Paul is an American trying to recover from the death of his French prostitute wife.
Although he resents her for what she has done to him, he can never overcome his love for her, leading him to a life of contrasting emotions. We know those emotions due to the many reoccurring motifs seen throughout the film. In the film, it is understood that Paul is in a state of confusion that is unbeknownst to us at the time, through Bertolucci capturing him in low-key lighting. In many scenes of the first act of the film, the audience is unable to look at Paul’s face completely due to the overwhelming presence of shadows.For example, when Jeanne goes up to the apartment for the first time she is startled by Paul sitting alone in an empty room in the dark. He is unsure of who he is at this point in his life, if he doesn’t know that, then how or why should anyone else. Shadows are a great way to portray this to an audience because they are only limited to how much they can see of him.
Searching for answers to who you are is a big theme for both characters in the film; the eyes are the best way to read a person. Throughout the film Paul and Jeanne are looking through multiple windows and doorways.Another motif used in the film to display Paul’s uncertainty is having by having him constantly in a scene where Paul and the audience are capable of seeing a reflection of his face, most notably a mirror. His reflection allows to Paul to look at himself and try and figure out who he is or what he has done in the past. There are 2 instances where I believe the inclusion of a mirror and reflection made the scenes unforgettable, the first is the disturbing “butter” scene, and the second is at the conclusion of the film where Jeanne and Paul are at the Tango competition.I see the mirrors as a fore-shadow that a different emotion or “personality” is present of Paul. In the first scene mentioned, nothing seemed out of the ordinary when Jeanne came back, Paul was 2 sitting by himself eating, but she opens a dresser door and we see the reflection of devilish look on Paul’s face.
An uneasy feeling takes over, and something odd is going to occur. The second scene is the scene in the Tango hall, with mirrors lining up the walls inside, the feeling of something unknown returns.Of course, by the end of the film Paul has completely changed, and wants to start a new life with Jeanne, but he has only become obsessed with her and chases her down the streets of Paris. What makes this so powerful is that the audience is left thinking whether he is the same way he as the entire film or is he actually the person he sees in the mirror at the end. What makes the character of Paul so unique and interesting is all the different emotions this man has gone through in his recent years.There are times when he is lonely, confused, happy, sad, and especially scared, it seems that at any moment he can change into a different mood. When Paul and Jeanne first meet, Paul already has a wall up from getting to know another women, because he has been deeply scarred by his wife’s affairs, Paul had lost his belief in love.
He is terrified to open up and talk to Jeanne on a more personal level; Jeanne only tells him her name right before Paul is shot. The risk of being hurt by another women is the reason why Paul always preferred never to talk about there past personal lives.
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