The conflict within The Aviators Wife is instigate by François overseeing his girlfriend Anne as she leaves her flat with a man. In the briefest of moments, he is able to work out that the man in question is in fact Anne’s ex-lover, the aviator Christian. This sighting sends François’ world into a tailspin. Sleep deprived and jealous, he stalks the streets of Paris first in order to confront Anne, who dismisses him until a later date, and then in order to keep an eye on the aviator Christian, whom he oversees in a café. The Aviator’s Wife thus centres on François’ voyeurism, and in turn, our own.
When confronted by the teenage student Lucie – whom he accidentally drags into his pursuit – François cannot justify the reason behind his voyeurism. In fact, he tries to cover up his indecisiveness by a ludicrous and elaborate pretence at being a private eye. After establishing that François has no reason but despondency – and perhaps mania resulting from sleep deprivation – for his actions, heir interaction continues to spawn various allusions to sight. Although these are mostly comical – the allusions to Sherlock Holmes and his big magnifying glass and language play in the form of colloquial expressions such as “I had my eye on her” – they do reveal the rift between seeing and perceiving.
Although François spends his day by looking at Christian, he does not perceive anything that is of value to him. His voyeurism began on a false premise – that his girlfriend is cheating on him – and so any of his conclusions would equally be founded on this false premise. Logically, stalking Christian when he is not with Anne would neither confirm nor deny his suspicions. The only thing that this bit of surveillance would give François is essentially an opportunity for self-torture by being a vehicle for his obsession and insecurity.
One can argue that François’ surveillance of Christian is in fact a power play, wherein François gains a power over Anne by keeping an eye on her possible lover. Anne and Christian may even appear as victims in this scenario since they are unaware of Francois’ presence. However, in The Aviator’s Wife,the power lies in beingseen. Anne becomes even more desirable to François through her potential infidelity. He is completely consumed by his jealousy and disregards his own health and studies. He is even temporarily blind to Lucie’s charm and their mutual chemistry by focusing on what he perceives to be more important. Furthermore, t is seeing Christian that forces François into a hopeless and meaningless pursuit that deprives him of his vital sleep. Eventually, it is Anne who has the upper hand in their confrontation, not merely because she is able to dispel his false perceptions, but because she is able to put on a performance for François which leads him to pity her.
This conformation and Anne’s distress also bring to the forefront the issue of oversight. Although François’ jealousy was sparked by him seeing Anne with her ex, the rift in their relationship should really be their obvious unsuitability as a couple and Anne’s indifference to him. François is blind to this because he chooses to be; for him to acknowledge that would be to admit that Anne does not love him and that his conquest of her has failed. Meanwhile, Anne is able not only to manipulate him into submitting to her will, but also into comforting her for her lost lover. She is deeply conscious of her appearance to François and while crying spends a significant amount of time dramatically arranging herself on her pillows or on François himself, even swatting his hand away when it is not positioned to her liking. Finally, she cements her visual power by going on a date with a man just so as to increase his prestige by being seen with him.
It is thus that Anne teaches François the power of sight. It is important to note that sight in itself is not isolated but tied to perception, and perception is incredibly nebulous and subjective, thus distorting the original image. Nevertheless, it is the initial sighting that instinctively triggers us. As François goes back to work he oversees Lucie with her boyfriend, his own colleague in the mail sorting department at the post office. He is visibly disappointed by what he oversees but does not resolve back to his old methods of surveillance. François is now aware of the power of sight, and instead of discreetly bringing a letter that he had written to Lucie to her door as per instruction, he posts it through a post box, aware that this very same night at the post office it will be overseen by Lucie’s boyfriend.