The Duke of Burgundy
Friday, July 3, 2015
Our fingerprints, our retinal configuration and all else about us are unique, including our perceptions, dreams and fantasies. Even so we talk about being ‘normal’ as though it is a virtue. Society pressgangs us into conformity. To stray outside the fencing that society erects to herd us along the path of life is to risk certain vilification.
When I directed a research study many years ago into the behavior of children playing computer games in their homes, an unanticipated by-product of the data gathering was the complete lack of pattern across families’ behaviors. 100 families equalled 100 eccentric ‘cultures’. Once inside the front door of a house rules seem to be invented and invoked, either explicit or implicit, which each family regards as normal and acceptable. It is a conundrum. Society values highly the sacred autonomy of family life but still demands the gloss of public conformity. Only when behaviour spills over into the socially unacceptable are front doors breached. Yet, under the guise of household normality, the bizarre, the strange and the problematic co-exist without constraint. It seemed in our research that no two families were remotely alike. We couldn’t cluster them in categories. Yet, in all their wondrously divergent ways, they created viable and relatively stable habitats, no matter how outlandish they might appear when one examined the detail.
The Duke of Burgundy is a film about intimacy. What is depicted in its slow, erotic flow is a range of behaviours between two women which necessitates keeping the front door firmly shut. They do together what their obsessions demand of them. Their ‘normality’ is not a recognizable one. It has a recurring life cycle, like the butterfly of the film’s title, with alternating phases of sexual dominance and subservience that reach a crescendo before beginning all over again. Wonderfully filmed in deep shadows and claustrophobic rooms, close up and intense, it is a terrific cinema.
We all think we know what love is. We may be daft enough to think that others experience it as we do. The film, like the research mentioned above, suggests otherwise. The love of the two women is unlike anything society might imagine as normal. Yet it is definitely and unequivocally love.