Dispatches from the Tube: The Brief and Bloody Resurrection of Mme. L’Espanaye: An exercise in structuralism within the context of short story-to-film adaptation (‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’, 1932): Part 4 of 4

Finally, let us look to the psychoanalytically fascinating way the plot of the film is best resolved with that of the text, the events which lead to the film’s climax.  The ape, which has become fixated on Dupin’s fiancée, is let loose on the L’Espanaye home by Mirakle.   Camille is taken away to become the next test subject after her mother is killed and stuffed up the chimney.  While the text saw both of the women, neither of whom Dupin knew personally, violently killed, the necessities of the new media set the borders for any common territory between text and film.  Killing the heroine in the film would have been a crossing of those borders of a kind that wouldn’t be taken with any popular success until decades later, with Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).  Further, with the elimination of the relatively-neutral sailor as the ape’s main authority figure in favor of the more determined and sadistic Mirakle, the plot has been arranged in such a way as to require a more involved resolution than Poe provides.  Instead, Camille is brought back to Mirakle’s laboratory, but the scientist quickly loses control of Eric and is strangled to death, bringing one killing spree to an end while, with an amorous but enraged gorilla now on the loose, another threatens to begin.  Ironically, Mirakle’s death as well as his experiments are rather in vain, as the liminality he was looking for, that space between human and animal, was quite within his grasp the whole time.  If we return, once again, to the credits, we notice, further down the screen than the names of the starring actors and characters, another, strange moniker; Janos the Dark One.  As full of foreboding promise as such a title is, the character is a rather standard one; Mirakle’s assistant who we first see during the carnival scene.   While the carnival does not give us much time to observe Janos or determine the nature and severity of his ‘darkness’, he takes a more important role as Mirakle returns with Camille.  Dupin has figured out who is behind the murders and, as a manhunt sweeps through the streets, Janos, a near mute, warns Mirakle briefly but effectively enough for the context: “Police!”.  Mirakle sends Janos to secure the door, but he is no match for the gendarme, who come with rifles and shoot their way through.

Janos’ positioning in the film is puzzling in a few respects, but to understand his theoretical positioning better, we should look to the physical positioning of the character’s first appearance, that key sequence from early on in which we are also introduced to Mirakle and Eric.  As Mirakle takes the stage, we are presented with a full, centered shot of the presentation space, but our view is divided into thirds by a pair of tent poles.  Mirakle, the star of the show if not necessarily its big draw, is centered between these poles, in front of the map he uses to explain his concepts; his shadow overhangs the map, a detail that becomes telling for reasons we will soon ascertain.  To the far left of the stage stands the ape’s cage, signifying the continuum that Eric and Mirakle represent.  Standing before his diagram, a pictographic representation of his own theories on the course of man’s evolution into the present, in which the formation of language and the commensurate invention of the ‘I’ have been essential, Mirakle quite bluntly and literally stands in for humanity despite the fact of his audience’s impending repulsion with his efforts and his own indifference toward the social norms whose violations the audience reaction itself represents.   Meanwhile, the cage itself seems like a sufficient barrier between the ape and the audience, the beast of the real and so many comparatively-puny members of the linguistic order, suggesting that the tent poles are not necessarily the barrier between the real and the symbolic, but that they function in some more complex manner.  This is the point at which Janos’ physical position on the stage becomes meaningful; he is physically between the ape and Mirakle, suggesting the positing of his intellect as a marginal language user between the real and the fully-realized, fully-human symbolic order.  The bars of the cage, the barrier between Janos and the ape, are quite solid, just as the language user becomes divided from the undifferentiated, non-linguistic real as soon as he begins to engage in the artificiality of language.  But the symbolic implications of the scene are such that, while Janos is separated from the real by language, he is not entirely human, not in the way that Mirakle, Dupin, Paul, or any of the other characters who engage in conversation might be considered human.  Remember Janos’ sole word in the film: police.  Rather than participating in human discourse, and in doing so using the ‘I’, Janos is only capable of engaging in the most concrete, explicit of conversations.  At best, his status as a language user, his grasp of the ‘I’ that definitively separates humanity from the real, is unknowable as we never actually witness him self-differentiate in any manner.   The true utility of this approach is called into question,

Notice the position of Janos, the stagehand, between the cage, on the left, and Mirakle on the right, as well as the tent-poles that visually divide Janos and Mirakle.

Notice the position of Janos, the stagehand, between the cage, on the left, and Mirakle on the right, as well as the tent-poles that visually divide Janos and Mirakle.

however, when we remember that, at least by Mirakle’s own account, Eric the ape is actually capable of language.  If this claim is legitimate—and there does exist evidence elsewhere in the film that contributes to this assumption, such as Eric’s romantic fixation on Camille—it would call into question the use of Mirakle’s experiments, as meaningful communication with the human ‘animal’ is no more complex than the act of translation Mirakle himself performs on the stage.  At the same time, this also leads to the inevitable truth that, in being lingual, Eric is no more an authentic manifestation of the real than any other character, save perhaps Janos.  Consider the driving forces, the desires, that affect Mirakle (his devotion to ‘experiment’) and Eric (his romantic pursuit of Camille): within Mirakle’s company, as well as the rest of the characters of the film, Janos is the only one who is not assigned any identifiable desire, that manifestation of the phallus that marks and is fueled by linguistic engagement.  While desire is essential to the progress of full subjects of the order, those who have been commanded to mean rather than simply being, it can be a destructive and conceptually messy motivator when the relationship between the subject, his language, and his own identity as an individual are in question.  On the other hand, the position of authority that the linguistic order is afforded is hard to ignore, and we could reasonably infer that Janos’ reference to authority is indicative of more than just the immediate threat, perhaps the same sort of disclaimer that someone might memorize when travelling in foreign territories (“Sorry, but I don’t speak your language”)?  Might Janos, when confronted with the request to engage in discourse, only be able to name an authority, any authority, as he is not necessarily able to differentiate anyone above him from the higher authority of the linguistic structure of which he is barred from membership?  This is a stretch, certainly, but an instructive one as, if there is truly some force or condition restricting Janos from full engagement with the lingual culture, it would seem that Mirakle has in his employ a citizen of that same liminal country he has been using the ape and the murdered women to try to discover.

The potential existence of this more legitimate otherly-linguistic option is not pursued, however, beyond Janos’ death at the beginning of the climax.  Despite the wild potentialities of the structure they had created, the filmmakers must have understood that they would have their best chance of success by appealing to contemporary expectations at the most meaningful points, the chief of these being the ultimate resolution.  Earlier, we effectively divested Eric of his position within the real, positing him instead as a language user and thus, for the purposes of this argument, human.  Thus, it becomes especially hard to think of the man in the ape suit as anything but when the very juxtaposition of the two elements—ape and human—is at issue whether considering the fiction of the story or the reality of the media product.  But this is what the filmmakers require of the viewer as Eric responds to his baser instincts—perhaps structurally-imbued by the spirit, the media memory, of King Kong—by carrying Camille away from Mirakle’s lair and up onto a terrain of sharply sloping roofs overlooking the Seinne.  As expected, the beast and his damsel are pursued by Dupin, equipped with a gun.  Dupin rescues Camille and shoots Eric, sending him plummeting into the river, back into the unifying waters of the real, back into a state of non-differentiation, by the only means possible: death.


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