The Sandman Sheds a Brutal Light on the Concept of the Muse

Editor’s Note: This article contains mentions of abuse and sexual assault.With the release of the bonus episode of The Sandman, Neil Gaiman gives a brutally stark account of the relationship between artist and muse and how it is often intertwined with female inequality. The episode’s second act focuses on a struggling writer, Richard Madoc (Arthur Darwin) and his desperation to regain some of the success he had achieved with his debut novel. He goes to extremes and enslaves the Greek muse Calliope (Melissanthi Mahut), misusing them in the name of inspiration.


Pop culture has elevated the concept of the muse to some sort of enviable status; In reality, however, they often suffer at the hands of those who claim to uphold and worship them. The story has been retold countless times in film and television, for example in the character Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz) in Vicky Christina Barcelona or Edie Sedgwick (Siena Mueller) in factory girl. But never has the story been told so clearly as in The Sandmanwhere the viewer is shown unmistakably that many muses end up as collateral damage in the artist’s search for meaning and recognition.

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“The Sandman” refutes the belief that the relationship between artist and muse is the same

From the beginning Erasmus Fry (Derek Jacobi) and Richard Madoc justify the atrocities they commit against Calliope by considering them property and resorting to the support of the law. She was ensnared by Fry on Mount Helicon when he burned her scroll and proclaimed himself her master. He goes on to tell Madoc that she is now lawfully bound to him. But as history knows, the law isn’t always right, and Madoc effectively looks the other way when confronted with the stark truth of his actions. In the opening scene of the episode, Madoc stands in front of a slide with the words “Controlling the Narrative” written on it. He later gives his students the task of writing the same event from two very different perspectives. The Sandman highlights Madoc’s ability to detach himself from his actions and even portray himself as a victim, to which Calliope replies he is the one who is not free when she asks for her release. He enslaves her and sexually assaults her repeatedly, Madoc wields all the power, yet he can twist the narrative to both get what he wants and maintain his belief that he is inherently good. All this in the name of art and public recognition. Madoc can do this by remembering Fry’s words, “She is not human…her purpose is to serve men like us.”

The idea of ​​the muse is typically gendered; She is young and beautiful and stands out from the crowd. A muse’s relationship with the artist is devastatingly short-lived, however, and once they’ve “served their purpose” they’re tossed aside while the artist searches for his latest creative conquest. They are essentially chewed up and spat out, causing great pain and confusion as these women deal with being appreciated and adored one minute and dismissed and ignored the next. These artists attain godlike status for their ability to depict the human condition in all its forms without assuming responsibility for how they were able to do so. Her ruthless treatment of these women’s lives is always justified in the name of inspiration and talent. Any harm done by them is said to be either necessary or irrelevant in the face of such genius. Society has proven that it will forgive a man’s most heinous acts if he is talented enough, and many support the works of Roman Polanski, Woody Allen and R. Kelly in their accusations and condemnations. In a notable parallel, Allen had previously been respected for his portrayal of strong female leads in his works.

Neil Gaiman shows the atrocities men will commit

Throughout their role as kidnappers, both Erasmus and Madoc treat Calliope with resentment and contempt. Although Calliope is responsible for everything they have achieved, she is a stark reminder of their cruelty and casts a shadow over any success they set out to achieve. Madoc sees her as unreasonable and ungrateful, a poorly veiled attempt to slander her in order to cling to his self-image. She refuses to let him off the hook for what he did to her and he hates her for it. She doesn’t fit the role he wants her to play. This is strikingly similar to other depictions of muses in popular culture. in the factory girlAndy Warhol (Guy Pearce) is furious with his muse Edie Sedgwick for stepping out of the role he cast her in. He considers her his property and is angry that she loves another and turns cruelly on her, making her a social outcast. in the Vicky Christina BarcelonaJuanAntonio (Javier Bardem) gets angry when Maria Elena presents him with the truth that “[his] whole way of seeing is [hers]’ which led to him belittling her beliefs about the situation. He doesn’t offer her any credit, acknowledgment, or validation, which only reinforces her feelings on the matter. Even watching what that does to her, Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) Maria Elena still envies her status as a muse and says she’s a little sad that she doesn’t inspire Juan in the same way. In her eyes, being a muse means being desired, admired and put on a pedestal. Cristina is oblivious to the subtle way Juan Antonio belittles Maria Elena in order to stay in power. Maria Elena struggles with her relationship and is driven to violence by his dealings with her.

In the real world, many artists throughout history are remembered for their roles as muses to famous male artists. One of the best known is Camille Claudel, an extraordinarily talented French sculptor whose work was an act of rebellion against the role expected of her. Unfortunately, much of her legacy is overshadowed by her love affair with Auguste Rodin, another sculptor who borrowed much of Claudel’s style and technique. Rodin appropriated much of Claudel’s artistic vision during their affair, and when she broke up with him he did everything possible to block her work as much as possible. Rodin began to see Claudel as a rival and used his position of power to weaken her. Facing many challenges and traumas in life, from her family, Rodin and society in general, Claudel was eventually institutionalized for over 30 years before she died. It’s still unclear if she was forced into it by her family, who would benefit from the decision.

in the The Sandman, Madoc is consistently others for his ability to utilize the female voice. He never admits that he stole said voice. Instead, he describes himself as a fairly feminist writer, though Calliope is locked in the room above, dreading that next time he will decide to accept her gifts. In the end, however, inspiration becomes his downfall when Gaiman flips the script and Madoc becomes the one who goes insane overwhelmed by ideas. After saying the words to free Calliope, he suddenly can’t think of a coherent thought. The only spark that remains is that “the ideas, the stories… were all hers.” Calliope continues, willing to use her voice to change the laws she and her siblings didn’t write. The episode ends with the muse being empowered, and audiences can find a sense of justice and satisfaction in this ending so rarely representative of its real-life counterparts.

The Sandman is currently available to stream on Netflix.

https://collider.com/the-sandman-muse-episode-explained/ The Sandman Sheds a Brutal Light on the Concept of the Muse

Sarah Ridley

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