Last Tango in Paris (1973)
Direcor: Bernardo Bertolucci
Metro Golden Myre (MGM)
Marlon Barndo, Maria Schneider
After humanity entered the condition called post-modernity where there is no certainty in human relationships, what man experiences today is a pure psychological rupture. The present turmoil in the life-world mostly insists individuals to embrace death as a mode of escapism. The emotional collapse in the personal lives, detachments, disappointments and the resulted depression and anxiety inevitably force us to go to certain extremes since the solution is not within our reach. On the other hand, if someone desires a radical death today, it can be chosen in many different ways ranging from a traditional method of hanging or poisoning to an ‘aesthetic’ postmodern method of chemical injection of an anesthetic drug or even ecstasy oriented overdose. In this inhuman commoditization where anything is globally available in the open market to be purchased, a man can even hire (purchase) a woman to drive him to a systematic, prolonged and programmed death while consuming her body in the meantime completing forgetting the arriving death. He can follow the ‘pleasure principle’ in discovering the ‘impossible’ in her body or move from her to another to taste different physical contours. If you need ‘hardcore pleasure’, you can go to an experienced and lethal prostitute, or if you need ‘tenderness’, you can fly to Thailand (or any other ‘unpolluted’ oriental country) and start a new life such as a living together. For example, we can see some middle aged men in the advanced industrial nations come to countries such as Thailand or even Sri Lanka to spend the rest of their life in the above said manner. Though the primary purpose of death is never communicated between the subjects , both partners know the unconscious desire that founds the tie. The best filmic example for this is Leaving Las Vegas where Ben knows that he is dying and there is no way back, while Anne gradually and unconsciously eases him from the burden of life on the pretence of saving him from alcoholism. She always asks Ben to stop drinking but does not do anything significant to decisively stop it. This can be called in Braudillardian way, ‘seduction’ where ‘the truth’ about why you relate to the other is permanently hidden. She subtly helps him to go through the remaining small span of life until his meeting of radical suicide.
The controversial 1973 drama Last Tango in Paris takes a similar turn with regard to the subject’s encounter of the unapologetic radical death. Their union (the un-meeting) takes the form of an absurdist, postmodern tragedy since the relationship is devoid of romantic courtly love (or communication based ‘understanding’ of each other). Paul meets Jeanne in an apartment after his wife’s departure (a suicide) and proceeds to an anonymous sexual encounter. In the intense sexual act in the apartment, they do not share any personal information about each other’s past, or at least their names. One day, Paul leaves the apartment for an unknown reason but later he reveals to Jeanne that he wants to renew the affair. It seems that Paul has met the Real, his fundamental fantasy about woman (a strong woman with wild sexual desires) through Jeanne and loses his symbolic identification (that is why they start the ‘no name game’) with the external reality (hence, similar to Leaving Las Vegas, death is what he is also desiring). Their rejection of identification with history leads us to believe that they are hysterics (According to Zizek, hysteria is the subject’s way of resisting the prevailing, historically specified form of interpellation or symbolic identification- For They Know not What They Do, p. 100-1). However, the best movie to illustrate the mobility from anonymous love to symbolic identification is The Sleeping Dictionary or The Silent American.
Then he meets her again on the street and reveals his past, and they eventually go to the Tango bar. Once the story (or the past) is revealed, Jeanne comes to know about the nature of the relationship and she is unable to continue the hysteric theatre with her anonymous ‘lover’ anymore. She shows symptoms of permanently unable to enter a symbolic relationship with somebody because such symbolic identification would threaten her ‘speculative identity’. Hence, she stresses that she does not want to see him anymore. But, by that time, Paul (by revealing his identity and past) has entered into a symbolic relationship (let’s say love) with her. May be, he too wanted to be anonymous during his traumatic stage of his wife’s death but through her body he has recovered from the shock and now needs to re-establish himself in the symbolic order. But this is not what Jeanne wants now. She wants to run away from him vehemently rejecting identification. So, a fundamental Zizekian mis-recognition can be evidenced here as in case between the Tramp and the flower girl in City Lights (she was expecting a handsome gentleman during her blindness but in reality it is the Tramp). Paul cannot lose Jeanne now and tells that he loves her. He wants to know her name (symbolic universe).
She reveals ‘her name’ (identity) and then shoots him conveying the viewers that she is deadly and poisonous in her real existence. The final scene is almost theatrical as she rehearses a kind of ‘dramatization’ for Police interrogations about this murder. The message she delivers is her true identity is always mortal and brings only ‘death’ (femme fatale) to whoever ‘loves’ her. She is unable to enter an Oedipus universe and denies all ‘human’ attachments. She distances herself from ‘words’ and gives only ‘her body to his deadlock, to the kernel that he is unable to put in words, by means of a hysterical symptom’ (Zizek). She does not want human language since her weapon is ‘body language’ where impeded desire converts into a ‘desire not to know’ (p.144) rather than ‘don’t know what we really want’. She does not make your desire ‘unsatisfied’ but she, like a parasite, lives by your desire for ignorance. Through negation she invents not an empty nothingness but a positive existence.