Cinema as an image machine exhibits a vast abundance of archetypal characters, motifs, and qualities, which in astrology are embodied by planets, constellations and the signs of the zodiac.
Vesna Ivkovic draws the connections offering insight into the cinematic representations and forms of expression for the zodiacal signs.
Born under the ascending sign of Libra, I have been viewing the world my whole life through a framework of relations and interwoven connections. And I found Libra to be the probably most misunderstood sign of the zodiac. It is often said to have a superficial need for harmony, to be undecided, weak-minded and inconsistent. The frequently cited quest for peace and harmony definitely is a main Libra-feature, as it can be easily recognized in Libra’s characteristic elegance und sophisticated style, furthermore in its distinctive sense of both aesthetics and justice, and certainly in its considerate civility, which helps to improve human relations and make them more agreeable.
Yet to me it seems quite important to understand the spirit that all these qualities are based upon: Libra is the first zodiac sign to encounter an already established polar counterparti. As a result it is the sign that marks the beginning of cognition and perception of the Other, the Not-I, as a self-contained entity, as well as, of course, it is the sign where interaction with this Other and the search for consensus originates. Hence Libra marks the transition to duality.
Aries’ plain self-involvement, its unrefined one-dimensional perspective and its assertiveness is challenged by Libra’s complex focus on considering every single point of view, and met by Libra’s capacity to negotiate and its willingness to work out a harmonious cooperation, bearing both sides in mind at all times. It is not because of undecided weakness, conflict avoidance and lack of self-awareness that Libra seeks compromise and shows diplomatic concern, but because of conscious acknowledgement for the equal value and importance of the other’s wishes, positions and perspectivesii. Cooperative partnership is the essential concept in Libra.
Just as in real life, in cinema such an encounter between individuals engaging in skirmishes and discussions is mostly initiated by their desire for a relationship and, of course, by feelings that we’re used to call infatuation or love. Thus the well-liked genres of romantic comedy and social comedy can be considered typical for Libra in cinema. Sometimes more, sometimes less witty, but, as it is understood for Libra, always civilized and tasteful, the struggle between two seemingly incompatible personalities towards their harmonious happy ending is put on show in genre classics like e.g. “When Harry Met Sally” (R.Reiner, 1989), where the essentially unromantic statement seems to be made that a sustainable relationship first and foremost requires friendship. Other popular rom-coms like “You’ve Got Mail” (N. Ephron, 1998) and “Notting Hill” (R. Michell, 1999) are also set in a milieu of intellectuals, artists and other people working in the cultural sector, which is one of Libra’s most typical environments. The narrated love-stories are generally hampered by the protagonists’ expectations about relationships that have to be overcome by negotiation and understanding.
Social grace, glibness and sophistication characterize elegant and educated Libra, so the preferred film-setting in Libra-cinema is the world of the “rich and beautiful”, since the material basics of life are no Libra-issue (at least none Libra would talk about). The typical topics thus are – appropriately for the air-element – more of a intellectual nature. Set in such a milieu for example both “Sex and the City” movies (M.P. King, 2008 und 2010), based on the eponymous TV show, revolve around love stories and further Libra-themes like fashion, urban culture, friendship and other types of social relationships.
Aiming for a slightly more sophisticated standard “Four Weddings and a Funeral” (M. Newell, 1994) became a cult classic: Just as in “When Harry Met Sally” we watch a potential couple being kept apart by differing notions and bad timing for quite a long time before the protagonists as well as the audience are rewarded with the inevitable and likeable happy end. However, bourgeois concepts of relationships and love are discreetly yet critically reviewed here and possible alternatives are outlined without provocation in a pleasantly entertaining manner.
Not only individually but rather socially determined expectations and concepts for relationships become the centrepiece in the perfectly well-done adaptations of British literary classics by E.M. Forster or Jane Austen. Providing a predominantly charming portrayal of 19th century’s British class society, where relations are controlled by polite civility, formal etiquette and prim conventions, these films offer cultured entertainment without omitting considerate hints at social injustice and various inequities.
Based on Jane Austen’s eponymous novel, “Emma” (D. McGrath, 1996) portrays a young woman trying to act as a matchmaker among her circle of friends and acquaintances, thus causing quite a commotion at stuffy tea-parties and prim picnics. Although her attempts to strap other people’s feelings as well as her own longings neatly into the pretty corset of seemingly suitable unions fail miserably, in the end even Emma herself gets lucky in love. And again happiness is found in a relationship that started out a long time ago as feisty friendship showing both individuals to favour an equality-based partnership.
In “Sense and sensibility” (A. Lee, 1995) for the most part grand romantic feelings and passions are again regarded with very much reserve. Only through helpful social relations and polite compliancy an impoverished widow’s marriageable daughters can improve their chances on the marriage market in accordance with all social conventions that are to be followed. The gracious reserve that is so typical for Libra is explicitly asked for, e.g. when the youngest daughter speaks favourably about an intrusive, boisterous and meddlesome person, arguing that the woman at least “talks about things”iii. The mother silences the girl with a few reprehensive words: “If you can not think of anything appropriate to say, you will please restrict your remarks to the weather.”
“A Room with a View” (J. Ivory, 1985) is about a young woman’s difficult decision between a designated husband and a romance that is not befitting her station. And “The Importance of Being Earnest” (O. Parker, 2002), brimming with Oscar Wilde’s wit, is narrating the amusing story of two rather different friends pursuing their love affairs in the midst of social conventions that have to be adhered to and then occasionally broken, entertaining us with confusion and mistaken identity, polite white lies and finally the lucky coincidence that saves the happy ending.
As we can see in the aforementioned examples, typical Libra-movies don’t focus on one main protagonist, there is at least a couple that takes centre stage, more often than not we are getting acquainted with various additional characters and their intertwined relations. Also there are quite frequently multi-protagonist films like the comedy “Love Actually” (R. Curtis, 2003), which follows even ten couples and triangles through their amorous entanglements and communication difficulties.
In spite of fateful events the drama “Closer” (M. Nichols, 2004) is not too emotionally touching, while elaborating on the differing and changing relationship patterns and concepts of a quartet of intellectuals and artists. The movie leaves us to notice and observe the protagonists’ feelings from a little distance, instead of inspiring compassionate empathy. This is also a characteristic of Libra-typical tact. However, the attempted yet somewhat ineffectual depth in the film is an exception in Libra-cinema, as the friendly but distanced observation of emotion is usually facilitated by humour, like, for example, in many movies dealing with the popular triangle-motif.
A few years ago in his film “3” (T. Tykwer, 2010) Tom Tykwer picked up the subject making a heterosexual couple unknowingly fall in love with the same bisexual man with both beginning an affair with him. This became an easygoing and amusing Berlin-based comedy, questioning conventional concepts of love from a matter-of-fact point of view, which very naturally accepts all kinds of desire and emotion as equally valuable.
77 years earlier, with a somewhat similar story Ernst Lubitsch created a remarkable classic of Libra-cinema – the sophisticated comedy “Design for Living“ (E. Lubitsch, 1933): Two artists, who are very good friends, fall in love with the same woman. She can not and will not choose between them, so, bound by love and friendship and all the three of them being aesthetes and intellectuals loathing “base instincts” like jealousy or possessiveness, they attempt to handle the complicated situation with graciousness and style. And to do everyone justice they settle on a “gentleman’s agreement”, meant to stimulate a prolific threesome-relationship, but, as a precaution, excluding sexiv.
There are many more amusing and characteristically sophisticated Libra-films from those old days of cinema, when movies essentially promised to offer a break from harsh realities by artfully creating a beautifully balanced and debonair virtual world. As dancing, and in particular ballroom dancing, is a very strong Libra-analogy, I find myself thinking especially about movies with the most famous dancing couple in film history: Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The nonchalant breeziness (as well as – literally – light-footedness), that defines their characters’ relationships in movies like “The Gay Divorcee” (M. Sandrich, 1934), “Top Hat“ (M.Sandrich, 1935), “Swing Time“ (G. Stevens, 1936) or “Shall We Dance“ (M. Sandrich, 1937) is a wonderful example for the couple dance as a means of communication and as an expression of both social and romantic relations. The high entertainment-value as well as the Libra-content of these movies comes not only from the dancing scenes with all the aesthetics and elegance but also from the witty banter and the amusing obstacles love always has to overcome by negotiating agreement and accepting differences respectively the otherness of the beloved partnerv.
Without dancing yet with at least equally entertaining verbal exchanges (and even battles) revolving around cooperation and harmony under the precondition of equality and mutual respect, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn used to make us smile in many of their movies. In “Adam’s Rib” (G. Cukor, 1949) they play two lawyers that are married to each other and get themselves into a hilarious and interesting marriage crisis over their controversial positions in a divorce suit, in which they represent the opposing parties.
With “To Catch a Thief” (A. Hitchcock, 1955) even thriller-director Hitchcock, the “master of suspense” who had a penchant for fancy and (seemingly) cool blondes, shot a remarkable Libra-movie brimming with beautiful images of the posh French Riviera. Equipped with refined nonchalance, Cary Grant as a retired gentleman-thief has to defend his reputation and the social prestige he meanwhile has earned, while flirting along with the excessively elegant Grace Kelly…
i Libra is the 7th zodiac sign and thus the beginning of the second half with the opposite first sign, Aries.
ii The attempt to do everything/everybody justice can, of course, frequently produce the often cited difficulties in coming to a decision…
iii „I like her, she talks about things. We never talk about things!“
iv After all, dangerously lurking in Scorpio, the sign following Libra, sex serves to create strong and even obsessive ties, which don’t fit the Libra-concept, thus it threatens to drag into the light everything that was sacrificed to intellectual aesthetics and neat civility.
Vesna Ivkovic studied literature and linguistics, sociology, philosophy and history and as well took a profound interest in psychology, mythology and different belief systems. Along the way she also explored various paths of body awareness such as the martial arts of Kung Fu, Dance, Yoga, Qi Gong and several other methods of body work and motion arts. In 1993 she discovered astrology as an instrument of knowledge and graduated in 2004 in Markus Jehle's and Petra Niehaus' master class at the Astrology Center Berlin. www.astrosemiotics.de