The Tyranny of Love, and other stories

Sayan Bhattacharya provides six perspectives on love.

Love as Sentimental Sexuality

Gaspar Noé is known to shock his audience. People have vomited and walked out of his films at Cannes and other places. While many have found the violence—often sexual—exploitative and misogynistic, others have read layers of meaning into the films—the postmodern human condition where there are no grand purposes or motives anymore. But in either case, one cannot ignore the man.

So in 2015, when he decided to flip the coin and present love instead of violence, the world sat up. However, in true Noé style, his Love wouldn’t be just about boys and girls falling in love. The film begins with a warning: “Put on your glasses, Love is about to begin.”  Yes, it’s a 3D film. The screaming font makes one wonder, are we going to witness love or war? Cannons flying into the face of the audience, bolts of fire leaping out of the screen? Even as we are told to “make love not war,” isn’t love also a war where the lovers are actually losers?

Before one can think further on those lines, one sees the protagonists pleasuring each other in the very first frame of the film. Melancholic music in the background, almost giving out the doom that this love is set to encounter. Sex in real time with full frontal nudity. The camera is static. Murphy and Electra are totally immersed in each other and the viewer, along with the camera are the interlopers. However, how long can you keep seeing the same frame? As a viewer, why should you feel invested in how long it takes Murphy and Electra to cum? But then, if it were a scene of murder, mob violence? Would boredom still set in? The entire film is composed of many acts of love making in private as well as public spaces.

The screaming font makes one wonder, are we going to witness love or war? Cannons flying into the face of the audience, bolts of fire leaping out of the screen? Even as we are told to “make love not war,” isn’t love also a war where the lovers are actually losers?

Sex becomes the expression of love. At one point, Murphy, an aspiring filmmaker, says he wants to make a film about sentimental sexuality. One of the most intimate forms of expression of love through the coupling of bodies, to be shown on screen without any guards or cheat camera angles. This is what Noé does as well. And therefore the question, why does the depiction of this form of love fail to elicit an emotional response from the audience? What explains the boredom at viewing this form of intimacy? Is it because sex is considered private and therefore there should be only that much you can show? If sex were indeed entirely private, then there wouldn’t have been laws controlling people’s sexual needs!

So then, where is the problem? Is it that sex is okay only in pornography and this film does not belong to such a genre because it has a storyline with etched-out characters and mainstream distribution channels? But then, if this is a film about love, should it not go beyond the sex and show how the characters relate to each other? And since the focus is more on the sex and less on the story, is that the problem?

An aspiring filmmaker (Murphy) and an artist (Electra) meet in the city of love, Paris. There is an instant connect. They discover each other through their bodies and soon love blooms. They want to make babies together. Electra asks Murphy, can he love her forever? Murphy wonders, isn’t forever a long time?

What explains the boredom at viewing this form of intimacy? Is it because sex is considered private and therefore there should be only that much you can show? If sex were indeed entirely private, then there wouldn’t have been laws controlling people’s sexual needs!

Time flows by initially, and then starts trudging along. They talk of their sexual fantasies and decide to realise them to rekindle the sparks in their relationship. They invite their attractive neighbour for lunch and then for smokes later. The three of them make love to each other, but how long can this Eden survive? There is freedom for exploration so long as each party keeps the other in the know, but aren’t secrets fun? What is transgression if it doesn’t breach codes? So trust is broken and Electra breaks up with Murphy and he ends up with another woman. A story so commonplace and nondescript that it could be a quarter-hour short film, but Noé decides to make a film about sentimental sexuality. Sex and more sex. Sex as love, sex as fantasy, sex as breach of trust, sex as transgression, sex as duty…Noé ends up alienating his audience, even his ardent admirers. They ask, what is the point?

And that is where the problem lies! Was there any point to the long and arduous sexual torture sequences in his previous films? If there were points to them, surely two hours of lovemaking isn’t pointless, right?

 

Love as a Colony

Husbands look so cute when they are jealous, no?

Any Indian who regularly watches TV will have seen a preening wife referring to her husband this way on a commercial selling honey. A young woman dressed in a top and jeans is ready to go out for work but before stepping out, she has a spoonful of honey and asks her husband how she is looking. He gazes at her intently and then walks up to her, and takes out the mangal sutra that remains hidden under the top and then tells her that she is looking pretty now! Yes, the working woman is married and therefore already taken. So the men of the world should get the clear hint from the necklace and back off! The husband ensures that the world gets the hint loud and clear: This is my territory!

He gazes at her intently and then walks up to her, and takes out the mangal sutra that remains hidden under the top and then tells her that she is looking pretty now! Yes, the working woman is married and therefore already taken. The husband ensures that the world gets the hint loud and clear: This is my territory!

The wife looks so happy at how possessive her husband is. Isn’t that only a sign of love? After all, what is love without insecurity, jealousy? However, those are emotions over which at times, you may have no control but what happens when instead of internally dealing with them, you start imposing them on your partner? Is that an external manifestation of love? If yes, then the acid thrown on the woman’s face who rejected your love and moved on, the man who raped his wife or partner because he wanted his love to submit to him, are also external manifestations of love! In other words, if the latter set of actions are criminal, then the benign former expression is also a problem!

But then, what happens if the jealous husband had been replaced by a jealous wife? Is she still cute? No! Then she is a nagging, insecure woman, the walking and talking justification for the man to look for some fun or even love beyond marriage. On her part, does the jealous wife or female lover throw acid on the husband’s face?

So the social construction of jealousy is gender coded! The coloniser is generally the man! Aren’t there female colonisers too? Of course there are but then that is akin to talking about some oppressed poor Brahmins in a Brahminical society!

 

Love as Economics

What would love be if you did not splurge on your lover? This very month, you will have a whole love week. Rose Day, Hug Day, Teddy Day (is it there? If not, very soon!), Kiss Day, Propose Day and then the culmination in Valentine’s Day. Well, feminists, activists and Left scholars have been pointing out for ages how the market mints money from a basic human emotion. Plus, there is the question of how the very idea of romance is gendered. The boy gifts the girl and possesses her! However, forget the month of February for a moment and think about all the money we spend out of love.

A very dear friend who got married a couple of years back and now stays in the US misses home terribly. Recently, she was in India for a month. She just went back to be welcomed by an iPad and a warm hug from her husband. She writes on Facebook that she loves being pampered by her husband. He had guessed that she would miss home and therefore he decided to surprise her with this gift. Now my friend is planning a thank you gift for her husband. All out of love! But can the return gift just be a long kiss? How do you prove that your love matches up to the love you have been showered with?

Who says love cannot be quantified?

 

Love as Tyranny

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit in on an interview. A friend was interviewing an octogenarian woman who used to play great badminton. She got married but she continued playing. Her first son was born. She continued. Then, the second son. The boy used to keep unwell and the loving husband had a demanding job. So what would the mother do out of love?

She shows us the trophies she had won. They are rusty. The writing on them is not legible. Isn’t love also a death of possibilities?

 

Love as a Norm

My loving relatives start talking about my marriage prospects each time they spot me. However, my fiercely political and queer friend too doesn’t know what to make of my life. I will turn 30 soon and am still without that one lover, that one point of anchor! I sense concern and sympathy in his tone. Is love to be realised only in coupledom? What if one feels intense pleasure at the writing desk and then follows it up with a long walk or a coffee with someone dear? One would say these are only moments, nothing concrete and everlasting, but is the realm of love ever a uniform stretch of joy and emotional fulfilment? Can’t love be experienced in drips and drops, from moment to moment, in many ways?

Is love to be realised only in coupledom? What if one feels intense pleasure at the writing desk and then follows it up with a long walk or a coffee with someone dear? Can’t love be experienced in drips and drops, from moment to moment, in many ways?

But then, there is a culture of invisibilising those many expressions of love to accord only a set of expressions the status of authenticity. So the trouble in live-in relationships or any other non normative forms of love is never the world’s concern as much as the marriage is! How can something that is not meant to exist be of any concern? However, if you are single after a certain age, then the situation gets even more complicated because you are made to continuously swing between invisibility and hyper-visibility.

At the family picnic or the school reunion or the friend’s wedding, amidst all the couples, you stand out like that sore thumb which needs healing. You are hyper-visible in your shining loneliness. The gaze is on you and that which you lack in life—a partner. But that you have privacy, you could love your space and choose to protect it, that you need time alone and that’s what constitutes your core, gets invisibilised.

So when your married friends have to travel for work, you could be the first person they would touch base with for tending their dog or their baby. Or if you cannot make time for dinner invitations or a get together, then the conclusion would be your supposed loneliness is making you bitter. You are becoming anti-love! You might soon become a sociopath!

At the family picnic or the school reunion or the friend’s wedding, amidst all the couples, you stand out like that sore thumb which needs healing. You are hyper-visible in your shining loneliness. The gaze is on you and that which you lack in life—a partner.

What or who will rescue you? Who will be your guardian angel?

 

Love as a Practical Deed

Michael Haneke’s Amour is also a love story. But it isn’t about dates, surprise dinners, candles, moonlit nights and poems. It is about a process. The daily grind of love. What happens when your companion suffers a stroke and is gradually losing control over bodily autonomy and her thinking faculty? How do you prove your love for her? You bathe her, feed her, help her pee and shit…you quietly watch her lose control.

You grit your teeth. You shout at her and the very next moment, you give her a tight hug. You take charge but how long can you? How long can you suffer her pain? Do you wish that she should die? Isn’t that wish out of love for her, for yourself and the relationship both of you nurtured bit by bit over years? What is love if it is not manifested in the daily practicalities of life?

You grit your teeth. You shout at her and the very next moment, you give her a tight hug. You take charge but how long can you? How long can you suffer her pain?

As I write this, a relative is cooking a quick meal for herself. She will eat and then pack in a shawl, a bottle of water, her medicines in a bag and rush out. Her partner of 32 years has had a major surgery a day back. Someone needs to keep vigil at night in case there is an emergency situation. My relative walks into the night. She is tired but she has to stay awake. It is 8:30 pm already. She has to reach the hospital by 9:30. The hospital doesn’t allow relatives to stay close to the cabins. There is an open compound outside, with benches.

Luckily, it is not very cold today.

2 Comments

  • […] of course, was only part of the story. The world of words was his only respite. The Tyranny of Love, and other stories – Kindle MagazineKindle Magazine. Sayan Bhattacharya provides six perspectives on love. Love as Sentimental Sexuality Gaspar Noé is […]

  • Reply February 9, 2016

    Meghna

    What an excellent article!
    And I completely agree with benign forms of controlling in the name of love being as problematic as directly aggressive approaches.

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