Masculine Jealousies in The End of The Affair

Candida Yates
University of East London
London, UK

This paper draws on psychoanalytic and cultural theories to explore the representation of masculine jealousies in Neil Jordan's film The End of the Affair (US, 1999). Jealousy provides a useful case study to explore the shifting unconscious underpinnings of Western masculinities, because male jealousy has historically played a key psychosocial role in defining and guarding the emotional and cultural boundaries of men. However, throughout the twentieth century, the rules of entitlement and possession have changed, and the cultural codes surrounding male jealousies are now often ambiguous and uncertain. There are a number of competing views about the representation of masculinities in popular culture. On the one hand, it is argued that the changes and uncertainties of late modernity have provoked a defensive response and a paranoid cultural "backlash" in the media. Yet on the other hand, it is argued that contemporary culture has opened up new hegemonic spaces that facilitate the construction of less rigid, and more fluid male subjectivities. This paper uses selected examples taken from The End of the Affair to argue that contemporary representations of masculinity also potentially straddle something in between. This ambiguity reflects the jealous doubts and fears about the loss of possession and entitlement, which also accompany a new reflective awareness of the contradictions and costs of more traditional definitions of masculinity.


As we have discussed, it is widely argued that Western societies are currently witnessing a crisis of masculinity. The cultural binary oppositions that in the past have sustained the boundaries of gendered sexualities have been tested and have begun to shift and the old narratives of masculinity, and what it means to be a man are no longer convincing. This has a number of implications for images of masculinity in popular culture and popular cinema, where one can argue that the prevalence of images of male suffering and emotional crisis are part of a broader "cultural undoing' of masculinity. So how are we to theorise such a cultural response? From a feminist perspective, do these images of masculinity in crisis represent a meaningful shift in which new spaces for masculinity can emerge, which are less narcissistic and which can exist and live with difference, without resorting to strategies of mastery to overcome the other? As Caroline has discussed in her paper, post-modern culture does provide potential spaces for new, transitional formations of masculinity, which point to something new and different. However, as she also argued, these spaces may be reigned in by hegemonic discourses, which work defensively against masculinities, which trouble the boundaries of the old patriarchal moral order.

This paper explores these tensions, through an interdisciplinary framework, that draws on psychoanalytic and cultural theories to explore the representation of masculine jealousies and difference in Neil Jordan's 1998 film The End of The Affair. I will also look at the discourses about the film and its cultural reception in reviews and articles in UK press, where fantasies of nation, Englishness and jealous possession predominate. I use The End Of The Affair, as a case study to explore the ambiguity of cinematic representations of jealous masculinities. This ambiguity connotes a mixed cultural response to masculinity in crisis, which reflects the jealous doubts and fears about the loss of male possession, which accompany a new reflexive awareness of the contradictions and costs of more traditional definitions of masculinity. However, the transitional, ambiguous quality of these representations are countered and potentially closed down in its cultural reception by hegemonic discourses within the UK press. Their response to the film was shot through with anxieties about the potential failures of masculinity, the loss of mastery, and the fear of otherness. Interestingly, the language of jealousy and betrayal was a theme of these press reviews, in which anxieties about difference were encoded through the discourse of Englishness and nation. For purposes of clarification I shall first turn to the relationship between masculinity and jealousy.

Masculine jealousies

One definition of the crisis of masculinity is that it is about coming to terms with this notion of loss and a more flawed vision of its self (Butler, 2000; Cook, 1982; Radstone, 1995). Jealousy provides a useful case study to explore this, because it tests the ability to cope with the complex emotions and anxieties that arise in relation to wounded narcissism and feelings of loss. Jealousy has historically played a key role in shaping Western masculinities, and guarding the social and emotional boundaries of men (Baumgart, 1990; Mullen, 1991; Stearns, 1988; Yates, 2000). From a psychoanalytic perspective, it is possible to speak of a jealous sensibility on the part of men, where possession of the phantasy phallus has played a central role in the shaping of defensive masculinities and the negation of femininity as other.

Psychoanalytic theory argues that while ambivalence lies at the heart of subjectivity, a central ontological tension of human development and experience is about learning to live with difference, rather than to deny or entirely remove it (Craib, 1994; Laplanche and Pontalis, 1988). This is potentially fraught with tensions, conflicts and irrational desires. It is the analysis of these struggles, which underpins a psychodynamic perspective on the politics of identity and the conflicts of sexual difference (Frosh, 1994, 1997). The study of male jealousies provides a useful lens through which to study the concept of identity and (sexual) difference, as jealousy contains both love and hate and so is the proto-typical ambivalent emotion (Yates, 2000).

In psychoanalytic and social terms, jealousy tests one's capacity to cope with difference and the separateness of the object. Psychoanalytic accounts argue that normal, healthy jealousy is characterised by an ability to tolerate ambivalence (Fenichel, 1946: 512-513). In tracing jealous feelings back to the unresolved conflicts of the Oedipus complex (and for Klein (1957), the depressive position), classical psychoanalysis places jealousy at the heart of its narrative of the ambivalent feeling subject. In this sense, psychoanalytic discourse argues that jealousy is a fact of life, and an extremely painful, if normal unhappiness that has to be endured (Baumgart, 1990; Craib, 1994; Freud, 1922, 1917). Following on from this, one can argue that certain forms of jealous feelings can provide evidence of the ability to cope with emotional ambivalence (Hinshelwood, 1991:341). It may be a sign that one is able to tolerate the kind of internal conflict that occurs when encountering difference and othernessI apply this model of jealousy to Bollas's (1993) model of a "good-enough Oedipus complex", which he associates with the subject's capacity to tolerate psychic complexity. Bollas's approach can applied in order to think more positively about the potentialities of contemporary masculinities as it implies the capacity to tolerate otherness and the complexities of difference.

However, more extreme and overly possessive forms of masculine jealousy - or the unconscious denial of jealousy altogether, may also be read as symptomatic of a destructive narcissistic defence against some imagined threat to the self and a fragile over-precarious identity (Fenichel 1946: 512). These more destructive jealousy scenarios present a more pessimistic picture regarding the psychic narcissistic underpinning of masculinity and the possibilities of change. The implication is that at moments such as these, the crisis of masculinity has not brought about an open-ness to change, but rather, has evoked a more petrified, hysterical response. The tensions between these different jealous positions, which may also overlap in different instances, also reflect the tensions of our debate regarding the hegemonic significance of hysterical masculinities as a cultural form.

From a socio-cultural perspective, sexual jealousy has in the past been socially and legally sanctioned in Europe as the male prerogative, and as a means to defend the integrity of men. Throughout the 20th century, however, the rules of entitlement and possession have changed and the cultural codes surrounding male jealousies are now often ambiguous and uncertain. In psychoanalytic and cultural terms, this also opens up new spaces for a different kind of response when faced with the uncertainties of potential jealous scenarios.

It is not surprising that if men are finding it hard to cope with the changes and losses of late modernity, then jealousy is one of the main places where such anxieties might emerge and find representation in popular culture. The study of popular cinema provides a useful lens through which to explore masculine jealousies, as jealous Oedipal struggles have occupied an important role in the history of Western narrative cinema (Lebeau, 2001, Mulvey, 1975). However, the possessive gaze of the hero and the emotional and moral outcomes of jealous triangles are now often less certain and far more ambiguous than in previous years. In order to illustrate and explore these issues and themes in more depth, I now turn to The End Of The Affair.

Case study: The End Of The Affair

The End Of The Affair (1999) is a drama about a passionate adulterous love affair in London during World War 2. The film is based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Graham Greene, and is directed and adapted by Neil Jordan. It stars Ralph Fiennes as the jealous lover Maurice Bendrix, Stephen Rea as the husband Henry and Julianne Moore as the wife and lover, Sarah. The film does not offer the spectator any comfortable identificatory positions within the jealous triangle. Instead, it opens up critical spaces for imagining a different kind of settlement between the rivalrous parties concerned, and potentially invites a more emotionally complex response from the spectator. However, as I go on to discuss, the film received a mixed response in the UK press and its textual ambiguities unsettled the British critics. One can read this as a defensive territorial response to the potentiality of space made available through the film's exploration of jealousy.

Hysterical Bendrix; reflexive jealous hero or drama queen?

The jealousy of the leading male protagonist, Maurice Bendrix, occupies a central role in the narrative and provides a good example of a more nuanced, post-modern portrayal of jealous masculinity. Although the story belongs to Bendrix, his narrative is constantly de-centred and undermined by other voices and by the events that take place. Throughout the film, Bendrix struggles to know everything, and to possess all the facts, but he doesn"t and can"t. Bendrix's preoccupation with his own jealousy is a major theme throughout the film and provides a central narrative focus for his account of jealous loss and desire. Bendrix's jealousy resonates at a number of levels; the search for the lost object, a quest for knowledge and truth and the lacking jealous subject who projects everything onto the idealised other.

Bendrix's relationship to his own jealousy is paradoxical because while he seems to be utterly taken up with his jealous feelings, he is nevertheless able to in effect stand back and observe them, to use his skills as a writer to record and analyse them. Bendrix's ambiguous jealous sensibility embodies a mixture of character traits associated with modernism and postmodernism. For example, as a writer, he is in many ways, the postmodern subject par excellence, who, in effect, is able to deconstruct himself as he tells the story, highlighting the performative nature of masculinity. For the spectator, this provides the space for a more critical relationship to the jealous protagonist, as one is invited to identify and question him at the same time.

Bendrix's angry insecurity and quarrelsome manner may make him an "unlikely hero" (N. Jordan, Time Out, 12-19/1/2000, p.22). But he nevertheless offers the audience an example of reflexive, feeling-ful masculinity, as throughout the film he constantly articulates his jealousy in the mode of a Freudian confessional, and shares with us even his most nasty feelings of jealous possession. In this way, he is at once all surface and depth, and this helps to produce more varied and critical spaces for audience identifications. However, in main, the more complex and nuanced portrayal of Bendrix's jealousy is achieved at the expense of the female protagonist, whose subjectivity is given less narrative depth and instead is idealised in a fairly traditional manner. A section of the narrative is told from her point of view, and is narrated by her in the form of a voice over. However, what we see is his vision of what she is saying and so her story is mediated by his interpretation of events. In a sense then, in giving his interpretation of her story, he also steals her narrative, something that reinforces Bendrix's theft of the diary within the story itself. In so doing, he also excludes her from the new potential space he now occupies.

This scenario illustrates the debate we cited earlier about whether recent representations of a "new" more feeling-ful masculinity in popular culture signify a substantial cultural shift, or whether such representations merely point to something more circular and superficial. Do such images of emotional masculinity point negatively to a form of "melodramatic" masculinity based more on an empty and superficial identification with the feminine, as in the form of a hysterical mimicry, or in a more Kleinian vein, in the form of an envious appropriation? One could argue that in the case of Bendrix in The End Of The Affair, it is his story of emotional unhappiness that remains dominant throughout. Like an emotional transvestite, he steals her clothes and vicariously, she is given space to become a player in Bendrix's psychodrama of jealousy and lost romance.

Homoeroticism and rivalry; the tensions of sameness and difference

However, the film does challenge more traditional patriarchal narratives of jealousy, which more usually involves two men jealously hating and killing each other over a woman. The rivalry between the husband and lover is portrayed less rigidly than is normally the case, and the boundaries between the two are men more fluid, as they end up living together and finding friendship with one another. Freud (1922) argues that there is a close relationship between the repression of homosexuality and morbid jealousy and rivalry. This has key implications for representations of jealousy and the toleration of sexual difference. The End Of The Affair does present the possibility of a different outcome between the jealous men. For example, Bendrix (the jealous lover) ceases to hate his rival Henry (the husband) and adopts a close affectionate relationship with him instead. Thus, from a Freudian perspective, the affection between the two men is less defended in its depiction of masculinity (and by implication, the repression of homosexuality appears lessened), resulting in a withdrawal of negative projections between the rivalrous parties concerned.

This ending would suggest a shift from what Leslie Fielder (1970: 348) has described as the "violent repression of homoeroticism in the History of Hollywood films. As a number of feminist scholars have since documented, the repression of homoeroticism and its projection onto female characters in the form of the masterful gaze, has been a recurring theme in the history of patriarchal cinema. However, the authoritarian denial of homosexuality has also been associated with violence between male characters, where for example, "male buddy movies' in particular, blur the boundary, however, "between pejoration and titillation' (Radstone, 1995:163). Representations of destructive male rivalry in jealousy films can also be seen in this light and can be viewed as "an authoritarian defence' against homosexuality and the differences associated with femininity.

However, in The End Of The Affair, the Jealous ending is more ambiguous and promises a different settlement between the parties concerned, which in turn has implications for the ways in which masculinity is proposed and imagined.

On the one hand, the lessening of the projections between the two men at the end of the film implies an acceptance of sameness between them, but it also emphasises their difference in relation to other models of rivalry, where the masculinity of the jealous subject and rival is more usually constructed as different, and as a defence against any possible desire between them.

Yet it is still the case that the positive aspects of the jealous ending in The End Of The Affair is compromised and comes at a cost. As I mentioned earlier, the portrayal of male soul searching and bonding is arguably at the expense of the female protagonist Sarah who in the end dies. In contrast to Deborah Kerr who played the role of Sarah in an earlier 1955 film version, Julian Moore's portrayal of the role is more disembodied and saintly. Her subjectivity is given less space and has less narrative depth than the lover and the husband, who in the end, literally embrace over her dead body. So although the representation of male rivalry does appear to open up new spaces for a good-enough jealousy, which mitigates against the desire for mastery, this is hegemonically countered by the idealised depiction of Sarah, whose saintly demise does seem to offer a solution for the "failing' masculinities depicted on screen. Indeed, one can argue that her demise may be essential to it.

In this film we see two kinds of "failing" masculinity, firstly in the guise of the hysterical jealous lover, Bendrix and secondly in the guise of the depressed and jealous cuckolded husband Henry. In parallel with Julian Moore's mannered impersonation of 1940's upper middle class English femininity, both masculinities are represented through the trope of the English gentlemen. As I now go on to discuss, it was this theme of Englishness, together with the question of its authenticity, which found most expression in the publicity reviews around the film.

Neil Jordan as the outsider

The more complex portrayal of male jealousy in The End of the Affair is related to the subtlety of Greene's original book, but also to Jordan's screen play and his interpretation of the novel. Jordan is renowned for making controversial "crossover" films, which appeal to both art house and mass entertainment audiences.

(E.g. Mona Lisa 1986, The Crying game, 1992, Interview with the Vampire, 1994, The Butcher Boy 1997), In interviews, Jordan positions himself somewhat romantically as "the outsider" to the British establishment and he draws on the discourses of authenticity and nation, but in an oppositional way, to discuss jealousy both as a marker of " real' male passion, and also as marker of national difference between the repressed English and the more liberated Irish:

"It was very interesting making this film as an Irish person, because our relationship to emotion in language is far more combative. We have extreme explosions of emotion. For me to be dealing with this degree of understatement was fascinating.... The image means much more. It's a very un-Irish thing …. The Standard English accent is part of a culture which is designed to conceal emotion" (Time Out, 12-19/1/2000, p.20-22).

Jordan argues that Greene did not conform to the model of the emotionally repressed Englishman, and in this respect, Jordan identifies with, and says he feels a certain empathy for the man and his work. Jordan infers that Greene was (like him) the "outsider" in terms of British masculinity, and he points to the unconventional eroticism of his relationship with his lover, the "decadent' Catherine Walston as evidence of this (Time Out, Ibid.).

Englishness, nation and the struggle in the UK press.

However, Jordan's critical interpretation and treatment of Englishness in the film and his unconventional adaptation of Greene's work caused a certain amount of consternation in the UK press. Just as Neil Jordan positions himself and appears to identify with the predicament of the lover and the romantic outsider, the UK press responded like angry cuckolds, and put up a more spirited jealous defence of the object, the object being Graham Greene, and in particular, Greene as a signifier of Englishness. The desire to re-coup and control the potential unpleasures of the text and its losses was thus dealt with in the UK press, by focussing possessively on Graham Greene as a part of English heritage.

For example, in the reviews, discourses of jealousy and nation converge about the fidelity of the film to Greene's novel and the national authenticity of the book's adaptation to the screen. The English press also position Jordan as an outsider, but in more negative terms as a "foreigner " (Andrews, Financial Times, 10/2/2000, p.18), trespassing on the hallowed ground of Graham Greene, who they claim for their own. It is as if Jordan the Irish "outsider' had trespassed on and taken liberties with Greene's novel and the British literary tradition, which for them, he appeared to represent (Case, Time Out, 12-19/1/00,p.20-22; Patterson, Guardian Section 2, 10/12/99, p.27).

There was criticism from reviewers about (the liberties he had taken with the plot, especially in terms of) the "needless sexual reunion" of Bendrix and Sarah's trip to Brighton (Bradshaw, The Guardian, G2, 11/2/00, p.4). It is as if this excessive representation of "infidelity", itself constituted an infidelity on the part of Jordan to Greene's novel, and it appears to have offended the sentiments of certain overly English possessive critics who feel that Jordan betrayed the authentic English literary heritage of Graham Greene.

The inferred jealous battle for possession of Greene's literary heritage is of course absurd, given that he was an international writer (and in fact wrote the novel while staying with his mistress on the very sunny un-English Isle of Capri). However, issues of truth and national authenticity, which is meant to be a defining feature of the heritage film genre, were a constant theme in the reviews. For example, English critics believed that despite all the authentic period visual details of the props, scenes and costumes and so on, the film nevertheless presents an inaccurate historical picture of Englishness during the Second World War. There was criticism that the clipped English voices of the American actor Julianne Moore and the Irish Stephen Rea were a trifle over done (Quirke, Independent On Sunday, 13/2/00). Related to this was the criticism about the choice of an American to play Sarah and an Irishman to play the cuckolded husband. In contrast to the very English Peter Cushing (the husband in an earlier version of the film), Stephen Rea's portrayal of the husband was too weak and depressed, and he didn"t come across as jealous enough. But the choice of Fiennes for the part of Bendrix (whom Greene originally based on him self) received universal praise from the critics (P. Bradshaw, The Guardian, Section 2, 11/2/000, p.2). Fiennes" interpretation was universally praised amongst other things, because he is and appears to be so English, and his interpretation of Bendrix /Greene was said to be all the more authentic for that (P. Bradshaw, The Guardian, Section 2, 11/2/00, p.4).

The historian Raphael Samuals (1994) argues negatively, that a "cult of authenticity" exists in Heritage films that work to legitimate and reproduce a particular idealised and reactionary view of nation and of that nation's historical past. More broadly, one can argue that the desire for authenticity and a fidelity to "the real' is related to the loss of faith in the narratives that once defined and codified the myths and patriarchal certainties in the West. However, in The End Of The Affair, this loss of faith, together with its disorientating emotional connotations, are both evoked and problematised in a number of ways, which touch on anxieties about the strangeness of a settlement where the certainties of the borders, once constituted by the struggle for mastery rivalrous possession, are left open and unguarded. However, as discussed, the UK press responded defensively to the loss of mastery, and the tensions of difference implied by these new spaces. This cultural resistance, together with the unconscious anxieties underpinning it, were articulated and channelled through the discourses of jealousy, Englishness and nation.

Such tensions and fears have a number of implications for the cultural shaping of masculinities, and as discussed in our papers, the potentiality of new spaces in popular cinematic texts. In psychoanalytic terms, these resistances also point to the potential psychic anxieties about the strangers "within" and without, and the imaginary others, which threaten the overly narcissistic borders of the Western patriarchal imagination (Kristeva, 1991). Learning to live with ambiguity and difference is easier said than done, but a necessary step in learning to tolerate the personal and political uncertainties of contemporary cultural life.


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The End of The Affair, dir. Neil Jordan, 1999, US/Ger. Prod. Columbia Pictures.

The End of The Affair, dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1955, UK Columbia Pictures.