From Plato to Robert Louis Stevenson and Joseph Conrad to William Golding, one of the most enduring leitmotifs in the history of Western Culture has been the duality of man and how, beneath a civilised and housebroken exterior, lurks a creature with a truly terrifying capacity for debasement, savagery and chaos. One of the reasons for the popularity of this dualistic conception of human nature is that the idea of humanity being suspended between two points allows different cultures to position the points wherever they choose. For example, for the Platonists, these points were positioned in intellectual real of the Forms and the sensual world of the flesh allowing Platonists to talk about the need for humanity to aspire to the examined life of the mind. This denigration of the body proved convenient when Plato entered the Christian bloodstream through thr works of Plotinus and Augustine allowing the life of the mind to be replaced with the life of the spirit and the pursuit of Salvation. One of the peculiarities of dualism as a cultural trope is the tendency for people to present man’s duality as an essentially moral problem with one pole representing moral rectitude and the other pole representing all that is base and horrid about human nature. It is telling that, when Golding’s schoolboys are freed from the fetters of civilisation, they immediately turn to killing each other and not to making great art, thinking great thoughts or just fucking the living shit out of each other. The tension between the fundamental amorality of the dualist conception of human nature and our tendency to see this duality in strictly moral terms is one that is present in many adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) as for every adaptation that has presented Hyde as an evil psychopath there is an adaptation that presents him as a free spirit to whom the laws of society (for good or ill) simply do not apply. This notion that man’s inner savage need not necessarily be evil is one that is emerging as absolutely central to the films of Fred Cavaye.
Cavaye’s First film Anything for Her (2008) (a.k.a. Tout Pour Elle) tells the story of a man whose wife is sent to prison for a crime she did not commit. Rendered incapable of functioning by the loss of his wife, the film’s mild-mannered protagonist sets about reinventing a new identity for himself that will allow him to break his wife out of prison. Events rip away the character’s veneer of bourgeois rectitude, but while the inner savage allows the character to do some genuinely terrible things, the film never passes judgement on him because what he does he does out of love and because he is ultimately in the right.
Cavaye’s second film as writer/director Point Blank (a.k.a. A Bout Portant) sees him return to this same moral hypothesis: Men and women are born divided. On the one hand, we are civilised beings who love each other, hate violence and generally follow the rules. On the other hand, we are uncivilised beings who will stop at nothing in order to defend what we have and get what we want. Because we live in a society that protects us and enforces ‘civilised’ values, we tend to keep our uncivilised natures in check: We do not murder, we do not steal and we do not fuck the living shit out of each other at the drop of a hat. However, should civilisation fail us then our animalistic character will come to the fore. What makes animalistic actions morally reprehensible is not their violence, their destructiveness or their anti-social character but their motivation. In Point Blank as in Anything for Her, Cavaye believes that there is nothing that is not permissible as long as it is done out of love.