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"Dis/passion" : The Demonization
and Death of Desire
Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut
Why is sexual passion so alluring, so provocative, and yet so difficult for us to enjoy with ease and fulfillment? Perhaps because our sexuality always includes, at some level, its own internal psychological conflicts. There is an inevitable tension between, on one side, the pleasures of our bodily sensuality, together with the exuberance of our erotic imagination and, on the other side, the inherent necessity of the most fundamental taboo against incest, along with a myriad of additional, superfluous prohibitions and inhibitions imposed on us by religious beliefs, social pressures, and cultural constraints.Watching porn movies online, as popular as it is is still socially non grata and done in secret and withut acknowledgemnet
As a result, complex unconscious currents, as well as conscious deliberations, govern our individual lives as if they were a recurring negotiation of a single question with innumerable variations: Can we express our sexualities, freely and joyously, as the most sacred form of human connection, or must they be repudiated repeatedly as dangerous profanity?
At some level of analysis, most of life's stories operate around this central question. It might be posed as: How can our various sexualities, our capacity for giving and receiving pleasure, be celebrated as the best source of health, healing and happiness, or are their energies inevitably derived from the economies of domination, aggressivity or exploitation, and their expression forever to be coopted or condemned by the forces of hostility and fear?
This basic conflict has been with us since our beginnings. But nowhere has it been more culturally dramatic than here at this millenium's ending. In this society, sex is blatantly "out" on the surface of everyday life. But it is mostly "out" there on the condition that it has been shorn of the deeper emotional and spiritual powers of its eroticism. Sex is paraded everywhere but only as a pervasive titillation. The forces of sexual intolerance may appear to be receding as prurient material becomes more accessible in different media. But this is only because a more genuine eroticism has already been subverted. Sex on the cultural surface, along with all the condemnations it provokes, actually substitutes for, and deprives us of, the depths of our erotic potential, a more powerful and satisfying pursuit of our diverse bodily pleasures.
The brouhaha over Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut illustrates this cultural plight. For it is a movie that inflames our fears of eroticism by presenting sexuality as a destructive force, generated only by the dark impulses of jealousy and the lust for power or possession. The movie is, sad to say, a perfect indicator of the extent to which we have lost our erotic grounding and our capacities for divine ecstasy.
I shall not review this film. So set aside, for a moment, that this is a cinematic masterpiece of overpriced but glossy mediocrity. Set aside the cardboard acting, the platitudinous script, and the funereal pacing. And set aside the honor we should pay to the stellar career of the now deceased Director. Rather, I shall comment on this movie, and public reaction to it, as a symptom of our times.
Eyes Wide Shut operates around the boundary between dream and "reality," between imagination and social possibility, and it delivers a comprehensively antisexual message: Only danger, degradation, and death, await those who venture into erotic exploration.
We meet Dr. and Mrs. Bill, a sad but "successful" marriage in which passion appears to be fueled by jealousy, by possessiveness, and by an obsession with sexual commodification (an obsession with one's value in the eye's of an "other"). We track Dr. Bill's hurt and vengeful pursuit of sexual adventures outside the marriage, and the titillating tragedies into which they propel him or nearly propel him. And (if we have not already expired from tedium) we experience terminal relief at the end of the movie when, the family reunited in the thrills of Christmas shopping (yes, the pretty daughter will get her Barbie doll), Dr. and Mrs. Bill resolve to restore passion in their liaison by "fucking" in the very near future.
When chronicling the tragedies and near tragedies of extramarital exploration, the film exhibits in grand style the immoral logic of a certain sort of contemporary "family values": Keep on fucking your spouse in a loveless but lucrative marriage for outside it lies only the wasteland of dehumanization, betrayal, deception, humiliation, child prostitution, death by drug overdose, death by HIV, and all the sinister permutations of brutality.
And I mention fucking here deliberately, for this is not making love. In this context, "fucking" implies the use of another's body as a medium for masturbation, and its force is derived from possessiveness or the need to experience one's own desirability as if through the eyes of a spectator. This is evidently the best one can hope for in a marriage such as is depicted in this film for, between this husband and wife, there is scarcely a hint of tenderness or the mutuality of a genuinely erotic connectivity.
Interestingly enough, (outside of the routines of some parent-child interaction) almost the only tenderness, loyalty or compassion portrayed in this movie are manifested by those condemned to die. The philandering or nearly philandering male protagonist, a successful New York physician catering to the city's elite, engages or almost engages an angelic off-the-street sex worker. We later learn she is HIV positive. He is later rescued or redeemed from macabre punishment, perhaps death, by a female high-class "model" sex worker, whom he had previously treated for recreational drug overdose. She later dies, and he, as a physician, visits her in the morgue (almost bringing himself to kiss tenderly her corpse).
Sexual passion is complex enough, and erotic partnerships (with the challenge of consistently convening intimacy or caring and bodily pleasure or sensual gratification) are hard enough. So did we really need this extravagant endorsement of the moralizing propaganda that sexuality feeds from a basic hatred of our humanity, that its pursuit leads only to disaster, and that ultimately one must choose the death of desire in order to preserve the law and order of civilization? Kubrick's last movie does us precisely this disservice.
The sexual culmination of Eyes Wide Shut involves an "orgy" in which black-cloaked men in masks stand motionless around a circle of women whose breasts and buttocks are exposed – women ready to perform the services of fucking to men who stand mute in the erotic emptiness of their power to possess and dominate. This is, precisely, "sex" at the end of our millenium. The fading promise of the fullness of naked eroticism surrounded by the pervasiveness of domination, destruction and death. Sexuality has always been both the wellspring and the blessing of life's energies and also that which we fear the most. This culture is losing sight of the erotically affirmative ways in which we can overcome our fears.
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