Monday, August 29, 2011

Transformation and catharsis in Jac Avila's Martyr

I've thought a lot lately about what causes a person to transform. I've done some transformation myself recently because of my father having dementia, having to put him in assisted living, deal with his estate. And it also looks like I'll have to be buying a house for my mother soon as well, since hers was not built to last. I've undergone something of an abrupt transformation from child into parent, very quickly, and out of need.

But what causes someone to transform? If they do it out of necessity, what dictates the necessity? Is it a personal need, such as the character of Camille in Jac Avila's Martyr? Or is it something greater than themselves? If it's personal, does that make the transformation narcissistic? And how do we achieve catharsis from transformation?

Martyr is punctuated by photo sessions which provide the structure of Camille's transformation, and Camille's subsequent catharsis. In all of Gabrielle's shoots, we see the camera, the flash, we hear the clicking of the shutter, and the first of Camille's photoshoots has these elements as well. But as Camille approaches Eulalia through her work in the studio, the camera seems to fade from view, the click of the shutter is less frequent, we pass through the veil into Camille's private world, where she is becoming Eulalia, and nothing else matters or exists.

It is here, in that world, where we only hear Camille's breathing, her agony, her cries and pain, and suffering, that her transformation really begins. She distances herself from the other characters and slips from this plane into one in which she relives Eulalia's martyrdom. It is beautiful, ugly, bloody, frightening, and sexy all at once.

We begin as Camille lets herself be disrobed, we see her letting go of herself, the person she pretends to be day in and day out. As she drops to the floor, it is as if she releases her burden. The burden of her soul, her problems with her boyfriend (which are mostly caused by this personal search for fulfillment); the world falls away.

At first, the camera is still present. Suddenly, with the first strike of the wooden stick, Camille begins to know Eulalia, her pain, her suffering. She twists and turns underneath the rod that beats her. The images are like paintings, they are beautiful to behold, and that beauty is emphasized by Camille's contortions, the pain she evokes. Camille takes us along in her journey. The sounds make us flinch, but Camille is using the pain, the experience, for her own ends.

Camille chooses her next ordeal, she is on Eulalia's path, so she must hang from a tree and be raked with a sharp iron claw. In Camille's version she is strung up with her hands spread in the studio. Her hair hangs silky and long, her body taut with tension. Tadeusz moves the claw down the front of her body, leaving behind a trail of blood, Camille screams. When she is taken down she lies very still, the world has not yet returned to her. when she revives, it is with more determination.

Continuing on Eulalia's path, Camille hangs from her ribs. This is mimicked with a chain placed under Camille's arms, her hands are tied behind her back with course rope. The chair is taken away and we see Camille suspended in the dark, her body hangs in blackness, as if she is suspended in the vacuum of space.

In this scene, Camille begins to connect more deeply with Eulalia, she whispers to herself, she wants to see something, she wants the saint to show her something. She wears an expression of deep spiritual striving. The chain cuts into her skin so deeply that she bleeds, causing concern and wonderment in Tadeusz and Elisa. Camille strives for something tangible, she wishes for the pain to bring her something. In moments, we forget about the image-making, the click has ceased, Camille swings in space, hanging by a spiritual thread.

The progression continues when Camille is tied to the X-cross. She challenges Tadeusz in this moment, by telling him that she has her period, that in fact, the blood is running down her leg and that she wants him to use it on her body, like make-up effects. He puts his finger in her blood and she takes it into her mouth, asking for him to kiss her. In this moment she shows that this fight for catharsis is hers alone, selfish and perhaps narcissistic. She is trying to transform what her boyfriend shies away from (the blood), into something daring and revolutionary.

As they continue the session, Camille's figure taut with tension, her legs look fragile, but the strain in her muscles and tendons evokes strength, resistance. She uses the pain to reach Eulalia, to force Eulalia into her body. To coerce a revolution in herself. She is coming into being.

In the story it wasn't over for Eulalia, and thus, it's not over for Camille. She plans to follow this road to the very end. As Eulalia was turned upside down on the X-cross, so is Camille. The next day her tense body hangs from her ankles, her ribcage forming a hollow. And into that hollow, Elisa pours hot wax from a tall red candle, simulating the hot oil that was poured onto Eulalia. Again, Camille shows her hand, who she's really doing this for. She tires of the game, she's cranky and ends the transformation, even before it has begun this time. She leaves, saying that it's over.

But something is happening within Camille. Her transfiguration is affecting those around her, is affecting her. She shows that she doesn't know what is happening to her. She expresses doubt in what she is doing, and then a new strength enters her, she leaves her boyfriend. She separates herself from the one who is holding her back, Julien, and goes back to the facilitators of her transformation, Tadeusz and Elisa.

Camille returns to more pain. Eulalia's pain and her own. She is tied with her arms over her head and whipped.

The final photo shoot is the last act of Camille's passion play, her ultimate effort to fully become Eulalia. We see her nailed to the cross, writhing, spitting blood, a dove finally rising from her mouth. There is no snap of the camera, but we're so horrified, or mesmerized, by what we're seeing that we don't really notice the absence of the shutter. The end, the resolution, the catharsis is happening. Camille becomes... herself.

When we change, we transform. The simple passing of time can do it, we see the evidence in the mirror, but sometimes it's internal, a deep need, a necessity, an urgency to become who we really are, regardless of anything or anyone else. And while we may think that personal striving for catharsis and change is narcissistic, the self is more complex than that. The people around us are affected, but can also be inspired. Changing ourselves may make us fit into the world in a different way, but maybe we fit a little better.

Martyr is available on DVD and for Download HERE!


  1. What a judicious use of words. Profound. The story has depth. I can't wait to buy the movie. A big fan, CRUXLVR

  2. Judicious use of words. This movie has depth. I can't wait to buy it! A big fan, CRUXLVR

  3. "When we change, we transform. ...sometimes it's internal, a deep need, a necessity, an urgency to become who we really are, regardless of anything or anyone else. And while we may think that personal striving for catharsis and change is narcissistic, the self is more complex than that. The people around us are affected, but can also be inspired. Changing ourselves may make us fit into the world in a different way, but maybe we fit a little better." I never expected to receive affirmation to a career change I'm struggling to make by reading your blog but I did-last night. I laid in bed for 3 1/2 hours unable to sleep, and read your entire blog. It was informative, interesting, stimulating, insightful, and affirming. Your above statement affirmed my plans for life change as did your comment Jac made about knowing people who spend their whole life not trying to live their dreams and fantasies. My awakening happened in the spring of 2011 in a way I least suspected-writing to someone I connected with on Craigslist NYC personals. Although our age differences were vast, me 45 and she a 20 year old graphic art student, my deeply creative, romantic, and erotic imagination rose from the ashes and came alive because of her encouragement. Her ability to read what I wrote and tell me how it made her feel encouraged me to express myself without reservation, therefore I did so. It never developed into a dating or physical relationship because the age difference, when we revealed that to each other, weirded her out. I respected and accepted that. I cherished the encouragement she gave me to express myself without reservation, something I never had on this level. I can connect with the values you express, especially what defines filling a movie with "good stuff", committing yourself 100% to your work, and portraying a character from deep within, exposing yourself as you feel necessary. You are a wise and deeply intuitive woman, qualities not often seen in a woman your age. I am quite eager to see DEAD BUT DREAMING. WHEN will it be released? I already purchased MALEFICARUM, loved it, and plan to get BARBAZUL, and THE MARTRY as I stated in my last comment posted above this one. I am a big fan of yours and your work. CRUXLVR

    1. Thank you so much for your comments! I am so very pleased that my blog affects you in this way. I can only hope to inspire others when I put myself "out there". It's not an easy task, as I've stated many times here, but it's worth every moment, every hardship, every success.