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Analysis of John Collier's 'The Painting Lilith'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1536 words Published: 11th Aug 2021

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“Lilith” by John Collier was painted in 1892. There are numerous versions as to how she gained her status as a femme fatale. Historically, Lilith was the first wife of Adam in Jewish folklore. She, as opposed to Eve who was made from Adam’s rib, was made equally as Adam was. She was never a docile and obedient woman, and when she refused to be subservient to Adam during intercourse, she was banned from the Garden of Eden (Chong, 1988). Adam was then given a second wife, Eve, who was created from his rib in order to ensure obedience and submissiveness. When Lilith was cast out, she was made into a demonic figure, dwelling within a cave where she sported her demon lovers (Chong, 1988). This femme fatale was demonized by early culture as a symbol of promiscuity and disobedience, yet modern day feminists see her as a positive role model; a figure commanding to be equal to man during the first creation (Chong, 1988). She was a female demon of the night that slept with men to seduce them in to propagating demon sons (Hefner, 2003). She had an obsession with newborns and infants and would strangle and kill them whenever she came upon them. This amounted when God threatened to take away and kill her demonic children unless she returned to Adam as a woman who knows her place with a man, not as one who considers herself equal. When she refused to return, she was punished accordingly. She launched a reign of terror over women in childbirth and newborn infants, instilling a great sense of fear in them. Even though the story of Lilith eventually faded, her demonic daughters, the Lilim, retained her legacy and haunted men and pregnant women for years to come (Hefner, 2003). Lilith is described as a goddess of lust and passion, bringing sexual ecstasy to those who worship her and deadly destruction to anyone foolish enough to oppose her (Rimmer, 2003).

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Collier used small brush strokes to create an almost lifelike rendering of Lilith. She is portrayed with beautiful long red hair; a classic telltale sign of a femme fatale. Most paintings of religious women in the nude are shown in the ‘modest Venus’ pose with their hands over their breasts and around their waists to maintain their respectable reputation. However Lilith is shown here with no shame. She is painted with no particular pose as if unaware of her surroundings with a serpent appropriately positioned around her waist. The serpent has been historically symbolic of evil and relates Lilith to her demonic lovers and to the myth of her infatuation to kill infant children. The serpent may also represent the serpent that tempted the docile Eve into eating the forbidden fruit and eventually getting herself as well as Adam banished from the Garden of Eden. She is not shown here in a cave where she dwelled with her demonic lovers, but in a lush forest perhaps representing her time spent in the Garden of Eden.

“The Last Seduction” was shot and released in 1994 with main character Bridget Gregory, whose point of view the story is told in. As the opposite of the classical femme fatale who presents herself as a sweet, innocent victim on the verge of manipulating the protagonist, Bridget does not pretend to be innocent, nor does she even pretend to be vulnerable. She steals a bag of money containing $700,000 dollars from her drug dealing husband, Clay, after a small altercation where he slaps her. Heading to Chicago, she stops in a small town where she meets Mike who is back in town after an in-and-out marriage and divorce to a transsexual in Buffalo. The two instantly hook up; however there is a conflict of interest. Bridget is just looking for sex while Mike is looking for an excuse to get out of town. She is the validation he needs to pursue a more glamorous life (Bogert, 2009). Within this small town, Bridget changes her name and coincidently gets a job at the same insurance company as her lover, Mike. Meanwhile, Clay is on the lookout for her, frantically searching for his wife and the stolen money in order to pay off a loan shark with a short temper who is after him. The character of Bridget is completely amoral and willing to do any deed, regardless of the consequence, to secure the money as her own (Brent, 2011). She goes as far as claiming to have committed a murder to Mike, and then persuades him to do the same to prove his love and commitment to her. She portrays her husband to Mike as a tax lawyer cheating elderly women out of their homes in order to give Mike a sense of meaning to the murder; he would be doing a good deed. Mike travels with Bridget back to New York and breaks into the attorney’s apartment and ties the man up, who he later finds out to be Clay, Bridget’s husband. They hatch a plot to double cross her, but she turns the table as she kills Clay herself. She tells her stunned lover that they can finally be together and to rape her as role play. When he refuses and threatens to call the police, she informs him that she knows the truth about his marriage to his transsexual partner. She manages to trick an enraged Mike into having rough sex with her while she dials 911 and has a dispatcher on line listening to the commotion. Mike ends up in jail facing rape and murder charges while the manipulative Bridget escapes with the money, unharmed and unconcerned by her actions.

Bridget Gregory is portrayed as intelligent, calm, ruthless and lacks any concern for human compassion whatsoever. “Anybody check you for a heartbeat lately?” asks her lawyer. All other characters revolve within her intricate scheme and those who have crossed her path are either dead or more impaired than at the beginning of the film. At no point does she pretend to be nice or weak. Bridget could have eased the situation by paying off the loan shark after her husband, but she would not even consider that. He slapped her; after all, she’s only slapping him back, as she says herself (Bogert, 2009). This woman sees men as disposable. She never tries to make the innocent small-town boy think that she is good or that someone is trying to hurt her (Wroblewski, 1996). Bridget manipulates Mike so that he is more consumed with impressing Bridget than maintaining his self respect. She is in fact a schemer, at times fronting to be even more ruthless than she really is by requiring her lover to believe she is a murderer (Wroblewski, 1996). He finds out she is an uncaring woman with the mind of a psychotic manipulator, but she offers him fantastic sex which he begins to believe is enough to convince him that she loves him. She is not quite a mastermind, but she pays attention to the details. “Bridget is always on top of Mike; during sex, at their job and in the end when she frames him for the murder of her husband,” (Bogert, 2009). In numerous ways, this modern femme fatale behaves like a stereotypical man, keeping Mike at a distance when he insists on a relationship more than meaningless sex, and maintaining total control of every situation. She tells Mike, “A woman loses 50% of her authority when people find out who she’s sleeping with.” Even in the fictional life she created while with Mike, she needs to maintain that image of pure authority among everyone she encounters. She would never risk relinquishing her authoritarian persona. Her motivation is cash, plain and simple. In spite of her cunning, less-than-likeable personality, she can still effectively emasculate men into giving her what she wants. Mike spends much of the film hoping that he can break through Bridget’s cold persona and make her genuinely love him. She makes his infatuation with her almost unbearable. She is a good judge of character and can tell exactly what to say to manipulate any man, such as when she’s held at gunpoint by a private investigator and manages to get out of the situation by compelling him to prove to her the theory that black men are better endowed. He gladly obliges.

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It appears that the shift in gender roles is what made the modern day figures of femme fatales so alluring. Classical femme fatales have always appeared as the ones in control; they dominate the scene, like the captivating “Lilith.” Although, never since the emergence of femme fatale art have powerful women ever been characterized as this nasty, abrasive, intelligent, cunning, and most of all, sexy. Post modern femme fatales transform and expand classical femme fatales by exploring a woman’s sexuality, betrayal, and the vulnerability of the human mind in ways it could not have previously been done. Bridget finds the weaknesses of all the men she encounters and impairs each one in various ways. The audience is not aware that she has plotted her entire scheme out from the beginning; we watch as her plan unfolds and are left wondering if there were any glitches she had to improvise or if her plan went exactly as followed. Movies from this current era featuring femme fatales as the scheming woman with her ‘innocent’ affair have seemed to open up an entire genre dedicated to non-traditional women altering the typical gender roles and being the dominant character who, although cunning, selfish, and manipulative, end up succeeding in the end.


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