affairs, Andrew Simpson, Bill Nighy, Cate Blanchett, coercion, drama, friendship, infidelity, Judi Dench, love, love triangle, manipulation, marriage, movie review, movies, obsession, parasitic friendship, relationships, romance, romantic love, romantic relationships, stalkers
Obviously I’ve already mentioned the scene in which Stephen schools Sheba about the nature of their relationship, or lack thereof; but perhaps the most striking role reversal in the movie occurs when Sheba renounces her subordinance to Barbara after the entirety of the preceding movie in which Barbara made very attempt to school Sheba occupationally and relationally. After Barbara has indirectly brought about the demise of the sham that was Sheba’s marriage, Sheba moves out of her own house to leave it with her captor/husband (Shouldn’t she have the say in what happens to her own house?) and then moves in with the only person left who will have anything to do with her – you guessed it, Barbara.
Though the audience can clearly see from the rest of the movie preceding this scene that Barbara has anything but altruistic motives in mind, Sheba has little alternative if she wants to keep herself off the street and subsequently receives a warm welcome from her new captor — whom she at least has the luxury of recognizing as such. After Sheba has tentatively taken up residence with Barbara, she more or less disintegrates emotionally and, in one crucial scene, returns to a state of adolescent angst and infantile immaturity just in time to discover Barbara’s conniving journal entries, which the audience has had the privilege of knowing about all along, thanks to the intermittent voiceover narration by Barbara, excerpted from those very journals.
The mask of rage which the bedraggled ex-teacher subsequently wears on her face when she discovers Barbara’s (perceived) betrayal finds an echo in the smeared and disheveled makeup that masks her vulnerability as much as much as her skin. In this case, one might say that the mask of makeup allows her for once to express that which she has repressed throughout her life: her rage at a role she never wanted in a culture that treats her and every other female/feminine being as property, slave, or subordinate to some male/masculine being. Unfortunately but all-too-realistically, Sheba doesn’t identify the bigger picture and thus vents her rage on the most convenient, if not altogether guiltless, person she can find: you guessed it, Barbara once again. The film here and later shows one of its most glaring thematic weaknesses by failing to connect the dots of repression in the lives of its characters and consequently sending the downtrodden idealist Sheba back to the very place that made her crazy from the start – her home (read: prison) and husband (read: captor).
In the relationship of Sheba to Stephen, perhaps the least oppressive and most open teacher-student dyad emerges. While unmistakably higher on the school and social hierarchy than her student, idealist Sheba does her damnedest to break down the walls between them, if only to help her apprentice in his seemingly valiant efforts to improve himself. Idealist Sheba believes in the worth of every human being and in the ability of every human being to become more than just another wageslave in the murder machine of industry, capitalism, military, government, and civilization. (Albeit, she would never express her ideals in such a flagrantly oppositional or truthful manner.) She believes in her student – apparently when no other schoolteacher will — and earns at least Stephen’s superficial affections in return. Taking the one slim chance to make a difference for the better in the lives of those she strives to help (while unconsciously looking down on them), idealist Sheba thinks nothing of any ulterior motive that her student may have and allows her romanticized conception of the proletariat — represented archetypally in Stephen — to overshadow any suspicion of him leading her on, which she most likely would have deduced for herself if she hadn’t forgotten to take off the rose-tinted glasses of her liberal, humanist preconceptions.
Once the teacher Sheba, in this scenario, has reached a point of critical investment in, and attachment to, her student, the student then turns the table of power relations without so much as a second thought. All of the sudden, the one with control becomes the one without it; and the one without control becomes the one with it. Meanwhile, neither one of them questions whether the relation of control, and its corollary of dominance, should even exist – least of all in the relationship between the two of them. As the newly-appointed teacher in the newly-burgeoning relation between them, Stephen never becomes as emotionally manipulative as Barbara or as economically manipulative as Sheba’s husband. Still he exerts his own form of sexual and emotional manipulation without hesitation.
[All rights reserved by author.]