by Margaux Williamson
My friend Sheila send me this link this morning, with the subject header “this is kinda fascinating (a TINY bit)”.
It’s a “news” clip that attempts to make a story about a rivalry between two serious young female movie stars.
Then she sent me another one with the subject header “and then this”.
It made me think of the end of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Knowing my friend hadn’t seen the show and probably never would, I emailed her a summary which I’ll post below. If you are saving Buffy the Vampire Slayer television for the future, NOTHING BUT SPOILERS AHEAD.
The hole of Hell (in California) is getting too big and all the hell creatures are coming out. It’s too much for Buffy (the vampire slayer) to handle alone. If she can’t handle it, the Earth will turn to Hell.
She uses a magical device to meet with the ancient men who gave the first young girl (the first One True Slayer) all the power to fight evil. The ancient men initiate a ritual that will give Buffy more demonic power. She’s in chains I think. She’s so mad at the men. She’s mad that they made her the slayer, ’cause she never wanted to be. She’s mad that she has to fight and that she’s lonely ’cause no one’s like her. She’s distrustful of the men. She doesn’t want to lose more of her humanity. Her temper makes her lose the vision and abruptly stop the ritual.
Back at home, her and her friends try to be positive: “It’s okay, Buffy, we’ll find another way.” But everyone, including herself, suspects they blew the one chance of getting enough power. A few episodes go by. People are miserable, there’s fighting, no one’s trusting Buffy and she’s starting to hate everyone.
During this time, they have gathered as many of the “potential slayers” together that they could find (15 year old girls who are not powerful but could be someday if Buffy dies) and they’re all (with Buffy’s crew) staying at Buffy’s house. The “potential slayers” are there because the people who want hell on earth had started to kill them one by one to ensure the end of the line for these ONE TRUE SLAYERs that keep the earth from turning into hell. The potential slayers are kind of useless and they don’t like Buffy since she’s never around and is kind of miserable and bossy.
The Hellmouth is getting bigger and will open fully in two days. Buffy and her friend Willow, who is a witch, have a plan. Willow will override the original spell that the ancient men cast and attempt to give the power to all the latent slayers. They don’t think about it too much other than that if those girls also have power, they might be able to stop hell. No one wants them to do this, to override the ancient laws laid down by these men, but it’s their only chance and they have nothing to lose. Everyone is leaving town, normal people and demons alike. No one wants to be near the Hellmouth.
Willow casts the spell just as Buffy and the potential slayers and their friends all enter the Hellmouth. It works: the potential slayers become powerful and strong enough together to fight the Hellmouth and stop it from becoming big enough to devour Earth.
When you get that old
by Margaux Williamson
Kevin is a high school student who kills many of his classmates with a bow and arrow in a nightmarish lock-down at the local high school. The movie is mostly about his mother, Eva.
The movie is seductive and strange. Sometimes it seems like a regular indie-drama and sometimes it seems like a horror movie. Part of the narrative is told through non-sequential flashbacks. These mostly focus on the relationship between Kevin and Eva. The scenes skip around from the morning of the killings to Kevin’s conception to the family’s breakfast table.
There is one scene with Eva participating in a tomato festival somewhere far away. It’s one of the few flashbacks where she is without her family. She’s alone, in a mob, covered, along with the rest of the mob, in the bloody mush of tomatoes. She looks euphoric. It’s a very unusual image – Eva covered in the red pulp, limp and being lifted by strangers. It suggests something sacred – or sinister. It echoes the high school massacre in colour and confusion.
The rest of the scenes take place after the massacre. They mostly involve Eva being villainized by herself and by her community for the horrendous crimes of her son. She doesn’t defend herself; she accepts the assumed punishment – straight to hell.
It still seems to be the most condoned form of misogyny to blame the mother for the sins and deficiencies of ourselves and others. And though it is becoming less fashionable to argue that nurture trumps nature, to defend Freud’s traditional psychotherapy, or to assume woman as the primary nurturers in a family, we, in the early 21st century audience, still understand that it would be outrageous if the mother tried to defend herself. We, and Eva, know there is absolutely no room for that.
So, Eva, ostracized, villainized and terrorized by her community, survives and lives and carries on.
The very exciting part of this movie is that instead of an eventual redemption offered by the arc of a traditional narrative, we are instead offered a more absolute redemption in the form of shifting perspective. It’s as though the director, Lynn Ramsay, managed to create a Gestalt-like optical illusion here in movie form.
In one moment, you are watching a intelligent indie-drama about a mother-son relationship gone terribly wrong; in another, you see a horror movie about a child born evil.
It’s not even that the movie moves back and forth between two different genres – it is just our own eyes deciding which way to see things at any particular moment. In either direction, the vision comes fully formed. The clues for both perspectives are in every scene: an ever-present bottle of wine next to Eva at the dinner table – the dinner table where Kevin gazes at his mother with sadistic eyes that he only lets her see.
As we watch the indie-drama, we see a mother who might have gotten some things wrong, or who might have some wrong things inside herself. As we watch the horror movie, we feel the thrill of the “bad seed” trope being used in the service of a reckless feminist fantasy – or, at least, a counter-misogynistic one: Some babies are just born bad, let us all marvel at the evil, let us remove our persistent gaze from the mother. Lynn Ramsay is the master of the bold and reckless feminist fantasy movie.
The scene of Eva alone at the tomato festival is an interesting one for these alternating visions. When you see the horror movie, you see a successful travel writer’s euphoric connection with the world outside the family – a scene far from trouble and pain.
When your eyes adjust to the indie-drama, you see a woman covered in red, engaged in a bizarre act of self-indulgence or abandon, or an act that maybe comes out of some need, small and twisted inside of her, that makes her seek such unusual forms of euphoria so far away from home; an act that foreshadows, in colour and perversity, her sons horrific crimes.