Thursday, March 17, 2011

Movie Night at the Educational Center: Transamerica

A Review: Transamerica, 2005

"One is not born a woman, but rather becomes one."
Judith Butler Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, 1990

The mark of a good story is that it keeps your attention, urging on your interest in the characters. The plot entrances you. Turning each page in anticipation or inching towards the edge of your seat. A great story allows unlimited access to your own story. The movie Transamerica (directed by Duncan Tucker, 2005) is such a story. Ostensibly a tale of a transsexual woman on the brink of her final physical conversion into her idealized concept of the Female, the plot soon shifts abruptly and sets the stage for a multi-faceted quest after a completed self. The movie begins with Bree Osbourne (played with amazing nuance by Golden Globe winner Felicity Huffman) molding and shaping….literally sculpting herself into an identity she cherishes.

Her very foundation is garmented. She practices modulating her voice. She tucks the remaining vestiges of the Stanly Shupak that she was and has despised between her legs. She is transformed, but still lacking. In the same way that we do not know when tragedy, joy, love, or an act of volatile Nature may instantly alter the path of our life, so the phone rings. Answering, Bree finds out that she has a son. A seventeen-year old son in a New York City Jail. It is just one week until to her vangioplasty. When Bree offhandedly mentions the fact that she ‘may’ have a son, Bree’s therapist, Margaret (Elizabeth Pena) withholds the envelope that contains permission for the surgery. In this act, she challenges Bree to face this potential for maintaining a divided self. She offers Bree an opportunity to unite her Feminine and Masculine selves. In one fascinating scene, Bree (a study in pink) makes arrangements to go see her son Toby (a haunting performance by Kevin Zegers). Resigned to making the journey, she sits adrift beneath an M. Tamplough print entitled “Crepuscule en Egypt”.

Crepuscular speaks of twilight – that transitional period of each day that holds both the light and the dark. It is that time of change. This is the moment that signifies Bree’s empowerment – evidenced in her (often tentative) involvement with her self-quest. All of the characters in this movie have secrets. Many of them from the underbelly of being. Secrets kept from others. And secrets kept from one’s self in the form of a fabricated and highly edited personal narrative. And certainly as Bree and Toby traverse the continent, the standard of what is normal becomes a strategic point of supposition. The essential question becomes: do we as individuals possess a core sense of self, or are we each an entire society of authentic selves? Are we born predisposed to a particular and genetically scripted way of being, or are we hammered and annealed into shape by our environment? And is a well-performed authenticity a significantly creative strategy of participating fully in the active and constant creation of self?

It is written that “Transsexual adults often request hormone and surgical treatments to suppress their biological sex characteristics and acquire those of the opposite sex. A team of health professionals, including the treating psychologist or psychiatrist, medical doctors, and several surgical specialists, oversee this transitioning process. Because of the irreversible nature of the surgery, candidates for sex-change surgery are evaluated extensively and are often required to spend a period of time integrating themselves into the cross-gender role before the procedure begins. Counseling and peer support are also invaluable to transsexual individuals.”

Theodore Adorno said that we may only know ourselves through knowing our fractured self. Trasamerica asks to consider that we may only know ourselves by embracing our integrated self.

"What had reached me, so powerfully cast from a human body, was Beauty: there was a face with all the mystery prescribed and preserved on it; I was before it, I sensed that there was a beyond, to which I did not have access, an unlimited place ... a desire was seeking its home."
Hélène Cixous Coming to Writing and Other Essays, 1991


Movie Night, March 18th at The Educational Center

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