Eros, Promiscuity, Consumerism, Vanity, Wasted Life And Indifferent Death

Philippe has just brought his mother to the hospital for an important medical test.

The body of a woman, who just a week ago felt well, is put under the scrupulous surveillance of a smart and mighty machine that is able to x-ray human destiny.

Unseen electronic tentacles penetrate the mother’s body trying to find the hidden causes of her (suddenly appeared) alerting symptoms.

Mother never was too talkative with her son about her feelings, and Philippe is not curious to bother her by asking questions. They mention several episodes in the past that involved both of them when Philippe offered to listen to pieces from operas. He has a good taste in music.

Here Philippe already knows the catastrophic results of the test which gives his mother (who, naturally, was not told the truth) several weeks to live.

Father and the son visit the mother at the hospital (in our world the best compassion can do is to pair with lie, always never – with the truth).

Additional tests left no doubt about the mother’s illness. Pay attention to facial expressions – of the physician and of the nurse. How frightened and at the same time armored is the doctor’s gaze – he used to look at the eyes of human death, and how intensely compassionate is the gaze of the nurse – she used to look at the faces of the dying and has to always be emotionally supportive.

Illness progresses rapidly, and the sick woman, wife and mother is losing her mind.

But until people are alive they have a lot of consolations about their mortality – crappy chatting in the bars is the most innocent of them all.

Philippe’s father always had young girls – to help them with fashionable clothes from his boutique, and most of them rewarded him generously. What is wrong with that? We only live once.

The inevitable day when the cross replaces the human body, came quickly.

Philippe has a new affair not, of course, because of his mother’s death. It is exactly because of the absence of the awareness of his mortality and for this reason – of the value of life. For the same reason he never had a real talk with his mother – as if, he was afraid to learn something that only elder people can know. The composition of this shot is, rather, interesting – Philippe is shown as a reflection of a sexual situation he is part of: it’s from his affairs he gets his vitality and identity. The viewers are invited to explain a certain bodily particularity/peculiarity in Philippe’s reflection in the mirror.

Not because of fear of non-being but because of the absence of its grasp, people envelop themselves in beautiful flesh like a pecker encircles itself with trunks of the trees. Closeness to flesh creates ecstasy, and we dissolve ourselves into an orgasm between life and death. To fill this gap with our sperm is our instinctive goal (probably, in order to make the transition less horrifying). So, we spend our lives making a living and having fun – instead of living.

Part of sexual happiness that Philippe has with his wife is exactly the freedom (and equality) they have democratically allowed each other. The more bodily happiness we have – the farther we are from thinking about the unpleasant: that this happiness is limited (not by our future death but because of the very limitation of our happiness). We transform life into flesh because we know that we’ll lose it. But we’ll lose much more than flesh.

They are happy as a married couple. They are good lovers. They are good friends. They are frank with one another. And they can discuss everything concrete and everyday life oriented. They are lucky to have each other. They are smart, but their intelligence is closed from the “abstract” problems of life, from what is not undoubted and not obvious. They are interested only in what is in tune with everyday life. They are prisoners of their existence.

The characters of Pialat’s film are not “bad people” – they are not “worse” than anybody else. They are, in a way, everybody, and here lies the explosive critical energy of “Mouth Agape”. The film debunks the sacred cow of Western democracy – it overcomes the impossibility of being critical about people’s factual condition, about the demos electing the leaders of government and buying everything produced: the ordinary people’s misdirected will, wasted understanding, superstitious intentionality and prejudicial sensibility. Pialat does what no one politician and not many cultural activists and artists would dare to do – he is criticizing those who are the basis of democracy and economy and the object of cultural and commercial appeal, who consume things, services and images and by this define the future of civilization (and for this reason alone cannot be criticized – they’re providing careers of the producers, planners, administrators and salesmen).

Philippe, the son of a dying woman, cannot bare their common memory of their past. Even after learning that she has a short time left to live, he started to play the record of an opera music in order not to confront their existential situation and the fact that their whole life together they had very limited emotional and intellectual rapport. Later, when his mother was near the end, he in a neighboring room tried to turn on the TV, forgetting that it is disrespectful towards the dying person regardless of whether she can or cannot hear it. He doesn’t want to concentrate on the fact that his mother is dying, that she is mortal. He, like most of us, wants to live as if death didn’t exist, to live as if you are free from death. Ignoring our mortality is a way not to make ourselves saddened and depressed. What is the point of reminding oneself about the inevitability of the end and by this to take away doses of happiness we are trained enjoy consuming? It’s stupid to think about what we barely can influence.

Erotic excitement is one of the primary fighters with consciousness of death. A husband and son of a dying woman know very well the psychotherapeutic qualities of sex and its positive influence on the human health and mental peace. Eros dissipates the awareness of mortality as wind – scorching heat in the air, and sweater and wool gloves – the chill of the cold. The hurrah-erection is illusion-incarnated that flesh has the ability to defeat its end – erection, as if, has the ability to encroach into non-being under the banner of eternity. The orgasm dissolves life in eternity as life’s limitless continuation. That’s why Philippe (without philosophizing about it) is meaninglessly and blindly promiscuous, and that’s why his father needs young women as consoling sips of wine. Are they running from death? Of course, not – they are not retarded; they know very well that death is a better marathon runner than human beings are – you cannot beat it. They just want to prevent mortality from robbing them of their right (and freedom) to live happily.

They try to run away not from death, but from the meaning of death, from death as an interlocutor, from death’s wisdom in relation to life. They know what death says about itself, but they don’t want to know what death knows about life. The husband, after his wife’s death, refuses to go to live with his son (even temporarily) and wants to stay where his wife died, as if nothing has changed in his life, as if by staying in the same house he beats death to being non-consequential, to non-existence. And the son and his wife are speeding away from the mother’s death as from the devil. In a unique prolonged tracking shot showing a subjective point of view (as if they are driving their car backward) and emotional panic, the son and daughter-in-law – after the mother’s funeral rush back to their happy locked life. By making this retreat from death the finale of the film, Pialat gives us a visual summary of our childish position towards death. These people (father and son) don’t want to hear what the wife and mother’s death may tell them.

And what can it tell them? – That their life is meaningless? – That their death is a savior from vanity of their life, from the meaninglessness and absurdity of their very existence? They never were able to take life actively, openly, creatively. They will die as consumers of life’s moments, and for this reason they’ll never die. They are used to see only the surface of living, never the deeper than that. And when they die they will take everything with themselves. May be, this is the meaning of paradise – to have the same (through the fog of memories) what you had when you were alive, only forever.

Posted on Feb 2 2015 –   “The Mouth Agape/The Slack-Jawed Mug” (1974) by Maurice Pialat  by Acting-Out Politics