Monday November 14th 2011
Puss in Boots has nothing if not a bold opening. After retrieving his signature hat and sword from beside a sleeping feline, our eponymous tomcat hero takes advantage of his latest conquest’s post-coital slumber to sneak away unnoticed. She appears contented, which tells us that a) Puss’s assertion that he’s ‘a great, great lover’ is at least partially accurate and b) he’s likely forgone the regular mating technique of cats which, to a creature like Puss with an understanding of human morals and emotions, would constitute rape. More importantly, the scene tells us that Puss is a renegade, a heartbreaker, a serial womaniser — in the words of Mike Stoklasa, he’s got a serious case of the not-gays.
We soon ascertain that Puss is also something of a lone wolf, his nightly passage from town to town impeded only by his weakness for warm milk — and of course, a good fuck. In flashback we gain an insight into the root cause of this transient lifestyle: an adolescent falling-out between Puss and fairy tale legend Humpty Dumpty, which left the former unable to form emotional attachments and the latter imprisoned for a lengthy jail term.
|Fig. 1 — Puss in Boots and Humpty Dumpty|
The Puss we see prior to this incident is an altogether more sensitive individual, who shares almost all of his childhood years and — it’s safe to assume, given that male cats reach sexual maturity at roughly nine months old — formative erotic experiences, with Humpty. The exact nature of the relationship between Puss and his ovoid playmate is never made clear, so we can only speculate as to whether the homoerotic undercurrent of their partnership was ever externalised (let alone consummated), but what we do see leaves little room for doubt as to their mutual yearning. They daydream about a future of blissful cohabitation, uninhibited by the poverty and cruelty of the orphanage in which they both live. They grow seedlings in a secluded garden shed, hoping a beanstalk will grow to transport them far, far away together. In one particularly startling scene they even swear a blood oath to one another, cementing their bond in a nauseating fluid compound of yolk and cat plasma.
The eventual breakdown of this relationship leaves Puss in a state of dislocation. Betrayed by the one person with whom he felt some measure of solidarity, he resolves to cast aside his affection for Humpty — and with it — his burgeoning homosexual tendencies. He embarks upon a string of sexual encounters with available females, re-enforcing in both word and deed his bold, unequivocal mantra: “I am a lover of beautiful women”. In a scene featured in the film’s trailer but absent from the final cut, Puss even boasts of having inter-species intercourse with a human woman. It goes without saying that these are textbook examples of over-compensation.
|Fig. 2 — One of Puss’s human admirers, possibly unaware of the one hundred and fifty backwards-pointing spines that line an adult cat’s penis|
Some time later, while attempting to purloin some rare magical beans from a pair of murderous outlaws, Puss is confronted by a mysterious masked feline. He gives chase, blaming the bandit for his failure to secure the beans, and soon his pursuit leads them to a nightclub. There, he engages in a dance off with the enigmatic stranger, whose rhythmic gyrations seem to excite and provoke Puss. When the fight comes to an end, his opponent’s mask is removed to reveal a delicate, feminine cat. “You are a woman?” exclaims Puss — with a tone that suggests both awe and disillusionment — before beginning the familiar pattern of seduction that will yet again coat his true desires in a thick veneer of synthetic heterosexuality.
|Fig. 3 — Puss’s gender-ambiguous, masked dance partner|
She is indeed a woman: a master thief with exceptionally supple mitts named Kitty Softpaws who — much to Puss’s dismay — soon reveals an affiliation with Humpty Dumpty. It’s telling that Puss only allows himself to be reunited with Humpty through the conduit of Kitty, a paragon of caricatured femininity right down to the porn star name and fluttering eyelashes. She is the ultimate beard, allowing him to reignite the dormant spark between himself and Humpty while maintaining his reputation as a ladykiller, as much in his own eyes as those of others.
A love triangle quickly emerges. Frustrated by their inability to express their mutual affection, Humpty and Puss transfer much of their attention onto Kitty. They squabble over her almost constantly, in one scene even trading her back and forth literally as a dance partner. But despite these advances, Kitty remains a markedly impotent love interest. Time and time again the film draws attention to the genitalia of her two suitors (Puss narrowly avoids castration in one scene, while Humpty accidentally exposes his crotch in another), whereas Kitty herself remains conspicuously asexual. A character detail revealing her lack of claws could scarcely be more emblematic.
|Fig. 4 — Puss’s manhood is threatened, thereby reminding the audience of his capacity for coitus|
In moments of privacy, the connection between Humpty and Puss seems every bit as potent as it was in the carefree days of their youth. They talk once again of their dreams and aspirations, free from the prying ears of Kitty, who sleeps soundly nearby. For a single moment, it seems that they might overcome their insecurities and unite in shared devotion. But like Romeo and Juliet, these star-crossed lovers are torn apart just when they’re closest to happiness.
A revelation in the film’s third act sees the couple divided yet again by an act of betrayal. The stated motivation is greed, but only fear could tear their love asunder with such devastation. “I’m not a person,” cries Humpty in their final moments together, “I don’t know what I am.” Puss attempts to console him, but lacking the strength to express his true feelings merely proves Humpty’s hypothesis: they may have known one another — however fleetingly — but they never really knew themselves. In the absence of emotional honesty, their relationship will always be as vulnerable as their physical dynamic: a boisterous tomcat partnered with a fragile egg. And so, they resign themselves to living a lie, with Humpty offering the poignant farewell: “I won’t make you choose”.