Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Love in an Elevator

I’ve been thinking lately about the elevator scene in The Maltese Falcon, where Sam Spade watches as Brigid O’Shaugnessy begins her descent to prison, or worse, the gallows. Before the cops arrived to take Brigid on that fatal journey, Sam and Brigid have a fascinating discussion on the subject of love. After she claims that their love for one another should be reason enough to find some alternative solution, one that doesn’t involve her doom, Sam replies: “I don’t care who loves who. I’m not going to play the sap for you.” Sam doesn’t cite his commitment to justice or the truth; rather, he insists upon his own status as the non-duped, a man who knows precisely from whence the threat to his (self) control comes. Of course, this makes him precisely the kind of fool he doesn’t want to be, and the conclusion of the film illustrates this. Rather than ending on this note of self-assurance, we return to Sam’s office where his dead partner’s wife, with whom he had an affair, awaits. Sam, who has been avoiding this nuisance of a woman for the better part of the film, shivers in disgust and tells his secretary to “send her in.”

Wait. I’ve left something important out. After Sam tells Brigid he refuses to play the sap, he goes on to say “I won’t walk in Thursby’s—and I don’t know how many others—footsteps.” Aha. And again, later: “If all I’ve said doesn’t mean anything to you, we’ll make it just this. I won’t because all of me wants to—regardless of consequences—and you’ve counted on that with me the same as you counted on that with the others.”

What is it about love that threatens to reduce us, to compromise our specialness? Slavoj Zizek mentions a passage in Lacan that seems on point: “Everyone knows Lacan’s definition of love (“Love is giving something one doesn’t have…”); what one often forgets is to add the other half which completes the sentence: “…to someone who doesn’t want it.” And is this not confirmed by our most elementary experience when somebody unexpectedly declared passionate love to us—is not the first reaction, preceding the possible positive reply, that something obscene, intrusive, is being forced upon us?” Don’t we worry, in one way or another, about our very “oneness,” our singularity? Don’t we worry, regardless of the possibility of other loves, that love will make us not one, but either less than one, or, perhaps even worse, two?

Maybe the question isn’t what Sam is afraid of—after all, that seems fairly clear. Maybe the question is what Brigid is afraid of. Maybe the femme fatale isn’t a reflection of male fears and anxieties at all. Maybe, just maybe, she has fears and anxieties of her own. After all, she has been the primary searcher for the falcon, “the stuff that dreams are made of.” And doesn’t this bring us back, paradoxically, to blowjobs-for-beer? Maybe the question I should have asked wasn’t what those men wanted—maybe the entire point was: what did that young woman want?

What does it mean to want to be the object of desire, even the object of desire of a non-subject? This speaks, in a way, to LLL’s most recent post, and the question of the woman who lost weight to get her man. Why, after all, should they be lauded for their triumph? What was it a triumph over? It was a triumph over all of our own feelings—I deserve. I deserve better. I deserve to be loved. This is no triumph. This is nothing but compromise.

If Brigid wants the statue, it’s because it can promise her something more. I deserve. I deserve to be loved this much. I deserve to love. What are her anxieties? Precisely that she won’t be loved unconditionally, about which she was entirely right. Precisely that others won’t let go their fear. About which she was entirely right. Precisely that she won’t love herself. About which she was entirely right. Poor Brigid. Poor us.