Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Visit-- Poetry, Revenge, and Revelation

Maybe it is just that I am nostalgic for Prague, three years later, and just got an email that Arnost Lustig will be in Kalamazoo soon, but this movie I just watched on TV has got me thinking. The movie is The Visit (1964) starring Ingrid Bergman, and although it isn’t as artsy as the Czech films we watched in Prague, it has that same dark flavor to it. I suggest that anyone who hasn’t watched it Netflix it immediately.

The gist of the movie is that Bergman was run out of town as a pregnant teen after filing a paternity suit against her lover. He bribes two witnesses for a bottle of brandy each to say that she is promiscuous. The authorities take her child, who quickly dies in an institution, label her a fallen woman, and she becomes a big city prostitute. Years later, she returns, a wealthy woman, with a proposition for the town that turned its back on her. They are struggling…the local mines, the factory, the riverside...all their business has mysteriously dried up and she offers them 2 million to kill the man who ruined her instead of taking responsibility for his child.

I’m not suggesting that people write a poem where they make an “indecent proposal.” What’s interesting to me about this movie is that by making this offer to the town, she puts her ex-lover in the exact position he put her in, a position where those in power, the people he’s trusted and grown up with, his own friends, actively set him up, ruin and finally move to take his life. This is the interesting moment to me, when he moves from disbelief, thinking of course that he was right in what he did, to struggling with the same forces he set in motion before.

I’m also not suggesting this be some epic poem about a life and death struggle, but that this kind of revenge, this very profound shift in position, is ripe for a lyric. Take a situation which you might still be harboring some grudge over, (unless you’re some profoundly well-developed person who doesn’t carry grudges) and put that person in a reversed position. The truly startling thing is the amount of sympathy you end up having with the character as they share, and realize they share, your same experience.

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