To Thine Own Self Be Two…I Mean True: Identity in I Am Love
16 January 2011
One of the major themes in I Am Love is identity; the willingness to accept and take ownership of one’s identity at any cost. This theme is explored heavily through Emma and her two children, Betta and Edo. Betta takes ownership of her sexual identity, regardless of her family’s understated disapproval of homosexuality. She courageously steps out of the closet to her mother, Emma, and, in doing so, carves out a life of truth and happiness for herself. Unlike Betta, Edo and Emma— who are mirror images of one another— resist their identities, both living out facades. Ultimately, because Edo and Emma are so similar, it is only though Edo that Emma can finally claim her identity.
Edo never takes ownership of his identity. First, Edo doesn’t even have his own name; he is named after his father. Although that was out of his control, it seemed to foreshadow the rest of his short life. When his grandfather unexpectedly leaves him half the family business, Edo is pushed into a predetermined life; a life he did not choose or want, but plays out. Even in Eva, his fiancée, Edo commits to a woman who compliments his persona, but not his identity. Eva encourages Edo to work hard in the family’s business, and discourages his dreams of opening a restaurant with Antonio. Edo is better at living the life expected of him and not the life that will make him happy. He is not true to himself.
At his birthday dinner, Edo engages in a confrontation with his mother after realizing her affair with Antonio. During their argument, Edo informs his mother there was something important he wanted to tell her that night. He never says what it was because, mere moments after mentioning it, he unexpectedly dies. Likely, Edo was going to tell his mother about Eva’s pregnancy. However, there is a chance Edo was going to share something else. Just before this dinner, Edo went to London for a meeting about the family’s business. The meeting did not go well, and Edo seemed very out of place in the business world. It’s possible the night of his birthday Edo wanted to tell his mother he was leaving the family’s business, taking the courageous step his sister Betta did earlier.
However, Edo’s secret remains a mystery. Whatever his intention that night, Edo never took a step toward living a life of his own choosing. And, until this point in the film, the same is true for him mother, Emma.
In the beginning, Emma appears the idle of everyone’s eye. She is beautiful, a fantastic homemaker, and loving wife and mother; yet, as the film progresses, the audience learns her life is a façade. Emma is from Russia, not Italy (where the film is set). Apparently, she left her Russian life to be with her husband, Edoardo, and, for him, became Italian. Emma removed her identity to create the wife her husband wanted: she got a new first and last name, language, family, home, and culture.
Through her love affair with Antonio, “Emma” remembers pieces of her youthful life in Russia, and prepares recipes for him she fondly remembers learning as a child. Cooking is particularly important. “Emma” connects with Antonio’s culinary passion and talent because it inadvertently reconnects her with the identity she regretfully discarded years ago. Seeing though the façade she plays out for her husband, Antonio falls in love with “Emma” for her true self. Antonio begins to shed “Emma’s” façade, physically by stripping her of all her clothes and cutting her hair; however, although powerful, Antonio’s love is not enough to make “Emma” take ownership of her identity.
Edo’s death is the push “Emma” needs to drop the façade and embrace her identity. Edo and “Emma’s” relationship is complex. His world is dependent on her remaining “Emma,” the role she created; he depends on her as his mother, his rock, and his confidant. Literally, without “Emma” there would be no Edo. Yet, “Emma” taught Edo Russian, and his favorite dish is the infamous Russian soup. So, although Edo depends on “Emma,” he also knows the woman behind the façade. Likely, seeing his mother hiding her identity to appease expectation is where Edo learned to do the same.
At the time of Edo’s death, Edo is the only one “Emma” exists for. Her daughter, Betta, no longer needs her, and she has grown resentful and detached from her husband, particularly with her feelings for Antonio growing stronger. Therefore, when Edo dies, the woman formerly known as “Emma” revolts. Not taking one thing belonging to “Emma,” she, literally, runs from the house, the people, the culture, the life, and the persona she played out. Finally accepting of her identity and freed from “Emma,” Edo’s death pushes her to accomplish the one this he never could, being true to thy self.