Author: Nancy Barton
the Bomb, Summer 2005
Merge- Nancy Barton on Sue de Beer's Black Sun
"Death is your gift."
- The First Slayer to Buffy
I brought a handgun to school with me pretty regularly during most of the spring of 1973. A 22 caliber Ruger. I kept it in my Hollywood High School locker in a paper bag. I figured it would come in handy for hunting small animals when the world came to an end.
But the world didn't end when I was 17, and now I'm watching Sue de Beer channel the adolescents we were, and still are, through a mix of empathy and sensuality that barely contains the dreamlike horror of complete exposure. In Black Sun, she creates a luminous and layered narrative, which turns repeatedly to face its own past. Naked young feet creep up astroturf-covered stairs. The doubled projection screens draw us toward a door, coded with the orange-red light of movie violence. Inside the red glow, an older woman undresses, restaging the vulnerability and confusion of youth as the frailty that reemerges with age. She lies down on the bed, the skin on her chest is rippled. We are too close now, helplessly intimate as she crosses her hands slowly over her chest, becoming a corpse.
Now the girl is younger, and I'm not trusting her, this graceful little girl in the pink leotard - how can she be more than an object - I resent her cleverness and satisfaction, but most of all the charm of her slight awkwardness. Self-loathing. I was never this little girl, but I was. Your double, your twin, the one who mocks you, the one who offers redemption.
And then it works, you start to feel them, and you feel her, but there's yourself, too, all the bitterness and misery comes with it. Her girls are pretty. She is the younger sister, the watcher now. She waits patiently, directs her story without hatred, but your ghosts are the older sisters, they are too much, they wish they could be sweet, but they are what they are. They are killers and it's too late, the little one is dead.
The woman is undressing upstairs in the red light again, but now the night-light is cool and blue, and the teenager - the one who can act in the world - not just in her room - has gone to the graveyard. She wears the symbol, rather than simply being the symbol. In her death mask and ghost costume, she laughs, and meets a friend. The teens pour their drinks - you pour yourself into them, pour your heart out, tear their hearts out - a toast.
There in the symbolic of death, they escape from the horror show that marks the betrayal of development and mortality. If, in the world around us, death has become our only symbolic, then is it through our identification with de Beer's characters that we can we move beyond the paralysis of self-consciousness, the nightmare of our own mutability? We are the rotting corpses unless we wear them.
In the red light, the little girl tries on the black wig, combs the dead hair. She lies down, nestled in the bed, in the dead.
Sue gives us these children to love. Making careful notes, she gives us back our experience through her dreams. She cleanses us of our memories by forgiving them, showing us to ourselves as the vulnerable young people we were when we first had apocalyptic visions. The bi-polar strategies of mania and despair are the twins designed to shield us from our own innocence. But de Beer gives us back our fallibility through the realness of death. Death is her gift. Her death is our gift.