Vicky Christina Barcelona – Woody Allen and the impossibility of our desires. (Film review)

In The Perverts guide to Ideology, a certain emphasis is placed on our desire and the impossibility of its fulfillment. This is a Lacanian idea (and one I think at this point in my intuitive travels makes a lot of sense) and it is double interesting to remember that Woody Allen has been through a great deal of analysis himself, and looks at this principle of the impossibility of satisfying desire and chronic dissatisfaction trough many of his films, but rarely is it more thoroughly examined than in Vicky Christina Barcelona.

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If Husbands and Wives examines the unattainability of desire in marriage and Midnight in Paris explores the unattainability of desire through time and in regards to our work, Vicky Christina Barcelona explores the unattainability of desire in relation to life’s meaningless. Both Vicky and Christina embrace life in its fullness and in its emptiness in their own way – Vicky with rationality and Christina with passion.  However what neither of them realize is that these life perspectives are ultimately barriers they have set in place to avoid the truth of life.  That is, empty and meaningless.  At the start of the film, if you suggested this to either party, they would disagree.  It is only by the end of the film when Vicky knows her safe world will always carry its dissatisfaction and Christina knows her searching will ultimately lead her no where, that they realize there is no antidote to what they are each trying to avoid.

And yet they will both continue in their delusion, and continue to hope for a magic resolution.

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There is no “trick” to life. It is what it is and it must merely be endured. What you decide to do in order to kill time between now and when you die is up to you.  You can fill your life with meaning via ideology spiritual or political, you can fill it with art, you can fill it with mathematics, you can fill it with family, fame or friends. Or you can sit alone in your room. None of these choices (and of course there are so many more tan I have listed here) will rescue you from the gap between desire and fulfillment.  The mean thing is, however, neither will the acknowledgement of this fill the gap between desire and fulfillment. By their very nature your desires will not be fulfilled, and mostly our lives are spent ignoring this and trying to fulfill them.

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This unfortunate gap between desire and fulfillment of desire is one of Woody Allen’s favourite film themes. From Judy’s famous line at the end of Husbands and Wives in response to her unsatisfactory love life, “Unresolved” to Vicky’s cry of “you’re both mad!  This is not my life!” the revolving relationship we have with desire will always be at odds with what has been realized in our life. Everything you have around you is the product of a fulfilled desire. In Vicky Christina Barcelona, Allen explores our attempts to materialize desire through relationship – Vicky creating a dull but stable relationship in her life and Christina creating an unstable exciting relationship in her own – hat will eventually reflect precisely what it was created to reflect.  The chronic dissatisfaction of the desirer.

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Interestingly, Vicky Christina Barcelona also examines desire between nations – or rather the romantic plaster cast we will place on certain cultures. Both protagonists of Vicky, Christina Barcelona are in Spain searching for “something”. Both are drawn to the nature of uninhibited, free, intense connection with life that Spain will represent to white American females. This draws again on the themes of desire, and in the end it only the protagonists connection with art that gives them any tangible connection with what they secretly long for. It’s the “something” in Gaudi for Vicky and it is the “something” in her own photography for Christina that helps them connect with themselves. This is a connection that their relationships cannot provide.

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In his typically neurotic way, and with more than a hint of self consciousness, Allen will allude to the embracing of life as courageous.  However just as watching horror films is an attempt to control ones fear, often it is the most emotionally fragile that will leap into relationships of emotional vulnerability.  Enter Maria Elana,  a woman whose name is as synonymous with death and suicide as it is with beauty and accomplishment. It is not Maria Elena’s courage that drives her to a three-way relationship between Christina, herself and Juan Antonio, it is her fear.  Christina creates a buffer for the emotional intensity so that Maria Elena has something to bounce her fears off. In matters of the heart, it is not my love for you that makes me feel vulnerable, naked, afraid and alone. It is your love for me.

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There are people whose work you admire who you wish you knew personally and there are people whose work you admire that you are glad you never have to meet.  For me, Woody Allen falls into the later category.  There are films of his that I hate, just as much as there are films of his that I love. Vicky Christina Barcelona is one I love.

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