The personification of Death is done by means of a princess of the Underworld in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus. This Princess is very powerful, yet surprisingly vulnerable. For no one is allowed to love in the Underworld, the Princess falls in love with a famous poet named Orpheus and goes to drastic measures to be with him. But in the end she cannot be with her love, and she realizes this and does what is forbidden in the Underworld and defies time and sends back her love to whom he loved before her. Death in Cocteau’s Orpheus is not only powerful and vulnerable, but she also changes throughout the course of the movie. Three elements support that the Princess changes throughout the course of the film and what brings about this change. These elements are dialogue, clothing and appearance, and actions.
One way that Cocteau creates the Princess’ character by the usage of dialogue. The powerful Princess Death is a very harsh, and controlling character at the beginning of the movie. She is seen as very authoritarian and demanding. The first scene in which the viewer encounters the princess, she orders Cegeste, Heurtebise, and Orpheus. This is the first time that the princess is ever seen by Orpheus and the first words that she speaks to him are very harsh and demanding. The Princess is accompanied by a young poet named Cegeste, and when Cegeste is killed by the motorcyclists she orders Orpheus to help her and to come as a witness. She then continues her orders by ordering the chauffer, Heurtebise, to not go to the hospital, but to go “the usual route”. She continues in her harsh tone of voice by ordering the motorcyclists. Every person that the Princess converses with in the begin...
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...s also seen when she can kill people with a single glance and then raise them to be her servant in the Underworld. She chooses to raise Cegeste to be her personal slave. Her vulnerability is displayed when she watches Orpheus sleep. Despite the Princess’ power, she becomes vulnerable and defies the rules of the Underworld and return’s Orpheus back to life. This action proves that the Princess has a true love for Orpheus and does not worry about the consequences of doing what her heart feels right.
Cocteau suggests that there is a higher power than even Death itself. The Princess personifies Death, but she is controlled by the Committee of the Underworld. If she were the most powerful facet of Death, then she would not be controlled by anyone or anything. Therefore, the Princess in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus represents not Death, but one of the many faces of Death.
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