Vincent’s Struggles

Berlant suggests that Vincent “acts mannerly with his children, Oedipal with his parents, softly masculine with his wife—doing whatever it takes to protect the privilege of drifting without entirely drifting off, or going off the cliff”(221). If we look deeper into this, we see that Vincent uses his different roles, as a husband, son and a father, to navigate through a world where he does not have to get super close to those around him. Vincent is navigating through a world which he is in the constant state of drifting off, but still somehow hanging on. If we look at each of these relationships, we can see how Vincent uses them to gain some sort of footing in a capital stock, be that social or emotional.

Vincent has a very mannerly relationship with his children, like Berlant stated. Every time we see Vincent interact with his children it seems as though he is going through the motions. The scene where Vincent gives his eldest son, Julien the money to buy himself clothing is a good example of this. Vincent feels that in order to be a good father, he needs to provide financially to his children without being present. Vincent is lacking in the emotional capital that helps him form more unifying bonds with his children. Instead, Vincent feels that him “working” and being able to give his children money for clothes, makes him a hands on father. Julien, in this scene, you can tell by his body language is put off by his fathers lack of intimacy. You can tell Julien appreciates the money, but at the same time his face looks very disappointed, as it is apparent that Julien would rather spend time with his father than receive money. One of the very last scenes with Vincent and his children shows the unraveling that Vincent has done in his relationship with not only his children but his whole family. When Vincent returns home from his heated exchange with Jefferey, his children seem to fear him. The children’s weariness towards their father shows how much his absence has created a strange place between himself and his family. Vincent has spent so much time focusing on how to make money and seem as though he is keeping busy that he has lost any emotional connection with his children and his wife.

With his wife Muriel, Vincent portrays the role of the masculine figure. Once Vincent lost his job, it is apparent that he felt as though he lost a certain part of his manhood. In patriarchal societies, it is expected that men go out and earn the money, while the wives stay at home with the children, and when this gets shifted on its head, Vincent has no idea what to do. When Vincent takes Muriel to Geneva to view the “apartment” that he has bought is an example of Vincent using his masculine power over his wife. Vincent knows that he does not have an apartment, but an empty shack that he’s been staying at, playing with Muriel in a deceptive way. The way Vincent wants to impress his children with money and new clothes, Vincent wants his wife to believe that he is the ideal masculine husband, who has the perfect job and has enough money to treat his family to nice things. Vincent is afraid that Muriel wont accept him if he told her that he had lost his job. In his mind, he needs to keep up the image that he is the husband he’s always been, but now with a better, mysterious job.

All of these relationships Vincent is trying to navigate, while trying to keep himself afloat, tie into his emotional capital. Vincent uses these relationships to gain what he feels he needs to get ahead in life. With his ex-school mates and acquaintances, Vincent uses their networks to gain leverage in his UN business. Vincent also uses them to cover for the fact that he actually is not working in a legitimate office. Through these networks Vincent is using them to build up his social capital. Vincent’s relationship with his family allows him to be immersed in emotional capital, but not take full stock in the emotional capital that his family provides for him.

The idea that is brought up by Berlant that Vincent’s behavior with each of his different family members allows him to drift without entirely drifting off plays into the idea that Vincent is not present in his own world. Throughout the film we view Vincent driving alone, writing alone, studying alone, showing how much time Vincent spends in his own quiet abyss. In these private, alone spaces, Vincent checks in with his family every now and then, but this asks the question of how much does his family actually mean to him? Vincent seems to have really high expectations for himself in the business world, but does not seem to have the actual drive to go out and get an actual job that will allow him to feel powerful in the business world. The very end scene where Vincent is offered a job where he is overseeing a group of people, we see a very cold and almost calculated look upon his face. One could read this as Vincent being optimistic for the future, but for me I see Vincent not wanting this job, even though it will bring him the status that he wants to provide for his family. This scene we see another example of Vincent drifting without falling off the cliff. Which begs to ask the question if Vincent will ever be truly satisfied with his life?

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3 thoughts on “Vincent’s Struggles”

  1. It is interesting to look at the ways in which Vincent ends up affecting his family far more with lies than he ever does with unemployment. Berlant discusses the portrayal of emotions as “placeholders” in the film for “affective confusion that only finds its genre in the film, not manifestly in the lives depicted there”; and it is the sense that “the emotions are real…[while] the story is false” (220) that leads Berlant to this conclusion. She highlights the disconnect between true and false in the intimacies of Vincent’s relationships; small details like Vincent’s head on Muriel’s shoulder and the reassuring words she tells him suggest emotional intimacy in the “traditional” sense, but audiences know that this visage is deceiving because the elaborate maze of secrets Vincent is keeping gets in the way of true intimacy in his relationships in the film. This emotional disconnect relates to the feminist reading of the film that has been mentioned in class. The relationships Vincent feels the need to have with those around him reflect stereotypically masculine values, including the role of “breadwinner” in a nuclear family and the supposed importance of economic capital over emotional capital (another “placeholder”). He isn’t entirely selfless (he buys that flashy car, for example), but the film positions Vincent as a backwards sort of family man, one that lies and cheats and steals but all the while aims to please the various tiers of his family first and foremost, from his parents to his children. The emotional capital is still there, even when it becomes fragmented by lies in the pursuit of economic capital.

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  2. Thanks Vanessa, I enjoyed the comparison of Vincent’s various ways of eeking out capital, namely emotional, from his various relationships, and lives on the fringe of his own world. I think the relationship he has with his kids to be extremely vital as well. There is a reflection of himself within them that touches upon the his most selfish wants. Twice in the film his youngest boy Felix, utters the sentiment, “I do what I want to do.”
    The first time is at the school “fair” where Vincent tries to impress upon his boy the idea of getting the most fiscal profit out the deal he is making, to which his boy replies that he’ll do what he wants, almost as if spoken from the broken id of Vincent’s desires, whether they be financially based or otherwise. The financial aspect of this should be pointed out however, as the system that governs economies, as the reason Vincent is out of work and as Vanessa pointed out, a system that for Vincent symbolizes the role he feels is a male parent’s to do: provide financially. He wants to be able to say and act out his son’s reply but is too afraid to do.
    The second instance is at the department store, trying on clothes for the kids. Felix is not happy with a coat his mother has picked out for him and she says something like, “No use buying something you won’t wear.” And Felix replies with a, “I do what I want to do.” The inference here is that Vincent is not “doing” what he wants to do by subjecting himself to wear these ill fitted “clothes” (the outward expression of who he is) that are a symbol of the requirements placed upon him.
    It is also interesting to note that the first two scenes of the film with Vincent parked in his car are park area with children playing in them. Perhaps a nod to the state of mind that Vincent occupies at those moments when he still enjoying the freedom and things haven’t gotten too hairy yet.

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  3. I think you pull an important thread here about Vincent’s illegibility, and it points to where Berlant’s writing on the film falls short for me. I understand why Vincent’s face became such a focus in the essay, but I don’t know that Vincent’s grimace is the grimace shared by an entire population or generation. As you put, Vincent goes through the mannerly, soft masculine behavior roles in an apparent attempt to keep his family from discovering his unemployment, but, while I was watching the film I kept wondering if Vincent actually cared about the discovery, or, if that was just mimicry as well.

    I personally found Vincent’s face almost unbearable to look at. Vincent is in a worse state than I think Berlant is supposing. And I think there’s an argument to be made that Vincent has no feelings and all, and perhaps isn’t human. So to the question about satisfaction: no. Vincent will never be satisfied because he shows no emotions at all. It unclear, even in the moments like when he loses Muriel in the snow, or when he argues with his father, that this is something he truly feels or if its an act for our benefit. His face appears to be completely disconnected from anything happening inside or outside of him. This complete disconnection makes Vincent a bad case study for the emasculated recession male, because culture has no impact on Vincent one way or another.

    I think Berlant has hit upon something in this, “The mutual recognition of lost company spirit allows Vincent to drift away not just from being reliable but also from being intentional” (217). Intent is such a basic human activity. Simpler and more instinctual than desire, satisfaction or purpose. You can intend to sit in a chair, or open a door. So I think Berlant is right in this, that Vincent has lost his ability to be intentional, but this is a worse disease than a timeless fear that destroys lofty things like meaning. Vincent doesn’t understand how his own face works. He lacks the ability to reflect anything.

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