A Tribute to Jessica Chastain

Performance lecture as a part of Gulp by Boris R., Jul 9th, 2015, 2601-2603 Studios, Los Angeles.

Transcript:
A TRIBUTE TO JESSICA CHASTAIN

We are gathered here today to honor and acknowledge Jessica Chastain, fellow artist, sister, and friend. To pay tribute is to pay a compliment, to bestow an accolade, to announce our mutual esteem. It is in the spirit of tribute that this talk was written, and will be performed today.

We are gathered here today to collect on a debt. To pay tribute is to exact a fee, to levy a toll, to make a demand. The demand is a tax, and Chastain its instrument – the notice of non-payment, the application of pressure, and the assurance of satisfaction are written on her person.

Jessica Chastain is an agent.

Jessica Chastain achieves her goals. We watch as she moves freely through the virtual space of the movie screen, encountering objects and enacting causal relations. My identification with Jessica Chastain affirms my feelings of agency and autonomy.

Jessica Chastain gets things done.

Jessica Chastain is a Caucasian female between the age of 30 and 36. She is a vegan and a feminist. She was born in California, and put herself through college. She is an artist.

In Hollywood film, “the glamorous impersonates the ordinary.”

Jessica Chastain is like me but better: more effective, dedicated, charismatic and good looking. Jessica Chastain is a hard worker. Jessica Chastain is an ego ideal.

This relationship has a narcissistic structure, in which an identification is produced between viewer and protagonist. Like Narcissus, as we stare at our beautiful reflection in the mirror, we are fascinated by our own likeness, and we find ourselves fixed to the spot, immobilized. In acting, Jessica Chastain makes it impossible for me to act.

This cinematic identification reinforces my self-image, while simultaneously inducing a temporary loss of ego. In the movies, I am lost, I forget where I am, time stops, space expands and contracts. I am subsumed by Jessica Chastain.

According to the DSM, symptoms of depression include feeling “sad or empty, loss of interest or pleasure, loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness, indecisiveness, and recurrent thoughts of death.”

Jessica Chastain is depressed. In 2003, her sister committed suicide. Chastain herself experienced depression during the filming of Zero Dark 30, for which she won an Oscar. Of this time, she says, “I can honestly say that it was the worst experience of my life.”

Depression is a feeling, a mood, and an atmosphere. It does not belong to you or I, or to Jessica Chastain, but it connects us through space and time. Depression operates at the boundary between inside and outside.

It is a “psychic… poisoning… the transmission of bad feelings across bodies…”

In 1963, Betty Friedan diagnosed the symptoms of a depressed populace as “the problem that has no name,” the “strange feeling of desperation” that plagues women everywhere.

Friedan’s contemporary correlate is Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Google and author of Lean In. In the 21st century, consciousness raising groups have been replaced by Lean-In-Circles, leveraging the rhetoric of feminism towards the goal of self-actualization, combatting the forces of passivity, inertia and depression.

Lean In represents an ethic; it offers women the promise of power and autonomy in exchange for hard work.

Within this framework, depression can be understood as a reasonable response to a culture that prizes sovereign agency, compelling us to lean in at every turn, while giving its subjects “too much or too little to do.”

Put another way, if depression can be understood as a structure, we might describe it thus: depression is the imperative to act, without the means to do so.

I watch Jessica Chastain move across the virtual space of the movie-world, and my identification with her is fundamentally depressive. Just as she embodies forward movement and activity, she fixes me to my seat. In cinema, as in depression, the fantasy of action is mitigated by the reality of inaction.

Jessica Chastain leans in. I lean in to Jessica Chastain.

Thirty days after the death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg posted a letter to her Facebook page, from which I will now read a short excerpt:

“…when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give into the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well… I can’t express the gratitude I feel to my friends and family who have done so much. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces will pull me out of isolation and fear.”

Full transcript at http://www.maurabrewer.com

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