Chapter Four: The Impaired Body of Disability
'Deformed bodies depress me.'
Nicholas Van Ryan (Vincent Price) in Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, US, 1946)
This chapter will build upon the issues raised in the previous chapters, in order to examine the ways in which disability is specifically constructed on film as pathological. It will be discussed below, how representations of impairment place the problems of disability as being caused by impairment rather than their being socially orientated or constructed. The key strands of my discussion of the body will revolve around medicalisation (cf. Bryan Turner, 1992; 1995); the body as a metaphor for society (cf. Mary Douglas, 1966; 1970); the carnivalesque or grotesque (cf. Bakhtin, 1984); and normalisation (cf. Foucault, 1977; 1978). As has already been stated in earlier chapters, the Medical Model of disability has almost total hegemony over the modern Western definition of disability. Thus, it places all problems of disability within the individual's own body and his / her impairments. For the Medical Model (of disease as well as deformity) the body is a machine, one with a physiological norm to which the body either does or does not conform. When a body does not fit the physiological norm all subsequent problems are seen as arising from its corporeal deviance and not from how it is perceived or placed socially, making a chapter on the body essential in any thesis of impairment and disability in whatever form or medium.
In concentrating on how filmic representations of disability accept the hegemony of the Medical Model I have applied the theories of Foucault, Bakhtin and Douglas in order to understand why the Medical Model is so persuasive, and pervasive, in the representation of disability. When Gilman (1988, p.255) writes: 'it is in the world of representations that we banish our fear of [the Other ... ] proof that we are still whole' (Gilman's emphasis), it is possible to see why some representations remain negative even after social or political change; although some social change has occurred - legal rights, economic advancement et al - the archetypal and stereotypical persist even though many have been forcefully challenged – be they of minorities of one kind or another, or the disabled. Douglas, Bakhtin and Foucault enable us to deconstruct the symbols of the Other (the impaired, in this case) more effectively. Also, issues of masculinity and femininity as manifest in the body will be discussed in relation to how 'norms' are used to define both what they themselves are and how deviation from them is used to reinforce the 'norm' and devalue the abnormal. The main emphasis of this chapter will be on the film Whose Life Is it Anyway?, and, as such, the theories of the carnivalesque body are not utilised until the latter part of the chapter, when this thesis will explore the concept of the body in the other core films of this study.
Whose Life Is It Anyway? is about Ken Harrison, a man who has been involved in a car accident and sustains irreversible quadriplegia necessitating, in the logic of the film, lifelong hospitalisation. In the hospital, every possible act of objectification and surveillance - medicalisation (Armstrong, 1983) - is enacted upon Ken to keep him alive. It seemed ideal for this thesis: a prime example of how we are dehumanised and pathologised due to medicalisation. Yet, this interpretation did not seem completely accurate, and I realised why: the film is a critique of medicalisation; it even advocates de-medicalisation. The problem is that the means used to criticise modern, technologically-advanced medicalisation consists of people with impairments. Consequently, they, the disabled, are dehumanised and pathologised as a burden, out of a desire to demean the technology that keeps them alive. The basis of the film’s argument is that the problem with modern medicine is that it unnaturally keeps certain people alive and, as such, those people have to be portrayed as less than human or the Other in order to demean medicalisation. The way the film ascribes certain characteristics to the body of Ken Harrison, which are culturally unacceptable or filmically constructed, makes him - and his type - inhuman and the Other. Thus, medicalisation is seen as bad because it keeps the negative, sub-human disabled alive. The film Whose Life Is It Anyway? is far more subtle than one like A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg in its construction as a political piece of film-making.
The way in which Whose Life Is It Anyway? de-humanises Ken is by having him articulate his inhumanness himself (see earlier chapter) in a particularly human way; so much so that Ken was described, in a review of a revival of the play, as having: 'a personality which he lets shine to the full' (Sweeney, 1993, p.24). Ken shows his humanness through his ability to be a thoughtful, rational and intelligent person. Ken's inhumanness must therefore be made apparent in his body, which is achieved by having Ken appear as dependent, impotent and 'feminine' (impaired). The film achieves this most conventionally by having before-the-accident and after-the-accident components in the chronological narrative and in flashbacks.
Ken is told of his ‘Catch 22’ situation - his intellectual humanness whilst at the same time being bodily the Other - by Sandy, the hospital psychiatrist, who tells him that his plea for death: 'is weakened by his obvious intelligence'. The way the film avoids the ‘Catch 22’ situation is by having the negative pathology of the body as more severe than the positive capacity of his intelligence. Consequently, Ken is multi-impaired, quadriplegic with renal, muscle, bowel and almost complete body failure in order for his body's negativity to be greater than his intellectual positivity. The failure of the (Ken’s) body is thus shown as dominant over the success or power of the (his) intellect. Ken and Sandy's 'Catch 22' conversation continues:
Ken: I don't think doctors realise that their patients can and want to understand what's wrong with them, and they're capable of making decisions about their own bodies.
Sandy: Then what they need is information.
Ken: Well, a doctor doles out that information like a Kosher butcher doles out pork sausages.
Sandy: That's true, but wouldn't you agree that patients need good medical advice to make good decisions?
Ken: Absolutely. I would be grateful for any information so that I could make the proper decision. It would, however, be my decision.
This conversation reveals some of the problems the film addresses and how it sets out to resolve them. Ken is arguing for the control of his own body, a re-appropriation of his body after its appropriation by medicine, so that he can take the decision to die. In doing so Ken criticises modern medicalisation. Ken’s actions condemn medicalisation's de-humanisation of the patient and himself for its objectification of Ken achieved through its exclusion of him from the decision-making process that most nearly concerns him. Thus, the emphasis lies on the 'my decision' part of his speech, but the reason for his wanting control is to end his own life (and, by logical corollary, control over his body). In this simple way Ken is stating that if he cannot have control of his body, nor should anyone else. The ideal(s) of the Independent Living Movement - with disabled people living and controlling their own lives (Oliver and Barnes, 1998) - is denied when the implication of the mise en scène is that of having medicalisation as essential in keeping Ken alive. It implies that one without the (O)ther is not an option and, as if to support this, Ken is having his daily dialysis treatment during the entire conversation. Concomitantly, Sandy and Ken's conversation is not presented in a conventional shot / reverse shot sequence of dialogue between two characters. Instead, the mise en scène is created by having Ken shot straight-on in close-up and Sandy in a medium shot straight-on. Tubes (flowing with blood from the dialysis machine) frame Sandy as he stares at the machine. Sandy avoids Ken’s gaze by looking at the dialysis machine. Consequently, Ken has, in the logic of the film, become the machine that is keeping him alive and, as such, Sandy's looking at the dialysis machine is both logical for the film's meaning and for Ken's own view of his life as it now is. The film’s criticism of medicalisation is strengthened by Ken's own acknowledgement that medicalisation is essential for his survival but that in keeping him alive it dehumanises him; this realisation is identified and reinforced when Ken himself states earlier in the film that he cannot survive outside the hospital - a debatable point in itself yet one that is offered by the film as being the truth.
Significantly, despite Ken’s astute criticisms of the medical profession for their grip on medical knowledge, he wants for himself this same knowledge in order execute his own destruction. In Ken's view, and that of the film, his knowledge of his condition is restricted by the doctors. He feels that he is being exploited by the medical profession for their own purposes - for the medical team's discussions of Ken's condition rarely include him. Such purposes are summed up by Bologh (1981, p.194) as: 'professionals use[ing] the patients' illness for their own ends - research, teaching, income, learning, while depriving the patient of medical knowledge and control over their own bodies, even causing illness'. The perspective is seemingly confirmed when in one scene, consisting of Dr Emmerson’s doing his rounds with student doctors, he demonstrates his power, position and status. The film addresses a public desire of the time (and the present) to question the intrusiveness and coldness of a profession that has become rich on the privileges it has made for itself through the objectification of the patient. Fox (1977, p.21) sees a movement - significant in itself – towards the achievement of the goals of demedicalisation manifest in the success of many 'right to die' cases of the mid-seventies; the period in which the play and film originate and upon which philosophy the film is not only based but also supports.
Sandy, during his conversation with Ken, is portrayed as Ken's intellectual inferior: in the dialogue he feeds Ken the correct lines for the appropriate condemnations of the medical profession, then agrees with him when these are explained to him. Prior to sitting down and conversing with Ken-as-the-dialysis-machine, Sandy wanders around the room exhibiting a 'neatness compulsion', as Ken speculates on the cause of the compulsion to him; a 'compulsion' involving picking up linen napkins, folding them and placing them across the room in neat piles. One could read this particular nuance as the psychiatrist being shown to be as 'mad' as his patient (after all, he is sent to commit Ken). All the staff in this film are obsessed with preserving all life to a degree which is compulsive rather than caring; 'care' has been replaced by a compulsion to keep bodies neat, tidy and alive, in hygienic Intensive Care Units (ICUs). Sandy's 'neatness compulsion' also acts more directly as its ironic comment on Ken's bodily state. Sandy's actions emphasise his physicality and movement; he is using his hands because he can. Ken cannot use his hands, so no matter how intellectually superior Ken may be to Sandy (or others), they are superior beings because they are able to control their hands, legs, kidneys and bowels, and have an intellect. If Mead's view (cited in Turner, 1992, p.29) that 'hands are vital in the development of the social being' is acceptable, then we can detect one of the methods the film uses to degrade Ken: it removes his conventional social / bodily idiom such that Ken becomes less of a human being. The whole question of what constitutes a human being is thus defined in Whose Life Is It Anyway? as a person’s having the facility to combine intellectual ability with bodily control. One without the other, in this case mind without body, is shown as a life not worthy of living.
In an earlier scene, Ken ironically describes himself as a vegetable, a statement that has further clear implications: the film's criticism of how medicine keeps alive those who would otherwise naturally die applies to those with learning difficulties as well as himself. Karpf states (1988, p.75) that 'modern medicine seems to be the full flowering of Cartesian reductionism' and that the presentation of disability and medicine 'relieves public anxiety about its potential'. In this light we can see that Whose Life Is It Anyway? addresses a public concern about medicalisation in that it seems to have become impersonal, where the individual is no longer the concern of medicine but only its object of corporeal subjection.
The argument in the film against medicalisation is intentionally revealed in a scene prior to Ken's dialogue with Sandy, the psychiatrist. Dr Emmerson calls into his office the psychiatrist and the young, attractive, female Dr Scott; he explains to Sandy that he wants Ken committed. He bases this on Ken’s desire to have the right to die as the doctors have: 'just about [got] a viable human being'. At this point the psychiatrist immediately agrees to carry out committal proceedings (without having met Ken - further reinforcing the domination, and power, of doctor over patient as excessive medicalisation), then leaves. The scene takes place in Dr Emmerson's office, an office lined with live television monitors of the ICU's patients. As Dr Scott starts her speech she strides to the monitors and points at them. She argues:
[D]oes he look crazy to you? Look at him lying there. I mean, Christ, he's got no privacy at all, he's got no sense of dignity. I tell you, if that happened to me I don't know if I'd have the courage to live either. Would you like to live like that?
Significantly, it is a generalised argument: she is speaking not merely about Ken but about all ICU patients. The validity of Dr Scott's perspective is clearly established in this scene and by her prior and subsequent character development. For example, in this scene, Dr Scott, a stereotypical WASP, walks into the light as she speaks her lines and is touched by the natural light coming through the office windows. Her adversary (which is what Dr Emmerson becomes), on the other hand, played by John Cassavetes, both is in the shade and, significantly, has a much darker ethnic appearance. Since Emmerson has just ordered a psychiatrist to commit a man established in the film as highly rational and perhaps, even, illuminated by intellect, the lighting and mise en scène contrast - literally and metaphorically - with the light in which we see Emmerson. Emmerson is also smoking. It clouds close-ups of him in his share of the shot / reverse shots of his argument with Dr Scott, and in this way further degrades him through the negative medical connotation of smoking; an unavoidable association emphasised by the film's setting. Similarly, Emmerson is the only person in the film who smokes tobacco – so Emmerson allows himself and is allowed by society to self-destruct, yet he is the one to decide whether to ‘allow’ Ken a similar right.
The monitor screens in Emmerson's office, and the whole institution itself, appear as a visual representation of what Foucault called the 'clinical gaze' (cf. Armstrong, 1983), a gaze that is on the individual at all times and in all places. Dr Scott herself states that privacy and dignity are non-existent. Armstrong (1983, p.8), adopting Foucault, writes of the modern hospital (in England) that: 'it is a medical Panopticon writ large'. Emmerson's hospital signifies the epitome of such a hospital. The tragedy of the film is that it uses disability as the perspective through which to examine medicalisation; the film practises in its discourse an extreme form of normalisation by demeaning the successes of medical advances. Thus, the film, and culture in general, is unable to divorce the technological benefits of medicine from the excessive potential for dehumanising that it exhibits. The film's normalisation is a highly prescriptive one in that it sets up a rationale for preserving a life only if the life has a certain degree of both bodily and intellectual control over itself. The philosophy of the film seems to follow that which Foucault (cited in Rabinow, 1991, p.150) credits to the normalising state: 'if man is made in God's image then one needs to protect that image of God in man's body'.
The name ‘Emmerson’ is an ironic, and comparable, comment on human alienation in modern society since it conjures up the philosophy of the nineteenth-century transcendentalist poet Ralph Waldo Emerson and all the natural / nature ideas that he professed. Ralph Waldo Emerson is a well-known disparager of the impaired in his works on the ideal American self, whilst at the same time being highly critical of conservatives afraid to react in defence of the ideal American self (cf. Garland Thomson, 1997, p.41-44). The film plays with Emerson’s philosophy throughout the film and could be the subject of a thesis in itself. In Whose Life Is It Anyway? Emmerson, a compulsive technocrat, is a comparable subject which reduces his stature and questions his whole philosophy: i.e., total medicalisation. Dr Scott, on the other hand, symbolised through her embodiment, represents the value of the natural and nature and the ideal (re: Emerson rather than Emmerson).
At the start of the film Dr Scott is equally against Ken’s having the right to die, through her involvement with Ken - she herself calls it 'love' at one point - she is persuaded also from his perspective that his life is indeed not worth living (cf. her earlier speech). Dr Scott is a woman stereotypically classified as having 'child-bearing hips' that make the body of Dr Scott noticeable as more 'earthy' (larger) and 'emotional' and 'feminine'. The point is emphasised when Ken compliments her on her 'beautiful' breasts twice within the film and by contrast with the other central female characters, who are more akin to an arbitrary modern male aesthetic of what constitutes female beauty for its own sake (thin and virtually asexual).
Thus, Dr Scott’s argument with Emmerson is additionally given as overtly physical in a way that is more emotional than rational (i.e., archetypally 'motherly'). Such a division of rationality and emotionality are clearly relevant to the questions of what is defined as masculine and feminine, aspects to be discussed later. However, Scott, by her conversion, also represents an open-mindedness, the obverse of which is represented by the dogmatic Emmerson. That she listens to, counsels and eventually 'loves' Ken validates her above all other characters, a validation that further confirms Ken's view of his impaired embodiment as abject. She can think, change her mind, and act upon her insights, whereas Ken is trapped in his inability to act.
Viewed logically, it is somewhat bizarre that all the characters who 'befriend' and 'love' Ken are those who eventually support his wish to die: Dr Scott; a petite white female student nurse named Joey; his white male lawyer; and a black Caribbean hospital porter called John. Although Ken states that to respect someone is to respect their choice, to respect such a choice to die could be considered to be a bad reflection of the kind of friend to have. As they all talk, when Ken is not present, about how wrong it is to keep him alive, it clearly demonstrates the correctness of his choice. John is indicative of the emphasis of the film when, whilst trying to get her to go out with him, he asks Joey:
[h]ow much does it cost to keep him alive; thousands of dollars a week?
Joey: That's not the point.
John: Well the point is that in Africa people die of the measles, ya know; little babies even. Only cost a few pennies to keep 'em alive. No, there's got to be something crazy somewhere, man!
Joey: Well that's wrong too.
Here, then, the cost of medical treatment, as opposed to the ethics of it, seems to be of equal significance in whether they should keep Ken alive. The power of John and Joey’s viewpoint is reinforced by the choice of camera angle. They are shot from a very low angle to emphasise the intimacy of their conversation, giving the scene a greater visual authority; a cinematic boost to their opinion necessitated by their lowly status within the hospital hierarchy. The perspective is reinforced by the fact that John and Joey are very friendly to Ken; they 'kidnap' Ken from the ward to take him to the basement to hear John's reggae punk band. Consequently, as Ken's friends advocate his death on purely economic grounds, it gives their argument a validity (and an airing) that places it as a central theme of the film's criticisms against medicalisation and, by implication, marks impairment as expensive and unproductive. Ken's body is seen as totally unproductive with his inability to use his hands clearly symbolic of such a viewpoint. As Joey, in the above conversation, starts by saying: '[T]hat's not the point', and ends: 'that's wrong too', it is quite a volteface. By agreeing that the treatment of African children is wrong 'too' she agrees that keeping Ken alive is wrong, thus undermining her initial reluctance to support Ken in his suicidal wishes. Equally, Joey’s support for Ken soon becomes positive support for his wishes to die. The 'nature' of Ken's impairment does necessitate a high degree of personal assistance, a fact that places it in the realm of what Turner (1992, p.177) calls: 'chronic degenerative illness'. Through having such a physically dependent central character, the film indicates the financial problems incurred by revealing how modern medicine has moved from curing infectious diseases to containing and curing chronic degenerative illness. Significantly, Joey wishes Ken 'good luck' when he goes to court (a makeshift court in the hospital library) to plead for the right to die.
An ill body, and similarly Other bodies, are consequently seen in Whose Life Is It Anyway? both as symbolic of and the cause of social ills (somatic ills, or problems such as excessive tax burdens, health care costs or even recessions). Ken's body is indicative of the excesses of medicalisation and its alienating consequences. It is also a symbol of the 'sick' society that pursues such medicalisation at all costs, both metaphorically and literally. One scene in particular sums up the above points and firmly places them in the embodiment of Ken, and Others, as representative both of social malfunction and of a false sense of social responsibility. In the scene Ken falls out of bed; interestingly, it is an incident which he calls an accident when it is clearly nursing negligence. Joey brings Ken a can of coffee, and he playfully refuses to drink it. On turning his head to look at Joey he knocks the drink which she is holding to his face. It spills down him. Joey sets about changing the bed on her own (negligently, as it should be two). In the process of Joey’s changing the bed, Ken falls to one side, hangs out of bed, and is rescued by four other staff. Dr Emmerson is at the time with Dr Scott doing a ward round with some students.
As Joey changes his bed, Ken asks: '[H]ow does a quadriplegic cross the road?', rhetorically answering: '[H]e was stapled to a chicken'. Ken's dependence is encapsulated both by his own joke and by the state of his body: unable to drink or to clean itself up, with Joey lifting and tugging him in a way that is not within the realm of most people’s experience. Ken's complete physical dependence on others, once he has quadriplegia, characterises Ken's embodiment throughout the entire movie. All the scenes of Ken have him undergoing some kind of essential life-saving treatment - dialysis - or requiring the actions of others to compensate for his own total lack of physical movement (i.e., wiping away his tears) in order to construct his dependency through mise en scène. The only scene in which he is having neither of the above is when Dr Emmerson is giving him an injection of valium that he does not wish to have. This scene has added resonance, emphasising - and constructing - as it does Ken’s powerlessness, through a carefully constructed mise en scène, over what others do to his body whether or not he needs or wishes them to perform a medical function.
The film consists predominantly of long takes, some lasting up to nearly two minutes, and the scene under discussion starts with a fairly static long take of Joey giving Ken his coffee. The simple visualisation that Ken has to have special canned coffee makes specific the high cost of keeping him alive; it is not just technology but special people and nourishment that are required. His needs are time-consuming, too. However, at the beginning of the scene in which Ken falls, there is an increase in the pace in the choice of camera positions, angles and music; cuts become increasingly rapid. Between Ken’s starting to fall, falling and being put back in bed into his former position, there are twenty-seven shots which together last under seventy seconds. They consist of straight-on medium shots of Joey, who is panicking, long shots of male and female nurses coming to rescue Joey / Ken and shots of Ken’s body slipping down to the floor, from the bed, from under the bed and from the opposite side of the bed to Ken. Most importantly, though, we have point-of-view shots from where Ken is; shots which involve the camera panning left, tilting ninety degrees, rapidly, and shots canted from the floor as Ken's head rests upon it. The disorientation suggested by the movement of the camera, its pace and rapidity, all combine to emphasise the helplessness and terror that a lack of body control - in Ken and the disabled - is constructed as entailing in circumstances where control would be advantageous. In other situations, Ken is simply helpless. Ken becomes a spectacle for the camera initially and then for the medical gaze: Emmerson, his students, and Dr Scott walk in upon Ken hanging from his bed.
Embarrassment is the emotion that Ken first seems to feel upon falling out of bed, but it turns to outrage when Emmerson walks in with the student doctors. Ken orders them all out and Emmerson, realising how Ken feels, leads them out. Ricks' (1974, p.1) assessment of Keats' art and its use of embarrassment is applicable here to how Ken feels, and what the art of the film is achieving, when he states that embarrassment is connected with feelings of: 'defencelessness [ ... and that A]rt uses embarrassment to help [the spectator / reader] deal with it, not by abolishing or ignoring it, but by recognising, refining and putting it to good human use'. Ken's embarrassment is rooted in his defencelessness. The art of the film uses the audience's defencelessness against developing quadriplegia (an impairment) to make the audience feel as uncomfortable in observing Ken's defencelessness as Ken is in experiencing it. The embarrassment, which is the embarrassment of witnessing the deformed, or non-controllable body, is achieved by having it individualised in Ken; closure is achieved by Ken’s deciding for himself that it is all right for this embarrassment to be removed (by his suicide). Consequently, through such a resolution, an audience's embarrassment and discomfort are relieved and the ideal world (of entertainment and normality) is restored. The embarrassment in the scene is not only the audience's point of view but also the audience's required emotional response, because embarrassment is both personal and social in this, and all, contexts. It is a reaction to a social situation, whoever is involved.
Once Ken is revealed to be deeply embarrassed Dr Emmerson takes the student doctors away. The student doctors had stood motionless, gazing at Ken when they come in to the room. Significantly, our view of this part of the scene is a point-of-view shot from Ken on the floor - low angle canted, slightly moving all the time - with Ken seeing only their shoes and legs the closer the crowd of student doctors come to Ken. His humiliation (and embarrassment) at the feet of the crowd of student doctors (Ken's positioning as both constant spectacle and in constant humiliation) is left in no doubt by our being given his perspective in a point-of-view shot. This key scene sets out the film's view very clearly: Ken's life is a life that is not worth living due to its dependence, humiliation and inability to protect itself. No other single scene in the film more explicitly combines its philosophy and imagery to greater effect – it is a wonderful piece of film-making. Equally, in having Ken's body require four people to lift him into bed, with two more nurses present, and two doctors to check him medically after the event, his financial cost in manpower is shown and, by implication, condemned.
Mary Douglas (1970, p.160) tells us that: 'the body is a symbol of society', and that: '[W]e cannot possibly interpret rituals concerning excreta, breast milk, saliva and the rest unless we are prepared to see in the body a symbol of society, and to see powers and dangers credited to social structures reproduced in small on the human body' (Douglas, 1966, p.115). Although Douglas is talking of the typical - normal - body, the anxiety about the disabled body can be understood only if we see the disabled body as part of a range of available bodies that may act as potential cultural symbols in general. Ken's body has been normal and now it is not; its value as a symbol is both metaphorical and as a potentially lived reality. If we take Douglas's views on the body and apply them to this film, Ken's body is a body / society paralysed by rationality and intellect, a society whose head thinks but whose body has become a danger to itself, ready to topple at any moment. Ken needs such a multiplicity of technology and bureaucratic hierarchies to survive that, if we take Douglas's point again, it is impossible now to enjoy death or dignity as a natural part of living. After all, it is death that is the root desire of Ken. In contrast, Emmerson, in an earlier scene with his student doctors, cites death as 'the enemy'. Death is, more radically, for Foucault (1977) the last resistance to power. This gives rise to a crux in interpretation: with the film as seen through a Social Model analysis, death is given as the release from abnormality, and not as Foucault meant it: a last stand against the tyranny of normality over us all.
Turner (1992, p.55) summarises Douglas's views when he states: '[F]or Douglas, the body is a metaphor of society as a whole with the consequence that disease in the body is, for example, merely a symbolic reflection of disorders in society. The stability of the body is, equally, a metaphor for social organisation and social relationships'. Consequently, Ken acts both as an example of the impaired life and as a metaphor for society. The film’s narrative and overall philosophy uses his body to initiate anxiety about both his own body and that of society. Ken's body acts as a symbol of the failure of society because it uses the body language of anxiety about the social state to criticise medicalisation. If we relate Ken's dependence and inability to protect himself from potential danger to his lack of freedom of choice (the 'right to die') then Ken is also a metaphor: for a society paralysed by its construction of people so dependent while nevertheless keeping them alive that they become 'useless eaters' draining society. Ken represents not only society but also a particular product of that society; he can be read in both ways. The need of eight to ten people to put Ken back into bed and check him is surely meant to indicate such an interpretation.
Once Ken is back in bed, Dr Emmerson tells Ken that he will be a quadriplegic for life and that it is hoped he will be transferred in the near future to another ward or hospital for continuing rehabilitation. Ken retorts to this statement: '[Y]ou mean you just grow the vegetables here, the vegetable store is somewhere else'. Again, Ken's humanity is contrasted with his own words but, more importantly, whilst this conversation is continuing, a new 'vegetable' is brought in to an ICU cubicle along from Ken's (it is in view as all the ICU cubicles are Panopticon-like glass constructions). The medical production line of 'vegetables', the wholly dependent and very expensive, are shown being created and damned in the same process of medicalisation as Ken has undergone. The lighting of the characters in this dialogue shot / reverse shot part of the sequence is of interest. Emmerson - in medium shot from the side - is again lit in a cinematically sinister manner with the left side of his face in near darkness which, when combined with his ethnic (Italian-American) features, gives him an appearance of being obsessed. In itself alarming, this is in sharp contrast to Ken, who is well lit in close-up (for extra intensity and feeling it is shot straight on), with no shadow on his face. Thus, Ken's words are more pure and possibly vulnerable through their purity (signified by the lighting) than Emmerson's. The latter’s appearance is shown to be a prediction of evil. This reading is confirmed later at the hearing when Ken classifies Emmerson's wishes as committing him to 'a life sentence'.
The professional counselling is given to Ken by a woman whose manner seems (and then Ken confirms this for us) patronising: 'we'll teach you to read on a machine'; further proof of the delusions, as the film sees it, of any idea(l)s of Independent Living. The counsellor’s insistence that she can 'teach' Ken to do what he calls 'the three R's', by which he means basic functions, further emphasises the child-like nature of his - the impaired - body. There is no comprehension of the quadriplegic body as the product of a patronising, de-personalising discourse. The film’s makers are seemingly unaware of this perspective because the film is, as I have shown, acting as part of the (cultural) discourse that is describing quadriplegia as dependent, inhuman and child-like. As such, it demonstrates its lack of awareness of the fact that, as Foucault stated, the body is a product of discourse. The ideologies of the film, a normalising individualism and disabling medicalism, are revealed by the absence of disability-specific issues; the film carries its own ideological theme forward with no regard for alternatives, despite its supposed liberal philosophy of choice. The film’s makers cannot be assumed to have read Foucault - they may have - but the film does propose itself as a challenge to disempowering situations of (medical) hegemony. In fact, it challenges only the right to be (medically or socially) different, despite the film's makers message that they understand all the issues. The view held by this thesis is that they do not and, as such, they merely reinforce continued (mis)understandings about the issues upon which the film purports to comment.
As Ken has his bed changed for him and he is then washed and dressed (adequately for his environment), the film places him bodily as the equal of an infant. It is important to note here that social relationships are mediated by our bodies and that Ken’s is constructed in the film as the root of his social exclusion. It is only if we see what Goffman (Burns, 1992, pp.38;85) calls our 'body idioms' - movement, gestures - and 'body gloss' – the desire to enact those 'idioms' - as natural rather than constructed that the loss of one's standard 'idiom' or 'gloss' becomes problematic. A loss is indeed a loss; however, it becomes the reason for living - or dying in Ken's case - only if the loss is seen as the loss of one's natural state. Whose Life Is It Anyway? inadvertently demonstrates the acceptance of such norms as natural through the film’s attempt to have Ken rationally decide to commit suicide because of his inability now to have the 'idioms' and 'gloss' that were part of his existence before the accident. There is nothing essentially negative about being dependent or needing help in changing, for example; it is only if one constructs the body as the 'showcase of the self' which is in turn a 'showcase of a successful life' (Seymour, 1989, p.13) that it is seen – constructed and interpreted - as negative. In contrast, a temporarily sick or incapacitated adult expectantly receives care and consideration, as will be discussed below.
Usually, body idioms do define the difference between what is considered masculine and feminine. Taking a cue from Creed (1993, p.131), who states that 'the abject body is identified with the feminine, which is socially denigrated, and the symbolic body with the masculine, which is socially valorised', it will be demonstrated how Ken's body is denigrated by being placed in the idioms of the feminine. The negation of Ken’s masculinity is effectively and intentionally, even by its own logic, achieved by having valorised it as overtly masculine prior to the accident that led to his quadriplegia.
At the beginning of the film Ken is welding, adding the final touches to a giant metal abstract sculpture that he has been commissioned to make, about fifty feet up in the air and hanging from a mobile crane. This is a very masculine image indeed; instantly, we are assured that we have an energetic, strong and physical man with a grand, and very public, artistic vision - no weedy little sculptures for this guy. The sculpture in question is approximately a hundred feet high and appears to be a minimalist iron representation of a sailing ship. Upon clambering down, Ken's virile sexuality is immediately shown when his girlfriend Pat (a dancer) instantly embraces, kisses and is carried by him. As such, Ken is a man's man, a bourgeois artist whose physicality is manifest in his art. His art can be classifies as bourgeois due to its non-representational, and therefore 'difficult', quality; 'difficult' being what Bourdieu (cited by Vincendeau, 1992, p.35) tells us is: 'a condition for great (bourgeois) art, as opposed to popular art which delivers its goods straightforwardly'. To push the emphasis on Ken’s masculinity beyond doubt he even drives a sports car.
The accident occurs immediately following the above opening display. The audience next sees Ken having his bed changed, his body rubbed (to prevent pressure sores) and being washed and fed in the Intensive Care Unit. We further see Ken being fed and this seems to signify the child-like quality of what he has become; more so than his feminisation. Infantilising is very closely allied to feminising - i.e., the Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, GB, 1962) syndrome that places each within the (O)ther - feminisation occurs in the way that the camera uses tight close-ups of Ken's body when it is being rubbed, fragmenting him in a way that children are rarely represented. Ken becomes an object similarly to when Mulvey (1975, p.19) describes the objectification of the female, as Ken is submitted to a 'to-be-looked-at-ness'. The process can be seen as part of a criticism of medicalisation, as indeed is intended in this film. The difference lies in the constant 'to-be-looked-at-ness' which aligns Ken with the feminine, in contrast with his having previously been so masculine. Ken has moved from a situation where his creations were looked at and into a situation where he himself is the object that is looked at. Equally, the to-be-looked-at-ness process is part of the construction that makes Ken an abject creature (or 'vegetable') through medicalisation as much as feminisation. Feminine to-be-looked-at-ness is considered to be pleasurable, as is impairment to-be-looked-at-ness; in the latter case, it is pleasurable because the normal body's anxiety about its own condition is relieved and passed on to an[O]ther. It is interesting to note that the term for the condition one step worse, medically, than Ken’s is termed PVS: Persistent Vegetative State. The turn of phrase shows where the medical 'truth' has taken its cue from popular culture, with each clearly mediating the other.
Part of Ken's masculinity in normality was his bodily control; his ability to keep his balance whilst hanging from a crane; his fearlessness; his strength and poise - without our being shown its (O)ther bodily functions. The above are factors which combine to encapsulate his masculine attributes. They are of equal importance in Ken’s (and society’s) perception of masculinity. Later, in the hospital when Ken falls out of bed (a scene discussed earlier) the symptoms of his fear are most often associated culturally, with the aspect of the weaker: the feminine. Control of the body can easily be paralleled with social control and the control of nature. The disquiet about Ken's lack of control is best explained by Scott (1970, p.273) when he states that: 'cripples make us feel uneasy; they threaten our sense of mastery over nature'. Although Ken represents almost total control over nature – the severity of his accident was such that he should be dead - his presence as a lack of bodily control threatens the spectator's desire for individual mastery, making the close of death preferable, in order to restore order. Joey's reaction to Ken is basically the same as Ken's. Subsequently, we are left in no doubt that Ken is on a par with her, a weak woman, as it is Joey's lack of physical strength (that which Ken had but now lacks) which caused Ken to fall in the first place.
Such an interpretation relates back to my earlier comments about not being able to protect one's self, a state usually ascribed to the female – culturally and cinematically (Brosnan, 1991; and Burchill, 1986) that is. To emphasise this, the film shows a symbolic rape of Ken by Dr Emmerson, immediately following his fall from his bed. Emmerson decides to increase Ken's dosage of Valium, a decision Ken rejects and thus refuses to take orally. Emmerson then arrives with a double-dosage injection of Valium that Ken asks him not to give intravenously: 'do not stick that fucking needle in my arm. God damn you, I specifically refuse you permission to do that'. Ignoring his plea, Emmerson plunges (quite literally) the needle in to the unflinching Ken. Ken himself raises the idea of rape by saying 'fucking' in his language (in the original play the symbolic homosexual rape is made more explicit by having Dr Emmerson turn Ken over and inject the Valium into his buttocks). Significantly, during this scene, the shot is a medium shot from a high angle that tracks back to an even higher angle, as if to imply the victim being abandoned in the place of his assault, which is visually similar to many rape-type mises en scènes. Ken, as Emmerson leaves the room (apparently walking under the camera to the left), shouts at Emmerson: '[I]s that all I am to you, wait a minute, is that all I am to you, a lump of clay?' Ken's feminisation is complete: he is fetishised; he endures a constant voyeuristic gaze; he is at the mercy of male power; and his pleas for respect are ignored. The completeness of Ken's feminisation is later confirmed: Ken, having told Dr Emmerson that to him he is only a lump of clay, is later shown to sculpt his girlfriend Pat out of clay as she dances for him (a flashback).
Another way that Ken is made abject, and feminine, is by his showing of emotion. If we consider Tasker's view (1993, p.237) that 'a familiar cinematic definition of masculinity constructs restraint, a control over the emotions, as providing a protective performance' for men, one can see Ken being feminised and made monstrous (Baldick, 1995; Brooks, 1995) throughout the film’s narrative. Ken is feminised through the breakdown of a protective performance, a breakdown which is conversely constructed as feminine (and as such the Other and abject for men). Consequently, medicalisation is criticised by the equation of having Ken as monstrous (because he is a feminised man) whilst equally being a metaphor for society at large, in this case medicalised society; for Whose Life Is It Anyway? society at large has become monstrous because it creates monstrous beings. This is signified by the fact that Ken loses his calm and 'in control' manner from his masculine beginning - his normal period - and becomes emotional - in his abnormal period. The best example of this is when Ken is crying after having told his girlfriend Pat to leave him and to go and get married and have children with someone else. He has himself indicated that he is impotent. Ken is further emasculated by the feminising implications of the construction of his condition and, if taken together and in light of his own view that he has 'a piece of knotted string between his legs', it leaves us in no doubt about the socio-sexually emasculated state of Ken’s body.
John is one of the characters who comes in to Ken's cubicle to wipe his tears away, saying as he does it: '[I]f a man cannot use his hands he's got to be a real dumb son-of-a-bitch to cry. I mean, it's just another way of getting your gown wet'. John instantly places the issue of being 'a man' into the discussion and parallels it with Ken's inability to move his hands. As John talks of crying as 'another way' of wetting a gown, the lack of bodily function control is paralleled to crying (feminine / infantile). Consequently, Ken's crying and uncontrolled excretions also act to place his body parallel to that of a baby's; however, one grows out of a baby’s body, not into one. As babies grow up, they also learn, they are socialised, to control their emotions.
Having control of one's emotions is, as Tasker states, part of the process of restraint that signifies masculinity, but it is the idea of it as a 'protective performance' which makes Ken, via his body, monstrous and an abomination of and against society in the logic of the film. Masculinity as a performance implies that it is above nature, whilst identifying it as a performance reveals that it is in fact unnatural. If we combine this perspective with Creed's (1993) view that the masculine male body is the 'symbolic' and with Kristeva's view (1982, p.102) that: '[T]he body must bear no trace of its debt to nature: it must be clean and proper in order to be fully symbolic'; furthermore, that the body that does betray its debt to 'nature' is perceived to be the female body, then we can see Ken's body as being shown as feminine. The female body is seen to betray its debt to nature through menstruation and its function's ability to determine behavioural patterns; just as Ken's body does. Ken is unable to control his bodily functions (after kidney failure it has its blood purged regularly), and they are actions and bodily necessities shown both to affect and to determine his emotional state. Consequently, Ken's dialysis is both mentioned and shown in great detail, as in the interview with Sandy the hospital psychiatrist, and paralleled with menstruation for the viewer explicitly to infer Ken’s feminisation.
As it is only women who cry in the film, apart from Ken, crying is part of the method by which he betrays his new 'femininity'. Ken gets emotionally angry - tossing and banging his head against his pillow - thereby confirming his character as 'emotional' and, as such, feminine. In the description of his poise prior to his accident it was commented that Ken had an energetic and strong body, one showing assurance in his movements and posture; his head is held high and he has a darkish beard covering a strong chin. Significantly, once the accident occurs, his posture is given an attitude that reflects the change in the nature of his personality and ideals: it emanates hopelessness and it is portrayed in a manner that is not logically, medically speaking, related to his quadriplegia. Once the accident has happened Ken's chin is always resting on his chest and even the beard has paled, apparently in order to signify the waning of his masculine health. Yet Ken can hold his chin up (he is shown having physiotherapy to strengthen his chin / neck) in a way that would drastically change the way the spectator perceives his posture and, by extension, his character. His character is inextricably linked with his posture to reinforce the ideology of the film that his condition is hopeless.
The whole question of posture relates to Goffman's points about body idioms. Murphy (1991), an anthropologist who himself developed quadriplegia, states about quadriplegia that:
[T]he quadriplegic body can no longer speak a 'silent language' in the expression of emotions or concepts too elusive for ordinary speech - for delicate feedback loops between thought and movement have been broken. Proximity, gesture and body set have been muted, the body's ability to articulate thought has been stilted. (p.101)
In Murphy's comments we can see how the body, if muted, can place an obstacle upon social relationships, but also that we should not take the muted version to be the full expression of the individual. If we understand muted bodies as mutations only comprehensible as outsiders to interactive social relations then an acceptance of bodily difference will become increasingly difficult. Another method the film employs to advocate the muted body as the equivalent of the dead body is by having others speak Ken's body language for him. A good example of this is in the scene where Ken is being fed a chicken leg by Joey: she lets him take a bite, puts the bone down and then she licks her fingers. Ken makes an envious comment. Such an apparently natural reaction of licking one's fingers is used against Ken in order to mute his body still further. The same point occurs when John wipes away Ken's tears and when Ken has to ask another nurse to get his lawyer's card out of his bedside cabinet and telephone him. The repeated use of having others carry out bodily reactions and simple tasks either for, or in contrast to, Ken places him further into the realms of 'the dependent useless eater'; with the 'useless eater', or useless of body, being equated with the dead body. Any understanding of dialysis would also lead the spectator to realise that even his bodily functions are being carried out for him, only this time by a machine.
Perhaps part of the problem for society of the quadriplegic body can be related to Featherstone's (1991) argument that consumer culture needs a plastic body that will be stimulated into buying decay-delaying consumables. Ken is unable to consume freely and repeatedly in the manner that consumerism requires. Ken does consume, but it is of high cost, low demand, technology; thus, he consumes in a way that is considered to drain capital from a more rapid product consumerism. Equally, Turner (1992, p.11) states that old and sick bodies are: 'a brake on growth [due to their being a] burden of dependency [ ... ] a form of hyper-Malthusianism'. Even so, Ken still has a function in consumerism, as does the film itself, if we take Featherstone's (Featherstone et al, 1991, p.186) point that consumer culture 'needs to stimulate the fear of decay and incapacity which accompanies old age and death by jolting individuals out of complacency and persuade them to consume body maintenance strategies'. Ken, and the film, facilitate this process by signifying all that is horrific about not controlling one's own body functions and not having specific control over one's own body idioms. It is a perspective that extends even to fashion and body garments in Whose Life Is It Anyway?, where, for example, Ken is almost at all times seen in his hospital gown - in his wheelchair he has a particularly tasteless dressing-gown on over it - which ensures that he is never represented as anything other than a sick person. Equally, the 'sick person' implies loss of bodily control, dignity, privacy and freedom, but also implies decay and mess due to its chaos of faecal and urinary excreta (i.e., bodily decay). That the quadriplegic body is unable to fulfil its part of the paradigm of the 'sick role' also accounts for the desire to see it as useless and worthy of termination (as defined by Parsons (cited in Murphy, 1991, p.19). The failure to play the ‘sick role’, where the individual promises to make the effort to recover in return for the temporary abdication of responsibility to work, is clearly a part of the overall negation of impairment as a validated state and seen to be so in Whose Life Is It Anyway?
As clothes are increasingly seen to signify the worth of the individuals within them (Kaiser, 1985), the degree of success and worth manifest in their apparent cost or individuality, then Ken's apparel singles him out (and all who are sick) as both a social and a physical failure (Hoffman, 1979). Goffman (1990) argues that normalisation is the act of the individual to cover up his abnormality and appear normal (Burns, 1992, p.99), an aspect of the 'sick role' which Ken is unable to carry out. Ken's inability to cover himself (his abnormality) acts as an incitement to the spectator to see Ken as abnormal and as not fulfilling his part of the social contract 'sick role' (cf.Parsons, 1961). Bourdieu (cited in Featherstone, 1991, p.68) sums up, by his terminology, Ken's social status if his apparel and bodily state are considered as his 'cultural capital'. It is a 'capital' that is culturally worthless with a potential debt to society rather than a profit: socially, financially or interactively. The value, 'cultural capital', that this film, and society / culture in general, are to Ken (the disabled) not his potential, or capable value / capital, but his discursively determined worth as manifest - and reinforced - in Whose Life Is It Anyway? Consequently, Ken, and all those with quadriplegia, are culturally devalued. This film merely reinforces such a devaluation through its ideological affiliation and adherence to the tenets of the Medical Model of disability, identifiable here through the application of the Social Model.
All the characters in the film are seen in clothes which vary and signify the social multiplicity of individuals (Kaiser, 1985). For example, the main doctors are seen in their professional outfits (white coats) and leisure / daily wear. When Dr Scott has an evening out with Ken's lawyer, and then visits Ken in the hospital in her elegant dress, the scene serves to show that she has an external (private) life, as well as a professional (public) life, in direct comparison to Ken; it is, thus, a created comparison which acts further to demean Ken in his impaired state. If we take Gilman's (1988, p.26) view that 'human identity lies in the individuality of the body', and that 'the outer-man is a graphic reproduction of the inner-man' (ibid, p.128), then we can interpret Ken's body as symptomatic of his limited character and performance capabilities. As such, Ken’s character and performance is in the singular once his body has become quadriplegic. Ken's body has become his sole character whilst all the other characters signify that to be a social being one has a multiplicity of uniforms / hats for a multiplicity of bodily or social performances. Representationally, here and in many other impairment-orientated films, the individual with quadriplegia becomes his body and, as Gilman states, 'the cultural image can become the self definition' (ibid, p.10). The limitation of this film is that it does not question how the 'image becomes the self definition' through social discourse and its processes, yet merely reinforces it as the logical and natural, essentialist definition generic to quadriplegia. Significantly, the two other main characters of the film, John and Joey, also have an external life - they begin courting - whilst at the same time the film is showing us Ken's inability to have either a private or a satisfactory public life. Another method by which Ken is made a hideous liminal man, half-alive, half-dead, half-man, half-animal, is in the way in which the characters other than Ken are all seen as mobile or physical. One example is the scene when Ken sees Joey and John's private life in full physical union, when they 'kidnap' him and take him to the basement to see John's reggae band, a scene during which John and Joey dance in a particularly sexual manner. Significantly, John's physicality is apparent from the first time that we see him; it is axiomatically given in a traditionally racist cinematic manner (Cripps, 1993). John is black, therefore: he is musical; he dances; and he desires white women with an aggressive sexuality (in fact, his courting of Joey - a new, innocent, petite, white nurse - borders on harassment). Consequently, when Ken is taken to see the band, it is a dope-smoking, jiving, black band, where the male members dance with the female singers groin to groin. To make the point beyond doubt, in a negative comparison, Joey grabs Ken's hands and does as much of a dance as is possible with him, hand to hand.
Movement is the subtlest way in which the film disables and objectifies Ken as a body and as an individual, particularly since it is movement of other people. The mise en scène of movement to degrade Ken lies both in the characters' direction and in the movement of the camera, in the lighting and in the editing. The mise en scène is striking in that a large number of scenes impact a style of movement that gives a flow that permeates the entire film. It starts to decrease only when Ken gets closer to winning his battle to die (the ultimate in non-movement). Two segments of the film epitomise this point: firstly, one with a scene in the operating theatre that dissolves to Ken's girlfriend, Pat, waiting for the result of the operation immediately after the accident and, secondly, in a scene involving a view of Ken's sculpture (and then a dissolve to the ICU). These two segments are closely linked although there is a brief connecting scene between the two to demonstrate the passing of six months.
The first segment’s initial scene starts with a high angle close-up of the x-ray negatives of Ken's broken spine, from which the camera pans and tracks back left gradually to become a higher angle medium shot of Dr Emmerson talking to another surgeon about the impending operation they are about to carryout on Ken. Immediately they have finished talking, they walk off screen left with the camera levelling into a tracking shot forward, combined with a zoom-in, to the right of the operating theatre which is all the time visible behind Dr Emmerson and his fellow doctor. Thus, we have moved from a close-up of x-rays in the foreground to a medium shot of Ken lying on the operating table in the background. This scene, which is continuous and lasts over thirty seconds, then dissolves slowly (it is a four-second dissolve) in to a panning left shot of a nurse's legs walking left, with the camera finally stopping on Pat sitting in a chair in medium shot.
The previous shot had started as a minor left pan immediately as it dissolved into a left pan to Pat. Once the camera is on Pat she starts to take her thigh length boots off, necessitating overt physical movement. Pat then squirms in the seat: legs are lifted up and out and, finally, sitting on her feet by placing them up under her to the left and then the right. This sequence is a continuous take of twenty seconds. The camera movement, in lesser hands, could have seemed very jarring, yet here flows majestically. It would conventionally have been an ideal rapid cut sequence but its intention is specific in providing an alternative to Ken's predicament. It is worth noting that the film’s director, John Badham, was to become well known for his highly successful rapid cut 'action adventurer' movies War Games (US, 1983), Short Circuit (US, 1988) and the highly physical dance film Saturday Night Fever (US, 1977). The long take gives the best opportunity for the camera to move whilst at the same time giving the actors ample space to show how they can move, or 'act' with their whole bodies, especially when they are around Ken but also when they are not. It is the excess of movement of both characters and camera that places Ken's immobility, his impaired body, at the forefront of the spectators' consciousness, whether or not Ken is in the shot or sequence.
The second segment of shots to be discussed reinforce the same points. It starts with a twenty-second extreme long shot, continuous take, at sunset, of Ken's grand abstract sculpture. It consists of a rapid tracking shot right, from a low angle, with camera panning left, of the sculpture, to imply that the sculpture is itself moving - sailing freely - around the city. The low angle of the camera makes the sculpture look as tall and as wide as the tallest office block of the city. Concomitant to the visuals the sculpture's majesty, strength, beauty and size are emphasised by the orchestral violins that non-diegetically accompanies them. This scene then dissolves to a slow right panning shot of the ICU's control centre's heart monitors, only now it has changed to being a high angle shot and six months are supposed to have passed. The musical accompaniment continues as the camera tracks back panning slightly left as the video monitors of the ICU's patients are lined up next to the heart monitor; this is a high technology, high cost control centre, we are being informed. The camera continues tracking back, only now it levels off to take in the nurses who are picking up notes and bed sheets to take into Ken's room. The camera then pans right, tracks forward and follows the nurses into Ken's cubicle of the ICU unit. Once in the cubicle we are at the bottom of Ken's bed watching two female nurses change, rub and electrically lower the head and shoulders part of the bed. As the nurses entered the room they took headphones off Ken's head, at which point the music becomes diegetic and, as such, has fidelity, before being switched off. Once the bed-changing and rubbing has begun, the camera goes to the opposite side of the bed to the two nurses rubbing Ken's naked back. We see Ken prostrate across the screen in a medium shot, with the nurses vertical. This one-take sequence takes one hundred and five seconds, making it a considerable take indeed.
The success of the camera's movement is astounding, in that it gives every character and item around Ken a movement that would otherwise seem either irrelevant or minor. That the camera follows the nurses from one room, the control centre, right in to Ken's cubicle is a good example of this. As Ken's sculpture (as a 'real' sequence or as his memory of the sculpture) is given such a free-flowing, ethereal, quality - it is shot at sunset - the mise en scène serves to imply that Ken was then in control. Control is indicative of the masculine rather than the feminine and, as such, Ken as masculine is indicated only when he was normal (we see him climbing his sculpture early on in the film prior to the accident to make the point clear). That the scene prior to Ken having his headphones removed (bringing the ship-like-sculpture scene to a close) is subsequently shown to be an 'imagined' scene further reinforces the idea that Ken had a 'beautiful' past, but also that he has no future.
Ken has his bed changed, the nurses roll him from side to side to get the sheets under him, and then he has to have his body massaged in order to prevent bedsores from occurring. Ken, a body with quadriplegia, is thus seen as someone who has produced his last great piece of art; the sunset of his life has arrived just as it has for his last work of art. The state of his body tells us that Ken's masculinity and strength have both literally and metaphorically vanished; Ken is now dependent and his muscles have withered. As Joey rubs his calf and buttock muscles he fantasises that he has: 'dreamed of situations like this'. To which the senior nurse says: '[B]eing injured'. Ken replies: '[N]o, massaged by two beautiful women'. Thus Ken's de-sexualisation is stated and his lack of muscle, bodily and penile, his lack of power (masculinity), are emphasised.
Failure of muscle is a sign of fatigue (signified in a later scene when upon seeing the counsellor Ken becomes breathless and in need of life-saving oxygen), as Rabinbach (1982) argues when he states that:
fatigue and exhaustion represent the body's resistance to the attempt to push it beyond its natural limits. They are modes of stubborn defiance against intense regulations imposed by the machine and the internalised timework discipline of industrial society. Fatigue is the last revolt of the organic against the inorganic. (p.58)
It could be argued that if we interpret Ken's body as symbolising the fight against the technology that is keeping him alive, then its 'desire' to die a natural death has been prevented by the machines that now control, purge and feed it. It is argued that the film does follow this logic of anti-medicalism to show Ken's body as a metaphor for a body completely controlled and alienated by technology. Rabinbach (ibid, p.46) states: 'fatigue undermines the optimistic productive potential of the age'; which relates back to my earlier points about Ken (the disabled) being seen as a burden upon capital (cf. Featherstone, 1991) or a capital with no potential. For example, Ken's body, upon his seeing his counsellor, is easily fatigued (a factor that the play emphasises in a more explicit manner and in more scenes than does the film) and as such is constructed as being more dependent upon total surveillance and expensive technology and labour as a consequence. The lack of muscle that Ken has when we see his calf and arm musculature is apparent by the soft and delicate nature that they have, a musculature that is culturally considered to be both feminine and weak (i.e., easily fatigued and exhausted). Ken's femininity, or Otherness, and immobility are thus made clear and damned via references depicting his glorious past and grand monument. The sculpture of an abstract iron sailing ship, with the sculpted sailing ship being an example of atavistic masculinity, refers quite explicitly to a time when men sculpted not only art but whole continents for themselves.
Rabinbach writes of the factory machine imposing its regulations on the individual body. The same can be said for the medical technology that is laid before the camera as the film explores the ICU. Ken's body is not only regulated by it but is at its mercy. The film tries to use medical technology to criticise the way technology (and modern life) has taken choice away from the individual. The film’s disablist stance is inadvertently revealed when, by the posing of Ken's death as a technological alternative, the film implies by its pathologising Ken's predicament that the only good life is the film’s interpretation of what normality is. The emphasis on the impaired Ken negates the criticism of medical technology by losing its focus and displacing the emphasis onto the impaired body. Also, art, for this film, is seen as the only true meaningful artefact of the modern world, technology being a retrograde step into seeing man solely as a machine at the mercy of other machines.
Upon seeing the counsellor, who fatigues him, Ken tells her - in reply to her suggestion that when he learns to use a computer he could write poetry or literature - that one cannot change art forms as one does your 'major in college'. He continues: 'trying isn't important. The work is important, the work, not the credit and not the reward and it is the work [sculpting] that I will never do again'. From this scene we can see that change for change’s sake is to Ken unacceptable; once one's true and natural talents have been dislodged nothing is worth anything. For Ken, only his art remains; art which has worth and is timeless. Ken sees his art as the mind's expression made manifest through his hands - he states: 'my whole being, my imagination, speaks [ ... ] spoke [ ... ] through my fingers' - a perspective which serves to alienate him even more from his own body; the social definition is becoming his self-definition both for himself and the film. Consequently, we can interpret the philosophy of the film as being a break from Cartesian mind / body dualism to a unification of the two, a unification which, if broken, can be repaired only by death. The unification of mind and body is that which Rabinbach, and Featherstone (1991), note as having taken place in the modern industrial society out of the necessity to have the individual as both a producing and consumerist 'energumen' (Rabinbach, 1982, p.57).
The immobile body is expertly revealed in Whose Life Is It Anyway? as additionally abject in a very short scene in which Ken's lawyer, Carter Hill, tries to talk to an uncooperative Dr Emmerson. Emmerson, trying to dissuade Hill from continuing to represent Ken's case, is walking very rapidly along a hospital corridor. The two then turn a corner. The scene is shot from behind the two professionals as they quite literally hop-skip-and-jump up five steps and immediately turn another corner. Next to the five steps, to the left of them and the screen, is a hospital porter slowly pushing another patient in a wheelchair up a ramp. The design and existence, socially and filmically, of the steps / ramp juxtaposition enables an instant parallel to be drawn between them. The virtual non-movement of the wheelchair-user up the ramp in the short period that Emmerson and Hill take to climb (jump) the stairs can have been included for no other reason than for it to be comparative. The comparison is used to clarify the difference - as the film sees it - in ability and efficiency between the two types of mobility: the normal and the abnormal. There is little need to have such movement in the whole sequence except to give the camera another opportunity to move as rapidly as the normal characters, with the whole Emmerson and Hill conversation in this segment filmed on the move, cinéma vérité style, for both camera and actors.
Although Ken fleetingly mentions that all he wants is choice, his liberal demands are lost in the plethora of 'body fascist' (Shaban, 1997) images that the film puts forward for him to have the right to terminate his ability to have choice at all in the future: the 'right to die'. There is one further segment of Whose Life Is It Anyway? that should be addressed, and that consists of the sequences prior to Ken telling his girlfriend, Pat, to leave him so that she can get married and have children. It is a flashback sequence, in black and white, of Pat doing a divertissement as Ken draws in charcoal and sculpts in clay her delicate and graceful body doing a pas de brisé. The sequence starts with a medium close-up of Ken on his side in the hospital bed, his hands up to his chest and totally immobile (as if sculpted in clay) due to quadriplegia.
The end of the scene that starts with a one-hundred-and five-second-continuous take ends with Joey, under detailed instruction from Ken, laying Ken's hand on a pillow with his fingers and thumb specifically positioned. This attitude of the hand is later revealed as that of Michaelangelo's God's hand giving Adam life. Hands and fingers, or in this case Ken's lack of mobile hands, are signified in the film as (Ken states) the tools through which the mind's imagination speaks. Thus the lack of hand (bodily) movement is another element in the film's devaluation of impaired people and the mystification of the cause of disablement. However much Ken is nevertheless able to articulate his intellect he is not, at least from his perspective, able to articulate his creativity.
From the view of Ken lying on his side in the hospital bed - with a storm rumbling outside the hospital - we cut to the first black-and-white flashback sequence of the film in which Pat is wearing a leotard doing her battementin front of a seated Ken who is rapidly sketching in charcoal Pat dancing. The sequence lasts just over a minute and on the soundtrack is suitably evocative orchestral music which accentuates every pirouette, glissade,entrechat, ciseaux, écarté, bourrée and fouetté Pat does; all that is considered elegant and graceful in body movement. As Dyer (1992, p.43) states about ballet: 'muscle, stamina and power' are all utilised in the 'service of the opposite feminine ideal'. Once her dancing is over she sits on Ken's lap and admires his sketches of her. There are repeated close-ups of Ken's hands sketching the dance action while she is dancing. As a couple Ken and Pat epitomise the combined talents of mind and body both as individuals and as an artistic couple trying to achieve artistic perfection in their chosen respective arts, arts which could hardly have been more dependent bodily on a functioning body. At the end of the sequence the music becomes discordant and, with a return to colour, we cut back to Ken as a bolt of thunder and lightning strikes outside his room; Ken is literally and metaphorically bought back to his newly-impaired self in a flash with a bang. The mise en scène of this entire section is meant to indicate that Ken's mind is being tortured by his past normality. The external thunder and lightning of the sequence signify Ken’s internal turmoil, a past and present crashing about in the psyche of man who wishes he'd been left to die. Consequently, the mise en scène is effective, and well executed, in explicitly revealing the film’s, and Ken's own, perspective of what it is like to have quadriplegia.
Within five seconds of the momentary return to the Metrocolor reality of Ken’s impairment the film cuts back to another black-and-white sequence. This time the sketch has become a sculpture of a figure and is being made by Ken as Pat dances in a darkened studio. The shots of both Ken sculpting and Pat dancing are superimposed upon the screen – the former to the left and the latter to the right - thereby demonstrating the intrinsically intertwined physicality of both their life and art. We see Ken with the wire frame of his clay sculpture layering clay upon it to create a sculpture of a somewhat anorexic body doing a pirouette: i.e., Pat. As the sculpture frame acquires more and more clay, Pat has fewer and fewer bodily coverings. The camera cuts to Pat as her chiffon clothing slides off her body until she is completely naked and lying on the floor, the camera closing in on her from above, as if it is caressing her buttocks, breasts and pubic body fragments as she does the splits. As she finishes the completed sculpture slowly replaces her image and the sculpture begins to turn as if it is doing an independent pirouette - which, in the logic of the film, means it is 'alive'. Ken's hands and fingers are seen creating his 'living' sculpture out of nothing as they were in previous dance sequence, which is surely the point of having both his massive iron sailing ship and the more delicate ballet sculpture appear to be moving independently. Dyer (ibid, p.41) writes of ballet that its: 'gesture[s] literally embod[y] grace, poise, elegance and transform[s them in to ... ] a dream of living in harmony with one's body', a feeling that Pat’s and Ken's artistic representations are explicitly meant to imply. Ken's masculinity forbids him to embody those qualities (and, conversely, qualify Pat to signify them due to her slim, lithe embodiment) yet his masculine skills allow him to represent them. Ken is allowed to admire and create from his imagination feminine beauty but not be it. Consequently, Ken's disembodied-embodiment from his imagination traps him inside his imagination with no hope of letting it speak. The silence renders the apparently mute body a prison and, as such, abject and unbearable.
Dyer (ibid, p.44) continues by stating how ballet exemplifies the potential of the body, shorn of social construction, as an ideal; however, it is an ideal that: 'does not accommodate disabled bodies'. Dyer's point is debatable (see the multi-ability dance troupe CANDOCO, for example) but that ballet is identifiable in Whose Life Is It Anyway? as proving Dyer's point could not have been clearer; it is the apparent perfection of Pat's performance (and body), and Ken's representation of it, that makes sure the point is taken. If, as Dyer states, ballet (and dance in general, for that matter) is the pinnacle of the ideal and co-operative body then the disabled body is the converse: it is the embodiment of the abyss of impaired physicality. Furthermore, if, as Irene Castle (cited in Cohan and Hark, 1993, p.26) states: 'dancing is the language of the body', then Ken's body - the disabled body - is the enemy of that language through the fact that its mute character strips the body of such a language and, also, survives by fatiguing others. This supposed language of the body can only be understood, or brought into being, when it is rigorously structured and constructed by the imagination and intellect. As such, the language of dance in Whose Life Is It Anyway? is used - structured and constructed - to negate (O)ther languages of the body, just as oral language has used its hegemony to negate sign language (cf. Davis, 1995; Gregory and Hartley, 1991). The conclusion of this segment of the film, with Ken persuading Pat to leave him for a 'real' man, acts to ensure that the dancing Pat, and sculpting Ken's potential - capital and social - is seen as a glorious past with no future. Ken’s past, present and future are wholly defined and valued by his past and present embodiment.
The strength of the film's intention can be comprehended only if Ken's body, at the same time as being represented as a reality, is a symbolic representation of the danger to society of medical technology (i.e., it is a metaphor). Ken’s body is metaphorical of the danger posed by disorder to the ordered body or society (as in Douglas's work). The metaphor of Ken's body as society can be achieved only by using the idea of the symbolic body's language and anxieties. From a Social Model viewpoint, the film is a very negative and one-sided view of the causes and needs of the impaired; it fails utterly to consider Independent Living as an option. The factors that it could be cheaper or a process that will enable Ken to have dignity, independence and the right of choice to live as he wishes and not die are not demonstrated. In Whose Life Is It Anyway? technological medical culture is damned for its success through its successes: the severely impaired. Thus, the impaired as symbols of its success have to be, and are, equally damned. As regards the perspective propagated by the film, this is undeniably achieved by a sophisticated piece of film-making which has great depth and skill behind it, at all levels of production.
If we continue on from the idea of dancing as representative of an attempt to demonstrate the ideal body, Duet For One is another film which uses dance to devalue disability by perceiving it as incapable. In this case dancing is used to devalue disability by having it as a 'party pooper', both metaphorically and literally, as discussed earlier in the 'family' chapter. The initial birthday party at Stephanie's rapidly deteriorates into aggressive squabbles, after the failed attempt to play Bach. It quickly brings the party to an end, with death becoming the key topic of discussion thus making it a wake rather than a celebration of birth and life. Once Stephanie's MS is openly acknowledged by her protégé - Constantine, a Nigel Kennedy parody - Stephanie's husband, David, attempts to encourage him to leave but it is only Stephanie's order: '[L]et him speak', which enables him to stay and, as a consequence, depress the party-goers. Constantine states: 'I love this woman [ ... ] and I just saw a part of that die. I watched the end of it'. As a conclusion to a birthday party it is somewhat anticlimactic, but as Murphy (1991, p.132) tells us, the disabled are often seen as 'downers' because they lack clarity and they evade rigid classification. Similarly, Stephanie's condition is unpredictable, with inconsistent remissions and lapses. From what Constantine tells the party goers - 'a bit of that died' - we can conclude that the inability to have total control over one's body is inevitably equated with death or at the very least a lack of body control, as in Whose Life Is It Anyway?
The conclusion of Duet For One, the 'final' birthday party discussed above, reinforces the point. Stephanie had expressed her self through her violin playing and, having lost that ability, feels she can no longer be expressive or, therefore, alive in a social world. Stephanie's ability to be expressive is based upon a disciplined control of bodily movement, combined with intellectual ability. When combined, these reinforce the idea that the uncontrolled (or uncontrollable) body is inferior and not worth living in and is, as such, preferably segregated. Stephanie is still expressive in her body and intellect, even though she cannot play the violin, otherwise we would not as spectators be able to see that she is depressed and angry. Stephanie could dance at the party but chooses not to – though all the other at the party do - as her body may fail in the middle of a dance, or it will serve to depress the others by its presence. As if to justify this perspective, Stephanie wanders off into the wintry landscape unnoticed. The choice to have only one manner of expressiveness as significant or worthwhile - violin playing in Stephanie's case - is the key to understanding the process through which disability is devalued in the films under discussion. The expressive manner chosen to be significant in these films is a normal, happy expressiveness, with all (O)thers (disabled or depressed expressiveness) devalued in comparison.
Stephanie's body is central to the film's idea of what MS and disability are, or what it means to live with it. The reality of having MS is irrelevant. The point being made in the film is that the incidents, immediate consequences and social consequences that the film chooses to show all devalue those with MS and impairments and construct them as rightful social outcasts. The individual is marginalised with no differentiation between the disease, the impairment and the individual. One of the key methods the film uses to construct MS as anti-social is by having MS as anti-social due to its bodily unpredictability and liability to create mess and / or embarrassment. Throughout the film Stephanie progresses from being able to walk (with and then without a walking stick) to being in a wheelchair. For example, on the occasion Stephanie demonstrates to her psychiatrist that she can walk she does so by getting out of the wheelchair and walking around the room carrying a cup of tea. The fine china is dropped and it smashes as she falls to the floor. It is one instance of how embarrassment and mess are created in one impaired movement, whatever its nature.
If we consider Sontag's (1979, p.41) view that: 'fatal illness has always been viewed as a test of moral character', then Stephanie's character reveals stoicism of the highest order. She chooses, by walking away at the end, to abdicate all social relations, which confirms her as taking sole responsibility for the trauma and possible embarrassment that her condition can, or does, cause. Consequently, MS (the most predominantly feared disease of the body and the ultimate image of bodily deterioration [Hevey, 1992]) becomes an individual problem that cannot be alleviated by society in any way. Little else could realistically be expected from a film, a medium that individualises almost all socially constructed problems (Hill, 1986), but that does not mean it should not be criticised for doing so. This thesis would argue that in trying to discuss how disability is devalued it must constantly be pointed out that one of the predominant methods through which culture achieves such a devaluation is through the process of individualisation (i.e., it renders the problem pathological).
At Stephanie’s earlier party David is her husband - quite happily, apparently - but by the second he is having a baby with his secretary. It is a dramatic change from which we can conclude that for this film, as with the other core film, the disabled body is not one capable (or should not be allowed to be capable) of having children, let alone relationships. The disabled, or diseased, body (impairment centred films make little or no differentiation) is by logical corollary constructed as asexual or de-sexualised as preferable to its sexualisation. For example (see earlier chapter for more detailed examination), Stephanie has an affair with a scrap metal merchant. The film offers this to demonstrate that she is very sexually active, but by having it classified as self mutilation by Stephanie herself, it becomes deviant; by extrapolation, sexual encounters with the disabled body are labelled as deviant. It is part of Stephanie's apparently strengthened moral character that she eventually ends the affair and chooses to withdraw into a life without sex.
We are left in no doubt about the deviancy of a sexual encounter with a disabled person by Stephanie's own words on the subject; in a bedroom scene with the scrap metal merchant - Harry - Stephanie taunts him by saying to him that: '[I]t turns you on, doesn't it, cripples? What's your favourite, paraplegics?'. Although Harry rejects the implication, he admits that if she had not been disabled they would not even have spoken to one another, let alone 'fucked'. To some extent the film even makes cross-class sexual encounters deviant by having Stephanie (Julie Andrews speaking with her best possible English accent) consider 'fucking' Harry (Liam Neeson is here at his Irish working-class best) because she is disabled and / or diseased. Duet For One cannot be claimed to show disability as asexual, since it contains a relatively long sex scene involving Stephanie (and Harry). This scene occurs just after Stephanie has already had sex with Harry. When he gets out of the shower, Stephanie taunts him about his preference for cripples. During the conversation Stephanie stretches her body as she lies upon the bed to reveal her breasts; she rolls off the bed as Harry lies on it, then she puts her head on his thigh. Harry joins her on the floor and they 'roll' together into a dark corner where they make love again. Consequently, Stephanie is very sexually drawn, and desired, in this and other, earlier, scenes, but the process through which she is de-sexualised is by, as I have said, having this sex or attraction made deviant through her own definition; that it is described as 'fucking' is a simple enough example that the relationship is abuse rather than love. It is the devaluation of sex with Stephanie (and valuation of sex between others) which leaves us in no doubt of the supposedly unnatural nature of sex with an impaired body.
Prior to David going to America with his secretary Stephanie tells her, Penny, that she has: 'lovely legs [ ... ] and [ ... ] sensual knees'. As Stephanie is telling Penny this, Penny stands up and lifts her skirt to display her 'lovely' knees and legs. In stark contrast, Stephanie sits in an electric wheelchair (it may be presumed, during a relapse) which she has a great deal of difficulty steering without hitting furniture. It is worth noting that during the first meeting between Stephanie and her psychiatrist she tells him that she has no children because they (David and Stephanie) had no time yet later in the film, upon their return from America David and Penny are expecting a baby. The comparison of two vastly different aspects of the narrative implies that the morality of sex for this film is closely related to ideas of procreation and love. That Penny and David are in love, and that Stephanie and David were much more of a partnership, is left in little doubt by a number of scenes throughout the film, but perhaps the most relevant scene is between David and Penny when he tells her that he needs her. The maid brings David and Penny tea and Penny pours the tea and passes a cup to David as he tells Penny that he needs her, to which she retorts: '[Y]ou're a star. What am I? Your little secretary. Why, in two seconds you could find a better woman than me and you'd forget that I ever existed'. As Penny passes the tea to David there is an extreme close-up of this happening. Then, in a close-up, David gently utters: '[Y]ou don't understand me do you, I need you, Penny'. The word 'need' is spoken at length and with absolute sincerity. This is 'love', we are supposed to conclude, and not a relationship of mutual exploitation or abuse.
The close-up of the tea being exchanged further suggests the way in which David sees Penny as more of a woman than he does Stephanie. Stephanie is a great artist, as David is, but David does not want 'a better woman' (equal woman). He wants one who will look after him, i.e., make him tea and tell him he's a 'star'. In the David-and-Stephanie relationship Stephanie is the star, and that relationship has not worked. In the logic of this film, a relationship that is successful is one that has - in the long term - children and a submissive domesticated wife; thus Penny and David close the film expecting a child. Looked at diegetically, and in the mise en scène, no other reading is possible, and it affects the relevance of the body The difference is apparent in the embodiment of the two characters of Penny and Stephanie, their somatic signifiers confirming it: Stephanie is 'fucked' while Penny is 'made love to'; and Stephanie's 'fuck' is considered 'self-mutilation' whilst Penny's 'love-making' leads to a baby (i.e., it is 'natural love'). The difference between Penny and Stephanie is further manifest in their clothes and hairstyles: Penny wears very 'feminine' type skirts and has long flowing blond hair whilst Stephanie's is cropped and she wears 'butch' trousers (Dyer, 1990[A]). It is difficult to see Penny and Stephanie as little other than symbolising the maternal (feminine / natural) and masculine female respectively; Penny, for example, never swears; she is better at interior design and thus home-making than Stephanie; she is constructed in the film as more maternal than Stephanie, and is not homosexually desired as is Stephanie. If, as quoted earlier, masculinity is made abject through the adoption of stereotypically feminine characteristics, the opposite also applies. Duet For One masculinises the feminine and, by extension, makes disability abject in a reversal of the method used in Whose Life Is It Anyway?. Each film uses the standard ideal of what femininity or masculinity is and then parallels the disabled character to be (or become) the opposite of those characteristics their gender would normally signify.
The lesbian aspect of Duet For One is subtle and could almost be (dis)missed, but it is there; Stephanie and David have a Spanish maid who is in love with Stephanie. Three scenes imply the maid's desire; the first of which is when Stephanie goes into the kitchen from the first birthday party to cut some parsley, she fails, and has to sit down due to the physical strain. At this point the maid, leaning over her says that Stephanie need not be concerned about her failure to cut parsley as the maid will do it. The act of leaning over her, both faces in profile, in close proximity, would, if they had been male / female and not female / female, have been a standard mise en scène for a 'first kiss' scene. However, they do not kiss and Stephanie goes back to the party. The second occasion is after Harry has first appeared, to clear the house of junk, and then left. Stephanie is in her bathrobe talking to the maid, with the robe slightly open; the maid looks her up and down in exactly the same way that Harry had when he arrived to clear the house. To reinforce this aspect, the maid is looking while Stephanie is asking her why she has not seen her with any men in the five years she has worked for her, thereby implying the maid's lesbianism. The final occasion is when Stephanie, in a panic one night, asks the maid if she could sleep with her because she is scared, telling the maid that she loves her, to which the maid replies, 'I love you, too'. The tone in which the maid tells Stephanie she loves her is the same tone in which David has told Penny that he needed (loved) her. The lesbian desire for Stephanie felt by the maid is just another element of the film’s mise en scène in which Stephanie is de-feminised and made abject. If we consider that the maid is hired to do all the tasks that are generally considered women's work and that Stephanie is the master, then the characterisation of the lesbian aspect of the film clearly has Stephanie as the masculine element. Although it cannot be claimed that lesbians cannot be feminine, a masculine looking woman is a much more prevalent icon of lesbianism and, as such, both in the film and in society, constructed or perceived as unnatural, abnormal.
As in Whose Life Is It Anyway?, Duet For One sets up a parallel between the normal past and the abnormal present (and future) of its disabled character. The scene in which Stephanie is shown as having a glorious normal past is when Stephanie watches a video recording of one of her great performances at the Royal Albert Hall. At this point, predictably given the narrative up to this point, she decides to commit suicide to reinforce the gloriousness of the past (normality) over the tragedy of her present (impairment). The lighting of each period of her life is representative of their respective meanings; the video-recording is shot in blazing light, the whole arena visible with Stephanie at centre-stage basking in the glory of the performance and the audience's appreciation of her. When she is on stage, on the video recording, the camera is predominantly at a high angle in order to emphasise how she holds the attention of all. The room in which Stephanie now sits crying is lit only by the glow of the television. The film’s view of Stephanie in the dark room watching herself is a low angle close-up (as if from inside the television itself); it adds to her expression of despair and weakness. The angles stress how once she was looked at, but how now she is unable to do more than look at her former self. The looking is also representative of envy, an envy to be great, which in Stephanie's case is envy for her own glorious - normal - past.
The above scene's repeated zoom-ins and close-ups on Stephanie's hands when she is playing the violin leaves no room for the spectator to doubt the desperation concomitant with her physical deterioration. Significantly, each shot of Stephanie's fingers on the video-recording is immediately followed by a reaction shot of her staring down at her now incapable hands. Stephanie's distress increases at each glance down. Between the time when she has had to give up concert performing and before she watches the video of her glorious past, Stephanie has a dream in which she is giving a recital at the Royal Albert Hall. In the dream her hands fail her, at which point David comes up behind her with a wheelchair, forces her into it and straps her arms on to it with leather straps. Once Stephanie is strapped to the wheelchair she is wheeled off. Her protégé Constantine takes over her performance and ignores her protests at what is being done to her. Stephanie awakens in a cold sweat and panic as in the dream when she is wheeled off. It is part of making MS signify uncertainty and potential embarrassment (Hevey, 1992) however unreal the circumstances. Such a dream sequence (which we do not know until it is over to be a dream sequence) ensures that impairment is seen as a condition from which there is no return. The only escape is death (or an stoical acceptance of its inevitability) both morally and physically. In having Stephanie strapped forcibly and unwillingly into the wheelchair, the film ensures that the wheelchair is seen as a prison and a form of torture. Impairment as torture and as a bodily prison are exactly the same in this film as they are in all the other films discussed in detail. In reality the wheelchair, if one cannot walk, can be the greatest liberator of all; the limitations imposed by the struggle to walk are often far outweighed by the opportunities opened up by the use of a wheelchair.
The body that becomes disabled is easily (and routinely) devalued and degraded by the creation, intimation or presentation of a glorious past or alternative normality (a degree of success) seen in parallel with an abject present (a degree of failure). A similar narrative process of negation for the impaired character is used, for example, in films such as Beyond The Stars (David Saperstein, US, 1988), The Boy Who Could Fly (Nick Castle, US, 1986), Charley (Ralph Nelson, US, 1968), Citizen Kane (Orson Wells, US, 1941), Hilary and Jackie (Anand Tucker, GB, 1998), Kingpin (P. and B. Farrelly, US, 1996), Lady Chatterley (Kem Russell, GB, 1993), Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Just Jaeckin, GB, 1981), Paulie (John Roberts, US, 1998), Reach for the Sky (Lewis Gilbert, GB, 1956), and Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven, US, 1997). This sample list contains a small number of the complete list of films, but even here the range, date, diversity of style, genre and production base are vast. Interestingly, in Duet For One the psychiatrist goes as far as to plead for immortality for Stephanie's fingers; the psychiatrist rhetorically asks: '[W]hy not immortality? At least for the best of us; for the genius who takes us where we would never have gone alone; the artist with his revelations about the world; and your fingers and hands, the way they once moved'. As the psychiatrist speaks we are given an extreme close-up of the psychiatrist's hand touching Stephanie's fingers, brightly highlighted against a sun-filled window. Stephanie's fingers remain lifeless as the psychiatrist wishes he were God giving life; the scene is intended to be compared to Michaelangelo's painting of God giving Adam life (see above reference to sculpture of same in Whose Life Is It Anyway?). The inability of the psychiatrist to be God - to breathe life into Stephanie's now 'dead' hands and fingers - shows Stephanie as dead in the present in both body and mind. The character of the psychiatrist, as specifically acted by Max Von Sydow, serves further to validate his position, of talking to death itself (Stephanie), by the film's repeated allusions to Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (Sweden, 1957) which has Max Von Sydow play chess against death. Thus, the disabled body is again represented as a dead body; a body that traps the living mind and tortures it. Consequently, the casting, in combination with the allusions, adds potent emphasis to Duet For One.
The last point to be made in reference to Duet For One relates back to Rabinbach's comments on the fatigued body as symbolic of the undermining of the 'potential of the age', and my own comments on the masculinisation of the feminine. It concerns the image of sweat and its appearance and significance on Stephanie. Sweat is conventionally seen as very un-feminine - it is harder to get a more culturally negative image of a woman than a woman lifting her arms to reveal a sodden armpit stain on her clothes - and very un-masculine: the weak sweat whilst the strong glisten (cf. Barthes). Stephanie’s face is repeatedly covered in sweat pearls after the slightest amount of effort or strain. The failure to cut parsley brings Stephanie out in a sweat. Another example is when Stephanie is in an electric wheelchair and commenting upon Penny's 'sensual knees'. Following her discussion with Penny and David Stephanie leaves the room, hitting the furniture with the wheelchair; there is a straight-on close-up of Stephanie's face covered in sweat. That the fatigued body - represented as a sweating body – can undermine potential is clearly relevant to Stephanie's body, because as soon as David (the overtly masculine Alan Bates) leaves Stephanie he is a huge success in both musical and masculine terms. If we consider the nineteenth-century saying that ‘horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow’ the point is clear, but more seriously, if we accept what Rabinbach also states (1982, p.72) when he writes that 'fatigue is a metaphor of decline, inertia, loss of will, or lack of energy', we can read Stephanie as having brought about her own decline. She has devoted herself to her own career and not to her husband's; in the logic of Duet For One only men are capable of sustaining a career without fatigue because it is their natural role. Women who attempt to break out of traditional family ideology or natural maternal instincts will suffer the consequences; in this film, they are fatigue, embarrassment and, finally, death. Equally, not having children is, in Duet For One, seen as part of destroying one’s feminine 'potential'. The film sees the process as essential to fulfilling the potential of the past, present and future of men and women. Consequently, the film sees the disabled body as destroying not only its own potential but that of others and society in general.
Duet For One and Whose Life Is It Anyway? create a past normal life and present abnormal one; so does The Raging Moon. The difference between The Raging Moon and the other two films is that the characters who become disabled become nicer people for it. Although Bruce and Jill are better people because they become disabled, their lives are still represented as tragic due to their bodily conditions; the diegesis of the film offers the audience the idea(l) that while it is positive that they have learnt humility, it would have been better if they had learnt it as normal people. The film seems to be saying that we do not need to be disabled to be better people, and that we should learn our lesson from these sad, pathetic, and doomed people. The sad, pathetic and doomed nature of these film’s characters' state of being is represented, even captured, in their impaired embodiment.
The Raging Moon uses the same techniques and constructions to make its disabled characters abject as do the other films discussed above: the disabled are easily fatigued; totally dependent; socially isolated; asexual; infantilised and impaired. As with the other films the disabled must be seen within a comparison before they can be shown in such a way as to devalue them; in The Raging Moon this is provided by the caretaker and housekeeper of the institution that Bruce and Jill enter: Mr and Mrs Charles. A good example of how this is done is demonstrated by reviewing the scenes in which the Charleses arrange to take Jill and Bruce to the coast for the day. One evening in Jill's room all four are chatting and playing records. The scene is shot almost exclusively in a medium shot from a low angle so as to emphasise the position and bodily activities of each character. Jill is sitting on her bed with Mrs Charles sitting on the bottom of the bed with Mr Charles on a chair to her right (the screen's left) with Bruce is in his wheelchair on Jill's left (the screen's right). This is a scene that, superficially, appears quite ordinary, yet it sums up the alienation of the disabled body from what is alternatively given as the pro-active body of normality: i.e., Mr and Mrs Charles.
The scene sets up a clear binary opposition to which the eye is immediately drawn; Bruce and Jill are on one side of the screen with the Charleses on the other. As the men are on either side of the bed where the women are sitting, the film reinforces the two sides of the paradigm as comparative and not as a mere simile. Bruce is half-way along one side of the bed in order to reach the record player. He is also directly beside it, which means that he cannot look at anyone except without severe strain. As Bruce is in the wheelchair next to the bed (which is on his right) with the record player on his left (off-screen right) he is distanced from Jill (whom he loves) and his body is highlighted when he is fully on screen. Jill, to Bruce's right, is sitting upright on the bed and is also completely highlighted. The light source for the scene is a bed lamp above Jill's head, a source that consequently spotlights Jill's impaired legs. As Mrs Charles is turned slightly facing Jill, her side but not her expression is visible. Mr Charles is also partly hidden, this time by the bed itself. The camera is at the foot of the bed, to Jill's left. The force of the mise en scène of the shot ensures that the full bodies of Jill and Bruce are shown, but not those of the Charleses. The reason for such a difference in each character's positioning is due to what each is doing with their respective bodies: Jill's and Bruce's are immobile, with the Charleses constantly in movement.
Jill's legs are flat on the bed, rigid and still. Bruce's are closed tightly together as they rest on the footplates of the wheelchair. Bruce and Jill's legs do not move, and are not moved in the entire scene and they use their arms in an often stilted manner that shows their difficulty of movement. For example, when Bruce puts a record on it is an effort because of the way he has to strain to look back at Jill and then twist his trunk to face the record player. Consequently, as each of them is dressed in typical institutional wear - a tasteless jumper for Bruce and a dress so prim that it covers her entire neck for Jill – the scene serves further to place them as virtually immobile and inanimate objects of pity. This is especially so when the garments are compared with those of the Charleses which are, of course, much more stylishly casual: Mr Charles is wearing a woollen jumper and jacket, whilst Mrs Charles has on more tasteful yet revealing blouse and skirt. In comparison, the Charleses physical movement is striking: Mrs Charles is sitting cross-legged, her feet pointing at the camera, tapping her foot to the beat of the record that is quietly playing. Sitting cross-legged is in itself an activity that requires a great deal of bodily control and the rhythmic tapping of a tune with one's feet merely confirms the control (and its capability for spontaneous pleasure) that a normal body can possess. Mrs Charles's feet are closest to the camera; they thus vertically lead the eye to the rest of her. Any movement on the screen captures the viewer’s attention, and it is impossible to ignore the tapping of Mrs Charles’s foot - especially as Jill and Bruce's feet are so passively in view, in stark contrast. Mr Charles's leg position is equally important in this nexus of normal and abnormal bodily control. Mr Charles has his legs lifted up and resting, knees bent, to the side of Jill's bed, directly next to her and sitting on an ordinary chair. It is a chair and place which is where Bruce, in a conventional cinematic mise en scène, would logically have been placed, as her lover.
Bruce and Jill are physically passive and separated (despite their love) because of their bodily conditions; this has been constructed by the mise en scène, as it is not essentially due to their impairments. The scene is constructing the impaired's body's passivity along with their physical separation as the Charleses bodily activity - foot tapping and leg raising - ensures that Jill and Bruce are seen as passive by their active actions and bodily attitudes. If the same scene had shown Bruce in Mr Charles’s position with that chair removed - or even better, Bruce out of his wheelchair and in a wheelless-chair – yet with the Charleses more closely positioned to Jill and Bruce, the impact of the scene would have been quite different. The difference would have lain not only in its mise en scène but also in its potential interpretation and meanings. The disabled legs of Bruce and Jill would not have had such a central position, nor would there have been the separation between Jill and Bruce; as it is, Jill and Bruce seem incapable of life off the bed or out of the wheelchair, respectively. Bruce is shown so as to instil in the spectator the view that those in wheelchairs cannot get out of, or live out of, the wheelchair; the wheelchair is thus constructed therein as the paraplegic's iron lung. The above point regarding how the scene could, or should, have been is made not to be prescriptive but merely to give a simple demonstration of how little need be different to provide a whole new interpretation.
In the scene described above, the Charleses are discussing taking Jill to the coast with them, when Jill suggests that Bruce should come as well. Mr Charles says that that would be all right but that 'another bedpan will have to be packed'. Two points need to be made here about what the scene further represents about the impaired body in both dialogue and diegesis. Firstly, the whole thrust of Bruce’s and Jill’s being taken to the coast reinforces the point that they are bodily not capable of getting from A to B alone, if at all, without the assistance of professionals. As Bruce is pushed to bed by Mr Charles at the end of the scene the scene further serves to leave us in no doubt of his physical uselessness. This fact is further reinforced when considered in combination with the given reality that Jill and Bruce are shown as not capable of being together as a romantic couple without the assistance of the Charleses. It is also shown when Jill is pushed to Bruce's room so that he can kiss her and the Charleses take them both to the local town to buy a ring for their engagement: a collection of scenes which guarantee that Jill and Bruce are never seen as anything other than incapable. The second point more directly relates to a reference to the bodily functions of the disabled characters': i.e., the reference to the need to pack another 'bedpan'. The bedpan reference partly explains why they are given as incapable - they cannot reach a toilet so this facility must be brought to them by an attendant - but it also ensures that they are shown as typical (cultural) examples of the impaired / disabled: uncontrollably incontinent.
Significantly, the next scene takes place on a desolate beach in what seems a fairly wintry period of the year and, after the establishing extreme long shot of the beach, we cut to Mr and Mrs Charles playing with a beach ball; they are running and passing the ball as if playing rugby. Consequently, the Charleses are seen as having physical and emotional fun. Bruce and Jill are not in the shot of the Charleses playing ball, but there is then a cut to Bruce and Jill in which a sadder, more pathetic-looking couple could not have been imagined. Bruce and Jill are stationed about three feet apart in their wheelchairs - which are rooted in shingle. The apparent immobility of Jill and Bruce is a factor which leaves us in no doubt that they did not get there on their own and that the Charleses must have dragged them there - the appropriateness of the word 'stationed' being self-evident. Again, Jill and Bruce are physically separated and shown as not capable of overcoming the physical distance between them. In comparison, the Charleses have standard winter clothing on - and it is unbuttoned – whilst Bruce and Jill are wrapped up as if they are in the Arctic. Jill has on the largest overcoat possible, with a scarf wound many times around her neck; she is wearing gloves and has a blanket around her legs. Bruce wears almost the same quantity and style of clothing as Jill, although he does take his gloves off to read a poem to Jill. The poem sums up the futility of their lives: '[N]ever again will a stone fascinate [ ... ] seek a target [ ... ] wind back the arm and throw, never again': Bruce, the poem tells us, will never again throw a stone. That Bruce is quite capable of picking up a stone and skimming it across the water right then and there is a point that escapes both him and the film. Jill, at the conclusion to the poem states to Bruce: 'I love you'; their tragic fate is sealed. Bruce and Jill's doom is both sealed and made manifest by the 'nature' of their bodies; it is partly their dependence and incapacity which shows this because they are physically unable to move, change or challenge these or any other circumstances, it seems.
In The Raging Moon and Whose Life Is It Anyway? posture is of equal significance in the negation of the disabled to many other bodily factors. From the very first appearance of Bruce in hospital he is unable to sit up straight without either falling to one side or slipping down into a crouched position. Latterly in the film, when Bruce is wheeling around in his wheelchair, he still slumps down into it as if he is a baby.
In all the films under discussion in this chapter no disabled characters make a meal for themselves yet other non-disabled people do. As such, impaired people are represented as individuals incapable of looking after themselves in even the most basic, and necessary, way. All the meals that are eaten by disabled characters are prepared for them by other able-bodied characters, thus equating the disabled body with that of a child; children are conventionally the only group of people in society whom it is expected will have all their meals made for them.
The use of the wheelchair is more pronounced in The Raging Moon than in any other film under discussion and, as such, is the tool by which the most physically capable disabled bodies of the films are constructed as incapable. Jill and Bruce are the most physically capable of all the central disabled characters looked at, as established by the fact that all they cannot do is walk. Ken Harrison and Christy Brown are unable to use their arms or their legs, whilst Stephanie and John Merrick are disabled in unpredictable and more physically severe ways, respectively, with impairments that prevent them from doing (in the diegesis of their films) almost everything. The wheelchair encapsulates Jill’s and Bruce's bodies in such a way as to make them seem bound to them. Through having such a union between character and aid Jill and Bruce are seen as weaker and more dependent than the characters in the other core films of the thesis. In one scene we see Bruce getting out of his bed, into his wheelchair, and delivering a letter under Jill's door. The manner in which Bruce gets out of bed and into his wheelchair makes the whole operation seem like exactly that, an operation. The time, energy, concentration and difficulty involved for Bruce in just getting out of bed is so extreme that all other minor physical activities (such as defecation) are offered, primarily by extension and in absence but also by example, as tasks that would seem insurmountable if a lone attempt were made to perform them.
Bruce’s and Jill's bodies are clearly signified as weak by the degree of clothing that they wear (already discussed above) and by their inability to go very far or fast in their wheelchairs without difficulty. Both Jill and Bruce are frequently pushed in their wheelchairs, even though they can both propel themselves; the point being made is that they can move themselves a little, but they are obviously too weak to do too much at any given time. Such an interpretation is unavoidable when we consider the repeated images, especially of Jill, of blankets around the impaired persons legs; a standard image of the sickly weak invalid. Consequently, the perception of the impaired body as a weak body is left in no doubt by the conclusion of the film: Jill dies of influenza. Upon seeing the doctor after Jill has died Bruce is told by the doctor that: 'people in [Jill's] condition catch these viruses and they can't resist them like [ ... doctor stutters ... ] most people. She didn't suffer, it was all very quick'. The doctor was about to say normal but stuttering prevents himself from doing so. Such a speech puts a seal of medical acceptance of the idea of the disabled body as uniformly weak and sick. The weak and susceptible body, not capable of defending itself biologically or physically, brings us back full circle to the issues of the disabled body as easily fatigued and therefore ill (by extension, expensive to support due to its need for constant medical care and supervision). The weak body is, therefore, equally childlike due both to its inability to resist minor viruses or to support itself.
As with Stephanie in Duet For One, Jill is given an element of sexual appeal which, just as is Stephanie's, is seen as deviant: deviant, because immediately after having her only sexual encounter with Bruce, Jill dies. The sexual encounter is not one of penetrative intercourse (Bruce has told us earlier that he cannot get erections) but an oral act and, as such, it confirms the general conception of the disabled as impotent (cf. Whose Life Is it Anyway?) and dangerous / deviant when sexually active (cf. Duet For One). Sexual activity involving the disabled actually becomes fatal in The Raging Moon.
The opening credits of The Raging Moon are accompanied by shots of Bruce playing a Sunday league football match, followed by his then trying to fondle the breasts of a female spectator on the coach back home from the game. The conclusion of the story has Bruce returning from a fatal sexual encounter and wetting himself. The contrast between the two scenes aptly demonstrates how normality and abnormality of body are constructed as active and passive, in control and without it; with the disabled body constructed as being appreciably closer to death - its own and that of others.
My Left Foot is a film that represents the disabled body in a way that is little different from the three films discussed earlier, except that Christy Brown is characterised as totally dependent on others for eating, drinking and washing (and, one presumes, defecating). Significantly, Brown is repeatedly shown wearing a jacket with saliva dribble all down the front in order that the audience never forget his lack of bodily control. I often point out that 'this film' has this 'cripple' doing this 'disgusting thing' when in fact the activity is not disgusting, unnatural, or unrealistic. This thesis does not aim to be prescriptive and say that such features of incapacity should not be shown; the point is that they are the only images shown and that they are exaggerated or falsified to categorise the individual through the functions of his / her body. Consequently, such images are perceived as the reality of disability when in fact they represent merely a specific construction of disability as impairment. One scene in particular from My Left Foot demonstrates my point precisely. It is the scene where, having stolen coal from the coal merchant, Brown and his brothers come home with coal piled up in a chariot that Mr Brown has built for Christy Brown. Brown's face is covered in black coal dust from the escapade and he is seen dribbling white saliva (contrasted with the darkness of the coal dust, giving the saliva a clarity that it otherwise would not have). As the coal-stealing scene is the only one in which he actively dribbles (the rest of the time its resulting mark is all that is visible on his clothes) his lack of basic, spittle and therefore bodily control is emphasised to further demean him.
An equally significant negation of Brown's existence immediately follows the coal theft scene. Brown and his Mother argue about the coal stealing incident, resulting in Brown’s sitting in the corner of the main living room still covered in the coal dust. At this juncture not only does his older brother offer to wash him (a service the upset Mother would normally perform) but his Father is, significantly, seen playing with a younger brother in a very physical manner. The younger brother is on the father's lap as he tickles him and pretends to fight with him. This is of interest in that it is created as an obvious point of comparison as Christy Brown is never seen being played with in this manner by anyone, let alone by his Father. One brother's offer to wash Brown and another brother's playing with his Father act as the equivalent signifiers of Bruce, Stephanie and Ken's past normality scenes. Simply, the scene puts forward the idea that normal brothers are able to play with their fathers and wash themselves. As Brown does not have a normal past his brothers are given as alternatives to a disabled past, present and future. The age (and look) of the child playing with his father is exactly that which is given for Brown when he lay under the stairs near the beginning of the film; Brown never comes near his Father, nor plays with him. The severity of Brown's impairment requires that he receive assistance to eat and drink - at least in his early life - a fact which, if my argument about excessive use of cultural negatives is appropriate, would entail that Brown be repeatedly shown being fed and given drinks. The film obliges, indeed repeatedly showing Christy being fed and given drinks; it is emphasised further when Brown is given his drink in a glass but drinks it through a straw. Again, this could be unexceptionable except that when the most positive influence on Brown's life and work - Dr Cole – offers him his drink (one presumes correctly, because she is a doctor) and, in doing so, she holds a napkin up to his chin as if he were a child, with the napkin acting as a bib. The very act of holding a napkin up to his chin reinforces dribbling as to be avoided rather than an action that is natural to Brown. Thus, Brown's natural bodily function is seen and constructed as wrong and, if possible, to be prevented. Ken Harrison in Whose Life Is It Anyway? is similarly fed with a napkin acting as a bib. Again, an individual unable to control his / her functions is constructed and assumed to be child-like.
If we accept Canguilhem's (1989, p.77) point that: 'strictly speaking a norm does not exist, it plays its role. [A role ... ] which is to devalue existence by allowing its correction', then we can see how Brown's dribbling is devalued by not following the adult human 'norm' of not dribbling. Although Canguilhem's point is that all existence is devalued - even those who can closely fit the norm - my point is that the norm is used specifically to devalue the disabled body alone. Canguilhem's suggestion that the norm devalues the norm is an important one in that the norm devalues itself by making an individual's body an object rather than a subjective, lived experience with the freedom to experiment. The devaluation of the normal body by the normal body is achieved through its generalisation (as in these films) and these processes of generalisation of the abnormal body most overtly demonstrate Canguilhem's view. This thesis would argue that the liberation of the disabled body from a negative generalisation (medicalisation and normalisation) will, above all else, free the body of normality from the tyranny of itself. If Brown were allowed to dribble freely, without stigma, then all others are free of the dread of embarrassment of either others or themselves, for example, to dribble.
It has already been commented above, in the chapter on the family, upon the idea(l)s of masculinity being shown to devalue the disabled within My Left Foot. However, it should be added that Brown is singled out as having a non-working (unemployable) body, a body that is not capable of any culturally assumed masculine work: Brown's body cannot lift items or tools; write freehand; nor construct any physical object of social utility - while his brothers and Father can achieve all of these tasks – and more. The same is true of Ken, who in Whose Life Is It Anyway? is unable to act usefully; it is also true of Bruce in The Raging Moon, who is capable only of being a telephonist (conventionally, women's work). Thus, by having disabled male characters who are incapable of masculine work - and this relates back to the points about Canguilhem - such images define what is masculine for the norm as well as the Other. For example, if Bruce is a telephonist and Bruce is the Other, then all men who are telephonists are by logical extension ideologically suspect as it is, conventionally, a 'feminine' job. The construction of the Other as either one category or another has the consequence of restricting the norm from any attempt at experiencing other styles of life through fear of being labelled or constructed as the Other. Thus, 'disability' is a key tool in the maintenance and illusion of social order and control since social and bodily order are both intrinsic elements of what disability is and is not.
As has been stated above, just as all the other films have comparative normals against which the abnormal as measured, My Left Foot has Brown's own family performing that function. The social growth - love, marriage and children, especially - of the other members of the family, compared to Brown's perceived social failure, ensures that his life is shown as pathetic by contrast, despite the superior financial position that his literary success creates for him. As said in an earlier chapter, the striking similarity in body and dress of Brown's Mother and his wife-to-be leads the viewer to see Brown's marriage to nurse Mary as asexual because he is marrying his 'Mother' and a nurse. Thus, as in the earlier films discussed, the disabled body is again given as impotent and probably asexual.
The negation of the spastic body is most acutely achieved by Brown's own desire to eradicate as much of his spasticity as is possible and Dr Cole acts as Brown's Svengali in this process by normalising him both bodily and intellectually. For example, in a montage sequence to emphasise the lapse of time, Brown's head is being exercised by Dr Cole and she is carrying out breathing exercises on him (she gets him to blow in to a large water dispenser to see how much water is displaced by air). Although such 'therapy' could, technically, prolong his life, this is not how it is represented or to be interpreted; Brown is, as a result, to be seen as child-like and ineffectual. Another example is when Dr Cole gets Brown to read to her so that his pronunciation is more easily understood and rectified. It could be argued that Dr Cole's exercises - bodily and intellectual - on Brown reinforce his abnormality by the apparent need to train him to carry out what most people consider to be natural tasks (such as breathing and talking etc.).
Dr Cole is normalising Brown in order that he can more easily be integrated into society at large and it is his willing participation in this (the desire to be seen to be as normal as possible) that makes Brown (and the film) appear to be a positive role model. My point is that the very act of normalisation (embraced by the idea of the 'good cripple', which he represents) increases the devaluation of disabled people who are unable, or unwilling, to be ashamed of or hateful towards their own bodies. ‘Hateful’ may seem an extreme word, but if we consider that Brown tries to commit suicide (leaving a note in which he calls himself 'nothing') then self-hate is an appropriate term. When Brown attempts suicide by trying to cut his wrist with a cut-throat razor the scene degenerates into farce because he lacks even enough bodily control to carry out his own suicide: he cuts his thumb, drops the razor and falls on the bed. Thus, Brown's body is not only dependent and incapable of defending itself: it is even incapable of carrying out its own plan of action; as has already been stated, self-determination is an attribute considered to be a central pillar of what constitutes masculinity and how it is 'normally' represented. My Left Foot has Brown, just as Ken or Bruce are, emasculated in his essentially represented embodiment.
Finally, the most obvious demonstration of Brown's dislike of his own body is his panic at being put into an ambulance with other people with cerebral palsy (CP), and his subsequent refusal to go again to the clinic with them. The justification for not challenging or forcing Brown to go again is the fact that the other people with CP are shown as more severe cases - incapable of any significant degree of normalisation - and, as such, not worthy of home visits by the good Dr Cole. For example, one shot at the clinic is of a young boy, shot from a low angle medium close-up so as to make him look sinister; his body stoops over the tray that is in front of him, motionlessly dribbling in silence. The effect is that the young boy is seen as having a learning difficulty in addition to CP and, as such, less valuable to society. Brown's refusal to be at the same place as the boy justifies wider society's refusal to help or encourage those in a similar position, making the 'good cripple' someone who wants to be like 'us' rather than one who is not so severely disabled as to make behaviour modification impossible.
Brown, as with the other impaired bodies so far discussed, acts not solely as a role model for disabled people but for normal people: those people who need validation that their striving for bodily perfection is right, proper and just, and worthwhile at every opportunity. My Left Foot deviates so little from the standard devaluation, and abjectification, of the abnormal body that to demonstrate each example would be repetitive, very lengthy and boring. Christy Brown is a 'good cripple' precisely because he hates his own body and subsequently tries to normalise it to 'fit in' to rather than 'sit out' of the social game.
The Elephant Man differs very little from the other films discussed in its representation of the disabled body, with Merrick similarly made Other through the feminisation of his body where weakness is seen as feminine. Merrick is feminised through his being made pathetic by his bodily weakness (in addition to his mannerisms) in contrast to other masculine male characters within the film. Merrick is, as such, constructed as abject by his tragic and uncontrollable carcass; his body is represented as devalued and hated by himself; and he reinforces bodily norms through his own, eventually fatal, attempt to sleep normally.
The most subtle way in which Merrick is feminised is by his soft gentle and innocent voice, which is so genuinely enthusiastic and surprised at life's smaller pleasures (a trip to the theatre, the way photographs are arranged upon a mantlepiece, etc.). The close-up of Merrick's left hand - his good hand - delicately building a cardboard model clearly signifies it as delicate and soft (an aspect Treves actually commented on in his 'true life' account of Merrick, calling his normal arm 'lady-like' [cf. Howell and Ford, 1980]). The weakness of Merrick's body is represented by his inability to climb stairs, walk any distance or carry out any strenuous work (model-making is his limit) without a lack of breath or gross exhaustion. For example, when Merrick returns from France on the train and is chased into the public toilets, his exhaustion is so extreme that he collapses and has to be assisted in walking into the hospital once the police have rescued him; he is unable to rescue himself.
The process through which Merrick's body is made abject in The Elephant Man is by having him segregated from society at large by the justification that the sight of him causes 'women and nervous persons to fly in terror at the sight of him'. The film shows the first sight of Merrick through a typical horror genre tactic of delaying the horror figure’s first appearance on screen until a suitably young and innocent woman can come across him; in this case it is a nurse who stereotypically panics, screams and runs away upon seeing him. Also, Merrick's appearance (the sight of his body) in public places repeatedly causes either a riot or disgust, thereby validating his segregation and institutionalisation as necessary, if only for the sake of public order.
The film's ideological support for normalisation, and therefore for the notion of normality, is apparent in the manner in which Merrick is saved from being a cause of disgust or riot, in comparison to his saviour, Frederick Treves. Treves is clearly represented as the epitome of Victorian bourgeois Christian paternalism and a good person. Significantly, the difference between the ideology and decency that Treves represents and the mob's indecency is also represented in their respective bodies. Treves (and the others, like Carr Gomm, of his class) are all well-groomed individuals in both appearance and body: their suits are immaculate; their beards are perfectly trimmed; and they are clean (i.e., they have washed). On the other hand, the working-class are, almost without exception, shown as dirty, promiscuous, pot-bellied and vicious. Writing of Michael Elphick's working-class character, who uses Merrick as his own personal freak within the hospital, Samuel (1981, p.317) states: 'Elphick seems to conflate within a single persona a whole number of contemporary [modern day] middle-class folk devils - street-corner bovver boys, soccer hooligans [and] flying pickets'. All the working-class women outside the hospital are street walkers and ruffians yet if they are in the hospital they are inevitably 'angels' - i.e., nurses; the closing titles go so far as to label them as merely the 'First Whore', 'Second Whore', 'First Fighting Woman' and 'Second Fighting Woman'. Having Treves's class represented as equally morally clean reinforces the moral righteousness of their actions in saving Merrick from the working-class. Interestingly, there are no old people in the scenes of working-class life, whereas they predominate in the middle-class hospital society. The point being made by such an omission, one presumes, is that middle-class life is not only morally better but also physically superior; consequently John Gielgud plays Carr Gomm with an appropriate amount of physically aged self-preservation to demonstrate the point.
One scene in particular sums up the whole thesis of the film. In the scene Bytes (Merrick's 'owner' until Treves saved him) manages to get into the hospital and starts to go up the stairs to the isolation ward where Merrick is living or, more appropriately, is being kept. Bytes encounters Treves on the stairway. Treves tells him that Merrick is not going back to being a freak and they start to argue. Bytes's very appearance, and bodily state, in comparison to Treves's appearance, and bodily condition, reveal the former to be inferior, distasteful and - what is the worst crime of all in this film - working-class. Bytes is scruffily dressed in an old jacket with a dirty, unbuttoned shirt beneath it. He also exhibits the first signs of what the film wants us to believe are the DTs (shaking his head with an unsteady gait) and when he speaks, he spits. Significantly, the conversation between the two men takes place on a stairwell and is shot from a side angle in medium close-up with both men on screen in profile. The shot is filmed in such a way that a comparison between the two characters is unavoidable. The mise en scène and choice of camera angles ensures that Bytes's spit is clearly visible as he talks - Treves's retreat from being so close to Bytes's face shows his horror at the spit and suggests that Bytes also reeks of alcohol or halitosis. Bytes's character is played wonderfully by Freddie Jones, an actor who seems to specialise in semi-alcoholic, and possibly perverted, degenerate low lifes. Jones even reprised this character type in a cameo part in Lynch's later film Wild At Heart (US, 1990).
Treves, on the other hand, is smartly dressed in a morning suit with appropriate neckwear; whereas Bytes is unshaven, Treves has a full beard that is as smartly tailored as his morning suit. Treves speaks clearly and concisely with an air of confidence and he does not spit as he talks. Although Treves becomes slightly flustered (a hair slips out of place in order to show this) it is from inexperience rather than fear. The arrival of Carr Gomm in the scene (at a higher level of the stairwell, and shot from a lower level, so as to increase the impression of his status of authority) acts to reinforce both Treves's authority and confidence. With a few precise and articulate words Carr Gomm dismisses Bytes, condemning him in the process. The scene shows the difference in both body and character between good (Treves) and bad (Bytes), right and wrong, medicalisation and socialisation, and the 'good body' and the 'bad body'. Treves's body, style, manner and personality are given as the ideal in comparison to the degraded body of Bytes, thereby ensuring that Merrick's is also seen as degraded. Merrick's positive characteristic is that he wants the body of a Treves but is unable to achieve it through no fault of his own. The idea of fault is clearly meant to imply in the film that the working-class are unresponsive to help and this must, as such, be forced upon them. The comparative responses of Elphick's character and the educated actress Mrs Kendal to the 'caring' letter Carr Gomm has published in The Times are indicative of this point. Mrs Kendal (dressed in white and being particularly sensitive) desires to meet 'this gentleman' (Merrick) whilst Elphick, in sharp contrast, spots an opportunity to exploit both Merrick and his fellow class degenerates. If we compare the reactions of Elphick (who calls himself 'your very own Sunny Jim') and Kendal respectively to their subsequent meetings with Merrick, the point is even clearer. Elphick abuses and uses Merrick both physically and mentally whilst Mrs Kendal reads from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with him and, concluding that he is 'no "Elephant Man" but Romeo' himself, she then kisses him. Mrs Kendal's role as a leading woman of 'fashion' acts further to reinforce the film’s idea that this is how Merrick should be treated by all who wish to be considered worthy of the title of human being: a philosophy which is, in the logic of the film, the epitome of middle-class values housed in a well-kept body that is also intellectual and has a concomitant Christian liberal philosophy.
Having Merrick in a degraded body (to some extent, a working-class body gone haywire) with a middle-class sensibility is offered as 'the tragedy' of Merrick's life. Merrick is a tragic figure because he is unable to fulfil his intellectual potential or fully exhibit his obvious good grace and concern for others due to his being trapped inside a so-called hideous body. The medically technical talk that Treves gives to the Pathological Society early on in the film clearly categorises Merrick's body as 'hideous', 'lamentable' and 'degraded' because Treves uses those very words, combined with medical jargon, to describe Merrick’s condition. Merrick's presentation before a society called the ‘Pathological’ Society merely reinforces the medical principle that all deformities and their consequences are pathological. At the Pathological Society Merrick is shown to an audience of medical dignitaries from behind a mobile curtain screen, but the film's spectator is not shown Merrick except in silhouette against the screen. The talk to the Pathological Society takes place before the nurse (detailed above) and audience are shown Merrick, and as such, Merrick is objectified both visually and narratively through his description in medical terms and by the Pathological Society's horrified reactions to his appearance, prior to the film audience’s even seeing him.
Merrick's objectification is intentionally revealed as part of the process of medicalisation by Treves's actions, yet the film ultimately validates it (rather than challenges it) as logical and right solely on the basis of Merrick's own body as being the cause of his own problems and social disorder. Consequently, it is the notion that Merrick is pathologically liable to cause social unrest that enables reference to be made to the thoughts of Bakhtin.
Russo (1988) writes of Bakhtin's theory of the carnivalesque body that:
[T]he political implications of [carnival] heterogeneity are obvious: it sets carnival apart from the merely oppositional and reactive; carnival and the carnivalesque suggest a redeployment or counterproduction of culture, knowledge, and pleasure. In its multivalent oppositional play, carnival refuses to surrender the critical and cultural tools of the dominant class, and in this sense, carnival can be seen above all as a site of insurgency, and not merely withdrawal. (p.218)
Thus, for this film, society must take control of the 'freak' and place it in a controlled and supervised environment. The 'freak' in The Elephant Man is the body of excessive life as manifest in the body of Merrick, a body that cannot stop growing even though its growth will destroy it. The tumour is after all, just like cancer, an excess of life, where each cell multiplies unstoppably and irreversibly until it kills the body in which it lives. Although 'carnival' can be seen as a form of safety valve to the repression of the bourgeoisie (and therefore helpful to it) the large numbers of carnivals (and extreme nature of their 'carnivalesque' exhibits - i.e., the 'Elephant Man') meant that it became imperative, and inevitable, for the bourgeoisie to act (Bogdan, 1988). Treves acts on their behalf in taking Merrick into hospital for examination and then 'care'. Equally, when taken in consideration with the fact that Bytes' show is initially shut down, because Merrick 'is degrading to all who see (him)' - words spoken by Treves's true life great-grandson, the actor Frederick Treves, to reinforce their validity - the point is unmistakable. Treves's subsequent rescuing of Merrick from the clutches of those who put him in the arenas of degradation in the first place serves further to emphasise the point. Merrick is a threat to the bourgeois hegemony and authority of normality as signified by those who closed down Bytes's show in the first place because he represents all that they despise: bodily, and therefore social, chaos. The film is not intentionally showing this point to criticise it – as it does other elements of medical hegemony; it is revealed inadvertently rather than by design.
The reference to the normality of Merrick's genitals, in the lecture to the Pathological Society, is a clear reference to the ability of the abnormal to perpetuate themselves. Such an inherited threat is revealed as frightening for the bourgeoisie due to its leading to presumed sexual degeneracy and potential for eternally overpowering moral decency (the eugenicist's - and Frederick Treves was a eugenicist [Howell and Ford, 1980] - nightmare). Even if the point of the film is to challenge such a philosophy, as with Whose Life Is It Anyway?, the focus is lost in the sentimentalisation of Merrick as a figure of personal tragedy. The apparent degeneracy of the working-class is shown in The Elephant Man (and in Duet For One) to reinforce the idea of the need to educate the working-class into the same bourgeois horror of abnormality. The scenes of the working-class, and their environments, are dirty, disgusting, loud, violent and exploitative in contrast to the bourgeois scenes of clean, quiet, sensibility and sensitivity. Such scenes thereby make all that is good bourgeois, and all that is bad working-class in the final logic of this film. The role of safeguarding society is placed in the hygienic bourgeois world and not the apparently unhygienic working-class one. The sexual threat of the abnormal body - both Merrick's and the degenerate masses’ – is clearly indicated when Treves walks past a pickled foetus, which is similar in look to Merrick’s body, at the freak show where Treves first tries to view Merrick. It could be argued that if we combine the references to Merrick's genitals and the pickled foetus with the shown promiscuous nature of the masses in the film, then clearly the film is proposing degeneracy as the cause of Merrick's disease. Although Merrick's Mother is overtly made out to be a depiction of a heroic mother figure, the father is never mentioned, and by his absence it could reasonably be concluded he was not a good sort.
If we consider the carnival or freak show as a celebration of life, as many 'freaks' did (cf. Bogdan, 1988), then we can begin to understand Bakhtin's analysis of how the carnivalesque body was transformed into the grotesque body by (post-)modernists: a process of transformation inadvertently being shown in The Elephant Man. The showing of such a process is inadvertent as the film succumbs to the ideology of bourgeois morality (modernist in itself) through its validation of all that is anti-carnivalesque, i.e., Treves's philosophy rather than that of Elphick, Bytes or the masses. Bakhtin writes that the carnivalesque body does not fear life or death because it is part of the same thing; life as part of death as death acts as a fertiliser for future life. Bakhtin (1984. p.49) states: 'the grotesque body expresses not the fear of death but the fear of life'. Merrick, and the carnival or freak show, threatens the repressed nature of bourgeois life (which is consequently anti-life) and, as such, he is (they are) seen as a threat by the bourgeois (Treves and others like him). As Merrick is so representative of life (and its death) Treves has to control, objectify and disarm him by making him sick and pathetic rather than achieving what the freak show had as its aim: to celebrate him and (O)ther 'freaks' (all that is different and unique) as special and valuable. Treves achieves his disarming of Merrick as a manifestation of excessive life by having him categorised as a living symbol of death and abnormality rather than only different. The aim of Treves, and the film, is to instil into the degenerate (and to normalise the working-class to a middle-class ideal of physiology and morality) a fear of death and a fear of the behaviour they deem degenerate. Bakhtin continues to write that the Romantic imagination of modernism turns the grotesque body 'into the Gothic' (ibid). This tendency, if true, would perhaps explain the way the film sees itself as Romantic in its desire to explain why Merrick is disabled in metaphysical or supernatural terms; thus, the use of horror genre techniques mixed with pseudo-realism makes the film seem more original than it actually is.
The view that the disabled are seen as a threat is explicitly stated by Hark (1993, p.152) when she writes: '[T]he usurpers often display characteristics not marked as signifiers of masculinity in the codes of male film performance [ ... T]hey may for example be effete, overweight, short, foreign accented, or disabled'. Such a list describes, as has already been stated, all the characteristics of Merrick's body, though Merrick's accent is Other due to his deformities rather than to any specific national foreignness; Merrick’s foreignness is to normality.
Finally, in The Elephant Man, the way in which Merrick wants to sleep, or wishes he could sleep, demonstrates my point precisely. Merrick dreads the night because he dreams and sees himself (making him scream); it is a function that, in isolation, justifies others’ fear of him, but Merrick also hates the fact that he cannot 'sleep like normal people'. Merrick usually sleeps with his knees bent and his head and arms resting on them due to the size of his heavy head: a head which if laid back would kill him by either breaking his neck or suffocating him. The pose is indicative of a melancholic attitude (cf. Gilman, 1988) amplified by its (Merrick's) further devaluation and abjectification by having etchings all around Merrick's bedroom of children lying asleep, normally, in a bed, rather than as is Merrick, who is just on the bed. Such scenes act in two ways: firstly, they ensure that Merrick is never seen as acceptable; and secondly, they act narratively (and discursively) to ensure that Merrick tries to be normal. The closure of the film, by having Merrick die whilst trying to sleep normally - having said: '[I]t's finished' - enables us to read Merrick's decision to sleep normally as suicide; it is an act of suicide carried out in the realisation that he can never be normal and as an attempt to die with dignity in the guise of the attitude of normality. Normality of the body is not the singular tool through which Merrick is made different, the Other, but it is the instrument through which his life is made meaningless and ultimately lifeless for himself and others. For Merrick (as with Ken and Stephanie) death is preferable to a life trapped in an abnormal and abject body.
In conclusion, this thesis would argue that Merrick and all the disabled characters (along with the working-class in The Elephant Man) are seen as social and bodily usurpers unless they are prepared to try and be normal or as normal as possible. The 'good cripple' is represented as the cripple who does his / her utmost to overcome his / her abnormality of body, in contrast to the 'bad cripple' who is the cripple who is happy to be a cripple. This point is clear if we consider how any individual who attempts to get society to accommodate his / her body as equal is treated: she / he is classified and marginalised as bitter and cynical or as a person with a multitude of chips on their shoulder. It is a stereotype that Norden (1994) calls the 'bitter crip', as in films such as The Men, Born on the Fourth of July and, from this selection, The Raging Moon. It is significant that in four of the six films discussed each has a central disabled character dying either as a result of their own disgust at not being normal or in the attempt to be so: Ken Harrison prefers death to disability in Whose Life Is It Anyway?; Stephanie prefers social death to participation whilst stoically awaiting the release of real death in Duet For One; Jill dies as a result of a sexual encounter with another cripple in The Raging Moon; and Merrick commits suicide in The Elephant Man in his desire to 'sleep like a normal person'. Christy Brown and Bruce are the only long-term survivors of all the films discussed and they are determined to be as normal as possible. The situation is clearly indicated by Bruce at the conclusion of The Raging Moon when he states that 'everything matters', in other words, he (we) must accept normalisation if he is going to have any life at all. Equally, Brown achieves an element of normality by getting married to a normal woman (even if it is his ‘Mother’).
Many, if not most, disability / impairment-oriented films follow the same bodily logic as the films discussed in this chapter, including, but not detailed due to space, A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg, from the core films of the thesis. Many other films about impairment / disability represent the impaired in a similar vein, for example, to name but a few, films such as La Buena Estrella (Ricardo Franco, Spain, 1997), Crash (Charles Band, US, 1977), Crash (David Cronenberg, Canada, 1996), Dark City (Alex Proyas, US, 1997), Eye of the Needle (Richard Marquand, GB, 1981), I Don’t Want To Be Born (Peter Sasdy, GB, 1971), In The Company Of Men (Neil LaBute, US, 1997), Just The Way You Are (Eduardo Molinario, US, 1984), Mute Witness (Anthony Waller, GB, 1995), Salon Kitty (Tinto Brass, France/Germany, 1978), Santa Sangre (A. Kodorowski, Italy, 1989), Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (K. Dick, US, 1997), Sitcom (Francois Ozon, France, 1997) and A Zed and Two Noughts (Peter Greenaway, GB, 1985). A list so diverse in so many ways, including impairment subject, demonstrates that the nature of disability representation is revealed as astoundingly static, given its regular and continued use by film-makers as subject matter.
The disabled and abnormal body is represented in these films as the model through which normality is created, validated, defined and reinforced as superior with the disabled body disqualified and invalidated by its inability to be, as a consequence, normal. They are representations which are, overall, created in a form, style and content of disability representation that is, somewhat ironically, the norm for cinematically constructed disabled characters.