Friday, May 20, 2011

Sexually Ambiguous Identities?

On the recommendation of a friend (as per usual)
I recently saw the film Orlando.

It's based on a book by Virginia Woolf.
It's a surrealist episodic multi-period drama
about a man living in Shakespeare's day
who wants companionship instead of fame, and
who finds favor with the Queen (played by Quentin Crispin)
so he receives a title and a lot of money and a nice castle,
on the condition that he "never grow old."
Over the years, Orlando learns about DEATH and BIRTH
and POLITICS and SOCIETY and SEX and
POETRY, all while living for 400 years and meeting lots of interesting foreigners and many less interesting, somewhat farcical English noble people.
Oh. And after a while, as an ambassador in Constantinople, at first heart-broken about women, and then disgusted by war and Britain's imperialist habits, Orlando turns into a woman.
Looking at herself naked in the mirror, she says casually into the camera,
"Same person. No difference at all... just a different sex."
It's a concept film.
Tilda Swinton plays Orlando. And Sally Potter wrote and directed.

Now I've been known occasionally to question typical gender stereotypes:
Men aren't always athletic. Women are often strong. Men sometimes like to knit or sew or cook or clean. and Women sometimes don't. Women sometimes cut short their hair short. Men sometimes grow their hair long. some Women are more mad about sports than some Men, and some Men are more interested in clothes than some Women. and both Women and Men like jobs.

In a post-feminist age like our own, all this is nothing new. But the question is: How far is too far?
Is the sexual identity ever set? Or is it just as far as the mind will allow? And why are sexual identities such hard things to figure out? or rather, why is it such an awkward topic when one's trying to settle it out? And is a fantastical movie like this one an appropriate way to discuss it? I mean, since when do people live for over 400 years?

I think we'd all agree at least
Life would be much easier if our sexual identities were a bit more set, no?

For more on Orlando, there are two good reviews to read here and here.

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