Friday, January 26, 2007

Kubrick's "Napoleon" - Part V


Despite the brief exchange with the Chambers of Directory who practically accused Napoleon of abandoning his army to return to France (which was due to the fact that an English attack on France itself was imminent), despite the talk of divorcing Josephine, which was put off for later, despite his utterly unconvincing reconciliation with her, and despite all the openly discussed conspiracies throughout the bars and coffee shops of Paris to overthrow the government… Napoleon would become 1st Consul and Head Executive of his own Empire.

And we’re given his coronation at Notre Dame (pictured above).

In this moment, which could have been the highlight of the entire film, Kubrick makes a great and memorable character stroke with Napoleon. When the Pope reaches for the Crown of Charlemagne, Napoleon takes it from him and places it on his own head.

“Napoleon looks with an air of pride and satisfaction at Josephine, as she advances towards him at the altar, and when she kneels down, tears fall upon her clasped hands, raised to heaven -- or, rather to Napoleon.” The narrator tells us, “On December 2, 1804, Napoleon was made Emperor of France. He would later say: ‘I found the crown lying in the gutter and I picked it up.’”

In the Dining Room in Tuileries, Napoleon and Josephine sit at the ends of a long table hosting beautiful women and various “important guests.” Napoleon puts down the leaders of the revolution who had failed to overthrow the government. He gives a speech that illustrates his more conservative philosophies about the nature of man.

“The revolution failed because the foundation of its political philosophy was in error. Its central dogma was the transference of original sin from man to society. It had the rosy vision that by nature man is good, and that he is only corrupted by an incorrectly organized society. Destroy the offending social institutions, tinker with the machine a bit, and you have Utopia -- presto! -- natural man back in all his goodness.”

Laughter at the table. Napoleon continues.

“It's a very attractive idea but it simply isn't true. They had the whole thing backwards. Society is corrupt because man is corrupt -- because he is weak, selfish, hypocritical and greedy. And he is not made this way by society, he is born this way -- you can see it even in the youngest children. It's no good trying to build a better society on false assumptions -- authority's main job is to keep man from being at his worst and, thus, make life tolerable, for the greater number of people.”

And as Napoleon gives this speech, he offers a telling look to his Major-domo, who then proceeds to walk up to one of the beautiful women at the table, Madame Trillaud, and spill wine on her dress. Napoleon offers to take her to the other room to get her some “water” for the stain. They leave. The guests resume their conversation.

Josephine is distracted and agitated.

In a locked room near his office, Napoleon and Madame Trillaud kiss passionately and strip out of their clothes. Josephine desperately knocks on the door and begs Napoleon to return to the party.

He tells her to give him five minutes.

That night, the door is definitively shut by Napoleon on any chance for reconciliation with Josephine. He tells her she must accept the idea that they will have to be divorced soon and that from now on, they will have to sleep in separate bedrooms.

“But,” she says, “you will not... be safe...”

“Not be safe? What on earth are you talking about?”

“In case of a... surprise attack… at night... I am such a... light sleeper... I could wake you... I could scream.”

Later, she tries to convince him that she’s been seeing a doctor and felt that by using the “waters of Plombiers,” she might have a better chance of conceiving a child for him.

Napoleon placates her.

The war with England continues with a naval battle in the English channel, which was decidedly lost. We see an “eerie shot of two French ships lying on the sea bottom,” which we know now was designed this way to save money by not showing a real naval battle. And ya know, I really love this shot. Instead of a visual indulgence of warring ships, we get one eerie shot that makes a visual statement – the French lost.

Napoleon also lost and regained his authority over Italy, which unfortunately, invited a war with Austria and Russia who were also aligned with England. And thus, we are introduced to Tsar Alexander I of Russia (pictured below), “who had ascended the throne at the age of 24, after the Palace Guard murder of his father, Tsar Paul, and now had rival pretensions to Napoleon as the arbiter of Europe.”

Napoleon had so completely destroyed the Russians at the battle of Austerlitz that our first look at this man, Tsar Alexander I, is of him weeping on the side of a road surrounded by his ruined, decimated army. Yet, this man will bring about the end of Napoleon's reign.


Mim said...

It's so disheartening that Napoleon started out so in love with Josephine and ended flaunting his affairs in her face.

I like the image of Tsar Alexander being introduced weeping on the side of the road. On screen it would be a very powerful contrast with what is to come.

Carl S said...

This line here:

“In case of a... surprise attack… at night... I am such a... light sleeper... I could wake you... I could scream.”

Is such a strange bit of manipulation. This film would have been one of those that you watch four times and keep picking up and strange new things.

Sad that it will never see the light of day but "hooray" to you, MM, for bringing it to life for us on your blog.

Mystery Man said...

mim - It only gets worse for Napoleon. Hehehe... With the script, you get the impression that they probably could have had one of the great loves of all time had Napoleon not so completely suffocated her with his obsessive love. I think more guys are like him than we realize and it's a good reminder to keep a level head about love.

Carl - It is strange, isn't it? I can't help but think of the way amateurs would have approached it, with on-the-nose dialogue about, "Please don't leave me. I love you. I don't want to lose you." But here, we get something quite original but it also has the same underlying thoughts even though she doesn't actually say those things. But these lines say MORE about her desperation. I love it! And you're right, it'll probably never see the light of day and I prefer it that way. I prefer how we envision how great it could be over the reality of an actual film. And there are so many techniques and lessons to be learned here, that I feel grateful to have the chance to study it.


MaryAn Batchellor said...

mim, Josephine was no saint either.

Mickey Lee said...

That was great. Thanks for posting...

Oh, and welcome to the ROM club!

Mystery Man said...

MaryAn - That's very true. I agree. I suspect that she was probably no more corrupt than most girls in that little corner of society at the time.

Mickey Lee - Thanks! Those TriggerStreet people will give Reviewer of the Month to anyone, won't they? Hehehe...