Mike Pezzillo

Eye of the Story


Mask and Ass:

A Close Viewing of Masculin Feminin

Robert’s theoretical capability of executing complete revolution:

“Take a piece of complex machinery, for instance. You’re given raw material and the design showing what it should be like when finished. There’s no time to lose so you must be capable of exceptional precision in thought as well as gesture, visualizing at once not only how to do it, but each stage in the operation. You have each stage clearly in mind, even before you start. You take it up and you know exactly what you have to do. And as you work, your mind can see what must come next. You already have foreseen the necessary tools and Phases. This is known as a revolution; this, too, is the revolutionary spirit.”

The essential problem in Robert’s theory of the Complete Revolution is his notion of “raw materials”. Were human beings as consistent in their behavior as the materials he would build with, there would be no problem. Raw materials rarely show the kind of intention-thwarting capabilities that human variability represents. As Paul says after his little experiment in the cafe, “…to put yourself in his place doesn’t make you understand someone,” and without understanding the material, one can not hope to reliably build with it.

“A philosopher is a man who pits his awareness against opinions.”

Because opinions are essentially just value judgments, the closest approximation to objectivity we can manage is “To be aware,” and, in doing so, “…to be open to the world.”

To be, essentially, unbound in time, to be unbeholden to a specific time and place for meaning, is, to Paul, the only objectivity. And yet, it is only a measure of objectivity, as humans, as value-judging creatures, that we are able to achieve. True objectivity, or as Paul puts it, “…to act as though time didn’t exist,” is beyond our capability, at least within the bounds of society. Perhaps if one were a hermit the “insincerity” of a temporal focus wouldn’t have the same gravity it naturally has in society, would not cause the same rift between observation and judgment. And yet, to return to Paul’s answer to Madeleine’s question, “Do you think one can live alone? Always alone?”…

One may speculate, at the end, that perhaps the riddle of Paul’s death finds some clarification in his response to Madeleine’s question: “No, I don’t think one can, it’s impossible. Without tenderness, you’d shoot yourself.” It may be that, the gulf between he and Madeleine, the gulf between questioner and answerer, between objectivity and value judgment, are represented perfectly in the dialog between Madeleine and Paul in the bathroom at the office of the magazine:

M: What is the centre of the world for you?

P: Love, I suppose.

M: That’s odd. I’d have answered: Me.

When Robert tells Catherine that he loves her, she replies, “Well, if it’s not mutual, it’s egotism on your part.”

So, what really killed Paul? Was it actually, as Catherine says, “just a stupid accident”?

In a poetical sort of way, one can infer a context here that extends the meaning of Catherine’s judgment to include the idea that Paul very well did take his own life, that the “stupid accident” she is referring to is actually Paul’s involvement with Madeleine, the entirety of their life together, and the depths of despair that such a life, together yet apart, engendered in Paul. In some ways, a lack of tenderness killed Paul. In some ways, a lack of objectivity killed Paul. In some ways, society killed Paul.

Paul’s Paranoia Laundromat:

“Guess what happened. I hear running footsteps. What is it? I wonder. I turn around. And a bloke says: ‘Did I frighten you? Do forgive me.’ I wait.

But when I go on, so do the footsteps. The guy say: ‘Did I frighten you? Do forgive me.’ All very courteous, but I realize it’s a different man.

I go on.

This time the footsteps go past. But the guy stops just in front of me. I look at him, and its not the same guy. I mean, it’s a third guy.

‘You’re not the same one,’ I say.

He looks at me and says: ‘Maybe so, but the point is you thought you were being followed. Who by doesn’t matter. If I’d run faster you would have been afraid. But I didn’t and you weren’t.’

‘Listen,’ I say to this guy, ‘if that’s your idea of a joke, I don’t think much of it.’

He looks at me and says: ‘Do you really think it’s a joke? Well!’

‘You just haven’t understood,’ he says.”

Something is chasing Paul, something faceless, or maybe something that wears every face. He is on the cusp of understanding it, but he’s not there yet.

“Poor Paul,” Elizabeth says to him, “We’re not the sort of girls for you.”

The relationship between Paul and Madeleine is explicative of the relationship, expressed by Robert, between skilled laborers and the greater bourgeois society. Madeleine, in a voice-over narration, says, “I’m glad Paul is in love with me; I’ll sleep with him eventually. I hope he doesn’t become a nuisance.” In much the same way, society at large values its skilled workforce as a somewhat fulfilling amusement, one that is enjoyable, but not entirely necessary. Madeleine is bourgeois society, Paul is the proletariat. Madeleine is Coca-cola, Paul is Marx. Madeleine is opinion, Paul is philosophy.

In a one sided love affair, beloved always fares better than lover. Were society, with its bourgeois focus, its Pepsi-generational outlook, to actually lose its skilled workers, as Madeleine herself loses the father of her unborn child, it would realize its dependence on them, and when asked, as Madeleine is asked, what it will do now, would likely answer in kind:

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.