Darkness and Corruption

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Remember me when I am gone away,

Gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand,

Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.

Kiss Me Deadly references Christina Rosetti’s sonnet “Remember” multiple times. I don’t know if this is an element adapted from the Mickey Spillane novel, but either way it was included, and thus has an importance to what takes place in the film. The poem is beautiful; it consists of a speaker addressing a lover, telling him/her how to deal with the speaker’s eventual death. It is sad, but also hopeful. It is not immediately clear how this poem interacts with the events in the film. Kiss Me Deadly is concerned with the universal decay of the American society, as seen in the sprawling, dangerous city, the nihilism and decadence displayed by all of the characters, and the unleashing of the nuclear destruction at the end of the film. How can a personal poem about love survive in such a world?

Remember me when no more, day by day,

You tell me of our future that you plann’d:

Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Of course, the irony that the world presented in the poem is not the world presented in the film–and that this irony is lost on all of the characters–is probably the point. It is a sign that the world that Hammer inhabits is devoid of poetry. In the scene when Carver reads the poem aloud, Hammer treats it only as a tool. The poem is just another clue for him, one that leads him to a new act of violence. Any beauty or aesthetic value is non-existent; function is all that matters.

Yet if you should forget me for a while

And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave

A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

The poem’s treatment of death provides another criticism of the world of Kiss Me Deadly. The body count is gigantic. In the first ten minutes the first character we meet is killed, and Hammer unravels the mystery through violence, moving from corpse to corpse until the audience is numb to death. Eventually death seems a non-event; when Gabrielle kills the main villain at the end of the film, it barely registers to the audience, because they just saw the main villain’s face for the first time. I don’t even remember his name. Only the unleashing of nuclear holocaust can rouse these characters and get them to consider their own mortality, and Hammer and Velda do in the surf. The poem’s careful, sweet consideration of death has no place in a world where violence is almost always the first course of action.

Better by far you should forget and smile

Than that you should remember and be sad.

Much as the the poem’s view on death is unable to exist in the world of Kiss Me Deadly, it’s idea of love, too, is stifled. Sexuality is used as either a tool or a plaything; women come on to Hammer within seconds of meeting him, and he receives them with open arms. Hammer and Velda’s relationship is the closest the film comes to portraying any sort of love, whether romantic or humanistic, and it is characterized as a business partnership, in which they use their bodies for gain. Again, it appears that a nuclear event is the only thing that allows Hammer and Velda to consider their relationship as something more than a sexual and monetary practicality. The emotions in Rossetti’s poem are unthinkable in this version of Los Angeles. The poem acts as a window into another, happier world, but it is a window the characters are unable to look through.

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One response to “Darkness and Corruption

  1. Matt,

    I enjoyed reading this post very much. I love that Christina Rossetti poem–it’s beautiful.

    A.I. Bezzerides–the screenwriter of Kiss Me Deadly–added the entire Rossetti plot for the adaptation. In the novel, the woman Mike picks up has a different name and is of questionable reputation (she is a “dancer” and possibly a prostitute). So this is a significant change, and I agree with you that it allows Bezzerides to make a commentary on the world that Mike inhabits, one that is markedly materialistic and violent. Art forms like poetry or opera are alien to him, only meaningful–as you point out–insofar as they are instrumental. And yet, as I mentioned in class last week, I think that Mike, to a small degree, falls under Christina’s spell. I wouldn’t argue that he loves her (I agree with you that this film is adamantly devoid of the sentiments expressed in Rossetti’s poem), but I do think that part of him wants to at least understand the world Christina occupied.

    Very thoughtful post. You made me think about the film in a different way.
    MT

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