Cultural products, much like people and ideologies, are messy. They contain a multitude of flaws, from a director’s problematic statements to a lack of a direction, a baggy plot, questionable casting, whatever. In other words, they are supremely human in that way, contradictory and straightforward, capable of moments of extreme beauty and transcendence, as well as moments that you weep for what might have been.
I saw Blue is The Warmest Color a few weeks ago. Earlier this week, I read the graphic novel of the same name. Both are, in my opinion, works of beauty and love, an expression of the true pain that accompanies adolescent confusion, longing and lust.
I went into the film fully aware of the controversies surrounding it – Julie Maroh’s (the author of the graphic novel) criticism that the sex scenes were a “brutal and surgical display” and that the film lacked actual lesbian involvement, accusations from the two actresses that shoot was brutal, complaints about worker treatment on set, and of course, the scandal surrounding the sex scenes in which the male gaze was said to reign supreme. All of these speak to Mariah’s earlier post about paranoid reading of texts.
Despite this – I adored the film, to the extent of which I wanted to go back into the cinema again after I saw it just so I could experience it again. Even the sex scenes, which I approached with caution given all I knew, I was surprised by. Dana Stevens, of Slate, a favorite writer of mine, captures my feelings about these scenes well in her quote below. I did find these scenes somewhat troublesome – indeed, I found the hairlessness of both women to be absurd – there is nary an arm/leg/public hair in sight. But the embodiment of physical desire itself? Stevens says it better than I ever could:
I can only say that the scenes of Emma and Adèle in bed, overlong and arguably cheesecakey as they were, captured for me the intensity of that stage of a love affair when the boundaries of your entire world end and begin with your lover’s body.
However, that there are a lot of people who were disappointed in this movie, either for its depiction of a lesbian relationship (Eileen Myles really hated this film, and so did one of my favorite writers at Autostraddle) or after the allegations came out regarding the director and the working conditions on the set. Especially now having read the graphic novel (in which, *SPOILER” Clementine (Adele in the film) dies due in part to the homophobia she encounters – in the film, class is arguably made to be more important that sexuality), I can see why some people may have been disappointed. But does this disappointment, the flaws of a text, take away from loving it?
June(*), in her post on the Amherst tumblr, had this to say about radical love:
To love another human being is to recognize their humanity, to respect suffering, and to empathize with frailty. But it does not absolve the other person of failings, not does it construct some sanitized version of that person worthy of love, because that falls right back into the logic of categories. Rather, radical love takes a human as its object despite and in full awareness of weakness, failing, and all those other knobbly bits.
I want to radically love texts in the same way. I want to be able to embrace them, acknowledge their failings and celebrate their triumphs. In many ways, this is actually what my utopia looks like; the ability to discuss, analyze, critique and still love overall. To be complex and multi-layered, to love beyond boundaries whilst being mindful of the ever present need to be better still. To recognize failings and yet still be aware of the transcendent beauty that exists, and to speak to them both.
As is said at one point in the graphic novel, “Only love will save the world. Why would I be ashamed of love?” To love critically and deeply, aware of flaws but still invested in the magic of transformation and kindness, with both texts and with each other – now that’s a utopia worth having.
(* June – I deeply admire your words here, they mean so much more than I could ever express. Thank you so much for sharing this)