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An Essay On The Parallelism Of Vera

The parallelism of Vera to the figure of the reclining nude as the object of the male gaze is constructed only to be threatened by Vera’s returning of the gaze. Almodovar implicates the viewer into the narrative as the film alternates between footages from the surveillance cameras in Vera’s chamber and these long shots of the camera slowly panning across Vera’s body in a manner that associates the viewer’s gaze with that of Robert’s.

The cinema, according to Laura Mulvey, derives its pleasure from “scopophilia,” where looking becomes the primary source of one’s pleasure, and “voyeurism” in which the people that the viewer sees on the screen do not know that they are being watched. The man represents the looker and the woman represents the object to be looked at. Both Robert and the viewer partake in the acts of contemplating on the success of his creation and deriving visual pleasure from this fragmentary view of Vera’s naked body.

When experiencing the film through the surveillance camera footages, Vera is directly engaging with the viewer, creating an uncomfortable encounter with her that critiques the fact that we, the viewer, also participate in Robert’s twisted obsession. Security cameras are continuously monitoring Vera, yet she is conscious of this fact, knowing the exact moment when someone is watching her. As Robert zooms the camera to solely frame Vera’s face on his flat screen, Vera tauntingly stares directly into the camera––at him.

Another moment of Vera’s sense of self-awareness is when Zeca, played Roberto Alamo, lusts over the surveillance feed of Vera exercising in her room. Vera walks up to the camera with the knowledge that someone is there. In relation to Titian’s Venus of Urbino, Vera is always the object being looked at, but is also an object that is looking back. While Titian’s Venus initiates the gaze and invites the viewer to look further, Vera disrupts this relationship by looking back to disavow the gaze in such a manner that it gives her power over Robert by using his desire to her advantage.

The decor of Vera’s room, filled with the essence of memory and trauma, yields psychological and emotional depth. Dissatisfied with her reality and incapable of controlling it, Vera compensates for her own inadequacies and instabilities by creating a private world to escape into. The Skin I Live In makes the argument that no one can have access to Vera’s interior self (i. e. Vicente), in spite of all the physical changes being forced upon her.

According to Almodovar, in an interview with The New York Times, the skin is the sign of one’s humanity, yet it is something that can be easily manipulated and changed by plastic surgery, which could mean that in changing the skin, one is also changing the identity of the person. However, Almodovar believes that identity remains the same in spite of exterior change, because the interior self is something that no outsider has access to. Vicente is a prisoner in a house and in a body that he has not chosen to live in.

The concept of memory is particularly important to The Skin I Live In. On one hand, Vera struggles to hold onto the identity and memory of Vicente. And it is the memory of Vicente that is crucial in helping the viewers to understand the complexity of this new identity. On the other hand, Robert gives Vera opium to forget the physical acts of violence inflicted onto the body. Furthermore, the new skin that Robert transplants onto Vera makes her incapable of feeling anything––not even a mosquito drawing blood or Robert putting a blowtorch to it.

To feel is an essential human quality and crucial to memory, and that is taken away from Vera. The walls of Vera’s room become filled with the dates of each day that he has been held captive, spanning a six year period, and the repeated writing of the phrases such as “I breathe, I know I breathe,” which is perhaps the only truth the he knows. Vera searches for various outlets to retain his sanity in a labyrinth of madness, and that place within himself in which Robert cannot control and manipulate.

The Skin I Live In refers heavily to the works of French-American Surrealist artist Louise Bourgeois, whose works are directly referenced and employed as a means of exposing Vera’s psychological interior. Vera discovers yoga and Louise Bourgeois while scanning the television channels and begins this process of writing on the wall. Bourgeois claims that her “[works] allows [her] to rexperience the fear, to give it a physicality so [she] is able to hack it away. Fear becomes a manageable reality.

The bedroom wall, then, becomes this space in which emotional trauma is rationalized and made sense of, and visually manifested to the viewer. Vera finds solace in the works of Louise Bourgeois and peace in yoga. Bourgeois’ quote, “art is the guarantee of sanity,” is written on the wall and comes to encapsulates Almodovar’s motivation for including such works so prominently in the film’s narrative. The two drawings that consistently recur throughout the film is the image of a naked woman lying on her back with a house crushing her head and another image with a standing naked woman with her head replaced by a house.

These drawings cite a series in Bourgeois’ repertoire called Femme Maison (1946-47), which describes Bourgeois’ experience as a homemaker and feeling the burden of her domestic roles––wife and mother––heavily weighing down on her shoulders. Bourgeois’ women are void of individuality and identity, and isolated from the outside world. Their bodies are completely exposed as a sort of antithesis to the ideals of the classical nude as a result of the juxtaposition of the feminine form against an anthropomorphic object and the context in which they are made.

Trapped and alienated from those around him, Vera discovers in art the consolation for his situation that no human being can offer. These artistic replication projects Vera’s tormented inner reality in order to make Vera’s existence more endurable. He perceives art as a way of working through his character’s emotions and influencing the viewers to sympathize with his characters. Almodovar reinterprets Bourgeois’ Femme Maison in a way that the house comes to symbolize something that is imprisoning and controlling Vera’s psyche.

Her body and mind are two different things, just like the women in Bourgeois’ series. Femme Maison’s meaning is taken out of context and reworked into Almodovar’s narrative. He, as well as the viewer of the film, liberate the meaning of Bourgeois’ drawings in such a way that it sets up entirely new relationships with Bourgeois’ images and Vera’s identity. After Robert kills Zeca for raping Vera, the relationship between Robert and Vera changes. Vera moves into Robert’s room and they begin to live “like everyone––live together as equals.

In the sequence where Vera goes back into the room to take the breakfast tray from the dumbwaiter and bring it into Robert’s room, she breaks from the character that she has been playing so well after looking at the wall, and turns to the camera in fear that someone is watching. The camera pans out to reveal the entire wall with every surface documented with that tormented inner reality. The interpretation of these images, separate from Bourgeois’ artistic intentions, reveals how Vera truly feels despite pretending to accept what has happened and playing along with Robert’s fantasy.

The magnitude of Vera’s suffering is made apparent on the wall written with the date of each day that Vera has been a prisoner. What the viewers see and how Vera actually feels are two different things. It is another instance in which art replaces language in expressing human experience. Almodovar’s citation of Bourgeois’ Femme Maison expresses the fact that is not the burden of domestic duties that Vera carries on his shoulder, but an identity that does not match with the given body built upon six years of captivity.

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