What makes Love Streams different from the other films of Cassavetes is that Love Streams includes both scenes of dreams and metaphors of death. In the films which were made earlier than Love Streams, the tendency that the audience should capture the charactersf inner truth from their faces could be seen. Indeed Faces was the title of one of his films. In Love Streams, the stylish sequences of the dream, in which Cassavetes tries to express the world of emotional depths, cannot be emphasized too much. In relation to the dreamy scenes, the metaphors of death that have never been dominant in earlier films quite often appear in Love Streams.
Let us review the other film criticsf articles about the dream
scene in question. Raymond Carney and Thierry Jousee mention about
the dream scene and a motif of death in this film. But it seems
that they do not take a deep notice of the relation between dream
and death. Carney@notes that in the point that sometimes Love
Streams proceeds with Robert and Sarahfs personal illusion, this
film can be defined as the cinema of dream. Also he points out
that the film puts us in the mind of the world which is deformed
by our own imagination and desire.10
As for the motif of death, Carney states
that the film is about gthe closingh apparently. In other words,
Cassavetes inquires into the problems of death, waste of time
and energy, and failure in the film with the background that Cassavetes
was seriously ill at that time .11 I
would like to proceed this chapter focusing on the relation between
the dream scene and the motif of death more clearly.
Normally the dreams and hallucinations are considered as an expression of internal desire, which is difficult to be realized in an ordinary life. In the early part of the film, when Robert Harmon, the novelist, played by John Cassavetes himself, interviews Johnny, an eighteen-year-old girl, giving her a glass of Champagne and asks when she feels happiest, she answers that she is happiest when she is cooking. Robert does not seem to believe about her answer and asks the same question again. She says she is happiest when she is dreaming. Robert inquires, gWhat do you dream?h And the scene cuts out to Sarah. As we can see from the similar conversation between Robert and Sarah in the later part of the film, dreaming and the content of the dream have much weight in this film.
After Sarah has divorced her husband, Jack, she goes to Europe for a trip because she has been advised by a psychiatrist to do so and telephones Jack from the airport. She tells him that she has been cured and not crazy any more. His response is cold and he says, g I do not care about youh, in a chilly manner. After that, Sarah imagines that her car hits and kills her husband and daughter. We can call this Sarahfs first hallucination. After her husband has mercilessly hung up the phone, she is beside herself with indignation. The shot of Sarahfs leaning on the phone suddenly changes into the objective shot of recklessly driving a car with the engine roaring. Then the point of view of the camera turns into the inside of the car. We see the man rushing away. Her mind is possessed by keen fury all of a sudden. The car is driven violently, carelessly strikes the tree, and tumbles down after running over one person and another. The carfs flying in the air is showed by slow motion and it gives a kind of artificial look on this dream. We may recognize that two people run over by car are Jack and her daughter, Debby after watching the close-up of Jackfs bloody face under the car and Debbyfs arm. The moment of running over is filmed by slow motion, which is rare in Cassavetesf films, so it reduces the cruelty of Sarahfs killing. When Sarah gets out of the car and looks under the car, a strange sound can be heard from the off-screen, such as men walking on hard ground. It corresponds with Sarahfs walking on a gravel road and her pounding heart when she tries to check whether she has killed Jack and Debby.
The second hallucination (dream) is seen when Sarah loses her mind and sleeps. When Robert, her younger brother, looks after her, she starts laughing. At this moment, we can see that Robert takes Sarah to be crazy. Along the pool (in Sarahfs house in Chicago), her husband and daughter gather reluctantly near Sarah. She tries to make them laugh in thirty seconds, betting her love. She makes the foxfs face, sprays ketchup and mustard at Jack, gives a squirt pen to Jack, a squirt earring to Debby and takes a picture with a tricked camera. Turning now to the directing style of this scene, according to the words of Gena Rowlands, who played the role of Sarah, the scene was born from pure improvisation.12 The improvisation seems to be successful in respect of producing a kind of awkwardness, impossibility of predicting this scene. The silence and the interval between the conversation pervade through this scene. Sarah talks to Jack and Debby and she laughs by herself. And the silence and interval let us share Sarahfs uncertainty and impatience. Sarahfs act of making the family laugh becomes hastened with the sound of ticking watch. Her love proves to be one-sided one from her one-sided talk and laugh.
After all, they do not laugh at all and Sarah jumps into the pool. Jumping into the pool finally signifies Sarahfs spiritual suicide by knowing their love has gone. In the point that she bets her love on the laughing game, if she loses, she would give them her love that means everything to her. She might be dead spiritually when her love is robbed. We can see Cassavetesf own words about Sarahfs second dream, g . . . Sarah continue dfavoir ses propres reves, ses visions. Elle reve de son mari et de sa fille, cfest une sequence a la fois tres comique et tres cruelle ou elle á parie sur notre amour â qufelle saura les faire rireg.13 Cassavetes took this scene as very comical and at the same time as very cruel in the point that Sarah bets her love on making Jack and Debby laugh. The motif of laugh or the sense of humour in common can be seen in Cassavetesf films, which we will discuss into details in the next chapter, because the act of laugh is considered to be the same as the act of love. In the scene of the first half of Faces(1968), another Cassavetesf film, Maria and Richard Forest laugh together at Richardfs dirty joke, but gradually their laugh does not make harmony. This scene shows that their love is on the cliff and they do not understand each other.
This second dream has a kind of artificial look from the first moment. The scene transitions from Sarahfs face in real world when she is losing her mind to Sarahfs standing silhouette with the sound of continuous wicked laugh. This deformed sound of laugh foretells the main motif of the proceeding scene. In the dream scene, in front of Sarah, the small table and Sarahfs tools were located. In a way, Debby and Jack might be the audience, who would watch Sarahfs performance as a comedian. Also drinks are served as if they were the audience at nightclub.
The pool in the scene of Sarahfs second hallucination and also other pools in Cassavetesf films seem to have a particular role. In Love Streams, the pool might be the bridge, which connects the real world and the dream. Her dream ends by jumping into the pool. The pool may symbolize the unknown boundary between reality and the dream. Losing her love, Sarah has nowhere to go except into the pool. She turns a somersault before sinking into the pool. This pool may symbolize ga streamh of water. Carney indicates that gAll of Cassavetesf work is designed to bring us to an awareness of the gstreamingnessh of life and to teach us how to swim with it rather than attempt to stop its motionh.14 Sarahfs leap into the pool shows us her trying to mingle in another stream (another family). A kind of leap has been needed when Sarah had to overcome her hard feelings. This somersault may be the embodiment of her spiritual leap.
The pool in this scene appears to have several meanings excepting those mentioned above. Firstly, the pool and its surroundings show us life of bourgeoisie, to which Sarah used to belong. Before the first dream scene, Jack and Debby are playing tennis when Sarah telephones from the airport. The pool and tennis court in their house can be interpreted as the bourgeoisie props with the fact that Jack is an architect. These things turn out to be very cruel when Sarah goes to the bowling alleys to find a boyfriend and meets Ken, an ordinary man, with whom she will decide to go at last. Our expectation for Sarahfs romantic encounter may be torn down. Sarahfs separation from her family also means her farewell to life and class of bourgeoisie.
Secondly, the pool may function to draw a line of the antithetical concepts such as muddle of Sarahfs consciousness and purification of her mind or purification of her body and awakening of her mind on the assumption that when she loses her mind, she has hallucination and then she wakes up to become conscious. After this scene of the pool, we hear the sound of rain and the scene shifts to a black screen. In the dark, the door opens and Robert comes inside with animals in a heavy rain. The pool connects Sarahfs dream scene and the next scene of real world with water as a common factor. Trespassing on the pool, she finds herself with Robert in real world with Robert. This shot transition shows us not only the shifts from dream to real life but also from Sarahfs past family to her another family.
2.2 Images of Death
The images of death can be found in the first and second dream
scenes. In the first dream, Sarah becomes a killer and in the
second one, she kills herself spiritually. In Sarahfs dreams,
life and death are always included as crucial elements. Cassavetes
indicates that this film symbolically kills every character, Sarahfs
family and Robert one after another.14
Cassavetes hesitated for two weeks
to add the scene, which expressed death when he was shooting The
Killing of a Chinese Bookie(1976), even if killing was the protagonistfs
final aim. The images of death can also be found in Opening Night(1978)
in Myrtlefs frequent falling down. The motif of falling down is
similar to Sarahfs fainting several times. Sarahfs fainting should
be noted as a sign of the situation of her mind, which is blocked.
What makes Cassavetes put the killing scenes in Love Streams(1984)is
that he may try to say that the excessive form of love takes on
the risk of death. Extreme and desperate love may go nowhere but
only reach insanity or (spiritual or physical) death. While in
earlier films before Love Streams, extreme love such as Mabelfs
love in A Woman Under the Influence(1975) took the form of insanity.
Curiously enough, Sarah seems quite normal and speaks normally with Robert, her brother, who considers her crazy. But with her husband and daughter, she says weird things and acts insanely. Her excessive love toward her family might drive her crazy. As Sarah declares in the film, g the important thing is a balanceh. In the family, a balance should be highly required. If a subtle balance in the family goes wrong, the family memberfs balance goes wrong, too.
2.3. Family Ties or the Impossible Dream
In the third dream, the family seems to be united again. The
dream looks like a@kind of operetta performed on the stage. The
motif of ballet dancers is used here again. Generally, in Cassavetesf
films, the motif of a ballet dancer can be seen quite often. We
will see the examples such as the drawings of the ballet dancers
hung on Jackfs apartment in Shadows(1959). These drawings can
be seen for a very short time. In Shadows, the ballet-dancer may
be regarded as the negative metaphor of showgirls, who will appear
on the stage to give the audience a visual pleasure. Also in Minnie
and Moscowitz(1971), there is a drawing of ballet dancers on the
wall of Minniefs room. The ballet dancer and showgirl can be taken
as opposite faces that stand for day and night.
To return to Sarahfs dream, Sarahfs third dream scene follows the next scene after the second dream scene. In the first stage, a black stage is shown. The spotlight is on someone who is walking to the center of the stage. We recognize the person must be Sarah as she sings a passionate song about love. Then Debby, her daughter comes from the left, sings and calls e mammy, mamaf to Sarah on and on. Jack, the father, tries to stop it and embraces Debby, saying Sarah would kill Debby. After the ballet dancersf mechanic dance, the family gathers, embraces, and kisses. The scene is illustrated just like an operetta scene. This scene can be said to be very symbolic. First of all, Sarah seems to play the lead part on the stage, for the people on the stage surround her. As a film critic points out, gthe scene is taken by wide-angled lenses. So the whole frame is in focus, but at the same time, the image on the edges of the frame appears crookedh.15@@In Sarahfs dreamy operetta world, the central part, which Sarah occupies, gets expanded. The distortion of the image reflects Sarahfs myopic, convenient and hopeful world. And the very distortion of the scene symbolizes the impossibilities of a happy family tie that is possible in every ordinary Hollywood melodrama film.
By contrast, in other scenes with Sarah, Jack and Debby, Sarah always plays the role of an intruder and is placed aside. The threads that connect Sarah and Jack, Sarah and Debby are snapped. This centering of Sarah by herself means that she always wants to play the central figure in the family. @@
Here, we will quote comments from Thierry Jousse and Raymond Carney about the dream scenes. Firstly, Thierry Jousse comments on Sarahfs third dream as follows:
Cfest le reve de Sarah, au moment ou elle navigue entre la vie et la mort, qui la pousee a revenir vers son destin, cette reconstruction de la famille, hypothethique mais tellement desiree qufelle finit par prendre en forme.16
Sarahfs dream travels among life and death. The reconstruction of family is formed as she hopes to be in her dream. Whereas, Carney interprets that Sarahfs third dream as ga stunning reunion with her husband and daughter in a grand operatic and balletic wedding ceremonyh.17 Also Carney states the connection between dream and reality as follows:
Insofar as it is staged as a dream sequence, a pure expression of consciousness, however, Cassavetes is proclaiming its limitations . . . . Cassavetes values dreams only insofar as they form the basis for an act of translation into lived expressions and relationships. Sarahfs imperative, and her filmfs, is that she must awake from her dream and engage herself with a world of expressive meditation, frustration, and muddlement. 18
As he points out, we cannot help recognizing the clear border between the dream and real life in Cassavetesf films. As to the dream scenes except the third dream in Love Streams, we may find the difference between Cassavetesf dream scenes in the plot with a typical Hollywood film, say Frank Caprafs Ites a Wonderful Life (1946), where the dream sequence conveys an important role in the proceeding of the plot. gCapra began making films in 1921, and by 1934, when It Happened One Night scooped five Academy Awards, including best film and best direction, the director had played out the myth of the American dream, of upward mobility and success as a result of hard workh.19 In general, the dream scenes have two roles: ideal that the character longs for and the situation that makes the characters frightened. In a film like Ites a Wonderful Life, the protagonist who becomes disgusted with his real life and dreams about his future, a miserable plight. When he awakes, he feels thankful to his life though it is not wealthy one. In a manner of speaking, the dream scenes in ordinary Hollywood films seem to be necessary in the plot and turn out to be one of the opportunities to proceed the story. On the other hand, the dream scenes in Cassavetesf film can be interpreted as a kind of digression in terms of the plot of Hollywood films.
The middle-aged housewives like Sarah in Love Streams and Mabel in A Woman Under the Influence, both played by Gena Rowlands, have a common characteristic. They do love their family too much. Their love drives themselves to an insane world. With their profound love, the family should be one, but the result is different. Insanity leads the family to be parted. Sarahfs love is one-sided. The object of Sarahfs love does not remain in her family. In contrast, Mabelfs husband and children love Mabel. As the title suggests, does love stream continuously? It is the question that Sarah asks to Jack, Robert and the psychiatrist. The three men said that love would stop. Her love will stream despite that the objects of love may change.
Let us see Cassavetesf own words about the third dream, hComme cela arrive parfois dans la vie, le reve df opera a sur elle une sorte de mysterieux pouvoir de guerison. Elle sort de ce reve presque hereuse, avec un sentiment profond de liberation, elle redevient capable de faire face a sa vieg.20 She has an opera-like dream which gives her the misterious power of recovery. When she is awaken, she feels happy, liberated and is able to face her life again.
In the first half of the film, Jack is wanting a divorce. Sarah with Debby negotiates with Jack and mediators in court. Strangely, Sarah says to the judge that she has no relatives except Jack, Debby and Jackfs relatives. She talks volubly and makes an appeal how important Jack and Debby are. At this point, she might be noted as a lonely outsider who joins Jackfs family by marriage. Sarah and Mabel are similar in the sense that the housewife is an outsider in her husbandfs family. The desperateness that Jack and Debby are everything to her makes us believe that she has no relatives. At this point, we do not know that Robert and Sarah are siblings. We can find an interesting note about this; Ted Allen (who wrote the original play of Love Streams)havait souhaite que le spectateur comprenne df emblee que Robert Harmon et Sarah Lawson etaient frere et s?ur. Alors que dans le film, cfest seulement apres plus dfune heure que nous realisons, a lfissue dfune fameuse sequence au telephone, le lien de sang indelebile qui les rattache."21 The scenes of Robert and those of Sarah are shown in parallel. They do not meet until Sarah goes to Robertfs house. Cassavetesf plot cannot be recognized as a linear plot typical of Hollywood films. This makes the film too complicated and difficult for us to understand the whole immediately. It is hard to predict how Cassavetesf film will proceed.
We may find that Robert and Sarah are the siblings when we watch the scene of the telephone conversation, where four people are speaking at the same time. When Sarah calls Jack, Debby interrupts and after Sarah has hung up the phone, Robert yells at Jack, gDo not hurt my sisterh.
In the hierarchy of Sarahfs love, her husband and daughter occupy the top and then a boyfriend. The brother Robert comes last. As mentioned above, after the divorce, Sarah travels to Paris to find a boyfriend at the suggestion of her psychiatrist. Eventually she could not find a boyfriend there and returns to the States to visit Robert. In this sense, Robert may be the substitute of her possible lover.
In the last part of the film, Robert proposes to her and to live together forever. We will see for the first time that Robert says the words, eI love youf, on his own initiative. He does not even say, eI love youf, to his own son. If Sarah accepts Robertfs proposal, they have to shut themselves in a kind of incestuous world. The American film scholar, James Monaco gives his opinion about Cassavetesf characters: g[c]learly, Cassavetesf people arenft outdoor folk. They donft thrive in the sunshine. They are interior characters in both senses of the word, and that seems more a theatrical trait than a cinematic characteristicg.22 Symbolically Robertfs house is always dark with all of the curtains down except in the morning. He sits in the dark, drinks, meditates and drifts to search for a night partner. The night brings intolerable loneliness and lets the characters change into a different state. They become active and at the same time they feel uncertainty at night. Curiously, Robert goes out unnecessarily when Sarah is staying at his home, while Sarah rises up from bed and goes to bowling alleys for seeking a boyfriend.
Now let us consider one of the most difficult sequences to
interpret in this film. It is the last sequence. It is not only
Sarah but also Robert who sees the hallucination. In Robertfs
case, alcohol has the power of bringing the hallucination. A half-naked
man in the chair at the last sequence may be interpreted as Robertfs
hallucination caused by drunkenness. One half-naked, hairy man
grins and looks like the man who is the buddy of a dog named Jim
which is bought by Sarah as the substitutes for her lost family
members, and had to stay at Robertfs home. He sits just beside
Jim. Thierry Jousse interpreted this scene as follows: gMeme lfapparition
barbue a la fin (cfest peut-etre Noe mais rien ne lfatteste absolument)
participe avec le meme naturel a ce reve bleute, somptueusement
irreel pourtant dfune dechirante realite".23
He wrote that this last apparition gave unreal look on the
end of this film. Lenny may be illusionary because later as the
camera pans from left to right, there is no one in the chair on
which he sat. His hairy and half-naked appearance makes him closer
to the existence of the dog. The apparition of Lenny, the dog-man
may suggest that the dog and Lenny are always together spiritually
even if they are parted. This last scene looks like one of the
most visionary scenes in the film, because it is difficult to
recognize whether it is an illusion or not. Robert who thinks
Sarah is crazy sees a hallucination himself. After that, he puts
his rainy cap on and dances alone. This lonesome dance seems awesome
like a dance with an invisible partner.
When Robert drinks, he loses himself. The@charactersf alcoholism in Love Streams stands out. Robert starts drinking in the morning. Even when he is with his own son, Albie, he drinks from morning and gives Albie a cup of beer. Norman Denzin, the author of Hollywood Shot by Shot: Alcoholism in American Cinema argues that galcoholism films . . . configure the alcoholic as a ediseased,f sick, often insane, violent person who violates the normal standards of everyday lifeh.24 This statement may be applied to Love Streams. Alcohol lets people give access to an unusual spiritual uplift and madness and by definition a kind of vision.
Finally the nuclear family has to dissipate in this film. The power of breaking up the family seems stronger than that of uniting the family. In Sarahfs first dream, the family is dispersed by the traffic accident. In the second dream, Sarah makes efforts to unite the family again by the power of laugh. In the third dream, the dream appears as one scene of the operetta, which happily draws the union of the scattered family. This dream may reach a more imaginary stage than other dreams. Through the dream scenes, Cassavetes describes the imaginary break-up and reunion of the family.
11 Ibid., 324.
12 Michael Venchura, Rev. of John Cassavetes and His Works, Ed. and Trans. Takaki Inada. Switch 3 Jan. 1990. 148.
13 Raymond Carney, ed. John Cassavetes: Autoportraits. 38.
14 Raymond Carney, The Films of John Cassavetes. 256.
15 Atsushi Sasaki, gEmotional Resque.h Rev. of John Cassavetesf Films. Cahiers du Cinema Japon 7 25. Mar. 1993. 87.
All translation are my own.
16 Thierry Jousse, John Cassavetes. Paris: Edition de lfEtoile. 1989. 96-97.
17 Raymond Carney, The Films of John Cassavetes. 269.
18 Loc. cit.
19 Brian Neve, Films and Politics in America. London: Routledge, 1992. 37.
20 Raymond Carney, ed., John Cassavetes: Autoportraits. 38.
21 Jousse, op. cit., 42.
22 James Monaco, American Film Now. New York: New American Library, 1979. 301.
23 Jousse, op. cit., 96.
24 Norman Denzin, Preface. Hollywood Shot by Shot. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1991.