As attention catcher and cast into a totally stereotypical role in the movie "The Brand New Testament" (wikipedia | imdb), we have Aurelie – a CGI / mask made left above elbow arm movie amputee that mostly wears a passive prosthetic arm - as played by Laura Verlinden (who is an actress with both arms and hands).
Of course it is generally laudable to see an amputee character in a movie rather than having that type of disability nowhere, unseen, unheard. But then, having media constantly reiterating worn out old stereotypes hardly is cool.
And just as I also commented on Mad Max Fury Road, I also considered the attempts in Kingsman, or, Home of the Brave (2006), or, maybe in the ill-fated attempt for cinema titled "Hancock". See the introduction to my Mad Max review for an explanation of why, generally, arm amputee views (you surfed here, right? what was the title of this blog?) on arm amputee movies matter. Again: I am not asking so much whether a particular fairy tale, being told as a movie or so, is consistent in itself and represents a standalone piece of art, as such and regardless of the time and culture it was made in. Instead, I want to know with what type of stereotype here and now, in this day and age, we will leave the cinema - here, Riff Raff Zurich last Saturday - or movie watching experience. After all, all of these movies build on cheap stereotypes.
Subplot movie story line (spoilers ahead):
- The arm amputee character (Aurelie) lost her left arm above the elbow as a child.
- She leads the life of a spinster well up into her thirties.
- She never leaves house, or is up and around at home, without her passive prosthetic arm on, that features a silicone hand.
- She has no friends and no partner, apparently.
- Then, a guy shoots her with a rifle (long story; watch the movie to find out why).
- The bullet enters her prosthetic arm but does not kill her (as was intended).
- The guy then "falls in love with her" because (1) for some reason she seems immortal and (2) because of her body scent.
Ahh.. the smell of rubber and whatever it is that also sits on that prosthetic hand. Ewww.
- Subsequently, during the rest of the movie, they "are a couple".
Critique of this movie subplot
The director, Jaco van Dormael, claims that his movie shows "unexpected aspects of love". I would criticize and refute this claim by explaining how, exactly, and in what aspects, this amputee movie character of Aurelie and her character's story within this movie is stereotypical and not very interesting.
As you must realize (what, again, was the title of this blog?), I analyze this movie and what is said about it from a unique and peculiar angle.
Interview with Jaco van Dormael
In an interview (video below), Jaco Van Dormael states that "unexpected aspects of love" dominate his script, or, storyline for this movie.
Interview with Laura Verlinden
In essence, Laura Verlinden bases her justification of "empathizing" with the amputee character Aurelie by stating that she is insecure herself.
LV: I think that Jaco is very sensitive, his wife and entourage too. (..) The little things are so.. (important).
INTERVIEWER 3:24 How do you play such a role because you are one of the apostles, there (also) is Catherine Deneuve, not nothing (“pas rien”), and there is you, you inspire love, beauty, fragility, the wounded, did you prepare for that before or was it on the movie set that things decided themselves?
LV 3:40 It is different always, but with (the character of ) Aurelie, I immediately felt as if I understood the emotions of this amputated character (“personage”). Because I am convinced that inside of myself , also beforehand, off and on, I understood that character.
INTERVIEWER 4:12 Does Aurelie have a lot of aura of Aurelie?
LV 4:15 Em, yes there is a lot of Aurelie contained in the aura, but sometimes I, I am convinced, sometimes understood these emotions a little bit. Because she is very very insecure,..
INTERVIEWER 4:35 She does not know that she is pretty, for example? She does not know that someone else could fall in love with her?
LV 4:39 Yes. She believes that nothing will ever happen for herself. That is because she is very insecure, because she only has one arm.
INTERVIEWER 4:56 But you, you have two arms?
4:58 Yes I have two (both laugh) that is exactly why I feel (laughs) no, I understand and I surely have these feelings myself, my own insecurity is never far away.
Why does Aurelie really always have to wear her prosthetic arm?
The interview with Laura Verlinden (above) has her confirm that the movie does not use any big special effects.
INTERVIEWER 9:40 In the preparation, as the (movie / scripted) world is very subtle there are no big special effects (09:41; Laura Verlinden nods all the way through), there is the music of Jan Perde which is also very sensitive music, did you listen to a particular music?
In fact, she plays the character simply by wearing a silicone glove as it is also worn on prosthetic hands.
With the exception of one scene, where it appears that her left arm was removed using CGI in a technically rather crude (and probably cheap) way (I guess that even drop shadows underwent serious budget cuts), the absence of willingness to portray an arm amputee as person with asymmetric upper limbs has her even sit up at night during a "nightmare" or "dream" with her prosthetic arm on. That, in essence, is dirt cheap movie making : ) no one will put on their prosthetic arm just to sit at the kitchen table at some 2 o'clock in the morning just to watch a weird hand dance.
Much rather, we are dealing with the primary needs of a budget movie that then, secondarily, dictates the script. So, plausibility is secondary in this movie. The director could have actually hired an amputee actress - but then, the culture is that of Belgium and the French speaking domain, and it is only the year 2016.
So how do things come together?
- The actress will have to wear a silicone glove to save on CGI for as much of the movie as possible. The actress herself cannot be an amputee because casting may take too long or be too cumbersome. With the casting having taken place as "pleasant" afternoon meeting in the circles of the family of the director, I can vividly imagine how a real amputee might have disturbed the harmonious get together at least a bit ("mum, why does that woman only have one arm?"). Also, amputees as portrayed as shy and insecure, as imagined by the director obviously, can be of advantage as insecure actors and actresses are probably cheaper, can be marketed down for price.
- So, Laura Verlinden is hired who plays a fragile beautiful woman that always wears a prosthetic arm and has no friends. Reality check: many arm amputees may have a bit of a depressed aspect about them, but a fact is that arm amputees generally face a massively stereotype determined treatment by society in general. And that treatment is so severely stereotypical, that some amputees, particularly arm amputees, may feel like only another arm amputee can really understand - to an astonishingly high degree (see, for example, this). Visible disability and visible disfigurement can severely impact others and thus, societal experiences (see Goffman or Cloerkes). But then, many of us have friends and family; and while one particular body aspect - visible handicap, visible disfigurement - surely is nothing one may be particularly proud of as such every now and so often, it is not or generally in the way of having friends or relationships. If anything one needs to be a bit careful; some people fall off the radar, other weirdos may just be a tad bit too sticky. So Laura Verlinden surely plays an insecure woman (more than a particularly realistic arm amputee) but we do not need such to be confused. This movie pushes the wrong perception.
- As consequence of the fantasy amputee character obviously being stereotyped rather thoughtlessly, "unexpected love" comes in form of a gun fanatic that "falls in love" without actually knowing Aurelie, rather thoughtlessly also. First, he shoots her with his rifle. The bullet does not kill her, but, it damages her arm. She does not file charges for attempted murder (which is what that was, really -we were there as movie audience, we all watched and no one said anything). Instead, he then makes her from shoot object to amputee love object. Reality check: weirdos trying to befriend amputees are neither an unexpected nor rare experience. The phenomenon is all too well known and can take on many shapes, it may also take on some form of stalking. Nothing really beautiful or lovely about it. Violence and objectification in pure form, across the firearm - sex scale.
- No arm amputee, with very rare exceptions, is likely to wear their prosthetic arm also at night, or possibly, extensively at home - particularly if the prosthesis is "just" a passive / cosmetic arm. Aurelie wears an ostensibly "passive" prosthetic arm. The amputee character Aurelie wearing her prosthetic arm that much / often / permanently throughout the movie, also when having a dream about her hand, is a give-away for other considerations (see above: Why does she always have to wear her prosthetic arm?) - it probably was just cheaper to do it that way, from a producer´s or director´s view. The weird dream scene where the amputated hand dances alone on the kitchen table had me almost nauseous. It was totally eerie, but I did not barf.
- An actress' self proclaimed insecurity is probably not enough to portray an amputee character. We are insecure, but almost everyone of us has strong abilities, is social, with the abundance of social problems being society sided. To these problems that we face that are built in into society, media perpetuated stereotypes just as here constitute a really big contribution. Arm amputees have no lobby and so people just as these media representatives think they can do with our predicament as they see fit.
So really, an el-cheapo version of CGI-amputee represents stereotypical fantasy aspects of amputees and typical weirdo fantasies about having a relationship. If nothing else that movie represents values of the 60s or 70s.
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