Lost Objects of Desire

Lost Objects of Desire: The Performances of Jeremy Irons

Mark Nicholls
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 198
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcxw6
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Lost Objects of Desire
    Book Description:

    This first book-length critical study of Jeremy Irons concentrates on his key performances and acting style. Through the analysis of some of the major screen roles in Irons's career, such asBrideshead Revisited, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Reversal of Fortune, Swann in Love, Dead RingersandLolita, Mark Nicholls identifies a new masculine identity that unites them: an emblematic figure of the 1980s and 1990s presented as an alternative to the action hero or the common man. Using clear explanations of complex theoretical ideas, this book investigates Jeremy Irons's performances through the lens of sexual inversion and social rebellion, to uncover an entirely original but recognizable screen type.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-444-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    In his Academy Award winning performance as Claus von Bulow inReversal of Fortune(1990), Jeremy Irons is arguably at his most restrained. Pottering along calmly as the chief exhibit in a show trial designed to test the strength of the US justice system, it is only in his ageing Sloane Ranger, stiff-upper-lip routine that we see anything of the strangeness that he hints at in his time of trial and grief. Protesting his innocence against the charge of killing his wife Sunny (Glenn Close), he appears, nonetheless, almost indifferent to reliving the events that led to her death. Beyond...

  5. 1 Imogen, Narcissism and the Intolerable Idea
    (pp. 25-49)

    The past may well be a foreign country in the films of Jeremy Irons, but it is not a distant one. These films exhibit a great deal of anxiety over the meaning of the past and they almost always directly engage with the notion of the past in one way or another. This can take the form of simple ‘once upon a time’ structures, as we see inBrideshead Revisited,Reversal of FortuneandLolita, where a narrator (usually Irons) tells us about the drama that has passed. More interestingly and more frequently in Irons’s films, we are compelled to...

  6. 2 Brideshead Revisited: Charles Ryder Drowning in Honey
    (pp. 50-81)

    WhenBrideshead Revisitedwas first shown on British television in October 1981 the series omitted all mention of Charles Ryder’s mother. From these early broadcasts we could only assume that Charles even had a mother; stranger things than a motherless protagonist were to confront the viewer anyway. From what we saw and heard in the first screenings of the series we had nothing to doubt Charles’s comment, ‘Perhaps I am curious about people’s families, you see there’s only my father and I.’ When the DVDs of the series were released twenty years later, however, the unnamed mother Ryder was present,...

  7. 3 The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Charles Smithson beyond the Pale and Mike beyond the Run
    (pp. 82-101)

    Citizen Kane(1940) is quite possibly the beginning of male melancholia in international cinema. Whether or not Charles Foster Kane’s yellow journalist mania, mixed with his ‘Rosebud’ memorialization of loss, starts the melancholic tendency, certainly such a tendency is highly visible at the point where international art cinema meets Hollywood after the Second World War. These films, by directors such as Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, 1958), Douglas Sirk (There’s Always Tomorrow, 1956), Alain Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour, 1959), Luchino Visconti (Il Gattopardo, 1963), Andrei Tarkovsky (Nostalghia, 1983), Woody Allen (Stardust Memories, 1980) and Martin Scorsese (The Age of Innocence, 1993), are...

  8. 4 Swann in Love: Exceptional Feelings
    (pp. 102-120)

    Male obsession for a woman is a delicate subject in popular cinema. It is not something we expect to see amongst our more mainstream heroes, such as Bruce Willis or Tom Hanks, because of the fear that it may be read as a sign of weakness. While we frequently observe these characters in situations of temporary impairment or disability, such a lapse in the ideal of masculinity is predicated upon the promise of a speedy manic resolution to the apparent crisis. A muscle-stacked antagonist packing major firepower or a gang of bikers who have just run over Mel Gibson’s wife...

  9. 5 Dead Ringers: The Flight from Strange and Unloved Women
    (pp. 121-137)

    In Freud’sGroup Psychology and the Analysis of the Egothere is a passage in which the opposition of group ideals and individualized feelings of love are demonstrated to be entirely incompatible. The model of such groups for Freud comes from that all male band of brothers which, in his foundational myth of civilizationTotem and Taboo, is instituted in the confusion following the murder of the primal horde father. Having murdered their father (so the story goes) the rebellious sons recognized that no one of their number could, or should, hold the rights of exclusive sexual access to the...

  10. 6 M. Butterfly: René Gallimard and the Flair for Melodrama
    (pp. 138-157)

    For all the classical Freudian aberrations present in Song Liling’s psychosexual make-up, it is René Gallimard who is the outstanding pervert ofM. Butterfly. René’s perversion is that he cannot love Song (John Lone) as a woman, or as a man, but only as the ideal of Oriental beauty, a role she plays opposite his role as the ‘ Western devil’ for the major part of the film. When they first meet at the Swedish embassy performance of selections fromMadama Butterfly, she instantly diagnoses the symptoms leading to his perversion. It is a ‘favourite Western fantasy’; a pure, submissive...

  11. 7 Lolita: The Two Basic Laws of Totemism
    (pp. 158-192)

    The first sight we have of Humbert Humbert inLolitais of a blood-stained, spent murderer, still grasping a hairpin as he drives away from the scene of the crime. If you had never read Nabokov’s novel, nor seen Kubrick’s 1962 film or Edward Albee’s stage play, you might think that Humbert has just killed Lolita herself. Such a misconception could well be fostered by Ennio Morricone’s mournful cue and especially by the first words we hear Irons utter:

    She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 193-198)

    In the hands of Jeremy Irons and his collaborators the prince of perversion stands as a highly recognizable and impressionable male screen type. Adapted and derived from literary and visual arts characters as diverse as the nineteenth-century bourgeois gentleman and the mid twentieth-century Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, the prince of perversion is, however, very much an emblematic figure of the 1980s and 1990s – the period covered by the major case studies in this book.

    Intersecting at times with the Sloane Ranger, the Yuppie and, to an extent, the American Preppy, this darling ofVanity Fairis best considered...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-204)
  14. Filmography
    (pp. 205-208)
  15. Index
    (pp. 209-214)