Ben Cross and Amy Irving
By chance Netflix delivered the two-disc form of “The Far Pavilions” (book in 1978, film in 1984) just as I was trying to get sense out of the concepts of “narcissism”, co-dependence in persons attached to grandiose narcissists to help support their accomplishments, and — inevitably — anti-dependence in “recovering co-dependents” who have converted all the way past relationship. (This last idea has neither been defined nor explored by anyone I’ve found so far.) This film (I haven’t read the book) also addresses the tension between personal desire and political obligation, and rather flirts with same-sex attachment versus traditional (obsessional) “true love.” Also, familial love and intimacy versus Others. It’s a lot to think about.
That’s not even considering the echo of this book with “The Raj Quartet” (AKA “The Jewel in the Crown”, 1965-75, film in 1984) which was written by Mary Margaret Kaye’s literary agent, Paul Scott (1920-1978), who became so obsessed with his own huge masterwork that he more or less disappeared into it. All this writing is set in the northwest corner of India, abutting Afghanistan where wars go to grow old and die. There’s a lot about Kabul. (Rossano Brazzi plays The Rana of Bhithor, a corrupt old caliph, clearly the Donald Trump part. Don’t confuse Brazzi with Rossano Rubicondi, who married Ivana Trump at Mar-a-Lago. He was her third husband, twenty years younger. The marriage ended but Ivana does not end relationships.)
The hero of “The Far Pavilions” is played by Ben Cross, a far more honorable man, in fact a family man whose genetic family has been replaced by the British army. An orphan English boy saved by pretending to be native, his first love is the people of India who raise him. They include a “sister” who is half-caste. (Half-Russian from the intimacy of a previous Afghan war.)
After being sent to England to become a “sahib,” he returns to fall in love with a blonde Brit female, a narcissist who chooses an older rich man. Then he becomes extremely close to a young blonde beauty of a fellow soldier, who remains faithful even into mortal battle. The half-caste girl returns to the story, in her turn obsessively devoted to a shallow and needy “sister”, a classic narcissist. No one in this long complex tale ever achieves recovery from either narcissism or co-dependence, but in the end the two lovers ride off up the slopes of the Himalayas described as the “Far Pavilions.” This is, of course, fantasy.
But for both Scott and Kaye, their epic romances of India fulfill the fantasy of writing a best-seller that will secure them economically and make them famous, justifying all hardships and reinforcing the British middle-class notion of success-by-publication, which is almost as good as marrying landed gentry, Jane Austen style. “The Far Pavilion” looks to be a lot like a book store. Between author and agent, it’s hard to tell which is the narcissist and which is the co-dependent. Very hard on ordinary human intimacy.
I consider myself an anti-co-dependent who learned from being co-dependent (an enabler) to an artist and later to a vocation (ministry), both of which used and tried to own me, the way the caliph owned women and catamites. (This is over-stated to make the point.) But here I am, obsessed with writing a blog, like a frog in a bog, barely saved by a sense of humor and a house full of comedic cats. Is this post-dependent?
Sending me money or treating me like hired help will trigger reflex actions I cannot control, old and deep defences that will prevent me from ever being published in conventional terms. I take notice that another of M.M. Kaye’s books, “Shadow of the Moon,” was nearly destroyed by cutting out all romance so as to emphasize war. (Later she recovered and restored the book.) I only know one other author who has the same sort of revulsions and panic attacks as I do, and we even trigger the responses in each other. As I say, it interferes with intimacy.
But it frees us to go places most people never go, indeed, don’t know exist. “Far Pavilions” indeed, and not idyllic. In spite of the romantic pretensions of the immature, the historic world of the Plains Indian is a rawhide drumhead, as Ivan Doig said before he turned away to pinafore stories about school teachers and bar tenders. The prairie is a ground of winnowing where the lightweight are blown away, a kind of dry sea where ships meet hurricanes of wind.
Liberals have been preaching in streams of thought going back earlier than we can trace because writing hadn’t been invented yet, especially in novels which didn’t form until the middle class formed, claiming that people can change their identities, fall madly in love without losing themselves. Or not. We think it’s some kind of key when Flaubert says, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” But we go into a rage if someone says, “Tonto, c’est moi.”
In the end of this film, “Ashton,” who becomes “Ashar" in order to survive, and then is addressed as “Ash” to his intimates, is advised by his surrogate father to resolve the rending problem of his two identities, native or Empire soldier, by creating a third identity that reconciles them. (The obsessed-with-love half-caste woman is evidently to solve her own problem by devoting herself to Ash.) This idea of this kind of solution persists, though it is often pretty hard to perform and can cause a girl to be killed if she flubs up. The formality of Suttee is not necessary. Domestic violence is just as good an argument against unwary co-dependence.
It’s a little dubious to inflate the structure of families to the dynamics of domestic politics, but there is a sort of fractal relationship. (Fractals being the idea that big patterns are made up from the reiteration of little patterns.) Political parties also interact on the basis of identity and economies. At the moment we seem ready for a third party solution, though some yearn for “far pavilions,” this time as warm climate islands tall enough not to be submerged by climate change and sophisticated enough to be tax havens.
Once sex was set free from the constraints of Queen Victoria’s world, we found the dynamic replaced by money. (Death and disease have always trumped both, but let’s leave them out.) Now it is war that complexifies both sex (esp. in terms of families) and money (war machines). I suspect that we will see internal violence for quite a while and possibly lose cities to atomic bombs.
("The Far Pavilions" is streamed by YouTube.)