Paraphilia Magazine – from THE AMBIVALENT BODY: ON THE SHORT FILMS OF MONIKA K. ADLER By Robert Smart
In Mutability, Adler’s most recent film features Adler as an alluring corpse laid out on an autopsy table while her obsessed former analyst carries out an illicit autopsy on her, attempting desperately to nail down the essence of the woman that eluded him in life, a riddle he was unable to solve, a body he can only possess by eviscerating it.
Mutability 1The film begins with a text relating that Monika “suffered from a complex, delusional disorder which manifested itself in the forging of numerous online identities and histories. Her demise is signaled during the brief opening credit sequence with the sound a heart monitor pulsing, accelerating and then flat-lining.
Mutability Intercuts repeated Close Ups of the expressionless Monika with shots of Doctor Adler, walking distractedly about the precincts of the Greenwich Observatory ruminative and haunted as his voice on the soundtrack recites a grim elegy, and a third element comprised of periodic sequences of scientific footage of microscopic blood cells – followed later by slides of other types of tissue, cascading and careening under the camera’s gaze. All of this is accompanied by the tolling of a death knell that will continue to sound throughout the film. The film’s very minimal array of images is counterpointed in a kind of minor fugue.
Mutability 2The name of the filmmaker is simultaneously the source of both lead “characters” names: Monika, the inscrutable deceased former patient and Karl Adler (K. Adler), the psychiatrist, portrayed by Aeon Rose, (longtime partner of the director), both physically and in voiceover, performing a text that he composed for the film.
In her biography the filmmaker Monika K. Adler relates that her grandmother was a holocaust survivor and a pioneering psychiatrist of women. In Mutability this grandmother appears to have been transposed to the figure of the contemporary male scientist whose desire to understand outstrips any real insight he might have.
Doctor Adler committed his assault on Monika’s corpse because, as the opening text relates, her death evoked in him, “a deep existential crisis,” compelling him to mediate “on the boundaries between life and death, attempting to deny spirituality by glorifying biology in its animal form – in this, his own delusion, his considers his patient ‘dead but still alive’ and decides to give her something which she can take with her to the afterlife…” The frustrated male doctor constructs a bizarre mythology of biological processes continuing after death, concocting a purely imaginary and still purely materialistic afterlife in which the lost woman can be controlled and defined. This biological hell that Doctor Adler declaims is rife with his own projected emotions: Angst, bitterness, loss and thwarted desire. The opening text composed by the filmmaker presents a dialectical negation of the text recited by Aeon Rose as Doctor Adler.
Mutability 5This is the first film in which Adler has given both the subjective position and voice to a male character. However, by immediately setting the terms and creating the context in which that voice is understood with the text that precedes the body of the film.
In this film Monika is silent, represented with concentrated minimalism, only by a series of Close Ups of her immobile “dead” face, caressed again and again by the doctor’s gloved hand. She is not the point-of-view, she is not the desiring subject and it is telling that as object of desire she presents herself as a cadaver. Is it possible that to be defined by a man or possessed by a man is tantamount to death? All of the anxiety about the vulnerability of the body, about death, and about the ever present danger of male aggression and depredation is concentrated in this image of Monika as inexpressive corpse. Does this imply that she has taken the only escape route from male systems of instrumental reason, materialism, power and control available to her? Is she a suicide?