University of Dublin
“Monsters are meaning machines” (Gelder 6).
In her 1993 book, The Monstrous Feminine – Film, Feminism and Psychoanalysis, Barbara Creed heavily relies on Julia Kristeva’s theories of abjection in her detailed study of femininity and the female body in horror cinema (Creed 1993, Kristeva 1982). The term “monstrous-masculine” is one that is therefore derived from Creed’s thorough analysis of the “Monstrous-Feminine” (Creed 1993), but refers to the opposite, that is the interpretation of masculinity and the screened male body. The monstrous-masculine then forms the background for an investigation into the connections between monstrosity and masculinity as is traceable in contemporary cinema. This article will discuss the physical, psychological, and behavioural metamorphoses of the heterosexual adolescent male in particular as he is shown in cinema outside the horror genre. The focused study and textual analysis of film texts allow for necessary discussion on important issues that are sometimes absent or under-represented in other areas of political culture. With the primary understanding that cinema as a visual and aural medium both presents and represents significant commentary on culture, politics, gender and sexuality, the comparative examination that follows should highlight for the reader how connections between adolescent masculinity and monstrosity occur on the cinema screen. Specifically, the following article concentrates on representations of French-Canadian and Mexican adolescent masculinity as portrayed on screen in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores perros (2000), and Denys Arcand’s Les Invasions barbares (2003). To begin the discussion, an introduction to the film texts is essential.
“Oh, the rivers of sperm I spilled dreaming of her thighs!” (Rémy, Les Invasions barbares, 2003).
The above is taken directly from the script of highly acclaimed French-Canadian writer-director Denys Arcand’s Les Invasions barbares (2003) and will be shown to link the character of Rémy to Julia Kristeva’s theories of the abject as presented in Powers of Horror (1982). Les Invasions barbares, an Oscar winner in the category of Best Foreign Language Film (2004), comes as the second part of the director’s earlier work Le Déclin de l’empire américain (1986) (The Internet Movie Database).
In 2007, Arcand released L’Âge des ténèbres, to form part three of what is now known as his social commentary trilogy. The following comparative article will focus on Les Invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions) where Arcand reassembles his cast, a group of university lecturer friends, who are familiar characters from the first film, and places them around the bedside of their cancer-riddled companion, protagonist Rémy. As his friends and family gather around him, the audience is told about Rémy’s life, while watching it through his slow inevitable death. Rémy is a divorced French–Canadian father of two in his sixties and is played by Rémy Girard, who as a result won a Genie Award (the Canadian equivalent to an Oscar) for Best Performance in a Leading Role (2003) (The Internet Movie Database). The film itself, despite dealing with the heavy themes of cancer and death, falls into the comedy genre and its marketing tagline reads, “A provocative new comedy about sex, friendship and all other things that invade our lives” (ibid). Rémy spends the majority of the film in a Quebecois hospital, which is introduced to the audience as more war zone than safe haven providing harsh comment on the state of the Canadian Health system. A multitude of wires hang down from the ceilings, patients line the corridor walls laid upon hospital trolleys, and the hospital itself appears to be under the command of an obstinate trade union. Rémy’s son, Sébastien, arrives having received a phonecall from his mother. Sébastien as an international banker in London chose a career that is much opposed to the socialist ideals of his ailing father. In addition, Sébastien’s sister and only sibling is circumnavigating the world by boat and so, upon his mother’s request, he flies out from London with his fiancée to be at the bedside of the father he despises. Sébastien dutifully makes his father very comfortable in his dying days through bribing the trade union officials for a private room to the arrangement of administrations of heroin by Rémy’s former lover’s daughter, Nathalie. For Sébastien, there is no problem that cannot be solved by the opening of his wallet and under the circumstances Rémy swallows his pride and ideals by accepting help from the son he long ago abandoned. The majority of the film then is taken up with the re-development of a relationship between father and son, and a recounting of Rémy’s life focusing primarily upon his interests of women and sex and, to a lesser extent, politics. Towards the film’s close, we see Sébastien give the heroin-addicted Nathalie the use of his father’s apartment. The two had been childhood friends and the apartment, the audience is informed, was where Rémy used to bring his mistresses. In gratitude, Nathalie kisses the betrothed Sébastien and, for a short time, he enthusiastically responds. Here Arcand appears to make the point, within the walls of Sébastien’s father’s apartment, that perhaps father and son despite career paths, political ideologies, and age may not be so different after all.
Arcand’s Les Invasions barbares then, will be compared to Mexican production, Amores perros (2000) in what may at first appear to be an unlikely pairing. Amores perros, contrary to Arcand’s middle-class ponderings on life and love, is a tense multi-perspective vision of sex, violence and redemption in a hostile Mexico City that allows for very few light-hearted moments. The film was the first collaboration between director Alejandro González Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, who later continued to work together on 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006). Common to all three films is the divided narrative where the story of the film is split into multiple stories told, or shown, from different perspectives and from different points in time and space. However, where 21 Grams and Babel are set in a number of locations, Amores perros is set entirely within Mexico City and thus concentrates its commentary on the social injustices and hardships of this specific city through the combination of location and narrative. Amores perros tells three separate stories of individual characters – the adolescent Octavio, the middle-aged Daniel, and the ageing Chivo – and then connects the lives of these characters through a central car-crash that is shown from various angles and diverse viewpoints throughout the film. Writer Guillermo Arriaga had originally intended his work to tell the life of one man at different ages, however, the film chooses to use three characters to represent youth, middle-age, and later-life, who differ not only in age but also in economic circumstances and social standing (Shaw 57). This decision perhaps allowed for a greater exploration of the vast divisions in Mexican society. It is the first of these stories, Octavio y Susana, which shall inform the arguments put forward in terms of monstrosity and adolescent masculinity in comparison to Arcand’s film. Octavio y Susana tells of a frantic affair between Octavio and his brother’s young wife Susana. Octavio’s older brother, Ramiro, is violent, abusive, and unfaithful to schoolgirl Susana. The young Octavio, believing Susana to be in love with him, enters his dog into the brutal underworld of illegal dog-fighting in order to raise enough money for the young lovers to flee Mexico City. In the end, Ramiro is killed in a bank heist and Susana refuses to leave with Octavio, who, as a result of the film’s central car crash, is shown to have suffered multiple debilitating injuries. Octavio is played by Gael García Bernal, an actor who through his work in later films such as Y tu mamá también (2001), El crimen del padre Amaro (2002), Babel (2005), The King (2005) and La Science des rêves (2006), has become somewhat symbolic of young Mexican masculinity in both Mexico and internationally since the time of Amores perros release in 2000. In Amores perros, Octavio is introduced to the audience as he tells a sexist joke at the dinner table to impress Susana. The two are closer in age than are Susana and her husband and appear to have an easy relationship. At first Octavio is likeable and even heroic in his determination to rescue the pregnant Susana and her infant child from his brother’s tyranny. However, it becomes apparent that his desire for Susana is twinned only with his hatred of Ramiro and thus his motives in initiating their affair become blurred. Although Susana does have an affair with Octavio, at no point does she seem solidly convinced that they should flee together. Their finances are greatly improved through the efforts of Octavio and his fighter-dog Cofi. Also during this time, Octavio has arranged, through his new acquaintances, for his brother Ramiro to be savagely beaten. Blinded by his new found wealth and power, Octavio underestimates the encroaching brutality of the dog-fighting underworld where his jealous enemy Jarocho stabs Cofi mid-fight with his switch-blade. The fury with which he responds results in Jarocho’s receiving the same harsh treatment, only this time it is Octavio who holds the knife. The car chase and inevitably horrific collision, that directly follows as a consequence of the stabbing, is the central narrative event that González Iñárritu uses to connect the three stories of Amores perros. Eventually, Octavio can be held accountable for the death of his best friend Jorge, who was travelling with him, and, to a lesser extent, for the death of Ramiro who fled his home with his young family as a result of the organised beating. Also, due to the position of the car crash as the linking narrative event, Octavio holds the blame for model Valeria’s injuries that the film’s second story, Daniel y Valeria, reveals will ruin her career and her body leaving her wheelchair bound.
Through a comparison of Amores perros and Les Invasions barbares and specifically in connecting the characters of Octavio and Rémy, this article then seeks to investigate the nature of developing male adolescent desire, and its connections to abjection. In linking the characters of Octavio and Rémy to Julia Kristeva’s theories of the abject, the underlying threat of monstrosity that seems to coexist with the emergence of male heterosexual desire shall be explored in the selected texts. Not only that, the following argument also aims to show how, despite the dissimilar cultural contexts of Amores perros and Les Invasions barbares and indeed the great differences between Canada and Mexico, there are still similarities to be found between the performances of adolescent masculinity, in this instance, regardless of the specific national context.
At this point is it necessary to turn to Julia Kristeva’s theories of abjection that will be brought forward throughout to underline the following textual comparison. In Powers of Horror Julia Kristeva writes,
We may call it a border; abjection is above all ambiguity. Because, while releasing a hold, it does not radically cut off the subject from what threatens it – on the contrary, abjection acknowledges it to be in perpetual danger (9).
Dangers and threats associated with the execution of desire can be read in the film texts under scrutiny and link the subject matter to abjection. In examining Amores perros and Les Invasions barbares, the abject arises through firstly connecting Octavio to the horror genre, the home of the abject where all manner of monstrosity and desire come to the fore, and secondly, through an examination of Rémy’s recollection of sexual awakening. Importantly, both directors make use of external film texts. In Amores perros González Iñárritu intercuts Jean Delannoy’s Notre Dame de Paris (1956) with Octavio and Susana’s first meeting in Octavio’s bedroom. Arcand, on the other hand, makes use of The Life of Maria Goretti (1949), a biopic and dubbed version of Augusto Genina’s Cielo sulla palude (1949). It tells the story of Maria’s life and subsequent canonisation, and is used by Arcand to illuminate for the audience, Rémy’s recollection of his adolescent desire. During the editing process in the making of any film, key decisions are made regarding the necessity or irrelevance of certain scenes in terms of both structure and narrative. The inclusion of exterior texts within the narrative is of great relevance for it allows a rich intertextual analysis both within, and between the films presented. This can be argued on the basis that the selection and inclusion of Notre Dame de Paris and The Life of Maria Goretti, due to the precise limitations of the editing process, was a highly premeditated move on the part of both directors. Therefore, purposely drawing the attention of the audience to exterior texts containing interrupted narratives allows for a multi-layered translation of meaning. In relating the intercutting texts to the specific points where they intersect the main texts, Amores perros and Les Invasions barbares, a deeper level of significance can be unveiled than may at first be apparent.
Early in Amores perros, Octavio’s dog engages in his first provoked fight and rapidly the scene cuts to a shot of a television screen. A black and white film shows a hunched figure in a bell tower and is recognisable as a screen version of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) (in fact it is Jean Delannoy’s Notre Dame de Paris (1956), in which Quasimodo is played by Mexican born Anthony Quinn (Antonio Quiñones) (The Internet Movie Database) and is therefore interestingly relevant). The camera draws back to reveal Octavio’s bedroom and, as Susana enters, a second clip of the hunchback is shown and then again interrupted by cutting back to the bedroom where Susana, in thanking Octavio for defending her against her husband, fails to hide her bleeding ear. In Les Invasions barbares the external film enters the narrative as Rémy descibes a memorable scene from The Life of Maria Gorreti, while Arcand allows the audience to watch the clip for themselves. To his gathered friends, the expiring Rémy recalls,
For the whole of the film, the immortal Ines Orsini is covered from head to toe. But at some point they had to at least suggest the abject nature of the bestial desire of the vile rapist. So the exquisite Maria dips her adorable toes into the Ocean. With a regal but modest gesture, she lifts her skirt. The thighs of Ines Orsini! (Rémy, Les Invasions barbares)
The particular words Rémy elects to use in his description combined with the insistence that the saintly Maria Goretti was his first object of sexual desire permits the interpretation that Rémy is recalling his sexual awakening. Moreover, director Arcand allows Rémy to list his subsequent infatuations, again demonstrating that the others came after Maria Goretti. In his brief description transcribed above, Rémy signals what may be read as possible factors in the development of male heterosexual adolescent desires that, under investigation, are indeed evident in both Amores perros and Les Invasions barbares. Firstly, he refers to the sanctification of the fantasy female (“the immortal Ines Orsini”), secondly, he mentions the abject nature of bestial desire (“the vile rapist”), and finally through his interest in “the thighs of Ines Orsini”, he concentrates on physicality and the separation of body parts from the whole. Returning to the films to illustrate, a noticeable relationship between sexual fantasy and religious symbolism can be found in both texts albeit in rather different ways. Firstly, Rémy recalls that it was the Jesuit brothers who first introduced him to the saintly Maria Goretti, when the film was shown to his class at the Chicoutimi seminary in Quebec. In contrast, Octavio never verbally places Susana in the realm of the immortal or the sacred, but the mise-en-scene and costume choices point to her inclusion in the long history of Marian imagery in Mexico. She is seen most often in her school uniform, blue in colour, and is framed beneath a crucifix on more than one occasion (Smith 2003). And, indeed, her infant child may connect her even more closely to the Virgin, than if she had none. In reference to Santa (1903), modern Mexico’s most famous literary prostitute, Sergio de La Mora explains that,
In Mexican popular culture, Marian imagery is frequently used to describe the prostitute as the repository of “romantic” male fantasies about women’s sexuality, a janus-faced figure who is both virgin and whore. The fantasy of woman as prostitute is a contradictory and unattainable revered object of erotic desire who is paradoxically both pure and corrupt, sacred and secular. (De la Mora 22).
Susana, although not in any way a prostitute, can indeed be categorised in a similar way. She is a young married mother who lives with her husband’s family and is still attending school. Nevertheless, she falls prey to what La Mora terms, “the two-sided masculine construction of Mexican womanhood” where the woman is “simultaneously the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene” and is mexicanized as La Malinche, (the foundational Eve of Mexico’s conquest), and the Virgin of Guadalupe (31). Her appearance of almost virginal innocence, read in this context, can only go so far until the point where she becomes a catalyst in the struggle between brothers Octavio and Ramiro. It is as if her defencelessness somehow appears to invite her corruption. Turning our attention to the true-life story of Maria Goretti on which the film Rémy recollects is based, Maria was stabbed by, to use Rémy’s words, “the vile rapist” whose desires she refused to satisfy. Both Maria and Susana are initially set up as innocent victims of circumstance – Maria as a victim of attempted rape, and Susana as the abused wife of a violent husband. What becomes uncertain is whether the desire these women arouse in the adolescent is born out of an urge to protect these innocents, or more alarmingly, an urge to possess them. Certainly it is the actual or suggested possession by other men – Susana by Ramiro and Maria by the would-be-rapist – that appears to spur on those adolescent desires. Had Rémy omitted the presence of the rapist in the telling of his fond memory, this question may not arise. But, significantly, he does not omit him. Thus he ensures that there is still a suggestion of destruction and of violation in this mostly innocent tale of his youth. And although he insists that they, presumably his religious instructors (or perhaps he refers to the filmmakers), had to suggest the “abject nature of bestial desire,” Rémy too has followed suit and by doing so further to the previous suggestion, he has linked his own desire to the presence of the rapist. I do not intend to suggest by any means that adolescent male desire essentially indulges in fantasies of rape, but rather that in both Amores perros and Les Invasions barbares, it is the degradation of innocence and purity, or the endangering of the sacred that appears to unleash their adolescent sexualities. Moreover, as the character of Hugo’s Quasimodo is introduced into Amores perros, where his legendary deafness is mirrored by Susana’s injured bloodied ear, the relationship to Mother Church and to saintliness is further underlined. After all, in Hugo’s novel, Quasimodo was discovered as an infant on the steps of the great cathedral of Notre Dame. Indeed the very architecture of the Parisian cathedral displays the complex and symbiotic relationship between sanctity and monstrosity, where images of sculpted and grotesque gargoyles haunt the holy spires.
By focusing on the character of Quasimodo briefly, parallels can be drawn between him and the character of Octavio. From the beginning, any suggestion of Quasimodo’s blessed-ness is marked by the irregularity of his body. Even his name, Quasimodo, relates to the second Sunday after Easter, immediately relegating him to the position of an after-thought, or even after-birth in relation to the resurrection of Christ. Physically Quasimodo, with his hunched back and stooped stance, can be read as a type of monster. Or rather he is the threat of the monstrous, because his deformity and disability disturbs the understood norms of physical appearance, and thus society’s expectations of the body. Lumpy and imperfect, he can be read as an embodiment of Julia Kristeva’s abject, for his physicality puts him at the fringe of society, on the borderline between monster and man where he inhabits a third space. In the words of Kristeva,
It is not a lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite (4).
Certainly, Quasimodo in his physical state of being, “disturbs identity” and “does not respect borders” (Kristeva 4). That is to say, he is not easily categorized as man or as monster. He is “the composite” because he is human with the shape of the monstrous and thus relegated to the un-human. He is neither but then he is also both (ibid). Also, I would argue that more than any other life stage, adolescence itself is a period of abjection where the transition from childhood to adulthood, similar to Quasimodo’s body shape, disturbs identity and borders, and forces the adolescent into an in-between category. By placing Quasimodo, as a symbol of the monstrous, in the (Gothic) horror genre, and through González Iñárritu’s intentional editing, Octavio is linked to Quasimodo and to the horror genre. Indeed the horror genre itself can be associated with adolescence where the physical transformations that the onset of puberty forces on the body – the sudden growth of hairs, lumps and bumps or vocal transitions – are not a radically different realities to the conceptualised transformations in the literature and film of horror – the werewolf, or the vampire and even the possessed. For Octavio, however, the physical markers of adolescence are not as prominent as are the psychological conflicts of teenage angst. Gael García Bernal, playing Octavio, is presented physically as far more ‘Beauty’ than he is ‘Beast’. Yet, it is his behaviour and his desire that becomes beastly, while his body remains beautiful. In this way he becomes Quasimodo’s reciprocal image. Octavio’s abject state is psychological, hovering between boyishness and adult masculinity, whereas Quasimodo’s abject state is due to his bodily form and the isolation he suffers as a result. As mentioned above, adolescence itself can be perhaps identified as a state of liminality, of in-between states, and in this way it can be described as an abject state. Octavio is not a boy yet neither is he a man. He is travelling physically and psychologically between the two. He is moving from childhood towards adulthood but sits comfortably in neither category. Like Quasimodo, Octavio is inter – states. In a collection of Carl Jung’s writings entitled Aspects of the Masculine, Jung in The Love Problem of a Student writes, “the onrush of sexuality in a boy brings about a powerful change in his psychology” (Jung in Beebe 217). He continues on to say that:
The psyche is disturbed [.....] and thrown of its balance. At this young age the young man is full of illusions, which are always a sign of psychic disequilibrium. They make stability and maturity of judgement impossible (ibid).
Without doubt, the impact of Octavio’s sexuality demonstrably shows his psychological stability has been knocked off balance for, and I refer again to Jung here, “he has now the sexuality of a grown man with the soul of a child” and Jung suggests that even for “many men of twenty-five, the period of psychological puberty is not yet over” (216). At the other end of the scale, adolescence ambushes Rémy, whose recollection of exhaustive masturbation in his early adolescence centres on beautiful women he recalls having watched on screen. Whereas Octavio’s performance of masculinity impacts upon the bodies of those around him (specifically, he causes the death of his best-friend, arranges the beating of his brother and has intercourse with Susana), Rémy’s ‘performance’ in contrast, does not directly affect any other character. Les Invasions barbares shows Rémy to have been primarily concerned with ‘interfering’ with himself, and not with others. His hunger for sexual gratification was worked out over his own body in response to a silent pact between his imagination and a projected image. In this respect, Rémy describes private masturbation, or imagined sex in a sense, but Octavio will physically perform the sex act with his brother’s wife. Octavio’s adolescent masculinity is presented as tragically destructive yet, Rémy’s vigorous masturbation and wild fantasies are presented as humorous, and in a positive light. The contradiction between the Church teaching and screening of the film in the name of all purity and holiness is also made comical by the lasting impression the vision of the actress’ thighs has on Rémy. On this surface level then, the tale of adolescent masculinity told by Rémy, and by director Arcand, appears as a relatively ‘safe’ masculinity, even playful when compared to the danger and devastation of Octavio’s behaviour on those around him. Perhaps this can be explained by Rémy’s proximity to childhood in the time he describes, for undoubtedly Octavio is closer to the threshold of adult masculinity than the fading Rémy was at the time he is recalling. However, again we must turn attention to the mention of Rémy’s rapist, “vile” and “bestial”, who is easily placed in the realm of the monstrous and can comfortably refer back to Kristeva’s abject “with those fragile states where man strays on the territories of animal” (12). More to the point, Rémy speaks of the suggestion of the “abject nature” of “bestial desire” of the rapist, and Octavio has already been put forward as being in a state of abjection through both his desire and his transition to adult masculinity. Without suggesting that Octavio himself is a rapist, there are links between him and the rapist in The Life of Maria Goretti. Certainly it can be said that the urgency with which he pursues Susana, one time grabbing her forcefully from behind in the corridor after calling her from his brother’s marital bed, another time pushing her against his bedroom window to steal a kiss, does indeed suggest an aggressiveness in pursuit of his goal. More interestingly perhaps, in Amores perros, it is Octavio who holds the knife recalling the knife-attack on Rémy’s Maria, and he uses it to stab Jarocho, his nemesis, in an attempt to assert his masculinity. In this set of power relations, the knife that penetrates can be read as the phallus and the act of stabbing as an alternative violation of the flesh. As Octavio charges at Jarocho, it is evident that he is wearing a Scream T-shirt depicting the white elongated and distorted face of the killers mask worn in the horror trilogy where the white-faced image is a borrowed simulation of Munch’s famous painting of anguish. The T-shirt itself becomes a visual clue pointing to the bloodshed that is to come and the role Octavio is to play in that violence as he enters the last arranged fight against Jarocho’s dog. Octavio develops a savage thirst for blood when he seeks out revenge on both his brother Ramiro and his enemy Jarocho. As a consequence of Octavio’s animalistic behaviour death and destruction cling to him. The film’s car-chase, out-of control and dangerous, is a visual projection of Octavio’s mental state. “The time of abjection”, according to Kristeva, “is double; a time of oblivion and thunder, of veiled infinity and the moment when revelation bursts forth”(9). Perhaps “the time of abjection” could also refer to Rémy’s masturbation. Looking to Barbara Creed’s The Monstrous-Feminine – Film, Feminism and Psychoanalysis (1993), in her reading of Kristeva, Creed explains that “the body protects itself from bodily wastes such as shit, blood, urine and pus by ejecting these things from the body” (Creed 9). It could be read then that Rémy’s diligent masturbation becomes merely a form of excretion where semen too is ejected from the body as waste and where the excreted bodily fluid becomes itself a reminder of death where it fails to create life. As he exclaims, “Oh, the rivers of sperm I spilled dreaming of her thighs!” the comparison can be drawn between Octavio’s spilling of blood and Rémy’s spilling of sperm providing a fluid link between emerging male heterosexual desire, violence, abjection and monstrosity.
Importantly, both of the intruding clips taken from the films Notre dame de Paris and The Life of Maria Goretti, concentrate on physicality, and on the bodily form. The character of Quasimodo is famous for his unusual body shape and it is both Rémy and the eye of the camera that pause on Maria’s naked thighs. In essence, the unconventionally formed body of Quasimodo can be read as the threat of the monstrous, abject due to the implied threat against the normalised body. However, the imperfections of the hunchback can also highlight the expectations of the perfect human body and, indeed, the expectations of the holy grail of perfect beauty. The screened body is thus opened up to inspection and to criticism as much as it is to adoration. Not only this, the screened body is also vulnerable to dismemberment when both camera and audience select and cut individual parts from the body as a whole, as is evident when Rémy declares that it was specifically the revelation of Ines Orsini’s thighs that were the inspiration for sexual fantasies. In Amores perros, Susana’s thighs are consistently held under the camera’s gaze. Costume selections ensure that she wears clothing throughout that reveals her upper legs to the audience, be it her school skirt, or the T-shirt she sleeps in. To return once more to Susana’s entry into Octavio’s bedroom, not only is the crucifix framed above her head but also she is positioned in the background, framed by Octavio’s legs in the foreground. Here, Susana is positioned at the level of Octavio’s crotch. The camera moves directly from monster in cathedral tower (Quasimodo), to semi-virginal mother (Susana) to Octavio’s genital area and thus a site of male sexuality. Later, when Susana finally allows herself to be seduced, Octavio reaches for her exposed thigh first before sliding his hand under her skirt. It is of great interest to note both Octavio and Rémy’s obsession with the female thigh. The female body when sexualised is, according to the selected texts at least, read or desired from feet, to thighs, to genitals. Again we can use Rémy’s words as instructive where he firstly describes Maria’s toes, then the lifting of her skirt, and finally, those unforgettable thighs. The blatant fixation on the thigh, rather than the breast or even the vagina either of which could be linked to the maternal, I would argue, brings to mind a suggestion of the cannibal. A thigh is not automatically sexual but rather it is full, fleshy, and dare I say, meaty. The concentration on the thigh where it is presented as headless, body-less and separate by way of the camera shot and in the imagination of the adolescent depicted, confronts the viewer with the butchery of the female body as represented on screen. Moreover, it suggests an implicit hunger attached to heterosexual male adolescent desire that is dangerous, violent and monstrous in light of the perpetual threat it exudes.
In conclusion then, the characters of Rémy and Octavio are representatives of emerging adolescent male heterosexual desire in Arcand’s Les Invasions barbares and González Iñárritu’s Amores perros, and as such can be read as screen representations of adolescent French-Canadian and Mexican masculinities respectively. Also, the abject physical and psychological state of adolescence can be read through the interruption of the analysed films by the chosen external narratives, Notre Dame de Paris and The Life of Maria Goretti. Les Invasions barbares and Amores perros reach the viewer from different cultural contexts. In addition, Octavio’s adolescence is immediate in contrast to that of Rémy, whom Arcand depicts as in his sixties remembering his past youth. Through a close examination of the film texts, however, the sanctification of the object of desire appears to bring forth the suggestion of its opposite, the unholy and the bestial. This in turn, throws the complex sexual awakenings of adolescence into frenzy where an imbalance of sexuality, maturity and societies expectations of masculinity, engulf the adolescent. Significantly, the emergence of sexual desire at both ends of the scale of adolescence, in both films, regardless of point of origin, is fastened to the threat of the monstrous and to the destruction of symbolic purity. Finally, the opening quotation of the article reads “monsters are meaning machines” (Gelder 6) and hopefully serves to illustrate the necessity of continuous investigation of the taboos of monstrosity, whether that monstrosity be apparent in physical, psychological or behavioural form. Gelder writes, “if monsters signify something about culture, then culture (at least to a degree) can be read through the monster.”(81). Indeed, it is the ostracised and abject monster who through his trespass, exposes not only the limitations of society in its understanding of itself but, in this instance, also signals the deep-rooted and damaging affects of the limited confines within which adult masculinity may emerge. Society itself not only harbours but also creates monsters at its margins. Where lived culture and its representations in cinema continue to deny the possibilities of alternative definitions of masculinity it will endlessly regenerate, time and time again, a narrow and incomplete map of gender geography where adolescent masculinity is inextricably tied to a monstrous form.
L’Age de ténèbres. Screenplay Denys Arcand. Dir Denys Arcand. Perf. Marc Labrèche. Cinémaginaire Inc. 2007.
Amores perros. Screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga. Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu. Perf. Emilio Echevarría, Gael Garcia Bernal, Goya Toledo. Altavista Films. 2000.
Babel. Screenplay by Guillermo Arriage. Dir Alejandor González Iñárritu. Perf. Cate Balnchett, Adriana Barraza, Gael García Bernal, Rinko Kikuchi, Brad Pitt. Paramount Pictures. 2006.
Cielo sulla palude. Screenplay by Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Augusto Genina (adap.) Dir. Augusto Genina. Perf. Ines Orsini. Arx films. 1949. (dubbed version called The Life of Maria Goretti)
Crimen del padre Amaro, El. Screenplay by Vincente Leñero and Eça de Queirós. Dir. Carlos Carrera. Per. Gael García Bernal, Ana Claudia Talancón. Alameda Films. 2002/
Déclin de l’empire américain, Le. Screenplay by Denys Arcand. Dir. Denys Arcand. Perf. Rémy Girard, Corporation Image M &M. 1986.
Invasions barbares, Les. Screenplay by Denys Arcand. Dir. Denys Arcand. Perf. Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau. Astral Films. 2003.
Notre Dame de Paris. Screenplay by Jean Aurenche (Novel by Victor Hugo). Dir Jean Delannoy. Perf. Anthony Quinn, Alain Cuny, Gina Lollobrigida. Panitalia Films. 1956.
Scream. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson. Dir. Wes Craven. Perf. David Arqeutte, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox.Dimension Films. 1996.
The King. Screenplay by Milo Addica and James Marsh. Dir James Marsh. Perf. Gael García Bernal, Paul Dano, Pell James, William Hurt. Content Films. 2005.
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21 grams. Screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga. Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Iňárritu. Pef. Benicio Del Toro, Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. That is That Productions, 2003.
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