Sunday, February 18, 2018


Renée Auberjonois, Kate Nowlin Auberjonois, Reny Augerjonois

Renée Auberjonois has been a favorite of mine since he portrayed the shapeshifter on “Star Trek”, but I never wrote about him because I couldn’t spell his name.  Now I’ve practiced until I can.  But I still hadn’t realized that Reny Auberjonois was his son or even that he had a son.  Partly I was confused because in the movie “Blood Stripe”, which I watched last night, was written and directed with the son’s wife Kate Nowlin but Renée acted in the film as the kind of insightful and supportive clergyman that we’d all hope is out there — somewhere.

This is a film about PTSD, the formal kind suffered by Marines who have been in combat, with the twist that the sufferer is a woman, and the environment — family, camp, Minnesota lake country — really is menacing, double-crossing, exploitative, punishing for no reason.  The exceptions are the woman who runs the camp and the clergyman.

I don’t know about other women — I never know much about other women — but the world I’ve known is not different in kind, only degree, from the world of this “BAM” (Broad-Assed Marine).  Both my brothers were Marines, but they didn’t talk about it much.  They never saw combat after basic training.  As sibs we are more wary than paranoid, but — rather like this heroine — danger attracts us more than is sensible or self-protective.  And we (one is dead) have been isolates.

The beginning of the film is a remarkable explosion of the expectations stereotyped in advertisements.  No one meets her at the airport, her husband seems only interested in dominating and guilting her, the sister-in-law demands and orders incessantly and chaotically.  Yet the heroine tries to be the good soldier who obeys orders until she breaks and goes AWOL.  Even then, she yearns to go back — not a good idea — and anyway they’ve closed the door against her.

The “blood stripe” is the red stripe down the trouser-seam of the Marine dress uniform.  That metaphor may have been the key that unlocked the idea for the whole film.  In the beginning she only bleeds a little from her nose — maybe high blood pressure?  Then as the tension grows, the blood drips more and more.  No wound is shown.  Water washes the blood away.  Until water washes the life away.

I don’t know whether other women have a “second self”, someone athletic, skilled and able to handle weapons.  An echo idealized.  Someone with freckles and red hair like oneself.  A beautiful jaw-line, unlike oneself.  Maybe people around here believe in and know a third “self”, which is a sturdy competent woman who works hard to provide for church and children: scrubbing, baking, organizing.  (Rusty Schwimmer has the role.)  I look a bit like her, too, but am really nothing like that.  To the dismay of folks who don’t want to read confrontive writing, who avoid anything troubling or ugly.  They feel tricked by my appearance.  Bulky women in work shirts and jeans are either moms or lesbian, right?

Not many have the experience of being clergy, doing all the right things, inviting prayer, lighting candles, invoking happy memories of the past — but it’s not enough.  It’s admirable and pleasant in the moment, but it doesn’t save lives from the real juggernaut of cultures, which in this case is gender-assigned.  I mean, all the threats are male.  To some women there is no such thing as a “good” or safe man.  Their paranoia is that a wolf-whistle on the street is a signifier of impending attack.  Yet their idea of safety is a protective liason with a dangerous man.

The plot line of this film follows this pattern and it is convincing.  We all see things out of our “side-eye” and wonder whether we ought to address them.  When I drove a drab-green van and affected a safari jacket with a Glacier National Park patch on the shoulder, I passed on the highway a pull-off where a man evidently had a woman trapped in the open door-angle of a car.  She looked distressed.  I pulled up alongside and said in my animal control officer voice,  “Everything all right here?”

“It’s fine.  We’re fine.”  But I’d created an opportunity in which the woman managed to get behind the wheel of her car and take off.  I left, too, so the man was simply standing alone, stranded.  I never knew what was really happening.  For every time I’ve been accidentally an interventionist and it worked, there have been times when it didn’t.  Sitting inside a running vehicle with the door locked and the window half-up is not much of a risk.  The best weapon is sometimes the other person’s paranoia.

The impulse is to avoid, abstain, never do the things that a careful clergyman would caution against: lying, stealing, cursing, forcing intimacy.  But this is not particularly helpful to the culture.  I hear many people say they won’t even vote because the whole political thing is a shameful mess.  When there is trouble in congregations, people leave.  Realization ought to be the first step towards empowerment, not desertion.

This film depiction is not ugly or overbearing.  We see the scars on the woman's body, gradually realize the scars in her mind, and understand why she would simply set out swimming in what looks like eternity.  The people who fear suicide are often fearing the death of their way of life, their identity, rather than the biological end of their inner life.  What they underestimate is the blood-letting from those who love them.  And the despair and guilt of not being able to save them.

Some reviewers complained that this film was “too spare,” maybe wanting some authority to step out and explain it all.  They wanted the ex-con’s love to save this woman.  They wanted the clergyman or the good cook to say the definitive salvific thing.  But that’s a Christian idea.  This is more Asian, Buddhist or Taoist.  But it is also related to the existentialism of France after WWII.  Probably earlier thinkers if someone would lift them up.  Heraclitus?

Spareness is a kind of beauty and the cinematography here (Radium Cheung (HKSC) - Director of Photography) makes the immanence of nature also express the transcendence of eternity.

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