunt plays the Wolfman’s love interest in the film and, in one of the film’s illuminating moments, the Wolf in the man perceives the woman’s beauty and vulnerability. The woman’s very tenderness makes the Wolf in the man want both to fuck her and rip her to shreds. This dark impulse—to expose a woman’s pulsing red insides—is also explored in John Banyan’s novel Ghosts, in which a banished criminal whose crime is never named, confesses that he was driven by a desire to turn his female victim inside out. This violent component in male sexuality makes the Wolf-Man fear what he will do to the woman who elicits his desire.

The movie is also about family savagery. As a child, the Wolf-Man sees his father unleash the full force of his rage upon the beautiful and beloved mother. The sight so traumatizes and twists his young psyche that he spends a year in a mental institution where all real memory of the event is banished. The Wolf-Man’s experience articulates the archetypal psychic pattern of childhood trauma. In the pressure-cooker of the family, the child witnesses cruelty, betrayal, and violence so terrible that the child-self is traumatized. The outside world, refusing to validate the reality of what the child has seen, labels it “delusion” and “dysfunction” instead. The child is thereby made “crazy” and, as an adult, suppresses knowledge of the abuse he witnessed. This act of suppression condemns the child to repeat the pattern of abuse and cruelty. In the Wolf-Man, loyalty to siblings, battle with the Father, and love from a woman releases the traumatized (and therefore violent) man from the cycle of violence and carnage.

It is interesting the role that the Woman plays in all this. Del Toro falls in love with his dead brother’s fiancĂ©e. The movie gives expression to the male yearning to be seen in all his brutishness and loved/accepted by the Beauty anyway. The Woman, who does indeed see the Man for who he is and loves him anyway, expresses what must be an archetypal female fantasy: to save the Man she loves. “You cannot save him,” an old gypsy wise woman tells her. Of course, she is destined to try despite the warning. “You must not condemn him,” says the gypsy Woman. And she doesn’t. “You can kill a Beast,” muses the Woman-Love, “but not a Man. But where does the Beast end and the man begin?” Given that Man and Beast are one, she cannot kill the Beast without killing the Man. With great courage, the Woman-in-Love confronts the Beast in the Man-she-loves and, though she acts to protect herself against his rage and violence, she beholds him in his all his bloody rage, seeks to have him recognize her, and accepts him, as he is. This practice in love of accepting the Man as he is releases him from the cycle of violence. The two lovers do not get to live out their dream of Love—his rage has destroyed too much—but the family drama closes.

When he feels his rage rise, the Beast-Man tries to avoid the Woman-he-loves because he fears he will hurt her. In the Wolf-Man, the woman must choose love over personal safety, but she also must defend herself against the Beast’s bloodlust. The Woman is prepared to sacrifice her safety to an extent, but she must refuse to consent to her own death. She can put herself in danger for love, but she must not cross the line where sacrifice becomes martyrdom. In its central female character, the Wolfman gives audiences a vision of selfless love, courage, loyalty, and sacrifice, but also of feminine self-defense.

I hate to say how much this explains about my own intimate relationships.

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