Jane Campion – An Exercise in Discipline – Peel (1982)


Review (Geraldine Bloustien, ‘Jane Campion: memory, motif and music’. Continuum)
Peel explores the dynamics of family relationships and the way patterns of power can be
learnt and repeated. It also says a great deal about our need for daydreams and fantasies.
The film opens with a juxtaposed, almost cacophonous mixture of sounds and visual images –
the noise of the radio being switched from station to station, the flash of cars on the
roadway, the white lines on the road and the thump of what we discover is an orange
being thrown against the front windscreen of the car, like a ball. In contrast to this
nerve-jangling montage, the graphics after the large and forceful title – PEEL – present
us with a diagram connecting the words ‘sister’, ‘brother’ and ‘son’ in a triangle and
we are informed, again through the written text, that the film explores ‘an exercise in
discipline’ and that this is a ‘real story’ of ‘a real family’. In other words, it would
seem at first sight that we are being asked to regard this film as a scientific study, a
documentary exploring anthropological patterns of kinship, perhaps. However, the
contrast between the opening montage of subjective images with the more formal graphics
already alerts us to the tension in the car and that all may not be as it seems.

The framing echoes the tension: the child’s body in the earlier car shots is crammed into
the frame so that it forms a triangular shape; the characters are usually positioned
off-centre, emphasising the emotional distance between the family members. When more
than one character appears in the frame at the same time the screen is divided by the use
of a door or window frame or the placing of one character in the extreme foreground and
the other in the background. Thus the film is not an ‘exercise in discipline’ but a study of
the way the individual members of the family react to having their own needs and desires
thwarted by the others. The battle over the peel is basically a battle to have one’s own
needs recognised by the others and a need to gain power and control in a situation where
one feels powerless.

The film turns a neat circle as the father and son are reconciled when finally the son
retrieves the orange peel. The two return united to the car only to find that the sister
has now decided to drop some orange peel as her expression of defiance. The child has
learnt his lesson well it seems and tells his aunt to “pick it up!” She, however, refuses
to be bullied even though she knows that the further delay will mean that she will miss
the whole of Countdown. The film ends with a number of extreme close-ups of the faces
of all three family members and as each face is superimposed on the other we are led
inevitably to consider the similar implacability of the three. The non-diegetic electronic
music played at that point underscores the connection and the insight – that all three are
making a play for power, the two adults probably more childishly than the child! The film
leaves us with a distanced shot as we see the car and its inhabitants as a passing car
would view them – the father rocking the rear bumper bar and the boy jumping on the roof
of the car; the final sound is a similar thump of frustration to that heard at the very


https://uploadgig.com/file/download/6E380962febc4fdf/An Exercise in Discipline – Peel 1982.avi


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