Monday, June 1, 2015

I Bid You Welcome...

Both of my movie recos this week touch on the topics of intimacy and mental health.

I went on a bit of a vampire movie-binge this weekend because of my recent tweeting with author M. Jess Peacock about his new book Such a Dark Thing: Theology of the Vampire Narrative in Popular Culture (a read that I recommend). I saw some common themes in the 1931 Tod Browning version of Dracula—that of Bela Lugosi fame—and Two Days, One Night (dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2014) starring Marion Cotillard (who is becoming a Meryl Streep for me). This French film is about a factory worker whose coworkers must vote on keeping her on staff or earning sizeable bonuses, and she has the weekend to contact them at their home addresses and persuade them to vote for her.

With this, my first viewing of Dracula, some things were fun—guyliner and haunted-house armadillos—and made me think of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I also noted some fun trivia about it online. But there were other things I noted.

One was the intimacy—and by that I don't mean sexual—of the vampire’s bloodsucking. I have not read the book yet, so I don’t know if that is evident there, but in the film, there seemed to be a precarious and tenuous relationship, however brief, between vampire and victim. This occurred to me when the count sends his three brides out of the room when he is about to attack Renfield: it’s as if no one, not even they who have presumably also drunk the Kool-Aid, is permitted to observe the moment.

In Two Days, One Night, there are some fun moments: apparently even in Belgium, they have the world’s ugliest sign, too! Van Morrison’s “Gloria” is a very welcome moment of lightness. But there are several examples of intimacy, the main one being the husband’s ongoing and obvious support for his wife, Sandra. She has been on leave for depression, which has affected almost every aspect of their life and marriage, but in very quiet ways he demonstrates his love of and continued intimacy with her. She also has moments of intimacy with the people she works with when she sees them at their homes and outside of their usual roles. Sandra also deepens her level of friendship with a few of them due to circumstances I won’t describe here (#spoilers).

The other common theme that struck me was that of mental illness. In Dracula, all campiness aside, Mr. Renfield’s total breakdown is pitiable, especially in light of the confident businessman and happy husband he starts out as. His suffering is palpable. In Two Days, Sandra’s depression may have lifted to the point where she can return to work, but she struggles with low esteem, anxiety and fear of relapse:

Sandra: “I don't exist. I'm nothing. Nothing at all!"
and
Sandra: “I wish that was me.”
Manu: “Who?”
Sandra: “That bird singing.”

She struggles with maintaining motivation to canvass the sixteen workers all weekend and we are on the emotional rollercoaster with her. The industrial park wasteland of her job’s location and the paucity of soundtrack emphasize her suffering and fragility.

So both films show differing degrees of quietness and subtlety despite them otherwise being polar opposites in content and theme. Except perhaps about the secrets we hold vs. how much of our real lives we show the rest of the world.

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