Loving Families Don’t Drag You Down

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One thing that the family scapegoat, or identified patient, may find remarkable–when comparing his (or her) relationship with his toxic family to other people’s relationships with their far healthier families–is the conspicuous lack of affection the former has for his or her family, as against the healthy affection felt in normal families.

Now, something that the scapegoat has, which the flying monkeys of the toxic family don’t have, is an honest view of the lovelessness of that family. The narcissistic parents and their flying monkey sons and daughters boast of how ‘loving’ they are as a family; but such boasting is really just reaction formation, used as a cover for the family dysfunction that is their reality.

We scapegoats know that love is not just something in words–it’s mainly in actions. The toxic family can say they ‘love’ the scapegoat over and over again until they’re blue in the face, but the scapegoat who is wise to them won’t believe a word of it.

The reason we don’t believe these empty professions of love is because those who have ‘loved’ us so much keep dragging us down. Yes, even the best of families have their share of conflicts and frustrations between members, but there is no systematic degrading of one member by the others.

One way I often got dragged down by my family was that I was constantly infantilized by them. They would talk down to me as if I were an idiot, speak condescendingly to me as if I–for a long time already an adult–were ten years old, and treat my attempts to stick up for myself as if I was being ‘mouthy.’

This is one way a toxic family can retain power over the scapegoat: by making him or her feel like an eternal, overgrown child. This way, the victim feels overawed by the victimizers, never able to see past their illusory authority, and never able to fight back and free him- or herself.

If your family truly loves you, they want to help you rise as high as possible. They celebrate your every success, and they empathize with and comfort you whenever you experience a setback, failure, or otherwise heartbreaking moment.

When toxic families do these good things for you, it’s the exception, not the rule, which is, as I’ve said above, dragging you down. Healthy families dragging you down, on the other hand, is the exception to the rule…which is raising you up.

No, no family is completely good or completely evil; but the healthy ones are predominantly good, and the toxic ones are predominantly evil. So, when in an argument with your toxic family, if they mention their good moments with you, which they’ll do to manipulate you, confuse you, and guilt-trip you into falling back in line and believing their b.s., remember that those ‘good moments’ are the minority, and that they fade into insignificance compared with the many more bad moments.

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Instead of celebrating my successes, my late, probably narcissistic mother tended to find ways to drag me down. Back when I was in grade four, and I was getting my first As in school, I was naturally proud to tell my parents about my new achievement; but this was around the time she started spouting off about my supposed autism. (Read here to learn about my mother’s autism lie in detail, and how I came to the conclusion that my childhood ‘diagnosis’ was all a fabrication of hers.)

In the form of a kind of back-handed compliment, she would claim that my new academic success was a manifestation of a “miracle from God” that I’d been pulled out of a state of extreme retardation (associated with ‘my autism’) to become a reasonably intelligent person. Her plan had always been to make me feel, somehow, behind everyone else. It was gaslighting at its most brutal.

Even if I really had an autism spectrum disorder, be it a mild one like Asperger Syndrome (AS) or the more severe kind she’d claimed I had, any reasonable mother who loves her child would never tell him or her that this academic success was a “miracle”: she’d just say she was proud of him. She wouldn’t prate on and on about psychiatrists recommending locking him or her up in an asylum and throwing away the key (as my mom did to me), even if the shrinks had really recommended that! My mother would have known that the psychiatrists were wrong in their judgement, and she would have tried to encourage me as best she could.

She wouldn’t have said that she wasn’t sure if I would have made a good garbageman, as she did (I’m actually a teacher). She’d have had the common sense…and the love for me…to think to herself, He doesn’t need to know what they said about him. Telling him what they said would be harmful to him.

But none of what my mom said to me was about love (though she certainly pretended she was speaking out of love!) or about common sense. It was about tricking an impressionable child into believing he was inferior to his siblings and to everyone else around him. The “miracle” had just made me a little less inferior…and I should be thankful to God for that, apparently.

Her intentions were all about dragging me down, for she didn’t want me to get any higher.

Now, that one time in my childhood was the first major time that my mother dragged me down when I was rising up. The second major time she did this was twenty to twenty-five years later, when I’d proven myself a successful, capable English teacher in East Asia, and I was about to marry my Taiwanese girlfriend, Judy. Mom decided to revive discussion of ‘my autism’ in the form of AS.

Since my life had already improved to the point where she couldn’t reasonably sustain an argument that I had ever been mentally incompetent, and since talk of miracles from God would have sounded inane to the ears of a man in his early thirties, my mom knew she had to modify her lies to make them plausible in the context of my new life situation. Hence, she shifted from talking about classical autism to the mild, socially inept form of Asperger Syndrome.

Still, it had the same effect of dragging me down: she could remind me of how awkward I was as a kid, reawaken those old feelings of pain and insecurity in me, watch me get upset, then enjoy her new source of narcissistic supply.

God forbid that I should ever cross the line and build self-confidence! The very idea that I should ever feel as though I fit in with other people was anathema to her. Small wonder she smiled like a Cheshire cat when she said that I, as a teen, had the maturity of a small child, as a young adult, had the maturity of a teen, and as a then-33-year-old, had the maturity of a 23-year-old. I was infuriated; but I’ll bet she thoroughly enjoyed making me feel that way.

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The fact that I was going to marry Judy and never go back to live in southern Ontario must have been at least a huge part of Mom’s motive to drag me down like that. By no longer living near her and the rest of the family, I would no longer be controlled by them, the way they’d once controlled me, back when I was a kid living in Canada.

Mom wanted that power and control back, as did my older sister, J., Mom’s golden child and ‘mini-me,’ so using AS to stir up my old insecurities and make me feel emotionally dependent on them was a desperate, last-ditch attempt to hoover me back into the dysfunctional family relationship.

Mom, of course, wasn’t the only one in the family to drag me down. As I said above, J. was a huge contributor to the problem, always rationalizing her attitude, as Mom did, with claims that she was ‘only trying to help‘ me.

During a visit to Canada that I’d made with Judy back in about the late summer of 2001, we were all at a picnic. I had made a preference of drinking one particular drink (orange soda, as I recall), and J. decided to nag me for drinking so much of it that there’d be too little left for anyone else. I don’t think anyone else there really cared, but J. couldn’t resist making 31-year-old me feel like a 10-year-old.

As I discussed in a previous post (scroll down to Part VI), on that day at the picnic, J. also expressed distaste at the idea of me marrying Judy. Did J. think her disapproval was going to deter me from marrying the woman I love? Does J. think my marrying Judy has been the decisive factor in my not returning to Canada, when it is my family’s toxic nature that is the real decisive factor?

By hoping I wouldn’t marry Judy and would return to Canada, J. was trying to drag me down. She failed.

Another dragging-down that I experienced, back in my teens, was because of my eldest brother, R. I’ve written before of the long rant he gave about our father supposedly loving us more or less based on our academic performance. It was an absolutely nonsensical belief R. had (he having been in his early to mid twenties at the time, so one would have expected a more mature attitude from him), one I suspect our mother planted in his head when he was a kid; Dad was just trying, in his dysfunctional way, to push us to work harder at school (by shaming us, sadly, if we failed), and getting disappointed when we didn’t do better.

Anyway, as an ego defence against R.’s belief that we all thought he was “the idiot of the family” for having quit high school back in the mid-70s, he claimed that he’d known many who got high marks at school, and who were “absolute idiots.” Now granted, it was a fault of mine at the time to allow myself to be unduly influenced by the opinions and flippant attitudes of others, but I was just a kid then. R. made me believe that there was no reason to take any pride in my academic success, so I lost much of my motivation to work hard at school, thus limiting my job prospects after graduating.

My doing well at school was one of the few things I had in my teens to feel good about, and this was with Mom’s nonsense about ‘my autism,’ and her supposed worries of having to continue to take care of a ‘forty-year-old moron’ (yes, she described me with that last word) in the far-off future. R’s bruised ego was more important to him than his youngest brother’s already fragile self-confidence, and he dragged me down even further, as Mom had been doing.

The times that my other elder brother, F., dragged me down were too numerous to count, and so varying in their bullying and sadism that I hardly know where to begin listing them off. Trauma tends to make one forget many of the bad memories, so I tend to repeat the same ones over and over again. Suffice it to say, along with all the verbal abuse he (as well as that of Mom, Dad, R., and J.) had subjected me to on a regular, almost daily basis, F. was the one who got physical with me: hitting me, spitting on me, threatening beatings or (on one night) to throw me outside in the Canadian winter cold (remember that I was a kid at the time: he was much bigger than I), and so many other degradations that to him were “fun.”

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The long-term psychological effects of bullying and childhood adversity have been extensively studied. The research shows that children subjected to this kind of emotional abuse suffer all kinds of problems, not only a lack of self-esteem, but also from problems relating to other people, trust issues, emotional dysregulation, and escape in such forms as maladaptive daydreaming.

The family would attribute these problems of mine to ‘my autism,’ with no empathy for me, but instead with a judgemental attitude, never taking any responsibility for the huge role they played in causing these problems. (To be fair to them, no, they weren’t responsible for all of the problems, but they were responsible to enough of an extent that they should have, but of course essentially never, acknowledged their role, and should have shown a sincerely apologetic attitude.)

My father, though not really part of the narcissist collective that the other four made up, was a seriously flawed man who dragged me down in other ways than they did. He rarely defended me against the attacks of the other four, and rarely sympathized with me over the problems they caused for me. His biggest fault, though, was his right-wing thinking, with all the attendant bigotries; and he taught me, in my youth, to think in those ways, from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s.

So while I didn’t directly suffer narcissistic abuse from him, I did suffer emotional abuse from him in the form of psychological corrupting–in this particular case, him teaching me his prejudices. Though I, in my initially liberal attitude, resisted, I eventually succumbed to an agreement with his mean-spirited attitude, through having heard an ongoing repetition of his slurs on blacks, women, socialism, etc. Those fifteen-odd years were truly lost years for me, his having dragged me down to such a base way of thinking that I now deeply regret.

His death back in 2009, I must say at the risk of sounding terribly unfilial, was a liberating moment for me, since I no longer felt I needed his approval for my beliefs. Consequently, I did something I never thought I’d ever do: go from the political centre-right to the far left, as you can surmise from my other blog posts.

So my message to you, Dear Reader, is this. Do you find yourself sitting on the fence with respect to your relationship with your family? If you feel frequently hurt by them, but you’re still not sure if the bad times are such that you consider the good times not worth putting up with the bad, ask yourself if the times they drag you down are the majority, or just the minority. Is their dragging you down more significant than their raising you up, or vice versa?

The answers to these questions should determine whether or not to go no contact with them.

Analysis of ‘Johnny Got His Gun’

Johnny Got His Gun is a 1938 anti-war novel written by Dalton Trumbo, published the following year, and adapted into a 1971 film, which was also written and directed by him (with an uncredited writing collaboration from Luis Buñuel). The film stars Timothy Bottoms, with co-stars Kathy FieldsMarsha HuntJason RobardsDonald Sutherland, and Diane Varsi.

The book was temporarily taken out of print several times, when such wars as WWII and the Korean War broke out; for the book’s anti-war sentiment was deemed inappropriate at those times. Having been a member of the Communist Party USA during WWII, Dalton agreed to the non-printing of his novel, as long as the Soviet Union remained allies with the US against the Nazis during the war. As for the far right, isolationists among them sent Trumbo letters asking for copies of the book while it had been out of print. He reported the letter-writers to the FBI, but it turns out the FBI was far more interested in him, a leftist, than in the rightist writers.

The novel tells the story through a third-person subjective, or limited, narration, meaning we get the story from the protagonist’s point of view, that of Joe Bonham (played by Bottoms in the film). This means that the perspective of the medical staff is given only in the film adaptation. Other differences between novel and film include the rearrangement of some scenes into a different order, and the inclusion of scenes in the film with Christ (Sutherland) generally having been written by Buñuel (assuming IMDb is trustworthy here), although the scene of Christ playing cards with Joe, the redhead, the Swede (played by David Soul), and the other soldiers is in the novel (Book II, Chapter 16), and around 27-30 minutes into the film.

The film was originally a modest success, but became a cult film after Metallica‘s video for their songOne,” which included scenes from the film, revived interest in it. In fact, Metallica bought the rights to the film so they could use scenes from it in their video without having to pay royalties on it.

Links to quotes from the film can be found here.

Joe Bonham, a young American soldier in WWI, has been severely injured from the blast of an artillery shell, rendering him limbless, eyeless, deaf, and without a nose, tongue, or teeth. To make matters worse, the army medical staff taking care of him, not knowing who he is (three minutes into the film), and mistakenly thinking he’s decerebrated from his injuries, assume that he feels no pain or pleasure, and that he has no memories or dreams; so they keep him alive for medical research.

Joe gradually comes to the horrifying realization that all that’s left of him are his torso, genitals, and mutilated head (from Chapter 3 onward), with only the sense of touch left to link himself with the world, and with his consciousness intact to realize the virtually hopeless state that is the remainder of his natural life. This is alienation in the extreme, as only war can cause it.

The medical staff are keeping him alive so they can study him, the rationalization being that such study can be a help to future injured soldiers. When he realizes fully what’s been done to him, he’d like to kill himself by cutting off his own breathing, but he can’t, because the staff have him breathing through tubes directly connected to his lungs (Chapter 5, pages 28-29).

So, the overarching theme of the story is loss, lack. Joe has lost not only all the body parts that can make him useful, help him to enjoy the company of other people, or give his life meaning; not only has he lost his will to live and his faith in God (especially by the end of the story); but he has lost the very ability to end his life.

Normally, desire is aroused by a stimulation of the senses, so we’d think that a lack of those senses might cause one to be able to resist the sensual temptations of the world and attain peace, nirvana; but Joe is someone used to the physical pleasures of the world, to the enjoyment of relationships with other people, so being deprived of all of that, all of a sudden, is something he cannot accept. His is a Lacanian lack giving rise to desire: a desire to be useful to others, to be recognized and acknowledged by others, to be wanted by others (e.g., his girlfriend, Kareen [Fields]).

How can he be worth anything to anybody (other than that impersonal medical staff who are exploiting him for their own purposes) in his mutilated state? As a quadruple amputee with his face blown off, he’s been symbolically castrated, though, ironically, his genitals are still intact (Joey’s got his gun), they being the symbol of desire par excellence. Instead of letting go of his desires, which would lead to nirvana, he has them all the more, trapping him in a symbolic samsara. His is a living death: note how the novel is divided into two books, called ‘The Dead,’ and ‘The Living.’ It’s as if he’s dying (despair), then living again (new hope), then dying again (frustrated hope), then living again (revived, if feeble, hopes), a symbolic reincarnation into a world of endless suffering, of hell.

His hell is the undifferentiated world of what Lacan called the Real. He cannot tell day from night, dream from waking life, or fantasy from reality (especially with all the sedatives he’s getting). He cannot measure time with any degree of accuracy, though he certainly tries very hard to.

Communication borders on impossible for him, except towards the end of the story, when a nurse uses her finger to spell “MERRY CHRISTMAS” on his bare chest (Chapter 17, page 86); and when he uses the Morse Code, tapping the back of his head on a pillow, to communicate with the army brass, only to have his wishes rejected. Therefore, his connection with the Symbolic Order, the therapeutic world of language, culture, and society, is a tenuous one.

The paradoxically terrifying/beatific world of the Real, or to use Bion‘s terminology, O, is one beyond the senses, a suspension of memory and desire. James S. Grotstein says, “A transformation in ‘O’ is attainable only by the disciplined abandonment of memory, desire, understanding, sense impressions — and perhaps also the abandonment of ego itself.” Such a place could be heavenly, like nirvana, if Joe could just let go of his ego and the world he’s lost; but of course, he’ll never do that, so he can only experience the hellish aspect of O, the Real, which is dialectically right next to the heavenly aspect (consider my use of the ouroboros, which symbolizes a circular continuum, the dialectical relationship between opposites [i.e., the serpent’s head biting its tail], to get at my meaning), depending on whether or not one clings to desire.

Trumbo’s novel begins with memories of sounds, like the sound of the telephone ringing. His hearing is the first thing he discovers he’s lost, and ironically, he has a ringing sound in his ears, reminding him of the telephone. Added to this, he remembers a sad phone call at work in the bakery: he must go home, for his father (Robards) has died. More of the theme of loss.

Other sounds Joe remembers are of music, his mother’s singing (beginning of Chapter 2) and piano playing (Chapter 1), something he’ll never get to enjoy again. In subsequent chapters, Joe remembers other sensory pleasures, like his mom’s home cooking (Chapter 2), a listing-off of various delicious foods (her baked bread, her canned peaches, cherries, raspberries, black berries, plums and apricots, her jams, jellies, preserves, and chilli sauces; the sandwiches of the hamburger man on Fifth and Main, etc.), all foods he’ll never get to taste again. He describes the aches and pains in his arms and legs, doing hard physical labour, in the hot sun, to the point of exhaustion (Chapter 4, pages 19-21).

He describes going to bed with Kareen (Chapter 3, page 15; and about nine minutes into the film), their one and only intimate time before he’s shipped off to fight the war, an indulgence her father allows, amazingly. All of these vivid sensual descriptions are here to underscore, for the reader, all that Joe has lost.

The film symbolically reflects the difference between what he had (and what he wishes he still had) and what he’s lost by showing his memories, dreams, and fantasies in colour (the dreams and fantasies being in saturated colour), and showing his current, hellish reality in the hospital in black and white. Indeed, all he has left are his memories and fantasies.

All these memories of his reinforce in our minds that Joe is a human being, with a heart and feelings, with dreams, hopes, and desires, like everyone else. He’s more than just a guinea pig for the medical staff to study and experiment on.

This understanding is the anti-war basis of the story: soldiers aren’t just pieces of meat (like the piece of meat that Joe has been reduced to) for the army and ruling class to use for their selfish purposes. Of course, these selfish purposes–the imperialist competition to control the lion’s share of the world’s land and resources–are cloaked behind rationalizations of keeping the world “safe for democracy.”

Now, what is meant here by “democracy” is not really the power of the people, but what is properly called the dictatorship or the bourgeoisie, or the rule of the rich. Boys like Joe are recruited to kill and die to protect and serve the interests of the capitalist class. This story’s setting during WWI is significant in how Lenin at the time wrote Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, a polemic against the war (understood as an inter-imperialist competition among the great powers of the time for land and resources), which was very unpopular in Russia. And as soon as the Bolsheviks took power, they worked to get Russia out of the war.

If only American communists could have been so successful.

The novel’s defiant, anti-war tone reaches its highest pitch at the ends of Books I and II, in which Joe speaks contemptuously of that old lie about the “fight for liberty.” As Joe says on page 49, “What the hell does liberty mean anyhow?” His response to the importance of liberty is “my life is important” (page 50). As for Joe’s defiance of the war machine and what it has done to him, hear Donald Sutherland’s reading of passages from the end of Book II (pages 103-104).

Now, since Joe has realized what a big mistake he made believing the bourgeois imperialist lie of ‘fighting for democracy,’ we should try to understand what originally drove him to buy into that lie. It was his love of his father and his wish to identify with him, to win his father’s love. Though his father cynically realizes that ‘defending democracy’ is really just about “young men killing each other,” Joe as a naïve little boy just goes along with the apparent virtue of such a fight. After all, as his father says, “Young men don’t have homes; that’s why they must go out and kill each other.” (Recall, in this connection, the fourth line in the bridge to the lyrics of the Black Sabbath song, “War Pigs,” which came out close to the same time as the film.)

Joe deems his father a failure who has nothing but his phallic fishing pole to give him distinction (not even Joe has distinction, apparently, as his father frankly tells him), but this is the only father little Joe has. Joe manages to lose that fishing pole one day when fishing not with his dad, but with his friend, Bill Harper (Chapter 9, and at about 1:16:30 into the film). The loss of the fishing pole is another symbolic castration. Joe’s memories of his father hugging him, and wanting to receive a hug from him, are–I believe–wish-fulfillments of Joe’s (the line separating his actual memories and how he wishes to remember his past is a hazy one). His father’s death, and the loss of the fishing pole, goad Joe–through guilt feelings–into being willing to do what “any man would give his only begotten son” for…kill and be killed for democracy.

This choice of words, “only begotten son,” is intriguing. It reminds one of John 3:16. Joe’s father would give his only begotten son to die for an ideal, freedom, which sounds like God the Father giving His only begotten Son to die for our sins, so sinners can live in an ideal world, heaven, which is freedom from sin and death.

This comparison leads us to the understanding that Joe, in the extremity of his suffering, is comparing himself, however obliquely, to Christ. He is suffering in an excruciating manner similar in a number of ways to how Jesus suffered. In his state of living death, Joe is harrowing Hell, so to speak, as Christ did.

The two books of Trumbo’s novel, recall, are named “The Dead” and “The Living.” The reverse order of these names suggests resurrection. On the other hand, Christ will return to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5). This understanding gives depth to Joe’s dreams and fantasies of conversing with Christ, for it gives meaning–and a sense of grandeur–to Joe’s suffering.

His dream of a rat biting into a wound behind a bandage on his side, or his chest (something he, at first, can’t tell from waking reality–Chapter 7, page 41; and 45 minutes into the film) suggests the spear in Christ’s side. The loss of Joe’s limbs is analogous to the stigmata in Christ’s hands and feet; recall how he believes the doctors have amputated his arms and legs–for example, he feels the pinching and pricking of sharp instruments when they remove the bandages from where his left arm would have been (Chapter 3, page 13). And the mutilation of Joe’s face parallels Christ’s crown of thorns, the digging of those thorns into His head.

The mutilation of Joe’s body, and the mental disorientation he feels as a result, symbolizes and literally means that he is in danger of suffering psychological fragmentation. Pathological narcissism–in Joe’s case, the covert kind in which one sees oneself as a grandiose victim–is an effective–if dysfunctional–defence against such fragmentation. In Joe’s case, this narcissism expresses itself by his comparing of his suffering to that of Christ.

In the film, when Joe is with Christ in one of his fantasies (46-50 minutes into the film)–when Christ is doing His carpenter work–and Joe is speaking about his fears of having the rat nightmare again, the two are looking in each other’s faces as if Joe were looking into a mirror…that is, the narcissistic mirroring of the self in the other. As a dream, the scene is a wish-fulfillment for Joe in which he hopes to find a solution to the rat nightmare problem, which of course Christ can’t solve, because Joe’s problems are material, not spiritual, ones: Joe has no mouth with which to yell himself back into consciousness, he has no eyes to open, and he has no limbs with which to knock the rat off of him. This must have been a scene that atheist Buñuel wrote, for Christ is no help to Joe, and He Himself acknowledges that no one really believes in Him.

Joe remembers his Christian Science preacher from childhood telling him that God is Spirit (35 minutes into the film), as is man in his true nature, which makes Christ vaguely comparable with Joe, who barely has a body anymore, and barely has any sensory contact with the physical world. Joe, like Christ on the Cross, feels “forsaken” (Chapter 20, page 101) by the medical staff, who refuse to grant him his request to be taken around in a glass box and presented as a kind of freakish icon to teach people about the horrors of war.

To be taken all over the US and displayed thus, as an anti-war icon, is comparable to Christian missionaries traveling the world and spreading the Word of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19). Joe’s message of saving lives, though, is the salvation of physical lives, not that of spiritual ones. “He had a vision of himself as a new kind of Christ as a man who carries within himself all the seeds of a new order of things. He was the new messiah of the battlefields saying to people as I am so shall you be.” (Chapter 20, page 103)

As we can see, this association of Joe with Jesus is far more apparent in the novel, especially towards the end, than in the film. And if he is like Christ, we can find Mary parallels, too.

First, when Joe realizes the extremity of his predicament, he feels as helpless as a baby in the womb (Chapter 7, page 37), and he–in his thoughts–calls out to his mother for help (Chapter 5, page 25). This association of limbless Joe with a baby in the womb can also be linked with his recollection of his mother’s telling of the Christmas story, with Joseph and pregnant Mary trying to find an inn in Bethlehem to spend the night (Chapter 17, pages 88-90).

Without his mother to know of his mental cries for help, Joe must rely on the care of the nurses, on whom he transfers his Oedipal feelings, which have resurfaced as a result of his regression to an infantile state, this being part of his coping mechanism.

Having transferred feelings of Oedipal love from his mother onto the nurses, Joe finds one nurse in particular–as noted especially in the film (Varsi)–whose tearful compassion for him is receptive to that love. Accordingly, she masturbates him (Chapter 14, page 72); about an hour and fifteen minutes into the film). Remember, though, the blurred line between his fantasy world (i.e., wish-fulfillment) and his reality. How much of her massaging is real, and how much is his imagination?

Since the Oedipal transference is sent to her, and since it is she who writes “MERRY CHRISTMAS” with her finger on his chest, this nurse can be seen as the Mary to his Jesus. The tears in her eyes over his suffering make her a kind of mater dolorosa, Our Lady of Compassion.

Now, these Christ and Mary parallels do not mean that Trumbo was trying to present a Christian “prince of peace” kind of anti-war story. Such symbolism only serves to express the gravity of Joe’s suffering through the use of familiar religious imagery. This is no story about “faith, hope, and charity“: on the contrary, it is about bottomless despair, which is especially apparent at the end of the film.

Joe’s pitying nurse would be an exterminating angel, were one of the doctors not to stop her from cutting off Joe’s air supply to euthanize him. The doctor, whose “stupidity” is bluntly noted by the chaplain in the film, would keep Joe alive in that hellish state so he can continue to be studied. For this is the whole point of war: the exploitation of young men to kill, to be killed, and to be otherwise used as a kind of commodity for the benefit of the powerful.

Unable to kill himself, unable to live in any meaningful way, unable to communicate and be listened to (i.e., to re-enter the social world of the Symbolic; our libido seeks other people’s company, as Fairbairn noted), and hovering between consciousness and unconsciousness because of the sedatives the doctors keep giving him, Joe is trapped in the undifferentiated void of the Real. If he could only let go of his attachment to his ego, that illusory self we all have from our contemplation of our mirror reflection, the Imaginary, then he might find peace.

But his was never a Buddhist or Hindu upbringing, of course: it was a Christian one, from which he derived his narcissistically amplified ego by identifying with Christ. And since even the religious systems of the Far East typically hold up the authoritarian and class basis of their respective societies, they would be of little help to him, anyway. His predicament is a material one, not a spiritual one. The eternal death of his Hell is not being able to choose when he can die.

He might see himself as Christ-like, as a fisher of men, but he lost his father’s fishing pole…just as he’s lost everything else. And just as Joe’s father is dead, so is God the Father dead…hence, there’s no Christ to wake Joe out of his nightmare.

‘Germ,’ a Horror Short Story

[SEXUAL CONTENT]

Vera crouched in the shower stall, trembling in fear as the water sprayed down on her bruised body. In her mind, she replayed the beating she’d got from Bob, her pimp.

“Only two hundred bucks?” he’d said after thumbing through the bills in her bedroom.

“Business was slow tonight,” she’d said in a shaky voice.

“You had at least four men in here today, probably five or six,” he’d said, scowling at her. “You may not be all that great-looking anymore, but you’re good for more customers that this. You’re holding out on me again, aren’t you? Empty your purse!”

She’d done so. There were at least one thousand dollars from that day alone. Now she was really shaking.

“Bitch, you never learn!” he’d said, followed immediately by the first punch, to her jaw on the lower left side.

As she shook remembering each punch to her face, shoulders, and chest, she never noticed a tiny green splat, no bigger than the tip of her index finger, go from a tile next to the shower drain, up her right foot, then her ankle, calf, knee, upper leg, and finally deep inside her vagina.

It never tickled or anything; it felt no different than the water soaking her body.

She did notice, however, and about ten seconds later, a strange, warm, vibrating feeling all over her body. It was surprising, but it felt good, soothing. The pain from her beating faded away.

She looked down at where the bruises had been on her chest, two of them, each just above a breast.

They were gone.

Her breasts were bigger, rounder, and firmer, too. Her hairy pubes were replaced by a landing strip.

“Holy shit,” she whispered.

Now with a new energy, she got up on her feet and quickly began running a lather all over herself. As she’d been soaping up her face, she felt no cut just below her lip on the left.

Once she was clean and rinsed off, she got out of the shower stall, towelled herself off, and ran out of the bathroom to find her bedroom mirror, a tall one giving her a full view of her body, from her head to her toes.

She examined her entire body, turning around and eyeing every inch of her skin. No cuts, no bruises…

…and no imperfections from ageing.

“What…the…hell?” she gasped, with agape eyes.

This 38-year-old woman now had the body of a 22-year-old porn star.

She couldn’t explain it.

She couldn’t stop grinning, either.

*********

All tarted up in a tight-fitting red dress to show off her new figure, Vera was out on the streets again, hoping to make a huge ton of cash all at once, to speed up her savings so she could leave this town and Bob forever.

Maybe she’d even find a good man and never have to hook again.

Someone like Derek.

Over the next several hours, she’d had two johns, a nice one and a bad one, this second one having worn a tacky pink paisley shirt. His attitude towards women was as bad as his taste in clothes, for he’d aggressively fucked her so it hurt inside; he also enjoyed slapping her around as he fucked her.

He left her apartment in a hurry, having never taken off his clothes for the sex. He’d unzipped himself, whipped it out, slipped on a condom, done her, pulled off the condom, zipped himself up, paid her, then ran off.

“Bastard,” she hissed after he’d slammed the door behind him.

All the pain from each of his slaps went away seconds after she got them; her vaginal pain disappeared by the time he’d left, too.

Wow, she thought. What is this super-power I’ve got? Is there an angel above who’s pitying me?

Ten minutes later, she was back on the street and, about twenty minutes after that, she found another john.

“Lookin’ for some action?” she asked him.

“Sure do,” he said, smiling and approaching. “How much for…?”

He was interrupted by a grunting sound coming at them from the side, a shuffling and scraping sound on the sidewalk.

They turned their heads and looked over to where the sounds were coming from…and their eyes and mouths widened.

A man without legs or a right arm was crawling towards Vera, his empty pants legs and pink shirt sleeve sliding behind his ass.

“You…bitch,” he hissed, then a few of his teeth fell out. “What did…you…ungh…” His tongue came off and got stuck in his throat. He coughed it out, then it lay on the pavement beside his cheek.

She screamed, then she and her new john ran away from the crawling man.

“Who was that guy?” the john asked her as they reached her apartment.

“I don’t know,” she lied, for she’d recognized the crawler’s paisley shirt.

*********

In her bedroom again, she danced and stripped for her new customer, proudly displaying her new and improved body.

He gazed in awe at her nakedness.

“Wow, you’re hot,” he panted, unzipping his jeans.

“Thanks,” she said with a grin.

“How much for anal?” he asked.

Her smile vanished. “I…d-don’t do anal.”

“I want anal!” he shouted, then punched her hard in the gut.

She buckled and fell on the bed. He pulled off his T-shirt, jeans, and underwear, then got on the bed with her.

The pain from the punch was gone within seconds, but he got her in position for anal rape too quickly for her to resist him.

He shoved it in raw. She screamed in pain, and though the pain of each ramming went away quickly enough, the relief didn’t amount to anything, for the old pain got replaced by that of a new ramming in each time. After a few minutes of the ordeal, he pulled out and came all over her buttocks.

She lay there on the bed, sobbing.

My daddy did that to me when I was a teen, she thought. “You bastard.”

“That’s what you get for choosing to be a whore, bitch,” he panted, and reached down for his pants and underwear…but, “Ungh!

His dick fell off.

He screamed at the sight of it between his shoes. Then his balls fell off.

“What the fuck?!” he screamed in a soprano voice. “What…germ…did you pass onto me?”

His nose fell off.

Oddly, there was never any blood.

He screamed again. A few teeth fell out.

Her pain was all gone. She wiped his come off her ass with a tissue, sat facing him, and smiled.

His left arm fell off. Now, he was the one sobbing.

She got back into position for anal and spread her buttocks wide open. She looked back at him with a mock-seductive look. “Wanna fuck my ass, baby?”

He glared at her, but just then, his right eye fell out.

She got off the bed and went for his jeans. She pulled out his wallet. “OK,” she said, “how much have you got in here?”

He tried to reach for his wallet, but his lower jaw fell off. “Umph!” he grunted.

She pushed him to the floor. Now, all of his remaining limbs detached from his torso. His head came off, too, and rolled to the other side of the bedroom. Finally, all was still and quiet.

So, she thought as she continued thumbing through his wallet, I guess I know what happened to Mr. Pink Paisley. Fucker got what he deserved.

“What?!” she yelled. “Only twenty-five bucks? No ATM card, either. You were gonna rape me, and not even pay me?! You fucker!!” She stomped on his left arm. The fingers and thumb detached and rolled away. “I’d better get some garbage bags and clean up this mess.”

********

She was back on the streets later that night. It was past midnight. Now, she was almost hoping for nasty customers, so she could see them come to pieces from her new powers.

As she looked around for men to attract, she thought she saw the first john who’d had her since her transformation–the nice one. Same clothes–a white T-shirt and black pants–same brown hair, same skinny build and height–about the same as hers. Same face, too…she thought.

Wow, she thought. He didn’t come apart. He didn’t die, like those two bastards. Is it because he was gentle with me? Is that even him? Looks a lot like him, but I can’t be sure in the dark.

Then she saw Derek.

Speaking of nice guys, she thought. Here comes my man, or so I’d wish him to be. He’s one of the few johns I actually like having sex with.

He approached her with a smile.

“Hi, Derek,” she said, beaming at him.

“Wow, you’re looking the best you ever have,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said, turning around for him with pride. “I’m glad you like it.”

“Not that you had to change your looks at all, of course,” he said. “I’ve always thought you were beautiful just as you are.”

“You are so sweet to me.”

“My pleasure,” he said, offering her his escorting arm. “Shall we?”

“Uh, OK,” she said, and took his arm.

“Why the hesitation?” he asked as they began walking towards her apartment.

I can’t tell him about the Germ, she said. He’ll dump me. But what if he catches it? “I-I had a few nasty johns today,” she said.

“Well, if you don’t feel up to having sex, why are you out here streetwalking?” he asked.

“Because I have to, silly,” she said. “Bob will beat me up if I don’t. You know that.”

“I’d like to beat Bob up.”

“He’s much too big for you to beat him in a fight. He’d kick your ass. Besides, even if you won the fight, he has all his mafia friends who’d kill you.”

“I’ve gotta take you out of this town, far away from him. If only I had the money,” Derek said.

“You have had the money to pay for sex with me, and that’s been on lots of occasions over the months. Why not save your money instead of blowing it all on me?”

“One, because I’m so hot for you, I’ve got to have you as often as possible. Two, because I want you to experience a gentle, considerate john as often as possible, to offset and take away the time from the nasty johns, and to pay you more than they will.”

“Bob just takes the extra money for himself. You’re giving it all to him, not to me.”

“Bastard. Anyway, how’d you get to be so…well, more than usually beautiful today?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “A good makeup job?”

“Come on, it’s much more than cosmetics, Vera. You’re much more shapely than your usual shapely self, like a girl half your age. What did you do?”

“I really don’t know,” she said as they reached the front door of her apartment building.

“Black magic?”

“I don’t know. Strange things have been happening tonight. I can’t explain it.”

“Really?” he said as they got in the elevator. “Anyway, whatever it is, you look really beautiful. Of course, as I said before, you always did look beautiful, makeover or no makeover.”

“Thanks,” she said with a giggle. I really like him, she thought. I wanna make love with him so badly…but I shouldn’t!

They reached her floor and got out of the elevator. As they walked down the hall to her apartment, he said, “I’m burning to make love to you.”

“So am I,” she said, fitting her key into her door. “I’d do it with you for free, you know that, but Bob–“

“Even without the threat of Bob, I’d pay you, to help you make ends meet. If only I could get you away from that piece-of-shit pimp.”

They went inside. “If he were dead, we wouldn’t need to leave,” she said, thinking, Maybe, with this new power of mine, I could coax Bob into a suicide fuck. They went over to her couch and sat together.

“Don’t do anything foolish to get the cops after you,” he said, then he put his arm around her and kissed her on the cheek.

“Wait,” she said, pushing him away. “Not right now.”

“Those two guys before me really shook you up, didn’t they?”

“Yeah. I just need a few minutes.” Or days…or weeks…or years…

“Well, OK,” he said, taking his arm away. “I don’t wanna pressure you into sex. We can sit and talk for a while.”

“Thanks.” You are so sweet, Derek. I wanna have sex with you so badly…yet because you’re so sweet, I can’t have sex with you. If I saw your body falling to pieces the way those two other guys’ bodies did, I’d fall to pieces!

She sat on his lap, delighted with the feeling of his erection under her buttocks…yet terrified of it, too.

“Cuddling will be fine,” she said. They put their arms around each other. She pecked him on the lips. Cradling her in his arms, he slowly rocked her back and forth as they looked into each other’s eyes. “I think I love you.”

“I know I love you,” he said.

“What do you see in an older woman like me, in such damaged goods?”

“Well, maybe it’s because you’re damaged…not in body, but in how you’ve been hurt so much. I see the pain in your eyes. My mom used to have that look. Your pain arouses my wish to help you, to love you.”

Now I know I love you, she thought while smiling at him.

They started with a few pecks on the lips. Within ten seconds, the pecking phased into French kissing. The pleasure he was giving her made her forget, for the moment, all of her worries, and she let him get her out of her dress.

In pink underwear, black stockings, and black high heels, she was allowing his hands to roam all over her skin. She let him unhook her bra, and it slid off with a proud wiggle of her breasts.

“Do you like them?” she asked with a grin.

He looked down at them. “Whoa!” he said while fondling them. “No silicone. How is this possible?”

“I don’t know. I only know that I like it.”

They resumed French kissing. He pulled off her panties to reveal her new landing strip.

“Did you get a waxing?” he asked breathily.

“No,” she sighed between kisses. “As I said,…I can’t…explain it.”

This is really weird, he thought while unzipping his fly. Still, I guess I can’t complain. He got on the floor and lay on his back.

She hesitated before mounting him. Will he die if we fuck? she wondered. Will his dick fall off?

He furrowed his brow at her hesitating. “Still don’t wanna do it?” he asked.

She was too horny to say no. She rationalized it thus: If he dies, I’ll lose him. But if we never screw, I’ll never enjoy him, which is the same as losing him, because I’ll never have him. Besides, he might dump me for someone else if I hold out too long, and that means losing him, too. I’ll have to take my chances and see if he survives a fuck. “Yes, let’s do it,” she panted.

“You sure?” he asked while putting on a condom.

“Yes!” She took it in, with sighs of rising pitches and loudness.

As she moved up and down on him in the cowgirl position, her mind swung back and forth between fear and desire. Was that brunet in the white T-shirt and black pants really my first john after my beautifying…was he really the nice one? she wondered. Did he survive–if it was him–because he was nice to me, or because this poisonous Germ in me hadn’t taken effect just yet? The answer would seem to be the first one, because the beautifying took effect so much sooner, and because everything about the Germ seems to be working in my favour, like the quick healing. I’m glad those two asshole johns died, and if that guy I saw was the nice john, still alive and healthy, I can be confident that Derek will be OK…but I only think I saw the nice john! I can’t be sure.

Because her pleasure was limited by her worries, she wasn’t as lubricated as she should have been.

In his passion, Derek gave her a hard ram; it felt like a stab against her vaginal walls.

“Oww!” she yelped.

“Sorry,” he panted, then tried to move in more gently.

“It’s OK,” she sighed…or was it? Even if the Germ is benign to me, she thought, would it misinterpret my pain as Derek deliberately hurting me? Is the Germ some kind of alien that doesn’t know the difference between accidentally and intentionally hurting people? If that’s so, I’d better try to enjoy this sex the best I can. It’s too late to stop it, anyway–there’s no turning back. The guy in paisley wore a condom, too, and it didn’t save him from the Germ.

She looked down in his eyes and tried to focus on her love for him. They were getting more and more excited, but he gave her another impassioned, hard ram.

“Oww!” she screamed. Oh please, Germ-alien, or whatever the hell you are, don’t think of Derek as an enemy. Don’t kill him!

“Sorry,” he said again. “I didn’t mean…to do that.”

Did you hear that, Germ-alien? she thought. C’mon, Vera: focus on your desire!

“I’m gonna…blow my load! Oh!” he grunted.

“I’m…almost…there, too. Ah!

They orgasmed at about the same time. He pulled out and removed his condom.

Here it is, she thought, watching him closely. The moment of truth. She got off of him.

He started getting himself off the floor. “Ungh!”

“Oh, my God!” she screamed. “Are you OK?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, getting to his feet. “I just haven’t put my dick away yet. Silly me. I should’ve done it before.”

As he was putting it in his pants, she watched with a terrible dread. He noted her staring at him.

“I don’t need any help, thank you,” he said with a sneer. “Ooh!”

“What’s wrong?” she fired out in terror.

“Nothing,” he said, zipping himself up. “It’s just really sensitive after a fuck. If I’m not careful with it, I’ll hurt myself.” He saw the look of fear still in her eyes. “Why are you so jumpy tonight? Did my aggressive fucking remind you of those two bastards?”

“Yeah, in a way…not that you’re at all like them, of course.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel that way. I guess I’m just clumsy when I’m horny.”

“Oh, you’re the best lover I’ve ever had,” she said.

“Thanks,” he said while stretching. “Oww!”

“Oh, God! Are you OK?”

“Yeah. I just pulled a muscle in my back, that’s all.” He took his wallet out of his pants pocket.

“Thank God.” So far.

“Why are you so worried about me hurting myself all of a sudden?” He took out a few hundred dollars and paid her.

“N-nothing,” she said, taking his money. “I just…care about you.”

“That’s sweet,” he said, put his wallet back in his pocket, then kissed her on the cheek. As he walked to the door, he said, “I’ll call you tomorrow, late morning or early afternoon.”

“OK.” I sure as fuck hope you do. “Bye.”

“Bye.” He walked out the door and into the hall.

She stood at the open door and watched him approach the elevator. I guess he’s gonna be OK.

“Oomph!” he grunted as his knees buckled.

“Oh, God, no!” she screamed, running out to him.

“I’m fine,” he said with a wincing face. “I just sprained my ankle. What is it? Are you worried you’ve given me a bug or something?”

“Oh, no,” she said with a nervous giggle. “Of course not.”

“Look, two guys sexually assaulted you tonight, so you’re not feeling well. Go to bed and sleep it off. I’d stay and comfort you, but that asshole Bob would charge me for extra hours I cannot afford. Good night–I’ll call you tomorrow.” He kissed her, got in the elevator, and left.

********

Early in the afternoon of the next day, Vera had just about finished with another nasty john, one who’d punched her in the face before receiving a blow job from her.

When he came in her mouth, he noticed the disappearance of the bruise, cut, and blood on her face.

“Wow,” he said. “You heal quickly, bitch. I’ll just have to give you another taste of my fist.” But as soon as he balled up his fist, that arm fell off. He screamed. “What the fuck…?”

He spat a few teeth out.

She got up off her knees, sat on the edge of her bed, and watched him, grinning.

“You bitch!” he screamed, spitting out a few more teeth. “What have you done to m–?”

His lower jaw fell off, then his cock and balls did. She laughed.

He shook his head and groaned.

Then his head fell off.

“I still have the power,” she said, then picked up his body parts and put them in big, black plastic bags, and set them next to those of the night before, which contained the body parts of the man who’d anally raped her. “I was so worried that I’d lost the power after Derek’s survival, which I hope has lasted up to now…wait! He hasn’t called me yet, the way he promised!”

She rushed over to her phone, which was on her coffee table in the living room. She noted the time: already 1:30 in the afternoon. She dialled his number in a near-panic. After an eternity of waiting through six rings of the dial tone, he finally answered it.

“Derek?”

“Yeah?”

“How are you? Are you OK? You said you’d call earlier today, and you didn’t, so I got worried.”

“Yeah, of course I’m OK,” he said. He heard a sigh of relief. “Why wouldn’t I be? I was just too busy with work to call earlier, that’s all. Sorry for making you wait. Anyway, are you gonna tell me why you’re so worried about me getting sick and dying, or whatever your problem is?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell you everything tonight,” she said.

“What about Bob?” Derek asked. “I don’t have any money for another screw tonight. He won’t want me around if I don’t pay.”

“Oh, I’ll take care of Bob, don’t worry.”

“What are you gonna do? Don’t go putting yourself in a situation where he beats you up again.”

“Won’t happen, I promise. See you here tonight.”

She hung up, then texted Bob: I made a lot of money today and last night but Im keeping it all if you have a problem with that come here and tell me CUL8R

When Bob stormed into her apartment, which was no later than ten minutes after receiving her text, he–approaching her wide-open bedroom doorway–found her naked on her bed, on all fours, with her back to him, her ass pointed out at him with both of her holes showing on purpose.

“So, you’re keeping all the money for yourself, are y–? Whoa,” he said once he’d reached her bedroom doorway, and was now checking her out and feeling his jeans’ zipper already straining from his hard-on. “That’s the best you’ve looked in a long time, Vera. If you spent the money on improving your looks, I might forgive you…almost. What did you do to yourself?”

“Oh, I didn’t spend any money on my looks,” she said, looking back at him with an inviting smirk.

“Well, how did you suddenly become so hot-looking? Normally, you look like a dog.”

You bastard, she thought; Derek would never say that to me. “You don’t need to know.”

“Well, I say I do,” he said, approaching the bed. “You’re my product.”

“All you need to know is that you’re not getting your greasy fingers on one penny of my money.”

“Well, in that case,” he said, unzipping his pants and getting on the bed on his knees behind her, “I’ll just have to give you one hell of a hate-fuck.”

Still looking back at him and grinning, she said, “Come and get it, baby.”

Analysis of ‘Freeze Frame’

Freeze Frame is a 2004 psychological thriller filmed in Northern Ireland and written and directed by John Simpson. It stars Lee Evans, Ian McNeice, Seán McGinley, Rachael Stirling, and Colin Salmon.

Sean Veil (Evans) has been falsely accused of a triple murder and, while acquitted, he is still being hounded by police and a forensic profiler who, insisting he’s guilty, want to pin the blame on him for this and other crimes. So traumatized is Veil by this continued persecution that he films himself “24/7/52,” as he says–so he’ll always have an alibi.

The film has received some praise. Critical appreciation went to Evans, who had previously played comedic roles. David Rooney of Variety said Simpson’s direction was “executed in the style of early David Fincher,” and said Evans’ performance was “gripping.” Debbie Wiseman’s score, cinematographer Mark Garrett’s choice of cameras and lenses, and Simon Thorne’s “sharp editing” were also mentioned. Kevin Crust of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Freeze Frame is a “stylish and dystopian allegory concerned with Orwellian surveillance and intrusive government.” Crust called Evans’ performance “riveting.”

Here are a few quotes:

“Off camera is off guard.” –Sean Veil

Detective Mountjoy: You seem kind of relaxed, if you don’t mind me saying. For a man who’s about to spend the next 30 years sucking unwashed dick.
Sean Veil: You seem kinda jealous, if you don’t mind me saying.

The 24/7 surveillance of the film makes comparisons with Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four inevitable. The difference is that, instead of the authorities watching everyone everywhere, and all the time, one victim is doing it to himself. BIG BROTHER IS HAVING YOU WATCH YOURSELF.

In other words, Veil has internalized his persecutors, rather like how Winston Smith is made to internalize the worldview his tormentors impose on him, and their shaming of him. The irony of Veil’s name is in how a veil hides one’s identity, gives one privacy, yet Veil would put himself permanently on display for his protection.

To make himself easily identifiable from a distance, he even shaves his head. The combination of these idiosyncrasies of his–strapping a camera to himself whenever he’s outside, his shaved head, his paranoid mannerisms, and his pale skin–make him look, ironically and in spite of his not intending it, like the kind of freak the police would want to go after.

So in Veil we see the kind of psychological damage done to a scapegoat. A man who, though acquitted, still has had his reputation and his life destroyed by the narcissism and malevolence of his persecutors, destroyed so thoroughly that his personality is transformed from normal to the quirky, socially awkward sort that makes others suspicious.

Indeed, Saul Seger (McNeice), the forensic profiler who has written a book on murderous psychopaths called Darkness Invisible, is too proud and too solicitous of the preservation of his reputation to admit even to the possibility of being wrong about Veil. He’d commit to ruining Veil’s life just so he can continue to sell books.

Seger’s narcissism is on full display when he does a public reading to promote his book…on the tenth anniversary of the triple murder that Veil’s reputation has been stained with, the killing of three members of the Jasper family (the mother and two daughters). Seger speaks with as much self-righteousness as he does would-be authority on the inner workings of the criminal mind.

Allied with Seger’s narcissism is the sheer malignancy of Detective Louis Emeric (McGinley), a malignancy so consummate that we see him physically ill, coughing blood, throughout the movie (he is dying from lung cancer). It would seem that his malevolence is turning back against him and, as a form of bad karma, making him slowly destroy himself. He is so determined to pin a crime on Veil that he boasts of the efficacy of visualization, mentally seeing Veil do something wrong to help him catch him. This is what victimizers do: project their own viciousness onto their victims.

…and when the victimizers project, they manipulate their victims into introjecting. As Seger says to Veil when the latter is protesting his innocence at the book promotion, he is in Veil’s head. This manipulative kind of projection is what Melanie Klein called projective identification, in which one does more than merely imagine another to embody one’s projections; rather, one causes the other to manifest the projected traits.

Hence, when Veil, troubled by the police in his home about a new murder accusation (that of a prostitute from five years ago), discovers certain tapes of his are missing from his vaults (i.e., those video recordings of his that would prove he has an alibi for the new murder discovery), he is forced to flee from the police, as an actual perpetrator would. Also, just like a perp, he breaks into Seger’s home and threatens him with a knife, hoping to find evidence of a conspiracy to frame him. The guilt has been projected onto him so completely that Veil is acting like a genuinely guilty man.

A young reporter named Katie Carter (Stirling) has offered to help Veil prove his innocence, though he has refused her offer, fearing that her video recording of him will be manipulated to create the illusion of his guilt. It turns out, though his own tapes (and those of someone he’s paid to follow and record him) have proven his innocence of the prostitute murder (and a faked one of Seger), that it was Carter who accidentally killed her after a failed attempt by Carter to have the prostitute steal some of Veil’s tapes in his home during an intended sexual encounter with him there. Carter thus has attempted to frame Veil, too, and she is just as untrustworthy as everyone else around him is.

Now, just because someone is scapegoated, doesn’t mean the scapegoat always acts blamelessly; and just because someone is intensely suspicious of people doesn’t mean people are not trying to persecute him. The fact is that scapegoating changes the victim, the projective and introjective identification of guilty traits makes the victim almost believe, at least partially in his unconscious mind, that he’s indeed guilty of what he’s accused of…hence, his social awkwardness, for this is what happens to you when you feel hated and despised by the whole world.

So, when we see film of him holding a pistol (not realizing at first that it’s part of a video game in an arcade), when we see a video fragment, seen out of context, of him holding a pistol he hasn’t used to shoot Seger, Emeric, or Carter (who used it to shoot these two men and herself), and when we hear him repeat, in sobs, “I didn’t do nothing” (a double negative that technically means, ‘I did do something‘), all these things come across as Freudian slips suggesting at least an unconscious belief in one’s internalized guilt.

A faked murder of Seger is set up to accuse Veil of it, since he was in Seger’s house the night before. Later, after the tapes of Veil’s hired follower provide his alibi and free him, Carter catches Seger, takes him to Veil’s home, and there with Veil, she tries to accuse Seger of killing the Jaspers (of whom she’s secretly a family member, taking her murdered mother’s maiden name to disguise her identity), since Seger had the murder weapon in his home as a souvenir.

Seger, however, insists that it was sent to his home by Mr. Jasper, her father and the real killer of her mother and half-sisters, since they were the offspring of her mother’s trysts with another man (Mr. Jasper also killed himself on learning of the acquittal of Veil, thus making him a suspect). Seger’s choice of words, in identifying the real murderer of the family, are particularly cruel. He says that the blood of the killer runs in her veins, implying she has as much of the killer instinct as her father; it’s Seger doing projective identification of his own viciousness onto her.

Now, Carter already knows what Seger has said to be true; she has just been trying to hide it. Her claiming she was sleeping over at a friend’s house the night of the killings was, I suspect, a lie. Going by her mother’s surname instead of by Jasper is a rejection of her father and his murderous nature.

Afraid of the scandalous truth of her family being made public, Carter has been trying to set Veil up with new, fabricated evidence of his supposedly murderous proclivities. Her hiring of a prostitute, Mary Shaw, in 1998, to tempt Veil with sex and have her steal some of his tapes, failed when Mary peaked in his home and saw all the cameras and newspaper clippings of murder cases in one corner of his room, terrifying her.

This collection of clippings is of unsolved cases he’s afraid of being accused of, so he must analyze them. Their being in his home is symbolic of, once again, his introjection of the scapegoating and shaming that Seger and Emeric have imposed on him. The judge threw out the Jasper case against him ten years ago because, instead of being based on hard fact, it was a matter of trial by tabloid.

So Carter’s duplicitous pretending, on the one hand, to help Veil to win his confidence so he’ll let her, on the other hand, betray him, is a case of taking advantage of an established scapegoat in order to protect oneself from such scapegoating. In dysfunctional families, one can see this kind of despicable, cowardly behaviour in golden children towards their scapegoated siblings; if one sides with the narcissistic parent against the family victim, one needn’t fear being victimized oneself.

Carter is so committed to framing Veil that, having shot Seger in the head with her father’s gun (after having thrown it into Veil’s hands so his fingerprints are on it), she knocks Veil unconscious and, when he wakes up, she’s masturbating her now-tied-up victim while on top of him so she can rape him and, once he’s come inside her, she has ‘proof’ that he’s raped her.

In this rape we have another example of projection. She’s raping him so it will seem he’s raped her: after all, sexual stereotypes are favouring Carter over Veil in this situation. With his arms and legs tied up like this, Veil is frozen in this supine, spreadeagle position on the floor, helpless in her framing of him.

It would seem fitting now to discuss the name of the film, and what it means. Apart from the obvious pun on frame (a frame of film, and Veil’s being framed), there’s also a multiple meaning in the word freeze. When the police arrest somebody, they point a gun at him and yell “Freeze!” Also, there’s one’s reaction to a danger: fight/flight/freeze/fawn.

Veil cannot fight the police and government authorities, especially without any help–they’re too powerful. He would appear to have nowhere to flee. He cannot fawn and charm people committed to hating him. So all he can do is freeze…lie there and be helpless (as he is, tied up by Carter), hoping they’ll go away one day. Those who are scapegoated often feel this helpless and disempowered; imagine how Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning must feel, accused of treason when all they did was expose the crimes of the narcissistic powerful.

To be fair to Carter, though, she isn’t as single-minded in her determination to frame Veil. She is conflicted about it, and feels some genuine remorse. She is in tears during her last moments with him. The malignancy of some victimizers isn’t as extreme as it is in others.

Emeric demonstrates the extreme of his malignancy upon entering Veil’s home one last time, assuming that Veil’s struggling with Carter over the gun is him trying to kill her, when really he’s trying to stop her from killing herself. Emeric shoots Veil in the arm, and Carter, acknowledging he’s the only innocent person in this whole affair, redeems herself by shooting Emeric before putting the gun in her mouth and blowing her brains out.

Veil has needlessly picked up her gun, weeping and saying he “didn’t do nothing.” This is yet another example of an innocent scapegoat internalizing all the guilt imposed on him. Though his three persecutors are dead, and even Detective Mountjoy (Salmon) is convinced, by Veil’s tapes, that he’s innocent, Veil ends the film still filming himself, so consummate is the scapegoat’s unconscious introjection of a guilt he shouldn’t be feeling.

Off-camera is off-guard.

Analysis of ‘The Babadook’

The Babadook is a 2014 Australian psychological horror film written and directed by Jennifer Kent, her directorial debut. It developed from her short film, Monster. The Babadook stars Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, with Daniel HenshallHayley McElhinney, Barbara West, and Ben Winspear.

The film received recognition and acclaim in the US and Europe. It wasn’t initially a commercial success in Australia, but it’s now on a number of lists of the scariest movies of all time.

Here are some quotes:

“Ba-ba-ba… dook! Dook! DOOOOOKH!” –the Babadook

“I have moved on. I don’t mention him. I don’t talk about him.” –Amelia, to Claire, about Oskar

“It wasn’t me, Mum! The Babadook did it!” –Samuel

Amelia: [about the Babadook] Well, I’m not scared.
Samuel: You will be when it eats your insides!

Amelia: [after Sam has snooped around in his father’s crawlspace] All your father’s things are down there!
Samuel: He’s my FATHER! You don’t own him!

“DON’T LET IT IN!” –Samuel

“Why don’t you go eat shit?” –Amelia, to hungry Samuel

Amelia: [Samuel comes out from hiding and Amelia shrieks like a banshee. Amelia starts approaching Samuel, but he starts wetting himself.] You little pig. Six years old and you’re still wetting yourself. You don’t know how many times I wished it was you, not him, that died.
Samuel: I just wanted you to be happy.
Amelia: [mocking Samuel] I just want you to be happy. Sometimes I just want to smash your head against the brick wall until your fucking brains pop out.
Samuel: [softly] You’re not my mother.
Amelia: What did you say?
Samuel: I said you’re not my mother!
Amelia: I AM YOUR MOTHER!

Amelia: I’m sick, Sam. I need help. I just spoke with Mrs. Roach. We’re gonna stay there tonight. You want that? I wanna make it up for you, Sam. I want you to meet your dad. It’s beautiful there. You’ll be happy.
Samuel: [Sam stabs her] Sorry, Mommy!

“You can bring me the boy.” –the Babadook, pretending to be Oskar

“You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” –Samuel, to Amelia

“You are nothing. You’re nothing! This is my house! You are trespassing in my house! If you touch my son again, I’ll fucking kill you!” –Amelia, to the Babadook

“Happy Birthday, sweetheart.” –Amelia, to Samuel (last line)

Amelia Vanek (Davis) is a widow and mother of her almost seven-year-old son, Samuel (Wiseman); his father, Oskar (Winspear), was killed in a car accident taking her, in labour, to the hospital. The story, therefore, deals with her having to come to terms with her grief, and with Samuel dealing with the trauma of being fatherless.

The boy has constant fears and nightmares of some kind of monster attacking him. She tries to soothe his anxieties as best she can: checking under his bed and in his closet for the bogeyman, reading him stories, letting him sleep with her instead of alone in his bedroom, etc.

Though Wilfred Bion‘s notions of containment (helping others–especially babies–cope with painful experiences), detoxifying of beta elements (raw sensory impressions, typically irritating ones, received from the outside world), and maternal reverie are normally reserved for a mother’s soothing of her baby, in this film they apply fittingly to six-going-on-seven Samuel, because the trauma of not having a father has overwhelmed him so much that, without his mother’s help, he can’t use alpha function (which transforms beta elements into tolerable alpha elements) to ease his anxieties about the agitating outside world. His mother must still be the container of his tension. (See here for more on Bion and other psychoanalytic concepts.)

Though Oskar, of course, didn’t mean to abandon Amelia and Sam in his untimely death, his absence in the boy’s life can feel like an abandonment in his only-developing mind. Thus, the absent father becomes what Melanie Klein would have called the bad father, the same way she called the breast that isn’t available to feed the baby the bad breast.

Sam’s anger and frustration at the absent, bad father is projected outward, to be contained and detoxified–as he’d hope–by his mother; but since his father–in both his good and bad aspects–exists in his mind as an internal object (like a demon possessing him), the boy’s use of projection can never get rid of the bad father permanently. Repressed, bad Oskar will always return…in the demonic form of Mister Babadook.

Though Kent, when deciding on the name of her story, surely wasn’t thinking about the Mandarin Chinese version of papa, I can’t help noting the interesting coincidence between bàba and the first two syllables of Babadook, the last syllable of which seems like an onomatopoeic imitation of the knocking on a door (“Ba-ba-ba-dook-dook-dook“). So Babadook seems to mean “Papa’s knocking (on the door),” the agitating beta elements of the bad father, which both Sam and his mother would rather leave outside.

Indeed, she doesn’t want to face up to her grief any more than Sam wants to confront his trauma. She hardly sleeps at night, and during her day working as a nurse and going about elsewhere, she does so with half-closed eyes. Apart from being constantly woken up by Sam, she cannot sleep because the agitating beta elements she refuses to process need to be detoxified and made into alpha elements, which are useful for thoughts and dreaming. Without alpha elements, one doesn’t sleep.

Bion explained the situation thus: “If the patient cannot transform his emotional experience into alpha-elements, he cannot dream. Alpha-function transforms sense impressions into alpha-elements which resemble, and may in fact be identical with, the visual images with which we are familiar in dreams, namely, the elements that Freud regards as yielding their latent content when the analyst has interpreted them. Freud showed that one of the functions of a dream is to preserve sleep. Failure of alpha-function means the patient cannot dream and therefore cannot sleep. As alpha-function makes the sense impressions of the emotional experience available for conscious and dream-thought the patient who cannot dream cannot go to sleep and cannot wake up. Hence the peculiar condition seen clinically when the psychotic patient behaves as if he were in precisely this state.” (Bion, page 7)

Using alpha function to detoxify beta elements and turn them into alpha elements (done either by our more mature selves, or by our mothers when we’re infants, or by psychoanalysts for their psychotic patients) is just Bion’s idiosyncratic terminology for describing the psychological processing of trauma, pain, or any other form of externally-derived discomfort. And processing trauma and grief is what The Babadook is all about.

A crucial part of processing this pain is putting it into words. What’s so traumatic about what Lacan called The Real is how, in a mental realm without differentiation, experiences cannot be symbolized and verbalized, and therefore cannot be processed and healed. The Symbolic is the mental realm of healthy existence, since this is where language is housed. Amelia’s and Sam’s trauma must be verbalized in order to be healed…and this is where the book, Mister Babadook, comes in.

Healing isn’t easy, though. In fact, it’s terrifying, and that’s why Amelia and Sam try to rid themselves of both Babadook and book (putting it out of Samuel’s reach, tearing up the pages, burning it). Reading the words of the story is terrifying, because to verbalize the trauma and grief is to face their pain head on.

“You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” That hurts. “The more you deny, the stronger I get.” That hurts even more. Sam’s invention of weapons with which to slay the Babadook is largely futile and self-defeating, especially since his aggression only alienates people from him, and the healthy world of the Symbolic, communicated verbally, is the world of society, culture, and customs–the world of other people. Her ripping up and burning of the book is also futile, and for the same reasons.

Amelia has been trying to contain Sam’s agitations, but she cannot even contain her own. This is why, instead of soothing Sam as he needs to be soothed, she makes him feel what Bion would have deemed negative containment; instead of detoxifying his anxieties, she allows them to grow into a nameless dread, or rather a dread going by the name of the Babadook. (See Bion, pages 97-99.)

Bion’s containment theory is based on Klein’s idea of projective identification, which goes a step beyond a mere imagining that another embodies one’s projections, but involves actually manipulating the other into embodying those projections, making him manifest the projected traits. For Bion, projective identification between baby and mother is a primitive, preverbal form of communication.

Sam projects the terror of the Babadook onto his mother, hoping she’ll contain it, detoxify it, and send it back to him in a safe, purified form. She cannot do this, of course, because she has to process her own grief over the loss of Oskar, and she so far isn’t willing to face that pain. As a result, what she projects back to Sam is non-detoxified poison.

In containment theory, the contained (Sam’s fear) is given–via projective identification–to the container (Amelia) to be processed. [Incidentally, the contained is given a masculine, phallic symbolism, and the container is given a feminine, yonic symbolism.] In the film, the container is symbolized by such things as bowls of soup (which contain shards of glass–i.e., negative containment), a bathtub of warm water to contain both her and Sam (something she’d foolishly have them do in their clothes, implying an only foolishly illusory efficacy), and the bowl of worms and dirt (which are an example of the contained) given to the Babadook to feed on at the end of the film.

What Sam projects is the bad father, in the form of the Babadook; but there is a good father, too, with whom Sam would like to identify. Amelia naturally wants to reunite with this good man, too, hence all the things of his that she has in the basement to remind her of him: a photo of her and him, his violin, a hat and coat of his (put up against a wall in a way that vaguely yet eerily reminds us of the hat and coat of the Babadook–i.e., her hallucination in the police station), etc.

Oskar was a musician; Sam is a magician. The boy’s way of identifying with the good father he’s never known is to become, in a verbal sense, at least, as close an approximation to him as he can. After all, music is magic, if performed well.

Sam’s watching of DVDs of a magician gives him a kind of substitute good father to identify with. The boy enjoys mimicking the magician’s words in his act of identification with him. Note, however, how the magic can be “wondrous,” but also “very treacherous”: these good and bad sides of the magic suggests a linking of the good and bad father that Sam isn’t yet ready to accept.

Similarly, Amelia, in her increasing mental breakdown, is trying to revive feelings of the good Oskar. She has their photo…though the Babadook blotches his face in the picture, and she tries to blame the marring of it on Sam. Elsewhere, she takes Oskar’s violin with her to bed, holding it as if it were a teddy bear (in her stress and inability to accept the loss of Oskar, her holding of the violin is thus a regression to a less stressful, childlike state); Sam wants to climb in bed with her for a cuddle, but he gets too close to the violin, and she barks at him: “Leave it!”

On another occasion, she imagines going into the basement (symbol of the unconscious) and finding Oskar there. They embrace and kiss: this is an obvious case of dream as wish fulfillment. But then, he tells her that they can all be together only if she brings him (i.e., kills) “the boy,” a substitution for Sam’s name that she hates. In this request, she sees the horrific combination of good and bad Oskar that she must accept as urgently as Sam must.

The horrific contemplation of killing Sam, as a would-be sacrifice to bring Oskar back to her, is actually an unconscious wish of hers. Deep down, though it’s terrifying to contemplate, is a wish she’s had that it was unborn Sam who died in that car crash instead of Oskar. The obvious guilt, shame, and anxiety that such a wish would give her has forced her to repress it.

Whatever is repressed, however, always returns to consciousness, though in an unrecognizable form…in this case, in the form of the Babadook. It may be tempting to judge Amelia as a bad mother for having these awful feelings about Samuel, but we mustn’t judge her, for a mother is as human and fallible as anyone else. The loss of Oskar has been too heartbreaking for her to bear. Nonetheless, she must confront these dark feelings if she’s to heal.

Naturally, she tries to resist such a confrontation. Her blanket pulled over her head when trying to sleep, with the Babadook on the ceiling, symbolizes what Bion would have called a beta screen, an accumulation of unprocessed beta elements that walls up any entrance into the unconscious mind. Her locking of the doors and windows of her house can also symbolize this beta screen.

She can try to stop the Babadook from getting inside her skin, but of course she fails; it goes right in her mouth, and here begins her real descent into madness…and her abuse of little Samuel.

Since the Babadook represents the bad father and bad Oskar who–in her and Samuel’s minds–abandoned them by dying, his bad internal object entering her has turned her into Klein’s terrifying combined parent figure, the phallic mother who waves a phallic knife at the boy and hallucinates having stabbed him to death with it…another ghoulish wish-fulfillment for a frustrated mother.

She barks abuse at him, telling him to “eat shit” when he’s hungry: this represents a wish to project her own bad attributes (the contained) into him and make him a container of them (the stabbing hallucination also symbolizes such a wish to make the boy contain her rage, i.e., the knife is the phallic contained, and his bloody belly is the yonic container), so more negative containment.

When he, terrified at how vicious and psychotic she’s being, pees on the floor, it symbolizes another attempt to rid himself of bad internal objects, to project them outwards in the hopes that she’ll contain them for him; but, of course, she won’t, as her continued verbal abuse of him demonstrates. She even explicitly tells him she wishes it was he who died instead of Oskar. Now Samuel must try to eject the bad mother, which Amelia has become in her being possessed by the Babadook. He says she isn’t his mother, to which she growls insistently that she is.

In spite of her abusive rage, she is right to say she’s still his mother; for just as Samuel has split his father into good and bad internal objects, so is he splitting her into good and bad. She, too, has split Oskar into good and bad versions, the bad one being constantly projected and split-off, thrown into the external world.

Such splitting is the essence of what Klein called the paranoid-schizoid position (PS), where persecutory anxiety results from a refusal to accept the split-off bad half. In order to heal, she and Samuel must go through the depressive position (D, whose depressive anxiety involves a saddening fear that one may have destroyed one’s good internal objects in the act of ejecting the bad ones), and reintegrate the good and bad parts of Oskar, realizing they’re two aspects of the same man. There must be reparation.

Since they, up to this point, still won’t accept such a reunification, they continue to reject the split-off parts of their internal object of Oskar, and those projected parts have become what Bion called bizarre objects, hallucinatory projections of the Oskar-parts of Amelia’s and Samuel’s inner selves.

Agitating beta elements, symbolized by bugs–found on her shoulder, in a wall in her house, and crawling on her lap when she’s driving–are brushed away, kept from being processed and detoxified (recall her beta screen, a kind of wall of accumulated beta elements–symbolized by the blanket over her head and her locking of her doors and windows).

With half-closed eyes, sleepless Amelia watches TV, seeing images of such things as ants (as symbolic of beta elements as are the bugs in her house and car), a cartoon of a wolf in sheep’s clothing (like the Babadook inside her), and a scene from ‘The Drop of Water,’ from Bava‘s Black Sabbath. [If you read my analysis of that film, you’ll note my…admittedly eccentric…interpretation of the meaning of the female protagonist’s theft of the dead old woman’s ring as a symbolic lesbian rape, for which the old woman’s ghost is getting revenge. As far as I’m concerned, this is the closest to there being anything homosexual going on in The Babadook, as opposed to the Tumblr joke that the Babadook is gay.] Just as the ghost of the old woman terrorizes the young thief of the ring, so does the ghost of bad Oskar terrorize Amelia for not dealing with her grief.

Though Samuel has been splitting his parents into good and bad internal objects (PS), he comes to realize the need to integrate the good and bad (D), and to conceptualize of Amelia and Oskar each as a mixture of good and bad. Amelia is still at the height of her madness, though, being possessed of the Babadook (symbolically having introjected Samuel’s feared bad father), and so the boy must get her to release the bad introjection.

She gets into the basement, and he knocks her unconscious and ties her up, holding her against the floor. Teeming with rage when he’s on top of her, she reaches up and tries to strangle him. Now that she has (unsuccessfully) been containing the Babadook, Samuel himself must be the container of her rage, the contained. He caresses her cheek, thus soothing her and allowing her to vomit out the blackness of the Babadook. Her rage has been contained and detoxified.

Now that she no longer poses a danger to him, she can be untied. Still, she hasn’t fully confronted her grief. Samuel quotes the book: “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” The demon pulls him up the stairs and into Amelia’s bedroom; now, instead of wishing death on the boy, she wants to save him.

She goes up there to confront the Babadook. She sees Oskar again, the good version of the man of whom the Babadook represents the bad. These two must be reintegrated for her as they have been for Samuel, a shift from the paranoid-schizoid (PS) to the depressive (D) position. She must confront her loss in order to make this shift.

She sees Oskar’s head sliced in two, a representation of his death in the car accident. She must confront this pain; she must feel it to heal it.

Now she must vent out her rage. Screaming threats that she’ll kill the trespassing Babadook if it ever tries to hurt her son, Amelia forces the demon to be the container of her rage. In making it do so, she finally makes it back off and collapse. It then goes into the basement.

After this ordeal, things start to settle down for Amelia and Samuel. They can finally start to live a reasonably healthy life, for they are now facing their demons. The pain doesn’t all go away in one fell swoop, though; in fact, it never completely goes away…but now at least it is bearable, manageable. The management of pain is an ongoing, lifelong process, an oscillation back and forth between the paranoid splitting and melancholy reintegration that Bion expressed as PS << >> D.

This bearability of trauma and grief is the result of what is sometimes called doing one’s Shadow work. It’s painful facing one’s trauma, but it’s indispensable if one wants to heal…and as I said above, this facing of trauma and grief is what The Babadook is all about.

When Amelia goes into the basement (symbol of the unconscious, recall) to feed the bowl of worms and dirt to the Babadook, it frightens her with its furious growling, making her almost fall back. She is able to contain it, though, with her soothing words, “It’s alright…shh.” The fear and terror never disappear altogether, but they can be managed…contained, detoxified, and sent back, transformed from beta into alpha elements.

Now that she and Samuel have learned how to manage their pain, they have the power needed to cope with life, and she can finally give him a birthday party, for he has turned seven. He does a new magic trick for her, she is delighted and wide-eyed, and she can wish him a happy birthday with all the fullness of a mother’s love.

My Horror Short Story, ‘Old Nick,’ Published in New Terror Tract Anthology

My horror short story, ‘Old Nick,’ is being published in the new horror anthology by Terror Tract, called HO HO HOLY SH*T! My story is about a little boy who has an eerie feeling that Santa could be Satan, that Old Saint Nick could be Old Nick.

My story is just one of a whole bunch of great horror short stories by these talented writers: Jonathan Lambert, Thomas M. Malafarina, Aaron Lebold, Terry Miller, L.C. Valentine, R.C. Mulhare, Edmund Stone, Derek Austin Johnson, Craig Gerard Ferguson, David Owain Hughes, Eric Kapitan, Josh Davis, Andrew Lennon, Rob Shepherd, Dusty Davis, and C.M. Saunders and Michael McCarty.

The anthology will be published on Amazon Kindle, appropriately, on Christmas Day, so go off and get yourself a copy as soon as it’s out!

‘Succubus,’ a Surreal Erotic Horror Short Story

[SEXUAL CONTENT]

“Oh, no!” Jack Bates said as he looked at an online newspaper article on his phone.

“What?” his friend, Ivy, said while sitting across from him at their table in the food court of a shopping mall.

“Svetlana Sharapova killed herself,” he said, frowning. “She died of a drug overdose, it says, but they think it was suicide, because she’d been depressed for some time.”

“Who’s she?” Ivy asked.

“Who’s Svetlana Sharapova? She’s only my absolute favourite porn star.”

“Oh, you pig,” Ivy said with a sneer.

“I don’t mean to be a perv,” he said. “She just has this…power over me. I can’t describe it. It’s like she compels me to watch her videos. She seems to come right out and touch me. I can’t explain it.”

“What do you need to beat off to internet porn for? With your blond good looks, those baby blue eyes, that manly husky voice of yours, that good-looking plaid dress shirt you have on, your stylish brown leather shoes, and those tight blue jeans, you could get any girl.” I’m right here, she thought, and not bad looking, even if I do say so myself. You never notice me, though. You never pick up on any of my signals, you asshole.

“I’ve done relationships before, and I’m done with them. I don’t want my heart broken again, especially since the last girlfriend I had two months ago. Sometimes a guy just needs the honesty and security of some good porn.”

“‘Honesty? ‘Security’? ‘Good porn’?” She sneered again.

“Well, hey, you’re into ‘Wicca.’ You’re a ‘witch,’ right?” He giggled an annoying falsetto laugh.

“Don’t make fun of my religion, Jack.” Now she was frowning.

“Why don’t you use your ‘magic’ to find me the right girl?” He was smiling at her like a smart-ass.

“Magic doesn’t work that way,” she said. “Besides, I don’t need magic to find you the right girl. All you have to do is open your dumb-ass eyes.”

“OK, well, how does Wiccan magic work?” he asked. “Or, at least, the way you use it?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “For me, it involves cycles, like the seasons. One thing rolls into its opposite, then back again.”

“Well, can you roll me from loneliness to its opposite…b-but not back again?”

“I could…but not with magic.”

He just looked stupidly at her, while she frowned in annoyance back at him.

*********

That night, he was in his apartment, half-asleep and sitting in front of his desktop. He wore nothing but a half-opened bathrobe. A box of Kleenex sat to the left of his mouse. He clicked on PornHub, then typed in Svetlana Sharapova in the search engine.

“This meat-beating is in your honour, and in your memory, sweetheart,” he said in yawns. He clicked on a solo video of hers, one he’d enjoyed many times before. “I never get sick of this one, and since I can’t see anything new of hers, I’d might as well enjoy a good classic.”

He yawned again.

“This wank should wake me up.”

She was gloriously naked from her head down to her bare feet, a blonde beauty with eyes even more hypnotically blue than his. Bright makeup painted up her face with purple eye shadow, black mascara and eyeliner, pink blush, and red lipstick. She had her skin tanned a golden brown, and had large, natural breasts, a full Brazilian wax, and a bleached anus. These features, combined with the Photoshopping done to the video, made her body look so fake in its anatomical perfection that what he saw of the real her was so invisible, it was as if she were fully clothed.

She was masturbating with a vibrator. He was playing with himself, too, but his fatigue was making his eyes heavy.

“Oh, your body…is so perfect,” he grunted, halfway between consciousness and unconsciousness. “Oh! Why…did you want…to kill yourself? You don’t know…your power…over men…over me. Unh! You could have…any guy…you wanted. Ah!

At that point, she looked directly at the screen, right into Jack’s barely opened eyes, as if she’d heard his words. He closed his eyes and slumped back into his chair.

“Who’s gonna…free me…from my lust…over you, Svetlana?” he mumbled before nodding off.

“Jack,” she said to him in a sigh.

He was dozing for about half a minute, lightly snoring.

“Jack,” she said louder.

His eyes opened. “Svetlana?” he said. “Did you say my name?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “I want you.”

“Am I dreaming?” he asked with widened eyes. “I thought you were dead. Didn’t you kill yourself by ODing on heroin or something?”

“Yes. I am her spirit, and I want you.” Her Slavic accent alone was getting him hard.

“What are you, some kind of succubus?”

“Something like that. I want us to be together, forever.”

“Why me? I’m nobody special. You could have any guy.”

“I don’t want any guy. I want you.”

“What’s so special about me? You don’t even know me.”

“My spirit scanned the feelings of everyone around the world, just after I died. Nobody cared about my suicide. Not even the abusive family I ran away from in East Europe, when the news came out.” She sobbed a little. “Only you felt anything, not just lust for my body.”

“Really? Only me? That’s awful. I’m sorry, Svetlana.”

“Yes,” she sobbed. “Only you see me as a human being, not just a piece of ass. That’s why I want to be with you.”

“Wow,” he said, then thought, If this were a dream, surely I’d have woken up by now, because I always wake up as soon as I know I’m dreaming. Is Svetlana my Mrs. Right? Did Ivy’s ‘magic’ do this? Oh, come on, Jack! What a ridiculous idea! Why would Ivy want to mate me with Svetlana, even if she could do that? No, this must be a dream…but I’m not waking up.

“Let me climb on top of you,” Svetlana purred. “Then we can make love.”

“How can you come out of my monitor and onto my lap?”

“Spirits have special abilities,” she said, then crawled out of the screen.

“Holy shit!” he said as she, in the bare flesh, crawled onto his lap. “What is this, The Ring? This can’t be real. I must be dreaming. Why am I not waking up?”

His bathrobe fell off of his arms and draped onto the chair. Now he was as naked as she was.

When she sat on his lap, his erection slid into her effortlessly. It was as if both his and her genitalia knew exactly where to be, without needing to aim. The lovers began grinding on that chair, looking into each other’s eyes.

“Oh, the power…you have…over men!” he panted. “Over me.”

“Power?” she sighed with a slight sneer. “What power?”

“Pussy…power,” he grunted. “All men…want you. You control us…you control me. You can have…any man…you want.” He reached up and cupped her breasts.

“All men…wanting me…never made me…feel powerful,” she sighed, fingering his nipples and pinching them. “All men…wanting me…terrifies me.”

“Why?”

“They may…want to rape…me.”

“I’d love…to be…as desirable…as you are. Oh!

“If you think…I get power…from my body,…you have it.”

Suddenly, he felt a strange sensation in his groin area. It didn’t hurt–actually, the sexual pleasure was the same, if not better–but he felt a sudden anatomical loss. Instead of him sliding in and out of her, she was sliding in and out of him…they had traded genitals!

“What?” he said, looking down. His eyes and mouth opened their widest possible. “My dick…is gone! You have it! Unh! And I…have…your pussy? What the fuck?” He was shaking in spasms and jerks.

“What are you…worried about?” she asked as she continued sliding in and out of him. “You have…the ‘power’ now.”

Still with his trembling hands on her chest, he felt her breasts shrinking and flattening. His own chest felt heavier now, jiggling. He looked down: her boobs were on his chest! “Oh, my God!” he gasped. “Why do I have your tits?”

What was more, he felt his body hair disappearing. His fingers, on her torso, felt wisps of hair growing, tickling him. He saw the growing hair on her and recoiled, pulling his hands away.

“Eww!” he groaned with a crack in his voice like that of a pre-teen. “What the fuck is happening to me…and to you?” He looked at her face, which now had his three-day beard.

With her remaining–yet slowly diminishing–feminine features, she looked like a strange merging of his parents…fucking him! It reminded him of a time when he was about four, and he went into their bedroom one night and caught them having sex. His father screamed at him to get out. He could never forget that fright.

Suddenly, all the lights went out. Jack felt his chair disappear; he fell to the floor with a thud. “Oof!” he grunted…in a woman’s voice.

What the hell? he thought. Have I become a she?

Jacqueline, if you will, began running ‘her’ hands all over her skin. All of it was the hairless smoothness of a woman’s curvy, buxom, naked body. Svetlana’s body, or so it felt to ‘Jacqueline.’

Soon, she felt not only her own hands feeling her up, but also the bigger, stronger, and hairier hands of several men, moving all over her naked body. All the men want me, she thought. But I don’t want any of them to want me. ‘Pussy power’ is total bullshit.

Hard phallic objects were being shoved inside her three holes. She whined in pain from the stabbing. Were they cocks or dildos? They certainly weren’t welcome.

The lights came back on with a flashing, blinding brightness. She got the answer to her question: bukkake was raining all over her body. Definitely not dildos. Some of the ejaculation got in her eyes, so she couldn’t see the group of men encircling her. A dozen leather shoes rubbed against her arms, hands, legs, and feet, letting her know how many men were surrounding her.

She wiped her eyes clear, and tried to look around her, but the light was still too bright for her to see easily. Her eyes adjusted to her surroundings in about twenty seconds; she saw a square room with white walls, cameras, and lighting and sound recording equipment.

Six blond men, fully clothed, were operating the equipment. These men, it was safe to assume, were her gang rapists. She couldn’t make out their faces clearly, though she saw lecherous smirks on all of them. They were also dressed identically, wearing plaid dress shirts and blue jeans.

She lay there, as naked as a newborn baby, with only the men’s come for clothing. Suddenly, she was sprayed on with cold water from a hose held by one of the men, all of whom laughed in falsetto giggles at her shocked reaction. After being thoroughly washed clean, she lay there shivering when the hose was turned off.

“I love the way her nipples get erect when she’s cold and wet,” one of the men said in a husky voice.

Still, the men’s faces were all blurry. One of them threw her a towel. She dried herself with it, then hoped to cover her nakedness with it, but the man who’d given it to her snatched it away from her before she could.

“Nope,” he said in that same husky voice, suggesting that all six men had as identical a voice as they had clothing. “No covering yourself. You’re always to be naked. We like seeing every inch of you, all the time.”

All the men giggled another falsetto laugh. Still, she couldn’t get a clear look at their faces.

One hid his behind a camera. “OK, Svetlana,” he said. “Get on all fours, spread your legs, and point your ass at the camera.”

Svetlana? he wondered. I’m Svetlana now?

Trembling, and with the utmost reluctance, she did as she was told. She looked back at the camera in abject terror.

I’m turning these men on, these rapists of mine, she thought. I’m all exposed. They can see everything, and their hunger for another fuck is growing. That hurt like hell the last time; I’m still shaking from it, and they want more, I can feel it. I have no protection, no one to help me. They’re wearing almost identical clothes, all too familiar clothes…what’s that supposed to imply?

One of the men walked up to her with a little bag of white powder. She shuddered at where his eyes were pointed, though his face overall was blurred enough not to be recognized.

Please, don’t stare at my ass like that, she thought. That sodomizing I got was the most painful of all those intrusions. I’d cover my nakedness with my hands, but I’m afraid they’ll beat me or something.

“Hey, Svetlana,” he said, crouching by her face. “Wanna get high? I have some ketamine here. When you do it, your body won’t care what’s happening to it. C’mon, try some. Live a little.”

“Oh, uh, OK,” she said in a tremulous voice while avoiding his eyes, so she never saw his face. I’d like it if it could kill me.

He chopped a line on a nearby table and she snorted it. She waited for the K to kick in. When it did, the lights turned off again. She lay there in a sea of infinite black. All she could hear was her breathing. She couldn’t see anything, certainly not any of those men: could they still see her?

It felt as if they could see her…yet, nothing happened.

She just waited on the floor, on all fours, with her legs spread and her ass pushed out.

The waiting was unbearable.

What were they about to do?

She soon found out. Intrusions in her vagina, anus, and mouth happened as before, but the dissociation she felt from the K kept them from being physically painful. All the same, the sensations triggered the memory of her previous rape, and she felt no less a terror than the last time.

The lights came on again with the same temporarily blinding flash. Now, she was on her back with her spread legs pushed up and her feet above her ears. The man she’d been sucking off pulled out and rained come on her hair and left ear. He got up, zipped up his tight jeans, and walked away.

The man who was pumping her vagina now bent forward and brought his face close to hers. She could see his face clearly now, and all the eerie familiarity about the men was confirmed for her…the man on top of her was Jack!

Jack’s consciousness, trapped in Svetlana’s body–that is, ‘Jacqueline’–was being fucked by a smiling, panting, and almost drooling Jack Bates! She looked over at the man who came on her…she saw Jack’s smirking face on him, too! Then she looked down at the man who was moving in and out of her ass…she saw Jack’s face a third time!

Svetlana wanted me to go fuck myself, ‘Jacqueline’ thought. Literally.

Jack’s own face was close enough to give her a kiss, laughing and panting as he fucked the female form that the soul of the real Jack was trapped in! All the other Jacks were laughing in that annoying falsetto as female Jack was being degraded in Svetlana’s body. Now ‘Jacqueline’ knew which sex had the power, and which one didn’t.

Her other two rapists came all over her body and showered her with the hose as before. After having her shivering, freezing body towelled off (and again being denied the towel to cover her nakedness), one of the Jacks approached her. She lay on the floor, trembling in the fetal position.

“You must be starting to come down from your K high,” he said. “We have other drugs: heroin, cocaine,…”

“Heroin!” she gasped in that Slavic accent, in frantic desperation. “Lots of it!”

“Will do,” the Jack said, then produced a needle.

Now, there’s a prick that’s welcome in my body, anytime, she thought.

He stuck the needle in her.

She blacked out.

***********

The next thing she knew, she was looking out of what seemed to be a window–one of black borders and infinite blackness surrounding it–looking into Jack’s apartment. He was sitting, slouched in his opened bathrobe on the chair in front of his computer, which she was obviously inside.

His eyes were only ever so slightly open. She heard a faint snoring. He was mumbling something.

“Ivy,” he mumbled. “How can we…free Svetlana? How can I…free myself…of her?”

There is no freeing her, ‘Jacqueline’ thought. There’s no freeing yourself from her, or me from her. We’re trapped in her forever. I know that now. This is at least the third time we’ve passed through this loop, this cycle, now that I finally realize–this is no dream I can hope to wake from. Nevertheless, it’s my turn to have the power now, and after what I just went through, I want it.

“Can’t…your magic…rescue Svetlana…from porn, Ivy?” he slurred.

Ivy’s magic doesn’t work that way, Jacqueline thought as she crawled towards the monitor screen, about to slip out and climb onto his lap. It works this way.

“Jack,” she purred, waking him up.

Analysis of ‘The Miraculous Mandarin’

The Miraculous Mandarin (A csodálatos mandarin in Hungarian; Der wunderbare Mandarin in German) is a pantomime/ballet composed for full orchestra by Béla Bartók from 1918 to 1924. It premiered in 1926 at the Cologne Opera, in Germany. The story is based on a libretto by Melchior Lengyel. The violence and sexuality of the story caused a scandal at its premiere.

What also would have caused distaste for the audience, whom I’d presume to have been mostly conservative in their musical tastes, was the extreme dissonance of the music. Indeed, Bartók’s toughest, most dissonant music was written in the 1920s, with such pieces as his third and fourth string quartets, his first piano concerto, Out of Doors for solo piano, and his second sonata for violin and piano. At times, this music would get so dissonant as to border on atonality.

Though he insisted that his music, while using all twelve semitones, was tonal (a reaction to Schoenberg‘s atonal use of all twelve semitones), Bartók essentially abandoned the major/minor system in favour of one based on axes of symmetry. These axes are at the intervals of the diminished seventh chord; this isn’t to say that he made constant use of that particular chord, but that he would do modulations and chord changes–and use such scales at the octatonic (and its alpha chord)–based on the minor third, the tritone, and the major sixth, pivot points, if you will, which are comparable to shifts from the major key to its relative minor, and vice versa.

These–at the time, unusual-sounding–melodic and harmonic experiments, as well as the extensive influence of the folk music of his native Hungary and neighbouring countries (around which he traveled much in his younger adulthood, recording and studying the music), gives Bartók’s music its unique sound.

A few YouTube videos of performances of The Miraculous Mandarin can be found here, here, and here. A video with the score, which includes written indications of developments in the plot of the story, can be found here. And here is a link to the concert suite, which removes about a third of the score, mostly the last twelve or thirteen minutes, which musically depicts the tramps’ robbing and attempting to kill the mandarin.

Bartók insisted it was a pantomime rather than a ballet, since the only dancing in the story is supposed to occur when the pretty girl–forced to lure male victims into the tramps’ den to be robbed–seductively dances with the victims (Gillies, page 373); nonetheless, performances tend to have everyone dancing throughout–see the links above, and a few brief excerpts of performances in links given below. The pantomime begins with the chaos of the city. The orchestra assaults our ears with dissonances.

The second violins play a flurry of quick ascending and descending sixteenth notes in septuplets of G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G#, up and down and up and down, the outer edges making a dissonant minor ninth. This up-and-down cycle I see as symbolic of the boom-and-bust economic cycle, a manifestation of the instability of the capitalist mode of production. Such economic uncertainty leads to an aggravation of crime, which in turn leads to the next issue.

A hectic rhythm in 6/8 time is heard with notes in minor seconds, a motif that will reappear whenever we encounter the violence of the tramps (also referred to sometimes as apaches or vagabonds), three male criminal thugs who find themselves without money and resolve to rob others, using a pretty girl to dance seductively and lure the victims in.

The brass section adds to the dissonance by imitating the honking of car horns. Flutes are now playing waves of shrill, quick chromatic notes in a manner similar to the opening second violin waves. The horns get much harsher. The violent tone of the pantomime has been established. We have in this music a vivid depiction of the neurotic, alienating, and violent modern urban world. The stage has been set for the entry of the three tramps. The curtain rises.

A tense theme is played on the violas (later taken over by the first violins) when we see the tramps; the first checks his pockets for money, and the second tramp checks the desk drawers of their den for money, of which they haven’t any. This lack of theirs gives rise to desire, which is one of the dominant themes of the pantomime, as we’ll see with the old rake, the shy young man, and especially the mandarin, when they behold the beauty of the dancing girl, who now appears on the stage.

The third tramp violently tells her to dance alluringly for any male passer-by, so they can sneak up on him and rob him. She refuses to, of course, but the tramps force her to all the same. Here we see how desire gives rise to suffering, just as lack gave rise to desire–the three go round and round in a cycle–for the tramps, lacking money and desiring it, are now exploiting her for the hopes of gain. Such exploitation is the essence of the relations between the owners of the means of production (the capitalists) and those who have only their labour to sell to survive (the proletariat).

Thus we see how the tramps, in spite of their momentary pennilessness, represent the bourgeoisie. Their den represents the land and means of production owned by the capitalist class. The girl, who can do nothing other than dance and arouse men’s lust, has only her body to sell; thus, she represents the disenfranchised working class. She is being, in essence, a prostitute for the pimp tramps (and pimps, as mafia, are a perfect metaphor for capitalists, as I’ve argued elsewhere); small wonder The Miraculous Mandarin was banned on moral grounds.

There is probably no worse example of worker exploitation than that of pimps exploiting prostitutes, something euphemistically expressed in this pantomime through the girl’s erotic dancing. Thus we can easily see why Lenin, in his agenda to promote equality for women, wanted to end prostitution.

The concert suite version of The Miraculous Mandarin cuts out a brief section of the music at around this point, at a ritardando when the girl refuses to dance for male passers-by. We hear a plaintive melody played on the first violins; then, when the tramps repeat their brutish demand of her and she, however reluctantly, acquiesces, the section cut out from the suite ends, and the discords in the music sadly begin to calm down in a decrescendo. The girl is about to do her first seductive dance.

She begins a lockspiel–a “decoy game”–by a window to attract the first victim. We hear a clarinet solo as she dances. The first victim is an old rake, who sees her and is immediately enticed by her. Musically, he is represented by trombone glissandi spanning a minor third, which is an important interval heard at various points throughout the pantomime.

A minor third is suggestive of sadness. It is significant that we hear so much of it in this piece, for it reflects the universality of suffering as experienced in the world of this story. Hearing the minor thirds in the trombone glissandi, representing the lecherous old rake, is important in how it links lack and suffering with desire, an important combined theme in The Miraculous Mandarin.

As György Kroó explains in his analysis of the pantomime: “The minor third has a special function in The Miraculous Mandarin. Because of the central role of the ‘desire’ motif this interval is the differentia specifica in the work’s score.” (Gillies, page 380)

As the shabby old rake lustfully watches her dance, she asks if he has any money, during which time we hear a flirtatious melody on the cor anglais. He replies, “Never mind money! All that matters is love.” Useless to the tramps, the penniless man is thrown out, at which time we hear the tense 6/8 motif with the minor seconds.

Part of how the capitalist class keeps the poor in control is by dividing them; one common division is made between the sexes. We’ve already seen how women are exploited and injured because of this divisive use of sex roles, in making women into sex objects. Men have their lust exploited through how society addicts them to beautiful women; and if men don’t provide money, they’re deemed useless, as the old rake is, and as the shy boy will be.

The girl returns to the window and resumes her dancing. We hear the clarinet again during this second lockspiel. The shy young man appears, and he is as captivated by her beauty as the old rake was. His shyness makes his seduction more difficult; the clarinet solo is longer and more florid.

Soon, he and the girl dance to a haunting theme on the bassoon, a melody featuring tritones, in 5/4 time, backed up by rising notes on the harp; then the theme is played on the flute, then there are crescendi and decrescendi on the clarinet, suggesting a heating-up of the dancers’ passion. Finally, the haunting theme is heard briefly on two solo violins, and finally, climactically on all the first and second violins. The boy has been successfully drawn into the den, where the hiding tramps are poised to strike.

They attack the boy, and we hear the opening 6/8 motif with the minor seconds again. The tramps learn that the shy young man hasn’t any money either, so he is quickly thrown out, too.

The girl gets ready to do a third lockspiel at the window, and we hear the solo clarinet again. This time, a wealthy mandarin appears at the door. We hear a kind of parody of a stereotypically pentatonic Asian melody here, harmonized in tritones. She is terrified of him; next, we hear three loud brass glissandi (trombones and tuba) in descending minor thirds (recall how the minor third suggests sadness, so in this moment of the tramps’ desire of the mandarin’s money, and the mandarin’s growing desire of the girl, we have desire again as the cause of suffering). The mandarin stands immobile at the doorway, and her dancing only very slowly arouses his desire.

An interesting question needs to be addressed here: why a mandarin, of all male victims, to be the most important one of the story? György Kroó explains: “The chief male figure of the pantomime, the mandarin, is not typical of modern urban society–as are all the other characters–but is a force existing outside society. He is, to some extent, an unreal and symbolic figure. It is this unreality and symbolism which lend him a fearful greatness, enabling him to stand isolated above the world of the vagabonds, and to defy them. But the mandarin’s triumph is only symbolic: he raises the girl to his own level of existence by making her aware of herself as a human being and aware of the existence of true love. For this victory, of course, the mandarin has to die, and the girl is left standing beside his body, shocked and lost in wonder, unable now by herself to progress to a better life, unable alone to oppose the evil surrounding her.” (Gillies, pages 372-373)

This “force existing outside society,” an East Asian in a European city, can be seen to personify the East Asian Third World, just as the girl represents the exploited proletariat of the First World. The tramps, representing the rapacious bourgeoisie, have failed to get any money from the men of their own society, so they must find riches from men of foreign countries.

What we see being expressed here allegorically is the shift into imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, as Lenin theorized. The tendency of the rate of profit to fall forces capitalists to seek out counteracting factors, one of the chief ones of these in the modern world being the exploitation of foreign markets. The robbing of, and violence against, the mandarin thus represents the invasion and plunder of the Third World.

We often speak of the Third World as poor, as undeveloped or underdeveloped. Actually, these countries are rich, like the mandarin who personifies them in the pantomime. It’s the people of the Third World who are poor, like the mandarin after he’s been robbed and brutalized. The Global South isn’t underdeveloped, it’s overexploited.

The China of the time that The Miraculous Mandarin was composed and premiered was similarly exploited by imperialism; but like the defiant mandarin, Mao Zedong stood up to the imperialists. (More will be said below about how The Miraculous Mandarin can be retroactively allegorized on contemporary China.)

As I said above, the girl is scared of the mandarin and runs off to the other side of the room. Much of her reason for being scared is presumably out of xenophobia and racism against Asians, a common feeling in the West, especially at that time. In the context of the allegory I’m presenting, this xenophobia is significant, for it is a kind of tragic flaw that will ensure that the girl can never escape her exploitation (refer back to the Kroó quote above).

After the loud brass dissonant introduction of the mandarin, the music dies down with the sound of minor thirds in decrescendo in the French horns (F# and A). At this point, the concert suite cuts out another short passage of the music, during which we hear cello, bass, and viola pizzicatos in the background, and the tramps push the girl to get over her fears and dance to lure in the mandarin.

The concert suite resumes with the music at the point in the story when the girl, however reluctantly, begins to dance for the mandarin. We hear flurries of shrill, quick ascending and descending notes in the piccolo and celesta, with a dark back-up in the pizzicato and arco cellos. As I said above, the mandarin’s desire is aroused much slower than that of the previous two men, but when his desire is at its peak, it’s an explosion of lust.

His intensity of passion makes us realize that the mandarin doesn’t merely lust after her. Sexual desire for her is there, to be sure, but for him to survive the lethal assaults of the tramps means that his feelings for her must be more than merely physical. He is touched by her, as I see it: he sees not only her beauty and sex appeal, but also her vulnerability and suffering because of the tramps.

My allegory can explain the transcendent nature of his desire. I say that she represents the Western proletariat; he represents the exploited Third World. Sexual union between the two thus represents the needed solidarity of the global proletariat. He wants her because he empathizes with her.

The relative comforts of living in the First World, even for the working poor amongst us, cause us to have limited revolutionary potential. The desperate poverty of the Third World, on the other hand, gives the people suffering there far greater revolutionary potential (consider that huge general strike in India to see my point).

The girl is repelled by the mandarin, just as the First World poor pay far too little attention to the suffering of those in the Third World. The mandarin’s desire for the girl grows and grows, just as the poor of the Global South, growing ever more desperate, needs the help of the First World (consider the oppression of the Palestinians to see my point).

The girl gets over her inhibitions, and she and the mandarin begin dancing a waltz whose melody is full of minor thirds and tritones. Again, we see lack and sorrow (symbolized by the minor thirds and the diabolus in musica) linked with desire (the soon-to-be lovers’ romantic waltz).

As I said above, his desire isn’t merely lust. It’s more of a Lacanian desire, the desire of the Other, to be what the Other wants, to be recognized by the Other (in this case being, of course, the girl). This wish for recognition from the Other, to be as desired of the Other as one desires the Other, means we’re not dealing with the selfish lust of the old rake or the shy young man. Those two just wanted to get from her; the mandarin wants to get and to give. This wish for desire to be mutual between the mandarin and the girl again, in the context of my allegory, represents the need for solidarity among the oppressed of the world.

The waltz that they dance grows louder, faster, and more impassioned, and the hitherto reticent mandarin suddenly goes wild with desire, terrifying the girl. He chases her all over the tramps’ den. The music gets barbarically dissonant, with pounding drums and a fugue passage representing (fittingly, given the etymology of fugue) his pursuit of the girl. He seizes her, and they struggle.

After this music reaches its most chaotic, brutal point, the concert suite ends with four bars in 2/2, and a tense chord featuring minor thirds is played three times to give the suite a sense of finality. (This three-chord repetition isn’t heard in the full pantomime performance.) It is at this point that the tramps come out of hiding and attack the mandarin. The music isn’t as loud now, but it’s still just as tense.

The tramps strip him of his riches and finery. All he can do is stare longingly at the girl. Having wondered what to do with the mandarin now that they’ve taken all of his valuables, the tramps decide to kill him. This violence against him symbolizes the plunder of the Third World, the taking of its valuable resources and the killing of anyone living there who dares to resist.

The tramps grab pillows and blankets, put them on the mandarin’s head, and try to smother him by sitting on him. After a while, they figure he must be dead and get off of him. The music softens. He’s still alive and looking at the girl. His would-be killers are amazed and horrified.

The tramps make a second attempt to kill him; this time, one of them grabs a sword and stabs him three times with it. Still, he won’t die. Still, he stares at the girl. The tramps cannot believe their eyes.

This miraculous refusal to die may remind us, in a symbolic way, of how the victims of imperialism won’t back down after being invaded. To see what I mean, look not only at the Chinese resistance to Imperial Japan in the 1930s and 40s, not only at the USSR’s successful repelling of the White Army during the civil war of around the years 1918-1921, and of the Nazis during WWII; but also look at the continued resistance to the American empire in Afghanistan and Iraq. China is a miraculous mandarin in its own right these days, surrounded by US military bases, and on the receiving end of hostility from Hong Kong and Taiwan; but China keeps getting stronger and stronger…and richer.

A third attempt is made to kill the mandarin, this time by hanging him from a lamp hook. It falls to the floor, and instead of the hanging killing him, the light of the lamp goes out and seems to be transferred onto him, for now he–always with his eyes on the girl–is glowing with a greenish-blue aura. A wordless chorus (alto and basso at first; later, tenors and sopranos will harmonize) begins singing a melody in mostly minor thirds as he glows, suggesting a superhuman quality in him.

This superhuman quality of the mandarin, with the suffering he’s being put through while cheating death, suggests a Christ symbolism for him. His hanging from the lamp can be associated with the Crucifixion, while his glow–suggesting the spiritual body of the Resurrection–and the almost angelic choral singing lend a kind of mysticism to him.

Now, when I compare the mandarin to Christ, I don’t mean the ecclesiastical Christ whose “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), He who died on the Cross to save us from our sins; rather, I mean the Jewish messianic conception–that of the revolutionary who attempted a defiance of ancient imperial Rome. This was the Jesus of such books as Hyam Maccoby‘s Revolution in Judea, in keeping with the anti-imperialist allegory I’ve been outlining here.

The desire that this messianic mandarin has for the girl can thus be associated with the sexual desire expressed in the Song of Songs, as allegorized as the love of Christ for his Church (i.e., the girl). So this mandarin, in his defiance of the brutality of the exploitative tramps (symbolic of capitalist imperialists), is making revolutionary overtures to the girl (representing the First World proletariat), hoping she’ll join him in solidarity against their oppressors (i.e., through their sexual union).

Finally, she realizes what must be done. She understands the true nature of his desires, and just as he is touched by her vulnerability and suffering under her exploitation, so is she touched by his love for her: this is the only reason she could have for doing what she’s about to do. She has the tramps untie the mandarin. She lets him have her.

Now, she satisfies his desire, but it’s far too late: the injuries that the tramps have inflicted on him can’t be undone. His wounds open, and he finally dies, with lethargic, anticlimactic music playing as he collapses on the floor bleeding, her watching in horror. This ending relates to my allegory in the following way. There is a danger in not responding quickly enough to the call for revolution in today’s late stage capitalism. The global proletariat must unite, and they must do so…fast!

As with sex roles, racism and xenophobia are used by the ruling class to divide the people. Look at Trump’s “Build the wall!” nonsense to see my point. The excessive nationalism of fascism is used to prevent international solidarity.

The girl’s xenophobic prejudice against the mandarin is what makes her take so long to unite with him. Imagine if, instead, not only were she and the mandarin to unite immediately upon meeting each other, but if they, the shy young man, the old rake, and any other men potentially tempted by her dancing, were to combine their strengths against the tramps and end their exploitation and victimization once and for all?

Selfishness and alienation are inimical to the solidarity of the people against their ultimate enemy, the capitalist class. Now that the mandarin is dead, the girl is alone against the now-monied tramps. She is in an evil trap she cannot escape.

In composing The Miraculous Mandarin, Bartók was warning of the growing evils of the world. “Between 1919 and 1924, while working on this work, Bartók was experiencing a great sense of loneliness. He felt quite isolated in his efforts to warn society of the evils he could see. By setting the ‘elemental life force’ in opposition to ‘degraded emotion’, he cried ‘No!’ to the world of evil, and to the immorality of the dehumanized apaches. And as an example to those who had confidence and hope, he presented the figure of the mandarin who, like Bartók himself, is a constant reminder of courage in opposition, determination in thought and feeling–the very triumph of man.” (Gillies, pages 383-384)

Consider the evils of today’s world, the contemporary exacerbation of those Bartók had been aware of a century ago. Consider what might happen if we lack the “courage in opposition” and “determination in thought and feeling” needed to end those evils. Though the danger of nuclear war between the US on one side, and China and Russia on the other, is more than possible, all we need to do to end life on the Earth is to continue to be passive in the face of growing climate change. Then the moribund musical ending of the pantomime will express what TS Eliot once did: “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Malcolm Gillies, editor, The Bartók Companion, London, Faber and Faber, 1993

Analysis of ‘Black Christmas’

Black Christmas is a 1974 Canadian horror film produced and directed by Bob Clark and written by A. Roy Moore. It was inspired by the urban legend “the babysitter and the man upstairs” and a series of murders that took place in the Westmount neighbourhood of MontrealQuebec. The film stars Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, and John Saxon, with Doug McGrath, Marian Waldman, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin, and Nick Mancuso (and Clark) providing the voice(s) of Billy (with cameraman Bert Dunk providing Billy’s POV).

Black Christmas is considered an early example of a slasher film, having established most, if not all, of the genre’s tropes (murderer’s POV, holiday setting, final girl), as well as being a major influence on such films as John Carpenter‘s Halloween. While it initially got a mixed critical reception, the film’s reputation has improved over the years, and it is now considered by many to be one of the best horror films ever made. Two markedly inferior remakes were done in 2006 and 2019.

Here are some quotes:

“You’re a real gold-plated whore, Mother, you know that?” –Barb, on the phone

“Let me lick ya, you pretty piggy cunt!” –Billy, on the phone

Clare: [about the obscene phone call] Could that really be just one person?
Barb: No, Clare, it’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir making their annual obscene phone call.

“Why don’t you go find a wall socket and stick your tongue in it, that will give you a charge?” –Barb, to Billy on the phone

“I’ll stick my tongue up your pretty pussy!” –Billy, to Barb on the phone

“You fucking creep!” –Barb, to Billy on the phone

“I’m going to kill you.” –Billy, to Barb on the phone

[after the mysterious caller hangs up] Clare: I really don’t think you should provoke somebody like that, Barb.
Barb: Oh listen, this guy is minor league. In the city, I get two of those a day.
Clare: Well, maybe. But you know that town girl was raped a couple of weeks ago.
Barb: Darling, you can’t rape a townie.

“Speaking of professional virgins, here we have the Queen of Vaudeville circa 1891.” –Barb, upon seeing that Mrs. Mac is coming inside the house

“Well, thank you, girls. It’s lovely, really…” [muttering] “Got about as much use for this as I do a chastity belt.” –Mrs. Mac, on her nightgown gift

“Little baby bunting/Daddy’s went a-hunting/Gonna fetch a rabbit skin to wrap his baby Agnes in.” –Billy, softly singing after having killed Clare

“I didn’t send my daughter here to be drinking and picking up boys.” –Mr. Harrison, of Clare

“These broads would hump the Leaning Tower of Pisa if they could get up there!” –Mrs. Mac, of her sorority girls

“Oh goddammit, Claude, you little prick!” –Mrs. Mac, of her cat

“You know, for a public servant I think your attitude really sucks!” –Barb, to Sergeant Nash

Sergeant Nash: Excuse me? Could you give me the number at the sorority house? Please?
Barb: Yeah, sure. It’s, ah… Fellatio 20880. Fellatio. It’s a new exchange, FE.
Sergeant Nash: That’s a new one on me. How do you spell it?
Barb: Capital F, E, little L, L-A, T-I-O.
Sergeant Nash: Thanks.
Barb: Don’t mention it.

“Nash, you stupid son of a bitch! You’ve got a big goddamn mouth!” –Chris

“Filthy Billy, I know what you did, nasty Billy!” –Billy

Barb: Did you know, this is a very little known fact, but… did you know that there’s a certain species of turtle that… there’s a certain species of turtle that can screw for three days without stopping. You don’t believe me, do you? Well, I-I mean, how could I make something like that up?
Mrs. Mac: Ah, Barb, dear, ah, I-I-I-ah…
Barb: No, really! They just… three days, 24 hours a day, wha-voom! Wha-voom! Wha-voom! Can you believe that, three days? I’m lucky if I get three minutes! Do you know how I know this? Because I went down to the zoo and I watched them. It was very boring. Well actually, um, I, uh, didn’t stay for the whole three days, I went over and I watched the zebras, because they only take thirty seconds! Premature ejaculation!

“Alligators come through the gate, but goodbye leg if ya get away late! Lollies love to pop!” –Mrs. Mac, singing as she packs her suitcase

“Nash, I don’t think you could pick your nose without written instructions.” –Lt. Fuller

Billy: [referring to her potential abortion] Just like having a wart removed.
Jess: Oh, my God!

Sergeant Nash: [after Sergeant Nash calls the sorority house] Who is this?
Jess: It’s Jess.
Sergeant Nash: Ah, Ms. Bradford, eh, this is Sergeant Nash. Are you the only one in the house?
Jess: No. Phyl and Barb are upstairs asleep. Why?
Sergeant Nash: All right. Now, I want you to do exactly what I tell you without asking any questions, okay? [Jess tries to ask something] No, no, no… no questions. Now, just put the phone back on the hook, walk to the front door and leave the house.
Jess: What’s wrong?
Sergeant Nash: Please, Ms. Bradford, please just do as I tell you.
Jess: Okay. I’ll get Phyl and Barb.
Sergeant Nash: No, no, no! Don’t do that, Jess… Jess, the caller is in the house. The calls are coming from the house!

While Christmas is supposed to be a time of love and togetherness, in this film, feelings of alienation permeate the story from beginning to end. The alienation felt by Billy, the killer, is just the tip of the iceberg on these cold December nights.

At the Pi Kappa Sigma sorority house on 6 Belmont Street, the sorority sisters are having a Christmas party. Jessica Bradford (Hussey–in Lee Hays’s 1976 novelization, Jess’s surname is Bradley) answers the phone; the mother of Barbara Coard (Kidder–Barbara Pollard in the novelization) wants to talk to her. At the end of the phone conversation, Barb is frowning (she’s so mad at her mom, she calls her “a gold-plated whore”); she’s been drinking, as usual, and she hopes that Jess, Phyllis Carlson (Martin–Phyllis Thompson in the novelization), and Clare Harrison (Griffin) will go skiing with her, in compensation for what Barb knows will be a minimal family get-together this Christmas. Her drinking, as is that of Mrs. MacHenry (Waldman), the sorority mother, is a manic defence against facing her unhappiness.

Phyll’s boyfriend, Patrick (played by Michael Rapport), will be annoyed that she won’t be available for him if she goes skiing with Barb. He’ll have to dress up as Santa for a charity gift-giving for poor kids, whom he calls “little bastards.” Already we have a sense of alienation at a time when alienation should be the last thing on people’s minds.

Speaking of swearing Santas, Billy is an evil Santa Claus of sorts, when we consider how he gets into the house by climbing up a trellis along the side of the house and entering the attic, which parallels Santa’s going down the chimney–as much a surprise breaking-and-entering of a house, when you come to think about it, as Billy’s is. He will proceed to go down from the attic to hide in the shadows of the second floor (little kids never see Santa coming, either), to make obscene phone calls to the girls, and then–instead of giving gifts–he’ll take lives.

Indeed, obscenity permeates this film as much as alienation does. We hear a consistently recurring array of four-letter words throughout the film, especially during the first of Billy’s phone calls, during which he tells of his wish to perform cunnilingus on and receive fellatio from the girls. They listen to his grunting voice with fear…and fascination–this latter feeling especially being Barb’s.

Indeed, tipsy Barb trivializes the words of the “pervert,” saying “he’s expanded his act,” which is “not bad,” and he’s “the fastest tongue in the West.” When sweet, virginal Clare warns bad-girl Barb not to provoke the man Jess calls “the Moaner,” telling of a recent rape in the town, Barb shows Clare a similar contempt. (Actually, Barb is getting back at Clare for not going skiing with her.)

This preoccupation with obscenity during the holiday season, presumed to be a time of innocent pleasures, is symbolic of the moral obscenity that Christmas in the modern world has become. Largely no longer a religious holiday celebrating the birth of Christ (which in turn was a Christianizing of the pagan Winter Solstice, a celebration of the rebirth of the sun god), Christmas has become a consumerist excuse to go shopping and spend a lot of money so capitalists can make big profits. And with capitalism comes alienation.

We see the problem of Christmas consumerism dramatized in Mrs. Mac’s entry into the sorority house lugging all those gifts. As it says in the novelization, “Shopping! Last minute shopping. Serves me right for waiting. Oh, my God, the people who are buyers for these shops must take tacky lessons. I’ve never seen such garbage in all my life. And the prices . . .” What’s more, she is a middle-aged version of Barb: she’s a foul-mouthed alcoholic the source of whose emotional problems, I suspect (as I also do of Barb), is a lack of sexual fulfillment.

The constant use of sexual language–especially by a middle-aged woman who presumably was raised never to use dirty words, back in the years when the prudish Production Code didn’t allow their use in movies–suggests repressed sexual frustration that resurfaces in the conscious mind in the substitutive form of obscene language. Mrs. Mac, I’m guessing, has been a widow for many years, and her lax attitude towards the carefree sex life of the sorority sisters is a projection of her own wish to be sexual.

In the alienated modern world, the physical contact of promiscuous sex (or at least the wish for it) is a perverse compensation for the kind of close human connection (physical or not) that should exist between people, especially at Christmastime. For lonely, alienated people like Barb and Mrs. Mac, drinking and indulgence in obscene language are substitutes for that needed contact: drinking can be linked to an oral fixation connected with a wish to give or receive oral sex (recall Barb’s fascination with Billy’s obscene phone call, as well as her telling dim-witted Sergeant Nash [McGrath] that the “new exchange” includes the word fellatio).

Note in this connection what WRD Fairbairn had to say about pleasure-seeking (e.g. drinking, sex) as a poor substitute for the nurturing of loving relationships with other people, what he called ‘object-relationships.’ Fairbairn elaborates: “…from the point of view of object-relationship psychology, explicit pleasure-seeking represents a deterioration of behaviour…Explicit pleasure-seeking has as its essential aim the relieving of the tension of libidinal need for the mere sake of relieving this tension. Such a process does, of course, occur commonly enough; but, since libidinal need is object-need, simple tension-relieving implies some failure of object-relationships.” (Fairbairn, p. 139-140)

Furthermore, while Christmas is the time of the Virgin Birth, the perverse world of Black Christmas doesn’t have holy virgins, but bitter, potty-mouthed ones. If they aren’t literal virgins, they are at least symbolic ones in the form of sexually frustrated women and Billy, a presumed incel. On the other side of the coin, Jess, pregnant with the child of her pianist boyfriend, Peter Smythe (Dullea), would rather have an abortion than give birth…during the time of the celebration of the Holy Birth.

So what we have in Black Christmas is a dialectical clash of tradition with modernity: sorority sisters who used to be all virgins are now in sexual relationships with young men, much to the chagrin of Clare’s conservative father, Mr. Harrison (played by James Edmond); families that used to be close are torn apart; only a year after Roe vs. Wade, when huge masses of people still regarded abortion as murder, Jess wants to terminate her pregnancy; people frequently curse when before they only sparingly did, which was not so long before the 1970s; and finally, men’s dominance over women is beginning to weaken.

Indeed, just as Barb and Mrs. Mac are female doubles, so are Billy and Peter male doubles. Apart from the suspicion that Peter is the murderer, both young men are a kind of inadequate male who tries to compensate for his weaknesses by controlling women–Billy by terrorizing and murdering them, and Peter by posturing as a patriarch whose ‘proposal’ of marriage to Jess is essentially a command.

Jess bravely refuses to be imprisoned in marriage and motherhood, a sacrificing of her own dreams of a career. Peter claims she can still do anything she wants while married and having the baby, but we all know how disingenuous such a claim is: motherhood and career are on a collision course, and she would far likelier acquiesce to the domestic duties than Peter would become a househusband.

As I said above, Billy’s way of compensating for his inadequacies, that is, his way of dominating women, is to terrorize and kill them. When Barb refuses to be intimidated by his obscene phone call, the insecure male resorts to threatening to kill her, which of course he does later on. But first, he goes after Clare, Mrs. Mac, and a school girl whose body is found in a park during a community search of the area one cold night.

The way Clare and Mrs. Mac are killed suggests a grisly parody of Christmas decorations: Clare’s head is wrapped up in plastic, like a gift Billy has given himself; and Mrs. Mac has a hook in her neck, making her head into a kind of ball ornament hung on a Christmas tree.

The murder weapon used on sleeping Barb is an interesting one: the horn of a unicorn statuette is stabbed into her gut. The choice of the unicorn reinforces my theory that she is, if not a virgin, at least scarcely sexually experienced, “lucky if [she can] get three minutes” of sex. We all know of the association of unicorns with women’s virginity, which in this film lacks its traditional association with maidenly virtue, but rather is something to be embarrassed about in our modern-day world.

The symbolism of the unicorn, as used in this movie, goes beyond its mere association with a maiden’s virginity, though. Recall that Black Christmas, as opposed to the traditional, sweet and innocent white Christmas, subverts and perverts the wholesome ideas associated with the holiday. Such is the way the unicorn symbolism is used here; but to understand this subversion, we must first explore the old traditions about unicorns, virgins, and the Christian faith.

There’s an old medieval tradition about entrapping a unicorn by using a naked virgin. The unicorn lies in her lap, and hunters catch it, kill it, and use its horn and body for their medicinal properties. Here, the unicorn represents Christ by lying with its horn in the lap of the virgin, which in turn represents the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary; and the hunters who kill it represent, on the one hand, the Romans who crucified Christ, and on the other hand the Church in which one takes Communion (i.e., using the unicorn’s medicinal properties).

In our Black Christmas perversion of this tradition, however, the unicorn isn’t the Saviour, but rather the murder weapon. Here, Jesus doesn’t save; He kills. The unicorn’s horn doesn’t lie in the virgin’s lap; it’s stabbed into her gut. The virgin isn’t Holy Mary, the Mother of God, but sexually frustrated, dirty-minded drinker Barb, who’d have drunk all the wine Christ made from water at the wedding at Cana. And the hunters are neither the Romans nor the Holy Church, but rather they are represented in deeply disturbed Billy.

It’s interesting in this connection to note how Billy, our Satanic Santa, says, “Agnes, it’s me, Billy” while holding the unicorn statuette that otherwise would represent Christ. Apart from the fact that Agnes is a Christian saint, the name sounds like a pun on agnus, as in Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In this film’s perversion of Christian traditions, the only thing Billy is taking away are human lives from the world…and in this scene, he’s taking away sinner Barb’s life while a chorus of children are singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” (“O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”) on the front porch of the sorority house.

…and who is Agnes, and what are all those voices Billy is using in his creepy phone calls? On one level, one could imagine him to be possessed of demons, this Satan Santa, as contrasted with the spirit of St. Nicholas. (In the novelization, Billy frequently says he wishes someone could stop him from killing, as if devils are forcing him to do it.) On another level, he seems to be impersonating the voices of his parents and little sister, Agnes, as if repeatedly reliving a childhood trauma.

Now, does this idea that Billy could be demonically possessed contradict the idea that he is reliving a childhood trauma by mimicking the voices of his family members? I don’t think so…not if one sees possession as symbolic of his family members as internal objects haunting his thoughts every day and night.

In his paper on the repression and return of bad objects, Fairbairn makes an interesting comparison of them to demons possessing someone. “At this point it is worth considering whence bad objects derive their power over the individual. If the child’s objects are bad, how does he ever come to internalize them?…However much he may want to reject them, he cannot get away from them. They force themselves upon him; and he cannot resist them because they have power over him. He is accordingly compelled to internalize them in an effort to control them. But, in attempting to control them in this way, he is internalizing objects which have wielded power over him in the external world; and these objects retain their prestige for power over him in the inner world. In a word, he is ‘possessed’ by them, as if by evil spirits. This is not all, however. The child not only internalizes his bad objects because they force themselves upon him and he seeks to control them, but also, and above all, because he needs them. If a child’s parents are bad objects, he cannot reject them, even if they do not force themselves upon him; for he cannot do without them. Even if they neglect him, he cannot reject them; for, if they neglect him, his need for them is increased.” (Fairbairn, page 67)

Did Billy, as an already dangerously disturbed little boy, sexually abuse his sister Agnes? Did he kill her? Is the former crime what he’s alluding to by saying, “Don’t tell them what we did,” and “pretty Agnes”? Is he tormented with guilt for what he did, yet–having his family’s object relations as his social blueprint, as it were, for all subsequent relationships–compelled to repeat the same violence with all other females, they being, in his mind, recurring versions of Agnes?

To ease his guilt and torment, he uses regression to a childish state as a defence mechanism, hence the babyish voice he often uses. Since Christmas is a time especially appealing to children, and a time we all nostalgically look back on to remember our own happy childhoods, Black Christmas uses Billy’s childish regression as yet another perverse parody of such childlike feelings.

Peter, as a double of Billy, is also showing signs of mental instability. The very thought of Jess aborting their baby is enough to shake him up so badly that he completely blows it at his piano performance in front of his stony-faced judges. Does he hit pretty much every key wrong, or is he playing an atonal piece, like one of those of Schoenberg, yet he and the judges know the piece so well that they can hear the difference between the exact pitches of the expected dissonant notes and tone clusters and Peter’s many mistakes? Either way, those discords–combined with Peter’s later smashing of the piano and the bansheelike, scraping, creepy piano effects of the soundtrack, heard whenever the killer is near–reinforce not only the doubling of Peter and Billy, but also the fear that Peter could indeed be the killer.

Though Peter is obviously no virgin, his fear of Jess getting an abortion means the danger, in his mind, of him failing to be a procreator. In traditional, patriarchal societies, it is considered as shameful for a man as it is for a woman to be childless. Since Peter has failed to create music, his failure to create a child will be emotionally disastrous for him. Such a failure will be tantamount to him remaining a virgin.

I suspect Sergeant Nash is a virgin, too. His slow-wittedness and insensitivity to people’s urgent needs will make him totally unappealing to women…and even the average virgin knows what fellatio means! His assumption that missing Clare is shacked up with a boyfriend–so offensive to Chris (Hindle), her actual boyfriend, who doesn’t want her conservative father to think of him as the kind of man who wants to corrupt her–is a projection of his own wish to get laid once in a while.

Mrs. Mac, as I’ve noted above, is at least symbolically a virgin. The nightgown her sorority sisters buy her, in its hideousness, is as useful to her “as…a chastity belt,” that is, it’s of no use to her at all. She doesn’t need a chastity belt; she already isn’t getting any, and as with Barb, her dirty mouth is a reaction formation against her never doing anything dirty in bed.

Now, this lack of, or far too scanted, sexual connection is symbolic of a scanted human connection, a lack of connection that’s particularly conspicuous during the holiday season, when human connection is supposed to be at its height…or so society would condition us to think. This symbolism brings us back to the theme of alienation I brought up at the beginning of this analysis.

Telephone calls are a perfect symbol of how mutually alienated people try to connect. One talks with someone from far away. Communicating face-to-face is far better. As Jess says in the novelization, telephone calls are “so damned impersonal”…and what is Billy’s choice method of communication?

This sense of social distancing vitiates the holiday spirit, but in Black Christmas, togetherness is also subverted and made perverse. Billy’s imitating of the voices of his family members is a perverse parody of the notion of family togetherness, when we know he’s up there all alone in the attic. If those voices are meant to indicate demonic possession, we have in that a perversion of the notion of the Christmas spirit; just as Barb’s and Mrs. Mac’s alcoholism can be seen as such a perversion, for as Ian Anderson once sang, “That Christmas spirit is not what you drink.”

This perverse sublation of togetherness and alienation is at its height when we consider how those obscene phone calls are coming from the house. So close, yet so far away. Nash’s blunt telling Jess what we, the audience, have known from the beginning, is considered one of the scariest moments in horror movie history. It’s so scary because we empathize with Jess’s shock at learning not only the proximity of the killer, but also presuming that her boyfriend–in the house at the time of a previous call, which supposedly has eliminated him as a suspect–is in fact the killer.

We the audience feel this empathy for her in a film in which all the characters generally show far too little empathy for each other during a season that’s supposed to inspire a maximum of love. Phyll tearfully empathizes with Mr. Harrison over his fears of what’s happened to Clare; Chris empathizes, too. Even Nash shows some sympathy for Jess when he clumsily tells her not to go upstairs to see if Phyll and Barb are OK (they’re dead). But none of this empathy is anywhere near enough.

We never properly see Billy’s face: we see only a shadowy silhouette, Seventies hair, and his piercing eyes (when he raises the unicorn to stab Barb, and when his one eye is seen through the door crack). The moviemakers wanted us to know as little about Billy as possible, to make him scarier. This lack of knowing who he is reinforces the sense of alienation; yet the innovative use of POV shots, making us see the world through the killer’s eyes, perversely makes us…almost…sympathize with him. Again, in this presentation of Billy, we see the perverse sublation of empathy for and alienation from him.

Such a sublation is indicative of our own alienated world: we aren’t connected to each other, so we don’t know each other as we should. We’d prefer to know each other perversely, though, ‘in the Biblical sense,’ as Barb and Mrs. Mac do. (Is Mrs. Mac’s affected charm on Mr. Harrison, apart from her wish not to get into trouble for her laxity with the sorority girls, used out of a hope that he’ll pursue her, while her giving him the finger is from her frustration with his conservative prudery and lack of interest in her, his unwillingness to respond to her ‘come hither’ signals and cues?)

Billy chases Jess into the basement, the dialectical opposite of the attic. She’ll be the killer of an innocent this time (Peter may be a sexist jerk, but he isn’t Billy), with that phallic poker in her hands. Indeed, as an early example of a final girl in an early slasher film, Jess is quite a prototypical movie feminist. She not only bravely confronts (and vanquishes he whom she believes to be) the killer, she has earlier defied Peter in refusing to back down from getting an abortion, as well as refusing to give up her career dreams just to be a mother.

So, in being Jess’s antifeminist adversary, Peter is in this additional way a double of misogynist Billy. Yet, in being in the basement and killing Peter, rather than Billy descending from the attic and killing girls, Jess is dialectically playing the killer’s role.

We can understand the dialectical relationship between the attic and the basement when we consider what they, as well as the ground and second floors, represent psychoanalytically in terms of Fairbairn’s endo-psychic personality structure. The ground and second floor of the sorority sisters’ house, being where, of course, the vast majority of the socializing happens, represents Fairbairn’s notion of the Central Ego (roughly equivalent to Freud‘s ego), linked to the Ideal Object (“ideal” because people seeking relationships with real people in the real world, as opposed to the loved and hated objects of one’s imagination, is the desired…and therefore healthy…form of object-seeking).

In contrast, the attic represents Fairbairn’s Libidinal Ego (roughly equivalent to Freud’s id), linked to the Exciting Object (e.g., movie stars, sports heroes, rock and pop stars, porn stars, etc.). Billy’s pathological libido targets sorority girls with obscene phone calls, then after killing Clare and Mrs. Mac, he brings their bodies (his Exciting Objects) up into the attic. He kills them because he wishes to possess them. Were the police not to intervene, Billy would bring the bodies of Barb and Phyll up into the attic, too…as I imagine he’ll do with Jess, assuming he really kills her in the end.

The basement represents Fairbairn’s Anti-libidinal Ego (vaguely comparable to Freud’s harshly judgemental superego), linked to the Rejecting Object, or Internal Saboteur. Jess, assuming Peter to be the killer, not only rejects his advances towards her in the basement, but also bashes his brains in with the poker.

Though opposites (i.e., the top and bottom of the house), the attic and basement share a dialectical unity in terms of their symbolism as unhealthy, dysfunctional relationships between the self and other, or the subject and object. One isn’t supposed to relate to others in a fantasy world of imagination, be they such desirable objects as, say, pornographic models and actors/actresses–Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object–or the hated people of one’s imagination–Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object or Internal Saboteur. We’re supposed to relate to real people in the real world–Central Ego/Ideal Object.

Though most of the action of the film takes place on the ground and second floors, crucial plot points occur in the attic and basement: Billy’s entry into the house through the attic window, his hiding up there, his ‘decorating’ of the attic with Clare’s and Mrs. Mac’s corpses, his temper tantrum up there as a vivid indication of how disturbed he truly is, and Jess’s climactic confrontation with Peter in the basement. These crucial scenes thus direct the plot and character development of the film.

The secondary importance of the scenes on the ground and second floors, as much as they make up the majority of the film, symbolize how much lesser is the functioning of the Central Ego and Ideal Object, which is indicative of the extent to which alienation pervades the story. Indeed, we see a lot of alienation even on those two floors.

And this brings us to the final scenes of the film. The police arrive at the house, and a doctor sedates Jess. Since it’s assumed that Peter is the killer, the police see no need to search anywhere else in the house. Phyll’s and Barb’s bodies are taken away, and Lt. Fuller (Saxon) leaves with most of the other police to talk to news reporters at the police station, leaving only one policeman to stand guard outside, on the front porch of the house.

Now that he knows that a murderer has killed a few sorority girls, Mr. Harrison so fears the worst for Clare that he goes into shock. The doctor and Chris have to take him out of the house, Chris trying to reassure him that there’s hope that his daughter may still be alive.

This leaves sleeping, sedated Jess all alone on the second floor of the house. The camera slowly moves over to Clare’s room, then up to the attic, where Billy still is, and where his first two victims’ bodies remain as ghoulish ‘Christmas decorations’ to be seen through the window.

Whatever Jess’s fate ends up being, her being left alone in the house with the still-undiscovered killer, who ends the film with that ominous telephone ringing, perfectly sums up the alienation that the film so unflinchingly expresses. This black Christmas is one that’s dialectically opposed to the white Christmas that’s supposed to be what the holiday’s all about: estrangement instead of togetherness, frustrated lust instead of fulfilled love, fear and terror instead of “peace on earth, goodwill to men,” modern despair instead of the familiar comforts of tradition, and death instead of birth. Such alienation and loneliness add a chilling depth to the horror of the film.

Silent night, evil night.

‘Sirens,’ a Horror Novella, Chapter Thirteen (Final)

“I’m glad we’ve finally had a chance to meet in person, Nancy,” Serena said. Nancy turned around to see her. She was holding a large book. “I’m Serena, the woman your brother and his friends gang-raped almost a month ago. Thank you for helping me get my revenge on him.”

“You BITCH!” Nancy screamed, slashing the air with the knife in an arc, trying to cut Serena in the belly. Serena dodged back and out of the way.

“You mean witch,” Serena said with a smirk, then with her book opened to the right page, added, “Haluma makh-toh.”

The knife slipped out of Nancy’s hand and flew back into the kitchen.

“I can get all kinds of aid from my spirit friends, thanks to this book. What made me bring it here, I have no idea. I certainly don’t need it here with me. But anyway, the spirits help anyone who has been terribly wronged, the way I was by your brother and his friends. That’s why he had to die. Try to understand, Nancy, and take comfort in the fact that, by helping avenge a rape victim, you’ve helped bring about justice.”

“Justice?! You made me stab my own brother to death! Justice would have put him and his friends in jail.”

“Justice is culturally biased, Nancy. In many cultures, the punishment for rape is the death penalty. In our culture, those boys’ defence attorney–had they been charged with rape–would have cross-examined me, asking me what I was wearing, and making the rape out to have been all my fault. You’re a woman; you know this. My spirits, though, guided me to find the right justice for those gang-rapists.”

Serena absent-mindedly put her open book on the floor by Nancy’s feet as she said those last words. Then she continued:

“Yes, my spirits have helped me every step of the way.” Serena walked away from her book, looking instead at the three Sirens by the door. “They always help in the avenging of victims, helping the most helpless.”

The Sirens smiled at Serena and began singing.

The book, still open at Nancy’s feet, showed a sea of black print, all in an ancient language incomprehensible to her, but in Roman script so at least the words were legible. A phrase among them was in glowing red, seeming to beckon Nancy to recite them.

Is this Deanna’s help? she wondered. It’s a little late, but at least I can avenge Eddie and stop Serena from using the Sirens on me.Peloki ha-teva!” Nancy chanted over and over again in an angry, sobbing voice.

“So, Nancy thinks she can use the book’s power on me, does she?” Serena said with a proud smirk. “I don’t think so. You see, Nancy, the Sirens are loyal to me, far more a victim of injustice than you could ever be. Tekarei hi-ko!

Nancy saw an apparition of not only Eddie’s spirit, but also that of their long-dead mother. Both of them hovered by her head in a glow of almost blinding golden light.

“Eddie? Mom?” Nancy sobbed. “I’ll avenge you, Eddie. I’m so sorry for stabbing you. It wasn’t my fault. That bitch Serena tricked me into doing it. Here: Peloki ha-teva!

“You don’t need to avenge him, Nancy,” her mother said in a soothing voice.

“I don’t blame you, Nancy,” Eddie’s spirit said. “I got what I deserved. Here in the spirit world, we understand things in ways we can’t in the flesh.”

Peloki ha-teva!” Nancy continued chanting, over and over.

“You don’t need to chant that, Nancy,” their mother’s spirit said. “Just let it go. Come with us, and find peace.” Her voice had a sing-song quality, as did Eddie’s.

Nancy was torn between the near-melodious allure of the spirits’ voices–as well as her urge to be reunited with her lost loved ones–and her suspicion that these apparitions were Serena’s doing. Though she felt herself intoxicated by them, being lulled out of her apartment while seeing a vision of a path between grassy fields on a sunny summer afternoon, being led up a hill and closer to a cloudless blue sky, she resolved to continue chanting “Peloki ha-teva!” in an angry growl.

Meanwhile, Serena kept gazing at her singing Sirens. “Yes, you, my good friends,” she said between grinning teeth, “you saved me in my darkest hour, when I limped home, my clothes half-torn off my body, my bruised, come-stained body. Deanna sold me that book of spells and incantations, and you three became my friends.”

Nancy continued ascending that hill while chanting “Peloki ha-teva!” in that angry, hoarse voice, with tears rolling down her cheeks as she beheld the spirits of her brother and mother.

Tekarei hi-ko!” Serena chanted while gazing at her Sirens with a grin.

“Forgive her, Nancy,” her mother said. “She’s suffered enough. Give yourself some peace.”

“Just follow us,” Eddie’s spirit said. “Join us in heaven, and all your pain will be gone.”

Nancy was about two-thirds of the way up that hill, at the summit of which was the glowing, fiery sun. (Actually, she was outside at night, walking up an incline on the sidewalk–in the direction opposite the one leading to the pub and the apartment of the gang-rape–at the top of which was a house that had just caught fire.)

**********

Serena, too, was being led off, but into Nancy’s kitchen. She sat at the kitchen table while the Sirens’ singing continued. Some paper and a pen were lying there. She picked up the pen, clicked it, and said, “Tekarei hi-ko!

**********

Nancy was nearing the top of the hill. The sun felt so close to her, it seemed a mere mile away. “Peloki ha-teva!” she grunted with an eternal frown and teary eyes.

“You don’t need to chant that, Nancy,” Eddie said. “I’m not mad at you. Just let go. Join Mom and me.”

“You’ll have peace, Nancy dear,” their Mom said. “We love you.”

“I love you, too,” Nancy sobbed. “And I forgive you, Eddie, for raping Serena.” She kept walking closer to the heat.

“That’s good, Nancy,” her mother said. “You can stop chanting now.”

**********

“You’re such good friends, my Sirens,” Serena said while writing on the paper, always smiling in her ecstasy. “You helped me get satisfaction for the outrage done against me.” Her writing was automatic; she didn’t seem to need to pay attention to the words she was writing. “I’ve received justice, true justice, not the fake justice of the courts of law that get rapists off by making the victim feel as if she’d ‘wanted it,’ so it ‘wasn’t rape.’ Those men got what they deserved.”

The vocal harmonies continued, and she kept writing, with tears rolling down her cheeks. Her hand shook as she wrote.

Tekarei hi-ko!

**********

Nancy was standing at the top of the hill. She felt as if she were standing right in front of the sun. Actually, she was now standing in front of the burning house. The sirens of fire trucks could be heard far off in the distance, but she couldn’t hear them over the sing-song voices of ‘Eddie’ and ‘Mom.’ No people were anywhere in the area to notice her and stop her from going in the house.

“Go inside,” ‘Mom’ told her. “It’s OK. We’ll all be together in heaven. This is the House of God.”

Indeed, Nancy now saw a huge church door before her.

“I wanna be with you, Mom, I really do,” Nancy sobbed. “But you aren’t real.”

“What do you mean, I’m not real?” ‘Mom’ asked. “That hurts me to hear it.”

“You aren’t real, either, Eddie,” Nancy sobbed. “I’d like you both to be, you aren’t. Peloki ha-teva!

**********

Serena, her face soaked in tears, finished writing her note. She stood up. “And now that I’ve had justice,” she sobbed, turning around and facing an old oven in the corner of the kitchen, “I can die in peace. I’ve murdered my rapists, but I can’t go on living with the memory of what they did to me.” She spoke these words like an automaton, as if almost reluctant to say them.

The Sirens’ singing continued as she walked with trembling legs towards the oven. She clicked on the gas with a shaky left hand, and with an even shakier right hand, opened the oven door.

Tekarei hi-ko!” she groaned, then slowly pushed her head in.

**********

Nancy struggled to keep her legs from taking her to the hot door of the house. The fire truck sirens were getting louder. Her feet dragged forward shakily, her shoes scraping against the pavement.

“Don’t doubt us, dear,” ‘Mom’ said melodiously. “We’re real. We want to help you.”

“Of course we’re real, Nancy,” ‘Eddie’ said in harmony with the voice of their ‘Mom.’ “Go inside and find peace.”

Peloki ha-teva!” Nancy screamed.

The vision disappeared. She was an inch or two from the door. She coughed from the smoke. The only sirens she heard now were from the fire trucks, which were several blocks away. Her feet felt rooted at the spot.

**********

Serena lay dead with her head in the oven. Her suicide note confessed to her having manipulated Nancy into stabbing Eddie. The stench of the gas filled the entire apartment.

**********

Good work, Nancy, Deanna’s calm voice buzzed in Nancy’s ears. You not only helped Serena achieve her revenge, you also killed her for me. Too bad you allowed your chanting to be so heated with your anger, for now the bad karma is on you, and you must die for your sins. Tekarei hi-ko.

Nancy felt compelled to grab the scorching hot doorknob and open it. She screamed in pain as she did so. Then she took two of the most reluctant steps ever inside.

You see, Nancy, Deanna’s eerily calm voice continued, I used to frequent dance clubs with Serena, but your handsome brother and his even more handsome friends always preferred her curvy figure to my great big, roly-poly shape, so I got envious. Still, unlike you and Serena, I knew how to keep my cool. So I manipulated the boys into thinking Serena wanted them to gang-bang her, and they raped her, thinking she wanted it, and never hearing her cries of ‘No!’ and ‘Stop it!’ Then I sold her the book of spells to kill them, and I goaded you into killing her by having her make you kill Eddie. I made you all feel the sinful emotions so I wouldn’t have to. And you have to take the bad karma for her death, so I won’t. You see, Nancy, I may have hated Serena, but she was also my sister.

By the time the firemen got to Nancy, she was already a screaming pillar of flames.

THE END