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Kline, T.J. (1976). Orpheus Transcending: Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 3:85-95.

(1976). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 3:85-95

Orpheus Transcending: Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris

T. Jefferson Kline

—Remember the first day? 'Madame will you give me the pleasure of this dance?'

—'But, sir, I don't know how to dance the tango.'

—'Nothing simpler, madame. I hold you in my arms. You've only to let yourself go.' … Ah, the uncertainty, the delicious disturbance of that first day of days. The searching, the awareness, the groping toward the unknown …JEAN ANOUILH, Eurydice

Amid all the heated debate concerning Last Tango in Paris—whether or not Mailer is right about Schneider's underwear, whether Brando emerged with irreparable psychic scars; whether butter is really better—much of the basic structure and message of the film have been overlooked. Despite its intensely personal references and its apparent looseness of construction, the film embodies an unusually coherent structure based on an intricate series of allusions to the ancient Orpheus–Eurydice myth, on the masterful interweaving of this myth with Bertolucci's already tested (in Partner and The Spider's Strategem) theme of the double, and on the psychological meaning which emerges from their confrontation.

According to the myth, Orpheus' wife Eurydice was fatally bitten by a serpent while fleeing the advances of her lover, Aristaeus. Inconsolable at her death, Orpheus managed to obtain permission from the gods of Hades to descend into the world of the dead to retrieve her. The infernal deities, softened by his poetry and music, allowed her to return to earth on condition that Orpheus precede her the entire way without looking back.

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