I am your labyrinth

[It is useless to read the following before my review of The Tree of Life, The Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick.]

- The whole thing must have been so embarrassing for you.
- Not at all! I enjoyed, er … talking to you.
(Vertigo, dialogue between Madeleine and Scottie)

Snow White: already so much talk about Malick and Monteiro (mainly herehere and here) and only now I realized that there was still a great deal to explore regarding this shared image for mother cinema. After all, the Portuguese director did a film under such title, one in which he quite explicitly identifies with the prince. We have talked about this complex and overall underestimated adaptation of Robert Walser more than once (briefly discussed here and here). Let us go back to the question of sleep.


Rolfe looking at his wife (The New World), mother as Snow White (The Tree of Life), Neil looking at Marina (To the Wonder). 

A man admiring a sleeping woman appeared already in The New World and would appear once more in To the Wonder. This late interest for sleeping beauties seems hardly accidental. It deserves one more post (the first look to the subject departed from the representation of feet).

The Mirror: a famous image of a sleeping woman alluded to in The Tree of Life.

Sleep in Monteiro assumes diverse forms. In Silvestre (1981) a girl is drugged in order to be raped by the pilgrim, vagabond. In God’s Comedy (1995), the girl is under some sort of hypnosis (Monteiro is often and correctly described as a hypnotizer) as the director/actor plays the maestro under the sound of Tristan and Isolde (between other things, a musical choice closely associated with Buñuel). There is Snow White (2000), a kind of sleep of cinema, where the very poet is shown among the (white) snow, sleeping the sleep of death (Hypnos and Thanatos are brothers). And, of course, there is the dead wife of Come and Go (2003, Vuvu says she was asleep), who is related by Monteiro himself to Snow White/Hortense/cinema, as we have seen (here).

 I am collecting these examples by memory, but I skipped one crucial allusion to sleep deliberately. This many names’ wife has one especially related with sleep:
“A labyrinthine man never seeks the truth but always only his Ariadne, whatever he may tell us.”
(“Ein labyrinthischer Mensch sucht niemals die Wahrheit, sondern immer nur seine Ariadne - was er uns auch sagen moge.”, Nietzsche, Sprüche und Sentenzen, paraphrased in God’s Comedy)

Dionysus and Ariadne (Louvre). Above, João de Deus and his wife, Ariadne, preparing to go to the North Pole (The Hips of J.W., 1997).

Monteiro’s pygmalionic Ariadne never sleeps for the camera (though she beautifully closes and opens her eyes to the sound of Racine’s verses in The Hips of J.W.) but his choice should definitely be questioned in regard to this essential element of the mythos. And not only of the mythos itself. Ariadne’s sleep is a classic of erotic – and funerary – art. We find several interesting themes in Ariadne’s story. The theme of abandon (Theseus) – death – and reencounter (Dionysus) – resurrection –, opening the door to the religious and para-religious uses testified by tomb sculpture, for example.


The sleeping Ariadne in roman tombs is an image for the deceased waiting the vivifying touch of the god of wine. Sort of pre-Snow White...
These “noble” examples are a minority. Everybody knows the sleeping goddesses, nymphs, court ladies, shepherdesses and variants by Titian, Boucher, Fuseli, Cranach, Brueghel, Rubens, Van Dick, Poussin, Rembrandt, Le Sueur, Modigliani, Brancusi, Giorgione, Picasso, Balthus, Rousseau, Courbet……..

Rarely a painter or a sculptor – or a moviemaker, a photographer, a writer – resisted the subject. These explorations of defenseless ladies, spied or not by some masculine element, not rarely belong to the classics of unashamed voyeurism (the painter’s, the viewer’s). Each one of us knows hundreds of examples to confirm it.

Although there are obvious differences, the fusion with the landscape might recall Giorgione's masterpiece.

 There are exceptions and more than the obvious ones. Bergman’s sleep in the volcano in Rossellini’s Stromboli finds a place in more complex traditions, like temple sleep, practiced in Antiquity and early Christian times to obtain revelation and healing from a night spent in a sacred place. We might even recall speculations about pre-historic rites in which the sleep of a woman might have functioned as an alliance with the cosmos.
Sleeping Lady.

Definitely not the kind of sleep we are dealing with. Back to Ariadne.

Holly's painting, Daybreak, and Marker: awake from sleep, awake to a dream, the awake of the dream itself.

One can also envisage, at least from the contemporary perspective, possibilities to explore the theme of the double from Ariadne’s story. She sleeps between two men. Why not to imagine that these two are different faces of the same? Her sleep is a kind of mirror, a barrier separating the territory of Theseus and Dionysus, reason and folly, man and god.

Past and Present: Firmino spies Vanda, who pretends to be asleep. He is jealous of her necrophile desire for the late husband. She probably takes the opportunity to fantasize that she is being approached by the former's husband ghost. 

One might also think that the second is a compensatory phantasy (“I wished I could fall asleep and be taken off to some magical land...”) arouse from Theseus’s loss. This would be a sort of vertiginous Ariadne who fades the border between the observed sleeping body and the observer.

Here the filmmaker really becomes the dream (dionisyac) object of the sleeping muse. Ariadne, c’est moi. This process of identification is after all simple to understand. At the sight of some Snow White a young boy can easily say as the poet: “I felt myself dreamed.” (“…soñado me sentí”, Guillén). I felt she waited for me.

The game is no more than being possessed by a phantasy of possession, one in which our architect can tell his Ariadne:
“I am your labyrinth.”
(“Ich bin dein Labyrinth.”, Klage der Ariadne)
Lose yourself in me.