Monday, May 2, 2005

Listen Up

As long as we're talking about conversation based movies I gotta say the oddest one I've ever heard is Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's 2004 Talk to Her.

I'm not exactly sure what the movie is about but the plot involves two men bonding because the one thing they have in common is they are both in love with women who happen to share the unique affliction of being in comas. Marco is a travel writer who falls in love Lydia, a female bullfighter (I can't tell you how many times that has happened to me). Lydia ends up sustaining a work-related injury and ends up in a hospital (also an all too often occurrence in my life).

It is there where Marco meets Benigno a male nurse who is in love with Alicia a dancer he longed for months before she is hit by a car on the street that separates his apartment from her dance studio. Benigno's extra special care of his comatose patient is a little creepy and Almodovar doesn't hide this in lingering scenes where the nurse is giving his patient a sponge bath.

It's not clear if the movie expects us to be touched or repulsed when Benigno tells Marco he has never been more in love, nor has he had a better relationship than he has with Alicia despite her inability to respond to everything he has ever said to her.

While she was still a conscious human being Alicia enjoyed silent movies. Thus Benigno makes it a point to go to as many as he can so he can tell her all about the movies she is now missing. This leads to one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever watched in a movie. It is a simulated silent movie where a man shrinks much to his lover's chagrin. He ends up literally crawling up inside her. The visuals of the scene made me cringe and I'm sure I'll be talking to my therapist about this nightmarish imagery for the rest of my life.

Eventually there is a scandal of course and Benigno ends up in prison where Marco's support and friendship becomes invaluable. There's something lovely about the conversations between the two men and their devotion to the women that remain a part of their lives.

Talk to Her was made before the Terri Schiavo situation became front page news (at least in this country). The movie raises thought provoking questions about the nature of relationships (how much does one have to converse with another to actually qualify as being in love?); it also delves into what a human spirit consists of (if the brain ceases to function does the spirit survive?). It's a beautifully shot and directed movie, well acted and almost always intriguing to watch. Yet it's also a somewhat manipulative movie and the silent movie scene itself is so bizarre and calls so much attention to itself it's difficult to imagine anyone can truly say in the end they enjoyed watching this film.

As creepy as much of Benigno's behavior is, his love and devotion to one who would likely not love him back if she was actually conscious, is in its way very sweet. He makes it his duty to take it upon himself to try and keep Alicia connected to the things she once loved in life even if science has defined her situation as hopeless.

At the heart of the movie is the question of whether to qualify as an actual conversation, the exchange has to include give and take from both participants. Is it good enough to intuitively feel a connection or does the other person have to communicate that all too rare occurrence with actual clunky words? When we're all alone in solitude (or in a house full of lovable kitties) is the dialogue/ monologue we carry on meaningful enough or is it just a symptom of some form of insanity?

At the same time if words can be heard but not fully comprehended or at least responded to on any level does that qualify for a conversation? Can humans definitely connect on a strictly non verbal level? Talk to Her ends with a scene involving Marco and Alicia and though those characters alliance relies soley on others there is something significant and beyond words in their self imposed limited exchange.

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