Passion Flower

Jarrod Whaley’s Passion Flower is a gem of a short film, one that engages with some profound questions about bodies and identity, especially as they pertain to breast cancer survivors.  The film tells the story of Ann Law, a 50-something dancer who chooses to get a tattoo on her chest instead of being fitted with prostheses or submitting to reconstructive surgery after she underwent a double mastectomy.  The film succeeds in large part because Law is such a compelling, charming character, someone who can speak knowledgeably about her experiences, about her ambivalence about the term “survivor” to describe people who have lived through cancer, and about the cultural discomfort about depicting the bodies of women who have undergone a mastectomy.  She’s also attentive to the tactile elements of getting a tattoo, especially on those spots where she has scar tissue or some other reminder of the surgery.  In essence, choosing to get a tattoo becomes a way for Law to reclaim her body, both from the cancer itself and (to some extent) from the medical bureaucracies that often make women’s choices less clear.

Law’s decision to get a tattoo of a passion flower on her chest seems to be affirmed by the tattoo process itself.  Skip Cisto, the tattoo artist, a gentle spirit, comments that Law’s skin almost seems to “want” the ink, to welcome the tattoo.  In one of my favorite moments in the film, Cisto also remarks that he had done research the night before to seek out other examples of women who have gotten tattoos after undergoing lumpectomies.  Finding few, he remarks on the possible cultural taboo of showing such bodies.  I’ve rarely felt compelled to get a tattoo myself.  Childhood allergy shots provided me with a pretty severe distaste for needles, even the relatively gentle “scratching” feeling associated with getting a tattoo.  But Passion Flower captures precisely why, for Law and I’m sure for many others, getting tattoos is such a meaningful experience. It’s a smart, powerful little film.

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