ice diplomat: Lepage’s Dark Side of the Moon

I haven’t seen the stage version of La Face Cachée de la Lune, a play written by Robert Lepage and first performed at Le Theatre du Trident in Quebec in 2000. But last night I had a great time watching the 2003 film version, in English subtitles.

The title translates as The Dark Side of the Moon. Like the moon, which has a cold, always shadowed side and the bright, less asteroid-smashed side, the two brothers in the story can be seen as two versions of one psyche – especially since Lepage himself acts the role of the two Montreal brothers.

lepage dark side of moon

Philippe, the one who is somewhat emotionally disfigured by living with a brain tumor, was always shadowed (protected) by his mother until her recent death, which he is having difficulty processing. The smart, successful, vain and beautiful brother, André, makes his living in the one of the brightest public lenses: the blare of the TV lens captures his daily weather reports.

The two brothers have bitterness between them but since their mother has died, they want to reconcile somehow over the vast, cold distance of narcissism.

Ice becomes the peacemaker, believe it or not. Yes, The Ice Cubicle was excited to see that ice gets to be a key player in allowing the two brothers to form tendrils of connection across their estranged relationship.

Oh, but I should also add that the vast, cold distance of narcissism is also the topic of Philippe’s research, as he chases a doctorate based on the thesis that the US-Russian space race of the 60s was based more on vanity and narcissism than on curiosity.

“Spoiler Alert” applies to the rest of this post for those who haven’t yet seen the flick.

In Scene 5.16/DVD chapter 15, Philippe is in Moscow and has just failed to present his thesis on the space race as narcissism to a group of elite Russian scientists. André, very reluctantly, had agreed to look in on Philippe’s apartment – and the goldfish, Beethoven – while Philippe is away. Unfortunately, an ice storm hits Montreal, All the power is out for several days, and when André checks on Beethoven, the entire fishbowl is a frozen sphere of ice. Containing a pretty, bright orange, completely frozen specimen of common goldfish.

This is ice’s trickster chance at making something good happen out of a loss. Philippe phones André just as André has discovered the dead fish and is trying desperately to find a pet shop in the phone book so he can replace Beethoven without having to confess what happened. André’s boyfriend, Carl, insists that André should tell Philippe the truth, face up to something real for once. “Maybe he’ll react … differently” Carl says (I paraphrase).

Clearly, nothing could terrify André more. But he does tell Philippe the truth. Aggressively, in a rush of words, over the phone, like this:

Look, Philippe, I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m afraid … Beethoven’s dead.

(pause)

Not the composer. Mom’s fish. It’s not my fault. I came over.
There’s an ice storm. No power. The place is freezing, and the fish is frozen.
It’s not my fault, I did what I could.
I hope you’re grateful, I fed it for a week,
and I’m honest enough to say he’s dead!
I could’ve gone to a pet shop and replace it with another!
You’d never have known!

(pause)

I know it’s the last living thing Mom had!
Now I’m the last living thing Mom had!
So you better change your damn attitude!

Equally clearly, Beethoven was Philippe’s last connection to their mother, and to living his whole life thus far in her maternal sphere. Philippe begins to cry, and finally asks André the hardest question of all: was their mother’s death a suicide?

And so ice brings the brothers to a point of hesitant openness. Vulnerability replaces their hostile hardness – ice takes the hardness and curtails it.

Ice is the silent but necessary diplomat at the peak of the plot’s crisis – so silent it doesn’t get a byline when the film credits roll. But ice’s frozen, crackly surface does get several seconds of close-up focus, not to mention an impressive cascade of emotional outpouring, when André and Carl discover that it’s there. So we’ll be content with that.

* * *

Film details for buffs:

Director Robert Lepage
Producer Bob Krupinski, Mario St-Laurent
Executive Producer Robert Lantos, Daniel Langlois
Writer Robert Lepage (based on his stage play)
Cinematographer Ronald Plante, Ronald Plante
Editor Philippe Gagnon
Sound Louis Gignac, Mario Rodrigue, François Senneville, Pierre Bouchard
Music Benoit Jutras

Principal Cast Richard Fréchette, Robert Lepage, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Marco Poulin, Érika Gagnon
Production Company Media Principia, FCL Films

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