By Thomas H Cullen (UK)
An inspection of The Duchess digs up the complexity of whether a metaphor has the right to feel guilty. Or something to that effect. The Duchess – which is based on the true story of Georgiana Cavendish – is an effective tale of repression and domestic abuse. Cavendish’s story is an interesting example of a mildly interesting story becoming greater than the sum of its parts.
First, the metaphor needs to be laid out: in a basic sense, the symbolism of The Duchess is that revolution can be ignored because of an attraction. Cavendish encounters Bess Foster, befriends Foster, but then ends up being betrayed by Foster. Subsequent to this, the rebellious and free living spirit of Cavendish is further destroyed, only the story ends on a note of optimism – and yet the optimism has nothing to do with revolution. Georgiana becomes resolved, but the resolution is inflicted by the sources of unhappiness and abuse. And this is why The Duchess is an interesting movie.
What does it actually mean, if a state of happiness is created by a state of unhappiness? To sum up, The Duchess presents revolution denying its own right to exist so that an unhappiness can be resolved that is opposed to revolution. Revolution – which is about social equality – hurts itself so that a problem can end which is opposed to ending inequality. Is it any wonder why The Duchess needs to be addressed?
To go through the previous points once more: goodness undermines itself, so that antagonism can heal itself. Seeing as how goodness is about responsibility – a theme which is echoed by The Master – the theme for this film makes sense. But is that all that’s at play here?
In the world of The Duchess, antagonism is to do with obstructing healing; the story therefore, that’s at play is that healing obstructs itself so that the obstruction to healing can imitate healing. Healing hurts itself, so that the act of hurting can pretend to be healing – healing wounds itself, so that a wound can pretend to not exist.
Healing wounds itself, so that healing can pretend to be real.
Healing – or evolution – wants to just be an illusion, but the only way to devise that reality is for healing to prove that it can be the opposite. History wants to be fake, but the only way to devise that reality is for history to prove that it can be the opposite.
The story of The Duchess is the story of history being illustrated as a pseudo-state. Georgiana comes in and out of contact with history, and the encounter is depicted as false. The Duchess is written and directed in a way so that history comes off feeling stupid. Sincerity and reliability are associated with personal encounters, not historical encounters. It’s when Georgiana experiences the personal that reality feels correct and sane.
Should The Duchess feel guilty? Is Bess Foster a source of guilt – not the literal character, but the symbolism of the character? In real life, history is any movement. The Duchess must be aware of this perspective. This then means that The Duchess is the perspective that any movement wants to be fake, and that accomplishing that state is through any movement proving to itself that it can be real.
Movement wants to be fake, by being real. To allude to Interview with the Vampire, movement means repetition. Repetition wants to be fake, by being real. Revolution is antagonistic towards repetition, meaning that revolution is the fakeness that repetition aspires towards. If repetition is real, the fakeness of revolution becomes valuable.
If injury is real, the reward is that the pleasure of healing becomes untrue.
The Duchess, as things appear, is advocating the perspective that it’s right to experience pain for the sake of being disappointed by the process of healing; obviously, this isn’t a sane or credible way to view the world. Bess Foster may be as alluring as she is, and The Duchess may be trying very hard to disguise insanity as sanity, but in the end the film is just a semi-self-indulgent product of history