“In The Belly Of An Architect, the child grew older and became eight and Roman male…”
– Peter Greenaway, Fear Of Drowning By Numbers
The young boy spends a relatively small time on screen, which by no means renders his appearance insignificant. He is present during three fundamental stages of the film’s evolvement – or to be more precise, he is present at phases that deal chronologically with illness, sex and death – issues that happen to be the obsessions of the film’s protagonist: Kracklite, the architect.
The child’s first appearance is at night, perched on a low wall – looking across a busy road towards ‘The Typewriter’ exhibition building; “an emblem of architecture at its worst… gleaming white marble that doesn’t seem to fit in at all with its surroundings… more typical of French high beaux arts than Italian…”
Perhaps this is a comment on Kracklite’s own status in Rome; being an American, he cannot blend quite so easily as those native to their land. Local citizens continually view him as a tourist – as shown when Caspasian, a rival architect, asks a fellow Italian: “What do you think of our foreign architect?”
The Typewriter contains Kracklite’s ambition of holding an exhibition in honour of French architect Etienne-Louis Boullee, and contributory factors to Kracklite’s eventual downfall – namely a bowl of figs he feels certain are poisoned, the presence of his wife and Caspacian – soon to have a love affair, and his own egotism.
The evening imagery of this building offers a sense of both foreboding and mystery – the sky heavy, although not completely dark – in contrast to the majority of the scenes which are shot in bleached daylight. This scene cuts to the interior of Kracklite’s office, where there is a paper model of The Typewriter. Kracklite is working at his desk. He stretches, suddenly gripping his stomach in agony. The previous scene of the young boy observing The Typewriter could be viewed as a peculiar premonition – the child looking across towards Kracklite’s downfall, the transition to the abdominal pains – Kracklite’s emerging cancer.
The young boy is seen for the second time during a scene where Kracklite discovers his wife’s affair with Caspacian. He is clothed in a toga-style dress – evoking the past and images of the Greek chorus; perhaps the child is some touchstone, standing by the stairs in readiness for Kracklite’s arrival and following him towards his apartment – awaiting an opportunity to evaluate the situation. He carries a toy dinosaur, which in itself is interesting – its dictionary definition being: “Extinct reptile, oft. of gigantic size”. A mockery of Kracklite? Kracklite is overweight, and is shortly to become ‘extinct’.
The child watches Kracklite intently, who – in return, like the Freudian child spying on its parents making love, encounters the sexual behaviour between his wife and Caspacian through the confines of a keyhole.
The boy is sensitive, foresees Kracklite’s tears before Kracklite twists his head towards him: “Why are you crying?” Kracklite tells him that he has a “draught” in his eye, but the fact that the boy enquires before Kracklite’s head is turned, suggests that he knows otherwise.
Kracklite falls off his chair – an omen for his impending suicide. The child still watching closely, helps Kracklite retrieve his scattered papers and hands him an orange – “a healthy symbol in a film about sickness”. The orange offer is also “the one true altruistic gesture in the film” – the child as compassionate nurturer in opposition to the grasping, vain, competitive adults whose main interest is self-interest. In exchange for the orange, Kracklite holds out a gyroscope; a rotating disc that keeps level despite any conflicting movements around it. “A simple model to explain centrifugal force that keeps the planets and the stars circulating in the heavens”. A symbol of eternity. Perhaps the combination of the orange and gyroscope are there to indicate how tenuous Man’s health is in contrast to the eternity of space.
After Kracklite has left the scene, the young boy becomes a witness in one way or another to all the contributory factors of Kracklite’s ruin: his profession, his wife’s adultery, and his abdominal cancer. The child looks through the keyhole and sees Kracklite’s large, phallic model blocking the view of Caspacian and his wife making love. And just as he is about to depart, he discovers one of Kracklite’s papers that had previously been dropped. It is a photocopy of Saint Augustus’ stomach. The young boy holds it up and presses the photocopy against his own belly, mimicking Kracklite’s obsession with his abdomen and his delusions of paralleling himself with the heroic Augustus. A child has yet again been exposed to the elements that contribute to a protagonist’s fate.
The child’s final appearance is at the end of the film, an almost identically composed shot to when he is first introduced – only it is now day, day replacing night; the continuous cycle of nature. It is after the Boullee exhibition which was usurped by Caspacian. Kracklite has committed suicide, and the young boy kneels on the low wall in front of The Typewriter, watching the gyroscope with patient fascination. Despite Kracklite’s death, after his fall are the cries of his wife’s new-born baby. His child. As his wife cuts the ribbon to open the exhibition, she collapses to her unseen labour. Cutting the ribbon – the cutting of the umbilical cord; the past, making way for a new generation. The endless pulse of life and death.