Why Molina Can't Break The Illusion: Puig's Message In Kiss Of The Spider Woman

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Why Molina Cannot Break The Illusion Puig's Message in Kiss of the Spider Woman "Look, I'm tired, and it makes me angry the way you brought all this up, because until you brought it up I was feeling fabulous, I'd forgotten all about this filthy cell, and all the rest, just telling you about the film"¦ "¦Well? Why break the illusion for me, and for yourself too? What kind of trick is that to pull?" --Molina, p. 17 As a general rule, people prefer to be happy rather than sad, depressed, miserable, tortured, despondent. A proverb tells us, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." It is human nature to try to make the best of situations. At least it is for a certain type of person. In his novel, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Manuel Puig's character "Molina" exemplifies this type of person. Puig uses this quality in Molina to relay a message to his reader.

An extremely effeminate homosexual who refers to himself by female pronouns, he has lived his entire life with his mother. His group of friends is small and limited to other homosexual men and transvestites. He is lonely, rejected by society and by life in general. After his arrest and imprisonment for the alleged corruption of a minor this theme of dejection in his life is reinforced at the highest level. Thrown into a cell with a political prisoner, Molina retells the stories of films he has seen. At first these stories seem to function as a mere distraction from the boredom of their life in the prison. As the story develops, though, the reader begins to notice that Molina tells the stories as if they were true, getting caught up in minute details of a perfect world created by film. The stories are his defense mechanism for the harsh reality of his life. Through the stories of the films he remembers, Molina creates for himself an ideal world where everything happens as he wishes and he is not ostracized and he can build the relationship that fulfills his desire for a love of his life.

Molina's real life is nothing to get excited about. He is lonely and a loner. His close relationships are limited. In fact, he admits to having two close relationships, one with his mother, and one with a married man who he befriends despite the realization that they would not have a romantic relationship. While lamenting his imprisonment early in the novel, Molina tells Valentin about his mother and that he worries over her outside in the real world when he is not there. "I have that sensation, from being in here, of not being able to do anything; but in my case it's not a woman "“ not a girl I mean, it's my mother"¦ it's just that she's so sick" (35). His concern regarding her well being becomes a weight on his shoulders. He feels guilt for adding to her distress: ""¦ you still have to avoid upsetting them"¦ Imagine, the shame of having a son in prison. And for the reason" (35-6). Finally he admits that his greatest concern has to do with her loneliness "“ that with which he can relate. He feels he has upset her because "she misses me so much. We've always been very close" (36). It is never disclosed to the reader whether Molina's other close relationship is real or fantasy. When Valentin asks him for the man's name Molina replies, "No, his name no, that's for me. No one else"¦ That's the only thing of his that I have all to myself"¦ I'll never let it out" (59). It's as if the fantasy he's created inside his head about his relationship with this "real" man cannot be touched. If the story he's developed within his mind is brought into the real world he might lose it and have to realize that it's not actually true. Nonetheless he tells Valentin of a male friend the thought of who distracts him during the day. He has known him "three years today, the twelfth of September, the first day I went to the restaurant [where he works]" (59). For all the reader (and Valentin) knows, Molina went to the restaurant and saw this man and began developing a fantasy about him. When Valentin asks if this is the visitor Molina had in the prison recently Molina admits that no, that was "a girlfriend, about as much of a man as I am" (58). His other friends are like him, effeminate homosexuals and transvestites. While this group could be a source of support for him, he keeps them at a distance. What he wants is a "real man" (since he sees himself as female) and he continues to wait for that man to come and make his bad life good.

In the mean time, Molina waits under the veil of an imagined ideal world. This world is made up of fantasies he develops in his mind. The relationship with the waiter might be one of those, the reader does not know for sure. The other fantasies are revealed to the reader through his story telling to Valentin. They are myriad illusions of perfection; an ideal which Molina can only have in his mind, since his life is obviously not fulfilling his ideal. He begins telling Valentin the stories of films he remembers having seen, relating the stories with more details by the scene, and becoming more involved as the stories progress. The novel begins with the story of The Panther Woman. The reader's first clue that the films become an escape for Molina comes early on, when he explains that his mother decorated one of the characters' apartments. When the man and the Panther Woman marry and go home the first night they sleep in separate places, and Valentin interrupts the story to joke that the man slept on the sofa because he was "keeping an eye on his mother's furniture" (15). When Molina gets upset at Valentin's reaction, it's as though he is hurt that Valentin interrupted his fantasy. By pointing out the humor and separating fact from fiction, Valentin "break[s] the illusion" (17). And Molina needs the illusion to escape the harsh reality. He admits, "because until you brought it up I was feeling fabulous, I'd forgotten all about this filthy cell, and all the rest, just telling you about the film" (17). By escaping into the world of the film's story Molina can leave the bad, "dirty" reality somewhere else.

The second story that Molina relates to Valentin is that of a Nazi propaganda film. Many of the details that he describes are obvious anti-Jewish stereotypes "“ "there's an old butcher, with a pointy head, and one of those tiny caps sitting on the back of his scalp"¦like a rabbi" (48), "the one giving the orders"¦ he's a clubfoot"¦" (49) "“ but Molina seems to ignore them. Instead he focuses on the romantic nature of the story. He dotes on the love story and on the jewelry: "[strass is] back in fashion again, it looks like diamonds, only it's not worth anything, it's like little pieces of glass that sparkle"¦" (50). He describes the beauty of the characters ("The most divine woman you can ever imagine" (50)) and becomes completely involved in the story. But both the reader and Valentin notice the Nazi influence in the story, and the propaganda that infiltrates it. Again, when Valentin points out this obviously negative quality within the film, Molina becomes hurt and angry. Just as before, he does not want his illusion broken, because that makes all the bad, the real, the actual, real again. "Of course [it's] offensive the way you"¦ you think I don't even"¦ realize what Nazi propa-"¦ ganda is, but even if I"¦ if I do like it, well, that's be-"¦ because it's well made, and besides it's a work of art, you don't under-"¦ understand because you never saw it" (56). Later Molina explains precisely why this tendency of Valentin's to call him back to reality is so hurtful and bothersome. He says, ""¦ let me escape from reality once in a while, because why should I let myself get more depressed than I am? Otherwise I'll go nuts" (78). Clearly he needs this break from reality. He knows how bad his life is for the way he wants to be, and it's his only happiness, this world of the films.

Even though Valentin maintains his commitment to his ideology and his politics and remains skeptical of Molina's fantasies for a while, eventually he, too, is sucked into this escape-world. "It can become a vice," he warns his cell mate, "always trying to escape from reality like that, it's like taking drugs or something" (78). And escaping reality is almost like a drug for Molina. He cannot survive without it. He needs it or else he'll "go nuts." Eventually, though, Valentin, too, needs these films. Film after film he probes Molina to "tell me a little bit more" (79), "think about the picture you're going to tell me next" (47), "go on a little more" (25). Finally the power of the movie and the fantasy gets to him and he, too, needs the movies. He admits after his torture and Molina's death at the end of the novel that "I can't sleep anymore because he got me used to listening to him tell films every night, like lullabies." Molina manages, by way of the stories, to bridge a gap between himself and Valentin and show his cell mate how they share a different, but similarly dark reality and that they can escape it. And Valentin learns to yearn for that escape like a drug, like his friend.