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International Seminar Modernism and Postmodernism in the English Short Story

WORKSHOP: Postmodernism in Neil Jordans The Company of Wolves1

Directed by: Neil Jordan Produced by: Chris Brown and Stephen Woolley Written by: Angela Carter and Neil Jordan Starring: Angela Lansbury, Sarah Patterson, Stephen Rea, David Warner Music by: George Fenton Country: United Kingdom Release date: September, 1984

AIM 1. ANALYZING THE FILMS FORM


1.1. Imagery: The prevalence of the signifier? The most salient feature of The Company of Wolves is, perhaps, its great symbolic density. Consider its predominant signifiers:
Characters Rosaleen The Hunstman Rosaleens family (parents, Alice, the Granny) Wolves and dogs Snakes The Devil The priest Objects Roses The red shawl The full moon Events Metamorphoses Storytelling Getting dressed undressed Death Sentences Dont stray from the path Seeing is believing A wolf may be more than he seems

and

Red on a white surface Lipstick, mirrors, eggs Toys The woods Red apples Cars The house

There is not a one-to-one correspondence between signifiers and meanings (characters and objects are not what they seem); their meaning appears to be in flux, at times representing contradictory ideas. Is there a free play of signifiers/surfaces in the film (with no definite meaning attached to it) or is there any principle(s) regulating its signifying process? Angela Carters opinion on Postmodernist modes of signification may be illuminating in this respect: though the play of surfaces never ceased to fascinate me, I was not so much exploring them, as making abstractions of them2 1.2. Structure
Dreamt Rosaleens world (Dream) Dreaming Rosaleens world (Reality) Story 1 Story 2 Story 3 Story 4

The film is based upon three short stories from Angela Carters The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979): The Werewolf, The Company of Wolves and Wolf-Alice. 2 Angela Carters Afterword to Fireworks. Nine Profane Pieces (1974) in Burning Your Boats. The Collected Short Stories. 1995, p.459

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International Seminar Modernism and Postmodernism in the English Short Story


There are two structuring principles at work in the The Company of Wolves:

a) Doubling: The dream state of the narrative allows for the Gothic trait of duality to be

made manifest in the film. Characters, objects and events of the Dreaming Rosaleens life find their double in the Dreamt Rosaleens world, displaying a mirror-like relationship. What are the main differences between the Dreaming Rosaleen and her alter ego in the dream? How do their settings differ?

b) Stories-within-a-story: Rosaleens dream includes four stories. Who tells each


story and to whom is it addressed? Rosaleens reality and dream-world merge at the end of the film. How? 2. ANALYZING THE FILMS CONTENT 2.1. Intertextuality and Deconstruction as strategies of subversion
Little girls, this seems to say: Never stop upon your way; Never trust a stranger friend No one knows how it will end. As you're pretty, so be wise Wolves may lurk in every guise Now, as then, 'tis simple truth: Sweetest tongue hides sharpest tooth.3

How does the film diverge from Perraults text? 4. Consider the elements below.
The young girl and her red shawl The wolf/ the forest/the path The Hunter The granny The bet The ending

Angela Carters own account of her use of fairy tales may enlighten our analysis of fairy tale elements within the film: I was taking the latent content of those traditional stories and using that; and the latent content is violently sexual. And because I am a woman I read it that way5. What symbols/characters/events are directly associated with sexual desire and action? -Can you detect any covert sexual meaning in Perraults interdiction to young women Never stray from the path. How does this warning (and the tale as a whole) define gender roles? -The Company of Wolves both reproduces and subverts patriarchal gender roles. Which stories/characters are complicit with Perraults ideology and which question and subvert it? -The film thus displays the logic of deconstruction. The constructive and performative character of identities is visually conveyed in a series of scenes? Which ones? Play las escenas de la metamorphosis hombre-lobo (1 historia) y la de la decapitacin de la Abuela 2.2. A coming-of-age film: Rosaleen qua Postmodernist subject?

Perrault, Charles. Perraults Fairy Tales. Trans. A.E. Johnson. Illustr. Gustave Dor. New York: Dover Publications, 1969 [1697] p.29. 4 Perraults and Grimms versions of Red Riding Hood differ in their ending. In the former, Little Red Riding Hood is devoured by the wolf; in the latter the huntsman slits the wolfs belly open to save Little Red Cap and her Granny, see Bacchilega (1999: 57-8)
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International Seminar Modernism and Postmodernism in the English Short Story


At this point it may seem clear that The Company of Wolves is about Rosaleens transition from girl to young woman. What changes does this passage bring about? Consider the symbols and scenes below:
PLAY scenes - Dreaming Rosaleens physical state at the beginning of the film -The werevolves metamorphoses and the full moon - The scene in which Dreamt Rosaleen climbs up a tree when straying from the path - The image of a white bud coming into bloom

As advanced in section 2.1. Dreamt Rosaleens stories and her eventual transformation into a wolf dramatize her mothers revelation that if there is a beast in men it meets its match in women too, thus challenging and subverting patriarchal gender boundaries. The films puzzling ending, however, has been interpreted as a regression to patriarchal values. How would you read the last scene? Consider Christina Bacchilegas account below:
As a wolf spills back into life, however, not only does a pack of wolves pull apart the Victorian playhouse, but the terrified dreamer awakens when a real wolf breaks into her room through the window. In a violent move, this image undoes much of the woman-centered initiatory storytelling of the stories within the dream. After all, the girl appears again as a victim of her own sexuality and of deadly appetites. Re-enter Perrault unfortunately, since the final images would seem to confine any transformation of sexual politics to the dream-world and punish the girl. Viewers are confronted with another potentially tragic ending which undercuts the wondrously utopian powers of storytelling as developed in the rest of the movie and which also contrasts dramatically with the last scene in Carters The Company of Wolves6

PLAY final SCENE -Do you agree with Bacchilegas interpretation? -Bacchilega seems to assume that all wolves that break into Rosaleens house are male; the film, however, gives us evidence that the real wolf that crashes through the window is female. How can we account for this? -Who is/are the wolves target(s)? What is eventually destroyed? -Does Dreaming Rosaleens scream at the very end turn her into a victim of her own sexuality and of deadly appetites? Does the film re-enter Perrault (s gender politics)? -In The Company of Wolves, the roles of victim and victimizer paradoxically coexist within the single individual regardless of his/her sex. PLAY SCENE DEVIL/BOY Consider Slavoj Zizeks theorization of the subject in Postmodernism:
The subject is the non-substance, he ex-ists only as substantial self-relating which maintains its distance from inner-wordly objects; yet in monsters, this subject encounters the Thing which is his impossible equivalent- the monster is the subject himself, conceived as Thingwhat we have here is not the relationship of two entities but rather the two sides, the two slopes of one and the same entity.7 -Does this definition fit Rosaleen and by extension the characters within the film? We enter Postmodernism when we passed from the emptied subject to the subject qua the emptiness of substance in its most radical dimension, the subject is nothing but this dreaded void-in horror vacui, the subject simply dears himself, his constitutive void. Far from displaying the subjects horror at the prospect of losing himself, the scream is the very gesture by means of which the dimension of subjectivity is inauguratedthe subject shrinks from what is in him more than himself, from the Thing in himself8.

What does Dreaming Rosaleen fear? What does the wolf that shatters the window stand for?
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Cristina Bacchilegas Postmodern Fairy Tales. Gender and Narrative Strategies. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press, 1997, pp 68-69 7 Slavoj ieks Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out.London: Routledge,1992,p. 137 8 Ibid. pp 137-38

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International Seminar Modernism and Postmodernism in the English Short Story

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