A lonely woman starts spending time with a pair of men. The three of them drift through life together, a trio of worn-out husks in a sad city. The men are both attracted to the woman, though one clearly tries to assert himself as an ‘alpha male’ type. The woman lets him, somewhat passively. She doesn’t seem fully present; something else has her focus. She is sad, alienated, deeply troubled, and sensitive — perpetually on the verge of tears — in an alarming state of ambient sorrow over — just — everything — the weight of the world —
— until one night, she starts dancing.
Alone, inebriated, and unstable, she sways her arms in the evening air. The men just watch. Neither of them fully understand her anguish. They do not see the depth of her pain; they just see an Emotional Woman — someone be taken in, taken care of, saved. A stray cat; an irrational animal; a cry-baby. Perhaps they see themselves as her hero.
But her attention is elsewhere — somewhere deep inside, impenetrable, distressed. She is surrounded by nature, in all its goodness and beauty. Its overwhelming majesty moves her deeply. Perhaps she feels a longing to be one with the natural world — to escape the heartbreaking vortex of her interior — to be free.
Though the men’s gaze is never absent — it’s just off-screen — for a few frames, she is given the time and space to sink into her interior. She physically expresses her feelings of entrapment and anguish, desperately splaying and swaying towards something out-of-body.
The above is a description of Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo) in Burning (2018) directed by Lee Chang-dong, and a description of Roslyn (Marilyn Monroe) in The Misfits (1961) directed by John Huston.
Ivana Brehas (a.k.a. Joaquin Shenix) is a writer and filmmaker living in Naarm (Melbourne). She has written for Dazed, Much Ado About Cinema, The Big Issue, 4:3 and more. Contact her at www.ivanabrehas.com.