Poly-ish Movie Reviews - Episode 45: The Unbearable Lightness Of Being

9:56
 
Share
 

Manage episode 231320724 series 1025378
By Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio streamed directly from their servers.

How well does this particular fan recommendation hold up to Joreth's poly critique?

Sometimes I think that maybe I'm actually speaking a different language from everyone else, and maybe I have some kind of universal translator or babelfish so that I can't tell, but that the translator is buggy or slightly off in some ways. Because people don't seem to use words in the same way that I do. Even with a dictionary, people use words differently, and I find that I am constantly having semantics arguments because we can't discuss a topic until we are all on the same page about what the words we are using mean.

One of those words is polyamory. I'm a pretty big proponent of using the definition of a word that the person who made up the word uses. In some cases, I think the Argument from Authority is a good one. If you invented or coined a term, then you get to decide what it means. This is even more important, to me, the younger the word is. And if the word was invented or coined within the same generation (i.e. roughly 30-ish years) and the coiners are still alive, then there shouldn't be any debate about "living languages" and so forth.

So, to me, polyamory is about having or wanting multiple simultaneous romantic relationships in which all parties consent to the arrangement. That means that they all know about it and agree to it willingly, not grudgingly. If you don't say yes, it's not consent. If you are coerced, it's not consent. If someone uses their position of authority over you, it's not consent. If you are not aware of any other options, it's not consent. If you are not allowed the opportunity to back out, it's not consent. And so on. Polyamory is also, to me, more about building intentional families (even if some of those relatives are "extended" relatives) than in experiencing sexual encounters (also explicit in the definition - a word's definition is not necessarily limited solely to it's literal translation, the intent and cultural context of a word is also taken into account).

So when someone suggests a movie to me that they claim has polyamory in it, I am now highly dubious about that claim. I have been recommended all manner of cheating and swinging and other non-monogamous movies, but very rarely do I find actual polyamory in these films. Every so often, a cheating movie might make it into my Poly-ish Movie List because I believe from the context of the story that it would be polyamorous if not for the circumstances, like the era or culture, that prevents the characters from openly declaring their relationships that are, nonetheless, loving (like Same Time, Next Year) - I basically feel that the characters are poly but possibly trapped somewhen/somewhere that they can't express it properly. Many times, it's hard for me to really quantify why a particular borderline movie is poly and why this other one isn't. It usually boils down to tone, and a vague sense of "moralizing" that I may or may not get from the storytellers.

This was the problem I had with The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I kept getting told that it was a poly movie, but there was just something wrong with its tone. Tomas is a philanderer who seems to be afraid of commitment and keeps his emotional entanglements to a minimum. Basically, he has sex with lots of women a few times and drops them when they start becoming "serious". Except for one woman, Sabina, who basically seems to have the same outlook as Tomas, in that she hightails it outta there as soon as a guy starts getting "serious" about her. They appear to have a mutual respect in addition to their mutual attraction and mutual passion because of their shared interest in not letting anyone get close to them. Ironically, that barrier that they both erect to keep people out is what ties them together.

Along comes Tereza, an innocent young girl who manages to, as far as I could tell, guilt her way into Tomas' life. She shows up on his doorstep with no place to stay, and so breaks his rule about kicking every girl out before morning. After a whole bunch of these mornings, he finally ends up marrying her.

This is yet another case of a couple who doesn't seem to have anything in common and doesn't seem to like each other very much. At least, the director and/or screenwriter didn't establish their relationship very well. We know what Tomas likes in Tereza - she's female - but we don't really see what brings the two such different characters together. She's young, naive, innocent, apolitical, and extremely jealous and insecure. He's worldly, sophisticated, educated, misogynistic, contemptuous of most people, and a horndog. Other than the fact that their bits fit together, I couldn't understand their relationship at all.

Tomas continues to cheat on Tereza throughout their relationship, and every time Tereza catches him at it, she throws a huge fit that borders on emotional blackmail. I think she's probably depressive to the point of suicidal. Not that I'm defending Tomas either - Tereza doesn't consent to an open relationship, so he's cheating. Period. She deserves better.

There is only one scene that could even possibly be confused for a pro-poly scene. And I have to say that I didn't even interpret the scene this way until someone else suggested it. I still don't see the scene this way, but I can at least see how someone else might.

Tereza suspects Tomas of having an affair with Sabina, who has been introduced to the new Mrs. Tomas as his friend & occasionally socializes with them. So Tereza, who is told to get into photographing naked women if she wants to be taken seriously as a professional photographer, approaches Sabina to be Tereza's first nude model. Sabina, a confident, sexually liberated woman in the '60s, is the only person Tereza knows who might even consider the proposal.

So we have a scene where Tereza photographs Sabina, and eventually Sabina (who is also a photographer and artist) talks Tereza into posing nude for her in return. The two women, who have before been very awkward together, gain some sort of comfort and familiarity with each other through this mutual nude photography session.

I didn't see how this was poly, really. The argument was made that it was basically two metamours who had finally reached out to each other and were able to get past the jealousy to see each other maybe as how their mutual partner could see them. The reason why I didn't interpret the scene this way is because Tereza had only suspected Sabina as being Tomas' lover (he never confirmed) and neither woman spoke of anything relationship-oriented at all. So maybe they did get past some of their jealousy and learned to see each other as people, and maybe this was a bonding, and even a learning moment for both of them. But it was still cheating and still a secret and Tereza still never approved of Tomas' philandering, and the two women never saw each other again on screen.

This movie was not about a poly vee. This was a political commentary on the war in Europe and the Soviet invasion of Czecheslovakia, using the characters as vehicles for the commentary. The movie was brilliantly made, using real footage and photographs from the invasion itself, as chronicled by art students at the university at the time, and staging the characters on the sets to flip back and forth seamlessly between the real archival footage and the movie. This was the first and best comprehensive collection of the record of the invasion ever made.

This movie was based on the book by the same name, which is also widely touted as a brilliant piece of literature. It was critically acclaimed, although, like any book-based movie, many were disappointed with the conversion to film. So I recommend this movie if history and foreign films and high-brow media are your thing. I just didn't feel that it was particularly poly.

***SPOILERS***

Tomas and Tereza eventually settle down when Tereza convinces him to leave the city (and, hence, his ready supply of willing adulterers) and live in the country, and they seem to be happily monogamous for a time. So when a guy who can't remain sexually fidelitous is finally able to only by removing his access to other women, and when the couple is shown as finally happy when said other women are removed from the picture, I have a hard time accepting the badge of "polyamory" or even "poly-ish" that the movie has been given. It comes too close to "open relationships are a train-wreck and everyone is happier when they are monogamous" to me.

Sabina does appear to have remained a close friend of Tomas, right up until the end, but even she was removed from his reach, and she had to love him from afar. She also proclaimed herself as "their closest friend", meaning a close friend to both Tomas and Tereza, but "close friend" from across the globe and not having seen or spoken to them in years is really tough for me to stretch into "poly".

This is one of the few artsy-foreign films that I didn't dislike for being too artsy & foreign, and I'd like to read the book. I might have liked the movie better if I had just come across it on my own instead of having it recommended to me as a potential poly film, because I watched it through a filter of hopes and expectations of poly content. I will not be including this on the Poly-ish Movie List, but it was an interesting movie and I'm glad I saw it.

47 episodes available. A new episode about every 0 hours averaging 7 mins duration .