Anima and the Political Dynamics of Cultural Change: The Case of SImøne1

Article excerpt

Simone (USA, 2002) is a reworking of the Pygmalion story set in present-day Hollywood. Strong currents of misogyny and self-delusion run through every generation of this tale. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, Pygmalion, "revolted by the many faults which nature has implanted in the female sex," had long lived a bachelor existence (231). Eventually he carved a statue and fell in love with his creation.

Often he ran his hands over the work, feeling it to see whether it was flesh or ivory, and would not yet admit that ivory was all it was. He kissed the statue, and imagined that it kissed him back, spoke to it and embraced it, and thought he felt his fingers sink into the limbs he touched, so that he was afraid lest a bruise appear where he had pressed the flesh. (Ibid)

In response to his prayers, Venus gave the statue life and Pygmalion married the newly created woman. Nine months later a child was born to the happy couple.

In George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1912) (as well as My Fair Lady, the Broadway musical spin-off of 1956, and the 1964 film of the same name) the story centers on the transformation of a Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, at the hands of Henry Higgins. Higgins, another middle-aged bachelor, is a comic figure, a cantankerous, self-opinionated snob. Yet his physical and social clumsiness endow him with a ghastly innocence which, together with his enthusiastic energy, becomes one of his redeeming features (Morgan 51-52). Higgins attempts to turn the flower girl into a fine lady by giving her elocution lessons, not caring whether the forced translation will benefit or ruin her. In actuality, however, he is her clueless student and she leads him into the ranks of humanity.

SImøne reworks these predecessors. Andrew Niccol, who previously scripted The Truman Show (1998), wrote and directed this film, turning his satirical eye away from megalomania in the TV industry and directing at the big screen. His Pygmalion is a Hollywood film director, Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino). Niccol drops Shaw's silent allusions to Cinderella, but plays with his idea of mutual education between master and girl. He preserves both the comedic and serious elements of Shaw's register and darkens it with satire. He also draws from both older tales the theme of a man bringing his ideal to life by art. Shaw politicized the impact of this desire by focusing on the class inequalities between Higgins and Eliza, and My Fair Lady followed Shaw in this. Since Simone revels satirically in the stereotypes both of creative geniuses and Hollywood, Viktor's ideal woman, caught up by industry and public expectations, inevitably becomes politicized.

Ovid linked his story with the supernatural, and his verses resonate with the film in that, like Pygmalion's statue, Simone (Rachel Roberts) is a virtual, not a real woman. As such she takes on characteristics identified by the psychoanalyst C. G. Jung as the anima, the internal feminine who, far from being real, comprises elements of women important to the man who introjects her. Since for Viktor such women are film stars, he draws upon their traits in composing Simone. She becomes a (screen) goddess, soon arousing the devotion of fans and influencing Viktor's life.

Right from the start, Viktor is in trouble when his tyrannical leading lady Nicola (Wynona Ryder), ranting from the depths of her empty being at what she chooses to see as a personal humiliation, stages a preplanned walk off his movie. In her narcissism she suffers from the morbid lack which lies behind the craven appetite for popularity endemic in Hollywood. Viktor is possessed by the same sick state of mind. With Sunrise Sunset half in the can, and facing professional meltdown, he desperately needs a new leading lady. He is rescued by a software package, Simulation One, which enables its user to generate a virtual actor so perfect her performances pass for real. Viktor uses the software secretly to insert Simone (her name deriving from the package) into Nicola's role. …