(Searcher) Orpheus and Eurydice/Female Gaze

During “The Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, Héloïse, Sophie, and Marianne are reading the book that Marianne brought, which happens to contain the legend about Orpheus and Eurydice. This greek legend is known to be one of the great tragic love stories. To summarize this greek legend, Orpheus falls in love with Eurydice, only to die shortly afterwards due to a viper bite. To bring her back, Orpheus travels to the Underworld to meet Hades and begs him to bring Orpheus back. Orpheus’s wish is granted on one condition, which is that Orpheus has to lead the way out of the Underworld while Eurydice walks behind him. In order to make it out successfully, Orpheus has to trust Hades that he let Eurydice go and also resist looking at Eurydice. Unfortunately, Orpheus gives in and looks back at Eurydice which leads him to lose her forever. With this legend, there are two hypotheses as to why Orpheus looked back: Orpheus’s love for Eurydice was too great and he had to catch a glance of her or Orpheus did not trust Hades to give Eurydice back to him.

Within the film, Marianne says that Orpheus is making the choice of the poet and not the choice of the lover because he is choosing to value to memory of her rather than Eurydice herself. On the other hand, Héloïse proposes that maybe Eurydice told Orpheus to turn around and that it was her decision. This discussion smoothly links to the film’s story, which Sciamma explains was her intention. In the interview, she states that it was the “perfect way to connect the two timelines”. She claims that this story linked to “Héloïse’s ghost appearing” and to the last time that Marianne sees Héloïse, which is “an image she’s been haunted with.”

Sciamma also explains how the addition of this greek legend related to the emphasis of the female gaze. The legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is very focused on the male gaze because in the legend a man literally kills a woman with his gaze. She explains in another interview that she was focused on building a love story with equality. She was able to achieve this through the cast with the two actresses being a similar height, no intellectual domination, and also no gender domination because it is love between two women. I also found it really interesting how she mentions how she reinvented the muse figure because in the film, Marianne is observing Héloïse, but Héloïseis also observing Marianne. As a result, Sciamma was able to create the idea of “no muse” and emphasize collaboration and women inspiring each other in a mutual way.

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