#18. The Wheel (1923)

A lot of The Wheel, at least the first half of it, feels like the director’s veiled exploration of an incest fantasy – which is fine, I think, because the movie’s a masterpiece in basically every respect, I really loved it, and also I’m a big fan of artists being open about their sexual interests and exploring them. Even if it’s incest. Or maybe especially incest. Why not? Because yeah we wince at the idea when we talk about it in public, since we seldom hear a real-life story of incest where consent is a factor — but it’s also like the fifth most-viewed genre of porn among U.S. masturbators. I dated somebody in my last year of college who I think went for incest-themed porn/erotica exclusively. What I can’t remember (this was the year of seven drinks a day) is whether she told met his or if I’d seen it by accident on her computer. I have a milky memory of both. Maybe they both happened. Or neither. Anyway. I sorta tore myself up about how to implement that into sex. Ended up saying some stuff I won’t repeat here. It didn’t really work out.

Moving on.

la-roue-gifThe Wheel is about a train conductor named Sisif (Severin-Mars) who adopts an infant girl to grow up alongside of his infant son. He leads them to believe they’re biological siblings. Then Sisif and his son, Elie (Gabriel de Gravone), both fall in love with that adopted daughter, their grown-up “flower of the track,” Norma (Ivy Close). It gets really complicated and although, with a runtime of 4.5 hours, I did feel like the movie was sort of overstaying its welcome, just in general, I was also never bored by it. Every scene was great: the acting, the photography, the story. Melodrama at its finest. Everybody’s life just gets worse and worse and a lot of it was particularly poignant on account, I guess, of where I am in my own life at the moment with like my parents’ divorce and whatever. Living with just my dad in my childhood home that was once very busy. So watching this family fall apart on screen sort of rang some bells for me. Anyway. What got me most, though, was the depiction of Sisif’s face-clenching anguish about his eagerness to form a romantic relationship with his daughter. We know that it will never work out, cannot possibly work out, and whenever his anguish would really flare up on the screen I was reminded about feeling something similar a couple years ago (though the situation was obviously very different) where a person I was really crazy about and I guess probably in love with, why not?, had a plan for her life that I couldn’t get aboard with, nor could she with mine, and so things didn’t work out between us and the aftermath was awful and could not be dulled by drinking or dating or movies or books and so I’d just sit around with it instead, in traffic or in bars, and be miserable. Eventually it scabbed over. My attention divided among other things. But I remember it vividly and sometimes fall back into the spell of it like when just recently, for instance, I had neutral occasion to send her a message through Facebook and so I did, and we talked, and for days thereafter I was caught up in this funk again of thinking that everything in my life was basically mediocre and colorless for the loss of her. Which it isn’t.

My point here is that The Wheel hit me probably harder than anything else on the List so far, with the possible exception of The Phantom Carriage, and so while I definitely recommend it on the strength of its artistry I’ll add as a footnote that a big part of my love for this film is rooted in my personal circumstances. You might find it totally boring.

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