Three bodies. Decomponsed, Mutilated beyond recognition.

Visual Art by Haylee Kopfensteiner

Three bodies. Decomposed. Mutilated beyond recognition. is a creative response to Danny Boyle’s 1995 film Shallow Grave. The painting interprets the relationship between the films main characters: David, Juliet, and Alex to show how their interactions both mimic and subverts the common cultural trope of the erotic triangle.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick writes in her book Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire that the erotic triangle is “a sensitive register precisely for delineating relationships of power and meaning, and for making graphically intelligible the play of desire and identification by which individuals negotiate with their societies for empowerment” (27). Within the context of the film, Danny Boyle and John Hodge have created a triangular relationship between Alex, Juliet, and David that examines a power dynamic in which the woman is an active participant along with the two men. In order to highlight this relationship Three bodies places three figures into a visual triangle. Despite the implied sexual undertones created by the nudity and the physical closeness of the bodies in the painting, there is no intimacy present. They are turned away from each other and although the images overlap visually, the figures do not actually touch. The composition of the bodies in the painting works to showcase this false sense of connection between the characters in the film. 

Even more important is the portrayal of the female figure. As opposed to being static symbols of desire or objects at the top of a pyramid, Juliet and the female figure are both active within their respective triangles. Sedgwick notes that “Girard traced a calculus of power that was structured by the relation of rivalry between the two active members of the erotic triangle” (21, emphasis mine). Shallow Grave though, allows the traditionally objectified woman to become the third active member in these interactions. In an attempt to gain the place of chief influence within the group, Juliet takes advantage of her sexuality and the unspoken desire that both men have for her. Although she jokes with Alex that she is “just a girl,” with no knowledge about what happens around her, she very clearly views herself as taking action within the group. Hence, why in Three bodies, the female figure is not only placed at the top of the pyramid but posed in a dynamic position, as though she is dancing. But just as Juliet becomes a failed femme fatal in the film, so does the woman in the painting. Her ballet positioning is messy and clumsy as she fails to receive acknowledgement beyond that of the viewer due of the lack of genuine touch and intimacy as well as the absence of seeing eyes. Both the woman in the painting and Juliet wear their sexuality like a costume, obscuring any true intentions in pursuit of social power.