Unrequited Love: On Stalking and Being Stalked
by Del Harvey
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Directed and filmed by Chris Petit, this short (76 minute) DVD is reportedly based on English academic Gregory Dark’s memoir on stalking and being stalked. Unrequited Love is a voyeur’s wonderland, especially exciting for anyone who enjoys remaining a strong distance from their characters. Playing as himself, Dart (English lecturer at University College London) highlights the disturbing effects of unwanted attention, and questions if we are all capable of such intense, unwelcome desire. The “digital film essay” is told in a rather somnambulistic method, so that the combined off-screen narrative and the on-screen use of video and surveillance cameras keeps the audience far, far away from the deep—and assumedly deeply disturbing—events surrounding stalking. Called by Illuminations Films an “essay on cinema and absence, on Hitchcock and Antonioni, on cinema and cities,” what I felt while watching this short film was more a sense of alienation from the characters—both the stalker and the woman being stalked.
Instead of immersing us in the fear and confusion reportedly felt by a stalker’s victims, I almost felt a pathetic morosity for this sad individual. He is obviously troubled and needs therapy, but there is never a sense of imminent danger or the type of haunted dread that has been presented in so many true tales of stalking.
The pacing of the film is far too repetitive and droll, so that we are left with a sense of something going wrong, but are never quite sure what. The voice-overs only add to the feeling of remoteness.
Upon viewing this film, I got a sense of that was intended by director Chris Petit and author Gregory Dark, and there is the root of something very powerful at work here. But, in the final analysis, Unrequited Love is far too academic and not evocative enough of the real dangers of being stalked and having your life disrupted beyond all normalcy by someone with real mental issues.
The blurb Television states the facts of the matter much more eloquently than I can:
“Stalkers operate in the borders between normal love and pathological fantasy, and want nothing better than to move in and close the gap. Stalking is radical, stalking is anti-bourgeois, and stalking is the black economy of the heart. Stalking is an externalized form of self-destruction, as fanciful as any Hollywood confection, without the possibility of a happy ending. Stalking is the erotic impulse pushed to the point of principle, narrowing the distance between love and death, leaving no room for maneuver. Stalkers are the fundamentalists of love.” While I am not certain how they mean that last sentence, I can certainly grasp the meaning of the entire paragraph before it.
This is a twisted love story in long shot. “A world lacking any reverse angle because its story is defined by absence. At its heart is the lurking assumption of false intimacy.” It is not, however, for everyone. The subject matter can be very dark, and the filmmakers have done their best to tame it for public consumption. Something, unfortunately, has been lost in translation.
Del Harvey is the founder and editor of Film Monthly. He teaches screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.
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