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Posts Tagged ‘Shrek’

True Love’s Kiss and Happily Ever After: the religion of love in American film
by Jyoti Raghu

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In this article, I investigate romantic love in American film as a site for experiencing a divine presence in the immanent everyday experiences of love, marriage and family (Williams, Dante 6, 8, 40; Williams, Outlines 7, 9, 14, 17, 29).[1] To explore this theme I focus on the “kiss” in romantic love scenes in American films. To me the kiss in film is symbolic of a potential theological event where divine grace may infuse itself on the lovers, making their lives sacramental. I explore how the kiss can offer theological insight into how romantic love transforms into a window of grace, beauty and glory through which a divine light shines through the sacrament of love (Williams, Outlines 17, 29).

I shall draw theoretically upon several intellectual threads, including courtly love and romantic literature, Christian theology and theological aesthetics, and postmodern theory. Then, rather than look at romantic comedy per se, I shall focus on two different genres and film series, the action-adventure Matrix trilogy, and the Shrek quadrilogy of animated fairy-tales. I look at these films because I am interested in popular films of different genres where romantic love plays a substantial part. Furthermore, the kiss is central to the love plot in both film series and thus they offer good examples of how the kiss functions romantically and theologically. I shall finally briefly visit two romantic comedy films, The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Something’s Gotta Give, to see how religious discourse plays out in romantic films.

Before I begin, I note two qualifications. First, this article presupposes and is written within a Christian theological and religious framework, though not adopting or espousing a Christian worldview. I do argue, though, that this Christian framework has left its legacy on modern and postmodern Western culture, including on romantic love and film. Second, while also treating other religious traditions and other international film cultures would enhance this investigation, unfortunately my own lack of expertise in either field limits me to a discussion of Christianity, postmodernity, and romantic love in American film. I hope, however, that this article may spur those with expertise in other traditions and cultures to take on similar investigations.

Courtly Love, Christian mysticism, and romantic theology

In his now dated work The Allegory of Love, C.S. Lewis writes of a “religion of love” as one aspect present in the European medieval genre then called courtly love literature, which, according to Lewis, is the precursor of romantic love literature (18).[2] He notes that this religion of love, as well as other aspects of the courtly love tradition, have informed and still inform our conceptions of love and romance, particularly in art and literature (Lewis 1-3). A glance at American film, past and present, would seem to validate Lewis’ idea. Not only is romantic comedy an ever-popular film genre, but romance seems to play its part in many American films. The search for true love, a soul-mate and a happily ever after, sometimes as the telos and summum bonum of life, seems to be an idea which dominates popular culture and which plays itself out as the preoccupation of many films. Moreover, this experience of love, in popular culture and in film, bears almost a sacred, salvific quality. [End Page 2]

According to Lewis and other noted scholars, courtly love literature, and the religion of love within it, has not been derived from the Western Christian tradition nor the mystical tradition, where mystics use erotic language and the sentiments and experiences of human, romantic love to describe divine encounters and the soul’s relationship with God (Boase 35, 85, 109; Lewis 18, 40). Courtly love and romantic literature from the medieval and early modern period only borrow the language and sentiments of Christian discourse for use in a completely different and profane direction (Boase 109-11; Perella 89-90). The two literatures are not analogous, partly because they differ in the object of love, one of which is human, and finite, the other which is divine, and infinite (Boase 83-85, 109-11). Moreover, the medieval Christian Church had no interest in promoting passion or romance within or outside marriage, while a staple of courtly love literature is passionate expression and desire (Lewis 13-17). Indeed, sometimes courtly love literature could be sacrilegious, extolling the virtues of secular love and erotic or sexual delight while mocking religious chastity and ascetic devotion (Lewis 18). According to this theory, courtly love or the religion of love and the Christian religion run counter to each other.

No doubt there is truth to this thesis. We need only to glance at the plethora of romantic comedy films to recognize this. A good majority of them do seem to worship and venerate this ideal of romantic love, particularly as the acme of human experience and fulfillment. Nevertheless, it would also do us good to question if that is all there is to it, or if there is some connection and relevance to experiences and discourses that have taken place within the Christian tradition, and even more so, if they might not bear some theological meaning and value.

For example, there are striking similarities between courtly love and early modern love poetry and Christian mystical discourse (Perella 85, 268-69). In Christian mystical discourse, as stated above, mystics often not only use erotic language and imagery, but also the sentiments and experience of human, sensual love to describe their experiences of God, from the biblical Song of Songs to the ecstasies of Saint Theresa (Perella 38-40). There is talk of love, sensual delight, passion, and ecstatic union with the beloved, which is here God or Christ (Perella 34-36). Moreover, in figurative art there is the same ambiguity, where representations of divine love or the soul’s relation to God are depicted in human amatory fashion (Perella 33). Since the two discourses existed side-by-side, and scholars acknowledge that the courtly love tradition may have borrowed language and sentiments from Christian discourse, is it not possible that when these sentiments are “secularized” within a human, romantic framework, that they might not bear a remnant or a surplus of meaning of the tradition from which they have borrowed? Likewise, could Christian mystical discourse not also bear a remnant of human erotic experience as well, insomuch as the two might appear more similar than believed in both cases? Why could the influence not flow in both directions? Why could courtly and romantic love literature not have influenced religious thinking, and why could it not become a bearer of actual religious meaning and experience?

Within the romantic love tradition itself some Christian writers do correlate human and divine experiences of love. One may help to lead to or understand the other, and they are inseparable in meaning under a Christian conception of love (Lewis 35, 41; Perella 86-90, 261). In the works of medieval authors such as Andreas Capellanus, for example, courtly love was a chaste and ennobling discipline, whose end was grace bestowed by the lady, grace that elevated the knight to blessedness (Lewis 33; Perella 100). But this [End Page 3] blessedness was not just in a secular sphere, or for secular delights or ends, but was a complement to Christianity: without Christian virtue and practice one could not attain the lady’s benediction. Service to the lady was also thought to develop Christian virtues, such as humility, faith, and devotion (Perella 116-20).

The exemplum of the fusion of human romantic and divine love, however, would be Dante. According to twentieth century English (Christian) writer and poet Charles Williams, there is a theological tradition of romantic love, or a romantic theology, present in poets and artists, of which Dante is the greatest figure (Williams, Dante 91-93; Williams Outlines 7). For Williams, due to the Incarnation of Christ in the world and in the flesh, all human experiences bear a spiritual significance; through Christ’s presence, they become possibilities of divine manifestation and an infusion of grace (Williams, Outlines 9, 15). For Williams this is particularly acute in romantic experience, including sexual love, particularly in marriage (Williams, Outlines 7-9). The experience of this love-feeling has a sacred aura to it that leads to God. There is something about the encounter with the human beloved that facilitates not only divine encounter, transcendence and grace, but also spiritual growth, devotion, and holiness. Williams writes:

The heart is often so shaken by the mere contemplation of the beloved that it is not conscious of anything beyond its own delight. The whole person of the lover is possessed by a new state of consciousness; love is born in him….But in this state of love he sees and contemplates the beloved as the perfection of living things: love is bestowed by her smile; she is its source and its mother. She appears to him, as it were, archetypal, the alpha and omega of creation…the first-created of God. (Williams, Outlines 16)

Moving from Dante’s experience of Beatrice and the medieval experience of romantic love where passion, even sexual feeling, can be ennobled to a spiritual vision of beauty, the profane here is rendered into a beatific vision, where the two loves meld and mix into one.

Moreover, this vision has the capacity to see the human transformed to the divine, while remaining as it is. Williams continues:

Not certainly of herself is she anything but as being glorious in the delight taken in her by the Divine Presence that accompanies her, and yet is born of her; which created her and is helpless as a child in her power. However in all other ways she may be full of error or deliberate evil, in the eyes of the lover, were it but for a moment, she recovers her glory, which is the glory that Love had with the Father before the world was. (Williams, Outlines 16-17)

Just as in the Eucharist the material bread and wine come to bear the flesh and blood of Christ, so the beloved through love becomes a theophany or window to the divine, remaining what she is yet also being more than this. She becomes sanctified and becomes the locus of sanctification through an experience of divine beauty. He finally explains this romantic theology:

This experience does at once, as it were, establish itself as the centre of life. Other activities are judged and ordered in relation to it; they take on a dignity [End Page 4] and seem to be worthwhile because of some dignity and worth which appears to be inherent in life itself—life being the medium by which love is manifested. A lover will regard his own body and its functions as beautiful and hallowed by contact with hers….His intellectual powers will be renewed and quickened in the same way. And—if Romantic Theology is correct—his soul itself will enter upon a new state, becoming conscious of that grace of God which is otherwise, for so many, difficult to appreciate. (Williams, Outlines 17)

As in the Incarnation or God coming to the world and flesh through Christ, so these everyday experiences of love and marriage are the very site through which life can be experienced as having a deeper divine reality; indeed, without the Incarnation or these divine hierophanies in the everyday, we would not really understand the divine at all. There is a religious spirit in love, to which poets, especially Dante, have born witness (Williams, Outlines 56). Interpreting Dante’s writings, particularly The New Life and The Comedy, through the lens of romantic theology, Williams again asserts the possibility of romantic love experience as a means of Christian grace. He notes that Dante’s first visions of Beatrice awaken a caritas and agape or Christian charity and love in him, and inspire a beatitude (Williams, Dante 94-97, 108). In The Comedy, she leads him not only to divine contemplation, but also to redemption and salvation because she inspires holiness and virtue within him, an in-Godding or taking of the self into God (Williams, Dante 107-08).

The important things to note about Williams’ romantic theology is that he finds the sacred in a common everyday experience, here of romantic love, and finds this also to be a means of sanctity and redemption (Williams, Dante 111). He writes that “holiness may be reached by the obvious ways as well as by the more secret.” (Williams, Outlines 46). If we neglect the spiritual meaning of these experiences, then according to him, we neglect a way of sanctity (Williams, Dante 111). Furthermore, since according to Christian tradition marriage is a sacrament of the church, it bears the possibility of bestowing grace, and of experiencing other sacraments, including the Eucharist (Williams, Outlines 36-37). Through married life, a couple may experience not only Christ’s manifestation and grace, but may relive the sacred experiences of Christ’s life through their marriage (Williams, Outlines 14). However, while they experience this transcendence and grace, the experience also remains human and immanent. It is not an allegory, or merely symbolic; as Beatrice, it remains what it is, two human beings living together, as well as something more (Williams, Dante 109).

This theme of romantic love and the intertwining of sacred and profane can also be found in Robert Polhemus’ treatment of 19th and early 20th century British literature in his work Erotic Faith: Being in Love from Jane Austen to D.H Lawrence. Though I would disagree with Polhemus’ thesis that erotic faith in the British novels of this period is primarily a “religion of love” at odds with and supplanting traditional Christian faith, Polhemus’ work highlights the continuance of the courtly and romantic love strain in literature, and also the inextricable links in this literature between eros or erotic faith and religion, religious experience, and religious language (1-6, 22-24). For Polhemus the novel itself is a trajectory of the erotic and erotic faith (3). Though Polhemus characterizes this erotic faith in love as tenser, more complex, more uncertain, and less positive than the “happily ever after” trajectory of romantic love in American films which links them to themes of grace and redemption, nevertheless Polhemus’ work also attests to the power of [End Page 5] this erotic faith and belief and desire in the power of love, particularly to redeem and save (or damn in its absence), and its inextricability with traditional Christian theological ideals such as salvation and martyrdom (1-6, 47, 169). Whether it be the chastening and spiritualization of the erotic in Jane Austen (ch.2), the romantic passionate desire for ecstasy and union in Emily Brontë (ch.4), the attempted melding of the romantic, erotic and Christian in Charlotte Brontë (ch.5), the cult of domesticity and family in Victorian novelists such as Dickens (ch.6), the intertwining of the erotic with Christian themes of sacrifice in George Eliot (ch.7), the interconnection of the vulgar and holy in Joyce (ch.10), or the proclamation of the holy in the erotic and sexual in D.H Lawrence (ch.11), Polhemus underlines the importance of erotic love and desire in the lives of the characters, its ennobling and salvific (and sometimes dangerous) potential, particularly for the male, and its tensions with traditional Christianity (1-6, 10-12, 15, 47, 128, 249). Thus Polhemus’ work further supports and attests to this legacy of the intertwining of theological and erotic discourse, which carries over into romance in film.

We may ask at this point what all this has to do with romantic film. I draw upon these authors and traditions simply to assert that there also has existed a Christian tradition from Dante onwards that did not see human romantic love and divine love as contradictory, but as part of the same continuum, or that may have fused the two experiences. It not only used erotic imagery and love sentiments to describe divine encounters, but saw in the human experience of romantic love a shadow of the divine and a means of grace. This tradition, instead of disavowing passion, eroticism, and devotion or sublimating it to divine being, exalts this passion and eroticism within human relationships as a means to the divine; in other words, eros is also a part of the Christian way to salvation (Williams, Dante 111). Indeed, as theologian Richard Niebuhr has explained in his work Christ and Culture, within Christian history and tradition, there have been positive understandings of the relationship between Christ and human culture and society. In these views, human culture has its positive value, worth and goodness, where one sees within the human something of the divine, and where the human can become a bearer of divine meaning and significance.

This deeper meaning to romantic love still exists as a remnant and possibility in modern representations, including in romantic film. Though we exist in a secular or post-secular era, Christianity has left its legacy on culture and in art and literature. This deeper religious meaning in romantic literature is one legacy that can be observed in romantic film as well. Moreover, I think this becomes even more relevant in our (Western) postmodern era, where a focus on and an exaltation of everyday life and experience, sometimes to a sacred level, becomes possible. After the “death of God” (particularly a Christian, transcendent God), Western religious discourse has to be displaced to a human, immanent, secular level. Because of this courtly love tradition and its connection with Christian discourse, and this theology of romantic love that also runs through it, romantic love in our postmodern era, particularly in film, has become a bearer onto which religious discourse has been displaced. In reverse of the original situation, human, secular language and sentiment now may be used to describe religious experience and to engage in religious discourse. [End Page 6]

 A Theological Aesthetics of Popular Culture and Romantic Love

Theological explorations of religion and film often treat issues such as theodicy, suffering, sin, evil, the demonic, or alienation; or they often explore themes of larger relevance such as oppression, injustice, war, violence, and gender.[3] Treatments often deal with alienation and religious or spiritual experience as occluded, particularly in postmodernity (Coates 17-18). Often scholars hold the view that theologically relevant films must be those that unsettle us from complacency and force us to confront the complexities, i.e. evils, in human existence (Jasper 242-44; Deacy, Faith 23-24, 26). Films that provide entertainment and pleasure, or make us happy, are sometimes judged as mere “wish-fulfillment” fantasies, considered too “trivial,” escapist and illusory to warrant theological and academic inquiry (Deacy, Faith 25-26, 30-31).

Yet, as is the case with the courtly love tradition, Christian mystical discourse, and romantic theology, there is also another side to Christian theology, one that explores goodness and beauty, and sees in the humanly good and beautiful an expression of the divine in the human. According to this theology, to dismiss the beautiful, or here joyous, as something unimportant is to make life miserable, mean, and barren (Häring 338). This view contrariwise explores God’s goodness and love in His relation to human beings and the universe.

Christian theological aesthetics delves more into this theme. It concerns itself with the relationship of God with art and beauty, and with God as perceived and experienced through beauty and art. It often speaks of God’s glory, which includes and is inseparable from God’s beauty, and joy; glory is beautiful, the beautiful is full of joy, and a theology without joy is impossible (Barth 316-19). Beauty points to fact that being is in essence joyous (Viladesau 363). Pleasure and enjoyment are also experienced with God’s beauty (Moltmann 334). To believe in any finite beauty is to believe in the reality of the Absolute, or God; otherwise, joy becomes groundless and illusory (Viladesau 363). Without beauty, we lose our way to God, which makes us miss God’s glory here and now (Chittister 366). Indeed we must surround ourselves with beauty because beauty brings out that the best in life really possible (Chittister 367). Likewise, this beauty is more than just pleasant. Theologically speaking, divine beauty is often linked with truth and goodness (Häring 338-339). What is beautiful is also true, is also good.

Gratitude is likewise integral to the enjoyment of this presence of beauty, which manifests God’s glory (Moltmann 334). Gratitude for beauty and openness to its message are of utmost importance in the sacramental (Christian) life (Häring 341). Anyone who allows the beautiful in knows that life is a meaningful, wonderful gift, a gift of divine grace (Häring 342). God’s gifts of grace transform and enable us to see all things in light of beauty (Navone 358). Furthermore, since nothing exists that we have not been freely and lovingly given, in all creation is a motive for gratitude (Navone 356). God’s gifts manifest God’s will which is God’s love (Navone 357). Eros, a more intimate passionate love and desire than agape, is integral to our worship of God, religious life, and religious commitment, and also integral to God’s love for us (McFague 346-47; Balthasar 322). Without this passion and intimacy, love, human and divine, becomes cold and sterile (McFague 347).

Christian theological aesthetics often link art as the locus for experiencing this divine glory and beauty, and also link (human) beauty and pleasure (in the work of art) [End Page 7] with the divine. Works of art becomes sites for theophanies, where the divine manifests itself; the art form thus remains itself yet becomes more than itself (Bird 3).[4] This often manifests as an event, an encounter in which the divine presence reveals itself to us through itself.[5] The human representation in its finitude thus becomes a sign and symbol of something more beautiful and divine, expressed humanly through art (Balthasar 320). The real and original experience of beauty and joy in the work of art becomes analogous to a higher and more comprehensive experience of divine beauty and joy (Rahner 220-21).

Film can also be a very good medium for manifesting the divine. Experiencing pleasure in film images can open the viewer up to experiences of the beautiful, which lead to experiences of the good and true (Verbeek 172-177). Moreover, film is a total experience, operating on multiple levels. It works on us on a semi-conscious level that viscerally affects us as an embodied experience (Plate 59-60; Marsh 95-101). Emotion, sentiment and mood color our experience of film (Tan and Frijda, 51-55; Marsh 87-95; G. Smith 111-117). It affects us through images which cause emotional reflection (T. Martin 120). This emotional, immediate experience links it with all art in making it amenable to divine encounter (O’Meara, 213). It is a more totalizing experience than other forms of art (T. Martin 46), which may make it easier to experience the beautiful, which we are to experience in the totality of our being (Häring 338). Films also make us see in new ways through the more careful lens of the film experience (T. Martin 139; Plate 57), which may allow us to see the holy, or divine goodness present within them (Johnston, Reel n. pag.).[6]

When film becomes a site for divine manifestation, it shows us the divine possibilities for God’s manifestation anywhere and everywhere in a world-affirming way, including in everyday life (Greeley 92, 93, 95). Popular culture can be important theologically because it shows us how people may be experiencing the holy in everyday life. In an era of postmodernity (or post-post), popular culture in embodied life is the medium with which most people relate, and the site in which groups such as Generation X are having religious experiences (Lynch, After 96-102, 112-121). It can allow the divine presence through images which a postmodern audience may perceive and understand as potentially sacred.[7] What is necessary is a theological aesthetics of popular culture that relates it to everyday life in order to explore how popular cultural forms may enable transcendent experiences of encounter and also beauty, pleasure, and joy (Lynch, Understanding 189-194).

Furthermore, in the postmodern era, the divine encounter may be displaced, represented and manifested differently through popular culture, in secular or human forms that bespeak the same reality and experience in a form more comprehensible and authentic to a postmodern, secular audience (Eliade, “Artist” 179-80; Deacy n. pag).[8] With the focus on personal experience of the self and the aesthetic inner life in postmodernity, theophanies that flow through human forms and narratives in film may be more effective art forms (Lynch, “Sociology” n. pag.). [9] Pop or rock music may work better than classical, and embodied narrative styles than the abstract.[10] Most importantly, exploring divine manifestation through forms of everyday life allows us to view this life sacramentally, to see it possibly in a higher light as a manifestation of God’s beauty, joy, love, and glory infused with grace (Greeley 17, 92, 93, 95).

Popular films are an extension of the theological value of popular culture. In postmodernity, Hollywood and popular film also can provoke religious experience of the sacred (Graham, “Theology” 36, 41; Johnston, “Theological” n. pag.).[11] Romantic love, [End Page 8] because of its history with the courtly love tradition, Christian mystical discourse, and romantic theology, seems to be one bearer of this remnant of Christian theological aesthetics, where a divine beauty may be perceived to manifest itself in the forms of everyday life in film. The love of a divine Other may be held to manifest and represent itself through love of a human other. Indeed, as in romantic theology, in an era where Jesus struggles with temptations of marriage and family in The Last Temptation of Christ and where he is married in The Da Vinci Code,[12] romantic love, marriage, family, even sex, are not perceived as antithetical to or precluding manifestations of God’s presence in film. Moreover, discourse on love in film sometimes may stand in for discourse on religion. This shows us that the love story in postmodernity can sometimes bear the remnants of the former Christian story about grace and redemption.

The Sacramental Kiss in Romantic Films: The Matrix and Shrek

According to early Christian scholars, the kiss did hold meaning in Greco-Roman society. Often erotic and shared privately within the family, public kissing for reasons of friendship and reconciliation was also practiced (Klassen 126-27; Penn 6, 10; Phillips 5-6). But with early Christianity the kiss took on new meaning and importance, being not only practiced but discussed in the writings of Church Fathers such as Tertullian, Clement, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Augustine (Penn, passim). From New Testament origins in St. Paul’s writings, the kiss finds itself in the Christian liturgy or worship service by the second century. Begun as a greeting among Christian brethren at church, by the fourth century it also found its way into the Eucharist and into Christian baptism (Perella 17-18; Phillips 7, 16-17, 27). It could thus be viewed as a means of the infusion of grace (Perella 43; Phillips 30). The kiss was also known as the kiss of peace, or pax, and thus was viewed as a form of communion, reconciliation, and forgiveness; the kiss of peace established concord and unity (Klassen 135; Penn 43-47). Moreover, from Greco-Roman times the kiss was thought to contain a magical-mystical meaning, thought of as a means of spiritual exchange; in Christianity it signified an exchange of souls (Penn 20, 37, 40-41; Perella 5, 26-28; Phillips 5). In Christianity the kiss thus also obtains a pneumatological significance; a kiss was a way of exchanging Christ’s spirit, and also of sharing the Holy Spirit (Perella 15-19; Phillips 8-11). The kiss must also arise from the heart in true affection; if it did not, then it could become the Judas kiss of betrayal, instead of the kiss of peace (Penn 65, 112-18; Perella 28). Though Christian authorities attempted to regulate the kiss’s erotic possibilities, at one time banning the kiss between members of the opposite sex (Penn 13, 80, 110-12; Phillips 24), a certain eroticism may have still remained, particularly evidenced through the use of the dove as the symbol of the kiss of peace and the Holy Spirit transferred thereby, since the dove also held erotic connotations in Greco-Roman culture (Penn 48-49; Perella 253-57).

In the Christian mystical tradition and in courtly love and romantic literature, the kiss conceit also continues. The erotic kiss could symbolize the kiss of God to the human, or the embrace of the soul with God (Perella 31-38). The kiss could also represent the completion of mystical experience, or illumination and an infusion of grace (Perella 43-45, 52-58). In medieval courtly love literature, while the kiss becomes profane, and perhaps [End Page 9] more erotic, it still appears, partially in the idea of a union of hearts or souls, and exchange of spirits (Perella, 90-91, 95-96). The kiss could also exemplify the telos of the devotion, and could signify a bestowal of grace or benediction, this time by the lady (Perella 101, 116). This idea of an exchange of hearts or souls in the kiss, and the kiss as an ecstatic moment, continues into love poetry during the Renaissance and Baroque periods (Perella 181, 184, 189).

 The Matrix trilogy

The kiss is central to the Matrix films. This kiss theme is more than just romantic; it is salvific, having a resurrecting power. In the first movie of the trilogy, when it appears as if agent Smith has killed Neo, Trinity tells Neo:

I’m not afraid anymore. The oracle told me that I would fall in love and that that man, the man that I loved, would be the one. So you see, you can’t be dead, you can’t be, because I love you.

Then Trinity gives him a kiss, and his heart revives. Getting up again, Neo suddenly is able to fight the agents without effort. He can stop bullets; as Morpheus says, “He’s beginning to believe” that he is the One, and acts accordingly. He is able to defeat the agent by going into his body and causing the agent to implode.

It is love that gives Neo the power to be the One, love as expressed through the kiss. This kiss thus is more than just a kiss; it confers a supernatural power. Moreover, Trinity’s name, as a representation of the Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, must be significant here, as it is Trinity’s love that repeatedly saves Neo. But the kiss is pivotal as the symbol through which this resurrecting power of love occurs. The kiss is thus salvific, and transforms Neo into the One.

This romantic love through the kiss develops further in the next film, The Matrix Reloaded. First, since Trinity and Neo’s love has already proven salvific, the erotic love scene between them shows us the importance of eros, intimate passion and desire, in romantic love, but also perhaps in something deeper, in our religious devotion and experience. It shows eros as a necessary aspect of human and divine love (McFague 346, 347; Greeley 165). This passion, since it is expressed by Neo the Savior, is not just a human passion but perhaps also a divine one (Balthasar 323).

In The Matrix Reloaded, the Merovingian, the dastardly Frenchmen, also acts as one foil to Neo. He explains his philosophy of life thus:

Causality—there is no escape from it. We are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the why… why is the only real source of power. Without it you are powerless and this is how you come to me…another link in the chain.

What the Merovingian represents is a mechanistic universe of necessity, of rational and logical calculation, control, and manipulation. It is not only without eros, but without joy, [End Page 10] beauty, or love, and thus without goodness or truth. Neo, contrariwise, acts out of love and passion, here exemplified by his love for Trinity, which is what makes him a savior. Persephone, the Merovingian’s wife, and symbolic in her namesake, the Greek goddess who inhabits the underworld, is willing to help Neo if he gives her a kiss, that is, if he brings that passion, love and beauty back into her life and resurrects her. She explains:

You love her [Trinity]; she loves you. It’s all over you both. A long time ago I knew what that felt like. I want to remember it, I want to sample it. That’s all.

She also tells Neo that he has “to make me believe I am her.” The first kiss is terrible, but then Neo gives Persephone a long kiss as if she were Trinity, and she agrees to help them.

Neo then enters the Matrix and meets the architect. The architect also tells Neo that all the previous five anomalies were created to be attached to humanity, but declares that “while the others experienced this in a very general way, your experience is far more specific vis-à-vis love.” The architect refers to love as

an emotion, designed specifically to overwhelm logic and reason, an emotion that is already blinding you from the simple and obvious truth—she is going to die and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

He also calls hope “the quintessential human delusion.” Yet Neo chooses the door back to the Matrix, rushes to Trinity, and catches her just in time. Though she appears to die, Neo says, “I’m not letting go. I can’t. I love you too damn much.” This time, he resurrects her. She says, “I guess this makes us even,” and they kiss.

The architect, similar to the Merovingian, is interested in logic and reason, control and balance, not in love, joy or desire. What is missing in this technological means-end world is beauty and joy; here we value efficiency instead (Chittister 366). But Neo, as the sixth anomaly, is different, because he does love, and in a passionate, intimate way, exemplifying this love and passion in a way that shows how grace and love transcend this world of efficiency and utility, filling it with delight and lifting spirits (Häring 338, 341). Moreover, this love is once again salvific: contrary to the architect’s predictions, Neo is able to resurrect Trinity from death through the power of love, this time again consummated and exemplified in the kiss.

In the last film of the trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions, the kiss does not play as central a role, but we do find a religious discourse taking place in the name of romantic love, where this love bestows a semi-sacredness to everyday life and the human sphere, bestowing (Christian) religious virtues. Rama-Kandra, whom Neo meets in the nether-subway world at the beginning of the film, explains why he is trying to save his daughter Sati:

I love my daughter very much. I find her to be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. But where we are from that is not enough. Every program that is created must have a purpose. If it does not, it is deleted.

Neo remarks that he has never heard a program speak of love, and thinks of it as a human emotion. Sati’s father answers: [End Page 11]

It is a word. What matters is the connection the word implies. I see that you are in love. Can you tell me what you would give to hold on to that connection?

Neo replies: “Anything.” Sati’s father also remarks that he is grateful for his wife and daughter, and that they are gifts. What is interesting here is the ability to appreciate everyday life and its beauty and goodness, here the beauty of a child and family, in an almost sacrosanct way which almost seems to appreciate them as gifts of grace. This also runs very counter to the technological, mechanical world of the Matrix.

Likewise, when Trinity is dying, she is grateful for the love Neo and she shared, without regret and fear. As she is dying, Trinity explains how much she loved him, and says:

How grateful I was for every moment I was with you, but by the time I knew how to say what I wanted to it was too late, but you brought me back, you gave me my wish, one more chance to say what I really wanted to say.

She asks Neo to kiss her one last time, and dies. Gratitude, often an integral part of divine grace, helps Trinity see the nature of life in an almost sacramental way, infused with (divine) goodness.     Thus, in the Matrix trilogy we can see a romantic love discourse that bears the remnants of a religious discourse, of salvation, of grace, of beauty, goodness, and of gratitude. Moreover, this discourse becomes heightened in postmodernity. There are certainly religious themes present in the Matrix, including Christian ideas, concepts, and symbols, and these link together with the love story in a meaningful way. We see this most clearly through the motif of the kiss.

 The Shrek Quadrilogy

At first glance, the Shrek quadrilogy does not seem to merit theological relevance. Yet these animated tales do play with love, romance and the kiss in such a way that also evidences remnants of religious discourse and experience within the romantic love story. In the first movie, Shrek, princess Fiona is waiting for “true love’s first kiss” which will release her from a spell that turns her into an ogre at night, and then she will take true love’s form. After she meets her true love, Shrek the ogre, they embrace and then comes their true love’s first kiss. Fiona is lifted up into the air amid light and sparks and comes down again in ogre form. She does not understand why she is not in love’s true form and says: “I don’t understand. I’m supposed to be beautiful,” but Shrek tells her: “But you are beautiful.” Then it is happily ever after.

Of course, this tale cleverly plays upon the fairy-tale ideal of romantic love. Yet, at the same time, “true love’s kiss” not only shows the influence of the romantic love ideal and literature derived from the courtly love tradition, but also evidences the importance of the kiss. The kiss is not only the completion and attainment of “true love,” but also bestows a grace, and inspiration, and gives a sanctity and blessedness to Shrek and Fiona’s love. The kiss takes place in a church, in front of a clergymen, and the sparks and lifting in the air show that there is something magical, supernatural to it. Being in a church, the kiss takes [End Page 12] place as the consummation of the marriage ceremony, which can be taken as sacramental. Yet, Fiona and Shrek remain the same; what this signifies is that the grace and blessedness bestowed on them, while transfigurative, is also something that can be found within their human lives and human experience of marriage.

In Shrek the music often helps to convey the mood and experience of falling in love.[13] The theme song for the movie is “I’m a Believer,” which starts with:

I thought love was
Only true in fairy tales
Meant for someone else
But not for me
Love was out to get me
That’s the way it seems
Disappointment haunted
All my dreams

And then I saw her face
Now I’m a believer
Not a trace
Of doubt in my mind
I’m in love
I’m a believer
I couldn’t leave her
If I tried.

We need only to think of Williams and Dante and their romantic theology to see how a vision of the beloved transforms experience and makes ready an acceptation of the good. The language also recalls religious discourse; the man becomes “a believer” or begins to have faith after this vision.

These themes, and the kiss motif, continue through the next three Shrek films. In Shrek 2, we have the evil Prince Charming trying to replace Shrek as Fiona’s rightful husband. In order to compete with him Shrek steals and drinks the potion called “Happily Ever After” which promises “beauty divine” to whoever drinks it, and becomes a hunk. Yet though Fiona has changed back into human form and Prince Charming pretends he is Shrek, a love potion does not work on Fiona, and Charming’s kiss to wed himself to Fiona is not effective. When Shrek finds Fiona and offers her his new and improved human form if they kiss before midnight, Fiona prefers the old Shrek. After midnight is their true love’s kiss as ogres with light, magic, and sparks. Fiona’s parents also accept Shrek now and again we end in a happily ever after.

Going back to the Christian theology of the kiss, we should remember that a kiss not from the heart, not with true affection, and not full of faith cannot have effect, cannot bestow the holy spirit or confer unity and peace, cannot knit the souls of the kissers; it becomes a Judas kiss instead. That is why Charming’s kiss cannot work. But since Shrek and Fiona are “soul-mates,” that kiss will always be effective in bestowing love and grace, and in transforming the lovers. [End Page 13]

Shrek 2 continues a postmodern religious discourse through this legacy of a Christian theological remnant and hyper-meaning within this romantic love tradition. For example, Shrek’s potion “happily ever after” promises him “beauty divine.” But in the end it does not really work. The theological significance that this could bear is akin to grace and mystical discourse. Mystics cannot make a divine encounter happen, cannot transform themselves into divine beings or experience divine union. God must “kiss” them, must do the initiating. The same holds true with grace; its infusion is something God bestows, not something we can attain by our effort. Romantic love often works in the same way in film; it is something that happens and that we cannot control, and which transforms us unexpectedly. Here, this theme is present not only with Shrek’s potion, but in the story of Prince Charming. He cannot make Fiona love him or manipulate the circumstances of love and happiness through his own efforts. Here one cannot make love happen, just as one cannot make beauty, goodness, or truth happen. The theme song of Shrek 2 is the Counting Crows’ “Accidentally in Love.” Some of the lyrics read: “Well I didn’t mean to do it; but there’s no escaping your love.” It is thus not for humans to control or decide but something that happens to one as a gift of grace.

The religious discourse through the romantic love story also continues in the third film, Shrek the Third. A disgruntled Prince Charming gathers an army of disgruntled fairy-tale villains who desire their own happily-ever-afters, and again unsuccessfully try to make them happen. Yet here a young King Arthur convinces these fairy-tale villains to repent and reform, while Shrek tells Charming to seek his own happily ever after, after which Charming is killed by a tower prop. Arthur tells them:

A:        You’re telling me you just want to be villains your whole lives?

V:        But we are villains; it’s the only thing we know

A:        Didn’t you ever wish you could be something else?

When they reply discouragingly, Arthur quotes Shrek’s speech to him:

Just because people treat you like a villain, or an ogre, or just some loser it doesn’t mean you are one. The thing that matters most is what you think of yourself. If there’s something you really want, or someone you really want to be, then the only person standing in your way is you.

The villains lay down their weapons and ponder other professions, such as growing daisies or opening spas. In other words, they have seen the error of their ways, have repented, and are redeemed and reformed of their wickedness.

We also see in Shrek the Third the repeated theme of “happily ever after,” not only in the plot ending, but throughout the film as a motif and desire. The “happily ever after” scenario in romantic comedy can be a romantic ideal, but understood theologically, it could signify (Christian) hope in life and in divine redemption and salvation (Greeley 108, 112; Brown 219) to be experienced on a human as well as divine level. Bringing back Williams and his romantic theology again, it helps us link the good, or even wondrous, in human experience with a divine goodness. Moreover, in these films, happiness is something that is constantly lost and must constantly be regained; read theologically, this could also symbolize the sacrament of marriage, which constantly bestows a grace that renews the [End Page 14] difficult or dull moments by bringing that grace or experience of love (Williams, Outlines 53). It is likewise salvific or redemptive; it constantly rescues Fiona and Shrek from evils and tribulations, and is sealed by the kiss (Williams, Outlines 47).

The last film, Shrek Forever After, ties everything together. Though Shrek is happily married with ogre triplets, he finds this life dull and monotonous. Because he cannot be grateful for his life, he nearly loses everything. Without his love story with Fiona, he ends up in a dystopia. Yet again the answer is “true love’s kiss,” which Shrek must receive by midnight. Though in this dystopia Fiona has no interest in love and dislikes Shrek, Shrek slowly restores her faith and makes her fall in love with him again. Though true love’s kiss does not work the first time, it works in the end, just in time, and reality is restored to normal. Shrek goes back to his children’s birthday celebration, grateful for all that he has, and we have the final happily ever after.

What stands out to me in this last movie as regards romantic discourse as a bearer of theological meaning and religious experience is the romantic theology of love, marriage and family as sacramental, holy experiences that can lead to redemption. Shrek lives in a state of ingratitude at the beginning of the film. He has forgotten to see his life as a gift of grace. After he has lost it all, Shrek realizes this. He states that “my life was perfect and there’s no way to get it back. I didn’t know what I had until it was gone.” He now sees all the good to be had in his everyday life, and is grateful for it. He tells Fiona: “You’ve already done everything for me Fiona. You gave me a home and a family.” Upon their true love’s kiss, Shrek tells Fiona: “You know what the best part of today was? I got the chance to fall in love with you all over again.” At the end of the story, he likewise remarks to Fiona: “I always thought that I rescued you from the dragon’s keep.” Fiona replies: “You did.” Shrek then answers: “No, it was you that rescued me.” He thus has seen his life in a new sacramental way, which has bestowed beauty and light upon it and has redeemed it and redeemed himself.

In this dystopia, we also see Fiona’s redemption from skepticism, and restoration of her faith. Fiona is cynical, faithless, and loveless. After Shrek kisses her and nothing happens, Shrek remarks:

S:         I don’t understand. This doesn’t make any sense. True love’s kiss was supposed to fix everything.

F:         Yeah, you know that’s what they told me too. True love didn’t get me out of that tower. I did. I saved myself. Don’t you get it? It’s all just a big fairy tale.

S:         Fiona don’t say that. It does exist.

F:         And how would you know? Did you grow up locked away in a dragon’s keep? Did you live all alone in a miserable tower? Did you cry yourself to sleep every night waiting for a true love that never came?

S:         But, but I’m your true love.

F:         Then where were you when I needed you?

She has lost faith not just in love, but in the good and beautiful in life, especially as freely given gifts. Everything now depends on her own human effort and will against a cruel world. That is why the kiss did not work; she no longer believes, or loves. [End Page 15]

Yet even here, there is still a ray of hope. After one of Shrek’s failed attempts to connect with Fiona, Puss remarks:

I am not believing what I have just witnessed. Back there—you and Fiona, there was a spark. A spark inside her heart I thought was long extinguished. It was as if for one moment Fiona had actually found her true love.

It is thus up to Shrek to restore her belief and faith in love through love. Through the sacrifices Shrek makes to save Fiona, Fiona comes to believe in Shrek and the power of love again: in the power of goodness, and in beauty and happiness. When Shrek apologizes for not having been there for her, Fiona says that it does not matter, that he is here now. Her life and her past are beginning to be redeemed through this experience of love, and her faith and hope are renewed. Then comes true love’s kiss, in which both Shrek and Fiona find redemption, and a renewal of the sacramental grace bestowed upon their love. Moreover, here true love’s kiss transforms the world and restores it to its rightful order as well, showing the power of love to renew the phenomenal world, exemplified in the married couple (Williams, Outlines 32). Without that love, in a world of cynicism, faithlessness, and disbelief, everything is a dystopia. With the grace and beauty of love, it is beautiful and joyous again, showing how love repeatedly renews the world (Williams, Outlines 32).

In the last movie, we see clearly the analogous relation of romantic love and religious faith, and how this romantic love narrative and discourse could stand in for that of religious faith, showing once again the transposition of Christian theological themes into romantic discourse. We can read the love story again as more than just a romantic love story, as that through which in postmodernity, due to the historical relation of romantic and Christian discourse, discourse on religion, God, and faith take place, albeit in a secularized, human form.

 Love as Religious Discourse in Romantic Comedy

In postmodernity the genre of romantic comedy also becomes a site in which religious discourse takes place, where discourse about love can be read as discourse about religion. What these romantic comedies show even more clearly than the above films is how the love story in film acts as a foil to the modern secular story of hedonism, value-neutrality, scientific rationality, skepticism, cynicism, and disbelief. Romantic love acts as a site which challenges this secular viewpoint by allowing for an experience of love which contains the possibility of a deeper significance as a divine, religious experience.

For example, in the 2009 comedy Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Connor Mead is a New York City playboy, cynical about love and marriage. When refusing to give the toast at his brother’s wedding, he states that:

To me marriage is an archaic and oppressive institution that should have been abolished years ago. [End Page 16]

He goes on to say about love:

Love, it’s magical comfort food for the weak and uneducated. Yeah, it makes you feel all warm and relevant but in the end love leaves you weak, dependent, and fat.

Continuing on a little later, he says:

I wish I could believe in all this crap. I do. I also wish I could believe in the Easter Bunny….I am condemned to see the world as it really is, and love, love is a myth.

We could substitute religion, faith, or God very easily here for the word love, and probably marriage, and we would probably recognize this speech as the modern, secular, skeptical view of religion.[14] In the film, Connor seems jaded, cynical, and shallow, enjoying the swinging bachelor’s life. His moral reformation begins when his deceased lecherous uncle Wayne visits him, warning him to repent of his ways. This movie is playing upon Dickens’ A Christmas Carol where Ebenezer Scrooge is warned to repent of his life and ways. The connection signifies religious and moral meaning, requiring the repentance and reformation of Connor. Connor does see the error of his ways, and begins a new life, a life of committed love.

Likewise, in the 2003 movie Something’s Gotta Give, Harry Sanborn is a sixty-three year old New York City bachelor also enjoying the hedonistic single life. He meets Erica Barry, the divorced mother of his girlfriend, and while he is convalescing in her home from a heart attack, they develop a special romantic relationship which turns into love. When they first make love, it is as if they have both experienced something new and wondrous in their lives, an openness and vulnerability but also passion and elation. That was the first night either of them had ever slept eight hours. We can chalk it up to just sexual desire, but something happens that also transforms their lives. Erica, repressed, uptight, and unemotional, can then not stop weeping, which finally helps her overcome her writer’s block and enables her to write her next play, and which opens her up to a relationship with another younger man. She appears happier than ever, and explains to her daughter it was because she let love in, even if it did not work out. Meanwhile Harry attempts to go back to his former playboy life, but to no avail. He is unhappy, and every time he sees Erica he has an anxiety attack which he fears is another heart attack. Realizing he needs to change, he goes back, tries to find every woman he has ever wronged, and makes amends. He looks for Erica in Paris, but finds her with another man. Yet she returns to him. When Erica tells him she’s still in love with him, Harry says: “If it’s true, my life just got made.” Harry then remarks: “I finally get what it’s all about. I’m 63 years old, and I’m in love, for the first time in my life.” And we have a happily ever after.

Erica and Harry’s first night together was a transformative experience, akin to a moment of grace. Whether realized before or not, it brought something missing from their lives into it, love, passion, or wonder, that changed and transformed them. They had to change their lives for the better: in Erica’s case learning to let go of control, open up and let love in; in Harry’s moral reformation and responsibility. Harry’s comment that he is in love [End Page 17] for the first time at 63 can be read as the possibility of redemption at any age and stage, which has been a part of the Christian message as well.


The kiss and romantic love in film can operate religiously and theologically. They have the capacity not only to bear a theological significance, but to offer an opportunity for divine encounter and transformation, as well as containing the possibility of a religious discourse. This is due to the origins of medieval courtly love and its relationship with Christian theological discourse, where medieval courtly love borrowed the sentiments and language of Christian discourse, particularly mystical discourse. Moreover, something of the humanly erotic also remained within sublimated mystical discourse, fusing the two experiences and making it more difficult to distinguish one from the other. This paved the way for romantic love, the descendent of courtly love, to contain the possibility of this deeper theological meaning and religious experience within it. In postmodernity, where God is dead, and where transcendence has been displaced onto immanence and the divine onto the human, this dormant religious and theological possibility of romantic love in culture and art can sometimes be activated, and can become pregnant with meaning. This holds particularly true in film. Moreover, in postmodernity romantic love in films can sometimes stand in for and represent religious experiences of God or for religious discourse. Therefore, I contend that romantic love in film can be one style, form and representation through which religious experience and reflection are taking place in postmodernity. It thus shows the religious and theological possibilities of popular culture and popular cultural manifestations.

Finally, I hope looking at romantic love in film in this light, in relation to theological aesthetics, contributes to opening up and freeing theology and film studies, which seldom treats the theme of romantic love as theologically or religiously pertinent. Theology and film studies should welcome more often these positive engagements with film and religious studies and popular culture. To quote the Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf:

I see happiness as a right. I think that it is a human right to be joyful. The person who makes a dark, realistic film in India is wasting his time….Many things must yet change in India before the people’s lives become better…So why should the people be depressed by movies like that? They must be allowed to have some pleasure in life. The person who has had to sell his body for a morsel of food – you want to make a film for him about social justice? What is he supposed to do after seeing that film? (92)

Going on to speak about his profession, he says that “we filmmakers are here only to illuminate, to bring joy to life. All I seek is that, after seeing a film of mine, a person feels a little happier, and acts with a little kindness towards the world” (93). Like Makhbalhaf, we can aim to take seriously those filmmakers who by treating romantic love desire to bring a little more happiness and joy to life and to the world, and consider such a goal a legitimate [End Page 18] enterprise. We can also appreciate films (and scholarly work) that reveal and point us toward this joyous side to life, and realize their value.

I close with a discussion of the ending of Cinema Paradiso. At the end of the story Salvatore/Toto, who is now a famous filmmaker in Rome, watches the film his old friend and father-figure Alfredo left for him upon Alfredo’s recent death. The film is a composite of all the love and kissing scenes that Toto’s hometown’s Catholic priest had censored out of the movies. The film brings tears to Toto’s eyes, perhaps for the memories of his youth and the love for film that has made him rich and famous, perhaps for memories of Alfredo and how he changed his life, perhaps for remembering the past that he left behind. But it signifies something else as well: the kisses signal passion, wonder, beauty, ecstasy and joy, treated in courtly love and romantic literature, but also having origins in Christian mystical discourse and the Christian sacrament of the kiss. I hope this kiss can begin to be understood as that which sometimes graces life, not just in romantic love, but in all our everyday moments, and which may be read and understood as a symbol of human or divine goodness, not to mention the hope, faith and belief in the good, the beautiful and the true, and perhaps the happily ever after of romantic love or Christian redemption. Let us hope that we, unlike the priest, do not censor this out of film or religion, its study, and certainly not out of life.

[1] Though Willliams, as an Anglican, more clearly identifies the romantic love in the sacrament of marriage with the Incarnation and the life of Christ, I translate that here also to mean a divine, sacramental presence in romantic love and marriage.

[2] For readers not familiar with it, the courtly love literature and tradition is thought to have arisen in the 12th century in the Provence region of France, and was popular during the high Middle Ages. It concerned a knight’s love for and devotion to a lady of superior social standing, usually married, and consisted not only of a description of the knight’s passionate devotion, but also his service and humiliation to the lady. There existed also a system of rules and observances which must govern this service.

[3] See for example Zwick, Graham, May, Deacy Faith, and Deacy and Ortiz.

[4] The idea of a hierophany stems from religion scholar Mircea Eliade; a hierophany is an eruption of the sacred into the mundane or profane realm, where the sacred manifests itself into something profane, making that something both what it is and something more. A theophany is the same idea only with the eruption of God or the divine into the mundane. For more information see Eliade, Sacred.

[5] French philosopher of religion Jean-Luc Marion has written extensively about the event of God’s manifestation, sometimes called the saturated phenomenon, a revelation that gives itself from itself to a human subjectivity, and that human beings cannot control but are controlled by. The revelation can also often manifest itself through a work of art, as an encounter; it entails the revelation through the work of art to a passive subjectivity. Most of the writings of Marion are a propos to this phenomenon, but in particular Being Given may be of use in explaining this idea.

[6] This is a Kindle edition of the book without pagination, but the citation can be found in paragraphs 2 and 3 of section 2, entitled “Seeing life.”

[7] For a discussion of the use of postmodern styles in relation to theology, see Detweiler, and Detweiler and Taylor. [End Page 19]

[8] This is a Kindle edition of the book without pagination, but the citation can be found in paragraphs 5, 8, 12 and 14 of section 3, entitled “Cupitt and Bonhoeffer meet the Kranks.”

[9] Again this is a Kindle edition of the book without pagination, but the relevant passages can be found in paragraphs 7-14 of section 2, entitled “The Subjective Turn in Modern Spirituality,” and in paragraphs 2-3 of section 3, entitled “Reading Film in the Context of the Subjective Turn.”

[10] See Detweiler and Taylor.

[11] This is a Kindle edition of the book without pagination, but the citation can be found in paragraphs 1 and 2 in section 5, entitled “Finding God in the movies.”

[12] Though I reference the film, I actually have not seen The Last Temptation of Christ, but am just depending on what I have heard about the film.

[13] See J. Smith and Taylor.

[14] Ben-Ze’ev and Goussinsky consider the “ideology of romantic love” as an unattainable, unrealistic transcendental ideal that under certain circumstances can lead to fanaticism and violence, much in the way many modern intellectuals view religion, particularly fundamentalism (xii-xiv). [End Page 20]

 Movies Cited

Cinema Paradiso. Dir. Giuseppe Tornatore. Perf. Philippe Noiret, Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin. Miramax (US), 1988. Online download.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Dir. Mark Waters. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Michael Douglas. New Line, 2009. Online Download.

Shrek. Dir. Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson. Perf. Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy. Dreamworks/Universal, 2001. Online download.

Shrek 2. Dir. Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, and Conrad Vernon. Perf. Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas. Dreamworks/Universal, 2004. Online download.

Shrek Forever After. Dir. Mike Mitchell. Perf. Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas. Paramount 2010. Online download.

Shrek the Third. Dir. Chris Miller and Raman Hui. Perf. Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas. Paramount, 2007. Online download.

Something’s Gotta Give. Dir. Nancy Meyers. Perf Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves. Warner Brothers, 2003. Online download.

The Da Vinci Code. Dir. Ron Howard. Perf. Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellan. Columbia, 2006. Online download.

The Last Temptation of Christ. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Perf. Willem Dafoe, Barbara Hershey. Universal, 1988. Online download.

The Matrix. Dir. Larry and Andy Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne. Warner Brothers, 1999. Online download.

The Matrix Reloaded. Dir. Larry and Andy Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne. Warner Brothers, 2003. Online download.

The Matrix Revolutions. Dir. Larry and Andy Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne. Warner Brothers, 2003. Online download.

Music Cited

Counting Crows. “Accidentally in Love.” Shrek 2: Motion Picture Soundtrack. Dreamworks/Geffen, 2004. CD.

Diamond, Neil. “I’m a Believer” lyrics. STLyrics. n.d. Web. 8 May 2012.

Duritz, Adam, Dan Vickrey, David Bryson, Matt Malley, David Immergluck. “Accidentally in Love” lyrics. Elyrics. n.d. Web. 8 May 2012.

Smash Mouth. “I’m a Believer.” Shrek: Music From the Original Motion Picture. Dreamworks, 2001. CD.

Works Cited

Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane, ed. Art, Creativity, and the Sacred. New York: Cross Road, 1995. Print.

Balthasar, Hans Urs von. The Glory of the Lord, A Theological Aesthetics. Vol. 1 Seeing The Form. Trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis. Ed. Joseph Fessio and John Riches. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1982. 117-127. Excerpt in Thiessen 320-325.

[End Page 21]

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Vol. 2 The Doctrine of God. Eds. G. W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1957. 650-659. Excerpt in Thiessen 315-319.

Ben-Ze’ev, Aharon and Ruhama Goussinsky. In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Bird, Michael. “Film as Hierophany.” Religion in Film. Eds. John R. May and Michael Bird. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1982. 3-22. Print.

Boase, Roger. The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977. Print.

Brown, Stephen. “Optimism, Hope, and Feelgood Movies: The Capra Connection.” Explorations in Theology and Film. Ed. Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz. Oxford, Blackwell, 1997. 219-232. Print.

Chittister, Joan. “Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light.” Religious Life Review 40 (2001): 178-180. Excerpt in Thiessen 366-367.

Coates, Paul. Cinema, Religion, and the Romantic Legacy. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003. Print.

Deacy, Christopher. Faith in Film: Religious Themes in Contemporary Cinema. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2005. Print.

— — —. “From Bultmann to Burton, Demythologizing the Big Fish: The Contribution of Modern Christian Theologians to the Theology-Film Conversation.” Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline. Ed. Robert K. Johnston. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Chapter 12. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic Book. 11 March 2012.

— — —, and Gaye Ortiz, eds. Theology and Film: Challenging the Sacred/Secular Divide. London: Blackwell, 2008. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic book. 1 March 2012.

Detweiler, Craig. “Seeing and Believing: Film Theory as a Window into a Visual Faith.” Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline. Ed. Robert K. Johnston. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Chapter 1. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic Book. 11 March 2012.

Detweiler, Craig, and Barry Taylor. A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Popular Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic book. 30 March 2012.

Eliade, Mircea. “The Sacred and the Modern Artist.” Criterion 1964 (Spring): 22-24. Excerpt in Apostolos-Capadona 179-183.

— — —. Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Trans. Willard R. Trask. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987. Print.

Gilkey, Langdon. “Can Art Fill the Vacuum?” School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, IL. 17 May 1981. Keynote Address. Excerpt in Apostolos-Cappadona 187-192.

Graham, David John. “Redeeming Violence in the Films of Martin Scorsese.” Explorations in Theology and Film. Ed. Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz. Oxford, Blackwell, 1997. 87-95. Print.

— — —. “The Uses of Film in Theology.” Explorations in Theology and Film. Ed. Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz. Oxford, Blackwell, 1997. 35-43. Print.

Greeley, Andrew. God in Popular Culture. Chicago: Thomas More Press, 1988. Print.

Häring, Bernard. Free and Faithful in Christ. Vol. 2 The Truth Will Set You Free. Slough: St. Paul Publications, 1979. 102-109. Excerpt in Thiessen 338-343.

[End Page 22]

Jasper, David. “On Systematizing the Unsystematic: A Response.” Explorations in Theology and Film. Ed. Clive Marsh and Gaye Ortiz. Oxford, Blackwell, 1997. 235-244. Print.

Johnston, Robert K. Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic book. 4 March 2012.

— — —. “Theological Approaches.” Routledge Companion to Religion and Film. Ed. John Lyden. London: Routledge, 2009. Chapter 17. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic book. 15 March 2012.

Klassen, William. “The Sacred Kiss in the New Testament: An Example of Social Boundary Lines.” New Testament Studies 39.1 (1993): 122-135. Print.

Lewis, C.S. The Allegory of Love. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936. Print.

Lyden, John. Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals. New York: New York University Press, 2003. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic book. 2 February 2012.

Lynch, Gordon. After Religion: ‘Generation X’ and the Search for Meaning. London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 2002. Print.

— — —. “Film and the Subjective Turn: How the Sociology of Religion Can Contribute to Theological Readings of Film.” Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline. Ed. Robert K. Johnston. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Chapter 5. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic Book. 11 March 2012.

— — —. Understanding Theology and Popular Culture. London: Blackwell, 2005. Print.

Makhmalbaf, Mohsen. “Once Upon a Filmmaker: Conversation with Mohsen Malkhmalbaf.” Interview by Hamid Dabashi. Close Up: Iranian Cinema Past, Present, and Future. London: Verso, 2001. Excerpt in The Religion and Film Reader. Eds. Jolyon Mitchell and S. Brent Plate. London: Routledge, 2007. 92-94. Print.

Marion, Jean-Luc. Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness. Trans. Jeffrey L. Kosky. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002. Print.

Marsh, Clive. Cinema and Sentiment: Film’s Challenge to Theology. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2004. Print.

Martin, Joel W, and Conrad E Ostwalt Jr. Screening the Sacred: Religion, Myth, and Ideology in Popular American Film. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995. Print.

Martin, Thomas M. Images and the Imageless: A Study in Religious Consciousness and Film. London: Associated University Presses, 1981. Print.

McFague, Sallie. Models of God, Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987. 133-135. Excerpt in Thiessen 346-348.

Moltmann, Jürgen. Theology and Joy. London: SCM Press, 1973. 58-64. Excerpt in Thiessen 334-338.

Navone, John. Toward a Theology of Beauty. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996. 77-82. Excerpt in Thiessen 355-358.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper and Row, 1951. Print.

O’Meara, Thomas Franklin. “The Aesthetic Dimension in Theology.” Art, Creativity, and the Sacred. Ed. Diane Apostolos-Cappadona. New York: Cross Road, 1995. 205-18. Print.

Penn, Michael Philip. Kissing Christians: Ritual and Community in the Late Ancient Church. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. Print.

Perella, Nicolas James. The Kiss Sacred and Profane: An Interpretive History of Kiss Symbolism and Related Religio-Erotic Themes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Print.

[End Page 23]

Phillips, L. Edward. The Ritual Kiss in Early Christian Worship. Cambridge, UK: Grove Books, 1996. Print.

Plate, S Brent. Religion and Film: Cinema and the Recreation of the World. London: Wallflower, 2008. Print.

Polhemus, Robert M. Erotic Faith: Being in Love from Jane Austen to D.H. Lawrence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Print.

Rahner, Karl. “Theology and the Arts.” Thought 57 (1982): 24-29. Excerpt in Thiessen 218-22.

Smith, Greg M. “Local Emotions, Global Moods, and Film Structure.” Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion. Ed. Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. 103-126. Print.

Smith, Jeff. “Movie Music as Moving Music: Emotion, Cognition, and the Film Score.” Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion. Ed. Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. 146-167. Print.

Tan, Ed S., and Nico H. Frijda. “Sentiment in Film Viewing.” Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion. Ed. Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. 48-64. Print.

Taylor, Barry. “The Colors of Sound: Music and Meaning Making in Film.” Reframing Theology and Film: New Focus for an Emerging Discipline. Ed. Robert K. Johnston. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007. Chapter 2. Kindle for PC Version. Electronic Book. 11 March 2012.

Thiessen, Gesa Elsbeth, ed. Theological Aesthetics: A Reader. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005. Print.

Verbeek, Marjeet. “Too Beautiful to Be Untrue: Toward a Theology of Film Aesthetics.” New Image of Religious Film. Ed. John R. May. Kansas City, MO: Sheed and Ward, 1997. 161-177. Print.

Viladesau, Richard. Theological Aesthetics, God in Imagination, Beauty, and Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 210-213. Excerpt in Thiessen 361-366.

Williams, Charles. Outlines of Romantic Theology. Berkeley, CA: Apocryphile Press, 2005. Print.

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Wright, Melanie. Religion and Film: An Introduction. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007. Print.

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From Latin to Latino Lover: Hispanicity and Female Desire in Popular Culture
by Nadia Lie

According to Richard Rodriguez, we owe the invention of the Hispanic to Richard Nixon, whose administration introduced this category in 1973 in the classification system of United States citizens (15). Until then, demographic censuses had been based upon categories such as White and Black, Asian and Native American. Though inconsistent with this racial classification, the term Hispanic is embraced by Rodriguez to designate a new kind of Hispanic: US based and more open to US culture in general. In fact, by a kind of [End Page 1] discursive contamination, the category of the Hispanic starts to represent another racial color: “brown.” Suggesting the combination of two opposed colors – black and white – this word then acquires a subversive function with respect to the clear-cut distinctions of the other categories. Brown stands for the combination of what seemed to be incompatible, for its mutual attraction. It rejects dichotomic thinking, celebrates impurity and is connected to concepts such as “irony, paradox, pleasure” (xi) and “eroticism” (xv). The term “browning” is used by Rodriguez to refer to the increased importance of the Hispanics in US society, a phenomenon which he considers to be a great opportunity for mutual exchange between Anglo-Saxon values – such as (in his opinion) freedom- and Latin American ones – such as (racial and cultural) impurity.

Though the creation of the Hispanic in North American politics is presented as a relatively recent fact, the author of Brown points at a forerunner. “Before there were Hispanics in America, there was another fictitious, inclusive genus: the Latin Lover” (R. Rodriguez  107). Set against the background of a sexually repressive society, the Latin Lover derived his appeal from the taboo of racial transgression (107). But if this is true, how can the persistent and even increased success of the Latin Lover in our days, in which America is “browning,” be explained? What exactly is a Latin Lover anyway? And how can its relationship with Hispanic identity be described? In what follows, I propose to take a closer look at this notion by studying its first incarnation in the movie The Sheik. The prototypical features will then be confronted with what I consider to be one of the most popular icons of Hispanicity in popular mass culture: Zorro.[1]

Defining the Latin Lover: Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik (1921)

In Latin Lover: The Passionate South – one of the rare studies extensively dedicated to the subject— Gianni Malossi refers to a dictionary[2] in order to define the phenomenon of the Latin Lover: “passionate, but romantic, lover; it is believed, above all in Northern European countries, that they are men from Latin countries; heartbreaker, seducer” (Malossi  18-19). To provide a more elaborate, coherent definition of the phenomenon seems almost impossible as characteristics ascribed to the Latin Lover vary from his being “mute” (R. Rodriguez  107) to his ability to “use a lot of words” ( Malossi 30), from “a tendency to be short” ( Malossi  66) to his being “tall” (Limón 137), from his incarnation as “phantom, sheik or matador” (R. Rodriguez 107) to his fixed association with the cravat (Malossi  35) and the costume (Reich  35).

Opinions on the origins of the icon differ as well: whereas some consider the Latin Lover to be an archetypal figure (Thomas, 9) ranging back to Zeus (Malossi  64), Jacqueline Reich points at his historical and anthropological roots in Renaissance and Mediterranean culture (Reich  2-3). Others, such as Ramírez Berg (4), insist on his genesis in Northern conceptions of Latin otherness, which suggests an affinity with 19th-century debates on the differences between Anglo-Saxon and Latin “races” (Litvak). The one point all studies dealing with the Latin Lover have in common, however, is their abundant use of photographic materials, thereby revealing what goes almost unnoticed in the definitions: the profoundly visual nature of the stereotype. And though the pictures included show a certain disparity, limiting themselves either to actors performing roles connected to the [End Page 2] Latin Lover or expanding the notion to real-life examples such as Onassis (and even Che Guevara, to some), no disagreement exists regarding the name of the very first incarnation of the icon: Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926).[3]

This Italian immigrant to the United States, born under the name Rodolpho Guglielmi, first earned a living in the United States as a gigolo – a male dancing partner for wealthy women. However, he soon made his way to the hearts of millions of women by his dashing appearance in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), where he performed a seductive dance as an Argentinian tango-dancer.[4] The association between Latin Lovers and dance will become a fixed one in the following decades. It was The Sheik (1921) in which “he began to define a new kind of screen lover and an Other way of making screen love” (Ramírez Berg 115). In spite of the paradigmatic nature of this film, books on the Latin Lover limit themselves to brief mentions of its plot and instant success. The way in which the two terms united in the expression “Latin Lover” is inscribed in this movie has not yet been the object of more extensive commentary. This is all the more striking since, according to Ramírez Berg, this movie launched “the Latin Lover [as a] remarkably consistent screen figure, played by a number of Latin actors (…), all maintaining the erotic combination of characteristics instituted by Valentino” (115).[5]

When we take a look at this famous film, we notice that nothing in the movie – at least at first sight – sustains Rodriguez’s close association of Hispanicity and Latin Lovers: an Italian actor plays the role of the Arab sheik Ahmed (Rudolph Valentino) who falls in love with the British lady Diana Mayo (Agnes Ayres). However, the term “Latin” was used in those days in a broad sense, including all those who spoke a language derived from Latin (so also the French) and sometimes even the Greeks and all of the Mediterranean people (so also inhabitants of Arab countries).[6] In The Sheik, this broad sense of Latinness is defined by a first, major oppositional figure that establishes a difference between Northern and Southern countries as visually expressed by the two main characters: the fair-haired Anglo-Saxon young lady with the pale hands stands in opposition to the Arab sheik Ahmed with the very dark eyes. Besides this sharp contrast between North and South, there is a second one that concerns not racial features, but cultural values. On the one hand, Ahmed represents premodern patriarchal Arab values when he captures Diana during her trip through the desert in order to take her to his tent. As he explains to a friend: “When an Arab likes a woman he sees, he takes her.” On the other hand, there is a certain reticence in him because he refrains from taking Diana by force when he notices her despair at the situation she finds herself in: he has received part of his education in France and it is this European aspect in his upbringing which seems to account for a softer approach to the woman.[7] There is in fact a range of cultural differences varying from the complete Anglo-Saxon Northern values over the more mitigated European Latinity to the complete otherness of Arab Latinity. It is this “range” which grants the Sheik his erotically productive ambiguity, evoking both “suavity and sensuality, tenderness and sexual danger” (Ramírez Berg 115). In this combination, suavity and tenderness are evoked by European Latinity (France and Italy), whereas sensuality and sexual danger are projected onto the Arab world.[8]

If the tension between European and non-European Latinness, tenderness and sexual danger, is what grants the Sheik his erotic appeal throughout the movie, the film surprisingly resolves the antinomy between these opposed values in the end. The happy ending is indeed provided by a revelation concerning Ahmed’s true background: he was the [End Page 3] orphan of an English father and a Spanish mother found in the desert, after which he was adopted by an Arab sheik. This ending is doubly productive: it sanctifies the union between Ahmed and Diana as a repetition of a previous relationship between partners from the North and the South of Europe, and it clearly places Ahmed on the European side. To put it even more strongly, one could argue that Ahmed’s very ability to learn the European lessons in education and human rights is explicable by his innate European blood.[9] In a way, Ahmed is a true European, dressed up as an Arab. His clothing as a sheik is his costume. His Arab identity, his mask.

As a lover, Ahmed combines features of both forms of Latinity: he serenades Diana secretly below her window while she sleeps in the town of Biskra but he also abducts her against her will in order to possess her. He connotes softness and strength. This strength is what turns him into a dangerous man, who is able to frighten Diana and make her obey. On the other hand, it is also this capacity which turns him into her savior when she tries to escape through a desert storm, or falls into the hands of the Arab bandit Omair. Here, the sheik turns into the hero who saves the damsel in distress by plucking her from the ground and riding off with her on his horse in order to protect her.

Ahmed’s moral and physical strength functions as a token of his sexual superiority with respect to Diana as a woman. At the same time, it singles him out as “the other man” from a double perspective. First, his strength distinguishes him from the men in Diana’s own society, who appear to be too weak to control her strong character (e.g., she laughs at her brother when he tries to talk her out of her plan to travel to the desert). Second, as an Arab, he is not to be confused with other Arab men either, because he does not resort to clear violence against women, unlike the desert bandit Omair. The fact that he is neither identical with the British men – who all wear moustaches – nor the other Arabs – who all wear beards – is visually expressed by the many close-ups of his hairless face, accentuated by his turban.

Finally, the two terms under scrutiny – Latin and Lover – are of course intimately connected. What Diana is attracted by in Ahmed from the start is not only his strength, it is also his belonging to another culture: exoticism and eroticism go hand in hand. There is immediate attraction from the first time they see each other, in the town of Biskra, before Diana leaves for the desert. And when she is denied access to the Arab casino, she boldly decides to dress up as an Arab dancer, after having watched the sensuous moves of this Arab woman with fascination. She even insists on borrowing exactly the same clothes this dancer was wearing, thereby suggesting a desire to experience the Arab sensuality in person. As Said has explained, the Orient not only symbolized sexuality as such, but very often also the promise of a different kind of sexuality, generally projected onto the female body (Said 180). In The Sheik, this kind of sensuality is appropriated by Diana as she cross-dresses culturally and feels her senses aroused by the dancer. At the same time the movie performs a twist on the Orientalist discourse of its time by turning the male partner into an object of desire.

In all, the first Latin Lover can be described as a highly ambivalent figure who, in the end, reconciles the opposition between the North and the South by inscribing it into a shared feeling of Europeanness. Hispanicity here performs a syntactical gesture between North and South. In the words of Clara Rodríguez commenting upon Valentino and his imitators, “All of these stars conformed to European prototypes – perhaps to southern and eastern European prototypes, but clearly in the evolving fold of what it meant to be ‘white’ [End Page 4] (and upper class) in the United States at the time.” (C. Rodríguez 28) Latinness is therefore on the one hand the suggestion of Otherness, but at the same time based on the reassuring recognition that this Otherness is within the limits of the own identity.

Valentino’s appearances in movies such as The Sheik set in motion the so-called “Latin craze” (C. Rodríguez 28) that flourished in the Roaring Twenties. This period was characterized by major social changes brought about by World War I and the Russian Revolution, and economically beneficial to the United States until the Depression broke out. The social changes altered the position of woman and to some also implied “libertad en el amor” (Belluscio 13). Belluscio considers the Latin Lover as an expression of modernity as it manifested itself around 1900: “En esa zona del planeta [USA], los hábitos se modificaban con el automóvil, la radio en casa, la publicidad impresa, y las salas de cine simbolizaban el nuevo urbanismo yanqui. La difusión e influencia del séptimo arte creó una idolatría sin fronteras, engendrando psicosis colectivas (…) En ese momento singular, que ambulaba entre la añoranza y el futuro, el ‘latin lover’, macerado como una burbuja, surgía excitante, digno de la ostentación, el lujo y el donaire del ‘American way of life’” (13-14). At the same time, both Ahmed and Diana belong to the upper classes of their society, which might reflect the nostalgia for a vanishing aristocracy in that same period (13). This is also why other authors connect the Latin Lover to the expression of anti-modern values (Malossi 24; Reich 26). In a sense, he is both a symptom of modernity and a reaction to it. Once again, he turns out to be an ambivalent sign.

Zorro or purity

Zorro’s birth is almost contemporaneous to the rise of the Latin Lover icon: the original stories appeared in 1919 and were followed in 1920 by the first Zorro movie, The Mask of Zorro, starring Douglas Fairbanks in the role of Don Diego de la Vega.[10] The fact that the leading part was given to an Anglo-Saxon actor shows that the Latin craze had not really started yet,[11] but the overall setting of the stories and the success of the movie[12] directly inspired by them are indicative of the “diffuse hispanophile sentiment” which Clara Rodríguez sees emerging in the same period (26). Contrary to The Sheik, which shows a diffuse concept of Latin identity, the Zorro stories foreground Hispanicity in an unmistakable way. The names of the main characters –Diego de la Vega, Zorro and Lolita Pulido – and the use of Spanish words in the English text (the “comandante,” the “señorita”)— refer to Hispanic identity as perceived from a North American perspective. Similarly to The Sheik, there is the nostalgic evocation of aristocratic values, here attached to the class of the “caballeros” of “blue blood” and merged with a hispanist discourse of clearly conservative and antimodern brand. Zorro’s defence of the weak is in line with the tradition of Spanish caballeros, and the evildoers are people of “ill blood” (McCulley 91), such as Captain Ramón, who try to take in the positions legitimately held by the aristocratic families to which Zorro and his friends belong. Though he also avenges natives and “mongrel” people when they are treated unjustly, it is clear from the book that they belong to another kind of “race” and are unable to perform the noble deeds that Zorro accomplishes. Rather, Zorro is an example to the youngsters of his own generation, whom he summons to follow his example: “Take your swords in hand and attack oppression! Live [End Page 5] up to your noble names and your blue blood, señores! Drive the thieving politicians from the land! Protect the frailes whose work gave us these broad acres! Be men, not drunken fashion-plates” (McCulley 167). The full restoration of their class, in power and in spirit, is what he aims at.

McCulley’s Zorro is part of the “cult of Spanish California” that characterized California, where the stories are set, towards the end of the 19th century (Lie, “Free Trade in Images”).[13] David Weber has explained the phenomenon as a critical reaction to the accelerated modernization in the United States: “As the nation became more urbanized and industrialized in the late nineteenth century, many Americans recoiled from what they saw as excessive commercialism, materialism, vulgarity and rootlessness and longed for pastoral values that they imagined had existed in a simpler agrarian America” (Weber 342).

In this context, Zorro shares with the Latin Lover a nostalgic return to premodern values, projected onto the Hispanic past of California. He, however, connotates more clearly than the Latin Lover the idea of purity. If the Latinness of the Latin Lover was marked by its opposition to Anglo-Saxon society, in the Zorro stories, the concept of Hispanicity is offset against the “ill blood” of other people speaking Spanish, especially the politicians and the military. Blood is also what distinguishes the noble class from the “natives” and the “mongrel people.”

The motif of “blood,” as indicative of noble upbringing, also lies at the heart of the second story-line in the Zorro episodes. Don Diego de la Vega is urged by his father to find himself a proper bride in order to prevent the family from extinction: he is the only son and heir to his father. If most of us know Zorro as the defender of the weak, this second theme is very striking in the original stories and turns Zorro not only into a model of Hispanic purity, but also of masculinity. Though Don Diego de la Vega is considered “a good catch” because of his wealth and influence in the region, he is not “a man” (McCulley 128) and in the Zorro movie, Lolita Pulido (actress Noah Beery) even cries out that he is “a fish.” Lolita Pulido, the girl whom he tries to convince to marry him, cannot give him her love because he is incapable of arousing romantic feelings in her. The key words in this respect are “courting” and “wooing,” terms by which  are referred to as the ability to speak to the señorita in low and rich tones, to look at her with desire, to bring her serenades (McCulley 175). All of this is considered unnecessary by Don Diego: “I trust there will be no undue nonsense. Either the lady wants me and will have me, or she will not. Will I change her mind if I play a guitar beneath her window, or hold her hand when I may, or put my hand over my heart and sigh? I want her for wife, else I would not have ridden here to ask her father for her” (McCulley 37).

This constantly fatigued, yawning aristocrat corresponds to the popular stereotype of the indolent don in those times (Foster 27) and provides a sharp contrast with the vigorous highwayman Zorro! After Don Diego has made his first – and very unsuccessful – attempt to win Lolita’s heart, the next chapter confronts her with Zorro under the title “A different sort of man.” This is how Zorro makes his acquaintance with Lolita Pulido: “And suddenly she was awakened by a touch on her arm, and sat up quickly, and then would have screamed except that a hand was crushed against her lips to prevent her. Before her stood a man whose body was enveloped in a long cloak, and whose face was covered with a black mask so that she could see nothing of his features except his glittering eyes. She had heard Señor Zorro, the highwayman, described, and she guessed that this was he, and her heart almost ceased to beat, she was so afraid. ‘Silence, and no harm comes to you, [End Page 6] señorita,’ the man whispered hoarsely” (McCulley 45). Zorro, then, symbolizes strength in the same way the Sheik did: the strength to overwhelm her (she feels frightened the first time she sees him), but also the strength to protect her: he saves Lolita and her family from prison and takes her – on his horseback – to a secure destiny. When he speaks to her, he immediately sings her beauty and asks to kiss her hand twice, so it is a small wonder that he quickly gains access to Lolita’s heart.

The exoticism of The Sheik finds an equivalent here in the anonymity – and therefore mysterious character – of the hero. Likewise, his being an outlaw situates him outside conventional – routine – society. As was the case in The Sheik, the stress is on the eyes and the clothing, which function as a costume of a false identity: in the same way that Ahmed was a European dressed up as an Arab, Zorro is a caballero dressed up as a highwayman.

The opposition between the vigorous Zorro and the fatigued Don Diego de la Vega reflects the dichotomy between one variant of the Latin Lover and what may be considered its opposite: the inetto. “The inetto articulates the traditional binary opposite of the masculine, as it is constructed in Italian culture and society, and as it relates to sexuality: the cuckold, the impotent and feminized man. Rather than active, the inetto is passive; rather than brave, he is cowardly, rather than sexually potent, he is either physically or emotionally impotent (…)” (Reich 9). In the Zorro stories and especially in the first Zorro movie, this passive side is expressed by Don Diego’s constant yawning, whereas Zorro, as a full time fighter for justice, enhances the “active” side of the Latin Lover. From a gendered perspective, he symbolizes “performative masculinity,” considered by Jacqueline Reich to be an essential component of the Latin Lover: “Along these lines, the Latin Lover literally puts on a carefully staged show for his admiring public, be it at the beach, which Latin Lovers were known to frequent, or in the mass-produced fantasies for and by Anglo-Saxon women” (Reich 27). True, Zorro does not fight oppression to impress señorita Pulido, but –together with his courting style – this is an important reason why she falls in love with him.

What is lacking from the Zorro stories, however, is the hidden sexuality and open eroticism of The Sheik, which was connected there with the non-European form of Latin identity: the Arab nature. The love between Zorro and Lolita Pulido rather seems to justify the natural appeal between people of the same blood and evokes the pureness of love against the more pragmatic concerns for marriage. Precisely the fact that Lolita Pulido loves Zorro in spite of his anonymity is considered by Don Diego to be a sign of her true love. In this respect, the weak aristocrat he had pretended to be as Don Diego de la Vega was nothing but another mask that he used not only to deceive the authorities, but also to test the true feelings of his future bride. In Don Diego’s final words: “She turned from the wealth of Don Diego de la Vega to the man she loved, though she deemed him, then, an outcast and outlaw. She has shown me her true heart, and I am rejoiced at it. Your excellency, this señorita is to become my wife” (265). The concept of “pure Hispanicity and pure blood” is thus complemented by the concept of “pure love.”

To sum up: there are important parallels between the story of The Sheik and the original stories on Zorro as the motif of the Latin Lover is concerned. Both stories thematize the necessity of love in the relationship between man and woman, as an ingredient not to be confused with (but ideally leading up to) marriage. Love is what women are looking for, even as they reject marriage. But it can only be given by men who are strong enough to control them and protect them at the same time. Eroticism is infused in the relationship by the mysterious side of the male partner, either under the form of exoticism (the Arab) or [End Page 7] social marginality (the masked outlaw). The divergencies between The Sheik and Zorro reside in the way cultural identity, and especially Hispanicity, works. Whereas the Sheik played with different shades of cultural identity, producing an image of ambiguity and ambivalence throughout the movie, Zorro is the quintessential Hispanic and therefore a symbol of purity.  If The Sheik turns out to be a cultural hybrid who spans two opposing cultures (North and South), Zorro is a direct exponent of the Spanish hidalgos and therefore anything but a mestizo. Though he makes women dream, his aim is marriage, not “licentious sex” as Beluscio would have it. Sexuality in the Zorro stories is only there in the theme of procreation and lineage.

From Latin to Latino Lover: Banderas in The Mask of Zorro

In Heroes, Lovers, and Others: The Story of Latinos in Hollywood, Clara Rodríguez argues that there are several analogies between the 1920s and the present-day context: the fact that “Latins” are “in” again, the pendulum shift in economy (the Roaring Twenties leading up to the Depression just like the economic boom of the 1980s led to the burst of the 1990s) and the immigration movement at both moments in history accompanied by a certain “concern” about foreigners entering the United States (C. Rodríguez  244-245). There is, then, a new “craze for all things Latino” (214), but this time, the word “Latin” – if still used – tends to be restricted to the Hispanics from Spain and Spanish America only (26). At the same time, we witness a remarkable presence of actors associated with the Latin Lover. One of the most cited examples nowadays is Antonio Banderas, who “fulfills the fantasy of the Latin Lover at his most classic” (Thomas 141) and is described as the “Valentino-Banderas” (Beluscio 77) symbolizing “la resurrección olímpica del ‘Latin Lover’” (Beluscio 51). Even Banderas himself has proclaimed: “I’ll probably be seen as that Latin Lover type forever. Even if I get greasy and fat and lose my hair, they’ll cast me and say, ‘Yes, but he was a Latin Lover!’ It’s funny there’s always been that thing” (quoted in C. Rodriguez 206). But has “that thing” remained the same now that new Hispanic identities see the light?

The 1998 film The Mask of Zorro was directed by Martin Campbell and produced by Steven Spielberg. The second one, The Legend of Zorro, was made by the same team and forms the sequel to the first. In both movies, the role of Zorro is given to Antonio Banderas, and this is presented by the makers as a deliberate option to highlight the Hispanicity of the popular hero. As the publicity campaign recalls: “Zorro was the first Spanish hero invented by Hollywood,” but never before had he been played by an actor of Spanish descent.[14] Hispanicity is at stake, then, and not in a minor way.

One of the most interesting aspects of this movie is the fact that it portrays two forms of Hispanicity by opposing two Zorros: there is the so-called “original” one, Don Diego de la Vega, who is interpreted by Anthony Hopkins; and there is the new one, whose part is given to Antonio Banderas. The old Zorro has come of age and is looking for a successor. He meets with Alejandro Murieta (Antonio Banderas), who plays a grown-up orphan of Mexican descent. In the book accompanying the movie (Luceno 1998), Alejandro Murieta is described as a mestizo, and this is rendered in the movie by a slight darkening of his skin. Banderas is then almost the opposite of the original, “pure” model that Zorro [End Page 8] represented, and the movie displays the contrast between the two forms of Hispanicity – the European one, and the Spanish-American one – through a series of lessons. What old Zorro teaches the younger one is not only how to use his sword in a proper way, but also how to control his anger and put the notion of justice above the one of revenge. In short, he teaches him the values of caballería. At the same time, the fact that these can be learned by someone of different blood is, altogether, a major difference with respect to McCulley’s first stories. What was a vocation inscribed in the blood of caballeros becomes a lesson to be taught to everyone. The psychological growth into maturity of the new Zorro is visualized by his physical change: in the end, it is the handsome Banderas who succeeds in defeating his enemies.

It should be stressed that this new Zorro is not an assimilated Mexican: he represents a hybrid, a combination of the two forms of Hispanicity that merge into a panhispanic form, embracing now, for the first time, Spain and Spanish-America (Mexico). This hybridity also alters Zorro’s relation to justice itself: if McCulley’s Zorro was a restorer of the natural, social order, anything but a revolutionary, Campbell’s Zorro (the old as well as the young one) is identified with the legitimate fight of the Mexican peasants against the Spanish oppression. From a symbol of premodern values, he turns into a defender of modernity. Modernity is also present at a more profound level: the very idea that people from a completely different background, such as Alejandro Murieta, can become Zorro is, of course, a clear departure from the original association between Zorro and Spanish aristocracy. The Zorro vocation is no longer inscribed in the Spanish blood: it can be offered as a programme to anyone.[15] Does this modernity also affect Zorro’s connection to the Latin Lover?

At first sight, the answer is yes, because one of the things old Zorro sees lacking in his disciple is “charm” and so this quality is once again presented as something that can be acquired. The instruction in charm constitutes another departure from the original model: normally, the Latin Lover’s charm has to appear as a natural quality, even though it was acquired artificially. Jacqueline Reich links this to the concept of sprezzatura: “The opposite of affectation, sprezzatura denotes a naturalness in appearance without revealing the effort that went into its preparation. The result is the projection of grace” (Reich 3). We watch Alejandro Murieta being shaved and washed and dressed up as a real aristocrat: an ironic inversion of the original Zorro figure, who was an aristocrat disguised as a bandit. All of this is necessary to gain access to the circles of his true enemies: Rafael Montero and Captain Love. True to these codes, he brings flowers to the lady of the house, and impresses Rafael Montero by his official greeting of the Spanish court. However, Don Alejandro del Castillo y García (as Zorro-Banderas presents himself to his enemies) is really a hybrid, and in his behavior towards women he goes far beyond old Zorro’s imagination. When inviting the beautiful Elena (Catherina Zeta-Jones) to the dance-floor, he chooses a wild dance that is definitely not appropriate for the occasion, but it does reveal his innate “wild” nature to Elena. It also recalls the fact that shortly before he made The Sheik, Valentino conquered women’s hearts with his tango in The Four Horsemen. Later, Banderas confronts Elena as Zorro and leaves her partly undressed by teasingly stripping her clothes off with his sword. Attraction between Elena and Alejandro Murieta is an instant phenomenon and predates the classes he receives in charm: on his way to the town dressed up as a bandit, he crosses the path of Elena. She is slightly frightened, but admits later at confession to have sinned: “I had guilty feelings about a man,” she says, “I think he was a bandit. Something in his eyes [End Page 9] caught me.” Once again, we find the trope of the immediate attraction between the future lovers, only now they belong to different classes and have “different blood.” As representatives of two forms of Hispanicity, their final marriage and first child symbolize, once again, the conversion of the “pure” form of Hispanicity into a broader one.

This amplification of the notion of Hispanicity in a panhispanist sense in a way runs parallel to the original concept of Latinity, which embraced various forms of it. It also accounts for a more sexualized form of Hispanicity, a dimension that is infused by the reference to Spanish-American culture as the Other form of Hispanicity. In a way, Mexican “wildness” equals Arab sensuality. It reinscribes otherness in the pure form of Hispanicity of the original Zorro. In this sense, the merging of the two figures – Latin Lover and Zorro – produces a new species: the Latino Lover. Typical of this Latino Lover is not only the fact that he embraces European and non-European (read Spanish-American) forms of Hispanicity, but also that he establishes a new relationship with modernity.

Mocking the Latino Lover

The departure from the original Zorro acquires parodic dimensions in the 2005 production The Legend of Zorro.[16] Old Zorro has died and new Zorro has won himself a stable and almost accepted position in his society. In fact, his wife Elena believes he is no longer needed: the only person who needs him, in her mind, is Don Diego himself. The rest of the movie will show that this analysis is only partially correct, but it does confront the viewer immediately with a certain mocking of the Zorro icon. Is Zorro really necessary, or is he an excuse to neglect his other duties, regarding his son Joaquín, for instance? The whole dilemma adds a new dimension to the relation between the old Zorro figure and modernity, because it projects the demands of the new fatherhood onto the old aristocrat Zorro. Their argument gets so strong that Don Diego walks out of his house, to be faced some days later with an official demand for divorce by his wife. We then see Zorro losing control of himself, going out until late at night, waking up too drunk to remember where he was, forgetting to pick up his son at school, etc. When Elena reappears with a new lover, the French count Armand, Alejandro creates a scandal at her party. Their dance, interrupted by sneering remarks to each other, is a parody of their wild dance in the first movie and so of Zorro as a Latin Lover altogether. In another scene, Don Alejandro, after a heavy night, is awakened by a room-maid. When he gets up, he discovers he is not wearing any clothes: the image of poor Don Alejandro hiding his sex with his hands in front of a giggling room-maid is symbolic of the overall “undressing” of his Zorro character. Of course, it is not Zorro himself who is mocked, it is Alejandro Murieta, the married man and father of a son.[17]

This parodic element can be related to the comic dimension of the first Zorro movie, where Banderas not only learned how to behave as Zorro, but also made many laughable mistakes. However, it now, more clearly than before, affects his erotic dimension. When he walks out of his house after the argument, Elena shouts at him: “I hope you and Tornado will become very happy” – “We will,” he replies. Later on, while Don Alejandro is sitting drunk on his horse filled with self-pity, even Tornado drops him (literally and symbolically). The weak man that Don Diego de la Vega just pretended to be in the McCulley stories has now become reality. The cause is simple: this Latin Lover has been [End Page 10] abandoned by his wife. Total destruction is the consequence. The fact that he moreover seems to lose Elena to a European-born French count, Armand, functions as an ironic reference to the Latin Lover figure altogether.[18]

Seen from the point of view of the whole Zorro cycle, this movie insists upon Don Alejandro as “inetto,” under the pressures of modern life. Hispanicity is still there, but it becomes part of the ironic distancing of the original hero. Two scenes in which Zorro speaks Spanish are symptomatic in this light: the one in which his horse refuses to follow his instructions because they are uttered in English, and the one in which Zorro uses Spanish to admonish his own son – who has just performed a risky operation and does not know who his father is. Apparently, only Spanish can give Zorro the authority which before he also had in English.

In the animation Shrek 2 (2004), the parody turns to mockery and extends to the figure of Zorro himself (as opposed to Don Diego). In this movie, a new character is introduced: Puss in Boots. Though his name refers to the clever cat of Perrault’s fairy-tale, who helps his poor master marry a princess through his cunning and his eloquence, Puss in Boots is also a parody of Zorro: he is dressed up as the Spanish swordsman, with special emphasis on the boots they have in common; he leaves the first letter of his name in a tree using three strokes of his sword; and –not in the least– he speaks with the voice of Antonio Banderas, who had played the role some years before. Though Puss in Boots does not wear a mask, the stress is on the eyes: we notice this from his first appearance onwards, when darkness prevents us from seeing anything but his eyes, and later we discover his ability to endear his opponents by casting seductive glances. In a way, he shares with Zorro the latter’s double identity, for he misleads his opponents on various occasions, pretending to be a cute, inoffensive little kitten (‘Don Diego’) whereas he is always ready to attack.

These attacks, however, are deprived of their original meaning, since Puss in Boots is not committed to the fight against injustice. Rather, he offers his services to anyone who pays for them, even when murder is involved. His cynicism shows as he turns from the future assassin of Shrek, hired by the evil king, into his friend as soon as he notices the assignment is more difficult than expected. In this context, he appears as “the other friend” of Shrek’s, who is still accompanied by Donkey, his kind-hearted but rather naive buddy from the first movie. Whereas Donkey jealously claims no more friends are needed, Puss in Boots quickly wins Shrek’s heart by flattering him and gazing at him with his cute, deep eyes – an ironic return of the “courting” capacities of Zorro. The fact that Eddy Murphy is Donkey’s voice adds an ethnic flavour to the rivalry. Whereas Donkey speaks with a “black” accent, Banderas turns Puss in Boots into a very Hispanic creature, with his Spanish accent, Spanish words (“señor”) and Spanish style (“it would be my honor”). The contrast with the simple-minded Donkey gives his Hispanicity a sophisticated, but also treacherous, side. It appeals to baroque culture, with its fascination for illusions, costumes, play.[19] Hispanicity finds an ironic equivalent in the notion of “honor” through the various suggestions of the huge ego that Puss in Boots displays – an ego that is so much bigger than his real size. Most importantly, Shrek 2 clearly inscribes the word Latino in the concept of Hispanicity as it relates to music and rhythms: at the end of the movie, it is Puss in Boots who fires the starting gun for the closing party by shouting “fiesta,” after which everybody joins him in a passionate dance to Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la vida loca.” Except for his constant flattering of Shrek and one suggestive pass to Fiona (“I could be Shrek to you, baby”), all that remains of his Latin Lover capacities is this ability on the dance floor. [End Page 11] Hispanicity is thus reduced to a certain temperament and style, a set of costumes and rhythms that suits anyone, even a cat. At the same time, the Shrek story, as a parody of the typical fairy-tale-plots, reverses the traditional beauty norms that also underlie fictions involving Latin Lovers: the evil character of the prince charming Fiona used to dream of as a child contrasts with the good character of the hideous ogre she finally falls in love with. It is as if Zorro, as he removes his mask, turns out to be so very different from what we believed him to be.

But what did we believe he was, after all? Let us give the final word to a woman in this essay on Zorro as a Latin Lover. In 2005, Isabel Allende published a novel at the request of the Zorro Company. She was given complete liberty as an author, except for the fact that Zorro had to be recognizable through his attributes. A full consideration of the adaptation Allende proposes of Zorro would be the subject of another essay. But since her book is part of the official Zorro revival that the Zorro Company set in motion in 1998, her portrayal of Zorro as a Latin Lover deserves some conclusive considerations. One of the most striking features of her book is the introduction of new female characters, which – together with the magical realism – function as sometimes overtly ironic tokens of the Allende idiom entering the McCulley imagination. A first important change is the fact that Zorro obtains a mother and a grandmother (Toypurnia and Lechuza Blanca, respectively), who have a different background and opinion than Don Alejandro de la Vega. Besides rewriting Zorro’s Hispanic background in terms of hybridity – which acquires carnavalesque elements as it mixes with other minority cultures (gypsies, pirates…) – they point at the fact that Zorro was always his father’s son, never his mother’s. According to Annick Houel,[20] the absent mother enhances a quality of the hero of these romantic stories: the fact that they are able to protect and shelter the woman. Secondly, Allende, who writes a prequel to Zorro by describing his years as a child and teenager both in California and in Spain, situates him primarily in between two women of the same family de Romeu: Juliana – whom Zorro falls in love with from the first time he sees her – and Isabel, who is her younger sister and far below Juliana’s beauty. However, Zorro’s love is left unanswered, since he loses Juliana to the pirate Jean Lafitte. Lolita Pulido, his true love in the McCulley stories, then appears as his second best choice, but Allende insists on the fact that Don Diego “debió confesarle la identidad del Zorro antes de ser aceptado” (Allende 381). The most ironic reference to Zorro as a Latin Lover is provided by the anonymous narrator, who turns out to be Isabel. The use of the third person to refer to herself – often in sarcastic ways –functions as a textual mask of her true identity, which is revealed in the epilogue. And a real mask she will wear in the end of the story, when she convinces Zorro to allow him to help her, at the side of Bernardo. Most importantly, she provides what Bernardo (Zorro’s loyal servant in the Disney television series) lacks: a voice to tell Zorro’s stories. By doing so, she not only focuses upon his qualities, but also upon his defects: his big ears that he tries to hide with his mask, a certain vanity before the mirror. She even ends up “psychoanalyzing” Zorro by concluding that he can only truly love unattainable women, such as Juliana (382). This is why Isabel– later in her life – decides not to accept Zorro’s proposal to marry him … yet: “Sé que estaremos juntos cuando él sea un anciano de piernas enclenques y mala cabeza, cuando otros zorros más jóvenes le hayan reemplazado, y en el caso improbable de que alguna dama le abriera su balcón y él no fuera capaz de treparlo” (382). With this last image, of the cripple Zorro who has already turned bald by the end of [End Page 12] the book, Isabel (de Romeu/Allende) concludes her novel: “El Zorro me tiene harta, y creo que ha llegado el momento de ponerle el punto final” (382).


If Clara Rodríguez pointed at several similarities between the 1920s and the current context, all leading up to a “Latin craze,” one has to admit that we have come a long way from the Valentino trope and the original Zorro. The concept of “pure Hispanicity” has been abandoned in favor of a more multicultural definition, which includes Spanish-American and indigenous cultures. Especially in its openness to the “other” form of Hispanicity, incarnated in this case by Spanish America, this rewriting seems to have been to the benefit of the erotic appeal of Zorro, because his sexuality has been enhanced. At the same time, we witness an ironic and parodic treatment of Zorro as a hero, which reduces his position as a symbol of masculinity. The premodern values associated with both the Latin Lover and Zorro have disappeared in favor of the –often comical – clash with modernity itself.

It would be tempting to consider this rewriting as indicative of a more open, tolerant concept of Hispanicity, one that rejects essentialism in favor of a postmodern concept of cultural identity that could be considered more politically correct or illustrative of the “browning” that Richard Rodriguez hopes will occur. However, this would leave out of the picture an essential ingredient of the Latin Lover: the fact that it is a consumer’s icon (Malossi 24), designed to make money. Without a doubt, the North American society that brought forth Zorro has changed in such a way that Hispanics are now not only people of a country “far-far-away” (to quote Shrek 2): the fact that they are an active part of the consumer audience of these icons must have helped the producers find their way to an updating in terms of multiculturality and humor.

[1] This essay constitutes a complement to a previous analysis of the Zorro-figure, in which I focused on its appeal as a symbol of resistance and cultural identity (Lie 2001).Though detailed surveys of Zorro’s evolution in the 19th century exist (Mérida 1997, Curtis 1998), the connection between Zorro and the stereotype of the Latin Lover has never been studied before.

[2] The dictionary quoted is Il Grande Dizionario, Garzanti, Milano, 1987.

[3] Though this article centres on North American popular culture, it should be noted that images of Latin Lovers circulated everywhere, including Latin America. Thus, Jaime Manrique, in his semi-autobiographical book on homosexual writers, testifies about the pervasive influence of Hollywood and European movies on the Latin American popular imagination and his own erotic imagination (Manrique 1999: 15, 25). In this context, it is telling that Manrique explains his initial romantic crush on Manuel Puig – who would later on become his main literary and personal model – by referring to a picture he had seen of Puig, in which the writer resembled Marcelo Mastroianni, that other prototypical figure of the Latin Lover (Manrique 1999: 39).  This also shows that Latin Lovers can appear in contexts of homosexual attraction, an aspect not dealt with in this article; a famous example can be found in Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993), in which the main [End Page 13] character Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) has a lover called Miguel Alvarez, interpreted by Antonio Banderas.

[4] Useful information about the life of Valentino can be found in Belluscio 1996, Malossi 1996 and Thomas 1998. Without a doubt, his life and early death contributed to his mythical status. An interesting fact is that  he was “discovered” and “designed” by women such as Natascha Rambova.

[5] Another important prototype of the Latin Lover was Marcello Mastroianni.

[6] Some, as Panaro, state that Latin meant “exotic” to an American and could therefore include “Mexican, Spanish, Parisian, Italian, Arab (and also included Viennese, Hungarian and Slavic touches)” (Alberto Panaro, Mass-produced Valentinos in Malossi 1996, 95). Allen Woll observes that “only rarely was it synonymous with ‘Latin American’. More often than not, the Latin Lover was “of Italian descent” (1980, 23) or “the property of Mediterranean civilization” (1980, 25).

[7] This French background also explains the presence of two French-speaking servants in his tent, who can communicate with Diana, and the visit of his dear friend Raoul de Saint Honoré. This French doctor admonishes Ahmed on the values of respect and liberty, thereby rehearsing a trope in Orientalist discourse: “the theme of Europe teaching the Orient the meaning of liberty, which is an idea that Chateaubriand and everyone after him believed that Orientals, and especially Muslims, knew nothing about” (Said 1978, 172). In the end, Ahmed is ready to free Diana in spite of the fact that he has fallen in love with her.

[8] In Muy Macho – a collection of autobiographical essays in which sixteen Latino writers testify about the impact of the stereotype of the macho on their personal lives –  the word ‘macho’ is presented as “the catchword for Latino adult manhood” (González 1996:xiii), and the general term under which all North-American images about Latino men can be ranged (González 1996 cover text). However, I believe there is ground to distinguish between the macho and the Latin Lover in terms of erotic and sexual behaviour. Thus, it is striking that the concepts of ‘suavity and tenderness,’ which figure so prominently in The Sheik, and the intimate connection with the motif of female desire, hardly ever appear in the essays collected by González. Moreover, the main figure evoked in the essays of Muy Macho is the father, never the mother nor the female lover, which underscores the fact that the macho world is mainly a male world, whereas Latin Lovers are directly defined with respect to women.

[9] See the analogy with Tarzan (1911-1912), who is able to develop into Lord Greystoke because he has the European genes (Cheyfitz 1997).

[10] Interestingly, Curtis points out that Fairbank’s interest in the Zorro stories was the result of his objective to attract more female, matinee audiences (in McCulley 1998, viii).

[11] In this context, also see Foster on the first filmic interpretation of the Cisco Kid in 1914: “Thus, in keeping with an entrenched Hollywood tradition that has a long life, people of color (Mexicans, Native Americans, blacks, Asians) are played by Anglos; this practice was true even when the former were as much the evil and perfidious enemies of the latter as their benefactors” (Foster 2010: 29).

[12] “El éxito de La marca del Zorro llegó a tomar tales dimensiones que, durante las primeras semanas de exhibición en el Capitol Theatre de Nueva York, la policía tuvo que [End Page 14] tomar el local para contener a las exaltadas masas que anhelaban ver a su nuevo héroe” (Mérida 1997, 35).

[13] Sandra Curtis believes McCulley depicts Californian life under Mexican rule (in McCulley 1998, x). However, no single mention of Mexico is given in McCulley’s text, except for vague references to “the mongrel people”. Possibly, this has to do with the influence of the Boltonian school of historiography, which silenced the part Mexico played in California’s history. The Boltonians were part of the “cult of Spanish California” and Curtis (1998, 11) confirms that McCulley consulted documents on the region before writing his stories.

[14] “To play the only Spanish hero created in Hollywood and the first time a Spanish guy is going to portray that character is an awesome and beautiful thing. It is almost spiritual to me” (Banderas  quoted in Lie 2001: 497).

[15] In Lie 2001 I have analyzed the way in which the master-disciple-figure in this Zorro movie rehearses and rewrites the dichotomous discourse on Mexican subalternity which Claire Fox, in The Fence and the River (1999) saw appearing at the beginning of the 19th century. In this respect, The Mask of Zorro presents itself as a post-NAFTA movie that inscribes Mexican subalternity in a playful way into an inclusive concept of Hispanicity.

[16] In his brillant study of the Cisco Kid, David William Foster points out a similar emergence of an ironic and parodic stance towards this character in a made-for-TV movie directed by Luis Valdez in 1994  (Foster 2010: 27). In his conclusion, Foster draws a comparison between the Cisco Kid and Zorro, which first shows an important difference between the two figures: whereas the Cisco Kid allows for homosocial and homosexual behaviour,  which is due to the fixed presence of his male sidekick Sancho, Zorro – often solitary – tends to be ‘straight’ (Foster 2010: 39). At the same time, Foster underscores the crucial fact that both popular characters are incarnations of the Hispanic caballero as a deviant moving through the Anglo world and therefore carry with them the potential to unsettle Anglo heterosexual normativity. In the case of the Cisco Kid, this ‘queer’ character is shown in scenes in which a certain effeminate posture of the Cisco Kid becomes an important tool to outwit his adversaries. In the case of Zorro, the potentially subversive dimension of his behaviour shows in his systematic triumph over Anglo rivals when it comes to winning the heart of women.  As for the stereotype of the Latin Lover in general, his transgressive nature is often staged in the context of a marriage or another form of an official engagement between an Anglo man and woman, which turns him into an important agent of adultry and illicit sex. For a famous example, see the disruptive effect of the exotic Hungarian guest Sandor Szavost on the marriage of Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Dr. Harford (Tom Cruise) in Stanley Kubrick’s last film Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

[17] We find a similar strategy in the movie Internal Affairs: see Lie 2006.

[18] Another aspect of this deconstruction of the Zorro-figure  is the way in which his son Joaquín appears as a childish incarnation of Zorro. When faced with a rather strict schoolmaster, who is out to punish him, he performs a playful fight with his “opponent,” and lands outside on his feet, receiving, with a glimmering face, the applause of his fellow schoolmates. Zorro is not only about heroism: it is about playing and performing.

[19] The fact that the original Puss in Boots helped his master to appear as a count (the Marquis de Carabas), though he was only a miller’s son, is another indication of this connection to illusiveness. [End Page 15]

[20] Quoted from her book Le roman d’amour et sa lectrice by R. Amossy and A. Herschberg-Pierrot (2005: 84).[End Page 16]

Works Cited

Allende, Isabel. Zorro : Comienza la Leyenda. Barcelona: Plaza y Janés, 2005. Print.

Amossy, Ruth & Anne Herschberg-Pierrot. Estereotipos y cliches. Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 2005. Print.

Belluscio, Marta. Seductores y Amantes : Historia del ‘Latin Lover’ y otros galanes. Valencia: La Máscara, 1996. Print.

Cheyfitz, Eric. The Poetics of Imperialism: Translation and Colonization from The Tempest to Tarzan. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 1997. Print.

Curtis, Sandra. Zorro Unmasked: The Official History. New York: Hyperion. 1998. Print.

Foster, David William. “Of Gay Caballeros and Other Noble Heroes.” Good Bandits, Warrior Women and Revolutionaries in Hispanic Culture.  Ed. Gary Francisco Keller. Temple, Arizona: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2010. 23-44. Print.

González, Ray. Muy Macho: Latino Men Confront their Manhood.  New York: Anchor Books, 1996. Print.

Lie, Nadia. “Free Trade in Images? Zorro as Cultural Signifier in the Contemporary Global/Local System.” Nepantla: Views from South (2001): 489-508. Print.

—. “Cet obscur objet du désir : Andy García como Latin(o) Lover en Internal Affairs.América: Cahiers du Criccal 34 (2006): 129-138.

Limón, José. American Encounters: Greater Mexico, the United States, and the Erotics of Culture. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 2006. Print.

Litvak, Lily. “Latinos y anglosajones : Una polémica de la España de fin de siglo.” España 1900: Modernismo, anarquismo y fin de siglo. Barcelona: Anthropos, 1990. 155-199. Print.

Luceno, James. The Mask of Zorro. New York: Pocket, 1998. Print.

Malossi, Gianni. Latin Lover: The Passionate South. Rome: Pitt Immagine, 1996. Print.

Manrique, Jaime. Eminent Maricones: Arenas, Lorca, Puig, and Me. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. Print.

McCulley, Johnston. The Mark of Zorro.  New York: Tom Doherty Associations, 1998. Print.

Mérida, Paul. El Zorro y otros justicieros de película. Madrid: Nuer, 1997. Print.

Ramírez Berg, Charles, 1997. “Stereotyping in Films in General and of the Hispanic in Particular.”  Latin Looks: Images of Latinas and Latinos in the US Media. Ed. Clara E. Rodríguez. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997. 104-120. Print.

—. Latino Images in Film: Stereotypes, Subversion, Resistance. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Reich, Jacqueline. Beyond the Latin Lover: Marcello Mastroianni, Masculinity, and Italian Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004. Print.

Rodríguez, Clara. Heroes, Lovers, and Others: The Story of Latinos in Hollywood. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2004. Print.

Rodríguez, Richard. Brown: The Last Discovery of America. New York: Viking, 2002. Print.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978. Print.

Thomas, Victoria,. Hollywood’s Latin Lovers: Latino, Italian and French Men who Make the Screen Smolder. Santa Monica: Angel City Press, 1998. Print.

Weber, David. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996. Print.[End Page 17]

Woll, Allen L. The Latin Image in American Film. Los Angeles: University of California, L.A., 1980. Print.

Visual materials

The Sheik (1921). Artwork InstantVision Ltd 2004.

The Mark of Zorro (1920). Sterling, Fort Mill 1998.

The Mask of Zorro. Tristar Amblin 1998.

The Legend of Zorro. Columbia Pictures & Spyglass Entertainment. Tristar Amblin. 2005.

Shrek II. Dreamworks Pictures Production 2004.[End Page 18]