The Great Perhaps: Subjectivity in Eve’s Bayou

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“Memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others printed indelibly on the brain.” So begins Kasi Lemmons’ transgressive, inventive, and bold depiction of doubt and desire in her debut film Eve’s Bayou. In this opening line, we are introduced to a fundamental theme of the film: the unreliability of memory, both as a result of selection and imposition. The notion of selection is of particular interest, as it connects to the psychoanalytic session in which the analysand filters her memories and chooses words to signify their dreams and experiences to the analyst. The voice that opens the film is from an older Eve, adding a layer of temporal distance, an invasion of the present into the past, and further unreliability. As Kara Keeling suggests in “Reflections on Black Femme,” the adult Eve “frames images from her childhood,” which occupy a specific set of images or experiences (page 141.) Yet as Deleuze elaborates, “there is always a larger set,” the unseen which this film draws attention to by virtue of exclusion (page 142.)

The notion of imposition is also discussed by Freud in his assertion that sexuality originates from without, staining one’s memory as the primal scene of sexual trauma. We see this scene depicted within the first few seconds of the film. This scene operates in a transgressive and spiritual space, a radical elsewhere that is only accessed through the black femme functions. Keeling describes it as full of “grooves that remain irrational and ignored – invisible,” (page 158.) The ambiguity of the scene characterizes the liminality of the black femme function and the invisible grooves to which Keeling refers.

In addition to the narration, Lemmons draws attention to the doubt and subjectivity that surrounds the primal scene through camera and sound. This opening scene is framed in a very tight shot, in which it is almost impossible to discern the image. It is also shot in slow motion, further muddling the action of the vision. The use of black and white, which formerly colored the bayou in Eve’s description of its history, further disrupts the temporality of the scene. Ambiguity is underscored in the audio track as well, with indiscernible sounds accompanying the image – perhaps primal, animalistic noises, perhaps a gasp or moan? The answer lies in the perhaps.