Is It Solipsistic In Here, Or Is It Me?: The True Self in Starry Eyes
Ah, the self. What is our true face? When it all boils down, how do we react? And more appropriately, how do we want to react? Starry Eyes manages to tackle the issue of the true self through the guise of Sarah (Alexandra Essoe), an aspiring actress that wants a big break. Through the process of transformation, Sarah manages to kill her old self as well as the group of peers that has previously mocked and undercut her. This raises an interesting question though – is the true self really murderous, or just tired of dealing with two-faced bullshit? And, is it genuine, or just a machination of someone else’s will?
|Thankfully, there are no weird eye gouges.|
When we first meet Sarah, she’s insecure: ready to cry, pinching and pulling at her body in front of a mirror. She has nightmares about screwing up lines at her audition, and reacts to a poor audition by tearing up her headshot, banging her purse, screaming, swearing, and tearing out her hair in a bathroom stall. The group with which she associates does not do much to help her with either her fears or a sense of failure: Erin (Fabianne Therese), in particular, steals roles from her and cuts her down in every interaction. With such biting comments as, “Don’t you think you’re a little over-dressed?” and “Maybe I should send him my headshot,” Erin manages to come off as that nasty little piece of work that has a need to put someone else down, then act like the injured party. Fellow associates (I hate to call them “friends”) Ginko and Ashley do nothing to stop Erin from being such an asshole to someone else; that’s got to feel horrible. Couple that with Erin’s constant dancing to get attention, and it turns into a never-ending episode of The Erin Show – A.K.A. Pay Attention to Little Ol’ ME. That Sarah associated with such an attention-hungry group works to destroy her sense of self confidence.
So when Sarah gets the role and a chance at being a star, she jumps at it, and embraces the chance for honesty, despite that she doesn’t really bring much to the table. When the Producer tells her about the role, he criticizes society at large as being “plastic,” “shallow” and “hollow.” However, in the same breath, he’s also telling our heroine, “Give up your body to become a vessel for our voice… Kill your old life.” Yes, because nothing screams authenticity and individuality like becoming a shell for someone else’s message, but I digress. Sarah runs off after her first encounter with the Producer, but in the end, she comes back. She loves the idea of the camera and attention being on her for once. She wants her dream to come true. She wants to shine. Her sense of self therefore is more malleable because it can be negotiated into something that sets her apart from her peers. This has the ability to give her attention without having to work to defend herself from aggressors.
|Love that she was in red and not white.|
In embracing this dream, she physically deteriorates after subjecting herself to a sex act – her body is therefore the ultimate price of her desire for fame. Between the split lips, ashen skin tone, missing chunks of hair, cataracts and severe abdominal pain, Sarah figures out that she’s dying pretty quickly, but we’ve still got a half an hour to go, which translates into “time to kill me some hipsters!” You may laugh, but the trade off for fame becomes not only her body, but the bodily existence of others. Their deaths are required to ensure her transformation; her new body requires a sacrifice. A quick call to the studio confirms this: “Did you expect it to be painless?” which enforces that this free lunch isn’t really free. Sarah’s got to work to earn her turn, and that means a painful purge of her old life right down to the biological level. And so she does, going about by embracing the dark side as her body wastes away. In fact, we can track the progression of her transformation in easy steps: hope, disappointment, recoil, breakdown, acceptance of the dark side, rebirth. During her breakdown, Sarah must incorporate her ambition as the driving force behind the great purge of her false friends. This comes off a bit as a bullshit behavior purge, if you will, which quickly morphs into a purge of her very body.
Boy oh boy do we get a purge in the most damning way. For starters, the women have their faces maimed. Erin is slashed in the face; Ashley is bashed in the face with a weight; Tracy has her mouth mauled in a weird kiss of death. That the source of outward beauty is attacked is significant: Sarah first goes for the thing that gives them purpose (because really, these characters are about as deep as a one-inch puddle, if that), then disfigures before finally killing. She wants to make them ugly in her rage against them. In a sense, she’s destroying their beauty as a trade for hers. As for Ginko and Danny, they’re stabbed in the back and the guts, commentary that references their behind-the-back discussions of Sarah, as well as a refusal to defend her. She takes the lack of defense and punishes them bodily for the transgression. That Erin and Danny both express concern right before their deaths over Sarah’s physical and mental state calls into question how authentic they are in their concern: if they cared so much, why continue to cut her down and not speak up? Why wait until she’s ugly and psychotic? Are they speaking now because her physical beauty is no longer threatening to their own egos, or are they speaking from the genuine concern that something has gone past the point of it being competitive schadenfreude?
|Gotta love it when this is the high point of the process.|
In a sense, Sarah’s attack of her peers reflects a type of Id release. At the beginning of the film, we can see that she’s not comfortable with this group, but she goes along with them anyway. She’s holding back that primal impulse to tear through her tormentors. As time progresses and she starts to feel more of a sense of self, her mind-to-mouth filter slips in the form of inappropriate giggles. By the time we reach the end, she’s stopped caring and is literally murdering the people she can no longer stand. If this is her letting go, then it’s implying that we tolerate people for the sake of social nicety and really want to kill those we dislike. That’s grim commentary on the state of society. I don’t know what’s more disturbing: that a young woman would hang out with a group that makes her feel like crap because she doesn’t really have the urge to try to find anything better, or that deep down, the implication is that we could snap and kill those that piss us off.
Ambition is a running theme throughout this film; however, I feel that the notion of selfhood and the connection is had to bodily perceptions of the self is rendered just as important. Sure, Sarah is ambitious, and as such, she’s encouraged to ditch the shell of herself to become closer to what she truly is. The ending, though, makes me wonder – did she really embrace what was in her all along, or was she, as the Producer suggested, just a vessel? And if that’s within Sarah, what is lurking beneath our own skin to get what we want, and is that really us or someone else’s vision of what we can be?