Thursday, September 03, 2009

Damaged and Damaging


I was a college student when I inadvertently discovered "Damage" on British TV, a steamy romantic drama featuring a forbidden illicit affair between Stephen and Anna. Jeremy Irons plays Stephen, a self-controlled, successful, prim and proper English gentleman holding respectably high ministerial position in the cabinet. Juliette Binoche plays Anna, a damaging femme fatale who is subsequently engaged to Jeremy's son while initiating and pursuing her clandestine trysts with Jeremy.

(Interestingly, Deuteronomy 22:30 provides that "a man is not to marry his father's wife; he must not dishonour his father's bed." What about a father taking his son's fiancee? Anyway, there are a lot of similar stories in real life. During the Tang Dynasty of ancient China, there was young Empress Wu Zetian who was previously a concubine to Emperor Taizong and upon his death, a concubine to his successor Emperor Gaozong. In modern times, there is a suspicious case between Carla Bruni and the Enthovens. Not to mention certain cultures that approve such relationships, and generations of ordinary women in willing pursuit of such complication, if not the thrill.)

The accidental fall of her fiance from top to the ground floor, in the state of excruciating pain and shock witnessing the intense love-making between his dad and Anna, left an inexplicable impact on me ever since. It still stirs my emotions re-watching it after almost 10 years.

What strikes me most is the psychological state of Anna: what is in her mind? What is she up for? Love, lust, atonement or vindication?

Anna, albeit a pleasant looking lady, does not on first glance appear to meet a standard expectation of any typical seductress. Not really hot, sexy and voluptuous - a woman type deemed popular among most men; not the sweet and "kawai" (cutey in Japanese) which is generally well-liked among the Asian men. She is indeed an exquisite cold beauty, looking sullen and melancholic at most times. She always appears in deep thought, as if she is disturbed by a painfully inexplicable past. Perhaps this is the most mysterious and alluring type (very dangerous too) of a femme fatale. Being unpredictably secretive, she is also extremely selfish and egocentric in search for her next target with no mercy whatsoever. What she craves for is basically the spur moment of fanatic lust and passion. "Empathy" and "compassion" have no presence in her dictionary.

"Who cares about tomorrow; who cares about commitment. It has to be me; it has to be my pleasure only..."

At the end of the film, she just evicts her responsibility of her fiance's death altogether. She flees the "crime" scene going back to her former lover (who has possibly divorced his wife for her). Leaving behind a broken man who has lost everything: a seemingly happy family, a rising career, good reputation and his one and only son, gazing obsessively on a photo of her cold beauty...

How many lives has Anna damaged throughout her life till the end of the movie? Her own brother who commits suicide in desperation of his incestuous love, Stephen and his family (his wife, son, daughter and father-in-law) and her former lover and his family. At least 8 of them excluding the unknowns. Undoubtedly a real femme fatale.

I am not trying to pass any moral judgement on a character like Anna. Just wondering how would she not lose sleep over a sense of guilt for hurting so many souls? Does she believe in "karma"?

On a separate note, some critics liken the film to another classic erotic film "Last Tango in Paris". In my humble opinion, "Damage" probably better portrays the psychology of each character. At least I don't feel disturbed wondering why a sweet-looking babe would totally submit herself to an ugly old man who has nothing but a disposition for violence and perversion (my blog post on the above shall come later).