ENG 440, Spring 2013
Analysis of the Body and Communication
Over the course of cinematic history, filmmakers have manipulated the image of the body to convey larger ideas about gender, society, and interpersonal relationships. In Isabel Coixet’s The Secret Life of Words (2005), Coixet uses the body to make a statement about the body’s relationship to interpersonal communication and bonding. She manipulates the body’s image, action, and position, as well as the lighting and setting, to express how the body imparts emotions and experiences in a more powerful way than words. The body’s mode of communication leads to a mutual understanding and bond between people. In thoughtfully dissecting a still from Coixet’s film depicting Hanna placing Josef’s hand on the scars of her naked breasts, one can clearly see these values at work. The action of the scene expresses not only the full effect of Hanna’s trauma, but also her shedding of emotional walls and subsequent sexual comfort with Josef, showing the budding of their bond. The action effectively showcases the impact of the body on Josef’s understanding of Hanna’s emotional journey. To highlight their bonding moment, the lighting, bare setting, and props are riddled with meaning, adding to the purpose and intent of this scene. The connection between Hanna’s and Josef’s bodies, and the body’s message about Hanna’s experience, can be better understood by first considering the severity of her trauma. In the previous scene, Hanna recounts the shocking tale of how she and her friend were kidnapped during the Yugoslav Wars by soldiers from her side of the war. She tells Josef how she and her friend were put in a sex trafficking hotel and were continuously raped by Croatian and U.N. soldiers. Hanna then explains that to punish her friend for screaming while being raped the soldiers cut her friend all over her body and put salt in the wounds to “give her a reason to scream.” The details of her story are important to remember because, though Hanna says her friend was the one tortured, Hanna’s body “says” differently. After Hanna finishes the story, she slowly unbuttons her shirt, haphazardly letting it fall to the crook of her elbows, to reveal scars, which are vitally important to how the body speaks when words fall flat. Hanna told Josef that her friend was the one tortured when, indeed, Hanna was the actual victim. She uses her body to speak for her. Her chest, arms, breasts, and nipples are riddled with large, raised pink scars. She takes Josef’s hand from her cheek, where he had placed it to comfort her, and leads it down to her scars. The still shows how she has guided his hand to the scars atop her left breast. In this instance, Hanna’s body fills in the gaps of her story to Josef in the most impactful way. Despite his blindness, he can now see that she was actually tortured and realizes its severity. The limited nature of words does not allow Hanna to fully explain the lasting emotional pain she is experiencing. Her words cannot bridge the gap of past pain and fully explain it to where he can literally feel it—it is simply impossible. To understand why Hanna uses her body, it is necessary to understand the role of pain and its interplay with language and the senses. Pain, in its essence, deconstructs language and starkly reminds the receiver of their individuality in how pain is unable to be shared. Elaine Scarry, in the introduction of her book The Body in Pain, explains that, “whatever pain achieves, it achieves in part through its unsharability and it ensures this unsharability through its resistance to language” (4). She contends that words evoke hazy images and recollections in the receiver’s mind because of the abstract and subjective nature of words. The sight and touch of the permanent mark of a painful experience shatters the fantasy image and lets the viewer literally see and feel the exact depth, height, color, and texture of the experience’s mark. The physical...
Cited: Scarry, Elaine. "Introduction." The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: Oxford UP, 1985. 3-23. Print.
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