Parlor Discourse on the Nature of Love in three films by Jane Campion part three, Bright Star

This is the third and final discourse on The Nature of Love in three films by Jane Campion.  The other two on The Piano and Holy Smoke are posted below this, and all three are preceded by a bit of thinking that lays the groundwork for these writings on the complexity without end we name Love.

Part three of three: the Bright Star discourse

So what of Bright Star, where Jane Campion goes straight at the heart of romantic love?  Here, the physical plane of sexual attraction, so on the surface in the earlier two filmstories of  The Piano & Holy Smoke, goes underground.

IMDB still from Bright Star

She begins her tale of love between Fanny Brawne and John Keats with a portrait of Fanny as a master of that undervalued, mostly female art form – hand stitching with needle and thread.

Feelings are especially everything for poetry too, of course.  And, outside of us literary types, the poet’s task of tracking the subterranean suffers, along with hand stitching, an undervalued rank in the hierarchy of “productive” human endeavor.  The life of a poet is not practical.  At least sewing produces something to clothe the body and one can “get money from it,” as Fanny points out.  While John’s friends resort to huddled teas round the topic of his support, “Could we not between us start a collection?” 

But for Campion, this Romantic poet is the perfect companion for her Fanny’s expedition into what love might look like un-tethered from the presumptions of gender.  As Fanny’s mother pragmatically states, “Mr. Keats knows he can not like you.  He has no living and no income.”  Keats unabashedly has nothing to offer Fanny.  Being so disinvested, he’s more the ready to perceive her as she is, albeit young, as a whole being; he’s more the ready to be dislodged from the norm of male identity dependent upon the female as helpmate, as an available source of energy put at the service of men’s “higher callings.” 

Keats admits the difficulty of perceiving gender anew.  He tells Fanny, “I’m not sure I have the right feelings towards women…I’m attracted to you without knowing why.  All women confuse me.”  Unsettled, made light on his feet by his practice of considered feeling, he can not take permission from the primeval contract rooted in the history of our gender relations (of class and race too, but that’s another story).  He is unable to ride its one way current set at the expense of one, woman, for the benefit of the other, man.  It does not translate for him.   At least as far as concerns Fanny, he’s open to the try of a side by side stroll of equal souls.

For her part Fanny is a willing, courageous trekker through the realms mysterious with Keats, this man unafraid, perhaps in pursuit of dissolving.  “I love mystery,” she tells him.  And when he asks, “Are you frightened to speak truthfully?”  “Never,” her immediate response. 

She is otherwise surrounded by the expectations of her gender.  “I should never have…let this happen,” her concerned, indulgent mother tells Fanny. “You are already the source of so much gossip.”  Her growing bond with Keats conflicts with Fanny’s familial duty.  She is a good daughter.  As such she’s to attract a husband who can support her, and her family with her.  The more she pursues her engagement with Keats and his poetry, the more at risk her value as a desirable wife, the more at risk her full dance card.

Mr. Brown, the condescending gatekeeper, declares Fanny’s illegitimacy, shooing her out when she violates with her female presence the “men’s room” where the arduous toil for poetic inspiration is underway.  And Mr. Brown does get the snob’s satisfaction of tripping her up as she oversteps in her eagerness to be included, exposing her inadequate literary depth.  Surprise.  What use would such education be for a young woman?  She’s on her own there.  Mr. Brown warns Keats to stay away from her.  Fanny will “trap” him, divert his talents into the soul depleting work of writing for money to support her “frivolous” sewing projects. 

But Keats, sniffing out the rich vein of creative energy he feels with Fanny, defends her to Brown, “…allow me my happiness, for I am writing again.”  Inspire, from Latin: in-, into + spirare, to breathe.  But this is not as in Muse.  For that see periodic links Picasso.

Poetry shadows that feeling flow that runs within and between beings tapping its synapse just beyond our grasp.  Emotion’s till and turn.  Keats letting himself accept Fanny as she presents herself, as she becomes an able companion in the poet’s try to call up the unformed chaos within and give it name.  This is not an act of capture.  Not an act of use.  This thing of beauty brought back immortal through the alchemy of words is an act of birthing something not before.  This is the creative act.  

Fanny’s spirit finds in Keats a correspondence of deep love that brings her, and him, life.  They are compelled to be with one another by their natures and without benefit of convention or any social encouragement.  In this dangerous, delicate instability, our conception of love between a man and a woman shifts.  Becomes anew.

How does change happen?  Fanny and John’s empathetic beholding of one another manifests the promise of a not-yet-love of two attuned to the energetic exchange between beings, and between beings and nature. The butterflies.  The flowers.

This story of the love of Fanny and John, being Romantic love, is doomed.  A sickly Keats says as he prepares to leave, forever, “We have woven a web, you and I, attached to this world but a separate world of our own invention.  We must cut the threads, Fanny.”  “No.  No I can’t.  I never will!” she responds as she offers to “do anything.”  He refuses, “I have a conscience.”  And gives her instead some more imagining, “Let’s pretend I will return in Spring.”  Love has appeared, made tangible between them and attached him to this life.  He who perhaps pursued dissolving, now hates to go. 

When Mr. Brown comes, as he inevitably must, bearing the news of Keats’ death, even he seems changed.  His naming out loud to Fanny the finality of Keats’ loss to this world sucks the inspiration out of her.  She can not breathe.  Many do not let themselves risk love for their fear of this pain at its loss.  But experience it Fanny must, because for her nature, as for her dear Keats, there is no choice but to be open to life in its entirety.  And at end, we all let life, and those we come to love through it, go.  Cutting the threads.

Jane Campion, our own Fanny pushing open the door to the men’s room, gives us what we ask of narrative.  She transfers to us some bit of synapse from the energy released in her filmic naming of love:  from this story of the poetic exploration by two together for a love not yet of this world;  from the story of George Baines who yearns for love and learns to listen to more than his body, only and in that finds love and more with Ada;  of Ruth and PJ’s sexual combat all about being body, only, and its turn on kindness into a love that encourages growth, spiritual and emotional, in man and woman, both.

Campion’s narrative fission sooths and emboldens us to accept the mystery.  We take courage to risk connections built from, but reaching beyond, too, the norms of physical attraction that so often interfere with our coming to know one another.  In her stories we see a path for love provoked evolution, a practice in allowing love, pursing it even, for fulfillment of our being.  And in this, Jane Campion makes legible the shimmering thread connecting love and the creative energy that makes life anew.

To read up on Keats and his poem Bright Star.

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