The Twentieth Century Fox flick, Swimfan, describes itself as "a teen Fatal Attraction". Starring Erika Christensen, from Steven Soderberg’s Traffic who plays a girl obsessed with Jesse Bradford (Bring It On), a star school swimmer, they engage in some late night aquatic boning and when Bradford rejects her for his dependable, doe-eyed, slightly vacuous girlfriend (played by Shiri Appleby), Christensen becomes a blonde ballistic missile whose sole purpose is to annihilate Appleby and possess Bradford body and soul.
Christensen is mesmerizing as a girl so pathologically consumed by her need to possess Bradford that she is oblivious to the bodies she leaves in her wake. While the film is an entertaining teen cocktail of hormones and angst, its central narrative theme of obsession and the destruction it can bring is one of the most recurring in film.
The reason for this is – while most of us may not go to Christensen’s extremes of running over the impediments to our desire with automobiles – everyone can relate.
Buddha said that, "Desire is the root of all suffering," to imply that through goal orientation we are setting ourselves up to suffer. Conversely, John Donne said that, "No man is an island."
Undeniably, all human beings have emotional needs. But if both are true then life is a Catch-22 where to meet our needs, we must put ourselves in positions of emotional vulnerability that in all likelihood will cause us to suffer. For the person who is obsessed, this is particularly true because they feel the world impedes them from attaining the one thing that would make life complete.
The French have a tradition of artfully romanticizing obsession. Films like Une Femme Seule (A Woman Alone), En plein coeur (In All Innocence), and L’Enfer (Hell) accept obsession as part of the human condition.
Because the French have the ability to breathe humanity into our flaws, we identify with the tragic protagonists in these films. Each tells the tale of men involved with beautiful women but who believe that these women are cheating on them. Their obsession with their counterparts’ infidelities eventually drives each to ruin.
In Bertolluci’s Last Tango in Paris, Marlon Brando initially uses Romy Schneider to suppress the emotions he feels over his wife’s suicide. He wants a relationship purely defined by sex. But when he eventually realizes that he wants more from Schneider, she’s somehow had the epiphany that their relationship is not healthy. It’s classic bad timing. When she won’t meet him anymore, he becomes more obsessed.
In the film’s final sequence we find Brando chasing her through the streets of Paris until she is forced to shoot him. As he dies, a perplexed look crosses his face as if he had suddenly awakened from a bad dream. What is important about this final gesture is that it reminds us that it is in within our ability to both perpetuate and free ourselves from our obsessions.