The Aphrodite Archetype:Weavings of The Golden Voice in Enchanted April
Various themes of love and relationship in Enchanted April are woven
together, woven the way women weave their lives together--an
intricate weave creating the fine fabric of a cared-for world. Four
women, beginning as strangers to each other, are drawn alike to a
strange attractor, a medieval villa overlooking the Italian Riviera.
Each life, worn thin in passion, feels the pull to get away from its
seemingly loveless rhythms. Each life masks a deep emptiness and
an even deeper desire for reconnection again to loveliness. Aphrodite is
the loveliness that seeks each of them out in the story.
These are the threads through which the golden-voiced image of
"wisteria and sunshine" is woven (2:17). Hidden within the folds of
this image is the Aphrodite archetype simply because this image of
wisteria and sunshine contains for these women the principle of
attraction. The principle of attraction is the mystery of Aphrodite as
seen in the following passage of Homer.
Muse, tell me the deeds of golden Aphrodite the Cyprian, who stirs up
the sweet passion in all the gods and subdues the tribes of mortal men
and birds that fly in air and all the many creatures that the dry land
rears, and all that the sea: all these love the deeds of rich crowned
Aphrodite is the mystery surrounding the villa they rent. It draws
them together in one place; four women sharing six rooms with eight
beds--the extra beds foreshadow the gradual arrival of the men
destined to fill them because they are the men who belong to three
women's be longing, their deepest desire (47:47). To the fourth woman
the extra empty bed harbors either the hope of Aphrodite or grief over
her absence and, perhaps, through her friendship, a return experience
of something in her that is yet young (50:20-51:00).
Enchanted April reveals a subplot whose mythic structure unfolds
the love story between Aphrodite and Ares (Homer 8.3.00-4.10). One
suddenly understands this affair, not as a war between men and women,
but as alienation and eventual reconciliation between two kinds of energy,
the Masculine and the Feminine. These two kinds of energy are operating in
our bodies and in the universe to shape, order, uphold,
and then reshape the innumerable threads of concern and existence in our
world. The interaction between the two kinds of energy can
diminish or become one-sided. But once put right, we can experience harmony.
Harmonia in the myth is the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite (Apollod. 3.4.2).
Harmony is conceived in this narrative through the nature of Lottie's courage
to act out of, not only an inspiration, (5:27-38 "Why don't
we get it?") but also cunning (25:42). She leads Milosh, her husband,
to think she accepts an invitation to San Salvatore instead of telling
him she rented it for the month. Amidst this moment she displays an
esthetic sense for useless things (6:44-7:25 yellow tulips), another expression
of Aphrodite. For Love, conceived at Aphrodite's birth is
both born from resourcefulness (a trait Lottie displays) and is by
nature bent on beauty (Plato Sym. 203c).
The two-bed conversation (34:16-38) weaves together the theme of husbands
and beds, marriage being as well the domain of Aphrodite
(Paus. 4.30.5). It reveals the proper Victorian attitude through the
voice of Mrs. Fisher, the old dowager who has come to share the villa
and the month of April with Lottie and Rose. "In my day", she declares, "Husbands
and beds were seldom spoken of in the same conversation. Husbands were taken
seriously as the only real obstacle to sin" (34:38). Here is the revelation of a
Platonic philosophical concept not belonging to earlier forms of the myth about
Aphrodite. Plato's notion offers Aphrodite Urania, the goddess of pure love or
spiritual love and Aphrodite Pandemia, the goddess of common love or sex (Grimal 46).
It is through Rose's nature and relationship to Frederick that we
share the revelation, evolution, and resolution of the tensions of this
split in the archetype. Her husband says she has "the look of a
disappointed Madonna" (6:19-24). Mr. Briggs, the owner of the villa, recognizes
her "Madonna quality" also (15:50 and 1:09:00). So does Lottie (6:00).
One glimpses Rose's disappointment in marriage several times. She understands
the beauty between a man and woman in marriage to be
a gift from God (Goddess?) and an expression that enhances or
"beautifies" the union (5:00-5:20). Yet, somehow this erotic beauty
in the expression between her and Fredrick has been lost. Seeing them
together the first time leaves me with the impression that he wishes
to touch her, but she fumbles and drops her skein of yarn and the
moment is lost (10:30). Here is Aphrodite's "arrow in the heart"
rendered in the beauty of a woman who is cold. The pain of the love
traps both. When she tells him of her plans for April he is more than
glad she will be going away. It will give him space to live his alter ego
and promote his book while chasing after Lady Caroline Desta (12:12).
In her heart Rose believes Frederick is no longer attracted to her. When
he returns home from a party and discovers her not yet in bed, he stops
in the bedroom doorway, considers the moment, and then wishes her goodnight.
They sleep apart (24:00). Later, when Lottie suggests that
Rose write and invite Frederick to the villa, Rose imitates what his
probable response will be. "If I write him", she says, "He will respond
'Thanks, for the letter, My Dear, say if you want money, and don't
hurry back'" (45:17). "Doesn't he love you?" Lottie asks. Rose believes he
shows no signs of that (48:00).
This is the tension in the fabric of Rose as she departs the dullness of
her lifestyle in England and enters into the magic of Aphrodite's
world--a Tub of Love--as the vacation retreat is later dubbed (1:22:40).
The big magic of Aphrodite begins to envelop Rose like a mind slipped
sideways (53:20). It covers her over inch-by-inch like a lizard
climbing (1:03:25). Rose lets herself float on the surface of that beauty.
She can feel what she feels again by touching the curly tendrils of seaweed
below the surface. Curly things, fluid things, things left a bit
unstructured and messy--that's Aphrodite. Aphrodite is born of such
seastuff (Hesiod, Theo.195). Rose lets herself dissolve in this
experience of aphroditic bigness (1:06:40). By the time she is
recomposed for dinner she is ready for her reunion with Frederick.
There is passion in her kisses and that is all he ever really requires (1:21:35).
For Lady Caroline Desta the month of April is an opportunity to get
away from being grabbed and men who make demands. She just
wants to be left quiet (she thinks) and not be the center of attention (21:40).
She is another "arrow in the heart" for her beloved has been
killed in the war and she cannot get on with her life. No longer
innocent about love, she cannot seem to let herself love again. Yet,
the great thing is to do just that (1:23:40). Lady Caroline is a woman
who "has it all" (wealth, beauty, youth, social prominence) and she
carries it at all times with perfect poise (20:15, 54:00, 55:30, 1:21:35).
Being a lady is the mask that veils her hardened heart. It is the image
by which she is both known and the reality through which she will
watch and re-evaluate love. This is the image that must be seen
through and can be seen through by the artist, Mr. Briggs who,
because of a war injury, has learned to see others from the sound of
their voices (1:27:07).
Even though Caroline wants to be left alone and discovers people
are doing just that, she is not alone. She watches. She sees the
transformation in Rose as passion embraces love in her marriage to
Frederick. It is the Aphrodite-behind-Lottie who reveals to her the
nature of the power of Aphrodite. Where Caroline sees a funny,
red-faced, middle-aged man in Frederick, Rose sees past that. Rose
sees past that because she loves him (1:23:40-1:25:21). This is a
truth the goddess reveals. For Aphrodite is not the goddess of
beautiful people, she is the goddess who makes people beautiful
(Homer, Il. 14.195). Aphrodite bestows upon Caroline Desta in this
moment what the war (Ares) bestows on Mr. Briggs. She has been
given new eyes. She begins to see beauty in the people around her,
and it is this that makes Mr. Briggs and Caroline a pair ripe for each
The Italian villa, San Salvatore is a gardener's delight. Beautiful
and with well-cultivated grounds, this landscape mirrors the very
nature of Lottie herself in its capacity to bring out the beauty in others.
A first glimpse of this Aphrodite-behind-Lottie appears early in the film.
Once during the evening meal Milosh chastises her for buying yellow
tulips to grace their table (6:44-47). Later, she speaks of this capacity
to see past the plain usefulness of doing into the sheer delight of
sharing the beauty of something as being "flooded with love" (44:27).
She recognizes she has been stingy this way. Her love for Milosh has
been tangled up in a kind of record keeping where she matches,
measures, and counts her responses out. She keeps track of them in
her heart like a household expense she has recorded in a book so that
no detail will go to waste (6:44-7:55). One might say that her
Aphroditic qualities are put down in favor of Milosh's Hestian ones as
she attempts to conform to his wishes. For Homer tells us that Hestia
is not ensnared by Aphrodite's work (Homeric Hymn 5.20).
Therefore, this is the tension she holds within and must work through.
Lottie realizes when she finally greets Milosh at San Salvatore (54:48)
that he has come not to see her, but to meet Lady Caroline. She also
realizes that because he is here, he will be drawn into the magic of
Aphrodite surrounding the villa, and he will change. The change that
does occur takes place almost immediately through the bath scene
(55:30). A second time through the film and one begins to ponder
and compare this scene with the earlier dinner scene linking men and
clothes; the getting rid of clothes for Lady Caroline is like getting rid of
the man. For Lottie, it is too cold this way knowing you will never have
"anything on again" (47:30). Genuine acceptance of a truly "other"
(in this case Milosh) naked or just as he is---a genuine embrace is
made possible through the golden allure in or behind Aphrodite's
Metaphorically speaking, Milosh, after his unusual bath, puts on a new
man (he leaves the realm of Hestia). He rediscovers that he is living
with someone who loves him. She is full of surprises. He realizes he
loves her that way. Surprise is the strange attractor making her
beautiful to him. This brings out in him a spirit of generosity.
Generosity is the strange attractor making him beautiful to her
(10:05:25). Of course, Aphrodite is the principle that re-enforces
the bond they share.
The image of the kiss occurs in numerous scenes that mark moments
of transformation. It is the first thing to occur between Lottie and
Rose in the rose garden (31:00). The kiss flows out of Rose the
moment she sees the sleeping Frederick in the drawing room
(1:19:50). Finally, the kiss marks the moment Mrs. Fisher accepts
friendship back into her life because she has realized she is as young
inside as she is old outside. "Better to be young somewhere",
she quips, "than to be old everywhere" (1:12:10-1:28:00-45).
Both the kiss and Mrs. Fisher's new realization point to another key
attribute of the archetype. That is, there is no such thing as an old |
Eros (Paus. 9:27:1). Eros is always young. Each time we are in love,
life is young again too. This is why the earlier story of Mr. Briggs'
where his grandfather marks with his cherry walking stick the spot |
the gardener is to plant an oleander tree is the final image we return
to in the film, and why it Mrs. Fisher is the one who relives the
gesture (1:14:50, 1:31:46). She is marking the spot where she can
be young again.
There is one more image in the film I am fond of. It is the image that
allows me to write my interpretation the way I have. The camera
eye captures it only once and just after Lottie makes the decision
to invite Milosh to San Salvatore (42:52-46:00). It is the image of the
spiderweb. It functions like a diaphanous gown both veiling and
revealing the beauty of the rose behind, beneath, or beyond it
(Venus Genetrix, Louvre)1.
The rose, the flower of Aphrodite, points to the goddess hidden in
the subplot. Where the web can be likened to the plot and characters
weaving the unique stories into "a story", the rose is the voice of the
golden one that moves the story along. Aphrodite is the voice behind
the voice of the rose. She is the beauty dwelling past all our ideas of
beauty, our standards for beauty. She is that which gives us the eyes
to see past our own notions, where and in ways we least expect, Beauty.
1 See Aphrodite in Ancient Greek Art, Works Cited: Kluth, Frederick
Apollodorus. The Library of Greek Mythology. Trans. Robin Hard.
New York: Oxford, 1998.
Enchanted April. Dir. Mike Newell. Perfs. Miranda Richardson, Josie
Lawrence, Polly Walker, and Joan Plowright. Miramax, 1992.
Grimal, Pierre. The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Trans. A.R.
Maxwell-Hyslop. Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998.
Hesiod. Theogony. Trans. Intro and Notes. M.L. West. New York:
Homer. Homeric Hymns. Trans. Apostolos Athanassakis. Baltimore:
John Hopkins, 1976.
---. Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. Intro. and Notes. Bernard Knox.
New York: Penguin, 1997.
Kluth, Frederick John. "Venus Genetrix", Louvre. Aphrodite
in Ancient Greek Art. 21 Jun. 2001. http://junior.apk.net~fjk/
Perseus Project. Ed. Gregory Crane. 25 Nov. 1997. Tufts U. 21 Jun.
2001 http://www.perseus.tufts.edu>. Access Homer. Iliad 14.195.
Paus. 9.27.1. Plato Sym.203c. http://junior.apk.net~fjk/aphro.html