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In the 2002 film “Frida” directed by Julie Taymor, illustrates the life of Frida Kahlo based on the book Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera. Who is Frida Kahlo? Her biography in this essay is explored with the help of the film 'Frida'. Most people only know her for her vibrant self-portraits, however, she is also known to be a bold neo-feminist Mexican woman, recognized for her stances on things like gender norms, sexuality, and politics which are common themes throughout the film. The setting of the film is also an important theme during the film, in the 1920’s through the 1950’s in Mexico during the revolution.
Frida Kahlo: Biography VS Film
The film starts out with Frida being brought on her bed to her art exhibit, shortly after that we see Frida as a young girl in school, she is portrayed to be very bubbly and enthusiastic. Early on in the film we see her get into an accident that will cause her detrimental pain throughout her lifetime as we see in the film. Frida was in a coma for several weeks due to her accident, the doctors believed that she might never wake up and it was unsure if she would ever be able to walk again. While Frida was confined to her bed and stuck in a body cast she found joy in painting, it was a way for her to express herself and keep herself occupied. She eventually gained enough strength to walk again and decided to take her paintings to the famous muralist Diego Rivera to get his expert opinion on paintings. She expected him to give her critiques, instead he gave her nothing but compliments. Soon the two become comrades and their relationship begins to become more. Despite the age gap between Diego and Frida the two fall in love and decide to marry. Frida’s mother is not fond of this decision especially since Diego has already been married twice before. Frida also knows about Diego’s past and his habit of infidelity and doesn’t care as long as he stays loyal to her, however, she gets jealous when Lupe makes breakfast for Diego and finds out she lives upstairs. She ends up getting close with Lupe when she teaches her how to make Diego’s favorite dish.
Diego gets a painting job in the United States, so the two go to New York. Diego and Frida try to have a baby and Frida has a miscarriage. She creates art based off of her pain from the miscarriages. While in America, Frida gets a letter informing her that her mother is dying and comes back to Mexico to be with her family. Her sister Christi is seen with a black eye, she explains to Frida that she left her husband and Frida feels guilty for not being there for her sister. Back in New York, Diego comes under fire for his political painting in the Rockefeller’s building, he is given the choice to either fix the painting or to leave and he decides that he won’t change his painting out of principle and his vision.
The film shows Diego and Frida living in separate but connected houses, Frida’s sister come’s to visit Frida. Frida takes her sister’s children out and when they come back she catches Diego sleeping with her sister, which sends Frida over the edge and makes her leave Diego moving into her own place and going through a crisis that makes her cut her hair and start drinking. Later on, Diego asks for Frida’s help, he needed a safe place for the politician Trotsky to stay and she agreed to it. Trotsky and Frida have an affair which ultimately sends Trotsky packing because his wife finds out. Diego gets upset with Frida when he finds out the reason Trotsky moves out is because she was having an affair with him. Frida goes to Paris and has a few affairs with both men and women. When Frida comes back home to Mexico Diego tells Frida that he is in trouble because people think he wants Trotsky dead, so he tells her that he is going to California and that he wants to get a divorce because he thinks that they are better off as friends. After Diego leaves Frida, she paints one of her most famous portraits, “The Two Fridas” and during their separation Trotsky is also assassinated. Due to her ties with Diego and Diego’s Ties to Trotsky, Frida is questioned by officials and thrown into jail for not giving them answers. Shortly after, she is being treated by her doctor and he notices that her toes have been gangrened and that she will need to have them removed. When Diego finds out that Frida isn’t doing well he comes to see how she is doing and asks her to marry him again because he says he needs her. Even though Frida has many problems, Diego still wants to be with her. Frida is seen getting more and more sick and she is experiencing more pain. Frida gets an art exhibition in Mexico, her biggest dream and she is not allowed to go because of her doctor’s orders. She technically follows the orders by not leaving bed but being carried by a group of men in her bed to the exhibition. At the end of the film Frida passes away in the same as home that she was born in.
Frida Kahlo's Start in Art
Although Kahlo’s father was a photographer who took up painting in his free time her original dreams were not to become a painter, nevertheless, a doctor, however, due to a life changing accident she found a kind of comfort in painting and started to paint surrealistic art that represented her pain. Her paintings progressed into an exceptional style that was inclined by the things and people around her. In Kahlo’s diary, she explained the symbolic meanings behind the colors she used in her paintings. In Frida’s paintings, you are able to see the way she sees herself through her eyes and she says that “Without giving it any particular thought, I started painting.” Which to me says that her paintings truly came from her heart. Throughout the film we are able to see Frida’s experiences become her art, she turned all of her traumatic life events into an art piece.
Frida throws out gender norms and never let them restrict her from living the life she wanted to live and being her authentic self. A few times throughout the film Kahlo dressed more masculine and also embraced her “manly” body hair and which she exaggerates in her paintings such as her uni-brow or her mustache to go against usual beauty norms set for women. She also didn’t believe in the typical roles of being a woman such as just being a wife and taking care of the children. Frida also made comments about marriage stating that she doesn’t feel that it is necessary. On the contrary Frida still wore very feminine garments such as her traditional Tehuana dresses and she also eventually married, however she waited until she found true love to do so and didn’t get married due to societal pressures. Even after she married she didn’t conform to the norm of marriage, she didn’t wait at her husband’s every beck and call. Frida always made it a point to be herself, when she and Diego married for the first time instead of wearing a traditional white gown that represented purity and innocence, she made the choice of wearing a green dress with a red scarf and Kahlo has explained her own representation of the color green as being warm and good light.
Complexity of the Relationship Between Diego Rivera and Frida
Diego Rivera was an extremely famous muralist before Frida came along. She actually admired Diego’s work and would watch him paint, however, she didn’t know him personally and wanted his opinion on her artwork. Diego admired Frida’s painting and encouraged her to paint more. If it hadn’t been for Diego’s positive remarks about her painting and talent Frida might have given up and never started her career in painting.
Early on in the film, Frida’s interest in women is shown. In Mexico in the early 1900’s it was not normal for men and women to while Diego and she were married, they both lived separate lives and Frida dabbled around in affairs with women. Kahlo and Rivera’s relationship was not like others, especially for their time, they had a sort of open relationship and Kahlo knew what type of husband Diego was and she did not care if he was unfaithful as long as he stayed loyal to her.
Because of Frida’s bus accident when she was 18 years old it became impossible for her to have any children. Diego and Frida tried to start a family several times, however, she miscarried each time which caused her a great deal of emotional pain. Frida began to paint due to her obsession of not being able to have children.
Both Frida and Diego were part of the Communist Party of Mexico, they were motivated and active in politics, however, the two of them left the party because they did not agree with Stalinism. In Frida’s early painting years politics inspired her art only a little, until she joined the party again and it motivated her political loyalty on canvas.
Most if not all of Frida’s paintings were based off of her own life, her paintings were essentially biographies. Frida mentions that she paints herself the most because she knows herself the best. In many of Frida’s paintings she is able to capture her true emotions and feelings about certain episodes that she has gone through in her life. For example, she painted portraits that showed her pain from her physical conditions, or her incapability of bearing children, her stormy relationship, etc. Her self-portraits don’t include much facial expression, she makes it important to pay attention to certain details like the colors, themes, style, and backgrounds included in the paintings. Every self-portrait she painted is a story.
Conclusion: Her Portrayal in the Film
After researching more about Frida, I think the film does an incredible job portraying Frida’s life. The film allows us to grasp the understanding of her and her art. Not only does the film dive deep into all of the meanings behind her paintings we are also able to see the history in the setting of the film. The actors in the film were able to portray all of the real-life people in a way that felt like you were watching the true characters. The colors and choice in songs in the film also added a realistic feel. Based on historical and scholarly articles on Frida, I think Taymor did an incredible job directing the film. We are able to see Frida’s life and her emotions through each major event that had happened throughout her life. We were able to see the good, the bad, and the ugly that Frida endured. We were able to feel empathy towards Frida and we were also able to feel her determination and will power to keep doing what she loved. The film portrayed Frida as a strong independent talented woman who was not afraid to be different and go against the societal norms she was brought up in as long as it meant she was being true to herself. Frida can be seen as a role model for many people.
- Frida Kahlo Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.fridakahlo.org/frida-kahlo-biography.jsp.
- Herrera H. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York: Perennial, 2002.
- Virtual Mentor. 2013;15(5):460-465.
- Watt G. (2005). Frida Kahlo. The British Journal of General Practice, 55(517), 646–647.
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