Ordinary happiness, and Nana’s destiny of martyrhood

Philosophical discussion

“Vivre Sa Vie/My Life to Live” is not only depicting the horrifying destiny of an extraordinary woman (in Anna Karina’s exceptional – multifaceted, emotionally versatile, and analytical performance) lost amidst success- and consumption-obsessed European post-WWII democracy. It is also about psycho-semiotic destiny of human being in general squeezed between the mechanical logic of business and the symbolic violence inherent in the very language of adults. Godard examines Nana’s existential decisions by using the theory of human psycho-linguistic behavior elaborated by the French philosopher Jacques Lacan. Godard’s incredible juxtaposition of the heroine’s short life as a martyr of modern civilization with the spirit of Lacanian terminology makes this film a unique cinematic research into – how human specie is abused and psychologically traumatized by the very feature that makes it exceptional – its possession of developed socio-cultural language.

The symbolic (sociomorphic) language is the agency of patriarchal power that transforms every person into personage of semiotico-theological drama, when any use of language becomes part of our unconscious worship of the father/god/phallus, of authoritarian wisdoms, social power and successful adaptation to a given society. Romantic love (unconditional surrender to symbiosis of the two) becomes in Godard’s film metaphor of the initiation into language and signifier of Lacanian Imaginary, prostitution (Nana’s main job) – signifier of Lacanian Symbolic, and Nana’s pimp, Raul – signifier of Lacanian Real.

Godard’s virtuoso combination of Lacanian ideas with depiction of today’s family life, search for work, and organized prostitution provides him vantage point for his analysis of how post-modern human beings become object of rivaling demands on part of today’s new ethos of money-power and on part of traditional repression acting through la parole (the structure of human verbal communication). This combination of new and traditional ways of human repression makes it especially difficult for today’s post-modern subject to resist the power of manipulation it is being subjected to.

What for Nana is romantic love and conformist language of adults, for us in the 21st century is “romantic love” with the ideology of profit-making and language of profit-calculation. Raul at the end of the film sells Nana as today’s Wall Street schemers sell people’s debts.

“My Life to Live” is not just a paradigmatic intellectual film – it is an exemplary one. It was made fifty years ago and with time it becomes more and more relevant because it explains from where and how our Western culture moved to the point we find ourselves today with amazement and disbelief.

We see here Nana and her ex-husband, father of her child. As it is always with Godard, the composition of the shot suggests additional meaning. In front of Nana there are two mirror reflections: of herself and her husband, while on his side – only that of her back (her back towards him). It means that Nana perceives the two of them – their mutuality with its problems while her husband narcissistically perceives only the fact that Nana is abandoning him and their child.

Nana is preparing application for job.

Nana’s incredible personality (which is a part of her very charm) is finally appreciated when one of her clients who has chosen to have sex with her, asks her to find another girl for the intercourse but in the presence of Nana in the same room. What’s happened to this guy who is ready to double his spending just for having Nana to be present fully dressed, while he will indulge himself with another woman? Could it be that he just didn’t dare to do it with Nana? What does the composition of this shot tell us about the women we see here? How is Nana’s facial expression different from that of the other woman?

Posted on Sep 28, 2012   Jean-Luc Godard’s “Vivre sa vie/My Life to Live” (1962) – One Extraordinary Woman’s Path Through Marriage, Motherhood, Search for Job, Prostitution, Romantic Love and Verbal Communication with Others by Acting-Out Politics