Sunday, August 12, 2012

The horror of beauty

Everybody yearns for beauty, everybody is afraid of horror. Ok, not everybody… Talking about beauty and horror means to talk about emotions and aesthetics. For some reason, our theme is not beauty OR horror, but the two are connected by an AND. Both, beauty and horror, have several layers of meaning: biological, cultural and moral ones. We all remember: The Trojan War was caused by the perfect beauty of Helena. Beauty signifies something blooming in its ideal state. Still, horror is not the opposite of beauty. Like evil descends from something good that is hindered to flourish, horror is a later state of beauty. Horror is prevented, lost or destroyed beauty. „Beauty is nothing but the beginning of horror” - as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote. Horror is beauty in its state of decadence.

I will never forget one of the biggest moments of horror I experienced as a young man. It occurred when watching just a great movie, but it was a sudden and deep understanding of a shocking truth of real life that was symbolised in this movie-scene. Maybe you know the film The Shining made by Stanley Kubrick (a real expert of horror and beauty). In one scene at the closed Overlook Hotel, the lonely writer Jack Torrance enters the empty room 237 because he has heard a noise inside. To his surprise, an unknown beautiful young woman is having a shower in the bathroom. She stares at him without any fear (although she is naked). Jack, the crazy young writer, does not think long, carefully takes her into his arms without a word and tries to kiss her. But when he catches a glance into the big mirror behind them she breaks out in a loud laughter. He sees himself holding an old and ugly virago disfigured by disgusting skin diseases in his arms.

When I saw this scene for the first time I was at least as shocked as the main character of the film (played by Jack Nicholson). It was not the surprising effect of the scene or the sudden change in the lady. I was also not confused by the missing connection of the scene to the main plot of the film. I was shocked because in this second I understood the truth in this symbolic scene: That beauty and horror are no opposites but different states of the same power; that the young beauty and the sick ugly virago are only different aspects of it.

(Watch this scene only if you have strong nerves ...)

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