Directed by Andrea Lioy
Starring Jonathan Bowden, Lisa Garner, Nicole Henry, Claudia Minne, Jane Robinson, Katie Willow, Nicole Wiseman
BASED on a short story by Jonathan Bowden – who also plays a starring role in the film itself – Venus Fly-Trap is hardly something that you’re likely to see flashing before you in the sanitised environs of your local Odeon cinema. Indeed, at the time of writing the film is not even mentioned on the Internet.
The opening scene shows Bowden, with pronounced Irish features, wearing a dark suit, checked blue shirt and white tie. He’s sitting at a round tale and lighting a cigarette, facing a deep red curtain and telling the tale of a man, known as Dr. Mordred, digging a hole – “probably four by four” – in his garden. It soon becomes evident that the accompanying sack contains the body of a small, blood-soaked child, upon which the man looks “with the paternal gaze of a father”. As the camera closes in on Bowden’s face, the picture becomes slightly amorphous and there is a nice analogy between the image being presented and that of the dialogue and the manner in which the boundaries of morality are deliberately blurred. These boundaries represent the way in which the world is perceived by the character in Bowden’s story, who basically sees himself as a veritable deity who has the ability to exert his power upon his own surroundings in the manner of a god: “To him, all things are possible and nothing can be denied.” Bowden continues, his intermittent bouts of smoke inhalation illustrating the relaxed and purposeful nature in which he is recounting this macabre tale. When Mordred returns to his house in the wake of this seemingly criminal deed, however, he is said to be “returning to a world from whence he came.” This is how Bowden effectively separates two levels of reality: that of the vivid and the horrifying on the one hand, and that of the normal and the approachable on the other. At the same time, of course, those in the audience will each have their own distinct perceptions of how they perceive these worlds. This man, this creature “like no other” who essentially “creates his own boundaries”, has no tangible or recognisable affiliation with the straightjacket of liberalism in which most people find themselves bound on a daily basis.
The second scene shows Bowden striding towards a house from a garden, similar to the way Mordred himself was described in the story, although on this occasion he is pacing back and forth like a restless animal locked in a cage. Amid the sound of tinkling chimes, a female voice takes up the narration and alludes to the sound of dismembered voices which, perhaps, may well be plaguing Bowden’s conscience. This, of course, seems like a contradiction when compared to the defiantly unaccountable Mordred in the first scene. But perhaps Bowden’s character is different from Mordred in this respect? With an anguished glance at the camera, the opening credits begin to roll.
Bowden’s voice returns, this time to conjure up a poetic interpretation of how Mordred can justify the fact that he is burying a child in his garden. By replenishing the earth, this infantile corpse is said to be serving a “noble” purpose. She has become “carrion” for the lex talionis that continues to prevail within the leafy shades out on the periphery of society. The female narrator returns, introducing us to Felicia Fairweather, a visiting doctor who calls at the house. Bowden – this time as Dr. Mordred – is striding down a staircase which is sliced through with dazzling shafts of light. It is as though he is descending from the glowing summit of a ziggurat temple, coming down, in other words, to a lower plane of existence, almost like Zarathustra. The viewer is left wondering how this character will react when perceived reality comes knocking at the door of his jealously-guarded domain.
Mordred, this time wearing a cravat and a rather artificial smile, greets Dr. Fairweather like an old friend. She is blonde and wears a red scarf, refusing Mordred’s offer of a drink when she has so obviously arrived there on official business. Fairweather is highly suspicious, of course, but Mordred barely attempts to placate her concern for the disappearance of several others – “what people are you talking about” – and seems more interested in borrowing her scarf. He wants to burn it in the “fires of passion”, but Fairweather offers it to him in return for the truth. Thus begins a debate about the very nature of truth itself, and here I’m reminded strongly of the encounters between Plowart and Claremont in Bill Hopkins’ The Leap (1957); a work of which Bowden himself is very fond.
He goes on to outline the multifarious examples of truth, listing its masculine and feminine, legal and religious ramifications before ending this brief diatribe by asking: “Which truth is yours, woman?” Suddenly, the woman in the red scarf has become a brunette, answering this question with the words “My truth is that we are equal and I should be treated as such.” This declaration leads to an immediate and unrestrained ejaculation of laughter on Mordred’s part, soon followed by a mocking rant about the allegedly limited role of the female in human development. These opinions are precisely what some may inevitably consider to be the bigoted outpourings of a confirmed sexist and chauvinist, but Doctor Fairweather – in her new guise – seems more than capable of fighting her corner and announces that she has come to “judge” him for his professional misconduct. It appears that he has been energetically creating a legion of disfigured individuals and, in the face of this chastisement, Mordred appears woeful and perturbed. But his mood soon becomes unrepentant, something that is made manifest by a bow-tied Bowden striding around the room in a mask bearing two faces. This incarnation of Janus appears to represent the inner workings of Mordred’s mind, a psychological dilemma in which he is seeking to reassure himself that he is ultimately correct and that perhaps he should attempt to bring Felicia Fairweather to the same conclusions as himself.
Mordred appears in his former guise, complete with cravat, and instantly tries to convince Fairweather that, fundamentally, they are allies. But the woman who accepts Mordred’s invitation to sit beside him on the sofa is yet another incarnation of the visitor, her ears soon assailed by another barrage from her increasingly Nietzschean colleague. “But we are here to heal”, she says, to which Mordred replies “Fiddlesticks! We are here on occasion to give pain in order to relieve it!” Fairweather’s comments about the changing boundaries of morality and the perceived irrelevance of the Hypocratic Oath, to which all doctors once gave their allegiance– “But that was then and this is now!” – coupled with a semi-erotic display of restrained affection towards her host, are completely rejected.
The next scene is set in the corner of a garden and shows a woman clad in black with an outstretched arm, slowly turning as though she were about to perform the saddest part of a Russian ballet. It may be interpreted as an outer display of inner turmoil that is mixed with images of despair and self-examination, but the music-box mime also bears a distinctly Riefenstahlian and Thorakian quality, whilst all the time the narrator tells us that Mordred himself is walking towards the garden. Then, as the woman holds her face in her hands in contemplation, Bowden’s voice can be heard celebrating an expression of “rekindled life” taking place at an earlier stage in history. This, it seems to me, represents the existence and perpetuation of those perennial values which always lie behind the veil of our consciousness. The spirit that forever waits for a worthwhile opportunity to penetrate the surface of our world.
The blonde – and infinitely more sensuous – incarnation of Fairweather returns, shown sitting on the sofa at a different angle and expressing her desire to “confront” Mordred’s deeds. The debate continues with philosophical references running alongside a medical analogy and Mordred looks aimlessly through the blinds of a window and casually declares that “power dominates life in the form of fire”. But what seems like a religious assertion is countered by his insistence upon a non-Jewish and non-Christian understanding of reality, in fact something based wholly upon the creative and destructive power which is directed by his own will: “Aren’t you aware, my dear, that the weak are just fuel for the strong? And in this life even the strong themselves can serve as the compost for the very strong.” Mordred’s role as a doctor has actually allowed him to perform this role, a process which has risen beyond mere ‘feminine and bourgeois forms”. Mordred turns from the window and drifts steadily into the mildly feverish but capable and determined role of the Anarch, the sovereign individual from Junger’s Eumeswil (1980) who remains unbound by earthly constraints. His ability to snuff out the life of his patients may, to the majority of viewers, appear as something rather unsavoury and fascistic – “many would find you insane” – but these are essentially mercy killings that allow the strong to move forward and complete the assumed task to which they have dedicated their lives. If Julius Caesar or Napoleon Bonaparte had been doctors, they would have been like Mordred. Not a greed-ridden replica of Harold Shipman, mark you, but a physician with a purpose: “I’m cutting my way through a thicket towards new and secret gardens of my own design. And when we get there, at the heart of that garden, there’ll be nothing but beauty.” This is a cue for the sorrowful lady in the garden to return. She is order and beauty combined. A silent, artistic manifestation of Mordred’s world vision. This time she is growing upwards, like an aspiring Zarathustra, blossoming towards a soundless peak of human fulfilment.
Bowden is then shown lying on a wooden floor, surrounding by twinkling yellow candles and resembling a horizontal version of the potential victim of a fairground knife-act. Life and death are said to be “inseparable” from one another, and this scene depicts the risk-taking that inevitably goes hand in hand with life itself. And then we return to the debating chamber, where the second incarnation of Fairweather invites Mordred to resign. Her offer is, of course, completely rejected and she compares Mordred’s enduring remorselessness with the three monkeys of Japanese tradition (“Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil”). He counters this accusation by applauding Fairweather’s acceptance of “multiplicity”, although there is still clearly no common ground between her interpretation of liberal morality and his insistence upon the rule of the strong over the weak. She finds herself left distraught by his aggressive outbursts, whilst he sees the whole thing as a mere exercise in social interaction between two medical colleagues.
This is followed by a scene in which Mordred and his adversary are sitting in separate brick alcoves with a piano fluttering away in the background. As Fairweather attempts to diffuse his arguments her protestations are soundly met by a series of angry interjections concerning how the notion of conscience is a “Jewish abstraction” and how pity is countered by “the bad breath of the strong that comes out of the nostrils of giants.” There follows an analogy of the wolves and the sheep, the latter being an unthinking, egalitarian mass upon which the wolves must feed in order to bring to light the glory of themselves. Not like vampires, he argues, but as a representation of “the fire of certainty which exists in all forms of life.”
Back in the garden, Bowden struts alongside a pool wearing a maniacal grin and a yellow boater. Into the water, meanwhile, descends a semi-clothed Fairweather who loses the rest of her apparel a few seconds later. Naked, she swims to and fro, under the leering gaze of Dr. Mordred. But as the camera pulls away from his face, despite the sound of splashing the woman has completely disappeared and Mordred is staring into an empty pool. The watery acoustics continue into the next scene, where another Fairweather is posing for the camera as a playful Mordred stands behind her, flitting from shoulder to shoulder like a mischievous demon from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (1616). He seems to be admiring the red scarf, as though its ownership represents a verbal conquest yet to be won, an idea yet to be successfully communicated.
Our garden nymph returns again, but this time she is far more animated than before. The music is dark and Wagnerian, her movements erratic and angular. A burning flame is superimposed over her image, the dramatic dialogue full of Zoroastrian vigour like a contemporary appreciation of ancient fire-worship. Mordred stands before Fairweather like a cringing parody of his former self; a stooping Gollum with a whining voice and yet with a determination to see his vision through to the end. And, like a deranged Hitler trapped in his final Berlin refuge, or like Napoleon at the moment of his exile to Elba, Mordred seems about to be consumed by his own fanaticism. Fairweather stands firm and erect, like a leather-clad bitch presiding over the increasingly desperate whims of her masochistic client. This, surely, is becoming a distortion of Mordred’s vision? “Liberation is in the plants”, he tells her, something which ultimately appeals to her and thus finally induces her to remove the red scarf and offer it to him. His persistence, it seems, has paid off.
The dancer in the garden is then shown with the same scarf, held between her palms like a flower and then almost dropping towards the floor before being taken up again like a symbol of glory in motion. Concurrent with this, Mordred describes the rigours of his intellectual journey that took him far beyond the biologists and botanists of his day. Then the different avatars of Fairweather are shown putting this into its historical content, speaking in past tense about the ritualistic and often violent struggles that, for good or ill, characterise the nature of eternity and Mordred’s role as a warrior through the mists of Time. These female musings include a song which celebrates the timeless “purity of the sun”, before cutting away to Mordred and one of his female “consciences” discussing the former’s views on human worthlessness. Mordred is then shown walking up the steps of the garden, flanked by stone columns, obsidian-black statues and filled with his own self-obsessed professions of greatness. It’s a pocket-sized analogy of Julius Evola’s Meditations on the Peaks (1974) but, once again, plants are seen as the key to life and Mordred’s own rise to glory (“without them nothing at all”) and insects – particularly bees – are portrayed as one being with a single soul united beneath the figure of the queen “and slaves who nurture her within the nectar of her own milk.” Mordred describes how he first saw this obnoxious insect paradise and wanted to destroy it. This speech, delivered in the heart of a suburban garden, is perhaps significant in terms of being a visual dig in the ribs of the complacent bourgeoisie, and quickly accelerates into a whistle-stop tour of human evolution, its biting criticism pausing here and there to describe people themselves as “insects” or to point out that 40% of people in the West “don’t even own a book”. The crux of this argument, however, is that there are two paths: do humans follow the impulsive and herd-like methods of the insects or do they follow the plants and rise towards the sun? This reminds me a little of Christopher Boehm’s Hierarchy in the Forest (2001). Humans, Mordred concludes, must go. The climax of this speech has a powerful message: “Here is the future! In this garden! It’s mine! And I’ve created it! For you! Out of you! Because I loathe you! Because I love them! And because I am them!”
A door opens. Mordred is crouching on the floor beside a spread of Tarot cards, cackling like a demented lunatic as Fairweather – or at least one of them – tries to coax him from the depths of his madness. The cards she is forced to select are the Emperor, Death, the Sun, the Tower, the Hierophant, the Devil and the Hanged Man, all of which appear to justify his chosen path and cause him to scurry across the floor like a growling beast in pursuit of its quarry. Out in the garden, meanwhile, another hunt begins as the janus-faced figure stalks the dancer with the red scarf. Clutching a samurai sword, Mordred reappears and chases a terrified Fairweather through the garden. This is interspersed with the horrified faces of her various incarnations – “He’s insane!” – before Mordred stands beside a bush, calm and unruffled. Fire appears on the screen with the words: “but so intent is Mordred on his moment of triumph that he fails to see the flames which are coming up around both of them. The flames slowly engulf both of their bodies so that eventually both of them are consumed. They are human torches. The one and the other. To such a degree that both cease to exist simultaneously. And in one moment he becomes her and she becomes him in a moment of energy.” The moment of tragedy strikes and Mordred undergoes a process of Faustian recurrence. But as Fairweather manages to escape the garden, the question we are left with at the end surrounds the matter of whether he was a figment of her imagination or vice versa.
In the final scene, Bowden returns with his cigarette to explain that this tale has no ending. Whether we like it or not, geniuses like Mordred will always be thrown up from the earth in their attempts to strive for the sun.
Finally, it is very encouraging to see that the spirit of the 1950s ‘Angry Young Men’ which drove individuals like Colin Wilson, Stuart Holroyd and Bill Hopkins is still alive and well. Bowden’s film is destined to remain underground, inevitably, but it is worth examining for the simple fact that it contains the basic facts of life and both all that it offers and represents.