Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt/Le mepris” (1963) is the first part of his religious trilogy, followed by “Hail, Mary” (1985) and “Woe Is Me” (1993). While “Contempt” examines the psychological mechanism of relations between humans and gods of pagan “design” – the human humans (the people with psychology of god-worshippers) and the human gods (people with psychology of unconscious identification with gods), “Hail, Mary” analyzes the psychological roots of the Christian cult of Saint Mary, and “Woe is Me” – the return of pagan gods into post-Christian modernity in a form of technological constructions, tools and toys dominating people’s life in Western democracies.
In his analysis of religious psychology Godard separates people from religious (in a narrow sense) practices and metaphorizes these practices on personal and social relations between people in order to make their religious essence more articulate and vivid for the perception of the viewers. Religious psychology is not necessary creates loyalty to despotic dogmas (many atheists are very religious by psychology). In “Contempt” Godard shows how religious feelings show itself in private relations between Paul (Michel Piccoli), a modest writer of detective stories but educated and with an exceptional existentially spiritual taste person, and his wife Camille (Brigitte Bardot), a monumental beauty, and in social relations between Paul (identifying with Homer and Odyssey) and the mighty Hollywood producer Jeremiah Prokosch (the new incarnation of Poseidon/Neptune), played by Jack Polance in the only intellectually serious performance of his whole career. The both “gods” – Camille and Prokosch, are depicted with tender and subtle caricaturishness, while Paul’s destiny Godard generalizes as that of us all, the humanity. Godard deconstructs the relations between humans and gods as known in history - as metaphoric constructions of markedly sociomorphic relations between human beings as such (personified by Paul) and the human gods (personified by Camille and Prokosch). On the level of the plot the film describes the disagreements between Paul (the author of screenplay), Fritz Lang (the director) who plays himself, and Prokosch (the producer) – all trying together to make a film based on Homer’s Odyssey. But Godard’s scholarly intentions in the film are not limited to symbolizing a certain type of relations between human beings into relations between humans and gods. The second important scientific contribution of Godard in “Contempt” is his classification of the types of bonds human beings are prone to establish between themselves and our historical past, and themselves and any work of art they perceive and react on. Here Prokosch personifies the type of perception of the past which is based on our projection into the historical past of our self-aggrandizement (our megalomaniacal need). For him Ancient Greece is a kind of Olympus in comparison with today’s life. This is, essentially, a conservative position based on authoritarian/totalitarian behavioral habits including the proneness for religious or secular cult of ancestors. The second position is represented by Lang who tends to “objectively” study the human past without the need for any identification with it. This position is that of liberal scholars – it’s the accumulation of a kind of an archival knowledge about the past without any worshipful or critical emotions. The third position is represented by Paul who sees in people of the previous epochs our existential brothers. He learns from the past and from the art and understood that people who lived before us made their own attempts to resolve their problems with gods as idealized models (theologized, from Olympus, or living on the Olympus of the tops of the social hierarchy), as we today trying to with the human gods of our times. Existential identification with our ancient ancestors is simultaneously brotherly and critical. The same three positions – projection of self-aggrandizement (or its negative reflection – the dismissal: “I love-I hate” approach), “objective” position of “neutral/truthful” representation, and existential identification Godard discerns in our relations with works of art.
“Contempt” occupies not only a unique place in history of cinema and Western culture in general, but a distinguished place of an exemplary work of art.
Please, visit: www.actingoutpolitics.com to read an essay about the film (with analysis of stills from it) – “Psychology of Human Obsession with Super-human (Human Need for Association with Gods as a Result of Problems in Relations between People)”.
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