[ToC]

 

TILDA SWINTON

Caitlin Palmer

 

 

(A Bigger Splash)

Tilda Swinton would never, for instance, unplanned for and in the middle of her day, think suddenly of a man she knew when she was young and who never, it turned out, loved her, never knew what that meant. A man who so easily netted those first and strongest desires, the rarest, the ones that don't come back. Not to say this is not in her wheelhouse. No doubt abject longing can be seen as an admirable trait, when in others. I saw her in a movie where the whole first five minutes were silent, she and her boyfriend were fucking wordless in a pool, then a mud bath on the edges of a Malta-blue lake, rubbing the mud over each other's skin with the gentle hands of mothers, then baking in it. A scene of the two driving in an open-aired vehicle, he casting around for sunglasses against the glare of the day, in the dash, the door, the floor. He can't find any and she takes off her own and slips them over the bridge of his nose, puts her arm across his back and leans against him in such a way of comfort and intimacy that it sharpens to a point within me. It takes my air. I show the scenes to my boyfriend later, hold the laptop out to him and say, This is us. He smiles, is ridiculously pleased. I don't say, I hope this is us, I'm banking on it, buddy, that what we are doing will not collapse under the weight of its own awareness, I will not one day find I am stranded without a part of something inherent and unnameable. I sometimes see the faces of ghosts in trees. This is related to the depth of your palm's Love Line, that is, its durability. I don't know, I'm asking.

 

(Only Lovers Left Alive)

But what we really want to know is, from the one with the ghost face, what was it like to be the only vampire without your own innate ability, not the poetry of Marlowe or the music of Bach, but to be the one rambling, unmoored? This is not a talent we recognize, we call it Cain, as in, you're marked, the wandering a curse all can see, or just like, you know, a reason to stop collecting books because you can't bring them all with you. It's a skill I perfected myself via Athens to Rome to Edinburgh to Italy to the small dives one finds oneself straightening up outside of, a hand against stone, in the dark, either too much alcohol or too warm in there or just the slow catch-up of remembering everyone's name when there's been so many. What I wouldn't give to be anywhere I could turn back and look on, see the lights receding behind me, to be the one going ahead, an Irish goodbye, to feel like it's worth it, or at least have the strength to convince myself it will be, in the end. The roulette of ticket + bag + passport used to be so easy I could do it in my sleep, now all I do is sleep. I am the one parched for blood with no resort at last, under a pivoting sky, like Tilda's white-blonde kimono-frocked bag-body of desire, a prayer call sounds in the air, this last step in a series of meaningless steps, so cold, so thirsty, when around me everyone's heart is beating, beating.

 

(I Am Love)

I don't have a son and if I did have one he would not be grown, and the scenes of mountain would not blur around me and honey would not alight from the dripping of a gathered comb onto my nipple by a lover, nor would I have a lover, or a husband, for what good are secrets if you must share them, you spread yourself too thin, mio amore, if I had happiness I would parcel it out equally so that it could never be taken from me ‘under the table,' that is, I would be aware of bets placed and running and they would be done so by my own hand. Come to think of it, each of these films has a death by water, two in pools, Tilda witnessing this one, that son forced to take a step back when the world is not as he had believed of his woman-creator, he strikes his pretty pearly skull against the diving board. That's all: a look of shock, she reaches a hand out, opens a mouth to explain, the hand can reach through air but not through water and it's water that catches while the sky still echoes bright. Knowledge unto death. I'm told that last kind of fall is a long one. I wonder if it's longer than waking up, to your own life, each time you get out of the tub and something of your skin stays behind, you see the hair and brows against your face in the mirror, ink-rimmed, you think, Here I am, there's so much to be done at that point, the lotioning, the clothing, the combing and curling of all your strands, I wish for more than revelation, I wish for character depth unplumbed: on the count, cued back.

 

(Grand Budapest Hotel)

Tilda, my dear, there's no shame, we'd all live in a cotton candy world if we could, details crisp like a pop-up book. Yet in this undersaturation, now, it reflects more accurately, I see the shame is mine! You, with a wobbly chin, you with wrinkles sloughing off your face, reaching an unsteady hand out to a young love, in how many movies and how many versions will you always reach? It's the vulnerability, Tilda, that tears at me, I've grown accustomed to you of the hard edges, all elbows and teeth. Your turn as diminishing heiress (yet what good is money, in the end we will all be in the grave), makes me want to weep, my own mother will die, my grandmother, her face that looks like your face thus framed only less successfully, you're a caricature of yourself as old woman but really, they exist, and someday I will be one of them. Tell your lover not to go, ask him to hold the door/ O Bringer of Sleep, will you wait a little more, send the bellboy on an errand and give us a little more time to dally, just a little more time.

 

(Snowpiercer)

If this is the end of the world, I don't want to see it. Don't take me to the window car of the train, where I can see the bridge on the pass unfreezing; see a language, if not older than snow, then more worrying: the enjambment of bodies that can only mean one comes out of this breathing. Blood dancing across the viewing pane, makes what you look at different. Red is designed to alarm, overlaid against white (the aesthetic for which bones be). I'd rather be: out there, body subject to the fast, or slow, casing of inevitability. Our consequences as firm as the ice. Tilda, your mop-haired, dust-faced Minister, can't fucking move in that de-persona called uniform, called position. I worked at a desk once and I said, Yes, sir? Are you sure, sir? Pulled hair back and folded the buttoned collars up. In the end, they saw through me. You hold on—too tight. Wouldn't it be more interesting to be subjected to a freeze? At least then, you'd become, something different.

 

(Doctor Strange)

That's the joke, right: go up a mountain for answers and you find a woman. How many times I've been pushed, prodded, knocked down by the assuredness of someone so cock-pleased. No, never so able to hold such a calm. If I were she and it were me, I'd let every man's soul wander outside his body for a bit. Might be it do them some good. She's the joke in the machine of this movie (marvel), but one that lasts: a quiet in the world-dimming and -busting bustling around her. Tap the glass and everything will crack but she. Moments of slow cinema worth ten spools (when they were strung up, projected) of action/fantasy. Cross-dressing, genre-bending, give me such a guide. Bare face delighting as a child. Eyes that glimmer at the heart of the world. She knows the secret, knows the more rules you've broken, the deeper you go. Double down on moral ambiguity. And magic, say? If only it could be? Tilda, I may not forgive you for this one.

 

(Moonrise Kingdom)

Summon up the blue lagoon, smoke in the hazy eve, back when time was something vibrant held before you like fire. A poor kid, I summered at a trailer park resort where my grandparents stayed the year through. Those days, evenings, seasons, still seize upon me like an oak's shadow in the growing dark. I was a giant yet my feet made no sound. Cool creeks, a set of swings, here on a hill sloping off into a glade of kudzu and trees, like you an airborne Hansel, Gretel. Out there be what we know from tales, of wickedness. If I could have loved like that, then, I'd have dissected my whole world, like the young scout and poor Suzy. Unfolded all the lines of map's making. In a way, they're blessed with love's first haze, hearts swallowed by meat and want. Puberty's pain is sweet like a needle. Enjoy it. Oh Tilda, you're an afterthought here, easily forgotten, like reason, like a banner of logic, can you walk into a scene, what of it, sweep up the mess of everyone's lives, ask your questions and surmise, the thing is if you keep talking, only keep on talking, you will miss the creatures' eyes staring back at you from the arched shadows, careening, from the church's balcony; for where is uncertainty, where is the onrushing flood of what cannot be held back, a flood must do another cleansing here before you interfere (What big stamps you have/ opening and closing the boy's file/ STAMP STAMP) yet you so believed, didn't you, that in a way you knew what was best.

 

(The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe)

Again: all steel, all hooves, all horses, all blood, more like the winged god Mercury, or Hermès (:Paris ®) than any evil queen, rock that gold eyeliner, gold headpiece, mane (who wore it better). I don't mean to be trite, even my eyes aren't dry at the old story, but there's another one here via the Greeks. A pan lute even makes an appearance, a faun. So sing to us what, then, of riding the icy dawn, what have you come back to tell, there must be some iron law somewhere to tell children of men they do not own, do not save, everything they come to touch. Something reeks of hubris there. But we will shoot the messenger. How many films, our Tilda of some element, some (un)earthly force, spiraling: ice, snow, magic, logic, vampiric. Her sharp beauty an aperitif for any moral tale. The one to overreach, re: motive, that is, what one has thought one's due. How often she'll play the mistaken.

 

(Constantine)

Someone please explain to me why there isn't a movie of just Tilda Swinton holding a sword the whole time, paused, mid-lunge, hair kissed by God, the tender curls, blown gently back, muscles hardened with the edge of inevitability, Gabriel, the favored one, dark wings unfurled across the scene like an answer, like a spreading stain, when the veil is pulled back everything must look not like bad or good but only like mechanism, Knowledge not knowing of the two, but knowing they're the same. Even now I look back on what little years there are in my own recorded loop of time, and I call the darkest nights, outside a trailer with no running water, only a fan to turn the pressed air, left alone on a continent away from all I knew, aching with the pierce of betrayal, hands clasped in front of my cavernous chest, I call this beautiful. Call my father, losing his business, and crumpling, going slowly mad, losing any finger's touch on the outside world, or us, his daughters, our crops turning brown and to dust in the sun, the long nights up weeping, him, in his office, myself, in the garden, or with the horse's fogged breath in the stable as I bring a brush over her again, before at last leaning my forehead slowly into the rough coat of her shoulder, this, I call a slow curling of the tapestry, the underneath, where the threads bunch and cross in clumps of color and any pattern is woven over. What then, of this multiplied by an age, by infinity, seeing the clockwork when set into motion to unlock its winding steps, I suppose the question is what do angels know. Not one to claim the soft and targeted marketing of New Age, still I hold a name on my tongue that stills any fear, that can make me feel, one moment, the spotlight trained on me, feel in some fountainhead or fountain flowing, this name I've read in no text of holies or the other but in a child's book of bedtime tales. I won't write it here. Superstitions have their uses and maybe some of them should be kept. Still, I wouldn't mind if whenever I halt clumsily the tick ticking of this engine organ and fumble past a last reach, I wouldn't mind knowing the whole span of time I'd been alive attempting my own cursory work, some being like Tilda stood, poised above the whole world, its passing in the time a bead of sweat took to fall from her furrowed forehead, waiting to bring her sword down.

 

(Orlando)

Orlando, Orlando, death is only an elaborate costume change, dashing back behind the curtains, amid all prop, furiously exchanging stockings for a gown, hurry up, now, it's time, you can hear the lines of banter preceding your next appearance. Skating on blades for ice, you glide, glide, the night is blue and a fruit monger's body lies beneath where strong legs stand, as if encased in glass, but your head's been turned, you're so young here, Tilda, young enough your amorphous body could be male or female, and you don't yet know the shame of asking for love. Changing bodies, bud to flower, pistil/ stamen, is a complex business, but what else is there to do? The clasps must be done up just right. The only thing that pulls it off is the subtle wink, the turn and finger to the side of the nose to the audience, letting them know you're clued in on it. They can relax, better enjoy the masquerade this way. Even my mother went from brown-eyed, timid kid yelled at, to stubborn pre-teen, leaving her newly divorced mother relocated in the city to go back to grandparents on the farm, help them at the cafe they ran. One by one putting the chairs up on the tables in the dark, taking a wet mop over the floor. She always told me if her grandmother could work the hours then so could she. Cut to her post-college, working a dead end job in a provincial town, dating a doctor who was a very good man but very boring. Living with her mother and the second husband. But she grew tired playing the good girl, or quickly saw through it, hadn't talked to my father in the years since he'd told her their love was just playing house, but one day he calls her up, rather his cousin did, tells her over the phone dad's friend had just been killed crop-dusting, the line of work my father was in, his friend's plane had flipped and beheaded him. Kathy would you just talk to him. She did and she wanted to go to the city and become a nurse and he drove down and loaded her up and paid her school's tuition. Her mother wouldn't come out to say goodbye. I wonder if my mother ever knew someday she'd have her own kids, get her whole past life crammed into a sardine box, that's how I heard motherhood described one time, the erasing or diminishing of self. That she'd come to depend on her daughters' company, cry when they leave, would go to visit me in Greece and I wouldn't come back her last night there because I was staying with a man, didn't sleep, just danced in his arms real slow. How before her flight we'd fight bitterly. So many changes, just in this one turn. Prepare the rouge, Orlando. Brush out your honeycomb hair. Pull back the sheets, fix a level gaze to the apex of the camera, practice a look of love; no, desire; no, devotion. Now, see yourself quickly as from above, and turn away.

 

(Michael Clayton)

Okay, as in you understand? Okay as in proceed? Okay as in, there is no look back now, no looking underneath, no peeling off the sweat-stained shirt, no staggering up from the bathroom seat, at some points in time when you accept a decision you accept all future projections of consequence or meaning, like paths of an arrow, you take on your shoulders every possible way this could go. So appealing, to think this can be undone, that at another point you can retrogradingly reach and make words unspoken, make confidences unbreached, remove the half-assed and half-functioning car bomb from thin plastic dash. You (your effect) is in a car again, Tilda. You're reaching around again beyond your reach. Villainy is an error of stasis. Of not meeting the moment you've created. To call yourself not creator, but sidelined, bystand'. Look into the obscure depths of the night beyond your treadmill, running, in a climate-controlled room, you know what's out there, the miniscule, parasitic churnings of odorless, tasteless, soft tissue damage-wreakors that will burrow to the core of any offered apple. You will eat them, and eat all those that die, hanging from a rope in the slanted barn light, all the little Anna's soft-faced and crying at a table, all those that pay Eve's price of curiosity, of following something to its logical conclusion, because you are what you've called forth in pretending, you are the god of death.

 

 

 

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I started writing this as an investigation of what things made me the way I am, that is, what things made me sharp. Tilda Swinton's cinematic visions quickly came to mind. Growing up in the country, I didn't see a lot of role models for the "unfeminine" woman, or a woman pushing back at what feminine meant. I didn't even know that type of person existed. Seeing her hardness, her complexity and edges in films, began to make a map for me. These movies are all great, though I didn't write about her role in We Need to Talk About Kevin. I haven't been able to bring myself to watch it. So that might be worth looking into.