Thoughts on the Gun Sex scene from The Man Who Fell to Earth
Ok, just introduced the film to my fiancée. Having rewatched it afresh and being a little older and wiser than last time I saw it, I noticed some things.
I saw guns three times in this film, and the guns are emphasized to make sure we see them. The first time is in the pawn shop — “This isn’t a pawn shop.” Whatever. — at the beginning of the film. The old woman opens the cash drawer, and we see that she keeps a gun in it. Newton nervously adjusts his hair, afraid of being discovered as an alien. This after showing the woman a British passport, the connotation being that he is an alien at least in that sense. Now, the second time we see the gun is when Newton goes back into the South to stay at the hotel under the name Mr. Sussex. I forget the name of the hotel. In any case, he’s in danger of discovery once again. The local police see that his car has a New York plate, so they decide to run a background check on the plate number. We get a closeup of a gun in a policeman’s holster. So the parallels are obvious. The third appearance of a gun is, of course, the Gun Sex scene.
Now, for a moment, let’s mention the scene in the control room of the spaceship. It’s another scene where Newton is in danger of discovery and someone questions where he is from. One of Nicolas Roeg’s favorite lines: “Are you Lithuanian?” The underlying idea: how foreign are you? There’s even mention of a weapon in the scene, although none appears.
So we see the parallels, and now we come to the Gun Sex scene. How does it connect to the two scenes from before? Does it connect at all? Well, at first the gun is a tool in the hands of those who might find Newton out. Now it’s in his hands. It’s the only time a gun is fired in the film. Is the gun itself impotent because there is nothing left to discover? Is Newton now so human that the gun no longer frightens him?
The scene forms a clear contrast with the earlier sequence featuring the Japanese theater performance cross-cut with Nathan Bryce having sex and roughhousing with one of his students, which upset and frightened Newton. And of course it’s a contrast to the earlier sex scene with Mary Lou that had that beautiful music (Stomu Yamashta – “Wind Words.”) Now Newton is desensitized, both from his lifestyle and his captivity. So much so that now not only does he embrace the marriage of sex and violence, but he needs it in order to get any stimulation during sex. (Bit of Stockholm syndrome, perhaps.) He’s moved from pacifism and timidity to the fetishization of violence. A comment on the American condition, perhaps? Or the human condition?
In the book, I am told, the planet was short on water because of prolonged nuclear war (just go with it.) But in the movie, all we see of the alien planet is Newton and his family. We see no memories of war (although we do hear a Stomu Yamashta song entitled “Memory of Hiroshima,” har har.) Perchance his society was utopian before the water began to vanish. Though he did say that if a human had gone to his planet, his people would have done the same things to that human as the people of Earth did to him. So theories about a utopia may lead nowhere. And Roeg did mention the important idea that human nature was universal. Still, Newton came from a Wise and Mystical alien society, so they’re at least farther ahead than we are in terms of pacifism. That allows for a contrast between his kind and humanity.
But back to the scene itself, I think it can work as a natural contrast to what came before. Timidity and pacifism vs. fetishization of violence, ambition vs. hopelessness, alien vs. human (which we know is a theme anyhow), the threat of being discovered vs. having already been found out, “Wind Words” vs. “Hello, Mary Lou.”