Category Archives: Lesbian

Movie Discussion: The Handmaiden (2016) by Park Chan-Wook


Juan, Anne, Yisheng, and Aaron showed up for the screening. We discussed the ambivalence towards lesbianism depicted in the film. It’s generally a positive portrayal although the sex scenes appear to be fetishized for a male heterosexual audience. While the film inherited this flaw from the book, we wondered why there is no positive portrayal of men. We also talked about the colonial period the film is set in and if the director is making a statement about Korea. Finally, we discussed the film technique, camera movements, and the prevalence of green color in the film. I guess green is the warmest color for Park.

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Filed under Colonialism, Lesbian, Love, Post-Colonialism, South Korea

30th Discussion: If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000)

Teri moderated our first inaugural movie discussion. Most of us liked the first segment most because of its moving narration with the exception of Javin (last segment due to its humor), Alexius (second segment because Amy looks like Marlon Brando), and Lip Sin (second segment because it advocates for understanding between people).

1961 Segment

Themes:

Legal issues: Ernest brought up the heartrending scene that homosexual partners cannot visit in a hospital. Relating to the Singapore situation, Lip Sin reminded us we could make a Lasting Power of Attorney easily.

Motif:

Alex said that the running motif of eggs is to link the first and third segments together. Relating to the egg motif is the bird. Raj observed that the Alice Hedley doesn’t care for the bird that falls out of the treehouse, questioning the way she brings up her child. Aaron said the treatment of birds, of sentient beings, is a subtle contrast of Alice’s and Abby’s characters, showing perhaps how lesbians are more generous and giving than heteros who only care for material needs (“Is this yours or Abby,” the Hedleys repeatedly ask Edith). Ernest commented on the two scenes in which Alice and Edith instruct the child differently: Alice tells her daughter that it is not up to Edith to tell them what they can or cannot take the bird paraphernalia while Edith claims it’s not up to the Hedleys to take things away. The two scenes, Ernest suggested, are a contrast of material needs VS love.

Alex noted the name Edith Tree has something to do with birds too. Alex said on Facebook that, “It is no coincidence that the first lesbian couple was called abby and edith (tree). they are meant to be an alternative model to the archetypal adam and eve; their names begin with the same vowels. also, note the relation of eve (or edith in this case) with the tree of life. if we see abby and edith as having a more balanced (and also lesbian) relationship, then they deconstruct the heteronormative model as epitomized by adam and eve.”

Macy saw that birds and trees are symbols of steadfast, nurturing love. Aaron compared the film with Victorian novels in that in the novels, a bird is a symbol of needing or wanting to find a home, a peaceful space to rest and it is apparent that Edith Tree provides that space to Abby, that they create the safe space together as is in Edith’s last dialogue to Ted.

In this case, Teri viewed the last scene of the lonely bird in the house to be representative of Edith: she’s both the tree and the bird.

Alexius saw the vulnerability and fragility of the birds, always falling off the treehouse, always needing a home, while Alex said that voyeurism on the treehouse is a sublimation of sex among the gerontics.

Colors:

Aaron noted the predominance of color schemes in the movie: red for Abby’s pyjamas and Edith’s funereal wear; yellow for the living room; mauve for the bedroom. Macy suggested that the colors demonstrate how colorful the existence of their lesbian lives are, in contrast to the dull colors of the Hedleys. Isaac continued Macy’s thoughts: if the bright colors are forbidden, especially at a funeral, then these colors are dangerous too. Red is a color of danger.

1972 Segment

Alexius explicated the plot based on a historical moment: feminist group divorced themselves from lesbians to gain acceptance from mainstream society, while lesbians themselves divorced themselves from the butch-femme dynamics because such a relationship replicates the heterosexual relationship. Alex encapsulated the segment succinctly: women then identified along with gender lines, not sexuality. Building on Alex’s idea, Aaron claimed that the bar scene represents a clash in ideas between the generations: the older butch-femme dynamics and the young varsity pure les.

However, the thesis of the segment seems to be, as Javin argued, that there sometimes couldn’t be a logical explanation. It’s just a personal preference. Ernest notes that the threat of the dyke is more personal and physical than political.

A question that is brought up that if whether the butch-femme relationship in the movie is heteronormative. We didn’t have to be an easy answer to this.

Isaac brought up Judith Butler’s performativity theory that dressing is a performance that one dresses for the self but also for others. (Relating to this, Sudev explained the psychological side of men dragging to express their femininity.) Charlene commented that perhaps Amy’s masculine dressing is a need to act tough, bringing up the cigarettes as evidence.

Sex scene: Isaac opined that the in the longest sex scene in the movie, the braless Linda and Amy with bind breasts represent the differences in their thoughts and philosophies and yet they both reach an understanding; this sex scene should be read metaphorically as a reconciliation of ideas.

Aaron saw the necessity in the sex scene firstly because sex is a manifestation of their love for each other and secondly, an avoidance of sex scene to make the idea of human rights palatable to the straight audience seems homophobic like in Jodi Picoult’s Sing You Home. Charlene noted that the averse may be true: that the lack of sex (such as in segment 1) shows the purity of their love for each other.

2000 Segment

Raj noted the theme of love (w.r.t. the speech of Ellen for wanting a child), a running theme throughout the segments.

Regarding the issue of having babies, Lip Sin brought up that it is harder for gay men to justify their need for a child. Aaron said in that case, the film is also highlighting the prejudice against men. For instance, if two men sit on a car hood, looking at a playground of kids, they would be viewed as pedophiles, unlike how others see Sharon Stone and Ellen.

Continuing the theme of gay men having children, Aaron was uncomfortable with the depiction of the gay men (potential sperm donors) who want a role in the (potential) child’s life. The mise-en-scene suggests that they aren’t as loving as Sharon and Ellen although we agreed it may just be bad set design.

Both Isaac and Macy noted the change in the segments from tragedy to stereotypes in the second to optimism in the third.

Overall as a Film

A general critique of the film, brought up by Isaac, is that although there are three segments, they only portray middle-class White women. Too safe a film. If class and race issues are included, it would make a more complex movie.

Title

A few of us were curious about the title and Charlene brought up the question. Answer: the rest of the members noted that the stories happen in the same house.

Interludes Joining the Segments Together

Macy put forth that the documentary interludes are a celebration of women in general, not just lesbians. Ernest said the interludes track the difficulty of fighting for rights. Aaron, while jotting this discussion note, thought that the documentary interludes seem to imply that the stories are historical/real (especially with the specificity of dates) or at least the stories are lost documents of a valuable lesbian past, lost because of the quiet lives of women in the 1961 segments or lost because its ordinariness which has a value in history.

Teri concluded the discussion neatly: it was apt to watch this film that celebrates womenhood on this day, 8th March, because it was Women’s Day.

Thanks, Raj, for hosting us.

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Filed under Family, Lesbian, Love