Thursday, November 25, 2010

Queering John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness: it's making my head hurt

So I just watched John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. I don't have the stamina for the sort of Google search that would be required to scratch the itch the film has left in my head, but I wish I did - because on some level, the film seems to have a queer subtext that I can't quite drag out into the open, and would love to see discussed. Such things have been said online about the queerness of Carpenter's The Thing, with much more coherence and clarity than I will manage below; and I've often noticed in particular a weird attraction/repulsion between white men and blacks in his films, which sometimes manifests itself in very physical ways (yes, I'm thinking particularly of They Live); but Prince of Darkness, because of all the religious, metaphysical, and quasi-scientific jargon that the film lathers out, manages to obscure its queerness better than his other works. But there IS something very queer going on here:

- There are repeated jokes about the Dennis Dun character's sexuality which seem to contribute on some unclear level to the thematic development of the film. Somewhat femme and bitchy in his manner, he dresses in a very flamboyant shirt in one scene, and sports gold chains; this has apparently given him a reputation that he gets kidded about, of being gay. He says at one point that he has a date with a fellow student, and Jameson Parker joshingly replies, "What's his name?" (or something like that). A similar joke occurs later, and then again, when he is trapped in a closet. He actually comments upon it - that he's in the closet - as if it's supposed to be significant, which it wouldn't be, unless you've been paying attention to the idea that he gets kidded about being gay. But what does any of this have to do with the reappearance of Satan on earth? Why is it even in the movie, if it's irrelevant?

- The most striking acts of violence in the film involve the penetration of the male body (the Alice Cooper bike impalement is particularly memorable).

- There is a female-female attack that gets mistaken for a lesbian come-on. There are also various scenes where men must struggle to avoid a sort of "kiss" - the mouth-to-mouth projectile of fluid that is the conduit of evil in the film; the most protracted struggles involve men avoiding the "kiss" of other men, lest they be contaminated.

- The changes that the female body undergoes in pregnancy are given horrific treatment, suggesting a primal fear of the female, almost on the level of Cronenberg's The Brood. The main possessed character - the chosen conduit of evil - swells as if pregnant, during her possession, though no literal birth occurs and the need for her to "appear" pregnant is otherwise unexplained - it is seemingly meant to resonate subtextually, not textually. Indeed, most of the female characters, with the exception of Lisa Blount (RIP), become possessed and have the most active role in bringing Satan into the world; both Satan's host and the "guardians" are female, which spells "women issues" to me...

- The only clear couple in the film, Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount, have a troubled dialogue about sexuality, with her having obvious trust issues. This ultimately forms one of the strongest narrative threads of the film - he is watching her, attracted, from the beginning of the film, and the resolution of the drama will entirely hinge on their relationship. Troubled heterosexuality is most definitely evident and significant to whatever the film is "about."

- In the final scenes - as Satan is trying to pull the anti-God through the mirror - in order to fulfill her role as a female, and rescue Parker from the evil-transmitting "kiss" of a black man, Blount has to sacrifice herself. This involves a plunge into the mirror, where she remains trapped. This leads to a very strange final scene - of a shirtless, sweaty ("beefcake-y") Jameson awakening from a nightmare to confront his own image in a mirror, which he reaches out for, as if his loved one might be in it; on the literal level, she actually IS trapped in the mirror, but there is a resonance to this image that goes well beyond the literal - of a man seeking his lover, or the truth of himself, in his "mirror image." It puts me in mind of similar motifs in Fassbinder's films of Querelle and Despair, both with (text-level) queer themes, in which men become obsessed with other men as "mirror images." In the final moments of the film, Parker is left alone with his mirror image, his hand about to "touch" his reflection's - almost as if he is "two men alone," one of whom - the one in the mirror - has a secretly female aspect.

- Alternately, we could say that in order for him to be "saved" as a man, he has to supress the female in him, which is what he is actually reaching out for - some lost aspect of his identity, his feminine side, demonized and "trapped," just as Satan has been trapped...

None of this really adds up, however, and it sure doesn't connect to all the talk of Tachyons, quantum physics and Christian secret societies, at least in any way that I can tease out now. I can only dig deep enough to find myself irritated by what I've found.

One thing I can say for sure: whether its queer or not, Prince of Darkness sure is one strange movie.

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