Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thanatos, du Donnerwort


Boots on the ground carrying machine guns, at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, France, during an exhibition of Manet's work.

Recently my husband and I rented Amour, a beautiful and pitiless movie about being trapped by love when one person in a marriage develops Alzheimer’s. If you have not yet seen this film, I will say only that no one walks out, yet someone is abandoned. I don’t think I am giving anything away when I mention that, finally, the intact spouse suffocates his wife with a pillow. Very difficult to watch; I think I forgot to blink. It got me thinking about other pillow suffocations that have been presented to me, for instance, in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. More recently, though, on The Blacklist, the urbane and infinitely calculating character played by James Spader suffocates the heroine’s father with, yes, a pillow. Then, tears in his eyes, he kisses the dead man on his forehead. The suffocated person is always a patient, has always asked to be killed if they arrive at that miserable level, is always embraced by their merciful murderer. There is, however, something about seeing it on television—network television!—that stops me in my tracks. We are willing to show all kinds of death on television, gory and traceless, kind and vicious, needful and gratuitous; now that anything and everything can be recorded, these scenes are available to children. However, the notion of there being some dignity or necessity in two people having sex, that these might not be wearing any clothes, that it means something powerful to them emotionally—that is considered something that children should not see. Doesn’t have to be explicit, or pornographic. (We have the Internet for that.) Just saying that there are many more incidents of adults being murderous and of it being deemed necessary than of any dignity or rightness attaching to adults being sexual. Yet again, Freud was right: Death wins out over Love.