"Here Comes the Sun?" Persephone's Winter and the Gendered Construction of Myth
by Phil Wagner
So mighty was the mother's childless cry,
A cry that rang thro' Hades, Earth, and Heaven!
-Alfred Tennyson, "Demeter & Persephone"
Persephone's Winter is a condensed portrait of the abduction of Persephone-the Goddess of Spring and daughter of Demeter, Goddess of the harvest-by Pluto, God of the Underworld. This screen adaptation of the Greek myth is filtered through the agonized perspectives of the bereft mother and the kidnapped daughter.
The film opens on the "childless cry" described in the above Tennyson quote. This opening shot prefaces the grim mood of the piece, which is amplified by Nick Sladovich's haunting original score. Screams become the structural glue of the narrative, a story unified by intense expressions of female dread.
Shots of distinct yet thematically related spaces mobilize the sparse narrative, and the absence of establishing shots creates a sense of spatial and causal uncertainty. Denying the viewer clearly-defined spatial coordinates creates a subjective atmosphere without classical signifiers like point-of-view shots. I agree with Noel Burch that "disorientation is one of a filmmaker's most valuable tools," and Persephone's Winter attempts to communicate interior emotions through disorienting techniques.
In the second shot, for instance, we see a high angle of a horrified Persephone supine on a wooden desk. While Pluto eyes her from across the room, she shivers and covers her face. Although seemingly an 'objective' angle, the grotesque portrayal of Pluto and the scene's conspicuously stylized low-key lighting convey an expressionistic sense of Persephone's anguish.
The film's absence of spatial unity draws the viewer's attention to the dialectical relationship between objects and actions. For example, after Persephone eats the fateful pomegranate seed, the film cuts to the 'Underworld,' as the chuckling Pluto moves towards off-screen right (which is presumably inhabited by Persephone). This predatory advance is matched by the dislocated space with the screaming Demeter, and followed again by the ominous Underworld, with Pluto's menacing shadow lingering on the cement wall.
The film recycles in order to interrogate the traditionally sexualized image of Persephone. The film attempts to address the gendered construction of myth, and deconstruct the myth's traditional representation of femininity. The work stresses the story's bleaker implications: how winter (and hence more rape) will always await poor Persephone. Traditionally, the regeneration of the harvest punctuates the tale. Instead of ending with verdant fields (the classic interpretive model), the grim, paradoxical image of Demeter giving birth to nothingness punctuates this narrative.
1 Tennyson, Alfred. "Demeter and Persephone." The Major Victorian Poets: Tennyson, Browning, Arnold. Ed. William E. Buckler. 235.
2 For a brief and engaging summary of the myth, See Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths: Volume One. Middlesex: Penguin, 1955. 89-96.
3 Burch, Noel. Theory of Film Practice. Trans. Helen R. Lane. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1973. 10.
Phil Wagner is a second year M.A. student in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at UCLA. His short films have appeared in Detroit's Museum of New Art Film and Video Festival (2004), the Western Michigan Film Festival (2005) and The UCLA Critical Media Film Festival (2007).