Monday, July 09, 2012

With These Handcuffs, I Thee Wed

He stalks her, he forces his way into her apartment, hits her, ties her up and keeps her captive for days. But is he really such a bad guy? Pedro Almodovar's 1990 film ¡Átame! (Tie Me Up! Time Me Down--literal translation of the title is simply Tie Me Up!) seems as though it would dispute the validity of the very question. It's a movie with a coyly light touch for a story filled with relatively heavy elements. It's billed as a dark romantic comedy, but I don't think it can be so neatly categorised. It reminds me of a Coen brothers film inasmuch as it ultimately seems to be about the impossible to categorise, to simplify, condemn or to justify nature of human relations. It's a funny and charmingly amoral film.

Which is not to say I condone, or am charmed by, a guy abusing a woman in the way Ricky (Antonio Banderas) abuses Marina (Victoria Abril). But by the end of the film, their relationship doesn't seem to be based on any inequality of power and Ricky seems to snap comfortably into Marina's life. One could say it's the story of the right man doing the very wrong thing, but that act being a part of his nature which makes him the right man.

I think everyone in their lives senses at least once there's no moral bottom in the universe, and most people back away from that quickly with great fear. But it doesn't take long to realise this is how it has to be, if one considers all the blood that is shed, all the lives that are exploited in order to facilitate the standards of living in civilisation.

Ricky is mentally disturbed, like a child almost. He's released from psychiatric care at the beginning of the film, and immediately shows to us his release was unjustified by sneaking into Marina's dressing room--she's a famous actress--and stealing things left and right without the slightest hint he understands he might be doing something wrong.

Yet he's very sincere in wanting to prove he's the right guy for Marina. It's like he exists in some tiny universe where social rules are totally different. Wikipedia quotes Almodovar as saying of him, "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is essentially a love story, or rather a story of how someone attempts to construct a love story in the same way as he might study for a degree: by means of effort, will power, and persistence… when you have nothing, like my main character, you have to force everything. Including love. Ricky has only (as the flamenco singers say) the night, the day, and the vitality of an animal."

I bet a lot of people found it disturbing, too, that Marina's feelings for Ricky change from fear and hatred to comfort and affection around the time he scores drugs for her. She wants to have sex with him after he gets beaten up badly while attempting to get her some heroin.

Does she have Stockholm Syndrome? You may fairly say so. The ostensibly happy ending seeing everyone in a car, singing, while a worried look slowly appears on Marina's face, left me with the feeling there's a well of unresolved issues in her relationship with Ricky, yet it's not nearly as uncommon, and perhaps far less malignant, than one might suppose.

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