When someone as brilliant as Natalie Portman has something to say, there are bound to be multiple levels of meaning. Right from the get-go, from the title of her recent piece posted below, I caught a Zen-like mind-stretching play on words, plus an obvious reference to a film from forty-one years ago by the Spanish director/auteur Luis Buñuel: That Obscure Object of Desire.

At the risk, as always, of telling the readership something it already knows, here are a few reflections:

The word-play in the title, starts with the dual meaning of the word “subject” – which is both the opposite of “object” and a reference to what Portman’s piece is about.  Then there is the reference to the subject-object dichotomy, central to so much of the philosophy and practices used in the pursuit of ever-expanding consciousness.  Immediately one asks oneself, if a person can be object of another person’s desire, what would it mean to be the subject of someone’s desire?  And does this relate to the modern criticism of the objectification of certain people by others?

Buñuel’s film is the story of the involvement of an older man (Matthieu) with a much younger woman (Conchita). But it is told as a flashback, so totally a mater of Matthieu’s interpretation.

The role of Conchita is played by two different actresses, whose behavior switches back and forth between sweet and nasty. Does this represent the splitting in Matthieu’s worldview, and that of society, between the Virgin and the Whore – in the US, between “nice girls” and “bad girls”? Or is Conchita Matthieu’s anima , leading him to higher consciousness and responsibility?  (According to Jung, the anima – like everything else in the subconscious – has two aspects, light and dark…)

Reinforcing the Conchita-as-anima interpretation is that Matthieu wants desperately to have sex with her, but she is saving herself for marriage, and such commitments generally represent responsibility in fairy tales and mythology.  I remember seeing this film and wondering all the way through, Why doesn’t he just marry her?

Finally, after much back and forth, Matthieu and Conchita reconcile, but then there’s an explosion – a bomb set off by terrorists.  Do they perish?  This is less than clear, though it is quite often the case that, in fairy tales and mythology, finally united lovers end up dying together as a symbol of their eternal union, which also signifies the cosmic union of male and female.  Further, in fairy tales and mythology, death is a symbol of finishing with one level and moving on to the next.

Another possible, but more attenuated, “level” of meaning relating to the casting of Conchita is that, according to a 2005 biography of Buñuel, the actress originally cast as Conchita was Maria Schneider, herself the victim of abuse during the filming of Last Tango in ParisBut Schneider and Buñuel had a falling out, and he and the producer, Serge Silberman , were ready to give up on the whole project.  Then one night,  as he and Silberman were drowning their sorrows at having to pack it in, the idea came to Buñuel of casting the part of as Conchita with two different actresses.

Further, Portman starred in the recent (2010) film Black Swan,  which in turn takes place during rehearsals for a production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikowski‘s ballet Swan Lake.  Although I’m far from acquainted enough with either of these works to go into any detail, both deal extensively with such archetypes as the doppelganger, the shadow than that of the anima.

So how does all this relate back to what Portman is explicitly (rather than implicitly) writing about?  I think it indicates a depth-psychological or mythological “level” to what really amounts to a clarion call for certain people to just plain grow up – i.e. to awake to consciousness and responsibility, empathy and understanding.  For more on this process and the role of the anima therein, see Peterson‘s lesson on Jung (Part 1 and Part 2), illustrated by yet another film, Disney’s The Lion King.

A “Revolution of Desire”?  Count me in!  And let’s make sure to meld it with the “Revolution of Tenderness” proposed by Pope Francis in his Surprise Ted Talk posted below.


7 thoughts on “Portman/Buñuel”

  1. Comment in two parts;
    Bruce’s post is quite a take on Portman’s title, which is an allusion Buñuel’s film’s title, but takes a very creative swerve.
    I’d like to just say how boggled I was trying to think what it would mean to be the •subject• of someone’s desire.

    As to what Portman is writing about, I think it’s considerably stronger than a call for certain people to just grow up. Here is her conclusion:

    “To people of all genders here with us today, let us find a space where we mutually, consensually look out for each other’s pleasure, and allow the vast, limitless range of desire to be expressed.
    Let’s make a revolution of desire.“

  2. You said: “I’d like to just say how boggled I was trying to think what it would mean to be the •subject• of someone’s desire.”

    Well, get ready to be boggled.

  3. Thanks for the comments!

    In saying that Portman was calling “for certain people to just plain grow up”, I was attempting to paraphrase and summarize – and seem to have overdone it a bit on both counts. Michael is, of course, correct in pointing out that what she is calling for is “considerably stronger”…

  4. @BruceKing thanks for your original post, which was the most substantial comment on the Portman statement in the B.B. space (& quite original as well) where I had hoped there would be more discussion.

    On that note, there has been so much discussion in the big Internet world out there that I feel like my comments are redundant at this point.

    Has anyone seen a hashtag that declares something along the lines of
    ‘I’m a straight man and admit to having the woman-harassing gene just growing up as a young man in this culture, but am happy to stand with women who are pushing back’

  5. I very much enjoyed Brue King’s insightful and thought-provoking article.
    Thank You, Bruce.

    And Michael Kelly comments about ‘the objective of affection’, I say to him thou doth protest of such knowledge too much, LOL

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