Take My Eyes: Requiem

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Poster

It’s the kind of love that few of us will ever know. It’s also a love she’s forced to disown, not once but twice, at the beginning and the ending of this tale. Therein lies the tragedy, for this love’s end was not a foregone conclusion, about that there was never any doubt. It wasn’t what she wanted.

When the final credits roll, two hearts will be broken. But the reasons for each will differ, shedding light on the impossibility that came to shape their lives: how it came to dominate them – despite the heights to which they had traveled – but also how one found the strength to write her own conclusion for their story.

It was never a question whether they loved each other. Their passion is palpably present. The problem was something else, perhaps even a corollary of their desire, the unmitigated neediness that visited their bedroom and their home. The simple fact was this: his love was also her obliteration.

Which is how we come to witness the (first) departure with which this story begins, when she is forced to seek refuge with her Sister and take a low paying job at the museum just to support herself and her son. It’s a radical change, one borne of desperation. And yet, from this unwanted imperative comes a gift she couldn’t have imagined: access to a language that gives meaning to her misery. For she will overhear a tour guide speaking about an El Greco painting depicting a famous burial and the ways his art found a way to unite both heaven and earth:

"Historical records describe El Greco as a flamboyant, rebellious, mystical man who traveled all around the Mediterranean. From his native Greece he first went to Italy, where he learned this use of color and composition from the Venetian painters. Later he arrived in Spain, the source of his realism, sorrow, [and] tortured postures: darker, more somber, grayer. In fact, the painting is divided into two parts. The Italian influence above … "

It is but the first indication that she (and we, in the audience) will receive about the nature of this story. How the tortured postures that currently define her life – the darker, more somber aspects of her existence – fit into a larger whole. The fact that this might not be immediately apparent is through no fault of her own, caught as she is in the immediacy of experience. And so, like the painter, she follows her path around the sea of emotion that is her life, seeking a unity for its highs and its lows. Actively seeking a life other than the one that ends with her annihilation.

ladolorosa.morales1As if this weren’t enough, she – and we – are alerted to another portrait, this time of the Virgin Mary, called La Dolorosa ("sorrowful, afflicted"). There will soon be other sources of inspiration to follow, as if her entry into this world of art gives access to the very thing that has eluded her so far, the absence of which spawned the suffering that seemed to be her unwanted fate.

Our protagonist’s name is taken from an incarnation of this iconic figure, Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Both the name and the image suggest nothing short of her own beatification. For Pilar is the foundation upon which that apparition was first witnessed, a phallic symbol that sits uneasily with received notions of the Virgin’s fragility and innocence. This "pillar" is not associated with an external figure; it is not a power borrowed from a masculine other. Instead, it is hers and hers alone. In another tradition, such a "phallus" is described as the "hidden consort," not because she has a secret lover but because she has found what few are able to discover.

In other words, the journey at the heart of this story – the one that begins with her departure – is nothing other than such a trek: Pilar’s labor as she works towards her own redemption. It’s the kind of odyssey that few recognize, much less honor, since it’s one of the most difficult in the world. Like the heavenly Assumption of Mary, which had to wait two millennia before receiving official recognition, it’s the lonely task of "completing the course of her earthly life."

Peephole 1 Peephole 2

When the couple meet again – after she’s taken refuge in her Sister’s home – we are witness to a relationship strained by the distance placed between them, forced to speak through a peephole in the door she insists remains closed. This puts him in an awkward and infuriating position, for the space denies what he believes is owed him, an insult to his understanding of love they share. He can’t help but vacillate between attempts at seduction and an impatience that eats at his very core.

Hey, don’t you love me anymore? Come on, Shorty.
— I’m scared. I’m sorry, forgive me.
You’re my sunshine. I can’t live without you, Shorty.
Hey, come on, Pilar. Look at me. Open the door …
Damn it, Pilar! Open the door!!

So focused is he on what he’s being denied, of the love that’s being withheld, little will he notice his role in the fear he sees on her face. How the intensity of his neediness – so often framed in terms of her "exalted" position – is so frightening. So, his amorous declarations quickly turn into a barely contained rage, much like a child that has been denied. Indulging in the tantrum of one that must have what he wants, without taking the time to inquire into the position of the other. His anger and impatience a measure of the faith he’s unwilling to invest, requiring a commitment from her that’s greater than the one he’s willing to give.

The "endearment" included in the subtitles ("Shorty") already contains the seed of ambiguity that defines this love, the kind of diminutive typically reserved for a pet or a child. It is also the attempt of the film’s translators to convey the way he speaks to her, his use of verbs and their conjugation. For grammar provides a glimpse into the ways in which one subject sees or is joined to another, particularly in one’s choice of verbs and their inflection. And the characteristic of his speech, especially when his frustration rises, is peppered with the affirmative imperative, expressing commands often veiled as simple requests. ("Come on … Look at me … Open the door!!!")

Reciting the Lines The Dance of the Lovers

Later, when Pilar is out to lunch with her coworkers, she’ll hear them create a script for a couple fighting outside the restaurant window. It’s an entertaining diversion, but their improvisation also sheds light on the rifts against which quarreling lovers so often struggle. Needless to say, it comes uncomfortably close to capturing the essence of Pilar’s own conundrum. The words a virtual replica of the exchange with her husband just a few nights before.

Lola, won’t you talk to me?
— Leave me alone!
I’m in love with you. Listen, I was a little drunk …
— I’m sick of you, don’t you get it?
Don’t say that. You’re my sunshine, my treasure.
I can’t live without you. I can’t. I swear. I love you.
— Will you change … ?

But even before the ventriloquists have the chance to explain her grievance, the woman standing outside will have relented, giving in to his declarations of love. But Pilar’s tablemates do not allow this to interrupt their fun, as they switch to their own voices to provide a different kind of commentary, precisely because they’ve seen it all before. So even as the lovers begin to kiss, one of them will pronounce: "He’s got her where he wants her, [at least] until the next time …"

Lest this be denounced as an overly skeptical interpretation of events or an overly cynical portrait of the way lover’s quarrels are typically (not) resolved, it should be said that this is one of the benefits of a community of women. For in sharing their experiences, each has the opportunity to reflect on the nature of their private lives, recognizing that their struggles are not only theirs alone.

An Education Orpheus and Eurydice

Later, after she begins taking free classes at the museum, Pilar discovers another kind of "community," one that’s embedded in the world of myth, something she immediately begins to share with her son. One image in particular has captured her attention, one she’s chosen to learn about in more detail. At one level, this would seem to suggest that she already understands the nature of the hell in which she and her husband find themselves. For it’s a variant of the story of Persephone and her mother. In this case, however, it’s about a husband in search of his wife.

Look, this is Orpheus and she’s Eurydice, his wife, who died from a snake bite. He feels very sad and decides to go to Avernus to look for her.
— What’s Avernus?
Hell. The Underworld. That’s where the two live: Pluto and Proserpina. Orpheus plays the lyre very well. See it? And he begs them to let him take his wife back to the land of the living.
— And does he?
Yes. But on one condition. He has to go first and he can’t turn around to look at her until they’re out of hell. They walk long misty paths, dark roads, and just before they reach the top, Orpheus can’t stand it any longer and he turns …

Clearly, it’s a cautionary tale, one that targets the husband more than anyone else. Which makes it appropriate nighttime reading for a mother to be reading to her son: should he ever find himself in such a situation, the story will be vital, and not merely because of the condition that he not turn his head around. Rather, it speaks of the imperative of making the journey to the Underworld oneself, without the assurance that his wife will be there when he returns to the land of the living.

His New Diary The Task of Writing

Her husband’s decision to join a men’s group is a measure of such a commitment. During one of their walks to the river, time away from the frustrations against which they struggle, he shows her the new diary he’s bought, one of the tools recommended by the therapist who heads the group. It’s color-coded, designed to help organize his understanding of his experience: yellow for everyday stuff, like a diary; green for the good stuff; and red for the bad.

It’s not with a little excitement that he shows this to her, for it provides evidence of his determination to do something about his problem. Seeking to make right what has gone wrong and taking responsibility for his role in creating their stalemate. It’s no small step, especially for an intense and proud man such as himself. Joining a group of other "machos" to talk about the women in their lives, and to explore their feelings!

And if the snippets of the group meeting that we see are any indication of the kind of work that lays ahead, this is no small task. For each in that room is a product of his time and quite clueless when it comes to the workings of the heart: hopelessly tied to scripts that play-out automatically, in part because they’ve become second nature, even when it comes to speaking with the ones they love. What’s more, the prospect of a grown man having to submit himself to an emotional journal, doing homework after a long day’s work, will generate unwanted feelings of exasperation, as if reduced to a schoolboy forced to write about the error of his ways.

Danae and the Shower of Gold Husband-Stalker

Because her job and her aspirations to become a museum guide increasingly take her out of their home, her husband will begin stalking her, seeking to discover what she’s doing with the time that’s no longer dedicated to looking after him and their child. In fact, it becomes an obsession. Shadowing her at work and calling her cell incessantly. And when she doesn’t answer, it causes him to spiral into a jealous rage, his frustration transformed into a fury that knows not what else to do than lash out at her in anger. One of the last straws, at least according to him, is when he overhears her presentation on Titian’s portrait of Danae and the Shower of Gold.

In the book "The Metamorphosis" Ovid says that an oracle tells Danae’s father that his grandson will kill him. So he locks his daughter in a tower so no man can get near her. But Jupiter is in love with her and enters the tower, turning himself into gold dust to have her. You see? There’s a storm, like golden rain, and it goes straight into the tower.
— What did she think about the dust?
Danae? Well, I think she looks pretty happy, doesn’t she? She gives herself to him body and soul. At least that’s how Titian painted it. See? With her legs open like that, oblivious to what’s going on around her, without the slightest resistance.
— So this was like pornography at the time?
It was. In fact, this painting was hidden for centuries. … Some of its owners, like Jupiter, wanted Danae right nearby. But others were like the father, locking it up so no one saw it. One king even wanted to burn it, but he didn’t manage to, and here it is [today] where everyone can see it.

It’s a side of her he’s never seen before, and he’s none the happier for it. He will accuse her of flaunting herself in front of strangers, seeking their attention as she talks about the sex life of the gods. Little does he realize how she understands the stories she tells or why she’s become so animated, of late. For their significance is not immediately apparent to him and the world within which he lives. But perhaps he already understands this, on some level, at least. For she’s no longer dependent upon him as she was before, no longer requiring the confirmation of his approval. As if she’s escaped her own version of the tower doubling as a prison. For when she speaks about those who’ve possessed the famous painting, it’s their attitude toward Danae that’s caught her attention, including the fact that – after the passage of time – both she and her story are finally liberated from their confinement.

As if She – the subject and the object – were one and the same.

Consulting the Head 1 Consulting the Head 2

Because he still wants to understand the emotions that overwhelm him, her husband will consult the Head of the men’s group, asking for his guidance. And he’ll be told to return to his notebook and provide a step-by-step description of what happens when his wife doesn’t answer the phone. According to his guide, it’s not merely that her silence makes him angry. It’s the irrational thoughts crowding his brain that require attention. With work, they can be rewired so they no longer wield their ugly power over him (and over her).

In important ways, this kind of work can be considered a hermeneutics of the self, derived from the ancient method of interpretation taking its name from Hermes, the Greek messenger of the gods. It is a method – and a skill – designed to divine meanings that are hidden or occluded. It’s a logic that applies equally to the feelings with which he struggles, learning to recognize their signs so that a different path can be chosen, opting out of the compulsions they bring in their wake. If these men belonged to a different tradition, part of this work could also involve identifying his parentage, which of the five families to which he belonged. For each is dominated by an emotion that acts like a demon, and each has a method by which such demons can be tamed.

In working with the Head, he discovers that beneath his anger is a profound fear of losing his wife, his jealousy but a cover for what he’s afraid might happen when she’s in the world at large, leading a public existence without him. Afraid that he’ll not be able to match the changes brought about by her work, afraid that she’ll meet another more interesting or attractive than him.

Why should she stay with a guy like me!
— Because you love her.
— You listen to her, you respect her, and don’t threaten her, or insult her,
— or hit her, or humiliate her.

Believing in her – and himself – requires a kind of faith that’s foreign to him, and he will struggle to summon the courage to change the terms of their union. For until now, their relationship had operated under a different principle, one in which she was beholden to him by virtue of his desire. Since it established the basis of their love, that was something she was more than happy to allow.

Take My Eyes Remembrance

Some feminists might ask why she’s not already left him, why she puts up with his anger, but such questions belie an ignorance about the the kind of passion they’ve shared. It’s not something she’s used to talking about, as if to do so would violate the secrets of their holiest of unions. But on the heels of her (first) departure, when she sought refuge with her Sister, she will finally begin putting words to feelings, describing why it is he’s had such a hold on her.

As the two trade stories, it soon becomes apparent they possess very different ideas about the nature of love. It’s almost as if the sister’s version is child’s play, a mere shadow of what Pilar and her husband share. For he is Antonio, a name some claim is derived from none other than Adonis himself. And it’s in this context that we learn about their private ritual from which this film takes its title: it began with his proposal, a little game they continued to play, particularly when caught-up in the throes of passion, handing over her senses in exchange for his electric touch.

We walked to the river, we sat down on a bench. And he just kept silent.
Well, finally he said: "Well, Shorty, this isn’t like in the movies,
on your knees and all that. But if it’s okay with you, that’s it."
And he looked at me with those big intense eyes of his.
Then we gave each other gifts: I gave him my nose and my ears;
he said they were very pretty.
And he gave me his hands.

While she adjusts to life without her husband, it will be difficult not to notice that her family is busy preparing for a wedding. It’s almost as if Pilar’s arrival hastened her Sister’s marriage, as if her presence accelerated the course of another’s love. Which only adds to her exasperation, feeling she’s lost the kind of retreat she had sought when turning to her Sister. But the sister distrusts Antonio, rarely letting an opportunity pass to criticize the only love she’s ever known. Which is how Pilar finds herself returning to the river where she and her husband first played that game. The place where he first proposed.

Battling the Demon 1 Battling the Demon 2

But increasingly, she finds herself unwilling to ignore the other side of their love, his other side. It’s a constant source of strife, even as she tries to reconcile with him, believing they have the strength to work it through. So, when Antonio comes to be possessed again, caught in the grips of another rage, Pilar will read from his journal, trying to remind him of what he already knows. Hoping that her recitation of his own words will remind him of his earlier determination to slay the beast.

"Your heart goes faster and it’s like your head goes all fuzzy and you can’t breathe.
It feels like your neck is full of ants and you dry up inside.
The air goes still, all the sounds stop.
Everything stops, and you can’t see."

That’s what fear is like, Antonio. Don’t be afraid!

But because he’s already allowed it to swell within him – perhaps also because it’s now a habit that’s too comfortable to break, relinquishing himself to the perverse pleasure of his indignation – he dismisses her assistance, no longer convinced of the worthiness of their labor. And because he’s caught in the crest of that familiar emotion, he will also belittle her attempts to expand the boundaries of her world, as if her only concern were to deliberately exclude him from her life.

I don’t see why you need to go to interviews, damn it!
Why am I seeing a psychologist like an idiot? What for?
So that you can move away and leave me here writing crap in some notebook!

Which is probably why some would come to criticize the exalted position accorded to Orpheus, the one who failed to look ahead while climbing up from the depths of hell. For he only knew how to rely upon the sweetness of his music, believing that it would be sufficient to return his wife from the world of the dead. According to these critics, his journey to Hades was motived less by the possibility of transformation than the desire to reclaim what he lost, even if it also meant denying his wife the benefit of her own death and renewal. Only concerned about whether she follows, he turns around, looking back. Until the fated moment when she finally disappears.

The Recipient of His Wrath Seeking Protection

As predicted, that time finally comes: Orpheus had already received his warning. Continually frustrated, his sense of impotence continued to grow, unable to match her desire to better understand herself and her place in the world. As a result, she finds herself cowering beneath a torrent of words, a measure of his rage, and the fear instilled in her for her very life.

Because she feels like she’s been beaten, she will seek protection from elsewhere. But when they get down to the details of her complaint, she realizes that her body carries no evidence of his assault, that there’s nothing to show that can reveal the depth of her injury. And while she may walk away from that office empty handed, she comes to a frightful realization: he’s managed to kill everything they shared.

All right. Where did he hurt you?
— No, there are no injuries on the outside. They’re on the inside.
Let’s see if you can describe what happened.
You say he didn’t attack you physically. Did he insult you?
Did he threaten you verbally?
— He broke everything.
Did he break anything of yours?
— Everything. He broke everything. Everything, everything.

She returns to their home one last time to announce the death of their relationship. No longer seeking his approval; no longer willing to tolerate his inability to fully commit or trust. And when the truth of what she says finally sinks in, we are witness to an amazing reversal. His violence no longer directed at her but at his own body, instead. Threatening to kill himself, as if this might change her mind. Giving voice to the fear of annihilation he’s always associated with her departure, the very fear with which he had harassed her for so long.

I don't know who I am Listening ...

Upon this second departure, Pilar will once again seek refuge with her Sister, at least temporarily, and she will ask that she look after her child while she’s gone. Her separation is too fresh – and the cuts too deep – to live in a newlywed’s home. Yes, she needs time to heal. But more fundamental than this is her desire to reclaim her sense of sight. It’s a recognition that comes in the midst of the kind of conversation only loving sisters can share, each confessing their frailties even as the one pledges her unending support to the other.

I feel like I haven’t been much help.
— You listened to me, but … I couldn’t speak.
And now you can?
— I need to see myself. I don’t know who I am.
— I haven’t seen myself for so long. I can’t explain it.

The words are spoken with pain, perhaps also a bit of relief. As if coming to this understanding were sufficient to identify the path that she must follow. And while it’s surely to be a lonely and arduous journey, one hopes that she also realizes her pronouncement is evidence of a battle already won. For on the heels of separation comes another task that’s equally daunting: redeeming the senses another claimed as his own. Were we in a position to advise her about her travels, we might wish to remind her of the last presentation she made, for it already spoke of the ways in which she had identified the "family" to which she belongs and the role of art in taming her own demons.

The painter says we can listen to paintings,
hear them here inside like when we listen to music,
because the colors are like notes and they are repeated as in a melody.
Three yellows, two blues, then yellow again, and a silence, some white.
White makes no sound, it doesn’t hurt.
If we can hear them, we can also feel them:
Green is balance. Blue is depth, and purple … purple is fear.

It’s as if she had already begun her own version of El Greco’s circumambulation, a journey designed to divine the secrets of the depths, allowing herself to discover the colors of the rainbow. Precipitated by her second departure, It’s the kind of journey anticipated in the circuit of paintings she chose during the course of this story, each time falling in love as if for the first time, using each encounter as an opportunity to learn. Completing the course of her earthly existence, on the path toward her own salvation.

Allowing herself to listen but also to feel.
This time, with senses that are hers alone.

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~ by mistified on December 25, 2010.

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