11 November 2016

Dancing With Depression - Gene Kelly's Alter Ego Dance

I found this thanks to Operation Tap's Gene Kelly week on Facebook back in August. I had never even heard of it before.

1944. The height of World War II. PTSD is barely an acknowledged mental condition at this point, never mind depression. Yet Gene Kelly -- whether he intended to or not -- personifies the condition with more accuracy than thousands and thousands of modern dances for fundraisers ever have, even after depression started to be recognised as a legitimate mental illness. (I say this as a longtime sufferer.)

It's all here -- the whispers, the dark lonely alley, the feeble hopes, the self-hatred, the fear in his eyes, the tension in his shoulders, the careful drawing of breath, the double reeling him backwards on an invisible string, the double leading the dance -- controlling him, trying to wrestle it down but unable to get a hold of it...

It's the doppelgänger from the ¡Alarma! Chronicles stories. It's the ghost of the heart (wait, that's still ¡Alarma! Chronicles...). It's the Identical Twins, Paul's war on his own sinful flesh.

Words fail me. But this dance... it touched me. Very, very few dances do. But this was one of them (the others are Astaire and Charisse's Dancing In The Dark and Kelly and Astaire's The Babbitt And The Bromide).

Watch. Breathe. Don't focus -- not yet -- on the fact that it's 1944 and everything is rationed and money is tight yet Gene Kelly manages to film a dance with himself. Do that later. Watch the story, the feelings.

Title: Alter Ego Dance
Artist: Gene Kelly
Film: Cover Girl
Year: 1944
Columbia Pictures.
Watch here.

Even the very end illuminates how depression works (SPOILERS) -- he takes a trash can and throws it at the double in a last-ditch attempt to destroy it. It disappears, but there is shattered glass in its wake. (And how long is it really gone?)

Likewise, depression can be beaten -- but only temporarily, and often at a price. And the shattered glass left around us when we've managed to win one fistfight often sends us farther down into the dark alley, wondering why there isn't a way to beat this thing without completely destroying ourselves. Sometimes the trash can is alcohol. Sometimes it's drugs. Sometimes it's food. Sometimes it's suicide. But there are always pieces to pick up. It never just 'goes away.'

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