Thursday, January 15, 2009

Three's a crowd

by Angie D.

I recently saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the 2008 film touted as Woody Allen’s Hollywood comeback. Cinematic merit aside, the film raised some valid and provocative questions about heteronormative relationship structures. One of its protagonists, Cristina (Scarlett Johannson), unexpectedly finds herself in a three-way relationship with a painter and his ex-wife – unexpectedly because she is dating the painter when his ex suddenly resurfaces after a failed attempt at suicide and the painter insists on taking her in.

The ensuing period is tumultuous, as Cristina learns of the artistic rivalry and intense passion between her boyfriend and his former lover – a prodigious artist herself. Cristina decides to “go with the flow” (her own words) and eventually the couple is a triple. Both the painter and his ex-wife claim that Cristina was the missing ingredient from their relationship. They nurture her art (photography) and assure her that she provides a balancing element that their relationship had always lacked.

This notion that a romantic relationship may consist of – or even require – more than two people is intriguing to me. The images I associate with polygamy (selling young girls into marriage, keeping women uneducated) have always had a misogynistic taint, so I’ve paid little heed to claims that such marital structures can be “freeing” for women. But perhaps there are non-dyadic relationship structures which lend themselves to more balanced, more supportive, more fulfilling relationships that never get realized in the heteronormative world of male-female pairings.

As for Cristina and her artistic boyfriend and girlfriend, the film ends somewhat disappointingly with the dissolution of the relationship – seeming to suggest that such a tripod of romantic and sexual love must be relegated to a realm of art, fantasy, and vacation (did I mention that Christina was on a two-month vacation in Barcelona?). Regardless, the question remains open: Is love enriched when shared with more people? And is it more stable when it has three – or more – legs to stand on?


At January 16, 2009 at 7:17 PM , Blogger Robert McGibbon said...

Has anyone ever heard of a real world relationship in which there wasn't a completely asymmetric power structure? I sure haven't.

I'm exactly sure why, but empirical observation seems to suggest that non-dyadic relationships always end up violating (some of) the participants' human dignity.

Robert McGibbon '11


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