Tuesday, October 11, 2005
RITUAL PAIN part 2
James Cameron took what could have been a little B movie and made Terminator into a surprise box office hit. He put Linda Hamilton’s character, Sarah Connor, through the ritual pain of being hunted down and nearly killed. In the end she is transformed into a woman who knows that her life matters. She has also been hardened by the experience and seems less girlish. Grown up.
In Terminator 2, it is Sarah Connor who becomes the terminator. It is she who tries to kill a man for something he will do in the future. Through ritual pain she realizes that she has become the very thing she hates.
In Aliens, Cameron had Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley, is plagued by nightmares of the creature she had survived in the first film. Through the ritual pain of battling these creatures again, she purges herself of these nightmares and takes back her life.
Billy Wilder understood the power of character change so well that when the American Film Institute listed the top one hundred films of all time, four were his.
In Sunset Boulevard, Wilder had character Joe Gillis, an out-of-work Hollywood screenwriter, sell out for a little security and become the kept man of an older ex-movie star. He becomes her pet. In fact, when they first meet, the pet chimp of the has-been star has just died. It is no mistake that it is following this that Joe Gillis moves into the woman’s home. At one point in the film she dresses Joe in a tux—sometimes called a monkey suit. It is through the ritual pain of being a kept man that Joe Gillis learns that having a swimming pool isn’t worth selling out his principles.
This idea of selling out shows up again and again in Wilder’s films. In The Apartment, Jack Lemmon plays a man who, to climb the corporate ladder, lends his apartment out to adulterous executives at the insurance company where he works. Sometimes this means not getting into his own apartment and having to sleep in the park. He, of course, learns to stand up for himself.
Also in The Apartment, Shirley Maclaine plays a woman who is having an affair with one of the aforementioned executives. This idea of selling out, or prostituting oneself, hits hard when the executive, not having time to buy a Christmas present for his mistress, hands Shirley a hundred dollar bill as a gift. It is through the ritual pain of being made to feel cheap that Shirley learns to respect herself enough to be with a man who will commit to her fully.