Jungian analyst and author James Hollis says we can bow to our fate—acknowledge and accept what cannot be changed, our “givens” such as parents, background, conditioning, early wounding and so forth. Beyond that, we can grow into our destiny and become all that we can become.
Today, long after the advent of the liberation movement, women are still seeking their destinies, both personally and in the larger world. This series of films (to be presented in three parts) describes a certain arc of female psychological evolution, mapping a part of the territory of both the individual and cultural journeys some of us may take.
Our first film, Darling (1960), stars Julie Christie as beautiful model Diana. As we get to know her, we see her emptiness, and her lack of a sense of self except as reflected back to her by men. We see her narcissism, not only as evidenced by her focus on her looks and image but, more poignantly, on her reliance on male reactions and attention as proof to her of her own existence. Just as she is an object, she uses others as objects.
It is noteworthy that she is most often called “Darling,” not Diana, and is referred to in her modeling career as the “Honeyglow Girl” or the “Happiness Girl,” metaphors for not having her own developed sense of identity. She even refers to herself at one point as a “professional bosom.”
In looking through a feminist lens, we could say that Diana is seeking her power through men. I remember as a young girl, maybe eight years old, thinking that men could do whatever they liked and girls couldn’t. I envied men and I sought my own power through male attention. Diana is completely disempowered and no matter how much she seeks power through men she will never attain it. At the meeting about an advertising campaign, Diana is chosen as the “Happiness Girl.” One of the men says “Buy her, then?”
“If only I could feel complete.” Diana fantasizes that a little house in Italy could provide her sense of completion. And perhaps it could have, had she used it to house her inner process on her own, faced her loneliness, inner void, shadow, scary places. She also admits that “I could do without sex, I don’t like it that much.” Quite a statement, considering sex was one of the things she was bartering for attention. She has not been able to enjoy her own body, get in touch with her own pleasure.
She experiences herself as an object of desire, not the subject of her own desire. Her body and looks are only means to an end. The problem is that end is never satisfied once and for all. She says, “I always feel that there’s one more corner to turn and I’ll be there…and then there’ll be another,” representing the endless quest for satisfaction, which can never be truly found outside.
The most painful scenes reveal her alone, with no inner resources to draw upon. We can imagine the sense of annihilation she might be feeling with no outside mirror to let her know that she is alive. At the end, she has literally married “Prince Charming” (an Italian aristocrat), the stereotypical pinnacle of a woman’s dream. Yet it brings her neither happiness nor peace; she does not live happily ever after. She doesn’t even have to open a door for herself.
To develop strength of character, she would have to learn to do things for herself, but in her new situation, she is even more spoiled and infantilized. This is reminiscent of one version of the Cinderella story: the step-mother makes her daughters cut off parts of their feet in order to be able to fit into the golden slipper, telling them that once a Queen, they would have no need to walk.
One of the foundations of developing a sense of self, or even reestablishing a new sense of self, is the ability to turn loneliness into a pleasurable solitude. Clark Moustakas, in his book Loneliness, beautifully and simply points out the nobility of exploring our own loneliness as opposed to running away from it through addiction, distraction, or busy-ness. In this way we get to know ourselves intimately, and have the opportunity to become our own favorite companion. Ultimately, this reduces the need for either external validation or escapism. Had Diana been able to experience her pain and loneliness in a conscious, productive way, things might have turned out much differently for her.
[Next installment: Taking a look at Madame Bovary]