Thursday 29 July 2010, by
XXY weaves together three landscapes: the fluidity of the ocean, the violence of the scientist’s laboratory and the arid determinacy of life on dry land. Fifteen year old Alex, who so far has been subsumed by neither a male nor female gendered identity, is marooned on the shore. For writer/director Lucia Puenzo this is where things are forced into a fixed shape.
XXY (in my opinion grossly mistitled -the film has been criticised as misrepresenting Klinefelter’s syndrome and actually resists the scientific reductionism the title implies) is a stunningly subtle depiction of the struggle to remain nameless. Puenzo inhabits the borders of a system in which to perform with least resistance you need a signifier more conclusive than ‘Alex’.
XXY produces an atmosphere which is both distant and infeasible, only making more marked the stifling tyranny of social performance. Within a landscape which is indicative of vast possibility, subjects are demanded to provide an account of themselves that will make them easier to apprehend. Alex- are you male or female? Do you want to slice carrots in the kitchen with your mother or slice turtles in the lab with your father?
In distinction to their child, Kraken and Suli inhabit predictably gendered roles. Suli, Alex’s mother, performs her distress gently and quietly, while Kraken’s rage periodically erupts from beneath his brooding resentment. The ambiguity of Alex’s body is less of an affront for Kraken, “from the moment she was born she was perfect” he affirms. Alex’s crotch becomes the niche in which the males of the species affirm their masculinity; fearless in the face of the unknown, they become captivated by it, sometimes wanting to colonise it for themselves. “Leave her alone, she’s too much for you” Vando, Alex’s maybe boyfriend brags.
When Alex stops imbibing the hormones that produce the pronoun ‘she’, the family understand the forthcoming implications as a process of ‘masculinisation’. As the struggle to accept Alex’s decision to neither take the hormones nor inhabit either a ‘male’ or ‘female’ gender Puenzo subtly pushes Alex’s mother offscreen, depicting her as incapable of enduring such ambiguity. Kraken’s masculinity is the bulwark which can survive such an assault. He occupies a gender with enough strength to withstand the crumbling of the binarious infrastructure.
Both aesthetically and epistemologically XXY captures the beauty and terror of ambiguity, yet stops short of rejoicing in it. Possibly what’s most compelling is Puenzo’s ambiguous relationship to ambiguity itself. Just like Alex, XXY never declares itself either way. Is it a subtle attack on the constraints of gender or merely a wistful attempt at triangulation? Whilst certain social assumptions are profoundly thrown into question, the primacy of gender and sexuality never are. The identity of a self which is not the site of lust and sexual consumption and which does not define itself as lacking, is never explored. In this aspect the film betrays it’s subtle yet radically imaginative potential.
The underwater opening sequence of XXY prompted me to explore the world of ambiguous amphibians. In doing so I encountered the following questions: ‘What is the sex of my fish?’,‘What issues do mermaids pose for men?’ and ‘If the Little Mermaid influenced people attitudes to sexuality, then how come more people aren’t sexually attracted to fish?’ Exactly.
Dir: Lucía Puenzo, 2007