Human Need For Association With Gods As A Result Of Problems In Relations Between People


Creatively exuberant trailer of “Contempt”

Style is a matter of meaning.
JLG

… to try to film a thought in action
JLG

“Contempt” is a simple film about complicated ideas.
JLG

Style and content are one. Technique has to do with morals, because when style and content are one you cannot say artificial things.
JLG, “Interviews”, Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1998, p. 46

Morning. Camille and Paul are still in the bed.
Camille – See my feet in the mirror?
Paul – Yes.
Camille – Think, they are pretty?
Paul – Yes, very much.
Camille – You like my ankles?
Paul – Yes.
Camille – And my knees, too?
Paul – Yes, I really like your knees.
Camille – And my thighs?
Paul – Your thighs too.
Camille – See my behind in the mirror?
Paul – Yes.
Camille – Do you think I have a cute ass?
Paul – Yes, really.
Camille – And my breasts. You like them?
Paul – Yes, tremendously (kissing her).
Camille – Which do you like better, my breasts or my nipples?
Paul – I don’t know. I like them the same.
Camille – You like my shoulders?
Paul – Yes.
Camille – I don’t think they’re round enough.
Paul silently protests.
Camille – And my arms? – And my face?
Paul – Your face, too.
Camille – All of this, my mouth, my eyes, my nose, my years? Paul – Yes, everything.
Camille – Then you love me totally.
Paul – Yes, I love you totally, tenderly, tragically.
Camille – Me too, Paul.

‘Contempt’, Chapter 2. The bedroom (Godard’s redeeming parody on sexual scenes)

The director has to show people not human beings, but what’s happening between them. JLG

Godard inserts into film the director’s presence as a central structural element of cinematic narration.
Susan Sontag

The central topic of Godard’s films is an encounter between the human consciousness and the world, the exceptionally important role of the mind-screen that represents world not “how it is” but how it is perceived by the off-screen mind, from outside the narrative.
Bruce F. Kawin, Mindscreen (Bergman, Godard and First Person Film)”, Princeton Univ. Pr., 1978, p. 183

Mind-screen gives the audience chance to feel doubts in what it sees on the screen, to perceive each events and every image as a hypothesis, not reality, and by this awakens viewers’ self-consciousness…To achieve this Godard in his films uses “semiotic disorientation of the viewers.”

Bruce F. Kawin, Ibid, p. 152, 171

The mind-screen or mentality is usually used in movies to show, what the character remembers or imagines, but Godard introduces the complication – he started to think with visual and audial images.
Bruce F. Kawin, Ibid, p. 170

The examples of Godard’s semiotic intervention into the narration are “intentional continuity errors” (intentionally not exact cuts), and “reshuffling of the shots (when already seen shots are repeated in another order, and some time even mixed with new shots). The transition from shot to shot, according to Godard, can be very smooth. American directors during more than forty years perfected this principle of uninterrupted action to the smallest gesture and the grimace of the characters not to break the rhythmic unity of the scene. But this semantically elementary principle of smooth montage is a stylistic trick, a fabrication of the objective reality.
Godard on Godard, Viking Press, 1972, p. 198 – 199

Reshuffling of the shots in “Contempt” creates inside the film the space free from narration, where the viewer can think about what’s really happening on the screen. Sometimes the moments of this reshuffling are combined with the voice over that indirectly helps to clear the situation between the characters.
Bruce F. Kawin, Ibid, p. 145

In “Contempt” Godard is laughing at modern epigonic emulation/exaggeration of epic monumentality of Ancient Greek worldview.

Those who have an unconscious fixation on gods (god-complex) are prone to play gods with other people.

In today’s life gods come in two guises – one being that of wealth/power and the other – beauty/glamour. The first is represented in “Contempt” by Jeremiah Prokosch, the Hollywood producer, and the second – by Camille Javal, Paul’s irresistible wife. Both expect not just obedience, but admiration (their political personifications in 21st century are the Wall Street financial schemers, global corporate elites, superstars of mass culture and neoconservative politicians who are infuriated when they meet with disagreements or criticisms).

Godard and Bardot on the set of "Contempt"
Godard explains to Brigitte Bardot his concept of Camille.

Camille and Paul in amorous dark-red
Still engulfed by amour, Camille and Paul are slowly returning to the morning…

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… only to be distracted by life’s challenges, contradictions and problems which come to the surface from inside them

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Morning light clears the issues, roundups the problems, but also gives the protagonists a chance to assert themselves and elaborate their positions in life.

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Paul’s love for his wife is hooked on the glamour of her physical beauty.

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Movie-camera is jokingly represented by Godard as a Dragon…

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… the film-projector – as Cyclops, while the characters, as if, fill in the identities of Ancient Greek universe – Paul feels and acts as Odyssey, his wife – as the Cyrene, Prokosch – as Poseidon/Neptune, Prokosch’ secretary Francesca – as a Muse mediating between Gods’ creative and despotic energy and the human inspiration.

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American film producer Jeremiah Prokosch in this scene semi-jokingly follows his eccentricity to express himself as an actor of Ancient Greek theater. In his bombastic imitation of what he thinks is ancient Gods’ style of perceiving the reality he represents the first – conservative, position of how human beings relate to the past (according to Godard’s classification of the human perception of the past in the film).

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Prokosch wants to aggrandize the reality of “Odyssey” in his film in comparison with how it was written by Homer. He feels himself normal only when he acts as if he is of super-human proportions.

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Prokosch (who feels like a typical CEO of a global corporation, to use today’s language) is sure that for a good remuneration Paul-the screen-writer will do “whatever the success-oriented producer wants”. Of course, Prokosch would be right in the 21st century US, but Paul has Odyssey’s cultural genes – he is not obedient to Gods.

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Fritz Lang, Prokosch and Paul watch the daily takes, and Land and Paul discuss the relations between humans and gods invoking sophisticated poetic references contributing to the discussion.

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With a producer’s elegance Prokosch write a check for Paul for rewriting the film’s script.

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Disappointed by the material already shot by Lang, Prokosch has a tantrum stylized “in the tradition of Ancient Greek culture”.

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Modern Goddess Camille as the carrier of super-human perfection for human worship

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Camille as a precious item for consumption and possession

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Camille is, as if, in a jewelry box.

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Prokosch lures Camille to his car but his motivations are not what she thinks they are. Gods, may be, straightforward, but they are not stupid.

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Camille behaves with Prokosch like a traditional woman (like the “family values personified”), like a signifier of worth.

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When Paul, in order to dissolve the tense situation suggests Camille to go ahead with Prokosch, she started to feel that Paul “doesn’t love her”. In this moment she expresses her “Goddess”-essence – she feels existing only when she is the object of admiring attention

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Godly archetypes are activated in human psyche when humans don’t feel appreciated by one another, then they feel the need to, unconsciously, compensate by defining themselves in an aggrandized, pseudo-godly terms. It is our inferiority complex what activates our megalomaniacal pretensions. The effect of enlargement of Posidon’s figure between the previous and this shot is achieved by change of proportion between the figure and the surrounding space. In the first shot we perceive Posidon as a super-human giant by his physical size, but in the second one he seems even bigger because he dominates not only the viewers but the intra-shot space. So, the meaning of the first picture is – god is bigger and stronger than we, humans, but the meaning of the second is – god is mightier than the whole world including the skies.

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Camille feels abandoned and betrayed by Paul who refused to play a jealous husband according to an archaic scenario by which humans have lived for millennia.

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Camille sees her husband, as if, for the first time – indifferent towards her and “cowardly and servile” with Prokosch as a man of a higher social standing. She feels that Paul is ready to give her to the producer for the sake of his career.

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Camille starts to feel that their separation is inevitable – Paul has fallen in her eyes, he didn’t pass a crucial exam. He wasn’t tormented by agonizing jealousy – he didn’t fight for her love, he didn’t fight for her as a believer should for the attention of his Goddess.

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Camille becomes, as if, blind (as only Gods can be, isolated from the passion of human worship by their glory and their greatness but still in need of this passion).

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Paul tries to re-establish human rapport between them, based on rational understanding, but Camille is not reachable through human language (based on equality and mutuality) – she is above the clouds, in the abode of aggrandized monadic emotions. She feels as a precious object – and rivaling men are expected to fight to death for her love with the intensity of religious war.

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Paul is searching for Camille in and around Prokosch’s villa that signifies the Olympus.

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Paul and Camille with a background of rocks, the sun and a stylized, although outworn, “heaven“.

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Paul is thinking what to do with Camille and without her, just alone in the world. His dilemma is that of a modern human being facing liberation from the irresistible power of gods and at the same time resisting this project of liberation and only too happy to return to the womb of the super-human values – power, wealth, glamour – to feel warmed by their coldness.

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Paul “by chance” sees Camille and Prokosch in kissing situation – he is reduced to be a spectator of gods’ play, or is it his own play (with gods as protagonists) he is watching?

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That’s how a window becomes for humans a window into a heaven that instantly is transformed into human hell. But even gods can make mistakes when, as Camille who is angry at Paul, they forget that they exist for the sake of being seen by humans and start to think that they are able to love each other – then, according to Godard, they “lose their faces”.

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Human being’s last attempt to make the “Goddess” condescend to him

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By the power of psychological alchemy of human-god relationships Paul and Camille already look only as acquaintances. God rejects a believer out of disappointment in his under-dedication and under-loyalty.

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Without human audience with its over-zealous dedication to them, Gods don’t know what to do with one another. Paul has lost his wife but will he be able to live without gods – without their power, wealth and glamour? Will we be able? The answer is definitely a negative one, up to now.

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Gods in Paul’s memory

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A man without gods looks at the abyss, while deciding between freedom and death.

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The marital bed can be the region for emotional and bodily equality in love. But it can be, as it is described in the beginning of the film, the place of worship on part of the one participant and of self-aggrandizement on the part of the other, when one party is, as if, the altar in flesh while the other, by his sexual emotions – a pilgrim and the parish of the adored/worshiped one. This first, “marital” scene of the film provides the first contour of its main topic: the relationship between gods and human beings (people who unconsciously play gods, and people who adore and admire them). According to Godard, people in specific configurations of intimacy between themselves reproduce the “godly archetypes” of the relationships between humans and gods (between human humans and human gods). People who are prone to be involved in dramatic relations with their unconscious images of gods (human humans) tend to project these images on other people in personal and social relationships, making others, as if, really god-like. The point is not – which one inside the relationship loves more and which less. What is important is how they love. Human gods need not only to be admired – they are dependent on those who admire them. Human humans, symmetrically, need to be closer to the emanation of human gods (emotionally worship them), while human gods ontologically feed on ambrosia of this worship.

In today’s world and culture human gods exist with two types of masks – power/wealth/ authoritarianism/charisma, and seductive glamour of beauty and charm. The first type is represented by the Hollywood producer (of East European ethnic origin) Jeremiah Prokosch, the second – by Camille Javal, Paul’s irresistible wife (both depicted by Godard with gentle and subtle caricaturishness). It would be a mistake to think that Prokosch is the embodiment of the social aspect of relations between human humans and human gods, while Camille – private aspect. In real life everything is interwoven, mixed and complicated – wife of a billionaire swoons not less before her husband’s billions than his employees or admirers among the poor, while the political and militaristic propaganda ads are not less seductive than ads of cosmetic industry or Hollywood‘s beautification of reality. Paul Javal (the very incarnation of a human human) is eventually capable of refusing both – Camille and Prokosch, the two ontological parasites on the sweat, blood, passion and meaning of human life. Today’s personifications of a combined masculine (Prokosch) and feminine (Camille) aspects of human godliness is the Wall Street financial schemers, the global corporate elites and a new militarism (with an overwhelming – “godly” technological might at their disposal). While the traditional image of “masculine godliness” is to command unconditional obedience (“who is not with us is against us“ a classically totalitarian credo”), the main feature of “feminine godliness” is to demand alert dedication – human human is expected to be tormented by irrational fear of being abandoned as a punishment for being too disappointing to the idol, who, in turn, is also afraid that the human worshiper will flee and turn to another human god. Human goddess, like Camille, is expecting jealousy from her worshiper – Paul, and at the same time also afflicted by her own suspicious jealousy for not being worshiped passionately enough. The ability to love another human being not idolatrously and not as an idol becomes in Godard’s hands inseparable from the problem of human civilization’s separation from the religious psychology of Western tradition, of overcoming almost instinctual human need to create aggrandizing association with gods.

The first – marital bed scene of the film is “filtered” through the three colors – day-light, signifying sun-light of gods’ closeness, the dense blue, signifying separation as a result of gods’ intervention, and the languorous deep red, signifying eroticism. The scene in which we are privileged to see Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli in bed, is not only an introduction to the whole film but a veiled parody on a widespread cinematic nudity, where sarcastic element fights for priority with Godardian sophistication of representation, and the viewers are stuck and even emotionally frozen between the sardonic and beautiful.

The point of the film is Paul’s (human being as such) ability or inability to overcome his (our) morbid fixation on association with superhuman perfection (existing in forms of super-power, super-wealth, super-glamour or super-intelligence) and find just human ways of feeling, living, thinking and creating. In this sense, the very yearning for association with godly perfection is a miserable human way to cover-up our primitive/primary fixations, obsessions and superstitions by dressing them in glamorous clothing. Envy becomes rivalry and competition, jealousy – various obsessions, fears become wealth as a psychological armor, greed – cruelty, dependence – murderous hate or sulking despair. Internal emptiness and triviality – becomes globalist entrepreneurship and wars. In a way, Paul is not only still typical but already an exceptional human being – he already overcame power- and wealth-obsession. But he is stuck on glamour in the form of beauty. He is obsessed with a possession, ownership of beauty – he is ontologically (not only symbiotically) gluing to his wife’s presence as to supreme value. For Paul as a person with impeccable ontological taste (with painful sensitivity for the smallest psychological vulgarity – for the smallest connotation of ontological superiority of a person he is in love with as the reason for his love, all these semantic overtones are for him rather shameful to bear). To become a really free man worthy of democracy he must renounce his (irrational) dependence on beautiful object – on his wife who, as we see in the film, is a typical carrier of psychology of a beautiful object that has to be possessed with pride and guarded from the “suitors” – rivals for the right to possess the ontological value personified by the wife.

From the beginning, during the first meeting with the American film producer, Paul, although unconsciously, already tried, quite awkwardly, without really understanding what he is doing, to get rid of Camille – by inventing car accident to give her and Prokosch time to find a common language. But it was the first – passive and cowardly move: a kind of foggy, “experimental” maneuver of letting Camille to find a person of her type – with godly aspirations. But to break a super-symbiosis between a human being and god or goddess, is not easy neither for humans nor for gods. What Paul didn’t understand then is that gods are not a real company for gods, that all actions and postures from the Olympus are just a theatre for humans in order to stimulate their admiration. Camille and Prokosch don’t know what to do with one another – they both need Paul just to exist, to get the ambrosia of human worship.

The problems between human humans and human gods (as completely inter-human ones) became for Godard the magnificent artistic-scholarly project to deconstruct the religious mythology, to make humans the anti-metaphors of gods. The realistic story of Paul, Camille and Prokosch becomes a story about relations between human beings and gods set amidst European democracy with allusions to Ancient Greek culture. Godard examines the relationships between people and their religious feelings by explaining the very psychological mechanism of connectedness of mortals and immortality.

Because the cult of ancestors as a basic conservative feature of human psyche is the strongest example of human need for religious belief (omnipresence of a conservative socio-cultural orientation is an ideological sign that we are psychologically submerged into our collective past), Godard in “Contempt” describes the three human positions towards the past – one represented by Prokosch (the absolutization of the past, taking it as a model for the present and taking the present as a deteriorated version of the past), another represented by Lang (the “objective” knowledge of the past taken as separated from the present, and the one represented by Paul (existential identification with the human problems in the past which can make humans today enriched by the experiences of humans in the past). This last approach (identification with human attempts in the past to resolve their relations with their gods) that makes Paul identify with Homer and through him with Odyssey, is also Godard’s position, and we, the viewers, are offered to follow the path of our liberation from traditional masters of human life, theologized by us into gods or dominating us as human gods through wealth, power or glamour.

On the level of the plot the film depicts creative disagreement between film-producer (Prokosch), director (Fritz Lang playing himself), and the author of the screenplay (Paul, hired by Prokosch disappointed with Lang’s approach to the topic) about how exactly to transform Homer’s “Odyssey” into a modern film. For the producer, Ancient Greece in general is a grandiose reality, heroic in its proportions, which outweighs modernity in profundity, authenticity and power of emotions and actions. Prokosch perceives Ancient Greece as Olympus itself. He unconsciously projects there his own megalomania, desire to feel himself higher, more important and heroic than the surrounding reality “allows him” to be.

Lang’s concept, on the other hand, is a position of the scholar who tries to understand the ancient world without any projections, neither admiration nor envy, but as an objective reality, specific, comparable but in many ways incompatible with Western modernity or any other period in history. “Objective” position towards the past is possible only by artificial muffling the existential problems and worries of our own times, by cutting our life from our existentially spiritual needs.

The third position towards the past is personified by Paul. It is the ability to recognize ourselves in our brothers from other epochs and them in us in our situations. This creative juxtaposition of past and the present gives us the chance to feel the transformative potential of our lives, awakens in us the very ability for existential awakening. While the first position towards the past can be called projection of self-aggrandizement (narcissistic projective identification with the past in the name of the authoritarian position in the present), and the second – the museum kind of expertise about the past (its alienated perception), the third position can be called existentially creative, when people of the past are perceived as basically equal to us today. Paul’s position allows us to read ancient text as a human document. It is identification with people of the past, with their existential situations, with their problems. By identifying with Homer’s Odyssey who as a human being lived with both humans and gods, Paul finds inspiration and power to look at his relations with his wife in a new way. He got the chance to change his life in a way that is relevant for a democratic period of Western history.

These three ways of perception of Homer’s “Odyssey” (aggrandizement, “objective” study and existential analogy with the present condition of humanity) became the trigger point for Godard’s classification of our relations not only with the past, but also our relations with any work of art (its idolization [or the opposite – its dismissal], “I love it/I hate it” widespread approach, its “formal study”, in a case of cinema, for example – its study as a medium, and, thirdly, its interpretation as a human document [its semantic analysis in content and form]). In this sense the first position (towards the past and works of art) is based on primordial psychological mechanisms of acting out (projective identification) and not intelligent enough, the second position is mental but alienated and has compassion deficit, and the third is fully humanistic and democratic.

Liberation from the monarchy of the gods (in theological garments or human armor of power, wealth and glamour) becomes the central topic of “Le mepris”, Godard’s crib-note for us in the 21st century, and his warning that this liberation is one of the most fundamental and the most difficult tasks we face hidden behind all our challenges and predicaments. Godard’s film is not in any way a manifesto of atheism. The problem of liberation from the power of the gods is not a matter of political parties, organizations and actions. Atheism as a (militant) ideology is as much based on a psychologically religious instincts and reflexes as belief in heavenly monarchs. Religious liberation is a matter of spiritual transformation, of the ability of stopping to alienate spirituality itself into the phantoms of our worship. Ultimately, it is a question of social inequality. The gods of the Olympus or the Heavens are just the shining frames for the human gods presiding over us from the heights of the social hierarchy, just metaphoric odes to the earthly “deciders” in our name.

Godard inserts into the film the historically relevant reference to Goebbels’ revolver and Prokosch’s check book. The revolver and check book become equally efficient instruments of the very destruction of rational civility of serious art and serious culture in general. “When I hear the word ‘culture’ my hand stretches for the revolver” – Goebbels said in 1933. “When I hear the word ‘culture’ [or it can be ‘artsy’ or ‘intellectual’ work of art] my hand stretches for check book” – Prokosch says, and in another occasion he tells Paul “…but today is not 1933, it is 1963, and you’ll write whatever I tell you, because you need money.”

Like gods as such are metaphoric elaboration of human gods, the human gods on the Olympus of the social hierarchy are just the embodiment of our human godly complexes, internal objects inside our psyches. “Contempt” is dedicated to the very analysis of this human psychology of god-worship. Because gods didn’t come to exist from above earth, it is impossible to throw them down. And likewise because they didn’t come to exist from the heights of the social hierarchy it’s impossible to overthrow them from there. They came into existence because they conceived – in the very human soul, in the very mind of human sociality. They are born from the very womb of human soul. The carrier of gods’ genetic substance is the very heart of the human mind. It’s this matter of humanity’s spirit – what has to transubstantiate. Godard’s “Contempt”, it seems, is meant to be a tool of this future transformation, together with his other two films as parts of his religious trilogy (“Hail Mary” – 1985) and “Oh, Woe is me” (1994).

Posted a review on July 8, 2014 –   “Contempt/Le mepris” (1963) by Jean-Luc Godard  by Acting-Out Politics

Posted on 11/7/’17 –   An Odd Ode to The Human Goddess Camille (Who, It Seems, Needs A Camel for A Husband) – From Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt/Le mepris” (1964) by Acting-Out Politics