Verticle Limit is particlarly tractable to analysis since the oediple drama is played out in a particularly direct, visual, geometric way. What follows won't be all that intlelligible unless you have seen the film. And I don't recommend the film. But it was interesting because it kept repeating itself.
The film starts before the action proper gets underway in a sort of preface or flashback to a time, back in the good ol' days, in home, in America, in a land of happy familial love.
Three people - the hero, his sister, and his father are rock climbing on a cliff face attached to each other by a rope. In what follows I am assuming that the "sister" is, from a Freudian point of view, an allegory for the hero's mother.
The father falls,
The father falls, pulling the hero/son off the cliff face too, leaving only the hero's "sister" and her piton, percariously attached to the rock. The father says, "Cut the rope! This rope won't hold all three of us. If you don't, you will be not just killing yourself but your killing your 'sister' too." The hero cuts the rope, and kills his father and remains with his "sister". But the hero feels terribly guilty about it, and until the action proper starts, the hero does not climb again. The rest of the film explains how the hero gets over his guilt.
While the film uses "sister" not mother, I see sort of a linearised version of the oediple triangle in this taught vertitle tug of war. It is a rope with the hero in the middle and his "sister" and father on either side. The dilemma it presents is "Who cuts the rope, and where?" "Who should be sacrificed" The same dillema repeats throughout the film.
The "film proper" is set in the Himalayas. Now impotent as a climber, the hero lives as "the only Westerner not interested in conquest," working for National Geographic, shooting off only his camera, at wildlife, in an all male environment.
The icy tundra of the Himalayas, like the desert at the start of the film (or the midway stop-over that is Cassablanca - see earlier posts), seem to represent Moritorium the sitting on the fence, the half-way house of the oedipallly challenged. The rest of the film shows the hero going back to repeat the drama that had castrated him, and to refind his balls.
Once the scene has been set, the action is split spaciallly into four parts - three people trapped in an icy cave and the three teams attempting to rescue them.
The people in the icy cave waiting to be rescued are the hero's sister, a millionaire (Elliot), and a climber (Tom). Again there is a dilemma over a human sacrifice, but this time it is the father figure (the millionaire) that is asking the injured climber to give up his own life. Repeating the line at the beginning of the film, Elliot says to Tom, that by choosing to live on and use up the three's limited resources, he is killing not only Elliot but Annie as well. Tom refuses to sacrifice himself. At last Elliot kills him. This cave, like the caves in the English patient, represents the hero's unconcious. Still locked in battle with his father in the fight for his "sister," we see the origin of the hero's guilt --- The hero cut the rope and sacrificed his father but he realises that he is not able to perform that sacrifice himself. The film never raises the question as to why, in the first scene, the hero did not cut his own link to the rope, saving his father and sister. The question is raised here in the icy cave, as the three teams of rescuers come to save them. Down in that cave, another climber that cannot climb, the hero's double, Tom, is being asked to make the same sacrifice that his father made - "Sacrifice yourself for your 'sister' and I!" But he cannot do it. He cannot make the sacrifice. If this cave is a theatre for the hero's guilt, then perhaps it explains his impotence.
He has rejected his father, but he cannot identify with him, he cannot accept the sacrifice that fathers must make.
Where does this leave him? I think that the hero's dilemma and the options he takes to attempt to solve it, are played out in the others that are camped at the base camp below the mountain K2.
At the base camp, which is a half-way house par-excellence, there are others that are caught, frozen, unable to take a challenge, waiting, impotently trying to get over their problem in different ways. In particular their are the two australian brothers "Bench". (Perhaps this has something to do with the way that they are always sitting around). They are almost twins but at the same time very different. They both seems to represent some sort of oediplally challenged position, one partial solution to the oediple dilemma.
One of the twins "is like a dog, who tries to shag everything, eats what he can't shag, and pisses on what he can't eat." Unable to make indenify with the father and make the sacrifice, he lives beyond the law of the father, but living beyond the law, his relationships with women are agressive, short lived, and barren. He spends the film asking "the woman" that the hero eventually finds as a replacement for his sister/mother, to "blow him" (suck his penis) until he is blown off a cliff.
The other twin seems to be a homosexual, who idolises his lawless brother, kisses him, and enjoys a relationship with another male fixated man.
It is these two brothers that form two of the six that go to rescue the three people trapped in the cave. They are split into three pairs.
Lawless brother and the Woman
The woman, a nurse, is in her looks and expression just like the "sister" trapped in the icy cave. The nurse tries to save the lawless brother (and women are always portrayed as unendingly self-sacrificing in this patriarchal film), but even as he is saved by her he ridicules here, forever making lewd jokes and asking for sexual favours.
"The shy brother" and a man that is looking for a lost man. The two brothers are separated leaving "the shy one" (this is what he calls
himself) to climb the mountain with a pakistani who is in search of his male friend who is lost on the mountain. The shy brother kisses his lawless brother and "his ass good bye" when, laughing and having a drink with his new friend a bomb goes off which blows them to pieces. This shy brother seems to represent another "position" offered to those oedipally challenged. If you can't make the father's sacrifice, if you can't get over your guilt, then you can live beyond the law, or live as a man/woman. This film does not portray this option in a positive light.
The hero and another father figure "Wick" Cool, taciturn, commanding, chiselled a loner, Wick is the the man with the dick in this film. He is a friend of the hero's dad. His function is played out in reassuring the hero that he was right to cut that rope saying "If your father had the knife he would have cut the rope himself." And Wick the dick (exactly the same pun is used another Freudianly informed film based on the book
"Girl, Interrupted") has a knife.
In the climax of the film we have another taught dangling rope. This time the structure is as follows.
1) New woman, nurse, sister-look-alike, replacement mother, target of heros
3) Sister, prone being pulled out from the cave, helpless mother?
4) Wick, good father,
5) Elliot the millionaire, bad father
Five people on a rope. Who makes the cut this time?
There is a subplot where we learn that Wick hates the Elliot the millionaire, becuase he killed Wicks wife. Four years previously Elliot and Wicks wife were on the same mountain, and Elliot made her sacrifice himself for him as he tries to do to all those that are in the cave with him.
At the end of the film, it seems that the hero is cured. His seems to have regained his ability to climb, the suggestion is that he gets it together with the nurse, and he keeps the love of his sister.
The cures seems to be affected when Wick cuts the rope. And, together with Elliot, the good and bad father fall into the abyss. Wick not only *said* "Your father would have cut the rope if he had had the knife" but he did it, he proved it.
But why? What is going on here? How is the hero cured? How is he now able to make the sacrifices required when walking the way of the father?
Perhaps it goes something like this.
In the tug of war of love between his mother and father, he can cut out his father, kill him, choose the mother. But his guilt is immense because he cannot make the same sacrifice himself. He is caught in a land of questions. What if it were the other way around? Could he have sacrificed himself? And he realises that he could not. So he can not move on. He is stuck in a limbo. "If I become a father, I am am going to be cut out, away from the relationship that my woman has with her son." Guilty and impotent he plays out other alternatives, the playboy, the woman. And he fantasises about the dark side of the father that would have had the sacrifice the other way around.
But perhaps it is in that subplot that the cure is affected as a result of the subplot between Wick and Elliot, the two sides of father in the hero's mind. As he gets to know the father Wick he begins to understand why Wick can make the sacrifice.
Both Wick and Elliot are father figures. Wick is the ultimate climber. Elliot is the man with money and power that sets the scene for the action. Wick is not only the friend of the father that the hero has killed but his double. He is the father the father that has lived on in the desert, after having lost his wife. Elliot is father that comes to haunt the hero in his heart, offering him the challenge to cut himself out of that relationship to save "his sister" from having two men and not enough *syringes.* The Elliot and the sick climber fight over who gets to use the syringe.
But what they also find in the icy desert in the Himalayas is the frozen body Wick's wife and the empty packet of syringes that Elliot had taken from her. "Is this what you are looking for?" the hero asks Wick the dick. The syringes are all gone. Elliot has used them up.
When Wick cuts the rope he takes Elliot with him. The good and the bad father fall away and cease to plague the hero. They are unified. In that act, in the cutting of the rope that is repeated throughout the film, we realise that the father(s) have another reason to cut the rope. It is not simply because the want to leave the hero with his sister. The father is no longer a superhero that cuts himself out into the cold. Now he has a bad side. Now we see that for part of him, his wife is already dead, already lost to him. He is also cutting the rope because he has a dark side, a dark side that has already used up the syringes for his wife, that can no longer penetrate her, that wishes her dead. He hero realises that when the time comes to make the sacrifice, the sacrifice will not be so difficult to make.
And of course, the other reason why the cut is easier this time is that their are more people on the upper part of the rope. There is the hero's new mother substitute. All she wants is cash we are told, but it is okay, he gets into her pants and, in the final scene of the film, we see that the hero keeps the love of his mother/sister too. She improvises a song which goes "Only one woman.