Kissed, the movie mentioned in my July 3rd entry, came in the mail on Monday, and I watched it. I’m only now reviewing it because I was busy priming and painting Tuesday and Wednesday.
Kissed, a closely focused movie with very few extras or characterological background, is a character study of two characters who are debatably nuts, yet perfect for each other.
The narrator, Sandra, is a college student who studies embalming. From her earliest ceremonious funerals for dead birds, she has been fascinated by death. She believes that caressing dead bodies allows her to pick up their lingering energy or charge and to help them cross over. She’s introverted, socially awkward, necrophiliac and romantic in an unhinged way.
Sandra happily makes love to dead guys until the arrival of Matt, an intense stalkerish type who penetrates [literally] her defenses with his combination of gentleness and slightly creepy persistence. Though he is initially curious about Sandra’s necrophilia, his curiosity consumes him, becoming a fixation. He tries to understand and get through to Sandra in ways that demonstrate his true possessiveness. Of course, in a movie where love and death are intertwined, such a conflict can only end in death for one of the characters.
Fascinatingly enough, neither Sandra nor Matt are particularly likeable. Though she uses the language of transcendence when talking about necrophilia, Sandra’s stereotyped actions during her secret childhood funerals suggest the bleak, unimaginative play of a severely damaged, possibly abused, child. The repetitive and orderly nature of the funerals makes me think of the way that kids of alcoholics or abused kids structure their otherwise chaotic lives. But I really have no idea how her family life or early experiences may have contributed to her interests, though, because, even as a child, she completely lacks social context [dangers of a small filming budget, I guess].
As for Matt, what the hell is his problem? He spys on Sandra, follows her, writes down her movements for weeks, tries to diagnose her, dresses up like a corpse [in a tux], wears make-up like a dead body, etc. Some of his behavior seems to be an extension of his med student’s need to label and understand everything, but then he too becomes pathetic when he tries imitating a corpse. When he does so, he is practically groveling, trying to get Sandra’s attention. His anxiety, combined with his escalating desperation, made me worry that he was going to rape her. [Hooray, a stalker AND a rapist.] But no…Matt has too much self-loathing for that. Instead, he turns his violence on himself, concluding that he is not good enough for her.
There’s a misogynistic undercurrent in Matt’s attraction to Sandra that deserves a separate paragraph. Matt’s stalking and notetaking are commented on by Sandra herself as his attempts to “understand” her. He wants to know her, define her, label her and confine her desires so that they do not flow toward the dead bodies, but toward him. He does not want a woman on top who is in control of herself and her desires; in fact, during their first sex scene, Matt tells Sandra to “lie back” and be “still” in the quintessential position of a passive woman who accepts male dominance. [This position is also corpse-like, which intimates that he may wish she were dead quiet and dead as well.] In the end, though, he gives up and annihiliates himself in a last attempt to fit into Sandra’s life.
Despite the inherent unlikeability of the characters, Kissed is an interesting, solid movie. It’s by no means as artistic, philosophical, psychologically profound and daring as it thinks it is, but it’s interesting and saved largely by convincing performances. The acting is all-around low-key, underplayed, even a bit deadpan [hah], which keeps the story from becoming sensationalized. The lack of extras [never have I seen a more desolate college campus] mars the realism, but also adds a dreamy, depupulated atmosphere to the story, demonstrating how much Sandra and Matt are focused on things besides the real world. The languid camera work and the poetic voice-overs add a meditative mood to the proceedings, though there are far too many fade-to-the-white-light-of-transcendent-orgasm shots. Also, the voice-overs could have been used much more parsimoniously, at the beginning, the end and during the extended childhood flashback of Sandra’s.
Apparently Kissed is based on a short story, “We So Seldom Look on Love,” by Barbara Gowdy. I’ll have to look into it. Maybe it provides some history for Sandra and Matt.