Existentialism and Socially Forbidden Behaviour
I recently watched the movie ‘Derailed’ starring Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen. Charles (Clive Owen), plays a married man who meets Lucinda (Jennifer Aniston). Rapport develops and the seeds of an affair begin. In a hotel bedroom both are robbed and Lucinda raped by an intruder. The intruder subsequently bribes Charles to hand over substantial sums of money in exchange for keeping the affair from Charles’s wife. The audience are led to believe that the rapist is psychopathic and that Charles must do everything to protect his family. However, Charles is subject to a hoax in which Lucinda and her boyfriend Laroche collude to bribe ‘straying’ husbands into relinquishing large sums of money. In trying to retrieve his money and avoid his wife learning of the affair, both Lucinda and Laroche are killed, Charles loses his job after charges of embezzlement and murders an accomplice.
This thriller raises questions about morality, infidelity deceit and the cost of engaging in the forbidden. The audience is reminded of Fatal Attraction and the potential costs of infidelity. However, the movie also raises the issue regarding the lengths people will go to avoid ‘showing up’ in ways other than those consistent with unquestioned assumptions as to how they should be.
The unquestioned assumptions operating here are the Group and Morality Myths. Myths are socially and culturally determined beliefs which we ‘buy into’, requiring us to exhibit behaviour deemed appropriate to the belief. Myths underpin all social roles, e.g. relationships, marriage, family and work, and act as powerful determinants of our behaviour. In the movie, Charles appears to hold beliefs about how he should behave as a husband. Presumably fidelity is part of this but also is the belief that he cannot tell his wife of his desire to relate to another woman is ways deemed inappropriate to someone who is not his wife. Thus he has to ‘hide’ aspects of himself from his wife and cannot ‘show up’ in ways which, if he did, might negate the need for the affair in the first place.
This means considering the concept of taboo in a radically different way – from an existential perspective of how we see the ‘Self’ in relation to Others. In the movie, it requires us to ask ‘What costs will someone incur to avoid ‘showing up’ to another because they are relating to them without full consciousness of the influence of associated Myths?’ If the anxiety of admitting the affair is so great that enormous costs are incurred to avoid it, surely the anxiety is directly proportional to an awareness of the cost of ‘not showing up’ as the totality of who he is and can be, i.e ‘being more than he is able to be in the social construction called marriage?’
To be controversial, if the ‘chosen one’ (in this case his wife) is not someone to whom he could say anything to and be anyone with, then why is he with her? Why should she be so accommodating and have this capacity to accept him in anyway he might like to be? The answer is, not because of what he will gain by being with her, but what he foregoes! What he and each of us forego when we choose a particular option, is not choosing from the infinite possibilities we have rejected of what we might do and be. Therefore, because of the infinite possibilities we forego, surely we should be able to show up ‘all the time’ and if not, why are we choosing to be this way?
This example offers an alternative way of considering Affairs. Socially determined interpretations point to what is lacking in a marriage or excitement to be gained. Another way is to see affairs as other forbidden behaviour – as an opportunity to ‘be something which, when in another socially constructed relationship’ is unacceptable. e.g. admitting to wanting to behave in ways inconsistent with social notions of marriage.
If we could admit to ourselves and others that we have infinite choices of how to be – but not necessarily have to act on them unless we choose to – I believe that the appeal of the affair would reduce. It is the taboo nature of certain choices (of how to be) that makes an affair – or any other forbidden behaviour, so salacious. This is evident when lovers leave their partners to form a socially sanctioned relationship with each other. If the unquestioned assumptions determining their choices remain unchallenged, the same situation prevails. The persons having the affair might feel unable to ‘show up’ to each other and admit their desire for other ways of being inconsistent with the Myth of ‘being in an affair’. This occurs in each of our lives and results in fragmentation and separation within ourselves. It results in socially ‘forbidden ways of being’ appearing so attractive. How come?
Forbidden behaviour reminds us of the enormous cost of not ‘showing up’ as the infinite possibilities of what we have and are.