Friday, 18 May 2018

ART IMITATING LIFE - Legion and Egon Schiele

Of all the narrative contortion's that FX's X-Men spin-off Legion pulls, the fourth episode of season two, "Chapter 12", manages to reign itself in, relatively, to reveal some of the backstory of Syd Barrett, a mutant who can transfer her consciousness to another person. After a virus causes people to get lost inside of their own heads, David (Dan Stevens) has to go inside their thoughts to release them. While every other person's mind was quite easy to decipher, David find's the mind of his girlfriend Syd (Rachel Keller) much more difficult to fix, mainly because the virus is not testing him, but Syd herself.

One of the most distinctive parts of the episode was an art gallery full of the artwork of early 20th century Austrian painter Egon Schiele, all blown up larger then their real life counterparts and lit by fluorescent lights. The painting's are a good easter egg to Legion comic creator Bill Sienkiewicz (along with Chris Claremont), who was influenced by the artist for the design of David Haller, with the big hair, spindly limbs, and dubious personality. Sienkiewicz was even inspired by Schiele for the season 2 promotional artwork, hinting at maybe a stronger influence from the artist then this one episode.

Of course, the inclusion of the art gallery scene is more meaningful then an easter egg. David wonders if it's something to do with the kissing lovers in the gallery, but that's wrong. He then talks about an artwork that we are not privileged to see as an audience, one of many self-portrait's that Schiele made in 1910. David doesn't much like the painting, depicting a naked, emaciated Schiele, with jaundice skin, red eyes, and his arms awkwardly wrapped around his head. Oh, and he also doesn't have any hands or feet.

David presumes that perhaps this is meant to represent Syd, a lover who literally cannot touch her partner, nor anyone else for that matter, and her dissatisfaction with her situation. Of course, he's wrong. Perhaps, as we the audience cannot see the artwork, it's suggested that David is seeing things in Syd that aren't there, things that Syd herself doesn't recognise, hinting at David's true and selfish opinion of Syd.

We are also shown other pictures by Schiele, including various self-portraits, both formal paintings and sketches, double self-portraits, portraits of dealers, dancers, and of his wife Edith. It's hinted that maybe Syd sees a kinship between herself and Schiele. For one, Syd may recognise an aspect of Schiele's self-involvement in herself. Schiele came to prominence at the end of the Viennese Secession movement, with Gustav Klimt being a main figurehead of that time, to rise up with his own style, an early rendition of Expressionism, a style defined by the artists own perception of the world. Schiele may be known for his self-portraits, but his portraits of other people and places betray his own ego each time, expressing more of himself then the subject. As someone who cannot physically connect with people, and who actually takes over their being when she does, this may be an aspect that Syd identifies with.

Schiele is also known for a series of double self-portraits, as well as triple self-portraits and paintings like 1915's "Female Lovers" and "Couple Embracing". These drawings suggest that Schiele recognised different aspects of himself, almost in a Jungian sense of the ego and the shadow, the self being made up of different personalities, so to say, and not so much of a unified being. Syd relates to David at the end of the episode a dark moment in her past, a period of trauma, a mistake that indicates her shadow self. However, for Syd, she is able to use these past episodes for strength rather then letting them torment her, as had been suggested within the mind-mazes of other members of the team that David entered in the last episode.

Speaking of the dark episode in Syd's past, this has an uncomfortable parallel with Schiele's own life. In the show, we see a teenage Syd want to experience sexual intercourse, and seizes an opportunity with her mother's passed out body, and her mother's boyfriend in the shower, to loose her virginity. Unfortunately, she transforms back into her own body halfway through, and the boyfriend is soon arrested. In Schiele's life, he was known for his heavily sexualised images, as well as the fact he drew children. He was arrested in 1912 on suspicion of seducing a minor, but later these charges were dropped and was instead tried and found guilty of exhibiting pornographic images in a place where children could see them. The vague similarities between these events indicate more the limits these people were prepared to endure: Schiele soon married a more respectable woman, and Syd became far more careful about how she used her powers. As of yet, she still hasn't physically embraced David.

Schiele may provide a hint for the future of the show too. As indicated in a Vulture article, Sienkiewicz was influenced by the "impetuous urgency" of Schiele's work, and there is a similar sense of urgency in the show, as an incoming war looms large on the horizon for our heroes. Syd embraces her dark side in order to save her light side, saying to David “God loves the sinners best because our fire burns bright”, inspiring David in the process. Schiele is definitely a figure that lurks in the grey area, much like David himself, and while a show about superheroes may indicate that the good guys will win out in the end, how their reputations will survive will have to be seen.

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