Can’t Hide What’s Inside: Closeted Love in Haute Tension
Alexandre Aja’s 2003 film Haute Tension (High Tension) presented a story that required some willing suspension of disbelief in order to digest: there are some jumps that simply don’t make sense. This doesn’t mean that the film is without merit, however – Haute Tension manages to delve into notions of unrequited love and the impact it has on the person without a shot of winning the heart of the object of desire. It doesn’t stop there, either: we get to see the dangers of denying sexuality and feeling, making the case that the act of being closeted not only destroys the potential for relationships, but the fabric of the self as well.
|May as well hit yourself in the face with that thing.|
From the beginning, there are subtle clues that Marie (Cecile de France, with the most attractive pixie cut I’ve ever seen on a woman) is in love with Alex (Maiwenn), though Alex does not seem to pick up on this at all. Marie is unhappy that Alex left the party they both attended with a man for sex, referring to the incident as “getting dumped for three hours.” Alex giddily tells her friend that the guy was “unbelievable,” which causes Marie to sulk. Later on, the two young women are seen arguing in the car, with the implication being over Alex’s response to how Marie interacts with men: “You can’t act that way with every guy that talks to you.” Alex still doesns’t get it when she encourages Marie to “finally take the plunge,” egging her friend on to start a relationship with a man. Marie mutters an unhappy, “I don’t want to be a slut like you,” which shifts the behavior away from her unrequited love for Alex and onto Alex’s implied frequent sexual acts with men. In essence, Marie needs to slut-shame Alex in order to distract from the fact that she does not have a shot with Alex. Worst of all, Alex does not get this: she continually makes reference to Marie needing to get involved with a guy, which negates not only Marie’s feelings, but her sexual orientation as well.
In fact, it can be argued that this denial by Alex drives Marie further into the closet. After accidentally witnessing Alex showering, Marie retreats to the guests room. There, in the dark, she puts on music and masturbates. Seems like a normal thing to do after seeing the object of your desire naked, but there’s a catch to this in terms of setting. Marie is in the dark and fully clothed – the audience only sees a hand disappear into her pants with closed eyes. We know that this film has no problem with nudity – we saw it not even five minutes prior! What this seems to indicate is a type of shame on the behalf of Marie. The fact that she’s clothed means that she’s not ready to be fully exposed. This isn’t the first time that Marie lets on her discomfort with her desires: at the beginning of the film, she tells Alex about a dream she had where she was being chased by someone: “The more I ran, the more I could sense him coming closer. It wasn’t a guy. It was me running after me.” Not even in her sleep can she run away from who she is and what she wants, yet Marie can’t even strip to get down with herself. This is someone so uncomfortable with acknowledging the truth – her unrequited lesbian love – that she feels the need to remain covered both mentally and physically.
|Interesting how the shadows look like prison bars…|
The mind can’t take this type of closeting, which is where The Killer (Philippe Nahon) comes into play. When we first see him, he’s masturbating into a decapitated head that bears a resemblance to Alex. That this takes place after the talk about Alex going off with a guy for a few hours for sex is no accident: in fact, The Killer shows up at the farmhouse while Marie is masturbating, establishing a direct correlation between the expression of sexual frustration and the need to physically harm someone. He’s not a pretty sight either: dirty hands, one-piece jumpsuit, sweaty, covered in blood. He doesn’t speak, settling instead for grunting until the final confrontations with Alex and Marie. The Killer represents a type of Id for Marie’s sexual and romantic frustration: violent, prone to tantrums, and ready to destroy everything that gets in the way of what it wants; it’s essentially a toddler that’s told it can’t have dessert. Still, Marie struggles with this aspect of herself, coming to physical blows with it in order to defend the woman that she loves. Marie bashes The Killer in the face with a board wrapped in barbed wire, and The Killer fights back by attempting to kill her with a bag over the head. It’s a struggle between not being able to breathe (being closeted) and pursuing that which you love (enforced by murder). That’s a fairly grim statement on not being able to express who you are and whom you love.
|Yes, Marie, this is the BEST way to exact a declaration of love.|
That this is so destructive speaks to the necessity of a more open, authentic life. Had Marie simply told her friend her feelings, we would have had a vastly different story: the two would have come to an understanding, but eventually, they may have reached a point where Marie had moved on to find a woman she could openly love while being loved in return. That Marie feels the need to suppress who she is and what she feels leads to a rage that kills multiple people and shreds her sanity. “You can’t escape from me, bitch!” The Killer screams after Alex. It’s not Alex that we have to worry about: it’s Marie. After all, Marie is the one that reaches out in longing from her hospital bed, sensing the object of her obsession behind a two-way mirror. “I won’t let anyone come between us anymore,” she continually whispers to herself. What Marie fails to see is that what came between them was her inability to be herself.