The celebrated tossing-the-bridal-sedan sequence could superficially be taken as a scene of vulnerable woman at the mercy of lusty men. Yet the womb-like interior of the sedan, the condition of the Freudian ‘oceanic self’ where she floats as an effect of being tossed about is symbolically self-sufficient and self-creative. The frontal close-up not of her against a shrouding interior darkness not only frees her from the menacing male world, but also simulates the topography of interiority, an inner world.
But this is not an enclosure of narcissism. In this sequence, we are offered both the interior view of the sedan and the exterior view outside. A reiterated point-of-view shot by the bride looks out through the slightly open curtain on to a sweating, half-naked and muscular male body swaying in the dust. The following shot is the heroine’s faintly dazed and desiring look….the slightly raised curtain offering the female heroine a keyhole-like or telescopic glimpse of the male body is almost a reversal of the classical formula for a male voyeuristic experience.
The group of sedan-bearers tossing a bride, while singing a lurid song of their sexual fantasies out loud, is a displacement of sexual energy. The tossed woman panting and gasping is easily read as a sign of physical nausea, her emotional discomposure a mixture of fright and thrill. Yet, the prolonged and repeated shots, cinematically rhetorical here, are not so much sadistically motivated as a way of articulating a hitherto undiscovered female sexuality, both in the film and in historical textuality. The ruffled and confused look, heavy breathing and distractedness all suggest an overtone of sexual ecstasy, if not orgasm.
All quotes from Yuejin Wang’s 1989 essay titled “Red Sorghum: Mixing Memory and Desire” (pgs 95-96).