SEVERAL ESSAYS IN VARIOUS LANGUAGES NOW UP AT LA FURIA UMANA
Several essays about Brian De Palma's Passion are now available to read online at La Furia Umana . I haven't yet read them all, but I am quite taken with Sara Freeman's essay, Kisses and Dress-Up: Cinematic Cruelty in Brian De Palma's Passion . Freeman links the power struggles in Passion to the cruel and tragic high school situations in De Palma's Carrie. "Besides possibly hinting at [Passion's] very own dual identity," Freeman writes, "what at first appears to be a fun, catty back and forth between Christine and Isabel frequently turns into blatant abuse, almost like a contemporary version of Nancy Allen’s merciless treatment of Sissy Spacek’s Carrie."
Although Freeman gets the timeline of Passion wrong when she discusses three things that happen in the film back-to-back "at almost precisely the halfway point" (all three happen well before the halfway point), she does a nice job of explicating how the characters in Passion seem to exist in virtual worlds of their own individual participation. "As women who work in the advertising industry," writes Freeman, "both Christine and Isabel live for the thrill of social media acceptance and technological ingenuity. Their livelihood depends on their ability to create faces for different companies and brands and they themselves have adapted to that methodology as well. From the very first shot of Christine and Isabel sitting in front of the cold metallic screen of a Mac Book and the many computer monitor reflections and Skype video chats that follow, it’s clear that the presentation of image, realistic or not, is the most important element of the character’s lives.
"This air of virtual reality lends the film an odd sense of miscommunication because it’s almost as if each character is living inside her very own Facebook profile or twitter account. Like dress-up for grown-ups. Resembling the two other movies released this year that comment on the high school and college era’s use of social media, Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring, Passion examines how this capability has affected adult participants. Rather than take selfies of themselves smoking crack or wearing Paris Hilton’s high heels, the women in Passion remove their personalities from the equation to present their own version of the ideal contemporary career woman. They’re simply cipher cunts hiding behind the safe-guarded guise of technology, even when they appear to be talking face to face."
Earlier in the essay, Freeman discusses the importance of the clothing worn by the two main characters. "This movie is really about the clothes," states Freeman. "Clothing, the most important part of anyone's appearance, can be precisely tuned to project much in the same way a Facebook page or an Instagram feed can. Women in particular know the power clothing can have over the imaginations of their peers. In essence, Passion is a costume drama disguised as a flick about female competition and crime solving. Like any fierce cinematic bitch with a large bank account, Christine is dressed to the nine’s in designer duds and fancy make-up. She favors bold colors, sexy necklines and the most crimson and fuchsia of lipsticks. Isabel, on the other hand, is almost completely void of color and sex appeal. She wears boxy black collared shirts paired with loose slacks, blunt, Edith Head-esque bangs and a thin swish of brown eyeliner.
"Christine’s attire matches her persona perfectly – she oozes confidence, easy charm and store bought charisma. The clothes she wears are as beautiful as she is, but something’s not quite right with the whole package. Like a vulnerable little girl little girl playing dress-up to escape her abusive parents, Christine wears just a tad too much make-up, colors her hair a shade too blonde and her silky clothes just aren’t the right color or shape for her body. She’s a cheap imitation of a powerful career woman as well as an imitation of past De Palma heroines. Utilizing almost exact replicas of costumes worn by Margot Kidder in Sisters (large black hat and black circular sunglasses) and Scarlett Johansson in The Black Dahlia (‘40s style turquoise slacks and sweater), Christine treads upon the familiar territory of feminine identity in De Palma’s filmography. In those two movies, the question of individuality and the battle for uniqueness are at the center of these character’s stories – the conjoined 'twins' in Sisters fought for separate lives yet Danielle stills feels responsible for Dominique’s misdeeds and Johansson’s boring Kay struggles to be noticed by both of her police beaus after a dead girl and her lookalike steal the limelight.
"Isabel by contrast, is meek and mousy in demeanor and appearance. She is the true puppet master of the duo. With an alarmingly sincere and affected way of carrying herself, she weaves her way into and out of Christine's strange power plays with none of the reservations or lack of conviction that eventually sink Christine and her schemes... Maybe. Or maybe not. What we're left to sift through in the end is enough for a whole other essay. Perhaps the most important question lies with Isabel - When did her dual identity begin? Was it present all along? Was it constructed just to compete with Christine? To the film's credit, these questions are never answered.
"Christine and Isabel brawl for leadership and distinctiveness by using their costumes like boxing gloves. In one of the first scenes of the movie, Christine gives Isabel a chic periwinkle scarf to liven up her wardrobe. She wears it occasionally and, as I mentioned earlier, it becomes a key piece of evidence in the murder mystery. As the more obvious of the two, Christine is trying to bring Isabel down by modeling her in her image – in one scene she dresses Isabel in whore-red high heels and lipstick for a networking event knowing full-well that it would embarrass her. She also frequently kisses Isabel in an attempt to dominate her completely. Even Christine’s lipstick is venomous. It’s fascinating to watch these two characters interact with one another on screen because they move through space so differently. Isabel is seemingly the wallflower who envies Christine for her confidence and secretly wants to be her. Christine envies Isabel for her brilliance and overcompensates by being the biggest bitch possible."