How does Irena’s insistence that she is Serbian actually strengthen the argument that Irena is insane rather than her actually being a cat person?
The film is designed to create ambiguity in the solution of what exactly happens. While the ending seems to indicate that Irena really is a cat person, other evidence points to the interpretation that she is psychologically unbalanced. To begin, despite her claim of being Serbian, she clearly speaks in a French accent. Secondly, Serbia never had a King named John, though there was an Emperor with that name. Third, her assertion that Serbia’s King John drove the Mameluks from her home village conflicts with the Mameluks as Egyptian warriors who have no historical record of incursion into Serbia.
How is Irena a “tragic heroine” comparable to Oedipus in the Aristotelian sense?
Like the all-time tragic hero—Oedipus—Irena is the victim of a curse who is trying to match wits with the forces of fate and destiny. Also like the former King of Thebes, it is by choosing to defy fate and entering into a marriage that Irena must come face to face to with the reality of the curse upon her. The tragic flaw that is so strongly associated with Aristotelian heroes, in fact, might well be described as the love for Oliver that stimulates her to enter into a relationship that she cannot help but know is destined for a bad ending regardless of how things actually turn out.
In what ways does the film present a starkly phallocentric universe that may be the root of Irena’s fear of sexuality?
Rather than merely patriarchal, the world in which Irena movies is distinctly phallocentric one. The imagery of the sword as the weapon of choice for killing the evil which is what the cat really symbolizes should most definitely be read as symb0lizing male dominance through the power of the penis. When Dr. Judd attempts to press his hypothesis that Irena is merely suffering from the effects of psychological repression by forcing himself on her sexually, his actual penis fails to do the intended job and he is forced to rely upon the symbolic penis-substitute sword hidden in his cane. Alas for him, this symbolic phallus proves to be too little—pardon the pun—too late.
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