Monday, September 24, 2012

Touching Film: A Review and Meditation of I Am Love (2009)

There are some films that are so sensual that you can touch them.  

Please don’t misunderstand me.  For so many people in our pornography culture, “sensual” means sexual or nakedness.  But the meaning of “sensual” is “of the senses,” and it has the deeper meaning of stirring emotion, especially longing for an ethereal experience that is accomplished through the senses. 

Movies are a sensual medium, in general.  We see and hear and (if we watch with a fantastic sound system) feel the movie in the air.  In the best films, we experience new things, live the lives of others whom we had never met before the beginning of the film.  We see and hear through them, and so obtain a sense of their thought.

But a few films are so sensual, that I can almost use senses that aren’t actually available in a common film.  I can feel the cloth, taste the prawn, caress the face, smell the forest, move my fingertips over the roughness of the bark of the tree.  But more importantly, I can capture the very essence of a character’s emotions in my soul.

I would put I Am Love in that category of film.  It is a short list, frankly:   In the Mood for Love, about the unfulfilled longing for another.   The Double Life of Veronique, about the ethereal versus the corporal life.  The New World, about choosing one’s love or the one who loves you.  Babette’s Feast, about an aesthetic community that experiences the joy of earth.   There are, perhaps, a few others.  Three Colors: BlueThe Tree of Life.

But like I Am Love, they are lush, focusing on close cinematography, drawing on nature and food in a way that stirs both the senses and the soul.  These are films that expand our experience of reality, even as the finest sensual experiences do—that communicate not only the flesh, but the spirit behind the flesh.  

Meditation on the Film: What is love?
Love has many faces.  Somehow we know, at its core, it is singular, but it is displayed as many fractured, contradictory personalities.  Love is about the benefit of the other, but also desire for the self.  Love is adoration, but also a mirror displaying the harsh reality.  Love is granting freedom and stirring deep violation.  Love is in the touch, the taste, the sight, the sigh, but love is also the longing, the mourning, the restlessness, the isolation.   Wrap all this together and we have still only stirred the bare surface of the depths of love.  Love is life, and is as complex as life.

Love in the flesh is a glorious thing.  Love is longing, but not knowing for what.  It is the glance that opens one’s eyes, widens the pupils and the object of love is then written in one’s soul.  We are created for this love, for this awakening and rebirth of our very selves, for this unification with the other so the one who we used to be is but a memory, a wisp of the past.  Once we have become a new creation, we build.  We create foundations, give birth, form partnerships, instill values, restore the ancient that has never been seen on earth before.  From love are traditions formed, legacies initiated, knowledge discovered and cities built. 

Creation is not love’s only legacy, however.  All that is built can also be forsaken, rejected, destroyed.  Love is a god that requires sacrifice.  Upon the altar, at one time or another, we must place our marriage, our work, our children, our livelihood, our passions, our hopes, our very souls and the souls of those whom we most deeply care for.  Love is filled with bitter tears, deep resentment and furious anger.  It is the passion that demands us and tears lives into shreds.  Love gives and love shreds, blessed be the name of love.

Yet there is another love.  A love that is not strictly human love, for human love must protect itself and its creation within a bubble of security of its own making.  There is a spiritual love, which calls to the humans, which can be glimpsed, and then it shyly withdraws.   It is the love that always gives, always forgives, always provides, always sustains, always restores, always gives life.  Love that embraces the rejected, heals the broken, rebuilds the destroyed and welcomes the outcast.  Paradoxically, this love requires nothing from the other, yet calls all to sacrifice all for the other.   And the greatest desire of this love is a people that surrenders all desires for the sake of the need.   This love is the ultimate gift without sacrifice and the ultimate sacrifice that demands all.

And this is the love that will change the world.


  1. Reading your post, I have to ask if you have seen 'The Deep Blue Sea' (2011) recently released on DVD? It's use of music and theatre conventions turned me off, but I seem to be in the minority and thematically speaking, it might make an interesting double feature with 'I Am Love' ... Also, it bears noting once again that Tilda Swinton is just one of those actresses who can do anything. She was quite extraordinary in 'Julia' as well.

  2. I haven't seen that film. Reading what you said, I'm not sure if you are offering a recommendation or not :) But I'll check it out.

    I just had a conversation with my friend Melissa who was pointing out Swinton's exceptional performance in We Need To Talk About Kevin. In looking over the performances I have seen by her, I am stunned by her body of work, and I will be looking for more from her. I haven't seen Julia, but I certainly will.

  3. I don't necessarily base my recommendation on whether I appreciated a film or not (unless it is really objectively awful). For what it's worth, Adam K. really liked 'The Deep Blue Sea', and it sounds like it is in the same thematic wheelhouse as you discuss in your review above.

  4. Such a beautiful essay Steve.

    "blessed be the name of love" :)