F(r)iction Writing
on action-reaction, path-goal relation and drive in Oliveira’s latest film
W. K. Lam

Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl (2009, 63 min.)Dir. Manoel de Oliveira

Almost hundred-year-old director, Manoel de Oliveira, has his latest work, Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, shown in the 34th Hong Kong International Film Festival. The film plot is simple – a young man, Macário, spends his train journey talking to a middle-aged woman about the love story of him and a blond hair girl, Luisa, who lives across the street…

Macário was deeply fascinated by Luisa at first sight and started spying on her. Soon after Macário met Luisa in a romantic encounter, he decided to marry her. Subject to his uncle’s objection, Macário left his current workplace, owned by his uncle, and moved to Cape Verde where he could make enough money to ask for Luisa’s hand. Unfortunate occurrence followed Macário. He lost all of his savings in an investment which he saw as an opportunity to accelerate the realization of his dream. Learning about the incident, his uncle offered Macário financial support. At the time when Macário almost possessed Luisa, he discovered the eccentricities of this blond hair girl which he could not tolerate. He ordered her to leave. In the crowd, she disappeared from his sight.

When we consider the story of Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl in terms of narratology, Luisa is said to be the goal of Macário. We are very familiar with such goal-driven narrative, which is almost the norm in fiction films. This form of narrative arouses audience’s interest to know if the protagonist could complete his goal. Blond Hair Girl cues its audience to speculate if Macário could finally get Luisa (the goal). His path to the goal is by no means a smooth one. A series of frictions delays the immediate satisfaction of audience’s curiosity. Literally, it is the frictional force that resists Macário’s instant access to his object of desire. But if we consider the very nature of frictional force in term of kinetics, we may render a rather opposite view. According to Newton’s Law of Motion, a walking subject applies a force to the ground that is directionally opposite to the goal. In reaction, the ground gives a force, i.e. friction, which pushes the subject towards the goal. Frictional force is a necessary condition of movement. Without friction, the subject could never reach his goal. A walking subject, however, always ignores the coefficients of the other (friction) and thinks that its movement is a direct consequence of its action. The activity of walking unfolds an imaginary domain where a subject occupies a position of full autonomy. Mainstream cinema is a reproduction of this pseudo autonomous subject. It dissimulates the real that the subject’s action is not to overcome but trigger a friction by which it could (is) move(d).

Blond Hair Girl is one of few movies that show witty thought on the paradoxical nature of friction. At the end of the film, Macário’s uncle, who is thought to be the biggest frictional force of the story in a literal sense, helps Macário to complete his dream. To think with the appropriation of Newtonian logic, it is because Macário applies an action force of correct direction (i.e. to take part in a failed investment!) that triggers a frictional force from the coefficient other (his uncle) whose reaction moves Macário to the goal. Apparently, the action-reaction pairing does not conform to our usual sense. But the fact is that our usual sense often misleads us to think that we could linearly connect an action to its reaction, or vice versa. When a subject applies a force to the ground, a point on which it acts is thought to be the cause where a reaction force emerges. This point is, however, not a singular point but part of a continuum. It is connected to a network of strata that is a sum of numerous forces. Localization of reaction force is nothing more than seeking for the source of frictional force that transmits in an interlocking network of ever changing pattern. Localization of the source of frictional force is, thus, bound to be vain. The irony of Blond Hair Girl underlines such untraceable relationality of action and reaction.

Friction never stops the movement of walking subject. Quite the contrary, it is the goal that puts a temporary stop to the movement. The goal also puts a temporary stop to the imaginary domain where a subject acquires a (pseudo-)sense of autonomy. At the end of the movie, when Macário almost reaches his goal – to possess Luisa, he abandons. Literally, Macário’s withdrawal is due to his intolerance of Luisa’s eccentricity – she shoplifts at the time when Macário is choosing their wedding rings at the shop. Luisa’s tendency to steal cannot, however, sufficiently explain Macário’s unforgiveness towards her. Macário’s out-bursting anger is due to the fact that Luisa’s act of stealing overturns his premise of path-goal relation. Luisa bypasses the path and immediately reaches her goal. She transgresses the “law” of path-goal relation in both physical and moral senses. Her act strikes Macário’s unconscious fixation to the movement: He can immediately possess Luisa subsequent to their first encounter, in spite of his uncle’s objection. But he takes wealth to be an exchange condition of his marriage. He waits for his wealth to accumulate, which prolongs his path to the goal. His actions paradoxically obstruct and carry on his way to the goal, which is always in the process of becoming.

Macário’s way to the goal is, from a Lacanian point of view, the real source of his enjoyment. Lacan notes that “the real purpose of drive is not its goal (full satisfaction) but its aims: the drive’s ultimate aim is simply to reproduce itself as drive, to return to its circular path, to continue its path to and from the goal.”[i] Lacan’s notion of drive is similar to the concept of movement or walking I have discussed here. In Lacanian thinking, Macário’s source of enjoyment comes from the course of reaching for Luisa (his goal). It explains why Macário, at the end of the movie, orders Luisa to get out of his sight. His action is to keep his goal – the object of desire – in a state of obscurity. The not-yet-realized goal enables an acting subject sustainably to prolong its movement (enjoyment). The Lacanian paradox of goal and drive (movement) sheds light on the notion of goal-driven narrative: the subject’s movement towards a definite goal is not driven by the goal but the drive itself. The goal is merely a content that fills the nothingness of path and movement. Eccentricities’s denial of offering a symbolic closure – goal realization – corrects a distorted view that mistakes goal for the finale of drive, and turns ‘drive’ into a narratorial logic. (W.K. Lam)

[i] Zizek, Slavoj. Looking awry: an introduction to Jacques Lacan through popular culture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991, p. 5.