The Body that “Melted into the Carpet”: Mortal Stains and Domestic Dissolution in Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life

Rose Deller



How can we tell the story of a life when what remains are unnervingly ‘‘messy’’ fragments – dust, rot, a smell, a stain? This question lies at the heart of Dreams of a Life (2011), a recent ‘‘poetic documentary’’ from British director Carol Morley. Inspired by newspaper headlines relating the shocking discovery of Joyce Vincent’s body in her London flat three years after her death, Dreams of a Life traces an unwieldy pathway into Joyce’s life to make sense of the sensationalised yet vague media reports that announced the story. While Dreams of a Life is a poignant tribute to an apparently forgotten life, this is a film that never fully loses sight of that difficult question: the materiality of what actually remains. It is the documentary’s recurring references to a corpse so disintegrated that it was ‘‘melting into the carpet’’ – the body-as-stain – that form the focus of this article. The stubborn residual persistence of matter that is the stain stands as testament to the past and its continued, obstinate intrusion upon the present. At the same time, as the trace of disintegration and decay, the stain underscores the disappearance, elusiveness and loss that haunts this documentary. This article examines how the image of the body-become-stain through anxiety-inducing processes of death and rot both provokes, and yet also frustrates the desire to recover a life seemingly lived between the cracks of vision.


Keywords: body, corpse, dissolution, stain, documentary, Carol Morley, Dreams of a Life