Cabaret Essay, Research Paper
Brian says ‘you’re about as fatale as an after dinner mint!’ Is Sally really harmless?Brian’s exasperated accusation that Sally is ‘as fatale as an after dinner mint’ is expressed at the end of a weekend away with Max. The outburst reveals Brian’s opinion that Sally is not the seductress she fancies herself to be, but is simply ‘deluding’ herself. However, one must stop to consider the meaning of harmless when applied to Sally Bowles. She is essentially self-absorbed and theatrical, a confused and childlike character, used in the film to demonstrate to the viewer the dangers of complacency and self-indulgence in a dangerous political environment. Sally is, in fact, unintentionally harmful, for her actions can corrupt and she is politically ignorant.
Throughout the film Sally boasts her personal corruption, and perpetuates an acceptance that ‘divine decadence’ and debauchery are desirable lifestyles. A representative of the seedy and superficial cabaret world, Sally flaunts her promiscuity and chooses to live a life where external problems do not undermine her opinion that ‘life is a cabaret’. Her world is an illusion; nothing will obstruct her view that Berlin’s decadent society is a wonderfully exciting setting for her rise to stardom. Her self-absorption is obvious when she tells Brian she wants to know ‘absolutely everything’ about him, and then proceeds to talk over him. Similarly, her inability to assist Natalia in her romantic dilemma with Fritz suggests that she has immersed herself so completely in the amorality of the cabaret world that she cannot comprehend Natalia’s emotions, or even face reality enough to contextualise her problem. This lack of empathy for those in tune with the real world rather than Sally’s constructed fantasy has the potential to damage her relationships.
Sally is ardently ambitious, and her shameless espousal of hedonism is exemplary of her preparedness to do corrupt things to achieve her dreams. Sally is highly atuned to the potential of power and money to advance her career. To attain these things, she uses her sexuality as a commodity, simply another means for the advancement of her aspirations. Her liberal sexuality may ultimately harm both herself and Brian, as it makes him feel used, and her potential for any kind of real relationship is continuously pushed into the background until it becomes almost an impossibility. Sally’s initial approach to all strangers is to attempt to seduce them, as seen with both Brian and Max. In fact, before she settles for Brian’s friendship, she endeavors to strike up a sexual relationship with him, for, to her, ‘friends are much harder to find than lovers’, and her initial reaction upon meeting him is to assume a sexual rather than platonic relationship. Her flirtatious behaviour with guests at the Kit Kat Club gives the viewer a sense that she regards her sexuality as something to be bought and sold. As the film progresses we become increasingly aware of Sally’s lack of concern for compromising herself and others.
One of the most obvious indications that Sally is not harmless is her inconsiderate treatment of Brian. Although she establishes a reasonably genuine relationship with him, it is soon undermined by her blind selfishness and ambition. Her desire to gain Max’s favour dominates everything else, including her consideration for Brian. This is seen when she insists Brian accept Max’s gift even though he is initially uncomfortable. Whether or not Sally is actually conscious of hurting him, she nevertheless betrays Brian for Max and his money. The extent to which she is prepared to go in order to acheive her ambitions is clearly illustrated here. Her downright insensitivity to Brian stand precedent to her harmful effect, intended or not. Although Max proclaims it is his ‘duty to corrupt’ both Sally and Brian, Sally is much quicker to betray Brian than he is to betray her, showing her utter lack of concern for abandoning all moralistic values whenever her interests lie on a different path.
Sally’s self-orientation infiltrates her life on many levels, and causes her to be blissfully ignorant of the dangerous political situation in Berlin. She has no interest in politics or its ramifications, and refuses to acknowledge the heightening political tension. By the end of the film the presence of Nazis is much more dominating than at the start, but Sally continues to see the world as her personal fantasy, with an unchanged outlook. This aspect of Sally’s persona is potentially harmful to herself, not only in the context of political danger, but in terms of her inability to acknowledge all that is going on around her. Often, however, Sally simply turns a blind eye to significant events. For example, her indifference as they pass a dead Jew on the street, sleeping through ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’, and never being involved in political songs at the cabaret are all exemplary of her preference of ignorance over acknowledgement. In the film, Fosse makes Sally a metaphor for the dangers of self-absorption.
Brian’s insult to Sally that she is ‘about as fatale as an after dinner mint’ puts down her sexuality, ridiculing her fancy that she is some sort of femme fatale, and self-described ‘international woman of mystery’. This attack is, however, not entirely justified. Brian is seeing through her guise of supreme confidence and perceives the naive, confused and (so he thinks) harmless child within. Sally desired the image of a femme fatale, but in fact was harmful to herself and others through her ignorance and inconsiderate behaviour. Sally’s ultimate defining characteristic that makes her more harmful than harmless is the way in which she exists in her own world. It is in fact her indifference that is symptomatic of an insensitivity which may be, and often is, harmful to herself and others.