Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The Night Porter
The Night Porter is a challenge to anyone who would dare explore indelible human behavior at its most extreme. The very invocation of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust demands an extreme reaction, but Liliana Cavani goes beyond what most viewers are accustomed to. With its dark psychology and disturbing imagery of sex and violence, tenderness and cruelty, it refuses to accept black and white definitions of good and evil, almost forcing empathy with characters to whom the only fit response would seem to be one of revulsion. Perhaps most disturbing to the viewer is its refusal to limit certain activities or traits to specific character types. Here, theres ultimately no difference between Nazi and Jew; between man and woman; between gay and straight. All that matters in the end is the experience of harsh sensations. Were given no "innocent" character to identify with and can only escape by choosing not to take the journey at all. In addition, although an initial reading apparently exhibits a saga of sadomasochistic male power over women, a closer look reveals that the film is actually about the undoing of that power and it serves as a fitting means for exploring the relationship between power and eroticism from a woman's perspective. For Lucia, sexual pleasure and danger are inextricably and tragically connected.
The film exposes the contradictions and weaknesses of male power and portrays a female character who exploits those weaknesses in order to find her own voice. In allegorical form, the film offers to female spectators the chance to identify with Lucia, who transforms the axis of power in her relationship and practices her sexuality no matter what the cost. For these reasons, its both compelling and worthwhile for feminist analysis.