As much performance art as cinema, Edward Frenkel and Reine Graves short film The Rites of Love and Math
is an unabashed hommage to Japanese Playwright and Novelist Yukio Mishima's 1966 film Yûkoku ("Patriotism", aka The Rite of Love and Death.) Where Mishima's film is shocking, not only for its graphic sex, and even more graphic seppuku (which foreshadowed Mishima's own suicide four years later and made the film an unreleased, rare, cult curio until given its first commercial release by The Criterion Collection in 2008) due to political strife, the 2010 remake changes to focus to math and science. A mathematician discovers the formula for Love itself, and is beset by the powers that be, possibly to use it as a weapon. In a last ditch effort to protect his secret, he tattoos it on his own lover before committing his own suicide (proving the pen is, well, about equal to the sword.)
Erotic love and violent death have often been entwined on screen, from Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses to Cronenberg's Crash to Djordjevic's Life and Death of Porno Gang. It seems mated to the screen, as in Godard's famous line, "All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun." Here the final lovemaking between the mathematician and his lover is fairly cold, and almost posed, at first leading to the belief that Reines and Frenkel had failed to capture the lightning in a bottle of the original. But the surprise comes from the tattooing, which makes the conventional sex merely seem like foreplay to the ink and integrals which wakes up the erotic (and tactile) possibilities of pure math, itself a form of rapture to those who understand its mysteries (and indeed Frenkel is a Berkeley Mathematics Professor.) Vivid colours and cautious use of sound give things a fresh flavour. The orgasm of Kayshonne Insixieng (the lover and) the recipient of the tattoo seems to be a stand-in for a 'eureka!'
Upon further consideration, the vigour of the final act does indeed echo the original film, it may even be shocking to some to equate mathematical scribblings to wild and dangerous sex in the 21st century as it was for sex and politics (and patriotism) in the 20th century. Either way, the human race has a beautiful way of fucking itself into oblivion in the name of passion and strife.
The Rites of Love and Math will screen along with The Rite of Love and Death tomorrow (December 1st) at The Landmark Shattuck Cinemas in Berekley, California. Although you can watch the haunting 1966 Rite of Love and Death right now, here.
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