I've loved The Red Shoes since I first watched it as a young child. But through the years, I've had to string together a lot of confused readings that I've received from it.
You see I've always looked upon the relationship between Vicky and Lermontov as more than professional. In fact, I've always thought of it as a heterosexual relationship even though I always perceived Lermontov as primarily a gay man.
Lately I've come to suspect that this is not a fair reading to a gay audience because it speaks directly to their experiences. But yet, I still can't accept that Lermontov is totally asexual in his dealings with Vicky.
But then I've come to look upon the film as about a gay man who suddenly discovers that he is attracted to one and only one woman. That he still desires men, his attractions are still to men but this one woman arouses in him such passion that he has no experience to handle it.
Lermontov is a man who has sublimated his sexuality to art. Partially due to being unable to express his homosexuality but also because he looks upon desire in general as weakness. He wants to be taken, taken by art. Despite being an ascetic, Lermontov cannot totally kill his desire. He is a force of nature, he is walking sex. He pulsates with sensuality that seems to say yes to both men and women. You can see it the way he admires Julian Craster's bashfulness over being complemented about his stolen score (ironically, eventually stealing the younger man's wife). You can see it the way he gives Vicky a pointed double take when he first meets her.
The fact is, sexuality is an inevitable component to art. You can't have one without the other. Because Lermontov indulges the muse of art, it also lets in the desire. At first Lermontov's dealings with Vicky are totally predictable to himself. He strings her along with his personal charm and invites her into his ballet company out of simple curiosity.
His sexuality and artistic ambitions are ignited by her in one pointed scene. He witnesses her naked, almost orgasmic, expression of ecstasy while she dances in a small production in a back alley theater. He is given a glimpse of her own worship of art and her sexual nature, which moves him so much that he runs away from the theater.
This is the beginning of his obsession with her, his desire to own her talent, her soul and her body. Her body now has a duality for him, it is both the ultimate expression of art and it promises a release to his thwarted sexual libido. She becomes a person for him, she becomes a sacred source that can fulfill all he wants and society would not deny him. However, he denies the love and desire for her because even though he knows she is worthy of him, he also wants the world to desire her, he wants to turn her into an idol of dance, a living goddess.
Vicky herself is not blind to the attraction between herself and Lermontov. She probably recognized the attraction before he did, because she thought she had an understanding with him when he invited her into the company. However she is confused by his hot/cold nature in his dealings with her. And that pointed scene at the small theater doesn't ignite the same passion in her. Instead she reacts with fear, she instinctively knows that she has inspired something that threatens to overwhelm her.
Throughout the film both Vicky and Lermontov know they are heading into some sort of an affair. They are just using different schedules. She thought she had it made when she received the meeting request in which Lermontov told her that he was producing The Red Shoes ballet starring herself as the lead. At the time of the request, she thought it was merely a date and a culmination of the attraction she knew they shared. It was important to note that she did not shy away from that possibility and welcomed it. Her willingness to get to the next step in their interaction gets lost in the excitement of the new ballet and she discovers real, unconditional love with Julian Craster.
The real character fault of Vicky is that she refuses to take action. Throughout the film she drifts along allowing others to steer her around rough waters. She allows Lermontov to be in control of her career. Ultimately she allows Julian to direct their love life. Unlike Lermontov who is inspired and aroused by talent, Vicky is aroused by Julian's more balanced approach to his art. Out of all of them, it strikes me that only Julian has experienced normal love affairs. He is long past losing his head over a paramour and more interested in creating emotional/intellectual connections with his partners. Vicky becomes just as obsessed by Julian as Lermontov is with her. So much so that she allows Julian control over her for fear of losing him. And since there is no word or hint of protest from Vicky over their partnership, Julian thinks that there is absolutely nothing wrong. He becomes blind to the fact that there is no give and take because Vicky has no experience in voicing her independence. However the closer they get the more Vicky realizes that art and real life are easier to combine for men. She has to make a choice. She wants ballet more than anything and she wants her husband just as much. The desire for both pushes her to the brink leaving her open to an obsessed Lermontov who will now stoop to any level to bring her back to him.
The last scene in which both men fight her hand is frightening in its intensity. Mainly because it is obvious that Vicky has no psychological resource to withstand this kind of attention. Lermontov wins this argument because he has no desire to give in or even take Vicky's thoughts as consideration. He only wants what he wants because he has been starving. In his mind he has been starving for real art, starving for a muse, for sexual passion and a partner to share it all with him. Only Vicky can provide this for him and he grasps at her unaware that his forced choice for her destroys her as a person. His look of utter triumph, his clasped fists punching the air and his eyes shut tight say more about Lermontov's lust for Vicky (in all senses not just sexual) than words ever could. It shows a man imbalanced by passion that he has long denied himself and it has made him crazed. Something that was totally preventable. If he had just allowed himself to act on the attraction he had for Vicky before fame, before art...he could have had it all. Instead he destroys the woman he desperately needs. I don't believe that Lermontov ever feels this way for another female artist and I don't believe he allows himself love with a male artist. I think he will go on, fetishizing the memory of Vicky and her talent until the end of his days.
Labels: art, ballet, commentary, culture, filmmaking, LGBT, movies, sex