Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

La Femme Nikita

Erika brought over a bag of old VCR tapes to share with us, including a bunch of French films from the 80's and 90's. We watched La Femme Nikita, the now-classic spy thriller that taught us that women, too, can be stone-cold killers.

What I love about this movie is how it plays with Hollywood movie conventions . . . or more accurately, doesn't play with them. The transformation of the rough, unsophisticated girl into a sophisticated woman is a stock plot device, as ancient as Cinderella . . . but the movies have taught us that this transformation happens by magic. We always start with a loveable Cinderella, a down-and-out-but likeable Julia Roberts, who is transformed overnight into a dazzling image of glamor and grace. The implication is always that all that spit and polish only accentuated the beauty that was already there.

Nikita is not that woman. The film goes to great lengths to show that she is stone, stone cold, brutal and unfeeling. She is not the hooker with a heart of gold -- she has all the studied ugliness of a true punk and the practiced violence of a sociopath. The only humanity left in her is the poor abandoned child, still calling for her mother as she faces what she thinks is her execution. And rather than take her to dazzling, the story takes her merely to the point where she would pass on the street as a human being. But is even more remarkable: going from skid row to Heaven is a long journey, but going from Hell up to ordinary life is a longer one, and more gratifying to watch. Her rise is not natural beauty finding its fulfillment -- it is a miracle of grace that something still worth loving has survived inside her.

It's that contrast between the violent world and the tiny spark of humanity in Nikita that makes the movie work. All the violence -- both her punk tantrums and her carefully orchestrated hits -- are never seen as anything other than awful and inhuman. And when Nikita finds solace in a little flat, a decent boyfriend, a good meal, you feel the luxurious wonderfulness of so-called ordinary life . . . and then the phone rings, and voice asks for "Josephine", and it's like a phone call from Hell, from Satan himself. When was more nightmare ever packed into a silent moment on the phone?

I was also intrigued by Bob, Nikita's handler. He also deals in cold death and deception, but he has a remarkable gentleness in him that carries throughout the role. He seems caring and gentle even when he shoots her in the leg. When Nikita is screwing up in assassin school, he does not confront, or yell, or berate . . . he tells her very quietly what she has done right, what she has done wrong. Then he brings her a birthday cake, as if to say, "My love for you transcends your successes and failures." And then he says, "They have given us two weeks. That's all." And then he leaves, quietly taking her black boots and leather jacket, the symbols of her rebellion. It felt, ironically enough, like an attachment parenting moment. It pulls together everything we feel for Nikita -- the love, the horror, and the hope.



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