Positions of the Buddha

     In the 1938 film Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, and based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, a small statue of the Buddha appears in several key moments of the film. The figure almost represents a narrator to the story that never verbalizes, only expresses with his position in relation to the characters. It is not uncommon to have such a figure present in a home. I have a figure of an old Mexican man made of papier maché. He watches over my house as he has with all the houses I have inhabited. He is an angel guarding my house. He keeps everyone in line and positive.

     In a scene where Eliza (Wendy Hiller) is running from Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) and his torturous lecturing, he cuts her off and reprimands her for fleeing the situation. On the stairs beside him sits the Buddha. The statue is parallel to him on the same level as he is. Eliza is beneath the statue and beneath Higgins. The pair look down upon her, and she is forced to look up to them. In many religions height of a deity is a strict order, and no one may be as elevated as the deity. Eliza must work hard to attain the knowledge and character to join them on their lofty cloud.

     The next time the Buddha interjects his power upon the characters, Higgins is drilling Eliza on her dancing. They repeat steps over and over; and the Buddha is above the pair, hovering over them looking down. It is almost as if, when Henry is working with Eliza, he is on her level and the Buddha is chief of the scene. Perhaps Buddha is telling us that, in order for this scheme of Higgins to work, both he and Eliza must work and sacrifice.

     Ending with Eliza leaving the professor, the Buddha has the last unspoken word. She descends the stairs and passes a small table supporting a certain statue. Having probably never noticed the statue, and never understanding what it represents, she pays it no mind. She never sees how like the Buddha she has become. The fat figure is pure porcelain white, clean, untouched. It is what Eliza has become, purified, the ugliness stripped away, the essence revealed. As the statue is left to itself, so is our Ms. Dolittle; she leaves differently from the way she was when she had arrived but still leaves alone.

Paul M. Helwagen

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