Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

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In Almodovar’s film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdownthe main character, Pepa, becomes frantic when her mistress lover, Ivan, unexpectedly breaks up with her over the answering machine. While Pepa tries to contact Ivan to understand his actions, her best friend realizes that her own lover is actually a Shiite terrorist. Both, Pepa and Candela (Pepa’s best friend), are regarded as crazy and obsessed by other characters.  But Ivan won’t even answer Pepa’s calls following his voice message that ended their relationship. Furthermore, Ivan, who works with Pepa in a voice-recording studio, has Pepa repeat romantic lines to the character he voices following their breakup.

The film eventually ends with Pepa saving Ivan from his gun-wielding, “crazy” ex-wife Lucia. And while murder is obviously an extreme, and yes crazy, resort- Lucia is not without cause. It becomes revealed that after she gave birth to her and Ivan’s son, Ivan locked her up in a mental institute for postpartum depression and left her for a new woman.

None of these women are truly insane. In reality, Ivan is the only one who has earned that title. Ivan refuses to communicate with both his ex-wife and his now-ex girlfriend. Luckily our heroine realizes in the end that “this man she was trying so desperately to get back is unworthy of her — or, for that matter, most any woman,” (Kempley). As Sullivan writes: “[Pepa] achieves strength and understanding not by analyzing the politics of her pain but by working through it,” (Sullivan).

The House of the Spirits offers a parallel viewpoint. In chapter eight, Blanca is married to the count and pregnant with Alba when she begins witnessing strange events. Everyone, from her husband to her mother, disbelieves her until Blanca herself begins to believe that “the heat and pregnancy were affecting her mind,” (Allende, 278). Later in the chapter however, Blanca breaks into the count’s locked den, where “distressing erotic scenes… revealed her husband’s hidden character,” (Allende, 288). Much like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the female is depicted as crazy at the work of her significant other.

The cause of this phenomenon may very well be etymology, the study of the origin and development of words. Etymology “…[has] cemented a polarisation of the female and male mental states: men being historically associated with rationality, straightforwardness and logic; women with unpredictable emotions, outbursts and madness,” (Nunn). This is still a major issue. In our current election, many fear that Clinton will be disabled from fully performing presidential duties directly due to her menstrual cycle, while Trump is applauded for his “out there” statements. This is not meant to be political, but rather a lesson- both sexes are crazy, but its mainly females viewed that way.

Almodovar, Pedro, director. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. 11 November 1988.

Kempley, Rita. “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” The Washington Post, 22 December 1988, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/movies/videos/womenonthevergeofanervousbreakdownnrkempley_a0c9d8.htm. Accessed 22 September 2016.

Sullivan, Monica. “Movie Review: Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Movie Magazine International, 14 September 2005,  www.shoestring.org/mmi_revs/womanontheverge-ms-182044178.html. Accessed 22 September 2016.

Nunn, Gary. “The feminisation of madness is crazy.” The Guardian, 8 March 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/media/mind-your-language/2012/mar/08/mind-your-language-feminisation-madness. Accessed 22 September 2016.

Volver and The House of the Spirits

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On the surface, Almodovar’s Volver has many similarities to Allende’s The House of the Spirits. Both stories depict multiple generations of strong, vivacious women and their struggles to survive both common life and the actions of men.

The main premise of Volver is two grownup sisters discovering their mother’s ghost following their aunt’s funeral. This use of an other-worldly element (the mother’s ghost) would seem likely to take center stage of the film. However, the existence of the ghost does not distract from the main characters’ real-world problems. Similarly, in The House of the Spirits, Clara’s paranormal powers do not do her much good; in the end she is still married to an abusive man. The lives of these women in both stories are less than desired. But the strong nature of the characters, with their inability to resort to self-pity despite their gloomy circumstances is quite admirable. This, rather than the mystical elements both stories possess, is the main focus.

In the beginning of Volver, one sister, Raimunda returns home to her husband’s dead body because earlier he tried to sexually harass his step-daughter, Paula. In true mother-like fashion, Raimunda decides to clean up the mess and cover up the accident for her daughter’s sake. When a neighbor notices blood on Raimunda’s neck, her response is “’women’s troubles’…which is both a startling risqué joke and the startling truth” (NY Times). Paco, the deceased husband, literally is “women’s troubles” (Almodóvar). He is trouble for Raimunda’s daughter Paula, whom he attempted to rape, and he is trouble for Raimunda herself, as she is now tasked with covertly disposing of his body.

But this is beside the point. The fact that the New York Times reporter Anthony Scott found the joke that the character made “risqué” is important. Allende’s portrayal of Blanca’s transition into adulthood as shameless and good in The House of the Spirits was revolutionary when released in the 20th c. And it is still revolutionary today. As Scott writes, “men, for Raimunda and her circle, tend to be malevolent, irrelevant or simply absent: straying husbands, predators, dead bodies. They cause a fair amount of trouble, but the point of “Volver” is that it’s not about them.” Men are not the focus- in Volver, The House of the Spirits, and real life. The fact that that Scott found Raimunda’s joke “risqué” is because men, who primarily dictate society norms, have pre-decided that female menstrual cycles are “risqué.” As Cynthia Fuchs writes: “The most… provocative aspect of Almodóvar’s movie is its celebration of women’s self-understanding… In the end, men are unimportant in the women’s patient, purposeful, and proud survival.” This, in essence, is what Volver and The House of the Spirits have in common. Both are portrayals of women surviving in a world dominated by men.

Fuchs, Cynthia. “Volver.” Common Sense Media, http://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/volver#. Accessed September 8 2016.

A.O. Scott. “The Darkest of Troubles in the Brightest of Colors.” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/03/movies/03volv.html?_r=1. Accessed September 8 2016.

Clara the Clairvoyant (House of the Spirits)

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In Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits, the main character, Clara, possesses special powers. She can predict deaths, earthquakes, and converse with spirits. This remains a fundamental aspect of the novel, but Clara is not the sole person with these abilities. Although Clara befriends others like herself, such as the Mora sisters, there are additional characters with similar intelligence. In chapter one Uncle Marcos is described as believing “that all human beings [possess] this ability… and that if it did not function well it was simply due to a lack of training,” (17).

Later when the Tres Marías becomes invaded by raging ants unaffected by pesticides, Esteban hires a gringo who identifies “the species, its lifestyle… and even its most secret desire,” (123). However, it is Pedro García who is successful at ridding the hacienda of the invasive ants, simply “by talking to them,” (125). Although the gringo managed to unearth personal details of the ants, he did not consider García’s irregular method. In fact, “Clara was the only one to whom the procedure seemed completely normal,” (125). Additionally, following the earthquake’s disturbance, Pedro García healed Esteban’s greatly injured body “so perfectly that the doctors… could not believe such a thing was possible,” (180).

Although it is not directly stated, it can be inferred that García does not care for Esteban Truebo, as both Pedro Segundo and Pedro Tercero grow to despise Esteban. However, Esteban was certainly in a vulnerable position when he was injured; without Pedro García’s handiwork Esteban would likely have died. In the first chapter, Nana states that “many children fly like birds, guess other people’s dreams, and speak with ghosts, but that they all outgrow it when they lose their innocence,” (9). Therefore, it is possible that Pedro García remains unique despite his old age and blindness because there still exists an innocent, genuine goodness within him.

Opposite of Pedro García is Father Restrepo. “The priest was blessed with a long, incriminating finger, which he used to point out sinners in public,” (2). Restrepo would wrongly accuse innocent people of committing crimes, in an almost vision-like manner. However, despite his position, Father Restrepo is no saint. At ten years old, Clara is claimed by Restrepo to be possessed by the devil. Although his ‘visions’ might suggest otherwise, Restrepo has no special gifts. Whether this is due to “innocence [lost]” or “a lack of training” is uncertain. However, we can predict that further on in the book, following the deaths of Nana and Férula, Clara’s steady transition back into the present, and the growth of Clara’s hatred for Esteban; Clara’s special abilities will decline.

Pan’s Labryinth

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Pan’s Labryinth portrays a young girl’s descent into a magical realm following the move of her and her mother to the countryside where Ofelia, the young girl, must deal with the cruelty and belittlement of her stepfather and the passivity of her mother. When Ofelia first meets the Faun, she asks Mercedes, a mother figure for Ofelia, if she believes in fairies. Mercedes’ response is “No, but I did when I was your age.”

As Mercedes struggles with secretly supporting rebels aiming to overthrow the regime The Captain, Ofelia’s cruel stepfather, works for; Ofelia struggles to complete the Faun’s tasks.Through this, Director Guillermo del Toro portrays the real world and magical world side-by-side. The ambiguous ending continues this pattern, as Ofelia is shown as a princess in her magical world, while Mercedes cries over Ofelia’s dead body in her real world.

Arguably, Ofelia’s magical fantasy is only a figment of imagination, inspired by her love of fairytales and persuaded by the horrors she has witnessed. Additionally, Franco was unable to see Faun when Ofelia held a conversation with him. However, because Franco has committed evil crimes, it is possible that he is unable to see Faun not because Faun doesn’t exist outside of Ofelia’s mind; but because there is no good within Franco.