Climax Gaspar Noé (Fr; 2018) Soffia Boutella, Romain, Houheila Yacoub
Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 2 Nov 2018; Complementary screening.
Did you climax?
Did I Climax? Was this dance? I felt was watching a two hour long masturbation death ritual. Like masturbation Gaspar Noé’s ‘Climax’, using contemporary dance as a medium, intersperses arousal tedium and exhaustion on its long road to detumescence.
Viewing Climax called to mind Pasolini’s last movie ‘Salo’, completed just before he was murdered. ‘Salo’ was Pasolini’s take on de Sade’s long censored work ‘120 Days of Sodom’. ‘Salo’ was a contribution to a cinema of cruelty that places the human body at the centre of a logic of ideological driven pain psychosis and death. A cinema of corpses blood shit and body fluid. A cinema that confronts the audience with images of somatic viscerality that are not signs pointing to something other than themselves, but rather images that point to nothing but themselves. In ‘Salo’ the viewers, like the actors, are contained in the space of the film. We do not gaze; we witness.
The core structure of both Noé’s ‘Climax’ and ‘120 Days’ is that they are both located in an enclosed world, a pure world (that is to say unadulterated by external distractions) governed by forces which play out according to certain mathematical formulae and operations. Operations that target the body as a site for the demonstration of pain. Once the body is reduced to a site for the imposition of power, soul rarely survives. It is destroyed, as the Nazis and Bolsheviks well knew, and
which corporate capitalism also understands very well.
Pasolini’s movie is his transposed fable of the operation of the mechanics of power in fascist social organisation. Although he exemplified fascism in ‘Salo’, there was an intended analogy with the potential for Western capitalism to reduce the body to a mere site of consumption. Where Pasolini (perhaps cut down by those powers he was opposing) left off , Noé picks up.
‘Climax’ in taking up Pasolini’s ideational thread, also invokes the Theatre of Cruelty’s expressive language. Like Pasolini Noé understands the physical body as a experimental site for the diagnosis of psycho-social sickness. In ‘Salo’ Pasolini depicts fascism an externalised political/social mechanism, that inflicts a series of gradated cruelties upon passive but innocent victims.
The victims in ‘Salo’ were both innocent and naïve. In ‘Climax’ the victims are helpless to do anything other than to collude in the design of their own death. The power of repression in no longer external; it has become internalised. As individuals we have opened both our subtle and carnal bodies to be sites of occupation and isolation. Severed from social bonds we are thrown into existential crisis that is answered by object relations. An era of unopposed orgiastic consumption folded into accelerated information technologies has produced the ultimate object fetish: the self.
Our worship and erotic arousal are now dedicated at the altar of the self. Narcissism has developed into a default psychic state of being in Western cultures. But one critical element of human nature, our sexual relations, presents as a potential obstacle to the complete self absorbion that narcissim ultimately demands.
Narcissism’s addendum to the sermon on the Mount: Love thyself not as others love thee but only as thyself can love thee…
Whilst there is external existence to contend with or rely on for sex and physcial completeness, narcissism’s total world view and complete self containment cannot be achieved. As part of the changed psychic economy of being, masturbation is the solution offered by the politics of self. Sex for the self by the self. Masturbation allows absolute self sufficency and complete control over sexuality’s somatic imperative. The diddling finger and pumping hand, the vivid tactile happening of masturbation gives the body over to omnipotence fantasies and fortifies the enduring hallucinatory qualities of the moment. Masturbation enables discharge of internal tensions, fosters a realisation of the self as a self contained system. Masturbation furthers a total introverted development freed from any exterior relations.
Masturbation in itself is neither good nor bad. A number of Indian creation myths tell of masturbation’s potency, attesting that the spilling of seed that can be a source of creativity. But when masturbation becomes the self bounded locus of sexuality for the narcissistic self, forces come into play that mark out masturbation as part of a process of death. And it is through the process of the descent into the abyss that Noé draws in his thread, employing modern dance as his metaphorical vehicle.
‘Climax’ uses masturbation and what it represents, as an allegory for the dance of death. A dance in which we witness the complete cycle of narcissism’s birth flowering attraction and final destruction. As the motions of masturbation are more violent than sex, Noé structures his film about the acrobatics of modern dance. Centred on the self centred way in which the dancers flaunt their bodies, allows Noé to give ‘Climax’ the form of a long durational masturbatory ritual. The body mounted steady-cams stay with the dancers through long durational shots, tracking touching pursuing them seeking out their sexual organs and erogenous zones. Flushed out in blood red filters, Noé’s filming presses into the dancers’ bodies, close to flesh, mirroring in form the relentless agitation and uninterrupted tenacity necessary for the climax of orgasm. A camera movement that in itself predicates the contradictory admixture of intensity boredom and nausea that makes up masturbation.
Through the body, Noé’s ‘Climax’ takes us through the dance of our masturbatory psycho-culture, a culture that is at the nexus of the natural history of narcissism. The film opens with the bright and optimistic affirmations of the dancers, spoken straight to camera, voicing their dreams hopes and ambitions. This is followed by their opening dances. An initial explosion of self contained energy, each dancer quite alone, presenting themselves celebrating themselves, opening up their genitals for proud exhibition, reeling spinning in gymnastic caress of self’s body. But now as the first sequence of dance finishes, ‘Climax’ starts its descent into the dark zones of narcissism. As they dance now in pairs and intermingle the dancers start to sicken. Nausia. (cf Sartre’s novel La Nauséé) As they fall sick the dancers fail to understand (as does Sartre’s protagonist) that the sickness comes from within themselves, instead they blame a poison that has been introduced into their bodies by spiked wine. Caught up in hysterical enveloping wave of panic, the dancers believe they’ve been poisoned by LSD. The mass hysteria spreads and infects the self’s containment; the dance dissipates coagulates detumesces. The dancers fail to see that the delirium the fantasial panic comes not from without in the form of LSD but from within. HALLUCINATION is part of the fantasy of masturbation, in the celebratory masturbation of the dance they have sickened, fallen into nausea. Disoriented and unhinged the self fails and there is nothing to hold them.
As they sicken some reach out to others. It is too late for these dancers to close in on relations with an other. One by one in the blood red haze they fall to ground, comatose or dead, narcissism burnt out by their final long failed attempt at orgasm.
Even with its mesmeric quality, Noé’s movie is a hard watch. Like Pasolini, like Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe, it is hard because he has something to say about how we live. Like Bacon Grosz Céline, Noé sees something. He is a moral film maker because he does not temper the hardness of his vision with reassurance or comforting modification. And he is not a judge, he does not judge the dancers anymore than Pasolini judged the young victims in ‘Salo. The dancers are exemplars of a sort. It may be that Noé has caste them as heroic figures: they do not flinch from their destiny. In the dance they have embraced without reservation the logic of our culture. Intuitively they accept in totality their own death as the logical consequence of an internalised masturbatory narcissism. The dancers have danced to the end of time.
We the witnesses to the spectacle, excuse ourselves, leave our seats and return to the culture that is invading and corrupting us. We avert our eyes from our own deaths. We do not dance.