Elementary Particles

Elementrary Particles is adapted from the eponymous novel of the notorious French writer Michel Houllellebecq. In terms of theme, it extends his previous effort in L’extension de la domaine de la lutte, dealing with a desperate life imbued with sexual frustration and inexplicable loneliness. As I see it, desperateness and loneliness are the two sides of one same coin. Thus the narrative adopts a classical strategy (the most apparent application of it can be found in Tolstoy’s War and Peace) of having two complementary protagonists. Needless to say, they either have to be good friends or related in a certain way. In this film they are Bruno and Michael, half-blood brothers from different mothers.

Bruno is certainly a lewd figure. People notice this in a few minutes --- whenever he opens his mouth, it is about sex. But the course of film reveals that he is in such a shitty situation (nobody knows what is the problem) and that he turns out in the end to be a victim and something else must take the blame. I do not experience sexual frustration often (yeah, only once in a while) but somehow I feel that I can identify with Bruno (and the other figure, Michael). And that leads me to conclude that the film is nothing but a collection of defeats --- it is this despair facing defeats I share with Bruno. We all face defeats many times in life, but certain kinds of people manage to make it sounds like a wolf with shiny eyes in a fairytale, something scary that you can just run away from. No, it is not like that. Houllellebecq is correct. Defeat is invisible and ridiculous. It doesn’t matter how successful you are – you have yet to figure out why Houllellebecq, such a successful writer, persists in writing about frustrations and defeats (there is no quotes from Schopenhauer in the film although I knew he reads it).

One possible explanation of Bruno’s agony is that he is raised without love – his mother is a hippy and lives in Poona all the time. That is the impression I got from the book – that Houllellebecq is blaming the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s. But what about the other boy? This prodigy never feels any impulse towards woman and is consequently totally exempt from the female turmoil that all of us has to undergo in our life. Is he happier that way? Can one be happy by just being left alone and studying mathematics?

This pair of characters forms a similar construction to that of Houllellebecq’s previous book. But I think Houllellebecq has made some small modifications to improve its strength. In the previous book, there is this issue of male ugliness to blame; here I don’t think it is an issue. Moritz Bleibtreu is not ugly and totally repulsive to woman as Tisserand. Yet he is always rejected in the camping site. Any stupid idiot can have a massage by a gorgeous half naked blonde; not our protagonist, not him. This is dangerous, because anybody mentally stronger than Bruno would get angry and become a serial killer. But Bruno is so weak: he has in his cane the same inscription as Kafka, not Balzac: every obstacle destroys me. Women seem to have an instinct for this mental “imperfection” – the instant they notice it, they run away. They did the same thing to Kafka, Dante, Nietzsche. Yes, even Nietzsche. It is not their fault by any means. Since our men are too weak, too unrealistic, too desperate, too great a writer. Women have their missions in this world and they are dedicated to these missions. They want confidence, security, power, will – they expect you to have these precious “virtues” since they want to keep their own frustration. The famous counterexample is of course Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris. It is implied that the woman (and a pretty young one, too) is obsessed by Brando because he is so desperate. But evidently Moritz Bleibtreu does not have a personal charm comparable to Brando. Moreover, when Brando is not in his blue days, he can actually be very confident and aggressive.

In a broader perspective, Houllellebecq’s subject can be viewed as an anthropological one, that of sexual selection. Many unsuccessful males resent the consequence of sexual selection. It has become a cliché that they turn to blame life if they cannot find a vehicle to procreate. Perhaps they should blame it on libido. It is this damn thing that makes a man can not concentrate and do some useful things, like mathematics. Michael, in this perspective, can be regarded as someone who has got rid of his libido. Unfortunately he is thus deprived of the only motor force of human being. He grabs, as a last resort, a woman without uterus. That suits him fine: ever since childhood, he had been acclaiming Aldous Huxley’s The Brave New World, where the hefty responsibility of procreation is to be conferred to better hands: the state. The vital link between him and his Annabelle Lee is not any eros-derived product, but an asexual tenderness, which I find extremely valuable, although too idealistic.

By comparison, the thing between Michael and his sexually extravagant girl friend Christiane, is “human, all too human.” We all know too well how human react under their tragic circumstances. So little surprise. Nevertheless I am deeply touched. Especially when the “miracle” happens in front of me. Perhaps I have become too sentimental – well, I like the feel of it.


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