Chamber Utopia – A Commune Banished In Advance – A Different Humanity (Real Humanism vs. Vanity)

The English translation of the title of the French film, if to retranslate it into French would be “Destroy, said she” – a formula encouraging us to ask – who is she, whereas “Destroy, she said” as a title is a bit tautological – “she” stays benevolently anonymous because of the two verbs which “overfull” situations with two actions. The direct – literal translation of the title into English – “Destroy, said she” opens the space for trying to define who this “she” is and creates the expectation of an answer to come, suggesting a choice or comparison between two “she-s”.

In the film there are two women who, according to the logic of their characters and behavior can be considered as possible carriers of feelings in tune with some kind of circumstantial destruction. One is Elisabeth Alione (Catherine Sellers), and the other is Alissa (Nicole Hiss) – who have a different relation to destruction (like stubborn and principal disagreement, overcoming, rebellion, refutation without a chance to amend it, absolute change, etc.). Elisabeth carries the desire to destroy something that’s inside her personality, inside her soul (years ago she didn’t want to give birth and she didn’t have the guts to love the person she loved). But Alissa who already loves her husband Max Thor (Henri Garcin) and her lover Stein (Michel Londsdale), and is ready for her love for Elisabeth, and, at the end of the film, even to love Elisabeth’s husband Bernard Alione (Daniel Gelin). It looks like that at this point only having already watched Duras’ film can prevent one from giving oneself to the sense of humor.

It seems, the two women, Elisabeth and Alissa “said” “Destroy”, Elisabeth in a sense of destroying her internal desires – suffocating them, not allowing them to be projected outside, to the world, but Alissa is challenging the repressive position on the part of the world of men or conventional moral code towards women’s spontaneous desires. She is “destructive” in a much more “revolutionary” sense.

“Destroy, said she” is asking and encouraging us to ask – who is she who wants to destroy the obstacles for feeling free to be yourself – the woman, who like Elisabeth Alione is ready to destroy herself to keep following inhumane morality, or woman like Alissa, who is ready to disagree with and to destroy this immoral morality? In other words, with whom of these two women Duras is, even she empathizes with and love both?

Duras is answering Michel Londsdale’s questions about the connection between Stein’s (whom he plays in the film) position in the world and his particular style of self-expressiveness

Duras and Catherine Sellers (Elisabeth Alione) in between takes

Duras shows Michel Londsdale how exactly to move cigarette in a certain moment of a scene. The woman’s hand (with pointing finger between Londsdale’s face and Nicole Hiss’s head is, likely that of Duras’s). To the right we see Max Thor’s (Henri Garcin) profile.

We see the environment where for people it is, somehow, more natural to be interested in each other personalities and lives, not in personal vanities like consumerist obsessions, fixation on entertainment, narcissistic posing in front of one another or mutual identification. It’s, as if, the very atmosphere of the hotel and the park around was filtering out everything that’s not important (that is not existentially spiritual) in order to keep people focused on the essential – on the souls of each other (which are battling the world for meaning using mourning and joy as their weapons).

Alissa and Elisabeth at the beginning of their relationship (Alissa’s first gentle touches of Elisabeth’s frightened soul)

Blocked internal desires and the impossibility of their acceptance torment Elisabeth’s memories. We see a woman who is chronically against herself, in her past and in her present

Alissa’s visceral optimism lightens up her lips and her eyes. She never looks too up or too down, but always a bit above or a slightly under the horizon.

A psychotherapeutic card game involving Stein, Max Thor, Elisabeth and Alissa, combined with informal conversations, is teaching Elisabeth how to concentrate on life, not on the games.

Elisabeth feels more and more confused but step by step starts to enjoy life

Stein’s embrace of Alissa is as tough as it is tender, but it opens her gaze at the world

Alissa and Max Thor have recently married and are in a reverential way ready for having children. But they both are worried – Thor for Alissa and their future together. Both think about the destiny of their love in a world which is more and more indifferent to love and burdens love with predatory survival, in a world which is occupied with fight for domination and self- and group-enrichment and where education more and more looks like sharpening the knives for success of survival and survival of success. Alissa is also worried about people’s suffering, about this ultimate burden which pulls one down, to the depth deeper than any bottom.

Sometimes the intensity of Alissa’s worrying creates real fear in her husband for her ability to bear it. He is afraid that she can be again ill with suffering.

Thor allows himself to confess to Elisabeth about his dedication to her, but she is afraid of him, like she’s afraid of the forest around the ascetic and the gloomy park surrounding the hotel, the wild forest having a “bad reputation”. Elisabeth fears Thor like people fear love.

Elisabeth is also attracted to Thor, but being attracted is exactly what makes her retreat. For years she blocked the external world from any chance to touch her soul.

Because of the emotional irradiation from Thor and Alissa’s attention and presence of Stein, Elisabeth in a moment of panic called her husband to take her away. Bernard Alione (Daniel Gelin), a real estate developer, is a kind man who in his own way loves his wife. He was there to protect her in her moments of weakness – he doesn’t want her to be broken by uncontrollable outbursts of emotions. He is concerned about her shaky emotional stability. He is generous with her and their daughter even he doesn’t understand how unhappy life of his wife is.

During the final hour together, between Elisabeth’s friends and her husband, something really unexpected and amazing happened with her – she decided to go to the forest alone – to say hello and goodbye to the place she was unable to visit. When she returned she was like another person lightened by her suddenly awakened happiness. While Stein, Alissa and Thor invited her and Bernard to stay for several days longer, Elisabeth wanted to leave – she was afraid to lose what she never had felt – that human life can include joy inside. Our three sufferers-and-healers felt that Elisabeth’s husband is their ally. They believed they will meet Elisabeth or both of them again. When the person we share our love with departs happily, we feel that the world is enriched with that happiness. Stein, whose ability to love has a stone as an ally and an alchemist, prepares his friends Alissa and Thor to celebrate the shining of the night.


Are Stein, Max Thor and Alissa predators or saviors? Ghosts or people? Imps or angels? Saints or jokers? May be, they’re creatures from some other planet, posing as enigmatic and exotic seducers of human beings? If they are saints they are existentialized ones and, therefore, are like humans. They can be carriers of desires which have an element of risk and, may be, even disorder, probe and attempt without calculation in advance.

Stein and Max Thor are Jews. The one, as if, has been buried alive in a stone, and another torn from the human community. They both’re German Jews – they survived the psychological trauma which, as they feel is of the size of the universe. They both carry within an incredible emotional pain. But they try not to lose their humanity – not to give themselves to vengeful despair or desperate vengefulness. And for this reason they want to be more decent than decency, more caring than care. They’re ready to help those who, as they feel, need emotional help but too withdrawn and too centered on their unconscious to ask for it. They want to help people who are touched by psychological trauma but who are afraid that their torments will transform into mountain of pain, and this fear makes them frozen with icy panic.

Stein and Thor know this icy mountain of pain – they, in a way, were killed by it, but also survived – they live for one purpose – to try to help others “from the realm of after-death” where they live. They have developed the ability to love those who are still alive, but are deadly afraid of death. It is, according to Stein and Thor, these people who need to be, as if, resurrected before they are completely dead. They want these people to have contact with life. As we see, Stein/Thor as martyrs-helpers are not completely disinterested. And because of this, their love for people who need them is real love.

Alissa is Max Thor’s wife and Stein’s recent mistress. She is in love with Thor and she admires Stein. She identifies with Thor and she learns from Stein endurance to continue to love the ones who need her love. She’s in love with Stein’s ability to live “from the center of stone”, to be despite being stone. And she learns from both men how to help the living to be alive. Alissa became a kind of muse of destruction and healing, a kind of icon in the hands of Thor and Stein.

Duras’ film is about suffering, destruction and liberation. Destruction (violent behavior) in Duras’ film “discussed” through visual images and stylized dialogues/monologues, is of three types. The first – the most widespread is the one which is inflicted on another people and/or to other countries in order to establish dominance over them. War is the most obvious strategy to destroy, exploit, discriminate and economically rob countries and people. In Duras’ film this basic type of violence is referred to but not elaborated.

The second type of destruction is personified by Elisabeth Alione. This is a violence, subduing, repressing and inhibiting, which a person practices with her/himself, as if, prolonging and extending violence which other people or ruling ideologies and social institutions apply to the individual. This type of destruction is suffocating the very nucleus of person’s vitality. Can Bernard Alione, Elisabeth’s husband, be considered as a co-agency of her self-destruction? Yes, but only as a partner of hers in her self-inhibition. He identifies with her self-inhibition and does his best in helping her to go through this ordeal with as little torment as possible. In relation to his wife Bernard is something like co-masochistic humanist.

The task of the second type of destruction is to avoid challenging the first type. The third type of destruction Duras depicts in her film is the one dedicated to destroying the first and second types. This type of destruction is personified by Alissa, the very muse of creative destruction. The creative overcoming of the violence of ideological propaganda (flattering us with megalomaniacal exceptionalism) and the mass-cultural strategies of consumerism and entertainment, is able to liberate us from being overburdened by superficial needs, by artificial pseudo-personalities (buffer egos) and by fear of change. The third type of destruction will liberate the genuine human needs in existential spirituality and capacity for empathy and compassion (instead of tendency implanted into us – to scapegoat others as reasons for our problems) and is the one as proclaimed by Alissa and supported by Stein and Thor.

By observing this incredible utopian community of the three in the middle of alien landscape, we see, that their exclusive interest is that in each other, concentration on each other lives, their life experiences, their philosophies of life and their ideas about the world. By watching the film and the heroes’ authentic interests in one another we can have a revelation that that’s how people have to treat each other – with sincere sublime curiosity, that there is nothing more important and interesting than disinterested focus on another people – their joys, sufferings, destinies, that what happening with others is the ultimate stories of the universe. But in a real – cruel and crude world we cowardly create between ourselves artificial trash-and-sand and trash-and-dust of our small and vain interests – petti self-assertions and bragging and narcissistic rivalries and by this we ruin the chance to know one another’s authenticity. We fake our common identity by identifying with one another in order to feel stronger before the otherness and we burn our potential for uniqueness to feel ourselves stronger together. We fake our commonality to become protected by what we’re not. And at the same time we want to be hierarchically higher, stronger and richer than others among us – simultaneously the identical with and better than our best friends. Instead, in the world of Duras’ “Destroy, she said” people are unique and uniquely friendly. Their individualism is bottomless, like their altruism is inexhaustible. In her film Duras shows us real democracy.

Democratic position towards other people includes some dose of psychological suffering, because to treat people democratically requires overcoming our naïve megalomaniacal predisposition of treating other persons. Democracy as interpersonal relations is based on humility, and humility takes time to train. Instead, people are surrendering to vanity as a savior. Today’s economy is mystification of mutual fraud.

Let’s look again at three main characters of the film – Stein, Thor and Alissa. We don’t see in any of them neither maniacal fixation on Elisabeth, nor indifference framed by instrumental goals. These people are not fixated on Elisabeth or on one another. They are oriented on each other, dedicated to each other. There is no symbiotic gluing between persons. Human attention to another human beings is not blind and nor calculated, but… free, a result of holistic thinking and respect for the other’s existence. It is relationships suggesting the paradigmatic meaning of human bonds.

It’s not only the characters of Duras’ film which would seem suspicious to American movie audience, but the very manner of acting – the actors are not trying to feed the consumers with characters opened to the viewers’ mind like cartoon figures – creatures without internal world and only with different positions inside situations. We recommend this film and its actors with our wholehearted endorsement. Sometimes it’s necessary to see something puzzling but strangely refreshing, bizarre but unexpectedly meaningful, something silently – indirectly communicating what we have to discover a bit later, as if, from inside ourselves.

Posted on Jan 3, 1018 –   “Destroy, She Said” (1968) by Marguerite Duras by Acting-Out Politics