My favorite scene in Daisies is one of its most confrontational. The film is full of confrontation: it opens with its central characters looking directly at the camera, announcing that, in a world gone bad, they’ll go bad too. But the overt social commentary, dark humor, and cinematic quality of the scissors scene appeals to me more. In this scene, the women turn the same pair of scissors they used earlier to symbolically castrate phallic footstuffs against themselves. They appear to cut each other, and then the filmstock, into discrete little bits.
Like the collages that line the walls of their apartment, they, and then the film, become randomly assembled images whose shapes are shifting and mobile. Such, Daisies implies, is female subjectivity in a world gone bad, torn apart by the demands, expectations, and projections of a patriarchal world.
A good point of reference for this scene are Dadaist photomontages, a type of visual composition particularly tied to the Berlin Dada group, whose rebellious anti-art courted controversy in the immediate wake of the First World War. Berlin is a quick three-hour train ride from Prague, whose cultural connections to Germany and the German-speaking world goes back centuries.
Hannah Höch’s photomontage Das schöne Mädchen [The Beautiful Girl, 1921] is a prime example of this aesthetic: assembled from advertisements and other images from magazines, its central figure is a woman in a bathing suit, holding an umbrella, whose head and neck have been replaced by a large reproduction of a strange, futuristic light bulb. Flanking this figure are a gears, tires, a bevy of BMW logos, and two more feminine figures. One is an oversized, permed head of hair whose face is an advert; the other, the far background, is a woman’s face with what appears to be an owl’s eye. A hand pokes out of the oversized, permed head, holding a pocket watch, reflecting modernity’s emphasis on regimentation and timeliness.
The emphasis of this chaotic assemblage is on the artificiality and irrationality of the standards of beauty applied to the female form and the ludicrousness of maintaining romantic standards in a mechanical world. It also speaks of the commodification of women’s bodies—hence, the advertisements and BMW logos. Daisies is saying something similar: the title, as well as much of the film’s content, point to the delicateness and virginal beauty the world expects of women. In their pranks on Prague’s well-off bachelors, in which they manipulate romantic tropes like the farewell at the train station, the film’s central characters utilize and subvert these expectations, in order to gain the upper hand.
At what we might call its discursive level—that is, in the way the film is assembled, as opposed to its content—Daisies also manifests its characters’ chaotic, subversive spirit. It subverts our expectations and chops apart reality in order to show us the nonsense lurking there anyway. Like the earlier avant-garde art it recalls, it challenges us to see differently. Sometimes, this has explicitly to do with challenging stereotypes about women and opening the possibilities for female subjectivity; other times, as in its mesmerizing tinted shots taken from the rear of a speeding train, it seems more to be about the potential of the cinema to allow us to see differently.