Pandora’s Box strikes me as more skillful and smart than enjoyable. It’s an interesting look into relationships and gender dynamics but, as a story, I think it’s a bit lacking. There were a few scenes I thought were engrossing (even if the movie itself is a bit long) and I was kinda curious about how it’d turn out, who’d end up with whom and where they’d go, but I was also uncomfortable with a lot of what plays out here because whenever a major scene would pass, and I’d try to think critically about it, what became clearer and clearer is that the immediate lens through which a 21st century viewer has to look at this movie is a feminist lens, as it’s basically about how a bunch of different men go crazy over a woman’s sexuality (crazy in a bad way: jealousy, shock rage), and the reason it made me uncomfortable is because the only honest way I can look at these scenes is to acknowledge that, in my own relationships, I don’t think I’ve ever been 100% comfortable with my girlfriends’ sexuality. Like I’m an advocate for it, and when one of my students or one of the nineteen- or twenty-year-old colleagues at the restaurant expresses anxiety about her “number” (of partners) with this tone like she’s looking for consolation, I’m quick to wave it away and give the rote lecture of “you’re young, have fun, no shame in this” and so on. But then, in my personal life, I end up feeling totally disarmed whenever I’m dating somebody who’s had more partners than I have. Turn into a nightmare of insecurity. But it doesn’t even have to be about the number of partners. If a woman’s just really forward with me, or if she initiates physical stuff, I feel…what? I don’t know. Something insecure and inherently sexist. I’ve told the story here about my first girlfriend, when I was thirteen, whom I hassled about having blown one of her friends like a year before we even met. I was embarrassed and scared about my own comparative inexperience, and so I tried to make her feel like I occupied some sort of moral high ground. I made her feel really bad about it. A few days later I hassled a girlfriend because she’d hooked up with somebody like five days before we started dating. Asked a thousand jealous questions about every party she went to. And there’s this impulse to look back on these things and think, “Gee, I was a pretty insecure teenager,” and then kinda shrug that behavior away as like the foibles of puppy love but, shit, it’s a big nail in my moral shoe to think now of how all that shaming must’ve fucked with these girls who were just discovering their sexuality.
But even recently, not long after college, I dated somebody who talked a lot about her sex life from before, as I did mine, but who sprinkled enough clues into conversation to suggest that she’d had quite a few more partners than I’d had. I started asking questions that I thought were discreet, trying to get an exact number, and when she finally just called me out on it I think it was clear to both of us that this affair wasn’t going places — because, God bless her for trying, but how can you date somebody (me) who, while you’re giving them all your attention, is bitching about how, once upon a time, you gave it to somebody else?
So I have some growing up to do. This stupid pettiness is one of several reasons for not dating right now. Short on time, short on cash — but I’m also just not mature enough to take up residency in an independent person’s life when I know that my insecurity’s gonna start asking them to make all these accommodations. But here’s a rub: do I overcome my ineptitude as a boyfriend by getting practice, by dating and trying to negotiate the differences, or by just waiting it out, maturing on my own, start dating seriously once I have a good solid sense of who and where I am, who and where I wanna be, etc.?
The tactic being used by jealous men in Pandora’s Box is the weaponization of guilt. When the doctor who comes to visit Lulu (Louise Brooks, who’s amazing, with a performance kinda reminiscent of the mistress from Murnau’s Sunrise) in the beginning to tell her that he can no longer see her, since he’s about to marry somebody else, he ends up storming out, furious, because there’s another man in her apartment. Turns out the guy’s her dad. But that basically sets the tone for everything: this adulterer is sleeping with her, and getting mad because he thinks she’s sleeping with somebody else. When the doctor’s son later asks the doc why he doesn’t marry Lulu, the doctor is firm in his conviction that she isn’t the sort of woman that one should marry. She’s outta control, he says. Which, yeah, is kinda true. She lapses into hysterics at times and can show a bizarre lack of emotion about certain things (immediately upon returning to the apartment where she recently shot a man to death in self defense, she invites a man up for sex, and then frolics about contentedly) — but the doctor is ultimately the one who loses his mind.
The movie’s got a weird ending that I kinda like, philosophically (Jack the Ripper appears and it’s a reminder that real people, whatever their occupations or life paths, are susceptible to random horrible misfortune — and it adds to the larger commentary on how men take to women’s sexuality), but I’m not sure about how it complements the story. Anyway. Good movie. Bit of a therapy session.