Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love is in the Air

Eat ... from my body
I'm not a fan of romance movies.  Well, to be fair, I'm not a fan of what one normally calls romance films.  Hell, I think Die Hard is a fine romantic film.  (Guy goes through hell to save his ex-wife, whom he doesn't even get along all that well with when he could've just stayed low and tried to escape on his own and probably would've succeeded.)  There is one film, however, that while technically falls under the category of horror, is really what I envision a romance movie to be.  If you recognize the image here, you know that film is Takashi Miike's 1999 classic Audition.

The plot is the standard stuff of romance films.  Several years after the death of his wife, a man sets out to find a new wife to help him raise his son.  He does this by setting up a fake audition for actresses with the help of his film producer friend.  At this point the film is comedic, with a lovely genre montage of wacky actresses.  Once our widower finds his woman, hijinks ensue.

The hijinks, however, are some of the most psychological and physically upsetting things far too many people will ever see on screen.  One of the early moments that lets you know something is amiss involves a seen featuring the chosen woman and a background object in her apartment.  It is truly chilling, and is a scene you won't forget.

What is love/Oh baby, don't hurt me
As a horror film, Audition fits the bill perfectly.  As a romance, there are no films that are as symbolically correct as this one.  Romances start out light and fun and end up with piano wire and needles.  As our wonderful object of desire, Asami, says, "Words create lies. Pain can be trusted."  If there's a better phrase to sum up courtship and relationships, I am not privy to it.

Asami may be the most perfect film female, too, or at least the most fully realized one.  Again, this is purely symbolic, but her character is one of camouflage, confusion, innocence, sexuality, deceit and pain all in one.  You don't get that with Kate Hudson or Meg Ryan.  All the romance movies I've seen (I've self-limited on that) all have the standard one-dimensional cookie-cutter characters often played by one-dimensional cookie-cutter actors.  When you make a movie with characters like that, you get movies that are surface deep.  Miike's film can be easily dismissed by anyone not thinking about it too deeply (audiences have walked out in record numbers), and you can get very angry at him for deceiving you with the first part of the film, but you can't say he isn't representing (again, symbolically) relationships, which are  often based on small deceits.

There is a lot more in this film that fits the symbolism of relationships (the history of abuse, the presence of dreams, the eating of vomit, etc.), but to understand its full power you actually have to dig your heels in and sit through it.  It will enrage some, and if your ideal romance stars Hugh Grant you will most likely have nightmares once this is over (if you can find it in yourself to take it all in).  By the time it's over, though, and once the initial shock has left your system (part of this movie will stay with you forever), you'll understand that as far as romantic films go ... this one is the most honest.

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