Thursday, March 31, 2011

Surviving Desire

One of my favorite films of all time is a short, somewhat odd work by director Hal Hartley, Surviving Desire.

People have many different interpretations of what Mr. Hartley was trying to accomplish in this quirky little film, but for me, it is about guarding yourself -- or choosing not to guard yourself -- from the visceral, terrifying prospect of love and connection to another person.

In the film, a student falls for her professor. As it turns out, she falls only for the idea of loving her professor -- the romance of a May/December relationship, the stimulation of being with an intellectual, the novelty of bedding your teacher. She teases and seduces him. Once they sleep together, she moves on, reflecting on the short romance with a clinical, analytical detachment.

The professor, however, had fallen for her deeply and madly. He wanted to see how far the relationship could go. In the end, we get a sense that the student is happy to be alone again, but as observers we intuit that she is not really happy and not really living a full life.

The professor, who was willing to risk all and lose all, was left distraught. In one of the last scenes, we see him lie down in a gutter, eviscerated by love (and perhaps a bit caught up in his own drama.) A passerby asks if he's alright and he says that yes, he will be. The passerby then asks for directions and our professor sits up and joins the world of the living again, and we realize he is essentially the happier person who will continue to take risks and live life to the fullest possible measure.

So who are you in life? In relationships? The all-in risk taker or the detached, self protective participant? So often in BDSM relationships, I hear the phrase "We only play together." To me it always sounds like a cop out, a fear thing. Fear of risking emotional attachment and the mess that entails. Doms and subs do all manner of intimate and trusting exercises with one another, but often maintain that they are only friends, or not even friends...just play partners.

This has always taken me back to that film -- which is nearly twenty years old by now -- and that student who chose not to risk herself by continuing to develop her relationship with her professor. It's a frequent subject in my books. In Comfort Object and Mercy it was the D-types who wanted to remain detached in a self-protective way. In Deep in the Woods and Fortune it was the submissives who were very cautious and slow to trust.

I think one of the wonderful aspects of real romance is the overcoming of these fears and self-protective impulses and barrelling headlong into love no matter how scary the prospect is. In romance, of course, there is no risk. There is always a happily ever after. In real life, there is no such guarantee, and I'm sure there are instances in BDSM pairings when a deeper relationship is neither possible or desireable.

But in general, how wonderful it is when you take a risk in love and a new, fulfilling relationship prospers. And when the risks don't pay off, at least you know you tried. You did something, and gave it a whirl. In the end, either way, you survive.

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