“Cause everybody knows, the things she does to please, she’s just a little tease, She’s a femme fatale. Ooh ooh oh” (The Velvet Underground).
The Femme Fatale, almost like the fallen woman but more sexual vampire, either hardened or defeated by experience emerges from social repression with left hand gripping her vanity and a faint smirk on a shadowed face – just enough to consume the man’s imagination leaving him completely vulnerable, a victim. And for what ? The sake of money, revenge, jouissance, hope, destruction, just because she could ? Whatever narrative situation surrounds the femme fatale in cinema, one thing to be sure of is how simply the enigma of her desire is one of the major forces that shroud the experience of a film noir with such mystery and fog. She is not completely to blame however – it takes two to tango; the femme fatale would not be so fatal without the complicity of a man reduced to almost infantile dependency on her every spoken word.
Stanley Kubrick’s momentary excursion into the world of film noir with The Killing, expresses quite a distinct exploration of this ‘battle of desire’ and stages it rather profoundly at the site of an addiction: the racecourse. Is it not so that the interaction between the horse that sprints with all its strength spurred on by the jockey that rides it, resembles the very interplay that we see between the femme fatale and the entranced male ? The sexual instinct as raw energy surges forward running blind like the horse, towards the femme fatale who harnesses like the jockey, it’s impulse and behaviour, controlling it, teaching it how to desire. And of course we have the crowd, the spectators watching this interplay of forces, staking their bets and hoping for the big win ! Sounds almost like commodity fetishism ..
Speaking of fetish, the relationship between George Peatty and his wife Sherry (Marie Windsor) in The Killing ironically reflects this metaphor of desire as George with all his poor animal instincts raging, is simply overruled by the enigma of his wife’s desire yet cannot bear the weight of her promiscuity in reality, so allows himself to be psychological tormented. He succumbs to the fantasy in that we as humans, when confronted with a reality that hides beneath our own psychoses and dreams, know very well what exists there but nonetheless would much rather continue believing in our delusions anyhow ! As for the Femme Fatale herself, it is poignant that Kubrick presents Sherry as being also ensnared in the same trap as she stakes her own chances for the money in order to satisfy a purpose for the man she cheats with. If anything Kubrick’s treatment of fantasy and seduction (homogeneous to other noir films), is allegorical in its depiction of the racecourse as resembling our most human tendency to refuse rationality and, being over-ruled by desire, take bets on romance, heist plans, silly horses, and hope we win !
So why would a racecourse be Kubrick’s choice of setting for this heist ? The question may also be asked what makes us as humans so dissatisfied with our lot, marriages and money and sex, that we would be willing to risk it all for the chance of something more ? Whatever the answer, Kubrick’s message is clear: the beast keeps running, and all we can do is weigh our chances and hope for the best.