Stupid Opinion About Almodovar’s View on Body vs Mind

17 May

The line between mind and body isn’t as thin as it once was. At a time when the link between the body and the soul should be examined even more thoroughly, it is instead being used to sell underwear and Weight Watcher point programs. However, master filmmaker Almodovar examines what everyone seems to neglect: our relationship with the body. But instead of looking at universal examples, such as changes in puberty or when I first felt my back fat jiggle when I ran down a flight of stairs, he looks at the obscure, unique and extreme examples of our mind’s relationship with our body. Live Flesh, Talk to Her and The Skin I Live In all dive head first into the once sacred, now exploited relationship between body and soul.

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Live Flesh is the story of a love triangle, or a love hexagon, or whatever the shape is where all the corners are having sex with each other, and all of the characters undergo physical transformations during the film. The most obvious is the contrast between the living flesh of Victor (Liberto Rabal) and the dead flesh of David (Javier Bardem). Victor, a scrawny twenty year-old kid, shot and paralyzed David. The story really begins to pick up when a very beefed up Victor is released from prison after having watched David rise to fame as a now paraplegic basketball star. David finds success after his body becomes half as efficient as it was. Though both of these characters have drastically different circumstances and bodies in the second act of the film than from the first, they are spiritually still the same characters. The physical change for David has only led to an upgrade in women and change of career, but he’s still the same jealous, insecure asshole, but now he doesn’t have a gun and authority from the state to back him up. Implying the physical change of the body, even in extreme examples, has little effect on the intangible spirit. Victor, despite his prison body, has the same sweet, hopeless-romantic, optimistic spirit he had as a youngster even after he’s been released from prison where he gained the strength and mass to be able to do clap-push-ups. The arch of his story is transforming his body to match his mind. After being released from prison, he seeks a mentor to help him become the best lover in the world. He needs his physical body to support his internal ideal of himself. The film is about dealing with how the two characters’ spirits change. Victor is willing to change spiritually as well as emotionally, while David, even though he’s faced with a bigger physical change, refuses to change himself at all. How the characters change fortunes, lovers and bodies suggests that it isn’t the physical element of the person that is the most valuable. Live Flesh preaches the unity between the two and champions the character who has the ability to physically and emotionally adapt, and the stubborn character is left cold and alone. 

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In the 2002 film, Talk to Her, two very different men become friends after the women they love go into catatonic states, leaving behind a physical body without a trace of a spirit. In the film Benigno (Javier Cámara) is madly in love with Alicia (Leonor Watling) despite only watching her from afar and having a single conversation. His urges and infatuation are based primarily on her physical appearance and dwell exclusively in the realm of his thoughts, emotions and spirit. After she goes into a coma, he becomes her primary nurse and takes care of her while discussing and projecting all types of feelings and ideas on her un-animated body. Her body and the ideal he’s created of her in his head consume his whole world. Surely, if this film was set in Tokyo instead of Spain there would be no story because Benigno would have already married his Nintendo 3DS character, but in the land of tapas and perpetually-unfinished La Sagrada Familia he has to project his image of perfection in true analog fashion on a catatonic ballerina.  This projection of spirit warps his reality to the point where he engages in the idea of marriage with Alicia, and unfortunately, lets his perceived spiritual connection lead him to force a physical connection. In the film it is the projection of spirit that gets Benigno in trouble when he commits a monsterly act against Alicia, but the same projection of spirit allow for the gracious friendship between Benigno and Marco (Darío Grandinetti). Marco doesn’t understand the depth of Benigno’s infatuation with Alicia when they first meet, but since they both are taking care of women in comas he finds out more about Benigno. At a point in the relationship Marco begins to relate to and project on Benigno his own thoughts of love and emotions towards a loved one. Marco would never hurt someone in the way that Benigno does, but the thoughts and connections he projects on Benigno are so embedded that his view of Benigno isn’t changed when he learns of the horrific act. The projection of personal spiritual ideals onto another person allows Benigno to become a complete person in Marco’s eyes. Both Marco and Benigno are unable to separate their own projects of spirit from the physical reality. They both are unable to see how the reality of a body’s soul is different from the projection they created in their mind. The projection of soul on another person is vital to all human interaction, but it can lead to a warping of reality when the spiritual element is allowed to project onto disembodied entities. (See YouTube comment sections)

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The last film is The Skin I Live In (2011). In this film, Almodovar once again looks at the separation of body and mind. Here Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is consumed with regret and rage over the deaths of his wife and daughter. The mother could not mentally handle her dramatic physical change after an accident and his daughter, who witnessed her mother’s suicide, never developed a stable mental condition and ends up committing suicide after a failed rape attempt. The doctor, who initially appears to be a sympathetic character, turns into a sadistic villain when his revenge spans from physical pain to psychological torture. He kidnaps the attempted rapist, Vincente (Jan Cornet), and gives him a nonconsensual sex change. Then the doctor keeps the victim as prisoner and begins molding his body to replace the lost bodies of his wife and daughter. This transformation was so complete that he renamed the captive Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya). Vera now becomes the victim who is a prisoner in the doctor’s home as well as in her new body. Vera, even in her unwanted skin, has the natural instinct to protect herself and refuses to give in to numerous rape attempts from a home invader and the doctor himself. The penultimate scene in the film is when she is so complete as a woman that the doctor attempts to seduce her. Vera admits that she no longer has the will to resist him and Dr. Ledgard appears to have created a subservient partner who is entirely devoted to him. However, the Doctor’s projection and manipulation of the physical body can not change the spirit. She becomes the manipulator when she takes the first opportunity to escape by fatal force. Vera, though completely different from who he was at the beginning of the film, in a physical sense, is still at the core the same person. A new perspective and identity is forced on Vera, but through examining the situation through journaling, meditation and longterm escape planning she’s is able to adjust to the situation. Thus, showing, again, that the connection between body and soul is malleable and the will can not easily be broken despite how temporary the physical state may be.   

Almodovar doesn’t seem interested with traditional concepts of the body.  In a nearly every film he’s made in some way he challenges the physical existence of his characters. To him their bodies are just the adaptable projections of their souls. These extreme examples and ambiguities in these films stand as a touchstone of that thin line that separates physical from spiritual. In these extreme examples of Live Flesh, Talk to Her and The Skin I Live In Almodovar embraces and explores the issue of body and soul, seeking truth from the most preposterous of situations. In the end, these uncommon cases of physical changes project just as much universal truth as putting on a few pounds after the holidays or a thinning scalp. The more different we are the more we’re the same. 

-C.Charles

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