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Entries in Irons (5)

Thursday
Jan222015

Dead Ringers

The original source of this film has been claimed and disputed, sometimes unpleasantly, although the curious researcher can cite a novel, another film released only a few years before it (that treats of a very different situation), as well as the case of real-life twin gynecologists. I have always found the Greenaway claim as spurious as the garbage it perpetrates; I know nothing of the book (actually mentioned as the film's basis) or of the now long-deceased brothers. Whatever the inspiration, it is the final product that justifies its ingredients, and that product is nothing less than exquisite.

Our twins are first seen in 1954 in what, owing to their British speech, we imagine may not be their native Ontario. Nerdiness, light-brown hair, glasses, and a peculiar fastidiousness in manner distinguish the twins from the rest of humanity, but not in any way from one another. They approach and proposition a coeval, perhaps around eleven, and she responds with the two missiles children always launch at one another: threats from a parent and the very plausible assertion that the twins do not know the slightest thing about copulation. As it were, our lads are precocious enough to end up thirteen years later at Harvard Medical School; they are also perverted enough – perverted might not be the ideal choice of words  to provoke suspicion among their supervisors for their unusual methods and tools. After this brief introduction we come to the present time and place, 1988 Toronto. The two men, identified in a school awards ceremony, are Elliot and Beverly Mantle (Jeremy Irons in bilocation) who have grown into identical copies of one another in profession and appearance. Gynecologists with their own clinic, their bizarre, almost sadistic devices now standard issue in the industry, the brothers' success is reflected by their enormous modern flat, a favorite expensive restaurant where they are served as if they never leave, and a certain insouciance towards the cares of lesser beings. In time, two important facts are revealed: Elliot, or Elly, is the gregarious, schmoozing sort who handles all public relations matters, finances, and teaching; Beverly, or Bev, is the researcher and normally the fellow in the office examining patients. One suspects that their female-sounding hypocorisms (no one else addresses them as such) may be akin to odd nicknames used in turn-of-the-century British literature, but I digress. Now and then when one of them is tired, unwell, or otherwise indisposed, the other fills his shoes and no one notices anything awry. Even if the fabulous Mantle brothers are known in Toronto for many things, one of which is women.

The Mantles' pursuit and conquest of women, often their own patients, becomes the barometer for the sole distinction between the brothers: that of temperament. Elly is the smarmy bastard who enjoys serial love affairs without incurring anything more than an occasional slap in the face; Bev is the quiet, retiring academic trapped in a state of perpetual discomfort. While Bev's research generates the lifeblood of Elly's operations (as well as his eventual professorship), Elly's Lothario schemes get Bev laid. "If it weren't for me," says Elly in a moment of amazed recognition, "you'd still be a virgin." It is therefore of no particular importance that Elly has most recently gotten himself involved with a well-known actress by the name of Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold). Claire has always wanted children; as Elly so succinctly puts it, she typifies that typical headline, "Celebrity actress says life incomplete without children." Of course, she has solicited the aid of Dr. Mantle, whom she, unlike most of Toronto, knows as one person, implying that circumstances have gotten rather dire. Upon examining her Elly learns the cause: she has a trifurcate cervix, a freak mutation that is "fabulously rare." Googling such a term yields entries almost exclusively referring to Dead Ringers, which might indicate that we are dealing with medical fantasy. Whatever the case, the notion of mutation will plague the brothers for the entire film they will find neither a way over nor around it. Elly does what he wants to do with her then, at the next opportunity of casual gratification, gleefully recommends that Bev replace him. He does and arrives at Claire's as shyly as Elly seized her hips and reminded her that every fiber of her body can be linked in palpitating bliss. One detail suggests that Claire perceives the difference from her very first embrace with Bev, but will be officially informed at a lunch with a friend later on. Her first scene with Bev remains, however, paramount to the developments that will occur, and includes one of the greatest lines in the history of cinema ("I've never used contraceptive devices; I've never even thought contraceptive thoughts"). But over time she notices that there exist two distinct personalities, the sweet caring one and the human excrement  which is how she addresses the brothers when she finally meets them together.

What occurs thereafter has garnered the Dead Ringers praise as a horror film, perhaps because the opening credits emit something of the macabre. Some reviewers have even sided with Claire  for reasons, I admit, I could not possibly imagine: she is not compelling, interesting, or even comely. Past her prime and obsessed with the child she cannot bear, she annoys us as much as she annoys Elly and Bev. Well, actually, that's not quite right. Bev takes to her more passionately than he's likely taken to anything or anyone in his life apart from medicine; Elly, on the other hand, grows jealous of her command over his brother. At the film's midway point Claire summons the elder twin to her makeup trailer to talk about Bev and, in a very starlet-like gesture, to discover whether Elliot, too, can't be convinced to love her. We initially see one side of her face, which is untouched by rouge or powder and rather masculine in its ferocity  but she turns to Elliot and we see what violent embellishments her role calls for, the career-resurrecting role, mind you, for which she abandons Bev to his own devices for ten long weeks. Therefrom we proceed down a swerving, troubled path, but we do realize why women are allowed to come between these two men only when they are patients or prey (Bev is "no good with the frivolous ones," Elly "no good with the serious ones"). So the dénouement should not surprise anyone except the lovers of melodrama  which would be, in a way, the vast majority of those frivolous or serious women. And you may do well to remember that old adage about the gun on the wall.

Geneviève Bujold

Friday
Dec072012

M. Butterfly

Early on in this film a discussion arises about the threadbare plot of this opera involving an American sailor and the sad, lonely, and beautiful Japanese woman who pledges to him her unmerited love.  As the participants, a European male and Asian female, slowly concede that Madame Butterfly smacks of imperialist degradation, an analogy is made that I have to quote in all its preposterousness:

It's one of your favorite fantasies, isn't it?  The submissive Oriental woman and the cruel white man .... Consider it this way: what would you say if a blonde cheerleader fell in love with a short Japanese businessman?  He marries her and then goes home for three years, during which time she prays to his picture, and turns down marriage from a young Kennedy.  Then when she learns her husband has remarried, she kills herself.   Now I believe you would consider this girl to be a deranged idiot, correct?  But because it's an Oriental who kills herself for a Westerner, you find her beautiful ... the point is, it's the music not the story.

This analogy might work today, or even twenty years ago, but it certainly could not apply to 1964 Beijing, nor would it mean a drachma to a French diplomat, who would probably think a cheerleader was a firebrand rabble-rouser.  The anachronism is so egregious that one might generously consider its inclusion as a hint: the person troating the phrase is as fraudulent and misinforming as the statement itself, and the person accepting this argumentation is an utter fool.  Which would make a great deal of sense as the speaker is Madame Song (John Lone) and the listener a French diplomat by the name of René Gallimard (Jeremy Irons).

We meet Gallimard as he shuffles papers for the French Embassy in his capacity as its bookkeeper; we meet his cold if fetching wife Jeanne (Barbara Sukowa); and then we glimpse his nighttime activities, which at the beginning of the film entail taking in an opera – but not in that order.  Gallimard attends Madame Butterfly somewhat out of character.  "I've got one or two people around here thinking I'm profoundly cultured," he confesses to Frau Baden, an older, well-connected German woman, as good an excuse as any for his ingenuousness.  When she first floats into our purview, Madame Butterfly remains at a distance; it is therefore incumbent upon Irons to convey the restrained yet undeniable madness of love at first sight.  At what we now term the after-party, Gallimard buttonholes the diva and begins the awkward advances of an overeager admirer.  "I've never seen a more convincing performance," he croaks.  To which Madame Song asks whether he meant her performance as a Japanese woman, and then launches into the political agenda punctuated by the cheerleader reference.  The East-West dynamic, surely a horse killed a thousand times over, informs the rest of their conversation.  They part, he reluctantly, she at just the preordained moment, with Madame Song's recommendation that Gallimard attend the Beijing Opera to hear the real product.  The first act closes with his return home to Jeanne, and Gallimard gets more than a little discomfited when he sees his wife fanning herself, looking in a mirror, and singing the aria to the opera that is the soundtrack to his obsession.

What happens next may only make sense to plain minds if one knows the true story on which M. Butterfly is based – a source that has been ignored by many reviewers.  Ignored, I should say, for one uniform reason: Madame Song is clearly not who she claims to be; that is, to even the untrained eye she is far too masculine in voice and appearance to sustain any sort of duplicity.  Even without foreknowledge of the events, this distinction strikes the viewer but not the protagonist, which is one of the great conventions of drama.  Gallimard and Song begin what would be deemed a usual affair, express in turn the usual reservations and passions, but in closed quarters do not pursue the usual pursuits.  The love scenes – not the right word, the scenes in which the characters moan, fondle one another, and moan again – are shot fully clothed.  Is this because Gallimard truly respects Song's shame or based on some other conviction?  Whatever the case, Gallimard is rewarded for his ostensible purity in an extraordinary way: his Embassy colleagues, whose expenses he has been questioning since he arrived, are discovered by the imperious Ambassador Toulon (Ian Richardson).  Toulon does not like backslapping junkets, and of all the charges one can hurl at Gallimard, he can never be accused of either humor or frivolity.  Irons's demeanor and gesticulation will remind the attentive moviegoer of this masterpiece, released only a year before, as will the suspicion of other levers at work.  The levers come in the form of a second androgynous Chinese character just as, curiously enough, Gallimard is appointed head of Embassy intelligence with the assignment of monitoring a certain "conflict in Vietnam" with the Americans.

The gender issues in M. Butterfly provide catnip to modern theorists who debase everything and everyone and end up just demolishing their own credibility – yet the point is quite another.  The difference in gender, a crude and obvious conceit, could easily apply to any relationship in which the appearance of love gave way to heartbreak.  “What I loved was the lie," says Gallimard, "the perfect lie," a sentiment that could describe any romantic misfortune.  Gallimard beds another woman and, upon seeing her sprawled in waiting, quips, "you look exactly as I imagined you would under your clothes," leading to an ironic confession to Song.  In another magnificent scene, we see Song working in a quarry as a megaphone condemns all "artists, writers, and intellectuals" to manual labor so that they may know "the flinty soil of China's revolutionary future."  But the film's oddest conceit has to do with our allegedly French characters.  Both Toulon and Gallimard not only possess perfectly clipped and refined British speech, they also react to emotion and empire with the same morbid indifference.  In fact, it is empire that stirs Gallimard more greatly when he oversteps his expertise about Southeast Asian politics and seeks the Ambassador's approbation.  Casting actors more prone to the vicissitudes of human feeling might have led a greater number of critics to buy into the whole charade, although we may again be generous and see this ploy as intentional.  It is fair to state, however, that the very ghastly last scene, while dramatically correct, should not have taken place physically even if, mentally, the change occurred ages ago.  Perhaps that is why as Song is being led away by army officers she tells Gallimard that, “whatever happens, the days I spent with you were the only days I truly existed."  If only we knew more about the days before that.

Thursday
Apr232009

The Mission

It is unfortunate that the very titles of some works of art discourage a certain segment of the population from viewing them, and another, equally regrettable segment from understanding what on earth or beyond they could be about.  Mention the words "organized religion" to these modern know-it-all skeptics – they know who they are because they know absolutely everything – and you will not fail to notice a sarcastic snicker looming on their thin lips.  They will use terms such as voodoo, witchcraft, superstition, myth, and, most recently, opiate (hilariously rendered as "opium" by some of the more brilliant among them); they will claim that the Church and other conduits of spiritualism have killed so many for nothing, or for nothing more than to enslave and intimidate the survivors; they will claim that all this is a monumental sham for the sake of power; and if that argument doesn't hold water, they will assert that religion is the refuge of the poor, the cold, the downtrodden, to give them hope when life mocks them cruelly.  While all these notions are logical to someone of no imagination, principles or foresight, they are quaintly and wholly illogical in another, more important way.  That we may not be immortal is an acceptable premise, never mind the intuition in so many of us that instructs us otherwise; but what is not acceptable is the fallacy that should we all be nothing but evolved amoebae, we would then have to adhere to manmade law.  True, there are consequences for such infringements.  Yet there is no logical justification for refraining from committing a crime apart from conscience, and if our consciences are biochemical figments of our imagination, then I should do well to rob and kill anyone whose loss is my gain.  That is, by the way, the law of the jungle whence we emerged.  And the jungle of this film will not soon be forgotten.

Our story is simple: we are in the 1750s amidst what certain academics believe to be some of the greatest missionary activity in the history of Catholic Church. The story, which makes perfect sense from first to last, lacks only the coherence of fiction – which is, in fact, its strongest quality.  In the beginning a man is pushed down a stream on a cross, completely at the whims of nature, of God himself who will do with him what He will.  As his body, still alive, wends its way through the rapids, we know that he will cascade over an endless cliff of water and from this perch we shall see the establishment of something much greater and higher.  The man turns out to be a Jesuit priest, and the waterfall comes under the aegis of these people in the jungles of Paraguay.  Despite this ominous introduction, we sense no evil, and shortly thereafter a replacement Jesuit is found in Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) who has on his side a consort of brothers and irrefragable faith.  Gabriel climbs – slowly and with the lushest of backgrounds – the mountain from which his Jesuit colleague just tumbled, and he clambers up with one end in mind: the reduction must be reestablished for the good of the Guaraní people, whom he comes to adore, and, ultimately for the good of the brothers as well.  Barefoot and exhausted, he gains the summit, rests upon a rock, and there takes out a long thin package.  He does not unravel food or a weapon, man's two crutches, but a flute.  His music attracts the natives, who initially act as we might expect them to act, and then assume a quiet dignity and gentleness of movement that do not distinguish them from their European brethren.  Soon Father Gabriel has a new home, and the Jesuit reduction is on track to convert more souls to the way of the Lamb.

Is this imperialism?  Most certainly.  But it is imperialism performed in such an innocuous manner that we wonder who is converting whom.  Peace between peoples of astonishingly divergent origin who can coexist and even thrive together should always be lauded.  So it is hardly surprising when Gabriel is summoned to tend to Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert de Niro), an incarcerated slave trader and mercenary who exemplifies what schoolchildren learn about Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors and their scions.  His world is the opposite of that of the monks: he enjoys wine, women, luxury and servants; he rides on steeds that would terrify anything on two legs; and he wears a countenance that suggests he usually gets what he wants.  There is one exception to that rule, a young woman called Carlotta, who ends up madly in love with Mendoza's brother Felipe (an emaciated Aidan Quinn).  One evil eve after being verbally jilted by Carlotta, Mendoza finds the two in bed and Felipe falls into the despicable trap of duelling a man who has neither qualms nor rules for meting out vengeance.  The brothers clash, the inevitable occurs, and the next time we see the normally slick-haired and stylish Mendoza is as a ragamuffin prisoner sitting on some hay.  "He has not seen anyone in six months," Gabriel is warned by another priest, "I think he wants to die."  But Gabriel has seen many repulsive sinners in his life, and he asks unhesitatingly whether this penance is remorse, to which Mendoza replies that "there is no penance hard enough for me."  They talk further, decide on a plan for the expiation of his horrible crime (contained in part within a magnificent scene by that same waterfall), and Mendoza sheds his previous titles and becomes, after reading chapter thirteen of this epistle, a brother in the Jesuit order.

The rest of the film is devoted to a debate that has many faces.  On one side, we see the hypocritical exploitation and manoeuvring of both the Spanish and Portuguese representatives, men long since blinded by glitz and greed; on the other side, the Jesuits and their hardscrabble but happy existence far from the hum of men.  But there is a third side, a great arbiter and Church dignitary called Altamirano, whose name could connote looking above or high or, in his case, not looking at all.  Ultimately it is he who will decide the fate of the Guaraní; whether their sanctioned murder of each couple's third child is truly to facilitate parents' flight from European oppressors; whether their sweetest tones are merely winds channeled through a beast; and whether missions and missionaries are as important as the central and often compromising tenets of Church authority.  An unorganized and beautiful film that initially promises to be fast-paced, slows down in the middle to the tempo of a stage play, then picks up at the end in a most menacing fashion, The Mission deservingly boasts one of the most legendary soundtracks in recent cinematic history.  And it is the bedlam of the conflict's resolution and the unclear yet enthralling path it takes to that bedlam that have been alternatively praised and chided.  But what is war if not chaos?  And what is love if not submission?  Questions asked, answered with few words, and best explained by the very final shot which could represent so many of us just looking in the mirror.  Some of us, however, may gaze forever at a web of mirrors and see nothing at all.

Tuesday
Jun032008

Reversal of Fortune

You may be surprised to learn of the details of this crime, which has maintained its dual status of “unsolved” and “perhaps never occurred” for almost thirty years.  Rhode Island, 1980: we find ourselves among the well−to−do and deep of pocket and their world of disposability.  A relatively impecunious European nobleman called Claus von Bülow (whose cousin was a contemporary of this composer) has been married for fourteen years to Martha “Sunny” Crawford, an American heiress who also happens to be hyperglycemic.  By all indications, Claus seems to be no better or worse than his ilk, being interested in a comfortable career whose salary makes no difference to his well−being, the society of a select few, a large estate with all the amenities, and a modicum of respect from those who watch him with envy as he waltzes into a small store to purchase tobacco.  A graduate of the same college attended by Dryden, Marvell, and Nabokov, he tried his hand at law before his marriage but now feels restrained by his dear wife, their daughter (named after the woman who would marry both Claus’s cousin and Wagner himself), and Sunny’s two children from her previous marriage to another Germanic gentleman of title.  So, we are told yet again, Claus allegedly does what any good reader of murder mysteries would do: kill by using the person’s weakness against her.  Had Sunny been an avid skier, she would have met her frozen fate on a slope.  Owing to her blood sugar level, however, the weapon can only be one: insulin.

imageBut Sunny does not die.  She still lies unconscious in the vegetative state induced by the insulin injected into her on December 21, 1980.*  As the person with the greatest motive and access, Claus is immediately fingered as the guilty party and brought to trial, resulting in a thirty−year sentence for attempted murder.  That von Bülow would seek to appeal the decision is hardly surprising; that he would turn to Alan Dershowitz, a Jewish lawyer from Harvard Law School, to do so, still seems a bit odd.  A self−made man, phenomenally successful law professor and civil rights attorney, and one of the state of Israel’s greatest supporters, Dershowitz initially wants nothing to do with this silver−spooned Dano−German snob whose family might have harbored more than a little tenderness for certain unwholesome forces in the 1930s and 1940s.  Nevertheless, maybe because von Bülow is so utterly convinced of his innocence, or maybe because no one else will take him on, Dershowitz consents to defend someone for whom he admittedly hasn’t a shred of sympathy.  The result is a book, as well as an absolutely marvelous film.

We meet a number of colorful characters, from prosecuting attorneys to spoiled European teenagers to a whole houseful of Harvard law students, but only three will ultimately give the film its shape: Dershowitz (the late Ron Silver), Sunny (Glenn Close), and Claus (an Oscar−winning Jeremy Irons).  Pictures of the original Sunny, an attractive, sprightly young thing, make you wonder whether the somewhat plain Close reflects director Barbet Schroeder's views on Claus’s guilt.  So too does Sunny herself, however accurately portrayed as a hypochondriac drunk whose moods alternate between belligerence, apathy, and self−loathing.  This is, in any case, the side of her that Claus wishes us and his lawyer to see.  Claus is not concerned with anything except maintaining his life as it is, free and unperturbed, and without any blot on his reputation among the few people who actually still talk to him.  His exchanges with Dershowitz, a man he looks down upon simply because he lives for his work (and even finds it more enthralling than Claus’s conversation), are superb in keeping with the personalities of the characters presented.  There can be no accord or understanding between these two worlds, only a joining of forces in the name of justice.

In this regard, Irons, who possesses an innate ability to play aristocratic pariahs, could not be better cast.  And while I cannot take credit for one reviewer’s spot−on description of his smoking posture as that of hailing a taxi, I will say that what von Bülow has on his side is poise.  There is nothing, not one hair or button that evinces the slightest sign of fear.  Indignation in the hands of the wealthy and influential is one of the oldest and filthiest tactics, but Claus does not play that card, either.  He limits himself to the facts, as well as to the very logical supposition that he could have been framed by a large number of people, and does not seem to be in a hurry to get acquitted.  As the film progresses, Claus becomes its metronome, speeding it up when he gets excited (especially when he says his wife’s name in utter contempt), and slowing it down when opinions converge against him.  Since the whole story is based on true events, calling some of the details unlikely would be rather impish on my part, so I will refrain.  But what cannot be denied is Claus’s charm.  He is smooth, welcoming, and genuine about his innocence and the state of his horrendous marriage.  Even if he is the only one who really believes all that.

*Note: Sunny von Bülow, still in a vegetative state, succumbed to cardiopulmonary arrest on December 6, 2008.

Sunday
Mar162008

Damage

Love and war are old pastimes; obsession brings forth much more interesting data.  Some may reply that love itself is an obsession, a maniacal urge to experience life’s greatest reward regardless of the personal cost (and as you can see, that last sentence makes as much sense as love).  True enough, obsession often comprises love, but it is a selfish love, a bitter, corrosive lust that lurks in both the good and the wicked.  Love is always nauséabond; obsession cannot lead to anything good.  We know this and yet, as we watch this magnificent film unravel, as so many reviewers have put it, like a slow-motion car wreck, we cannot look away although (or maybe because) doom for all is veritably assured.

There are no ugly people, scenery, or moments in Damage, as the film itself is obsessed with obsession, with caring about something so much that it slowly engulfs everything else.  For an aesthetic project, this means beauty, and often what accompanies beauty – youth, lust, irreverence, irresponsibility, betrayal, and pain.  Stephen Fleming (Jeremy Irons) is a rising deputy minister who will likely be promoted to the cabinet.  His life has everything a plain, material mind could wish for as well as those things that most every soul needs: a loving spouse (Miranda Richardson), two well–adjusted children (Rupert Graves and Gemma Clark), and a solid marriage based on admiration, respect, and love.  But he has been a responsible and driven workaholic for too many years, ever since he was a "young doctor, doing simple things well."  One day, his son Martyn, a young, handsome newspaper editor, announces he has a new girlfriend, apparently nothing more than the flavor of the month.  This woman is Anna Barton (Juliette Binoche), whose alphabetic name already suggests her primordial importance, and before Martyn can even introduce her to his parents, she approaches Stephen at an official reception.  The look they exchange is one of the most impressive bits of understatement in recent cinematic history.  It says absolutely everything about their relationship, about Anna’s mind and personality, as well as about Stephen’s hard-won position of influence and what he has had to give up to get there.  Their first physical encounter is wordless, the phone call that abets their urges almost as taciturn, and we understand the weird chemical processes programmed into each of us, for many never to be truly unleashed.  This is brute force, animalistic and unstoppable, but there is also much more to this than meets the eye.

For Anna, Stephen is safe.  Apart from being twenty years her senior and married, he is the father of her boyfriend, so they cannot possibly have a relationship glazed with sweet nothings.  He also allows her to indulge her lifelong therapeutic need of fighting possessiveness by cheating.  If you don’t see this unbelievably selfish streak, and how she instigates everything then wants no responsibility for her actions because of the cruel fate of her young brother (a back story that I will not spoil), your ethical standards may need some ironing.  "Damaged people are dangerous," she says with some gusto, "they know they can survive."  Throughout the film, Anna thinks of herself as a tragic figure even though she has enjoyed a privileged if itinerant life, and her mother’s numerous marriages do nothing to dispel her cynicism.  No less culpable but much more idealistic, Stephen is taken by her for reasons we can and cannot understand.  Surely Martyn is reveling in the freedoms of youth that presumably eluded Stephen owing to his career and long marriage, and Stephen is sentimental for those times when his whole life lay before him, unread, undetermined, but very promising.  The less transparent reason is his own, something that he makes light of at the end of the film, and has to do with Anna as the person he was always meant to covet, to have, and perhaps to keep.  The two of them conspire on an affair that only gets more heated once Martyn and Anna announce their engagement.

Reviews of the film tend to sprinkle their compliments on the fine acting (Irons and Richardson in particular are more than perfect, they are unforgettable), beautiful decor, and straight road of destiny that each of the characters follows.  Yet among these same reviews, one finds numerous concerns about the plausibility of the whole endeavor.  Anna is not the type of woman that drives a man to passion or obsession say a few critics, apparently experts on both subjects;  there are, others point out, additional character issues apart from the extramarital affair that remain unexplored (a valid observation were it not for the fact that the movie is about monomania and the extinction of everything else); then there are the numerous sex scenes which critics tell us, with no small disappointment, are simply not sexy; finally, since this is a film about passion, an emotion to which Stephen is famously accused of being immune, the alleged sparks between the two main characters are, they are sorry to say, decidedly cold and, well, passionless.  All in all an attractive picture if a fairy tale. 

How curious it is that the same reviewers who suspend their disbelief for giant extraterrestrials, ghosts, talking animals, vampires, werewolves, and sharp-witted, benevolent teenagers find the circumstances in Damage, as well as the particular casting, unlikely.  True enough, there are certain assumptions made of artistic melodramas that confine them to the realm of the real and preclude supernatural or otherworldly intervention.  Yet how can we judge what is, in essence, a fairy tale with modern princes and princesses living in the upper echelon of early 1990s London?  This is hardly a realistic slice of life for the majority of viewers.  Why should their tastes and emotions (and the strange way in which they express these emotions) be any more familiar to us than their lifestyles?  They are not.  Nothing seems real because the whole film is a wild dream that sees its end in its beginning and rambles forth undeterred hoping that it will survive.  It is Stephen’s second youth and his death, although we pity him more than anyone else in the film.  He is lost, utterly lost, utterly without a center or a pole or gravity itself.  He cannot crash down to earth, and because he cannot let go of one woman who doesn't seem so different from anyone else, he is exiled to hover forever in space and watch his innermost desires from afar.  And, unlike Anna, he does not know whether he can survive.