Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Boxing Helena

US movie (1993). Main Line. Pr Philippe Caland, Carl Mazzocone. Exec pr James R Schaeffer, Larry Sugar. Dir Jennifer Chambers Lynch. Spfx Bill "Splat" Johnson (prosthetics), Bob Shelley's Special Effects. Screenplay Lynch. Based on story by Caland. Starring Matt Berry (Young Nick Cavanaugh), Betsy Clark (Anne Garrett), Sherilyn Fenn (Helena), Bill Paxton (Ray O'Malley), Meg Register (Marion Cavanaugh), Julian Sands (Dr Nick Cavanaugh), Nicolette Scorsese (Fantasy Lover/Nurse). 101 mins. Colour.

Cavanaugh, a brilliant surgeon obsessed by the promiscuous Helena, is tormented by his own guilty sexuality. When a car accident mangles her legs he conducts an emergency amputation at his home and secretes her there, then abandons his job to worship her. When Helena eventually strikes out at him he amputates also her arms, so that she is now merely a head and torso kept in a display box. But then, despite herself, she begins to educate him about Sex, about the sexual needs of women; through him she is able herself orgasmically to experience vicarious sex. By the time her macho ex-lover O'Malley tracks her down, her allegiances lie with Cavanaugh – though this does not stop O'Malley brutally beating him, to the point that . . . immediately after the original car accident Cavanaugh summoned an ambulance and shepherded her through the operation to save her life. The "boxing" of Helena has been either an instantaneous Dream or an alternate past.

BH has been the victim of its own sensationalism – Kim Basinger celebratedly abandoned the title role because of the excessive nudity – and this has obscured the fact that this is a fascinating movie. Throughout, Reality is aslide and untrustworthy, each moment being proffered conditionally and the integration of the whole being moulded by Cavanaugh's and our own Perceptions. The copious sex is viewed analytically and yet not entirely dispassionately; it is as if we, the audience, were like Helena boxed, immobile, distanced, lacking the necessary organs and restricted to voyeurism, yet not totally dissociated from the carnal activities. The influence of director Lynch's father, David, is obvious, yet her view is clearer and considerably less self-indulgent; it is tempting to say that BH is the best David Lynch film to date, although that would undervalue Jennifer Lynch's own originality of vision. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.