Is love a conservative force?

A talk on queer melodrama in cinema introduced a Freudian idea that has blown our minds.

Sophie Monks Kaufman

In Douglas Sirk’s 1955 film All That Heaven Allows, the daughter of the main character Cary (Jane Wyman), played by Gloria Talbott cites The Oedipus Complex during a family back-and-forth. According to Sigmund Freud, love is defined as something that we think we want. Before it arrives, we have a preconceived fantasy of what it will mean. We are not open to whoever comes along and what they have to offer. We are slaves to pre-existing desires. In other words, love is a conservative force.

On Wednesday 9 December, Cambridge University scholar John David Rhodes delivered a detailed and knowledgable talk on queer melodrama as part of the BFI’s ‘Love’ season. He plumbed the depths of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven. Clips brought to life the links between films bound by a shared visual language, an obsession with doomed love and explicit homage in the latter two titles.

Impressively, considering the power of the flickering images on screen, the star of the show was Rhodes. His range of information, ease with abstract concepts, insider anecdotes and an engaging style meshed to create a catherine wheel of thought-provoking and evocative ideas. But the most radical and far-reaching point was the conservatism of love.

This is massive. In the context of a talk about queer expression, it’s even bigger. Is love conservative? If it is, can any of us that choose the security of love ahead of the lonely business of exploring the fringes, make any claim to queer identification? Is the way we conduct our personal lives a revelation of our innermost political values or is it something else entirely?

What do you think? Let us know @LWLies

Published 10 Dec 2015

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