“Flirtatiousness is fundamental to a woman’s nature, but not all put it into practice because some are restrained by fear or by good sense.” – La Rouchefoucauld
The ‘desert island’ film Castaway (1986), directed by Nicolas Roeg and starring a dipsomaniacal Oliver Reed and a hot young “Ms. Robinson”; Amanda Donohoe, is based on the memoirs of Lucy Irvine. Irvine had responded to an advert placed by writer Gerald Kingsland seeking a mate for a ‘survivor experiment’ to last the duration of a year on a desert island. I was reminded of another film with the same theme of a man and a woman alone together on an island; Swept Away (1974) (Italian: Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto The full English title is Swept Away… by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August), directed by Lina Wertmuller and starring Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato.
Both films are really truly vehicles about the sexes and not really about the individuals themselves who in their isolated environments lose track of ‘who they are’ – Donohoe asks Reed in one scene “who am I?” having lost contact with the world in which their identities were built and reflected back to them by their relationships with other people and their social roles. While in Swept Away, the prior identities of the two characters function also as a Marxist critique of capitalist society; Melato as Raffaella the high society capitalist snob and Giannini as Gennarino the proletariat deckhand who works on her yacht despising her, but these political identities are also washed away on the island isolation and also in their physical union with each other. Without the contingencies that ground social identities individuals just become the primordial man and the primordial woman, the necessities of survival account for time spent in cultural and individual attributions.
As Castaway was based on real occurrences in which both participants wrote accounts, the subjects abilities to transcend their identities were limited – that is knowing they were involved in a sort of publicity stunt their behaviors were somewhat kept in line by the knowledge of a mutual Hawthorne effect and the limitations of the experiment. Now of the two Swept Away is the more radical endeavor because it is a work of pure fantasy and the relationship between the sexes is to be read as one of Weberian Ideal Types. There is no expectation for the conditions of their isolation to end they are truly free to lose the vestiges of their social conditioning and return to the primordial garden. Roger Ebert wrote that the film “resists the director’s most determined attempts to make it a fable about the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and persists in being about a man and a woman. On that level, it’s a great success.” I agree with Ebert who mentions that the film is a “kinky” updated variation on the desert island theme of films like Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) in which a nun and a US solider become trapped on together.
The same sexual tensions run through all three ‘scenario’ films but with varying results; in the earliest incarnation Heaven Knows; God, chastity and honour win out. In Swept Away, vital “toxic” masculinity wins. in Castaway it is womanly manipulation triumphant. Now it would be interesting to account for these differences in a comparative treatment. While Heaven Knows certainly reflects the time period in which the Hollywood production code was being enforced and the relative constrained morality of 1950s America, which make it easy to write off as a kind of tamed examination of the ‘Adam and Eve scenario.’ While Swept Away, being a product of the 1970s, European and directed by a woman may help explain its overt patriarchal message, Ebert again:
“that woman is an essentially masochistic and submissive creature who likes nothing better than being swept off her feet by a strong and lustful male… The more the woman submits, the more ecstasy she finds – until finally she’s offending the hapless Sicilian by suggesting practices he can’t even pronounce.”
The violent culmination is a sadistic sodomy rape that makes the woman the man’s bitch. Wertmuller’s handling of the subject invokes the bestial remnants of centuries of non-consensual sex; when men got women as a prize for victory over a vanished tribe or foe – the film is a misogynistic rape-fantasy and is regarded by feminists and liberals as an abomination. In sharp contrast, in Castaway, Donohoe’s character Lucy refuses to ‘put out,’ and although starving for sexual communion, Reed’s Gerald acquiesces to her sudden frigidity, feigning indignation, again this is tempered by the circumstances; based on real events, an experiment meant to last a year, being the subject of one another’s published chronicles, but also they are visited multiple times by other groups of people who help them survive (not truly deserted!) – Gerald then in some sense couldn’t just rape her. The transgressions were mitigated. Therefore, this American 1980s turn towards a kind of Lysistrata revolt cannot be said to be without contingent factors within the text itself – (Lucy implies it is because Gerald is not working hard enough at some point, but often uses muddled reasoning). The twelve year period between the two films cannot be said to constitute different epochs of feminism, both being within the confines of the so-called ‘second wave,’ although Castaway seemed to embody the radical feminism of the later period of Andrea Dworkin who argued famously in her 1987 Book Intercourse that “all heterosexual sex is rape.” However, the real account of difference must be one in which the ‘Real scenario’ of Ideal Types is allowed to play out because it is less contingent on mediating factors and the one in which the ‘System’ of mediation cannot interfere to ensure some sense of civil propriety is maintained. Perhaps Dworkin was partially correct, in so far as the primordial sexual communion may well be the forced rape of the female – Lilith be damned.
Now the idea of man and woman alone on an island may also be looked at metaphorically. The monogamous relationship and the globe of psychic, emotional and physical bond between lovers can create a kind of separation between their love and the rest of the world – the idea that love is an island. Curiously in the three films after the ‘island adventure’ all three couples relate their love for one another but ultimately go their separate ways – this is always due to the woman’s decision. Here the ‘island of love’ is revealed to be merely another kind of illusion dependent on contingent circumstances, like that of their identities – Lucy’s “who am I?” and Raffaella and Gennarino’s “class.” Of the three women the only one who remains true throughout is the nun because of her love for God (which should be read as kind of refusal to play the game or her inability to be true to her human nature), the lesson of the other two ‘islands,’ whether radical feminist or patriarchal misogynistic, both agree on one thing; the precariousness of woman – she is an evil thing. Evola, Weininger and the whole of Patriarchal Traditionalism agree that woman is by nature chthonic, devious and ultimately heartless – incapable of spiritual ascent and great works – she is too readily conditioned by exterior contingencies. Recall that when Zeus decided to give humanity a punishing gift Hephaestus molds from the earth the first woman, whom Hesiod calls a “beautiful evil thing” whose descendants would go forth to torment the human race. The lesson with woman then is to sodomize her while you can.