Wednesday, August 25, 2010

'Boxing Helena': Fetishism Goes to New Lows...Or Highs?

The other day I watched 'Boxing Helena'. I thought it would be the perfect film to keep on in the background as I was cooking dinner, but that night I ended up eating honey wheat pretzels and chocolate ice cream, as I had to cancel dinner after not too long. This film was David Lynch's daughter's (Jennifer Lynch) directorial debut. First thing that probably comes to mind is what it was like growing up with David Lynch as pops. Surprisingly, her childhood and upbringing was pretty much normal, not too different from the Kyle Maclachlan's world in 'Blue Velvet', but his influence on her cinema is pretty prevalent, and get ready for this, she is actually more perverted than her old man.
Rumors say that she wrote the script for 'Boxing Helena' when she was 19. That's a pretty early start, and for all the shit that this movie gets, I believe critics are missing the point. It was pretty much universally panned when it was first released in 1993, with everyone calling it everything from immature to tawdry, using the term 'amputee fetish' a little too liberally. The point being missed here is of course the allegory.
The film involves an unrequited love story between surgeon Nick Cavanaugh (Julian Sands) and Helena (Sherylin Fenn) probably one of the most gorgeous women ever on film. She rejects him because he's neurotic, nerdy, and bad in bed, but tables turn when Helena is the victim of a brutal hit-and-run accident that breaks both of her legs. Rather than seeing that she get proper treatment, Nick kidnaps her and amputates both of her limbs in his house. It then becomes somewhat of a 'Misery' scenario, where the captive is without the use of their legs, literally unable to run away. She keeps trying to assure him that this will never make her need or want him, but he persists, eventually amputating both of her healthy arms, making just a torso with a head. He continues to dress her up and builds her a shrine, which is more like a box of containment. Now, completely helpless, it appears she has no choice but to allow for herself to open up to him.
The allegory is of course very obvious and not something that is particularly sexual. It would appear that it is every man's fantasy to trap a woman into a state in which she will need him, therefore making him feel more of a man, and that his love for her will be equalized by her need for him. Nick takes this dynamic to a much more literal interpretation, past the whole 'if i can't have her, no one else will', as killing her would destroy everything that he had been working on in order to acquire her.
So therefore, all men want to be needed. They want to not be at the service of someone, but they do want to be useful. Cavanaugh symbolizes not so much an amputee perversion, but of a perversion of obsession. He needs Helena to be helpless, that is when he finds her at her utmost beautiful.
This film is a cross between cheesy romance novels (soft focus, candlelight, and fake breezes and everything) and the absolutely surreal. There is no attention given to the medical procedure of amputation, nor how it would be living as a quadriplegic, it is throughout its entirety and absurdity, a love story through and through. In the end, both Helena and Nick proclaim love towards each other, and then there is the classic 'it was all a dream' twist ending, because it's hard for us to accept that this beautiful woman has to live as a helpless rectangle for the rest of her life, and this douche Cavanaugh gets away with it.
Jennifer Lynch's influences from her father are pretty noticeable. I was totally into it. It did run the gambit between the absurd and the romantic. It's all very surreal. On the one hand it seems absolutely ridiculous, but I completely bought it. There is a sense of heart and sincerity amongst all of the sexual depravity that makes it a tender love story set against surrealist circumstance. I'd definitely watch it again, if for no other reason than seeing Bill Paxton in leather pants and a mesh sleeveless shirt with a mullet (i'm not kidding)...other than that I think critics really need to consider films like 'Boxing Helena' within the context in which it was created. Of course it's depraved, disgusting, and on many levels sick...that's what we love about it. Fetishization has always been a taboo topic, and no one has really addressed it as head on (no pun intended) before. It's very literal, and yet very allegorical. It is literal in exploring the apex of sexual perversion, but allegorical in how it uses this exploration to comment on the needs of a man that turn out to be more perverse than its actual depiction. It is not really sick to consider Cavanaugh being so aroused by Helena in her boxed state, but it is sick to think that Cavanaugh needed to do this to her, in order to feel himself as more of a man.
The entire time watching it, I was wondering how would Jenni's dear father have made this film? But I got the feeling that he was definitely sitting next to her director's chair whispering tips into her ear, as it is very reminiscent of deviance that he himself has explored, in his trademark dreamlike atmospheres of 'Blue Velvet' and others. Just because it considers itself with the most depraved of sexual obsessions, doesn't mean one shouldn't consider the metaphors involved. It's a must see in my book, but if you know my tastes, you might want to second guess it for your own good. I'd love to hear feedback if anyone decides to watch it.

1 comment:

Dom said...

Haven't seen it though I always have wanted to. I worked on her follow up film, Surveillance. Kind of interesting, kind of a hot mess, on Netflix Instant. You should watch!