‘Slutlips,’ a Surreal, Psychological Horror Story: Chapter Four

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[NOTE: this is the fourth chapter (click here for the first, here for the second, and here for the third) of a psychological horror story based on an audio film of the same name by my musician friend, Cat Corelli, something I wrote up an analysis for; you can learn more about that here. Before you begin reading, though, TRIGGER WARNING: as a horror story, this one has some graphic content of a violent and sexual nature; so if you’re one of my readers with C-PTSD or other forms of psychological trauma, you may want to skip this one. As for you braver souls, though, read on…]

As Alice drifted back into unconsciousness, she remembered a dream of Lily’s, when the girl was thirteen years old. She was in Danny’s car, going along the Oregon coast on a vacation. She looked out the car window and sighed with a smile as she watched the peaceful ocean waves flowing by her side. Some Sixties saxophone lounge music, like something from a noir film, was playing on the car radio.

Alice heard a voice say, “It’s all beneath your skin,” as she felt herself returning to Lily’s head in that dark, mental ocean. Coming back into Lily’s consciousness, Alice wondered, What is all beneath my skin?

Now as Lily, she sat in the passenger’s seat, trying to ignore Daddy’s Dan’s non-steering, right hand on her knee. The sentence repeated in her mind over and over again, like a mantra: It’s all beneath your skin.

Lily herself was drifting off to sleep, and and in Lily’s dream, that mantra grew into a song.

The Mystery Girl’s voice said, “.ecilA, pu ekaw ot emiT”

Lily got scared, and the wind blew heavier, howling against her slightly-opened car window. Her consciousness, merged with that of Alice, sank deeper into farther removed states of unconsciousness…beyond repressed memories, and into dreams within dreams.

It was like going into a dark basement cellar, then opening a secret door in the floor and entering a second basement cellar below, even darker than the first, then going down into a third, even darker cellar, and so on, and so on…

Finally, fully as Lily, she saw herself as a teen with Danny somewhere in the country, near the Alps. The June sun was shining in an ocean of blue skies, with only occasional white islands for clouds. Cows and sheep could be heard grazing on the grass.

Danny was wearing lederhosen, and she, sixteen, was in a dirndl. Her hair was in pigtails, each arching cutely over her ears.

He looked down at her, with lustful eyes thinly disguised as loving. She looked up at him and frowned.

“How lovely you are,” he said in a badly-mimicked German accent. He put his arm around her and tried to pull her up close to him. She resisted.

“Daddy, no,” she said in a trembling voice.

“I can’t let go of such a treasure,” he said, still in the faux German accent.

She avoided his eyes and looked at his legs. No longer in lederhosen, he now wore black pants and black leather shoes.

“Please, Daddy, let me go,” she said, struggling to pull free from his tight grip. She looked up and saw him in a uniform of the SS.

He looked down at her with cruel eyes. No longer in Danny Torrance’s body, her father now had the form of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda.

“You must obey your father, you little bitch!” He slapped her.

She drifted still further into a deeper, darker level of unconsciousness. Lily was swimming on waves of pitch black…or trying to swim, for she looked behind herself and saw only one leg! The bloody stump where the other leg should have been was dying the black water red.

She struggled to keep her head above water. She panted in desperation for air. She felt her face often sink below, the reddish-black water rising to her eyes.

Soon, she found herself swimming in nothing but red. Only the sky was black. She could hardly see anything.

She passed out, and fell into an even deeper level of unconsciousness.

Now she found herself in a brightly-lit hotel lobby. The elevators were directly in front of her, about ten metres away.

Blood started pouring through the side openings of the elevator doors. The red filled the lobby like the Great Flood.

What is this? Alice thought. The Overlook Hotel?

She felt that blood gushing out of her leg-stump like a cascade of red. Lily’s skin grew lighter and lighter. She looked like a living corpse.

It’s all beneath my skin, Lily thought, over and over again.

Then she heard the voice of a man by her left ear. He said, in a badly imitated southern accent, “Time to wake up, pretty girl.”

‘Slutlips,’ a Surreal, Psychological Horror Story: Chapter Three

 

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[NOTE: this is the third chapter (click here for the first, and here for the second) of a psychological horror story based on an audio film of the same name by my musician friend, Cat Corelli, something I wrote up an analysis for; you can learn more about that here. Before you begin reading, though, TRIGGER WARNING: as a horror story, this one has some graphic content of a violent and sexual nature; so if you’re one of my readers with C-PTSD or other forms of psychological trauma, you may want to skip this one. As for you braver souls, though, read on…]

Alice woke up at about two o’clock in the afternoon. Her whole body was in throbbing agony from the hangover she’d worked so hard the night before to drink herself into.

She seemed to be drowning in the seas of her feeble ego-state; then, with effort, she rose from the carpet she’d been sleeping on and looked at herself in the mirror on the hotel room’s dresser.

“There I am,” she gasped. “Thank God.”

Then she looked down and saw blood stains by her feet.

What are those drops on the carpet? she wondered, then the memory of the night before faded back into her mind. “Oh, yeah…”

She turned on a radio on the bedside table and set it to the local news-station. As the news played, she went into the bathroom and washed the rest of her victim’s blood off her face. The stains on her dress would have to wait ’til she got back home (if she’d be safe from the cops there). Besides, the red and black stripes on her dress obscured the blood well enough for cleaning it not to be urgent.

The news continued playing as she scrubbed the stains off the carpet with an old rag she found in the bathroom. By the time she’d almost finished getting those red drops off, she–in spite of her relatively dissociative state–heard the radio announcer say, “The search is ongoing for the murderer of Ray Terence, a man found with his throat cut in the alley between the NRG Club and the Eden.”

Alice heard the announcer say, ‘Roy Torrance,’ ‘Energy Club,’ and ‘The E-Den.’

“Oh, my fucking God,” she whispered, eyes agape, then she put her hand on her mouth. Looking away from the mirror, but still half-listening to the news report, she felt those ocean waves carrying her off into another ego-less reverie.

She heard the voices of two men investigating the case. It sounded as if they were…maybe…being interviewed by the radio announcer. She saw dark waves enveloping her in a vortex of darker and darker grey, fading into that black spiral.

Inspector Trudeau said, “The slash on Roy’s neck. It looks big enough to be the slash of a machete.”

FBI Agent Curtis spoke in a gravelly near-Brooklyn accent; it sounded cheesily stereotypical of crime investigators in noir novels or films. He said to Trudeau, “So…the report says there were teeth marks on his skin, as if he was bein’ sucked by a vampire, or a psycho who thinks he…or she…is a vampire. Barely distinguishable from the goddamn machete cut, if that was the murder weapon, but still, there…That’s not quite a typical case, is it?”

“Pretty far from typical, agent,” Trudeau said.

“Do ya figure the killer has any connections to Satanic sects, devil worshippers, maybe?”

“None so far that we can see.”

“Do you know know anything about who the killer might be?” Curtis asked. “Anything that could lead to him…or her? Background? Occupation? Family members?”

Every time Curtis referred to the killer as possibly female, Alice felt a chill go through her. Just this once, she thought, it would be great to hear a sexist use of pronouns.

“Well, the victim’s name is…Terence…or Torrance…something like that–I don’t have the file with me,” Trudeau said. “But this killing happened outside a bar, so I doubt there’s any family connection with the killer, or close friendship, or anything like that.”

Alice breathed a sigh of relief.

“In any case,” Trudeau continued, “our Winchester boys in South Dakota are on the case. They’re informing the victim’s brother…one Donny, or is it Danny? I don’t remember. If you like, I’ll tell them to ask if there’s a possibility of anyone in the victim’s family wanting to kill Roy. Anyway, that’s all for now.”

“Thank you, inspector,” Curtis said.

Alice turned off the radio and shuddered to hear the name Danny.

He was Roy’s brother…and her father.

But…was he Alice’s father…or Lily’s?

Still spinning down that black spiral, Alice couldn’t remember.

“Lily,…Lily,…” she whispered in the darkness. The waves returned, the undulating shifting from absolute black to a dark grey.

The current of waters surrounding her brought Lily’s head near. Alice’s consciousness entered the head…

…Lily, eighteen, was on all fours on a large bed with wrinkled blue sheets. As the bed creaked and jerked back and forth with Roy on top of her, the sheets looked like rolling ocean waves.

Beside them on the bed were Lily’s father Danny, and a girl about Lily’s age, who was getting doggy-style from him, just as Lily was getting it from Roy. Also as in the case with Lily, the other girl’s face was hidden by her hair and her tears.

As the men were invading them, Danny chanted, “We’re…the sons of God, coming into…the daughters…of men!”

All the girls could hope for was a quick end to the ordeal.

“The sons of God…are good…men of God,” Roy grunted between thrusts. “We’re…the descendants…of Seth!”

“You daughters…of men,” Danny panted, “are descended…from Cain…You’re wicked…you tempted us…you look…like sluts!”

“Your hot…slut-lips,” Roy moaned, “make us want…your slit-lips.”

“You’ve earned,” Danny sighed, “God’s wrath.”

I wish God’s wrath would cause the Great Flood to wash you two away, Lily thought. An endless ocean to purify me of your filth. Envelop us, ocean.

The pain of the men’s stabbing was getting overwhelming. The girls felt more and more blood coming from their insides.

Suddenly, the queen’s voice was heard: “Off with their heads!”

A Great Flood, indeed, came and enveloped them all. Alice’s consciousness left Lily’s head, which Alice could barely make out rolling away under the water. She saw other dismembered body parts whisk past her like hurrying schools of fish being chased by a shark.

As the dark waves continued to flow around her, Alice heard an unintelligible voice repeat something to her.

A female voice said, “ecilA ,pu ekaw ot emiT.”

I’ve heard that weird woman’s voice before, Alice thought. Who is she? She feels so close to me, yet so far away, too. Is she a part of me,…or am I a part of her?

“lrig ytterp ,pu ekaw ot emiT,” the Mystery Girl said again.

The dark waves were getting a bit lighter, and Alice rose to her feet, saw herself in the mirror again, and tried to ignore her pounding hangover. She looked down.

“Fuck,” she hissed. “I’ve still got some drops on the carpet.”

Too exhausted and still too much in pain, she collapsed on that spotty carpet.

She heard a voice–it sounded like Daisy’s–say, “Lily…It’s all beneath your skin.”

The waves grew darker again. She lay there, hovering between consciousness and unconsciousness…

‘Slutlips,’ a Surreal, Psychological Horror Story: Chapter Two

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[NOTE: this is the second chapter (click here for the first) of a psychological horror story based on an audio film of the same name by my musician friend, Cat Corelli, something I wrote up an analysis for; you can learn more about that here. Before you begin reading, though, TRIGGER WARNING: as a horror story, this one has some graphic content of a violent and sexual nature; so if you’re one of my readers with C-PTSD or other forms of psychological trauma, you may want to skip this one. As for you braver souls, though, read on…]

Those ocean waves, all around her mind and in it, were making it difficult for Alice to keep walking straight on the sidewalk. A couple of times, her high heels clopped off the curb, and she almost walked into the road. The honking of car horns pushed her back onto the sidewalk.

She needed a unified self to keep stable. Her reflection in the store windows, dark in the night oblivion, and further off from her than her mirror at home when she’d stood before it, wasn’t clear or detailed enough to reassure her that Alice was indeed Alice. She needed another self for her body to assume.

Among those waves that rose and fell in her mind, she saw the floating heads of Daisy and Lily. “Daisy,” she called out.

Her consciousness entered that head. Animating it, she now saw a different world: a sidewalk during the day.

She skipped on the sidewalk like a carefree little girl, singing the main riff from a song called “Scapegod” as she approached school one weekday morning. Trees lined the sides of the sidewalk. Birds were chirping. It was a lovely day.

She looked down at herself and saw her now-teenage body in a Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform, with a white blouse and a red-and-black plaid miniskirt, instead of the red-and-black striped dress Alice had been wearing. Also, instead of the black fishnet stockings and high heels Alice had had on when leaving the apartment, Daisy was now wearing knee-high white socks and black leather shoes.

She’d gone from slut to sweetie.

She arrived at the ‘school’ and opened the door. No student chatting or horseplay, though. No teachers monitoring the halls with disapproving scowls. Electronic music was blasting all around her, as palpable and thick as those enveloping mental waters. She also saw mirrors for walls, everywhere. It was safe to be Alice again.

Safe for her–not safe for the man she’d take home.

She removed her consciousness from the Daisy-head, ignored the surrounding water, and looked at herself in those mirrors on the walls. No longer did she see a sweet teen in a Catholic schoolgirl uniform. Now, she saw thirty-something Alice, in that tight-fitting, red-and-black striped dress.

Reassured of her distinct ego, she lit a cigarette, took a drag from it, and looked around the bar. She saw a familiar face…or at least one that reminded her of someone from her remote past.

She slid in among the sea of gyrators on the dance floor. A special guest DJ was doing a show for the club.

She swayed her ass to the pounding beat. Her eyes met those of the man. Her eyes’ lewdness set a snare for him.

As she looked further off to find her reassuring reflection in those wall mirrors, she thought, That guy kind of looks like Uncle Roy, Daddy’s twin brother. Looking at him is, in a way, almost like looking in a mirror. She eyed him again.

Her undulating curves continued their enticing dance for him. As he approached, though, she slid into the crowd of dancers. She was submerged in that ocean of bodies, invisible to him.

No matter, he thought. I’ll wait for her outside.

An hour later, she–wasted–stepped through a side doorway of the club and into a dark alley. Without any mirrors, Alice saw and felt only dark waves. The decapitated heads of those girls floated by in her mind. Instead of her addressing them, and them ignoring her, though, it was the reverse.

She just barely heard Daisy’s voice, “Hi, Alice!”

Lost in her thoughts, in that black ocean of oblivion, Alice just sailed by. She sensed the presence of that man as she passed him. Roy Torrance, she thought. It is him.

“Hey!” he shouted to get her attention as he stepped out from the shadows. “Our eyes met when you were on the dance floor, then you disappeared. You’re hot, in a kind of vampiress way.”

Vampiress? she mused as she turned around to look at him. I could play that role for him.

“Are you, like, BloodRayne, or something?” he asked.

Looking in his eyes, she was reconfirmed in her mind that he was her uncle. She smiled to see a face that, as hateful as it was to her, was nonetheless like a mirror reflection. She was sure of herself in seeing him as one acknowledging the reality of her existence. One who once dominated her, but who now would be dominated by her. “Yeah,” she sighed.

“Cool!” he said, looking her up and down and licking his lips. “Do you suck?”

“Oh, yeah,” she purred with a lascivious smirk.

“So,” he grunted, sliding his fingers up and down her bare arm as he stared at her tits, “You wanna do it?”

“Yeah.” She giggled lewdly. She plunged her tongue into his mouth. He grabbed her ass as she reached into her purse. Their tongues slithered over and under each other.

Then, she felt his hand sliding up her dress. A memory flashed before her mind’s eye: Daddy and Uncle Roy taking turns on Lily…when she was only twelve! She remembered Roy’s hand approaching that part of her body back then. Definitely not a turn-on for her.

Alice bit off the tip of his tongue and swallowed it.

“Aah!” he screamed, pulling away. “What are you doing, you toffer?” he shouted in an inarticulate voice, as if he had no teeth. He kept moaning in disorientation as she pulled a switchblade out of her purse.

What am I doing? she thought. Sucking your blood.

She slashed with the knife in a sweeping arc, the blade slicing through his throat and spraying blood everywhere. He fell to the ground, his body shaking as he coughed blood. Then his body stopped shaking.

She reached down for his neck and began feeding on his blood. As she sucked and drank it down, thoughts raced through her mind: Come into me, Uncle Roy. Be a part of me. You always liked being inside me: now’s your chance. We’ll be one now. She cackled for a moment.

Though she couldn’t see his face in the dark, she knew something was wrong. She suddenly remembered–this couldn’t be Roy.

She stopped sucking and pulled away. “Wait a minute!” she said. “Shit! He was already dead.” Uncle Roy’s been dead for the past five years…hasn’t he? she thought, her head swimming and swaying. I don’t remember…

She rose to her feet, and waddled and stumbled a bit. Instead of seeing dark blue ocean waves, now she saw a black spiral. A void. Blacker and blacker. She felt dizzy. Keeping her balance was difficult. She almost fell again.

She heard a siren further off in the background. Was it the cops? Did they hear his screaming and shouting? She felt the man’s blood dripping off her face. She had to get away. Fast.

As she staggered out of the alley, she took a handkerchief from her purse and wiped her face clean as best she could. Afraid the police would trace her to her apartment, she sneaked into a dive of a hotel just further down the alley, and checked in for the night. Her mind still in that black vortex state, she never noticed the strange look the man at the counter gave her when she paid for her room and got the key from him.

She went into her room and collapsed on the furry carpet by the bed. Within a minute, she lost consciousness.

‘Slutlips,’ a Surreal, Psychological Horror Story: Chapter One

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[NOTE: this is the beginning of a psychological horror story based on an audio film of the same name by my musician friend, Cat Corelli, something I wrote up an analysis for; you can learn more about that here. Before you begin reading, though, TRIGGER WARNING: as a horror story, this one has some graphic content of a violent and sexual nature; so if you’re one of my readers with C-PTSD or other forms of psychological trauma, you may want to skip this one. As for you braver souls, though, read on…]

Alice looked at herself in the mirror as she applied cherry-red lipstick to her lower lip. The face in the reflection was a painted beauty. She smiled.

Her flowing, wavy auburn hair, her piercing brown eyes, her almost ghost-like skin–except for the pink blush on her cheeks, the dark blue eye shadow going from her eyelids up to her brown-pencilled eyebrows, and those aforementioned cherry lips–and the dark red and black striped dress that draped from just under her white shoulders; all of this in the mirror reflection gave her reassurance of a woman, a unified, coherent entity.

This was comforting, for everything on the other side, where she stood, her unseen self–if it even was a self–felt spastic, uncontrollable, broken in pieces, even merged with the surroundings. Where did she end, and where did everything else begin?

Only mirrors gave her assurance of being whole. Seeing a whole body, all together, in the reflection gave her peace. Looking away from it, she’d begin to feel as if in pieces. She’d have to look back at the reflection to remind herself that she was all in one piece. Still, she couldn’t just stare at her reflection forever. She had to walk away from the mirror if she was going to go to the bar and pick up a dude to take back here and screw…in more ways than one.

Away from the mirror, she always felt as if her body was either being torn limb from limb, like a victim in a Romero zombie flick, or already thus torn apart. Her mind was perpetually in a nightmare state, her dismembered parts floating in the ocean as if her murderer had thrown her naked body parts in the water.

In this hallucinatory state, she sometimes saw a penis and a castrated, hairy sack of balls floating by her arms and legs, as if the male genitalia were hers.

“Off with her head!” a familiarly regal woman’s voice shouted in Alice’s mind.

Her consciousness would shift up and down, lighter and darker, in oceanic waves. With those undulating movements, she’d see naked body parts other than her own mixed with hers. There were torsos, sometimes male, but usually female. The decapitated heads of young women were most familiar to her.

“Off with her head!” she heard again, off in the distance.

It sometimes seemed that those bobbing female heads were hers.

She’d call out their names. “Daisy, Lily,…” she’d sigh.

As the wave-like movements of her consciousness continued slowly vibrating up and down, she’d see the world through the eyes of each of those heads. Often, with her consciousness inhabiting one of the heads, she’d feel whole, in a unified body. She’d look down at herself and smile to see a body…for a while, at least.

Then she’d hear, “Off with her head!” again, and she’d leave that head and haunt another, like a ghost animating a body.

Indeed, she put the psychosis into metempsychosis.

After her wavy reverie, Alice looked back into the mirror.

Her made-up face was putana perfection.

“Oh, my God,” she said with a Lilith-like vocal fry. “You look like a slut.” She grinned at her image with almost serrated teeth. “Those are slut-lips.” She pursed them, then touched herself between her legs. “And those are my slit-lips.” She giggled and licked her lips.

She could hear music in her mind’s ear. It sounded almost like a harpsichord playing Baroque music…or was it a pair of acoustic guitars, with bluesy fingers bending strings? She wasn’t sure: the two musical styles shifted back and forth like those waves in her mind.

She chanted along with the rhythm of the music. “Everybody wants you, everybody needs you, everybody hates you, everybody bleeds you, everybody wants you, everybody needs you, everybody fucks you, everybody kills you.”

At the sound of those verbs, she looked away from the mirror, and the hallucinations resumed. She felt hands grabbing her. Her breasts and ass-cheeks were being squeezed ‘til it hurt. Fingers went up her pussy and ass…then the fingers felt like fists; she felt blood dripping from down there.

Then, the fists inside her felt like phalluses ramming in and out of her; it felt like repeated punches. More blood.

Those grabbing hands were all over her, seeming to be tearing her dress and underwear off. At first, it felt like a dozen hands; then it felt like only two. Now she felt as if naked, shaking before the mirror, her eyes squeezed shut. She moaned a mix of pain and sexual excitement.

She opened her eyes. The face of her father, on top of her and sweating like a pig. A creaking, shaking bed under both of them.

Now those two phalluses felt like knives. An ocean of blood.

She looked around and saw all those dismembered body parts floating in the waves of red.

“Daisy, Lily,…” she sighed with each phallic stab.

She looked up into the eyes of her smirking, fucking father.

She showed him her serrated grin. His smirk turned upside-down.

She bit him hard on the nose. His blood sprayed out in all directions. He screamed so loud, it pierced her eardrums.

The hallucination vanished. She looked at herself in the mirror and grinned.

That horror had given her inspiration: she knew what she had to do.

“Oh, my God,” she said again in that vocal fry. “You look like a slut.”

She picked up her purse, left the mirror, turned off the lights, and left her apartment. As she walked in the direction of the local bar, her high heels clanking on the sidewalk, she felt those waves all around her…and through her.

Analysis of ‘Carrie’

Carrie is a horror novel written by Stephen King, his first published novel, which came out in 1974. The title character is a troubled teen, bullied by her high school classmates and abused by her Christian fundamentalist mother. She also has telekinetic powers (TK), strong enough to kill anyone who hurts her, as the people of her town, fictional Chamberlain, in Maine, learn.

A superb movie version was made in 1976, directed by Brian De Palma and starring Sissy Spacek in the title role, and Piper Laurie as the mother (both actresses receiving Oscar nominations); it co-starred  John Travolta as Billy Nolan, Nancy Allen as Chris Hargensen, and Amy Irving as Sue Snell. Other film versions were made, though they weren’t as successful.

The dominant themes of the novel are bullying and abuse, the illusion of omnipotence, failed communication, and the motif of blood. Apart from these, I’ll be doing a psychoanalytic reading of the novel’s symbolism.

Much of the narrative is given in epistolary form, with passages from newspaper or magazine articles, books about the Carrie White affair (The Shadow Exploded, My Name Is Susan Snell), transcripts of an inquiry (The White Commission Report) into the tragedy, etc. This breaking up of the narrative flow into fragments, telling the story from different angles, symbolically suggests failed communication, with its starts and stops. This failed communication is much of the root cause of the bullying and abuse that Carrie suffers.

Like most victims of school bullying, Carrie is different from her classmates. This difference comes from how she’s raised by her mother, Margaret White (white as the Christian innocence she tries–and fails–to preserve), whose religious fundamentalism won’t allow her to expose her daughter to the ‘sinful’ ways of the modern world. This failure to communicate needed information leaves Carrie in a state of arrested development, infantilizing her. Psychologically, Carrie White (white as a baby’s innocence) is a baby going to school with teenagers.

This infantilizing is made clear when her mother fails to tell her about menstruation, her first period being her rite of passage, as it were, into womanhood. So when she’s bleeding in the shower during gym class, what should be a simple matter of using a tampon ends up a terrifying moment for her: all that blood makes her think she’s going to die.

Adding to her trauma are all her bullying classmates, who start laughing at her and throwing tampons at her, chanting, “Plug it up! Plug it up!” Since, as noted above, she is psychologically a baby among teenagers here, instead of this being a passage from girlhood to womanhood, she’s held back by one phase of life, passing from unborn to born, from unknowing innocence to the terrors of the real world, like a newborn baby. Thus, this naked, terrified ‘baby’, dripping wet and bawling her eyes out, is symbolically experiencing a birth trauma, or at least the triggered reliving of it.

Blood as a motif symbolizing death runs throughout the novel. The flow of blood signifies movement from ignorance to knowledge. Carrie finally learns about menstruation, and she is angry with her mother for not telling her about it; but her mother (pages 62-66) equates the blood with sin (e.g., the Tree of Knowledge, of which eating the forbidden fruit, symbolic of sexual indulgence, leads to death).

“…the first Sin was Intercourse. And the Lord visited Eve with a Curse, and the Curse was the Curse of Blood. And Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden and into the World…” (page 63) Out of the Garden of Eden and into the world of sin parallels Carrie’s bloody movement out of the world of innocence into knowledge, out of a peaceful, psychological in utero state and into birth, into the physical, painful world, a world of blood. “And then there was a second Curse, and this was the Curse of Childbearing, and Eve brought forth Cain in sweat and blood.” (pages 63-64) Again, we have an association of blood with newborn babies, curses, pain, suffering, and death (Cain, the first murderer).

Later, the pigs’ blood, first being the result of the pigs’ deaths, of course, later becomes the cause of so many deaths not only in the high school, but all over Chamberlain, too. And with the splashing of that blood all over her comes the realization that her enemies are still enemies. The outflowing of her menstrual blood is her projected destructive instincts; the pigs’ blood poured on her is that death instinct re-introjected.

With the flowing of her blood from her mother’s stab (page 250) comes her knowledge that her filicidal mother is no less an enemy than her school bullies. Margaret is all the ‘bad motherobject; not even the slightest trace of the ‘good mother’ object exists in her. After Carrie finally dies in the presence of Sue Snell, one of the few people who tried to be a friend to Carrie, Sue leaves in a state of abject horror, in a knowledge of that horror and death, with her own menstrual blood running down her leg (page 277).

In the contemporary world, with all of our advanced science, technology, and modern knowledge, being raised in a fundamentalist family is a terrible handicap. So much ignorance of today’s world abounds in such a setting; it’s like being a naïve child among a crowd of adults. This is what I mean when I call Carrie a psychological baby among teenagers. Thus, I feel justified in using her story as an allegory for the pathological infant’s psychological state.

When we see a baby, we usually think of an adorable child smiling up at us. We don’t think of the terror that a vulnerable child feels so very often, weeping its frustrations at not getting what it needs. Normally, a good enough parent (to use D.W. Winnicott‘s terminology) provides for all of the baby’s needs well enough in the beginning that the baby is given the illusion that it magically provides for itself: the breast magically appears as soon as the baby wants it.

“The mother, at the beginning, by an almost 100 per cent adaptation affords the infant the opportunity for the illusion that her breast is part of the infant. It is, as it were, under magical control. The same can be said in terms of infant care in general, in the quiet times between excitements. Omnipotence is nearly a fact of experience. The mother’s eventual task is gradually to disillusion the infant, but she has no hope of success unless at first she has been able to give sufficient opportunity for illusion.” (Winnicott, page 238, his emphasis)

With Margaret’s calling Carrie’s breasts her “dirtypillows” (page 142), thus showing that she considers the breast to be only a ‘bad breast’, it can be safely assumed that she hardly, if ever, breast-fed Carrie when she was a baby. It’s not just the milk that the baby enjoys; the texture of the nipple provides pleasure, too, so bottles aren’t always a good substitute. Thus, Margaret is what Melanie Klein called the bad mother, whose frustrating bad breast rarely if ever gave suck to baby Carrie. This willful refusal to provide her baby with a basic need shows a child neglect that would soon grow into full-blown child abuse.

This failure to provide a good enough environment can lead to pathologies in the infant, as Winnicott noted. Margaret, with her prudish attitude towards sex and the body, would have been loath to hold her child or give her any physical affection. This is more emotional neglect, aggravating Carrie’s mental pathology. Carrie’s whole problem is a lack of love, which needs to be grounded in the body.

A healthy infancy involves a child’s peaceful “going on being,” without impingements frustrating that natural, peaceful, passive continuity in life. Not only isn’t she receiving a loving, holding environment, people frequently cut into her private space, bothering her, abusing her, and bullying her. If it isn’t her classmates throwing tampons at her, it’s her mother locking her in a small closet with frightening religious icons so she can pray for forgiveness (pages 65-67), when surely she is one more sinn’d against than sinning.

A baby in such an uncaring, hostile environment goes through terrible persecutory anxiety, the paranoid-schizoid position, as Carrie is going through. When asked out to the prom by Tommy Ross, she can only assume that it’s another trick from her bullying classmates to set her up for humiliation. The impingements she regularly suffers make her want to isolate herself from the world, as Winnicott said a child would want to do: an overly-aggressive environment makes for “…faulty adaptation to the child, resulting in impingement of the environment so that the individual must become a reactor to that impingement. The sense of self is lost in this situation and is only regained by a return to isolation.” (Winnicott, page 222)

“The persecutors in the new phenomenon, the outside, become neutralized in ordinary healthy development by the fact of the mother’s loving care, which physically (as in holding) and psychologically (as in understanding or empathy, enabling sensitive adaptation), makes the individual’s primary isolation a fact. Environmental failure just here starts the individual off with a paranoid potential…In defence against the terrible anxieties of the paranoid state in very early life there is not infrequently organized a state which has been given various names (defensive pathological introversion, etc.) The infant lives permanently in his or her own inner world which is not, however, firmly organized.” (Winnicott, pages 226-227) Recall Carrie’s words to Sue as she’s dying: “(why didn’t you just leave me alone)” (page 275).

Defenceless and without the infantile illusion of omnipotence that a good enough mother provides in normal circumstances, Carrie is forced to retreat into phantasy to provide herself with that omnipotence, which is symbolized by her telekinesis. “…a rain of stones fell from a clear blue sky…principally on the home of Mrs. Margaret White, damaging the roof extensively…Mrs. White, a widow, lives with her three-year-old daughter, Carietta.” (page 3) Her ability to move things with her mind is symbolic of the baby magically making the breast appear at feeding time, when Margaret probably never did it herself. This frustrating bad mother provokes wishes for revenge in Carrie’s phantasy life, represented by her TK.

People who are abused or bullied are essentially infantilized, treated as if weak and helpless, but never given compassion: their feelings and opinions are trivialized and invalidated. Carrie’s mother shows no interest in the pain Carrie feels from having been laughed at for not knowing about menstruation, nor does Margaret care that Carrie is mad at her for not telling her about it.

Carrie’s feelings are cared for so little that even when people do care, she thinks they don’t, as when the assistant principal, Mr. Morton, tries to speak kindly to her, but keeps getting her name wrong (pages 18-19). This is also why she indiscriminately kills people all over Chamberlain instead of just killing Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan, the ones responsible for the prank with the pigs’ blood.

A few people want to show genuine kindness to Carrie, though it’s a case of too little, too late: Miss Desjardin, the gym teacher (Miss Collins in the 1976 movie, played by Betty Buckley, who also played Margaret White in the Broadway musical version of 1988), Sue Snell, and Tommy Ross. Sue, feeling remorseful over having participated in the “plug it up” teasing, wants her boyfriend Tommy to take Carrie to the prom, to get her to mix with people and build her self-confidence (pages 95-98).

This getting insular Carrie to socialize is symbolically like a baby experiencing the transitional phase between the illusory state of omnipotence (able to summon Mother at will) and reality-testing, where the baby progressively learns to accept that Mother isn’t always there for it, and environmental impingements are at a tolerable level. During this transitional period, the baby has a transitional object (a stuffed animal, a blanket, or, by extension into adult life, creative or imaginative stimuli like the arts or religion). As Winnicott states, “The transitional object stands for the breast, or the object of the first relationship.” (Winnicott, page 236)

For Carrie, the dress she makes for the prom can be seen to represent this transitional object (recall how, when her mother sees her wearing it, she can see her breasts, i.e., note the association of the dress, the transitional object, with breasts). She bought the materials (page 107) and made the dress (a soft material, like that of a security blanket), similar to how the arts and creativity are like an extension of the transitional object into later life. This making of the dress represents aspects of the task of reality-acceptance, away from the illusion of infantile omnipotence: “It is assumed here that the task of reality-acceptance is never completed, that no human being is free from the strain of relating inner and outer reality, and that relief from this strain is provided by an intermediate area of experience which is not challenged (arts, religion, etc.).” (Winnicott, page 240)

By wearing the dress when Tommy takes her to the prom, she symbolically demonstrates the transitional phenomena of going from “me,” the isolated world of dependence on Mother when the baby sees Mother as an extension of itself, to a “not-me” understanding, based on a growing independence from Mother. Carrie’s leaving home with Tommy, in open defiance of her mother, symbolizes this separation of “me” from “not-me”. “It is usual to refer to ‘reality-testing’, and to make a clear distinction between apperception and perception. I am here staking a claim for an intermediate state between a baby’s inability and growing ability to recognize and accept reality. I am therefore studying the substance of illusion, that which is allowed to the infant, and which in adult life is inherent in art and religion.” (Winnicott, page 230, his emphasis)

At the prom, she has a brief moment of happiness, finally feeling accepted by the external world. She has even forgotten her telekinesis, since she doesn’t seem to need it (i.e., she’s letting go of her need of the infantile illusion of omnipotence). But Chris’s cruel prank (ruining her dress, her transitional object, and thus rendering impossible her transition from inner fantasy to outer reality) reminds her of her ever-present persecutors, and like a baby suffering in the paranoid-schizoid position and fighting back against a frustrating outer world in phantasy, so does Carrie get her revenge. “She was forgetting (!! THE POWER !!) It was time to teach them a lesson.” (page 220)

Having been subjected to bullying and emotional abuse myself from family and school, I find myself cheering Carrie on whenever I watch the 1976 movie and she’s using her TK to trap and kill everyone in the high school gym. “Flex.” (page 222)

But her TK doesn’t give her the omnipotence against the danger of her knife-wielding mother, who won’t “suffer a witch to live” (page 175). Nor will Margaret’s fundamentalist faith give her an omnipotent God to save her from Carrie (who kills her in the novel by slowing down and stopping her heartbeat; in the 1976 film, Carrie kills her by making knives fly in the air and stab her to death in a manner similar to the death of St. Sebastian).

Chris imagines her lawyer father can help her get revenge on the school for not firing Desjardin for hitting her (pages 77-84); and she’s bitterly disappointed to know he can’t. This spoiled girl doesn’t have the omnipotence she thinks she has. She never considers how her meanness has consequences. Even after Carrie has already destroyed much of Chamberlain, killed many of the people there, and given everyone the uncanny sense, psychically, that she was responsible for all the mayhem, Chris and Billy imagine they can kill her by hitting her with his car (pages 260-262). Instead, she kills them.

One indication of Carrie’s infantile mental state is her calling her mother, ‘Momma’, one of the first sounds a baby makes in its baby talk; hence the reason that some variation on ‘mama‘ is common in languages around the world for the first object relation most of us form in early life.

Many paradoxes can be seen in this novel (“…she was weeping even as she laughed…” page 226). Blood is associated with death and birth (remember Margaret’s words: “Eve brought forth Cain in sweat and blood.” page 64; also, “I fell down and I lost the baby and that was God’s judgment. I felt that the sin had been expiated. By blood. But sin never dies. Sin…never…dies.” page 247). There are failures to communicate, then there’s Carrie’s uncanny ability to make everyone in town know, psychically, that she’s responsible for the destruction of Chamberlain (pages 213, 229-30, 232-33, 235, 241, 244, and 256).

Also paradoxical about this story is how people seem powerful, but are really powerless, and this applies especially to Carrie. With all of her formidable powers of telekinesis, and all the death and destruction she causes just by thinking it, she is still, in her mind, just a baby: sensitive, vulnerable, fragile, and helpless. One stab to her shoulder kills her. “Able to start fires, pull down electric cables, able to kill almost by thought alone; lying here unable to turn herself over.” (page 272)

Similarly, her bullies think they’re immune to punishment when they’re throwing tampons at her, then find themselves in detention, doing exercises with Desjardin in gym class (page 74). Chris and Billy don’t think anything will happen to them after they drop the pigs’ blood on Carrie. And Margaret assumes she’ll go straight to heaven after death, even when she stabs her own daughter.

So often, we think about our own vulnerability so much that we forget about that of our enemies; and so often, this is the basis for our hurting each other, without end.

At the beginning of the story, Carrie fears bleeding to death when she needn’t; at the end, after she’s reached the height of her destructive powers, she bleeds to death for real. As she’s dying, she whines, like a baby, “(momma would be alive i killed my momma i want her o it hurts my chest hurts my shoulder o o o i want my momma…o momma i’m scared momma MOMMA)” (page 275). She is going through the depressive position, wishing to have reparation with her mother, despairing at her loss.

Though Sue wants to show Carrie love, it’s too late: psychological baby Carrie has lived her whole short life unloved, and is hated all the more after death “CARRIE WHITE IS BURNING FOR HER SINS JESUS NEVER FAILS” (page 287).

Could anything be more horrifying than wishing death and eternal suffering on a baby, a baby that was never even truly loved in the first place?

“Graffiti scratched on a desk of the Barker Street Grammar School in Chamberlain:

Carrie White eats shit.” (page 4)

Stephen King, Carrie, Anchor Books, New York, 1974

D.W. Winnicott, Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis: Collected Papers, Brunner-Routledge, London, 1992

Analysis of ‘The Shining’

The Shining is a supernatural horror novel written by Stephen King and published in 1977. It was his third published novel, after Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot. It was made into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1980; and while the initial critical response to the film was mixed (with King especially disliking how Kubrick changed huge portions of the story), it is now considered one of the best horror movies ever made. King had a well-received made-for-TV miniseries version done in 1997, one that, naturally, was much more faithful to his novel.

His novel is a classic in the horror genre, and while his and Kubrick’s visions of the story differ so vastly, I find enough thematic material common to both that I will cite both versions in my analysis to make my point. These themes include the self-destructiveness of alcoholism, family abuse, the return of repressed bad internal object relations, repetition compulsion, and the death drive.

Though analyses of the themes in Kubrick’s film (the white man’s oppression of Native Americans, etc.) are well worth exploring, since they have already been looked into, I won’t be exploring them.

Jack Torrance has accepted a job as caretaker for the Overlook Hotel; and just as the hotel has a dark history, so does Jack. A former drinker and teacher, he has been on the wagon for fourteen months (in Kubrick’s film, five months) after having not only hit a student, George Hatfield (and lost his teaching job for it, ‘Up On the Roof’, pages 162-170), but also injured his own son, Danny (pages 23-25, ‘Watson’).

Ghosts inhabit the Overlook, which not only overlooks a beautiful mountain view in the Colorado Rockies, but also ‘overlooks’ (ignores, or doesn’t take responsibility for) the crimes that have been committed there. Jack’s connection with the Overlook–more and more complete as he goes mad in his attachment to the place, trying to ensure that he and his family never leave–shows how he is at one with the hotel. He has “always been the caretaker” (page 532, ‘Conversations At the Party’). The physical building represents his mind, with the boiler in the basement needing to be checked (to relieve the pressure) twice a day and once at night, for it symbolizes the death drive of his unconscious. There’s an interesting juxtaposition of ideas at the beginning of chapter 3, ‘Watson’, on page 22:

You lost your temper, Ullman had said.

‘”OK, here’s your furnace,” Watson said, turning on a light in the dark, musty-smelling room…Boiler’s on the other side of the wall. I’ll take you around.”‘

Jack’s anger and the furnace are mentioned side by side because they, and the boiler, are all one and the same thing. On the next few pages, Jack remembers injuring Danny for messing up his writing papers.

We learn through the course of the novel that Jack’s father had been abusive to him and his mother (‘Dreamland’, pages 335-338). Being abusive to Danny would be ‘normal’ to Jack, since his own dad’s abuse of him seemed normal: “In those days it had not seemed strange to Jack that the father won all his arguments with his children by use of his fists, and it had not seemed strange that his own love should go hand-in-hand with his fear…” (page 335). Similarly, his wife, Wendy, had a bad relationship with her mother. These bad object relations would haunt Jack and Wendy like ghosts…just as the ghosts of the Overlook will.

Wendy herself contemplates how the ghosts of her mother and Jack’s father could be among those in the hotel, when she thinks of Danny’s trauma: “(Oh we are wrecking this boy. It’s not just Jack, it’s me too, and maybe it’s not even just us, Jack’s father, my mother, are they here too? Sure, why not? The place is lousy with ghosts anyway, why not a couple more?…Oh Danny I’m so sorry).” (‘On the Stairs’, pages 491-492)

The isolation of the hotel, on a snowy mountain during a bitter winter, symbolizes the kind of social disconnect that often leads to problems like alcoholism and family abuse. In direct contrast, Danny’s psychic gift, the “shining”, as fellow shiner Dick Hallorann and his grandmother call it (‘The Shining’, page 117), connects him with people, and with the future, in an enhanced way. Jack and Wendy cannot contact the outside world (because Jack has destroyed the CB radio [‘Dreamland’, page 342], just as he’s ensured they can’t ride away in the snowmobile–‘The Snowmobile’, page 426), but Danny can “shine” all the way from Colorado to Florida to tell Hallorann of the threat to his family’s life.

The ghosts of the Overlook represent the ghosts of Jack’s past (and Wendy’s, to a lesser extent); but Danny, explicitly as such in Stephen King’s miniseries, points to the future, since “Tony” is actually Danny as a young adult (“Daniel Anthony Torrance”, page 639), advising his younger self to beware the dangers of the hotel (‘Shadowland’, pages 37-50). Thus, Tony is really Danny being a friend to himself, a form of self-compassion that can help victims of abuse to heal.

Redrum, or murder spelled backwards, represents not only the destructiveness of alcoholism–red rum, as red as blood–but also the destructiveness of looking backwards into the past, and letting internalized bad objects continue to dominate you, or letting bad old habits resurface and be compulsively repeated.

This brings me to my next point, what Freud called “the compulsion to repeat” in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Up until the horrors of World War I, he saw instinctual drives as geared exclusively towards pleasure, libido. The destruction of that war (Freud, page 281) compelled him to revise his theories and acknowledge a death instinct, what his followers would call Thanatos, which is opposed to Eros, the will to live. He now admitted that dreams aren’t always the fulfillment of wishes (Freud, page 304).

Sometimes his patients would compulsively repeat actions that seemed meaningless or without a clearly pleasurable aim, such a when an infant boy threw out a toy and reeled it back, perhaps to master the sensation of loss, as when his mother wasn’t with him (Freud, pages 284-285). Similarly, Freud treated traumatized veterans who repeated irrational acts in the form of flashbacks, traumatic dreams (Freud, page 282), and the reliving of battlefield events.

Jack’s inability to control his anger and compulsive drinking are manifestations of this death instinct and its compulsion to repeat. He was destructive and drinking before, and he will be destructive and drinking again.

The topiary animals make for interesting symbolism. Normally, the presence of plants gives us a feeling of peace, of pleasure, especially when they have been shaped into aesthetically pleasing forms, like animals–how charming. Yet the Overlook’s topiary is of animals that move when you aren’t looking (‘In the Playground’, pages 311-314). By the time Hallorann returns to help Danny, the topiary lion attacks him (‘Hallorann Arrives’, pages 617-618). So what we have are plants that are superficially charming, yet bestial and frightening when one knows them better. And since they are the Overlook’s topiary, they are an extension of Jack’s personality: charming and sweet on the surface, his ego ideal, but inside…

Then there’s Danny’s frightening experience with the fire extinguisher hose, which seems to unravel all by itself (‘Outside 217’, pages 258-262). Again, seen in light of the idea that the hotel represents Jack’s mind, we see something that, on the surface, is meant to protect and ensure safety, as a father is supposed to do. Instead, the hose, a near phallic symbol, moves surreptitiously, slithering, suggestive of a snake.

Because the hotel represents Jack’s mind, the ghosts in turn represent his internal object relations. Delbert Grady could be seen to represent Jack’s internalized abusive father, since grey-haired Grady eggs Jack on to kill his own family, just as the voice of Jack’s father, heard on the CB radio, urges him to kill them (‘Dreamland’, page 341).

The ghosts want Danny for all his psychic powers, that ability to connect with others that Jack lacks. When Danny rejects the ghosts, they go after Jack. Thus the ghosts initially represent, in WRD Fairbairn‘s revising of Freud’s id, the libidinal ego in its relationship with the exciting object; then, when Danny has rejected the ghosts, they represent Fairbairn’s revising of the superego, the internal saboteur or anti-libidinal ego, with its turbulent relationship with the rejecting object (both objects being symbolized by Danny).

Since I assume, Dear Reader, that you aren’t familiar with Fairbairn’s revision of Freud’s id/ego/superego conception of the mind, and since I further assume you haven’t read my analysis of The Exorcist, in which I discuss this revision, I’ll present the relevant quotes again here:

“…the intolerably depriving, rejecting aspect of the other person is internalized as the ‘rejecting object’, attached to the ‘anti-libidinal ego’…[,] the split-off ego fragment that is bonded to the rejecting object. We can think of it as the ‘anti-wanting I’, the aspect of the self that is contemptuous of neediness. Rejection gives rise to unbearable anger, split off from the central self or ego and disowned by it. Fairbairn originally termed this element the ‘internal saboteur’, indicating that in despising rather than acknowledging our neediness, we ensure that we neither seek nor get what we want. The anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object configuration is the cynical, angry self which is too dangerously hostile for us to acknowledge. When it emerges from repression we may experience it as chaotic rage or hatred, sometimes with persecutory guilt.” (Gomez, pages 63-64)

Fairbairn’s revising of Freud’s drive theory replaces the drive to pleasure/destruction with an object-seeking purpose, for which instinctual drives are mere avenues to seeking or dealing with objects. Fairbairn may have rejected Freud’s drive theory, including the death instinct and the compulsion to repeat, as superfluous (Fairbairn, pages 78-79), but I find both useful in explaining the symbolism of the Overlook, two ways of looking at King’s novel from different angles. Grady, the symbolic ghost of Jack’s abusive father, is pushing Jack to kill because Jack needs his father-object, regardless of whether it is good or bad for him.

Let’s consider what Fairbairn had to say about needing bad objects. “…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? Why does he not simply reject 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)

Going back to drinking represents finding a pleasurable thing as an object to replace the meaningful objects, Wendy and Danny, that Jack needs. As Fairbairn explains, “…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) In the Overlook, Jack is isolated in his own mind, driving him to self-destruction and other-destruction.

Jack uses a bug bomb to kill a nest of wasps found on the roof of the Overlook, where he’s been doing repairs and been stung by one of them (‘Up On the Roof’, page 153). Danny is fascinated with the wasp nest, and wants to keep it. Wendy is unsure if it’s safe, but Jack insists all the wasps have been killed (‘Down In the Front Yard’, pages 177-178). The ghosts of the hotel reanimate the wasps that night, though, and Danny is stung (‘Danny’, pages 195-203). Since the ghosts and hotel represent Jack’s mind, the stings represent a return to Jack’s abusiveness (and self-destructiveness, since he’s the first one to get stung); and his assuring that the wasps are dead and harmless represents his denial of abusive intent, gaslighting, and his empty promise that he’ll never repeat injuring Danny.

The Overlook, Jack’s symbolic mind, full of the ghosts of bad internal objects, and with a boiler of anger that Jack must regularly “dump…off a little” (‘Watson’, page 28) to relieve the pressure, always repeats its aggressions. Kubrick’s adaptation brilliantly brings out this repetition compulsion in such symbols as rug patterns, the phrase “forever, and ever, and ever”, and Jack’s “writing project”, an endless repetition of the saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Similarly, we see repetitive columns, doors, wallpaper patterns, and the sound of Danny driving his little three-wheeled bike on and off rugs and the hardwood floor, over and over again…sound-silence-sound-silence-sound-silence.

Danny refuses to believe that Jack, swinging the roque mallet, is his real father (page 639); it’s just the ghosts controlling him. But the ghosts, the hotel, and the roque-mallet-swinging madman are all Jack. Typical with abuse victims, they can’t bring themselves to admit their abusers really are abusers–it’s Stockholm Syndrome, or traumatic bonding.

Jack is supposed to be writing a play, a goal pointing to the future; but instead, he finds a scrapbook of old newspaper clippings related to the history of the Overlook (‘The Scrapbook’, pages 227-249). Now he decides, instead of writing the play, to write about the hotel: a project pointing into the future is replaced with one pointing back into the past. (In the miniseries, the scrapbook is titled My Memory Book, implying a symbolic connection with Jack’s past.)

Jack phones Mr. Ullman–the stern owner of the hotel and Jack’s symbolic superego (“Officious little prick“, ‘Job Interview’, page 3), a man who has hired him with the utmost reluctance (‘Job Interview’, page 7)–to talk to him about writing a book about The Overlook (‘Talking to Mr. Ullman’, pages 269-274). Ullman is furious with Jack for wanting to do such a thing, as he is with Jack’s impertinent attitude…just as the superego will be resistant to any surfacing of repressed, unacceptable desires.

Ullman has good reason to oppose Jack’s plan to publicize The Overlook’s shady past. It is a past filled with violence–mafia killings, a woman having committed suicide in a bathtub (“Inside 217′, pages 326-327), and Grady’s violence against his family. The scrapbook is found in the basement, Jack’s symbolic unconscious, and the violent contents represent his repressed bad internal objects (i.e., his father). The old parties represent his past of alcoholism. (“Unmask! Unmask!“) [‘The Ballroom’, page 464], Show your real self, Jack.

The ghosts of the Overlook want Danny, which means Jack needs a good internal object to replace his intolerably bad objects, a notion in Fairbairn’s therapeutic methods. Since Danny resists the ghosts, they want Jack, meaning the repressed bad objects resurface, causing mayhem. Having Danny, a good boy whose “shining” represents strong empathy and an urge to connect with others, would redeem Jack’s bad objects and help him to be a good man again, looking ahead to a future free of the past; but their evil is too great, so Jack instead spirals downward and backward into his violent, alcoholic past.

Dick Hallorann goes to great lengths to help a boy and a family he barely knows, because like Danny, his “shining” abilities give him strong empathy and an urge to connect, unlike the isolated, freezing cold world surrounding Jack’s mind, the Overlook. After Dick, Wendy, and Danny escape, we find them all together in Maine the following summer, Dick being almost like a new father to the boy. Danny and Wendy have escaped the dark, abusive past that Jack couldn’t escape, because ‘the shining’ is a light leading to a future of freedom and love.

Stephen King, The Shining, Pocket Books, New York, 1977

WRD Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, New York, 1952

Lavinia Gomez, An Introduction to Object Relations, Free Association Books, London, 1997

Sigmund Freud, 11. On Metapsychology, the Theory of Psychoanalysis: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, The Ego and the Id and Other Works, Pelican Books, Middlesex, England, 1984

Analysis of ‘The Exorcist’

The Exorcist is a 1973 supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin and starring Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil), Linda Blair (Regan MacNeil), Max von Sydow (Father Lankester Merrin), and Jason Miller (Father Damien Karras). It is based on the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, the movie screenplay having been adapted by the author. The novel in turn was based on the real-life exorcism in 1949 of a boy (‘Roland Doe’, about fourteen years old at the time) who allegedly was possessed of a demon.

Speaking of demons, during production, there were stories of people being injured, which added to the legend of the ‘cursed’ film. Similarly Satanic stories have been told of the productions of The Omen (1976) and Macbeth.

The Exorcist is considered one of the scariest, and therefore one of the best, horror films ever made. It had a huge influence on Black Sabbath, and on Ozzy Osbourne in particular, who sat through many screenings of it. It’s particularly frightening for Christians, not only, I believe, because they would consider the supernatural events something that could really happen, but because Christians unconsciously sense how the film is an allegory of the modern loss of faith, and of the attendant harm done to relationships.

Here are some quotes:

“There’s not a day in my life that I don’t feel like a fraud. Other priests, doctors, lawyers – I talk to them all. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t felt that.” –Karras

“It’s more than psychiatry, and you know that Tom. Some of their problems come down to faith, their vocation and meaning of their lives, and I can’t cut it anymore. I need out. I’m unfit. I think I’ve lost my faith, Tom.” –Karras

“Pathological states can induce abnormal strength. Accelerated motor performance. Now, for example, say a 90 pound woman sees her child pinned under the wheel of a truck. Runs out and lifts the wheels a half a foot up off the ground – you’ve heard the story – same thing here. Same principle, I mean.” –Dr. Taney

“There is one outside chance for a cure. I think of it as shock treatment – as I said, it’s a very outside chance…Have you ever heard of exorcism? Well, it’s a stylized ritual in which the rabbi or the priest try to drive out the so-called invading spirit. It’s been pretty much discarded these days except by the Catholics who keep it in the closet as a sort of an embarrassment, but uh, it has worked. In fact, although not for the reasons they think, of course. It’s purely a force of suggestion. The victim’s belief in possession is what helped cause it, so in that same way, a belief in the power of exorcism can make it disappear.” –Dr. Barringer

Karras: Where’s Regan?
Regan: In here. With us.

“Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. We may ask what is relevant but anything beyond that is dangerous. He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, Damien, and powerful. So don’t listen to him. Remember that – do not listen.” –Merrin, to Karras

Karras: Why her? Why this girl?
Merrin: I think the point is to make us despair. To see ourselves as… animal and ugly. To make us reject the possibility that God could love us.

The movie begins in Iraq, where religious faith is still strong, though it’s the Islamic, rather than Christian, faith. Father Merrin, who personifies Christian faith in the story, is nonetheless old and in ill health, needing to take nitroglycerin for a heart condition. When he finds an amulet, an image of Pazuzu, a demon he once exorcized in Africa many years before, he knows he must face it again.

When discussing the situation and the image with a Mosul curator of antiquities, the curator says, “Evil against evil.” (page 6 in the Prologue of the novel) If there is no God to fight the Devil, then there’s no good, in the religious sense, to fight evil; other forms of evil will have to do to stop Pazuzu. We will see the significance of this idea at the climax of the movie, when Father Damien Karras (note the pun on demon), a doubting priest, uses a decidedly un-Christian method to get the demon out of Regan’s body.

This is what makes the story so scary to Christians, as I see it. From their point of view, good comes only from the Christian God. If He doesn’t exist, then there is no real good to fight evil; there are only other forms of ‘evil’ to fight it, namely, the gods of all those ‘false’ religions: including Islam, whose God, Allah, is acknowledged by Muslims to have created evil as well as good (Allah is not a father, either–see below for the significance of this idea); or paganism, from which Pazuzu originally came. A world of only evil, without God, is Hell, a terrifying notion to Christians.

In Georgetown, Washington DC, Pazuzu has already arrived, and is making noises in Chris MacNeil’s attic. It takes quite a while for the demon actually to enter the body of Regan, her twelve-year-old daughter. Back in the early 1970s, moviegoers’ attention spans weren’t as short as are those of moviegoers today, people who always require quick thrills; more importantly, this slow buildup suggests the insidious nature of growing evil.

Father Karras, far more suited to psychiatry than to preaching, complains to another priest of his loss of faith. Even before this revelation, it is telling how he reacts when he hears Burke Dennings, the enfant terrible director of the film Chris is acting in, tell her that the writer of the film’s screenplay is in Paris “Fucking.” Karras laughs with all the others watching the filming, instead of taking offence at the bad language (page 20: “Chris…darted a furtive, embarrassed glance to a nearby Jesuit, checking to see if he’d heard the obscenity…He’d heard. He was smiling.”). Karras curses a number of times himself elsewhere in the story.

Christians fear that if we lose faith in Christ, we will turn into bestial people; we’ll lose our innocence, speaking and performing obscenities and blasphemies, as Regan does when Pazuzu takes over. Christians believe we must accept the Kingdom of God as a child (Mark 10:14-15); salvation comes not through good works, but by grace through faith (Romans 3:20-28). Despair, however, leads to damnation (Romans 14:23).

As those of us who live secular lives understand, though, the problem of evil is a much more complex one than a mere matter of falling from God’s grace and losing The Garden of Eden, then of being restored to that state of grace by believing in Jesus. MacNeil understands this need for self-reliance, since she is an atheist, as explicitly stated in the novel: “An atheist, she had never taught Regan religion. She thought it dishonest.” (page 47)

The loss of faith isn’t limited, however, to a religious one. Neither the doctors nor the psychiatrists can help Regan, leading her mother to lose faith in them. When the psychiatrists ask Chris of her religious beliefs, or of Regan’s, they suggest exorcism as a cure; though they’re careful to emphasize that, since Regan merely believes she’s possessed, the belief in exorcism, through the “force of suggestion,” can cure her. Ironically, her atheist mother now searches for priests…and the priest she finds–Karras–wants to help as a psychiatrist!

After the scene when Regan has been bouncing on the bed and has struck Dr. Klein, Dr. Taney speaks of how “Pathological states can induce abnormal strength. Accelerated motor performance.” (In the novel, Dr. Klein says it on page 126.) I watched this scene in a theatre here in Taiwan, where the locals in the audience were actually laughing at the doctor’s words. Being firm believers in ghosts, the Taiwanese found it absurd that it hadn’t even occurred to these doctors that Regan was most obviously possessed of a demon. But that’s the point of the story–the loss of religious faith is that profound in mainstream Western society.

After Karras has examined her, he has seen enough proof of possession in Regan–her speaking in languages, Latin and French, which she presumably has never studied (pages 300-301, which also include German); using telekinesis (opening a drawer with her mind); manifesting knowledge of Karras’s dead mother; imitating the voice of a derelict Karras failed to help–he tells another priest he still isn’t convinced of the reality of Pazuzu inside Regan. On page 313: ‘”I’ve made a prudent judgement that it meets the conditions set forth in the Ritual,” answered Karras evasively. He still did not dare believe. Not his mind but his heart had tugged him to this moment; pity and the hope for a cure through suggestion.’ He thinks Regan’s problem is a case of dissociative identity disorder (pages 310, 337).

When Merrin arrives for the exorcism, Karras tries to tell him about her psychiatric history, but Merrin considers this a waste of time. When Karras speaks of three personalities in Regan, Merrin–the personification of faith–insists there is only one.

Merrin emphasizes that “the demon is a liar” who “would lie to confuse” them. The priests mustn’t listen, just as Christians try not to listen to the ideas of modern science, including evolutionary theory, which show the falsity of a literal interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis.

Disproving the six-day Creation, as well as the story of Adam and Eve, is devastating to the Christian faith. If man evolved from the ape, what basis is there for believing in The Fall? How did our animal instincts for self-preservation and survival, including selfishness, the procreative sex drive, and aggression, suddenly become evil once we evolved to the species of homo sapiens? A metaphorical, allegorical interpretation of the Adam and Eve story doesn’t work, either: for Christian soteriology to be effective, the first few chapters of Genesis must be taken as literal, historical fact. If there was no historical Fall of Man, why should we believe in a Divine Rescuer who, by dying on the Cross, gave us a chance to be restored to a state of grace that hadn’t originally existed anyway? (For further reading, see Spong, 1992.)

In light of modern scientific knowledge, we must understand that continuing to preach Christian dogma and Bible stories as literal, historic fact can no longer be merely viewed as a perpetuation of ignorance; now it is just cognitive dissonance, if not tantamount to outright lying. Threatened by modern knowledge, Christians–especially fundamentalists–are compelled to project their mendacity onto evolutionists, as Merrin has projected the idea of lying onto Pazuzu. When Merrin says the demon mixes lies with the truth, this seems an almost grudging concession that Pazuzu may, to an extent at least, be right.

Even without evolutionary theory, Christian theodicies are inadequate. They try to reconcile a perfectly good, omnipotent, omniscient God with a world in which evil exists by talking about Adam and Eve exercising free will by disobeying God; even though they, originally in a state of grace and having its attendant moral wisdom, surely would have had the sense to know that by eating the forbidden fruit, they were ruining themselves. To make an analogy, merely having the free will to put one’s hand on a stove’s red hot burner won’t make a sensible person any more willing to scald his hand; nor will one eat one’s own damnation, provided one has the moral perfection to know the consequences. One would be too morally strong to give in to the temptation of acquiring god-like knowledge.

This is why it’s dangerous to listen to Pazuzu’s words, for they will destroy faith. Merrin makes the point, that it is to make us despair, to make us think we’re animal, and that God would never love us, because we’re so unworthy. And love, particularly the love of our mothers and fathers, is crucial to our mental health; for those primary caregivers of our childhood provide a psychological blueprint for all of our later relationships, which leads me to my next point.

In object relations theory, our loving, good objects–internalized imagos of our parents, which reside in our minds like ghosts in a haunted house–help us to have integrated, healthy personalities, allowing us to have happy, loving relationships. God is the ideal internalized object, the ‘good Father’, and if we lose Him, we’re helpless against our internalized bad objects. Without sufficient good objects, one experiences a splitting of the personality into extreme good and bad objects. Enter Pazuzu…into Regan’s body.

When we don’t believe we’re loved, we develop what WRD Fairbairn called a schizoid personality (not to be confused with schizophrenia, which he considered an extreme schizoid manifestation), a personality split between good and bad internalized objects, something even the most normal people have, to at least some extent (Fairbairn, pages 3-27). This bad internal object, split off from the good ones, is what the demon in Regan could be said to symbolize.

When we don’t feel sufficiently loved–as Regan must feel when her father, in the middle of an acrimonious divorce from Chris, doesn’t call Regan on her birthday (p. 48)–we begin to feel persecutory anxiety, what Melanie Klein called the paranoid-schizoid position. Hence Pazuzu, Regan’s symbolic internalized bad object, is persecuting her.

Interestingly, Fairbairn compared bad objects to demonic possession (pages 67-72). “…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? Why does he not simply reject 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 [as Regan’s father has neglected her], his need for them is increased.” (Fairbairn p. 67)

Chris’s love for Regan, in contrast, brings out the girl’s sweetness, her good internal object, the ‘good mother’ imago (p. 43). While we know Regan’s maniacal, violent behaviour is caused by an actual demon, and therefore Chris considers it a mistake to have originally believed that Regan’s pathology was caused by her father’s absence, we can nonetheless see the demon as symbolizing repressed anger over her father’s absence. We are, after all, reminded of her missing father even late into the story (p. 328; in the film, there’s no mention of the father calling and wanting to talk to Regan).

Remember also what Pazuzu says: “I am no one.” (page 308) This symbolically represents what Melanie Klein called the omnipotent denial of a bad object. Indeed, is Pazuzu a real demon, or just an internal bad object?

Projection and re-introjection of good and bad objects carry on in a cycle throughout one’s life, in varying levels of intensity. Possessed Regan’s vomiting (and urinating on the rug at the party) symbolize the projection. Freud associated libido with instinctual drives towards pleasure, but Fairbairn believed libido was directed at seeking objects (e.g., looking for people to give love to and receive love from). “Actually some of the activities to which so-called libidinal aims have been attributed are activities which I should hesitate to describe as primarily libidinal at all, e.g. anal and urinary activities; for the inherent aim of these activities, in common with that of vomiting, is not the establishment of a relationship with objects, but the rejection of objects which, from the point of view of the organism, constitute foreign bodies.” (Fairbairn p. 138) Regan’s puking and pissing can in one way be considered her futile attempt at exorcising her bad objects.

If we can’t find the loving objects we need, then our behaviour deteriorates to mere pleasure-seeking, as Regan’s obscene and blasphemous acts indicate. She violently rejects the loving help of father figures, and instead behaves obscenely. Instead of wanting to be saved by God, she masturbates with a crucifix; instead of receiving the priests’ help, she wants them to fuck her, or one another; she also grabs a hypnotherapist by the balls; and she hits one of the male doctors, then calls out to them: “Fuck me! Fuck me!”

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.” (p. 139-140) Similarly, addiction of any kind (drugs, sex, gambling, the internet, pornography) can be seen as an attempt to connect when normal human connection has failed for the addict.

As far as introjection and re-introjection are concerned, we can see it symbolically in Regan’s masturbating with the crucifix, her jamming and re-jamming of that thing inside her bloodied vagina, saying, “Let Jesus fuck you! Let Jesus fuck you!” Jesus is the Son of God, but He’s also homooúsios with God the Father, that is, equal to Him. When confronting Father Merrin, she says, “Stick your cock up her ass…” These two blasphemies and obscenities represent a wish for introjection of a father figure, and also symbolize the female Oedipus situation of a girl whose father is no longer part of her life (or, while we’re discussing psychoanalytic ideas, could all this obscene behaviour be coming from what Freud called the seduction theory?). Telling her mother, and forcing her to “Lick me! Lick me!” represents a briefly inverted Oedipus conflict, and her hitting of Chris is a return to the normal Oedipus situation. Pursuit of pleasure for its own sake is all Regan has, because the acquiring of her needed loving object (her father) is impossible.

When Merrin dies at the end, faith dies. Karras desperately tries to revive him, but to no avail. Pazuzu seems awed at first by his final victory over Merrin, then he laughs in Schadenfreude. Enraged, Karras grabs Regan and beats the demon out of her–evil against evil, he punches her like a boxer. He wants to introject the demon, the bad object, not only to save her, I believe, but to punish himself for his loss of faith and absence when his mother died (his presumably dead father, by the way, is never mentioned in the movie). With the demon inside Karras, she is safe…except for the fact that Damien the demon is now eyeing her with a view to assault her…perhaps sexually. Swelling with self-hate and an urge to redeem himself, Karras shouts “No!” and jumps out the window, sacrificing his life for the girl’s. Evil against evil. Instead of salvation by faith, we have salvation by suicide, the ultimate act of faithlessness.

A weeping Father Dyer gives Karras absolution as he’s dying. Karras seems to have regained his faith (though it seems to be a belief only in devils, rather than in God; also, is his moving hand, in Dyer’s, really an expression of repentance?) while dying; in any case, his suicide still symbolizes a paradoxical salvation by faithlessness. His receiving of absolution would seem an affirmation of faith at the end of the story; but consider how Karras’s ‘exorcism’ of Regan involved no use of the Roman Catholic ritual at all. No prayers to God. He just beat the girl. ‘God’ wasn’t anywhere. No miracles came from Him; the supernatural occurrences came only from Pazuzu. Indeed, the two priests look ludicrously ineffectual as they are chanting, over and over, “The power of Christ compels you!” Does Pazuzu lower the levitated Regan by the priests’ compulsion, or of his own free will? Indeed, the demon has been toying with the priests the whole time.

When the family moves out, Chris tells Father Dyer that Regan remembers nothing of the demon. The bad internal object, that of her neglectful father, has been repressed, pushed back into Regan’s unconscious, and so there’s no longer a threat…or so we assume.

Regan projects her ‘bad father’ imago, Pazuzu, into Father Karras, and when he’s killed himself, she can feel satisfaction from that. When she quickly gives Father Dyer a hug and kiss, we wonder, for a second, will she attack him?

No, he’s safe, for she has successfully repressed her internal saboteur (Fairbairn p. 102-105), her “anti-libidinal ego [, which] is the split-off ego fragment that is bonded with the rejecting object. We can think of it as the ‘anti-wanting I’, the aspect of the self that is contemptuous of neediness. Rejection gives rise to unbearable anger, split off from the central self or ego [corresponding roughly to Freud’s ego] and disowned by it. Fairbairn originally termed this element the ‘internal saboteur’, indicating that in despising rather than acknowledging our neediness, we ensure that we neither seek nor get what we want. The anti-libidinal ego/rejecting object configuration is the cynical, angry self which is too dangerously hostile for us to acknowledge. When it emerges from repression we may experience it as chaotic rage or hatred, sometimes with persecutory guilt.” (Gomez p. 63-64)

Earlier in the story, Regan’s libidinal ego (the part of Fairbairn’s endo-psychic structure corresponding roughly to Freud’s id) is attached to Burke as a possible stepfather, what Fairbairn would have called an ‘exciting object’ (Fairbairn p. 102-105; Gomez p. 62); for she is hoping her mother will marry him, speaking to her mother of how she (Chris) likes him (p. 43-44). Then, her anti-libidinal ego, the internal saboteur, symbolized by Pazuzu, considers Burke a copy of her rejecting object/father and kills him (and since her rejecting object is inside her psyche, Regan imitates Burke’s voice and twists her head around, as Burke’s was when found dead). Pazuzu, the name of her ‘bad father’ imago, could be considered a pun on ‘Pa’. Is Pazuzu jealous of Regan’s preferring Burke to him as a father-object? Similarly, Pazuzu wants to kill the other two Fathers, Merrin and Karras.

But to return to the end of the story: having reintegrated her bad objects with her good ones, Regan has thus restored her mental health. Unconsciously, she can now accept the independent existence of her far-away father. She has given up the omnipotence symbolized by the supernatural powers of the demon, for she no longer needs to deny the bad aspects of her object relations. Now she wants reparation with fathers, so she doesn’t hurt Dyer.

Regan’s parents’ divorce amounted to a loss of faith in their marriage, resulting in the girl’s loss of faith in fathers–biological ones, possible stepfathers (Burke), Catholic Fathers, male doctors/hypnotherapists/psychiatrists, or God the Father Himself. Because the priests cannot replace her actual father any more than Burke can, Pazuzu’s first words to Merrin include, “…you motherfucking, worthless cocksucker!” What else is your father, but the man who is fucking your mother? (And leaving her, i.e., divorcing her and abandoning Regan, is fucking Chris in a different way…making him worthless to Regan.) When Merrin throws holy water on Regan, Pazuzu the rejecting object writhes in pain and has scars on her leg to show his rejection of the Father.

Killing fathers, whether potential surrogates like Burke, or religious ones like Karras or Merrin, is what Pazuzu is all about: the anti-libidinal ego that is attached to the internalized ‘rejecting object’ (Regan’s absent father). As I see it, Pazuzu is both the anti-libidinal ego and the internalized rejecting object at the same time. Pazuzu rejects fathers for the same reason he rejects God. After all, paternity is an act of faith in itself. Note what Don Pedro and Leonato, Hero’s father, say about her in a dialogue in Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, Scene i, lines 88-89:

DON PEDRO: I think this is your daughter.

LEONATO: Her mother hath many times told me so.

Or, consider a quote in James Joyce’s Ulysses: “Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten…founded…Upon incertitude, upon unlikelihood…Paternity may be a legal fiction.” (Joyce, page 266)

Our fathers, who are in Heaven (or here on Earth): hollow seem their names. This is what The Exorcist seems to be telling us…and that’s what is so frightening about the film.

William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, HarperCollinsPublishers, New York NY, 1971

W. Ronald D. Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: a Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture, Harper, San Francisco, 1992

Lavinia Gomez, An Introduction to Object Relations, Free Association Books, London, 1997

James Joyce, Ulysses: Annotated Student Edition, Penguin Books, London, first published 1922

Analysis of ‘American Psycho’

American Psycho is a satirical novel written by Bret Easton Ellis and published in 1991. It is an unreliable first person narrative, in the present tense, given by the main character, Patrick Bateman, who is a yuppie living in 1980s New York City. It is an extremely controversial novel, given its depiction of increasingly brutal violence against women; this issue led many feminists to protest the novel.

A movie version was made in 2000, the screenplay written by Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron (the latter also being the director), and starring Christian Bale in the lead role. The movie removed or mitigated the novel’s violence, and rearranged much of the material: apart from that, the film was reasonably faithful.

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The violence against women has led many to believe that the novel is misogynistic. Actually, the novel satirizes the superficial, materialistic life of yuppies; for while Bateman is based on Ellis’ own experience of alienation in 1980s New York, we are not meant to sympathize with Bateman or condone his actions. As a Wall Street investment banker, Bateman is a personification of capitalist greed and cruelty.

The novel begins with an allusion to Dante‘s Inferno: “ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE”. Yuppie New York City, one of the nerve centres of world capitalism, is Hell. Similarly, the novel ends with these words on a sign on a door: “THIS IS NOT AN EXIT“. Of course not: there is no hope of escape from Hell.

Bateman, in the third chapter (‘Harry’s’), is in Harry’s with his yuppie friends, Price (Bryce in the movie), McDermott, and Van Patten. A man named Preston joins them, and during their conversation, Preston makes antisemitic remarks, which Bateman chides him for (in the movie, McDermott makes the bigoted remarks). This moment, like the one in the first chapter (‘April Fool’s’), when Bateman preaches to his friends about such things as the need to end apartheid, provide food and shelter for the homeless, oppose racial discrimination, ensure equal rights for women, and promote general social concern and less materialism, represents the hypocrisy so typical of bourgeois liberals, always mindful of political correctness, but rarely practicing what they preach.

Bateman describes his possessions in his apartment in the second chapter (‘Morning’), going into detail about all of his fetishized commodities, mentioning brand names for everything (a Toshiba digital TV set and VCR; “expensive crystal ashtrays from Fortunoff”…Bateman doesn’t even smoke; a Wurlitzer jukebox; an Ettore Sotsass push-button phone; a “black-dotted beige and white Maud Sienna carpet”; etc.). So much for less materialism. His possessions are clearly very important to him, in how they are meant to reflect his social status (Valentino Couture clothes, “perforated cap-toe leather shoes by Allen-Edmonds”[page 31], Ralph Lauren silk pajamas, etc.).

Social status is important to Bateman because it’s the only way to be a part of yuppie society in New York City. During a date with Bethany, who wonders why he won’t quit his job (in the movie, it’s his girlfriend, Evelyn, who asks him), he answers that he wants “…to…fit…in.” (‘Lunch With Bethany’, p. 237) Later, he brutally kills her after she laughs at him for hanging a painting upside down. Being a yuppie is all about saving face and social conformity.

Ellis suffered in New York in the 80s, when this pressure to conform was so great. In creating Bateman, Ellis was creating, in a way, a modern version of Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, “…a sick man…an angry man.” (Notes From Underground, page 15) Hence, Bateman’s psychopathy.

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In ‘Office,’ chapter six, Bateman tells Jean, his secretary, to come to work dressed in a more pleasing manner (pages 66-67). Apart from the fact that the 1980s campaign against sexual harassment hadn’t yet picked up steam, he knows he can get away with talking to her like that because she “is in love with” him (or so he, in his narcissistic imagination, thinks–page 64). So much for ensuring equal rights for women.

When he proudly shows off his new name card in a restaurant (‘Pastels’, chapter four), and is easily outdone by Van Patten, Price, and, especially, someone named Montgomery (in the film, it’s Paul Allen–Paul Owen in the novel), whose name cards are so much more impressive (pages 44-45), Bateman feels a “brief spasm of jealousy,” then he ends up “unexpectedly depressed.” He finds that the only way he can restore his sense of ‘superior’ social standing is by picking on those ‘under’ him. In the competitive world of capitalism, how else can one cure one’s low self-esteem?

He finds a freezing homeless black man (‘Tuesday’, pages 128-132), and after giving him false hopes that he’ll help him, he speaks contemptuously to him, then takes out a knife and puts out the beggar’s eyes (in the film, Bateman merely stabs him). He takes light stabs at the man’s stomach and slices up his face. He flips a quarter at him, calls him a “nigger,” then leaves him. So much for racial equality.

I still remember how disturbing I found this passage in the novel, how graphically Ellis describes the jerking of the knife in one of the homeless man’s eyes, to make it pop out of its socket. The eye now dangles, with all the liquid dripping out of its socket, “like red, veiny egg yolk”. I found this scene even more unnerving than the Habitrail and rat scene.

Thanks to Reagan’s inaugurating of neoliberalism in the 1980s, the poverty level made a net increase by the first year of George H.W. Bush’s term. Bateman’s abuse of the beggar can be seen to symbolize capitalism’s war on the poor. Now, this cruelty to the homeless has escalated to the use of spikes on sheltered pavements, and to the criminalizing of feeding the destitute. Like Bateman, capitalism has no shame.

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Bateman’s violence against women, however, is the most shocking part of the novel. Having this brutality in the novel is not the same as advocating it, though. Ellis is careful to make Bateman as blatantly despicable, even ludicrous, as possible. His ‘analyses’ of Huey Lewis and the News (pages 352-360), Genesis (after Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett left, for he “didn’t really understand any of their work,” that is, from the classic progressive rock quintet–‘Genesis’, page 133), Whitney Houston (pages 252-256), and Phil Collins’ solo career, making their commercial pop all sound like high art, are some of the funniest parts of the whole novel. It’s telling that Bateman prefers the, at best, mediocre-to-good film Against All Odds–“the masterful movie” (page 136), in his opinion–to Phil Collins’ hit song. I had a belly laugh when I read that.

So let us make no mistake here: Ellis is not glorifying Bateman in any way; therefore, he isn’t trying to glamourize violence against women. When Bateman uses a woman’s decapitated head to fellate him (‘Girls’, page 304), electrocutes ‘Christy’ (page 290, ‘Girls’), or sticks a Habitrail up a woman’s cunt (page 328), we hate him all the more for it.

Rather than see this violence as Ellis promoting misogyny, we should see it as a comment on misogyny (‘Harry’s’, pages 91-2, has a sexist discussion that, in the movie, is between Bateman, McDermott, and Van Patten)…especially of the sort directed by capitalism against the sexually exploited women and girls in the Third World, those forced into prostitution. Remember that a number of Bateman’s female victims are escort girls or prostitutes.

Since Bateman and all the other yuppies represent the capitalist class, I find it illuminating also to interpret his scurrilous treatment of his female victims allegorically. In most mythologies around the world, the feminine symbolizes nature, our Mother Earth. This is true of most ancient European, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern pagan religions.

My point is that in our unconscious, we typically associate femininity with the fertile earth. Bateman’s violence against women, therefore, can be seen to symbolize capitalism’s destruction of the environment. The Habitrail incident further proves this, since Bateman has caught a rat (pages 308-9), then starved it for five days prior to having it (literally) eat out one of his female victims (‘Girl’, pages 326-9). In other sections of the novel, he injures (page 132) or kills dogs (page 165, ‘Killing Dog’). With destruction of the environment goes cruelty to animals.

Another striking theme in the novel is the lack of a sense of identity. In ‘End of the 1980s,’ Bateman says, “…there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity, something illusory, and though I can hide my cold gaze and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable: I simply am not there.” (pages 376-77)

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Bateman isn’t the only one with identity problems: people routinely confuse one person for another. Paul Owen confuses Bateman with someone called Marcus Halberstam (Halberstram in the movie), Bateman’s lawyer thinks he’s someone called Davis, and a mistaken identity is noted by Detective Kimball (‘Detective,’ page 273). Part of the reason for these mistakes is people not listening to one another; another part of the reason is how alike everyone seems, in dress and personality.

Capitalists often criticize communists for suppressing individuality and creativity. The hypocrisy of this is obvious when we see how capitalist commodification churns out the same kind of product, performer, movie, or song, over and over again. George Lucas once said in an interview that Soviet film-makers had more artistic freedom than he; the profit motive puts us all in chains (consider the hell K-pop performers have to go through in South Korea), as it does the yuppies in Ellis’ novel.

Bateman’s lack of a sense of self sometimes leads to moments of dissociation, depersonalization, and derealization. In mid-chapter (‘Chase, Manhattan’), during a moment of extreme stress while he’s afraid of being caught by the police, Bateman’s narration briefly switches from first person singular to third person singular (page 349-51), then back again by the end (page 352) when he feels safer again and calms down. He hallucinates about seeing a TV interview with a Cheerio and having a Dove bar with a bone in it (page 386). His frequent drug use (cocaine, Halcion, Valium, Xanax, etc.) is probably a source of much of his mental instability. The relative lack of commas in sentences, and even occasional run-on sentences, in the novel suggest an excited narrator high on cocaine, or one suffering from anxiety attacks (‘A Glimpse of a Thursday Afternoon,’ pages 148-152).

With his tenuous grip on reality, we begin to wonder about the reliability of his narrative. These doubts lead to a big question: is he guilty of any of the crimes he claims to have committed, or has he merely fantasized about the whole killing spree?

In ‘The Best City for Business’ (pages 366-7), Bateman says, “One hundred and sixty-one days have passed since I spent the night in [Paul Owen’s apartment] with the two escort girls. There has been no word of bodies discovered in any of the city’s four newspapers or on the local news, no hints of even a rumour floating around. I’ve gone so far as to ask people–dates, business acquaintances–over dinners, in the halls of Pierce & Pierce, if anyone has heard about two mutilated prostitutes found in Paul Owen’s apartment. But like in some movie, no one has heard anything, has any idea of what I’m talking about.” Does this mean that Patrick only imagined the horrors, or have they been ignored by the world because the victims were mere ‘whores’?

patrickbateman

Harold Carnes, Bateman’s attorney, who confuses him with a man named Davis, insists that his killing of Paul Owen is “not possible,” for Carnes says he had dinner with Owen twice (page 388, ‘New Club’), after the murder is supposed to have been committed (or did Carnes confuse Owen with someone else?). Also, the lawyer believes Bateman is too cowardly and weak to have killed anyone. Indeed, Bateman is a loser, as everyone in the story knows. Remember, Ellis never glamourizes Bateman.

Elsewhere, the real estate agent trying to sell Owen’s apartment has cleaned up the place and, seeming to know about Bateman’s crimes, she wants him to leave and never return. Eerily, she seems more interested in preserving the high property value of the apartment than in seeking justice for the victims.

This notion, did he, or didn’t he kill those people, is important in light of how he allegorically represents capitalism. Note how similar ‘mergers and acquisitions’ sounds to ‘murders and executions’ (page 206, ‘Nell’s’). To this day, people debate if capitalism is responsible for the millions who die of malnutrition every year, for the destruction of the environment, etc. America is truly a psycho nation…or is the psychopathy merely imagined, as the capitalist apologists would have us believe?

Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho, Vintage Books, New York, 1991

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes From Underground and The Double, Penguin Classics, England, this translation published 1972

Excerpt: Opening of ‘Wolfgang,’ My Werewolf Erotic Horror Novel

13450947_10154657198197289_821306896128591967_n1—Sades

The full moon was glowing among the stars, the whitest of whites against the blackest of black. Paws were patting the dirt path that snaked between the grass and trees that surrounded the estate, from whose second-floor window this lupine brute had jumped. A nose was sniffing for human flesh to eat.

Soon, it found some.

A man and his wife were walking in that very forest. He wore a suit, she a dress, diamonds, and pearls. How romantic. How bourgeois. How unfortunate.

Some nearby bushes were rustling, something hiding among them, waiting for the couple to approach. Lampposts, set far off from each other, gave just enough light for people to walk through at night, but left it dark enough to keep lurking dangers unseen. A wolf’s eyes, obscured among the leaves, were following that couple’s every step.

“This is so unlike you, Franz,” the woman said in German to her husband. “Taking me for a stroll in a forest at night.”

“Yes, I know, Frieda, but tonight I felt as if something were pulling me out here,” Franz said in German. “It’s so beautiful. I couldn’t resist.”

“I wish you had resisted,” Frieda said. Her fear was vibrating all the way to those bushes. At one point, she thought she saw eyes peering at her from them. She gasped and twitched, then looked again…the eyes were gone. Did she just imagine it? “I’m scared. Let’s…”

“Relax,” he said. “This is really beautiful. Fresh air. I’m glad we came.”

“I don’t care how pretty it is,” she said. “I still don’t like us walking about here. I can’t forget that story I read about the wolf attack here a month ago. Three people—“

“Oh, nonsense! No one ever found a wolf anywhere. Those people were probably killed by that psychotic who was arrested last week. He’d killed others in the same bloody way. He may have denied killing Wolfgang Bergbauer’s family, but I’m sure he was lying.”

“But there were witnesses who insisted the wounds were caused by claws and teeth, not knives—“

“Rubbish! They also claimed it was a werewolf, of all things. Can you rely on such testimony? It was a full moon that night, as tonight. How is that proof of a werewolf? My dear, don’t be so credulous.”

A growl vibrated from those bushes.

She froze.

The two of them looked around for the source of the voice.

They never found it, of course.

Another, louder growl.

She shuddered.

“I assure you,” he said. “This isn’t at all funny.”

A grunt.

A ten second silence, then a howl.

“Alright, enough!” he shouted. “Come out, wherever you are.”

It did.

Me.

I brought him crashing down on the dirt, his hair covered in it.

Her screams were piercing my ears as keenly as my claws were cutting up his stomach.

His liver and kidneys were the tastiest, his blood being their gravy. He screamed briefly, till my claws, having already ripped his rib cage aside, scraped against his lungs, flooding his throat with red and stopping his voice. He would then only cough blood. His intestines lay like a red snake on the grass.

I, Sades, the spirit in control of the werewolf, could sense, through my connection with the vibrations of energy everywhere, Frieda’s whole experience of terror, as if it were my own. I’ve always enjoyed that ability…it helps me to terrorize my victims better. My two spirit brothers and I could even know people’s dreams, their perspectives, and their most private thoughts, if we wanted to.

She was frozen with fear, yet shaking all over, her feet seemingly rooted to the ground. She continued weeping a few seconds longer as I feasted, then I looked up at her, licking my lips.

Our eyes met.

She fought against her panic with spastic jerks of her legs. Desperate to run, she just couldn’t.

I just stared with grinning fangs.

I’ll give her a head start, I thought. Give her a fighting chance.

Finally, she broke free of her paralysis and ran, screaming, almost falling.

I bit off another chunk or two of her husband’s flesh, then ran after her.

Be careful, the voice of Chisad whispered in my mind’s ear. Don’t let her screams come within earshot of anyone else. Too many people knew about us after the last full moon.

Chisad was right. I had to pounce on this bitch as soon as possible. Just as the full moon’s contradiction of white and black released the wolf, so could the contradiction—between my bloodlust and her urge to survive—put Chisad, Chebirüsad, and me in danger of being shot…and without a new host to enter when this one that we were in died, we three spirits would be forever exiled from the flesh! Our souls wandering aimlessly in limbo, never able to avenge the deaths of our people! Unbearable banishment!

Frieda kept running, the edge of the forest coming closer. I had to get to her before she got there and drew attention to us.

There are so many contradictions: the one between my will to kill and hers to live, and the hardly endurable one between my will and those of Chisad and Chebirüsad. But when the light of the stars is augmented with the full moon’s white, these clashing with the black backdrop of night, our three urges’ discord is also at its sharpest, bringing out the wolf. Everything is a battle of opposites.

Frieda stopped running. She hid behind a tree.

Always weeping, she thought: Please, God, I don’t want to die. Oh, Franz!

The vibrations all around us spirits guided us to her, better than our wolf’s nose, better than a thousand eyes. I went into some nearby bushes, pretending I didn’t know where she was. In this forest, Kleinwald, no one can hide from me.

I could hear her shaky breathing. We spirits knew her fear, and her thoughts, as if our very consciousness was hers. It was like visiting the inside of her head, seeing through her eyes. What fun for me!

She could feel—and almost hear—her heart pounding in her chest.

She smelled delicious, though she wasn’t pretty enough for me to want sexually; though even if she were, that prig Chebirüsad wouldn’t have let me rape her, anyway. Nor would Chisad have, so worried was he of us being caught and killed. My task was to kill quickly and run to safety, that was all.

Her eyes were darting about, left and right, trying to find me. Then she glanced over to her right, and saw my yellow eyes amid the black of the shadowy bushes. Our eyes met briefly, then mine disappeared from her sight.

Again, her eyes were racing all around her: in front, to the left, to the right, behind her.

Where is it? she wondered.

Then she looked over to her left. She saw one eye this time.

She shuddered. Then the eye disappeared.

Once more, her eyes were frantically scanning the area, but this time never finding my eyes.

She didn’t even hear anything. No growls, no beast’s breathing.

Just blackness and silence, all around her.

Where is it? she asked herself in her mind. Is it gone? Did it lose me? Oh, I hope so. I can’t take this any longer.

She kept looking around and listening, not making any noise, even breathing as quietly as she could.

No eyes anywhere.

No sounds from an animal. Not even the wind in the trees.

She poked her head around, thinking, Please, God, let that beast be gone.

With shaky, spastic legs, she slowly stepped away from the tree and back to the beaten path.

Then I jumped on her.

Her heart and lungs were the tastiest parts.
1—Chisad

With the sun starting to peek over the horizon, Sades was finally restrained, and the wolf, exhausted from running all over the town of Klein, just southwest of the city of Rosenheim in Upper Bavaria, fell asleep by some bushes near a playground in Kleinpark, on the side of town opposite the forest of Kleinwald.

But what woke up four hours later wasn’t a wolf.

Now he was Wolfgang Georg Alexander Bergbauer, 38, and naked as the day he was born.

He looked around, blinking and waiting impatiently for his eyes to focus. He felt chilly all over. Then he knew.

“Oh, shit,” he said, cupping his hands over his genitals. “Not again.”

He noticed and recognized the nearby playground, correctly guessed it was about 8:30 in the morning, and saw only a few people, no more: a mother and her baby in a stroller, and a pretty blonde, about eighteen from the looks of her (even now-passive Sades sensed her desirability). Again, Wolfgang’s intuition was accurate (she was eighteen), since my connection with the spirit world was able to guide his guesses.

He got up and started sneaking over to the girl, not because she was lovely, but because she’d left her hooded red coat on the swing beside the one she was sitting on. Stealing and wearing that woman’s coat might make him look foolish, but his nakedness made him much more of a spectacle. Besides, he was freezing.

Luckily for him, the mother pushed her baby stroller out of the playground, so if there was to be a struggle with the girl, no further attention would be drawn to him. (Actually, I willed the mother to go.) The girl was absorbed in what she was looking at on her phone. He was approaching, wincing whenever he stepped on a sharp rock, and hoping she wouldn’t hear his grunts of discomfort.

My spiritual connection to everything around me allowed me to know what the girl was reading on her phone; I read the text as if her eyes were mine. She and her mother had been exchanging text messages.

Her mother’s text message said, “Renate, where are you? You’ve been missing for the past twelve hours. We’re worried about you. Please come home and let’s fix this problem. We forgive you for being with that boy, and for what you did to your father.”

Renate’s reply was, “You’ll have to find me. I”m not telling you where I am. I’m fed up with all three of you. I’ve already fixed the problem by leaving. I’ll never forgive you for calling me a whore, nor for what Daddy did to him; in fact, I’m going to punish you all by becoming a prostitute. Bye.” After sending the message, she surfed the internet for the news.

In the next few seconds, Wolfgang was right behind her, his right hand almost on the coat. But he got curious, and looked at what she was now reading on her phone: a news story about the second wolf attack near his estate, in the forest south of Klein!

She was smiling with wide eyes as she read. “A wolf,” she whispered to herself, then thought, I love wolves. “Maybe, a werewolf?”

He gasped, drawing her attention away. She looked over at him as he snatched her coat. She grabbed it by the other side, and they began a tug of war.

“Hey!” she said, almost falling off the swing. “That’s my coat!”

“Sorry,” he said. “I need…to borrow it.”

As they struggled, she couldn’t restrain her curiosity, and she looked down at his body; her eyes widened again, impressed with the hunk of meat she saw dangling down.

“Mmm,” she moaned with a smile.

With his greater strength, he managed to wrest the coat from her. She fell off the swing.

“Hey!” she shouted, thudding on the ground.

“Thanks,” he said, running away with it.

Having not put it on yet, he looked back at her briefly, grinning at the lustful amazement in her eyes at the sight of his muscular body. Indeed, that lewd awe she felt kept her in such a trance that she forgot to scream for help. She just sat in the dirt and stared at his pretty arse.

What most fascinated her about his body, even more so than his good looks, was the deep scar scratched from his chest—on the right—down his right side to just below his right buttock, a brown swirl of four claws. Though perfectly healed, it seemed a permanent indentation in his skin.

What a sexy naked man, she thought, licking her lips. Then she said, “He must be the werewolf the locals have been talking about.” No one believes them, of course, she thought, grinning at the sight of him farther away, now wearing her coat as if he were a cross-dresser. People think those locals are crazy to believe in werewolves. But I believe. At least, I want to believe.

She licked her lips again.

If he’s the werewolf, she thought, I want him.