SYLVIA AND ME

A few years ago, I wrote a brief review of the movie SYLVIA (2003) Starring Gwyneth Paltrow and directed by Christine Jeffs. Here's the original review:

And Now, A Word From Lady Lazarus . . .

You know what I love about Hell? Arm-wrestling Ernest Hemingway. Playing "Go" with Yukio Mishima. You know what I hate about hell? Watching movies about me, or more specifically, watching myself being portrayed by a fake-ass blonde Beverly Hills mannequin with a phony British accent. (New England girl here, folks. Born in Boston!)

May the Bull of Bendylaw trample your fake vegan-ass right into the sea!

Your Friend,

Sylvia

"Lady Lazarus" and "The Bull of Bendylaw" are both poems by Sylvia Plath. Both are violent poems about anger and retribution. The mood of the review is vengeful too. But the two Plath poems celebrate revenge on men in general ("I eat men like air") or the downfall of corrupt male authority figures like King Bendylaw. The review celebrates Plath's anger but it slyly subverts her feminist message. Legitimate feminist rage is transformed into a sexist attack on a beautiful young woman, the actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Now I'm a man, and I love Sylvia Plath. But I love her for reasons that most women wouldn't understand. I don't connect with her feminism, only with her anger and her genuine capacity for hate. Her most famous poem is called "Daddy," and it's all about murdering her father. In the poem Otto Plath is not just a lousy father, a distant professor who died young. He's a Nazi, a vampire. The whole village jumps up and down on his dead body after Sylvia the vampire slayer drives a wooden stake into his heart.

Needless to say, the movie "Sylvia" does not dwell on the real Sylvia's anger, or her disturbing capacity for hate. In the movie she's the tearful wife of a cheating husband. She's soft, helpless, put upon. The ultimate rebel recast as the ultimate victim.

Now I see Sylvia as one of the boys. Ernest Hemingway and Yukio Mishima were tough guys, great male writers, and they killed themselves just like she did. The way I see it, Sylvia proved she was one of the boys by dying fearlessly. And by defying her father. To me those two things define what it is to be a man.

So Sylvia Plath is my hero. Only problem is, it's all crap. My father was a distant professor who died young. But I never defied him. I never stopped loving him. And I never had the courage to actually kill myself. So I get my thrills by cheering on Sylvia to kill herself over and over. She's a hero for killing my father and she's a hero for being my father. And the way I make her into my father is by making her hate what he hated most, which is attractive young white women.

And that's the story of Sylvia and me.

Sorry Gwyneth!