Fedora is an aging actress living a life of isolation, her beauty not one bit tainted. A top-notch director who she had an affair with approaches her to play Anna Karenina. She says she is a prisoner. He is knocked unconscious and when he comes to finds out that she has committed suicide. Later it transpires that it was her daughter who was faking her identity for years because her mother had been disfigured during an accident. A couple of months later, the real Fedora too dies.
I was drawn to the splendid isolation, to the two worlds – real and imagined – transposing themselves. Who are we, really? What are we forced to be and to become? The daughter had to live this life because she fell in love with a younger actor, who was in fact her contemporary. But because she was playing the role of her mother, she could not give out the game. It is such immense tragedy.
Did she commit suicide because of having to face the arc lights again and play a double role – of the Fedora people thought she was and the character? Or was it because she would not be able to do it well enough and was aging too, living on an island?
Metaphors seethed throughout. “Youth had been a habit with her for so long that she could not part with it,” said the tagline of the film.
Habits are strange creatures. If not youth, we cling to what we imagine is a part of us – emotions, people, events. But they are like youth. They don’t last. They are meant to sag, to blotch, to slowly force you into confinement and then kill.
Fedora reminded me of Cleopatra and one of my favourite dramatic characters, Blanche Dubois (Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire).
I love this exchange in the latter play:
Mitch: “Oh I don't mind you being older than what I thought. But all the rest of it. That pitch about your ideals being so old-fashioned and all the malarkey that you've been dishin' out all summer. Oh, I knew you weren't sixteen anymore. But I was fool enough to believe you was straight."
Blanche DuBois: “Straight? What's 'straight'? A line can be straight, or a street. But the heart of a human being?”
Yes, dear Blanche, that is what they expect. The straight and the narrow. And preferably the dead-end.