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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

APPLYING SOME CRITICAL THEORIES IN ANALYZING AND INTERPRETING LITERATURE TO THE FILM "MALENA"




FORMALIST CRITICISM

What universal truths are revealed in the film?

         According to the book Universal Truths: A Proposition for The Pursuit Of Planetary Unity for the Next Millennium, by Nelson J. Parnell, the definitions of the words ‘universal’ and ‘truth’ are the following: “Universal: 1. of characteristic of, or affecting all or the whole 2. applicable everywhere or in all cases 3. used or understood by all 4. present or existing everywhere. Truth: 1. the true or actual state of a matter 2. conformity with fact or reality 3. a verified or indisputable fact 4. the state of character of being true (Parnell 7).”

         Basing on my perception on the aforementioned definitions of “universal truth”, and also on my understanding from the handouts on Critical Theory, “A formalist perspective would typically include observations about the relations among the characters…(2077),” I highly believe that the universal truths revealed in the film are: 1.) humans are sexual beings. Renato was a 12-year-old boy whose sexual awakening is focused on his lust for Malena, 2.) the predominant system of society is patriarchal, as most specifically shown how Renato’s father is the one who should always be followed no matter what, among others, 3.) war is not good, not just because the soldiers get separated from their respective wives, but also because of the unnecessary physical and moral destruction inflicted on affected places, 4.) majority of women typically despise very beautiful and sexy women, as what all of the women feel toward Malena, 5.) men look at women as inferior to them and also as sex objects. Many men around Malena are married, and they obviously lust for her even within close view of their wives. Meanwhile, all of the featured men look at Malena only as a sex object, and not as a wife for life, 6.) women who are pressed for money can resort to prostitution, as what Malena does when she sells her body to the German soldiers, 7.) many people, especially men, regard a widow as sex-starved, as what they see in Malena, and talk about around town, when they hear about her husband’s death, 8.) the rich trample the poor, as what the old lawyer does to Malena, after he represents her in court, and she does not have money to pay him. He forces her to marry him as her payment. He takes advantage of her helpless situation.

What is achieved by telling the story from the point of view of Renato?

         The handouts on Critical Theory says: Other aspects of the story of interest from a formalist perspective would include the writer’s use of first-person narration, especially the way the narrator’s thoughts are made known to the reader…A formalist critic might ask what difference would it make if the story were told in the third person, or if the narrator’s ideas were to be voiced in direct dialogue ( 2078)

         By telling the story of the movie “Malena” from the point of view of Renato, it is telling the whole story from a formalistic view or from the firsthand experiences as narrated by the mentioned male lead character, Renato, as if the viewers are looking straight from his eyes. In this regard, the website http://writinghood.com/writing/the-advantages-for-first-person-writing/ (accessed on March 3, 2011) declares that “This style is an immediate one, giving us a first-hand experience of the events… This makes the story more focused, since it is from one direct point of view.” On the other hand, the same website posted the disadvantages, and one of these is focused on the writer, and can also refer to a movie writer: “It is often perceived as harder to write in the first person than the third…you are not all knowing and can’t delve into other characters minds…This means there is little room to see another character’s perspective. And this can lead to… an unreliable account.”

PSYCHOLOGICAL/PSYCHOANALYTIC CRITICISM


How does the film “Malena” display the unconscious element of Renato’s mind?

         It is stated in the handouts about Critical Theory that: According to Freud, the unconscious harbors forbidden wishes and desires, often sexual, that are in conflict with an individual’s or society’s moral standards. Freud explains that although the individual represses or “censors” these unconscious fantasies and desires, they became “displaced” or distorted in dreams and other forms of fantasy, which serve to disguise their real meaning (2085).

         Connecting the above insights from Freud to “Malena,” the said film displays the unconscious element of Renato’s mind through his sexual dreams while asleep, his sex-filled daydreams whilst awake, and his flashes of imagination which feature Malena as naked. Such vivid scenes in the dreams and the imagination of a 12-year-old boy depict the power of the human mind most especially in the psychological and psychoanalytic aspects that have already been observed by experts even way, way back.

         In an old book titled Dramatic Essays of the Neoclassic Age, published in 1947, it was featured that “The psychologic critic was primarily concerned with the question why some things are pleasant and some are unpleasant, and, consequently, out of psychological criticism grew what we know as aesthetics (Adams xiii).” True enough, because fast forward from that time in the late 1940’s to these contemporary times, both pleasant and unpleasant sex-filled scenes are equally accepted if these are “tastefully done for art’s sake” or when they are really needed in the concerned movie or story.

MYTHOLOGICAL/ ARCHETYPAL CRITICISM


What religious tradition might the story of Malena be compared to? Why?

         For me, Malena’s character in the movie can be compared to Mary Magdalene in the bible, or Magdalena in many languages. Curiously, “Malena” is a shortened term of “Magdalena.” On one hand, there is a part in the movie wherein Renato’s mother has him exorcised in the church, thinking he is possessed by demons. Speaking of exorcism, it is defined as “…the practice of evicting or destroying demons or other evil spiritual entities which are supposed to have "possessed”… a person, a building, etc.. The concept is very ancient and is still part of the belief system of many religions,” by http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Exorcism (accessed March 4, 2011).

         In my opinion, the entire story of Malena might be compared to the religious tradition of exorcism, although there are no literal demons in this movie, but there are indeed “demons” in the people’s hearts and minds because of their hatred toward Malena who has not done them anything wrong. It is so bad of them to judge her, especially that she never speaks to them (she barely utters a word). And since such people have these “demons” in them, they have to be “exorcised” not directly by a priest who performs real exorcism, but by themselves, with or without guidance from the priest, by attending mass regularly and by following God’s commandments. All in all, they should open their eyes that hating Malena for her beauty and talking bad of her in her presence will not do them any good, but respecting her (even if they do not really like her) will be good for everybody, for Malena, and for God.

SOCIOLOGICAL/MARXIST CRITICISM AND FEMINIST CRITICISM

How are the relations between Malena and the men, or those between Malena and the women, presented in the film? What roles do men and women assume and perform and with what consequences?

         The relations between Malena and the men are presented in the film as something unequal, with the men being superior, and lustful, over her. Truly, the roles that men and women assume and perform in the film are clearly unequal, with the women as inferior from men, because of the patriarchal society the setting has. The men overpower the women, even their wives. This scenario has always been frowned upon by the United Nations that says “violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women… whether occurring in public or in private life (WHO 239). With regards to violence, the movie “Malena” shows great physical violence when the women beat Malena up and cut her hair in front of many men who do not help her out; in fact, these men enjoy watching her sexy body in front of them. Meanwhile, the mental suffering as a form of violence is inflicted on Malena by both the men and the women in the movie. To all of these, the consequences are the movies’ unbalanced way of living, with the men as the decision-makers and as highly superior to women.                
                                                                                                                                                  --ARV

References:
1. Handouts on Critical Theory
2. Books:
.Adams, Henry H. Dramatic Essays of the Neoclassic Age. New York: Columbia University Press. 1947. Xiii.
Parnell, Nelson J. Universal Truths: A Proposition for the Pursuit of Planetary Unity for the Next Millennium. Illinois: Lumen-us Publications Illinois. 2007. 7.
3. Fact sheet:
World Health Organization’s Media Centre. Violence Against Women.November 2009. Fact sheet N239.
4. Internet:
The Advantages for First Person Writing. 20 January 2009. Writinghood. 3 March 2011.
Exorcism – Definition. Copyright 2010. WordIQ.com. 4 March 2011.

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