I. Fear - /ˈfir/ (noun) – an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger (“Fear”)
Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear” (“19 Quotes”). In the society of the modern world, we drown in a massive swimming pool of “consumption and fear” (Moore, 47:31), one where it seems there is no guard on duty. Fear is internal, but I believe it transposes externally, as we find ourselves in situations where police officers around the country are unlawfully shooting African-Americans or where we believe our president is going to run the United States of America - or the world - into the ground. Every single human being on the planet is instilled with fear, but it is quite clear that the degrees of which they do fear vary across the map. If there is something to be said about the characters of Lena Wertmüller’s 1974 film, Swept Away, it would be that they, too, lay in the swimming pool of fear. That is until they find an island.
Swept Away is the story of a capitalist woman and her Communist servant, who, after deciding to hop off of their yacht, find themselves stuck on a dinghy in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Eventually, they float their way to a deserted island, where they have to fend for their lives, but throughout the entirety of the film, we see a strong confliction between the two. Serving as a juxtaposition of wealthy versus poor, beautiful versus ugly, and the Left versus the Right, the film teaches viewers about people and their interactions toward one another. To that end, Swept Away embodies what happens when one thing takes control of our power: fear.
When it comes to artists and their works’ themes, Lena Wertmüller was not the only creator to use the idea of fear as a paintbrush. Over the course of their forty-plus year legacy, Rush wrote many bewildering, yet bewitching tunes. Through drummer Neil Peart’s captivating lyrics, the Canadian prog-rock trio’s music provides audiences a medium to not only engage with, but one to also connect with.
Over the span of three albums, Peart wrote a lyric trilogy entitled, “Fear.” Constructed in a reverse-chronological order, the band formed compositions that captivated how the world perceives and drives fear. By utilizing the Fear trilogy as a set of lenses, one can analyze and compare the ideas expressed by both Lena Wertmüller and Neil Peart.
II. The Enemy Within
“I’m not giving in to security under pressure, I’m not missing out on the promise of adventure, I’m not giving up on implausible dreams, Experience to extremes, Experience to extremes”
- Rush’s “The Enemy Within (Part I of Fear)” - Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Throughout the film, it is quite plain sailing to infer from Gennarino’s body language that he deals with his own insecurities, his own “enemy within.” The five fears imbedded in the servant’s system include (but are not limited to) the fear of the lack of nobility, the fear of ostracization, the fear of being unloved, the fear of the refusal of power and dominance, and the fear of reality. Through his perceptions and actions, we, as an audience, can get a better picture of the consequences of fear from humanity.
To Gennarino, the threat of lacking nobility is haunting. As Samantha Storms writes in her essay about the comparisons of Nicolas Roeg’s film, Walkabout, and Wertmüller’s Swept Away, the “daunting weight that exists between” the characters is their “status,” and Gennarino understands that his own status will keep him out of his favorable role in society (Storms, par. 2). Deep down, Gennarino does not want to be a servant for some rich, bossy woman. Why would he? Why would anyone? His position as someone else’s “slave” keeps him from being noble in any way, and after he finds a way to exert his own power, the tables turn.
When the “blonde beauty” and the “brunette beast” reach the deserted island aboard their dinghy, Gennarino begins exerting his power and dominance on Raffaella. This first becomes evident when he forces her to call him “Signor Carunchio” (Wertmüller 54:06) and tells her to “kiss your master’s hand” (Wertmüller 59:45). Furthermore, Gennarino starts to beat Raffaella for the societal problems caused solely because of the wealthy class. Issues like “inflation,” “not paying taxes,” raising the prices on food, fares, and gas, and miscellaneous taxes are his reasoning for slapping and punching his former mistress, and shortly thereafter, he begins to rape the innocent woman (Wertmüller 1:09:17). At first, Raffaella refuses to be exercised under the power of somebody else, but over time, she comes to learn that her obedience is imperative to her survival; without the first, she will not receive the latter. Because of all of the treatment that she had put him through on the yacht, Gennarino is afraid that she will not obey him in order to suffer the equal (if not worse) amount of “pain” and torture. In terms of their new status, the server has now become the served, and the served has become the server; as Gennarino states, “I would like a little service. It’s my turn; that’s life” (Wertmüller 1:03:30).
Throughout Swept Away, there are many instances where Gennarino expresses fear when he is not being loved by Raffaella. Towards the end of the film, the “egocentric Neanderthal” (Storms, par. 5) tells Raffaella that he needs “proof” of her love, with her responding that he is “all that (she) wants” (Wertmüller 1:38:02). This scene reveals the irony in Gennarino’s character because he tells her to “Admit you’re scared”, but in the end, it is quite obvious that he is the fearful one; he knows that he will never be good enough for her whether she says so or not. Also, in the closing scene where the beauty and the beast discuss their fate, Gennarino’s tone is diluted with sappiness and fright when he pins Raffaella by stating, “Unless you’ve changed your mind already” (Wertmüller 1:45:33). He knows that she never loved him to begin with, just as much as the viewer knows it, and it can be argued that she was under a spell of “Stockholm Syndrome” (Farajollah, par. 1). However, as he tries his best to keep Rafaella interested in him and him only, Gennarino does not want to come to the realization that he is not loved. He is not alone; in a sense, we all have that fear of being unwanted, a fear of reality. However, in Swept Away, the difference between life on a remote island and life back on land is a catastrophe in the mind of the beast.
Three-quarters of the way into the film, Raffaella informs her “master” that she refused to call for help from a passing boat because she had been “swept away into a mad dream” (Wertmüller 1:26:28). Instead of being grateful for her love and “commitment,” he decides to physically abuse her because, deep down, he is afraid of the return to the real world, the return of reality. Gennarino knows that it is home where he cannot exert the same power and control as freely as he can on the island towards Raffaella. When he does return to the land, he is greeted by hugs and affection from his wife, but he pushes her away, exclaiming, “It makes a man look foolish to have his wife follow him around,” (Wertmüller 1:40:49). Not only does he refuse to accept the reality of the situation, but he also is afraid of being ostracized - the final fear.
Like many of us, Gennarino fears ostracization, as he wants to have a sense of belonging. However, as the servant of a wealthy class of sea-traveling vacationers, he is refused a place in their society. Even though he is avoiding ostracization himself, Gennarino is undoubtedly ostracizing others; in the final scene, he is greeted by his wife, but he rejects her affection and pushes her away, which is accentuated when he vocalizes, “That’s enough. Stop!” (Wertmüller 1:40:33). In terms of his character, there are certainly many other fears and examples, and even the samples mentioned are interchangable. However, I think it is certain that these are the most impacting not only to himself, but also in regards to the treatment of others, specifically Raffaella.
The actions and insecurities of Gennarino coincide with the lyrics of Rush, especially those from the song, “The Enemy Within.” As mentioned previously, there exists an enemy within Gennarino, just as there lives one inside all of us. However, as far as his composition, Neil Peart writes, “Experience to extreme” (Rush, “The Enemy Within”), and in terms of the film and his character, Gennarino utilizes the need for power as an experience, one in which he takes to the extreme. When he brutally abuses and rapes Raffaella, it becomes quite clear that the beast is most certainly “not missing out on the promise of adventure” (Rush, “The Enemy Within”). It might not seem so obvious right away, but any experience can be taken to its extreme. However, in Swept Away, the struggle with fear is taken a step further, where Gennarino weaponizes his resources and power against Raffaella.
III. The Weapon
“We’ve got nothing to fear but fear itself; Not pain or failure, not fatal tragedy, not the faulty units in this mad machinery, not the broken contacts in emotional chemistry;
And the things that we fear are a weapon to be held against us”
- Rush’s “The Weapon (Part II of Fear)” - Signals (1982)
From the get-go, the characters of Swept Away pull the trigger on each other. Both Gennarino and Raffaella weaponize each other throughout the film, sometimes more apparent than others and often under different circumstances. By taking metaphysical compositions and turning them into artillery, Gennarino and Raffaella hurt each other - mentally and physically - with what means the most to them.
Throughout the course of their journeys, the beauty and the beast beat each other around with their talks of political beliefs. With the mix of Gennarino’s communist views and Raffaella’s capitalist beliefs, there is often hostility and aggression between the two. For example, in the scene where “the master” physically abuses his “servant” because of the wrongdoings of the rich, Gennarino weaponizes politics as a way of giving reason to hurt someone else (Wertmüller 1:09:17). Also, in the very beginning of the film, Raffaella argues the ways of the government with another man aboard the yacht, and although she does not physically harm him, she is still attempting to criticize another person because of their beliefs (Wertmüller 4:02). Even today, we see this same style of weaponization, specifically with the opposing political beliefs of conservatives and liberals. If one is a fan of Donald Trump, they are seen as a “racist”, a “sexist”, or simply “evil”, but if another is against the ways of the president, they may be viewed as “spiteful” or “ignorant” (Hart, par. 8). In a world as divided as the one we live in today, we find ourselves getting further and further from what we strive to achieve: equality. Politics is just one of the many resources used to weaponize one another both inside and outside the world of the film.
Since the dawn of man, humans have been using sex as a tool and resource of pleasure and reproduction. However, over the course of several thousands of years, the dangerous species of man has found ways of weaponizing sex not only for their own pleasure, but also for the dehumanization of others. From the recent abuse cases of Harvey Weinstein to the practice of “sexual violence as a weapon of war and genocide” (“Sexual,” par. 1), the use and misuse of sex has become a concurrent activity that seems may never face its own fate.
In Swept Away, it is evident where the misuse of sex is present. After Gennarino beats the rich’s faults out of Raffaella, he proceeds to declothe and rape her - throwing her panties into the wind, along with his humanity. If the sexual abuse was not enough for him, Gennarino proceeds to belittle Raffaella by stating, “You’re finally going to know a real man. You’ve never had one before,” (Wertmüller 1:10:56). Later in the film, he degrades what many believe to be is the most precious thing to a female, the “coin of sexual purity” (Lindstend, par. 3): a girl’s virginity. Gennarino becomes offended that he was not Raffaella’s first romantic companion, so as a form of humiliation, he weaponizes her previous “partners” to make her feel like a “whore,” as he calls her (Wertmüller 1:19:34). This mockery through sex only adapts from the most important and potent weapon: power.
From the yacht to the island, Raffaella and Gennarino exert their own power towards each other. In the beginning of the film, the capitalist makes a fool out of her communist servant because he served her “reheated coffee” (Wertmüller 8:31) and “overcooked” pasta (Wertmüller 12:50). Here, it is not the pasta or the coffee that is the problem, it is their status and positions of power (or lack thereof); the goods only serve as a catalyst for the forthcoming events. In spite and revenge, Gennarino begins his own quest for power, but it is only once they reach the deserted island that he has his chance.
One could argue that it is Raffaella who is the alpha male in the film, but when their trip relies on survival skills and strength, it is quite apparent that the only one with power is Gennarino. Because of this, the beast uses his dominance to exert physical power and brute strength against the helpless beauty. Many of the instances have been previously mentioned, like the kissing of the master’s hand, the addressing as “Signor Carunchio”, and the request for “a little service” (Wertmüller 1:03:30). However, as a whole, Gennarino uses his power and dominance to not only physically harm Raffaella, as both a slave of labor and a “slave of love” (Wertmüller 1:12:45), but he also damages her mentally and emotionally. With a lack of resources and strength, the blonde beauty, likely suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome,” as mentioned before, has to abide to the ways of her new master, only until she gets the last laugh in the end (Farajollah, par. 1).
Because of his power to refuse resources, Gennarino often weaponizes food and shelter as a way of getting his own compensation, which is anything from affection to appreciation. After they find a place to rest, Gennarino prohibits Raffaella from entering the hut, ordering her to freeze outside during the remainder of the night (Wertmüller 55:30). Only shortly thereafter, the beast refuses to feed the beauty, stating, “If you want to eat, you must work,” (Wertmüller 59:22). By weaponizing basic resources, Gennarino not only endangers Raffaella, but he also creates a division between the two, one where, as mentioned before, the tables flip.
Much like all of the fears, Gennarino’s weapons are not limited and they are interchangeable. Without the power and dominance, he would not be able to acquire the sex, just as if he were unable to hunt for food and water, he would not be able to empower the blonde beauty. Gennarino, himself, is a weapon. He stands as the predator refusing to let any boundary get in the way, pulling the trigger with every ounce of power possible. And in terms of Raffaella, she is the target. She is the prey, fearful of the weapons “to be held against” her (Rush, “The Weapon”). However, in the end, as Neil Peart puts it, we really do have “nothing to fear but fear itself” (Rush, “The Weapon”).
IV. Witch Hunt
“The righteous rise with burning eyes of hatred and ill-will. Mad men feed on fear and lies to beat and burn and kill; Quick to judge, quick to anger, slow to understand.
Ignorance and prejudice and fear walk hand in hand.”
- Rush’s “Witch Hunt (Part III of Fear)” - Moving Pictures (1981)
When Geddy Lee’s soaring voice roars to exclaim, “and fear walk hand in hand,” my hair raises and goosebumps are sent all over my body. There is something so powerful and truthful about the lyrics in “Witch Hunt” that every human can relate to because we are all guilty of premature frustration and criticization, and in those cases, we often do not take a moment to grasp what the circumstances are, whether it is the homeless fellow laying in the subway begging for a buck or it is the student wearing hand-me-downs because they are unable to afford the “cool” clothes. Walking down the streets of cities, like New York and Philadelphia, it becomes scarce to find another individual that is alike to another, and we often do not appreciate each other for our individuality and uniqueness. In Swept Away, there is no appreciation for one another, as both Gennarino and Raffaella follow the same footsteps as Neil Peart’s lyrical subject(s).
From start to finish, there is a constant sense of critique between Gennarino and Raffaella. In the beginning, we hear the beauty calling out her wealthy traveling companions and their political views (Wertmüller 4:24), and throughout her journeys on and off of the yacht, she is constantly judging others because of their lack of wealth and nobility. In terms of Peart’s words, Raffaella serves as “the righteous”, as she “rises” with power and looks down in dismay at those who she deems are not of her kind (Rush, “Witch Hunt”). However, glancing up at the righteous while simultaneously peering down at those that are not his kind, there lays Gennarino.
As far as Gennarino goes, he criticizes others, but in his case, he chooses to reprimand the wealthy, specifically Raffaella. In a scene where he is sexually assaulting his “sex slave,” Gennarino starts to assume that not only are the rich a class of “perverts” and “pigs,” but he also speculates that Raffaella has cheated on her husband, questioning whether or not it was “three hundred or six hundred times” (Wertmüller 1:19:25). By fitting her into a stereotype, the beast is degrading her individuality and feeding on “fear and lies to beat and burn and kill” (Rush, “Witch Hunt”). The wealthy and the poor judge alike, but as with anyone, fear is the stimulant that is driving us all down the wrong road.
V. “The Age of Fear”
In his article published by Rolling Stone magazine entitled “Why We’re Living in the Age of Fear,” writer Neil Strauss talks about the impact and potency of fear. Even though we exist in “the safest time in human history,” we are simultaneously “living in the most fearmongering time in human history,” according to Barry Glassner, the president of Lewis & Clark College and the author of The Culture of Fear (Strauss, par. 12).
Lindsay Knight states it best: Swept Away is “Wertmüller’s own call of action to humanity” (Knight, par. 9). In her mind, the film is voicing that if we do not punish predators and help victims “regain their freedom”, then we are just “accomplices in the recurring abuse cycle” (Knight, par. 9). The film says, “Yeah, it is scary to understand that there are evil people out there in the world. Here is a little fear of reality. So, what are you doing to do about it?” In today’s society, women - and, sometimes, men - have to fear for their lives from physical and sexual abusers, domestically or otherwise. In the film, the power that Gennarino exerts towards Raffaella should be a wake-up call, and it should make the viewer fearful both in the world of the film and the world of reality. However, there’s only one way to overcome fear: we have to face it.
According to Dr. Noam Shpancer, a specialist in insight therapy, “Exposure is by far the most potent medicine known to psychology” (Shpancer, par. 7). By facing our fears, we learn to deal with the possibilities instead of become more anxious from them, and as a result, we gain a “sense of accomplishment and empowerment” (Shpancer, par. 10), as well as a development of “skill and mastery” (Shpancer, par. 11). If we continue to avoid our fears, then we will continue to drown in the swimming pool of fear, but until then, it’s time to take off our floaties and ride the waves without allowing them to crash upon us.
In terms of humanity, fear is infinite. It is a “disease” waiting to be metaphysically infused into every single one of us, and it is a weapon pointing at society, its target (Strauss, par. 4). The only time that we will never live in fear is the time that we will not be living, and when we open our eyes more and more to the dangers of society and humanity, we start to fear fear. However, until our fate comes and the human race is no longer standing, generation after generation will soak in the same bath and spread the bug that is...fear.
|the author (left) with Jan Harlan, Stanley Kubrick's producer|
“19 Quotes About Facing Your Fears.” SUCCESS, Success Magazine, 31 July 2018, www.success.com/19-quotes-about-facing-your-fears/.
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Storms, Samantha. “Passion’s Dark Side: Roeg’s WALKABOUT vs Wertmüller’s SWEPT AWAY.” Taking Giant Steps, Giant Steps Press, 8 Dec. 2016, giantstepspress.blogspot.com/search?q=swept away.
Strauss, Neil. “Why We're Living in the Age of Fear.” Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/why-were-living-in-the-age-of-fear-190818/.
Wertmüller, Lena, director. Swept Away. YouTube, Medusa Distribuzione, 1974, www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzAEF5g35uw&t=4775s.