‘The Lake,’ a Horror Short Story

“Look at that lake,” Cecil said as he and his fiancée, Eleanore, came to an opening in the forest to see the sparkling water.

“It’s beautiful,” she said with rapt eyes as she saw how the light of the summer sun danced on the gentle waves.

“Let’s go in for a swim,” he said, beginning to take off his shirt.

“Hey, you kids, I wouldn’t do that if I was you,” slurred a man’s voice from behind them.

The couple looked back and saw a middle-aged man standing a few feet behind them, holding a bottle of whiskey in his right hand. He staggered a bit and belched.

“Who are you?” Cecil asked. “And why can’t we go in the water? Will we become drunkards, like you?”

“The name’s Nelson, and if you go in that water, you won’t come back out,” he said, then took another swig from his bottle.

“We can swim all right,” Cecil said.

“It ain’t about if you can swim or not,” Nelson said. “That’s Lake Real. It’s cursed with witchcraft.”

Both Cecil and Eleanore laughed.

“I recommend you leave that rotgut alone,” Cecil said. “It’s affecting your brain.”

“I began drinkin’ because people were dyin’ in that lake. I saw ’em all die with my own two, sober eyes. I also know the story of how a witch turned Lake Real into the deathtrap it is now.”

“Oh, this I gotta hear,” Cecil said.

“No, honey,” Eleanore said, pulling on Cecil’s arm. “Let’s just go. He don’t want us swimmin’ here, so we’ll go, alright?”

“No, no,” Cecil said. “I wanna hear the ghost story. You ain’t too drunk to tell it, are ya?”

“Actually, the drinkin’ will prob’ly help me tell it,” Nelson said, then took another swig. “Have a seat.”

He sat on a rock, and Cecil and Eleanore sat on two rocks facing him, all three of them shaded from the summer heat of the early afternoon by the overhanging trees.

“Well, it all began back in 1857 with the passing of the Gradual Civilization Act in the Province of Canada.”

“What does that have to with us here in the Colony of British Columbia?” Cecil asked.

“Well, back in the Province of Canada, they wanted to get the Indians here to be a part of our Christian society. Some Catholics living near here learned about this idea to purify the Indians, cleanse them of their heathen ways, and teach ’em about Christ. They liked the idea, and used their money to set up a school by this lake.” Nelson pointed with his bottle to an abandoned building several yards behind Cecil and Eleanore, a small, wooden building obscured mostly by the bushes and trees of the forest, but visible enough for the couple to see it. “In 1860, St. Peter’s Residential School was established for Indian children…not those livin’ ’round here in the Fraser Valley area, mind you, but for those livin’ further away.”

“Why not Indian children from here?” Eleanore asked.

“‘Cause the idea was to take the kids far from their families, and from their heathen influence,” Nelson said, then took another swig. “Best way to make ’em Christian…or so the Catholics thought.”

“So anyway, what happened?” Cecil asked. “Did the Catholics make the Indians all Christian in that school?”

“Not exactly,” Nelson said. “There were stories that the priests and nuns were abusing the kids, punishing them for being defiant and refusing to accept Christ.”

“Did they beat the kids really hard?” Eleanore asked.

“Worse than that. The priests, being celibate and therefore denied the society of women, did filthy things with many of the kids, the sorta thing you don’t wanna say in front of a lady. Sometimes, to keep things quiet, they even killed many of the kids.”

Cecil and Eleanore gasped at these words.

“The bodies were buried out by the school, not far from the lake. One woman, who was a teacher at the school named Audrey Wilson, got so infuriated at how the priests and nuns were mistreating the Indian kids that she not only quit the school, but she also gave up on her Christian faith…assuming she ever even was Christian to begin with.”

“What makes you think she wasn’t Christian?” Eleanore asked.

“Well, Miss Wilson was a white lady, so I assume she was originally Christian, but if she was, and lost her faith, I’ll get into the reasons for that soon enough.”

“In any case, giving up on her faith sounds excessive to me,” Eleanore said. “We all know there are some bad apples out there among the Christian flock, but that doesn’t mean there’s no Jesus looking down on us from heaven.”

“Well, whatever her religious leanings had always been, she surely didn’t see it that way,” Nelson went on. “It seems she couldn’t reconcile men of God, presumably guided by the Holy Spirit, readin’ the Good Book and praying every day, allowin’ themselves to stray so far from the right path to be doin’ what they did to those Indian kids. She’d walk by the confessional set up next to the school chapel, and she’d eavesdrop on the confessions of beatings, rapes, and killings. The confessor would advise them to turn themselves in to the law, which the confessing priests and nuns never did; and the sinning priests and nuns continued working in the school, and Miss Wilson knew they continued their abuse of the kids.”

“Well, again, that’s the fault of those priests and nuns, not the fault of their religion,” Cecil said.

“But how do you know all of this?” Eleanore asked. “You live near here, right?”

“Yes, I do,” Nelson said. “And as I said, she didn’t see it as only a matter of sinnin’ priests and nuns, she saw it as a problem of the whole religion. I worked as a janitor for the school, and she and I used to have conversations about the corruption in the faculty. She claimed that faith in Jesus is the ‘theory’ of Christianity; the corrupt ways of the Church are the ‘practice’ of Christianity throughout history, which makes me think she may never have been Christian, but some kind of pagan in secret. She claimed she’d read of, and heard anecdotes of, countless times when the Church–Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant–had committed similar abuses.”

“So anyway, what did Miss Wilson do about the abuse, besides quitting her teaching position?” Eleanore asked.

“Well, a week after she quit–and this was in 1862, so four years ago–I saw her by the lake one evening, after the school closed down for the day. It was still light enough for me to see basically what she was doin’. She was chantin’ something, she had candles lit in a circle all around her, and she was dancin’ around as she chanted. It looked like she was doin’ some kind o’ ritual. That’s why I think she may have been a pagan.”

“And you were getting drunk, and dancing to her music, too, no doubt,” Cecil said with a smart-Alec smirk.

“No, I was stone cold sober!” Nelson snapped. “I didn’t start drinkin’ ’til after the deaths, as I told ya before. And now I’ll get to that part o’ the story.”

“Oh, good,” Cecil said. “Now the story should get interesting.”

“I live near here, as I said before, so I’ve seen it happen every time,” Nelson said, then took another swig from his bottle. “I’ve never known Indians to practice witchcraft, and Miss Wilson was the only white woman I’ve ever known to renounce Christ, or never believe in Him, whichever, so her little ritual must ‘a’ been the witchcraft that caused all the deaths in Lake Real.”

“Very well,” Cecil said. “What about those deaths? You claim you were sober when you saw them.”

“The first couple o’ times, after her ritual, when I saw people go to the lake for a swim, I walked over to the shore to get a better look; for that woman’s ritual looked so intense, combined with her hate o’ that school and the sufferin’ o’ the Indians she so pitied, that I had to see what was goin’ t’ happen.”

“…and what did happen?” Cecil asked, his patience leaving him.

“As soon as the first person to go in was all the way under the water, I saw him freeze in it.”

Freeze in it?” Eleanore asked. “You mean, go cold?

“No, not that,” Nelson said with dread in his eyes. “The swimmer just stopped movin’. Completely. I looked down at him in the water. He was facin’ me, so I saw the terror in his eyes. He wouldn’t move. Couldn’t. Then, what I saw got stranger ‘n’ stranger.”

“What was that?” Cecil asked, smirking in disbelief.

“His whole body…his face, trunk, arms ‘n’ legs…they all started…stretchin’ out, like as if he were meltin’, or goin’ fat, or somethin’ like that.”

“What do you mean?” Eleanore asked with a sneer of disbelief.

“It’s like his body was slowly mergin’ with the water, becoming one with it.” He shook, then took another swig.

“How is that even possible?” Cecil scoffed.

“I don’t know, but that’s what I saw,” Nelson said. “And I was completely sober.”

“No offence, my friend,” Cecil said, “but if you saw all that while stone cold sober, then you’re lucky you haven’t been put away somewhere.”

“If you go in that water, you’ll learn the hard way that I ain’t crazy at all!” Nelson shouted, standing up as if ready to have a fistfight with Cecil. “Go on in! You’ll regret it! I warned ya!”

“Sir, we’re sorry,” Eleanore said. “Cecil, watch your tongue!” Then, back to Nelson, “Please, sit back down and finish your story. What happened next?”

Nelson calmed down, sat down with staggering difficulty, and continued: “As I said, his body was merging with the water, and I could see him slowly fading away. His skin turned blue and became the water, and the last thing I saw o’ him was his terrified eyes, ‘n’ they faded away, too.” He took another swig from his bottle.

Cecil and Eleanore just looked at him with confused eyes. They didn’t know what to say to such a crazy story.

“Every other person, man, woman, or child–white people, that is–that I saw goin’ into that lake over the past four years, has met the exact same fate. I put up a sign or two, warnin’ people not to go in the water, but people just ignore it, ’cause the water is so beautiful. Nobody believes there’s anything wrong with the lake.”

“We saw such a sign, remember, Cecil?” she asked him. “We just walked by it as if it wasn’t even there.”

“Because there’s no reason to believe there’s anything wrong with the lake, honey,” Cecil said.

“Because part o’ the witchcraft is to lure you in,” Nelson said. “Miss Wilson told me how much she hated the white man for hurtin’ the Indians so much, so part o’ her avengin’ them musta been to lure as many white Christian folks to their doom as possible. Some priests in the school tried to baptize some Indians in the lake: the priests went in, felt compelled to dip their heads in the water, go all the way in, and died–I saw it, the same way as that first man…but the Indian kids came out o’ the water unhurt.”

Cecil’s and Eleanore’s eyes widened.

“The survivin’ priests and nuns concluded, as I did, that Lake Real is possessed o’ demons, so they closed the school down and tried to warn other people, though everybody was just like you…unbelievin’. Over the past four years, I’ve tried to warn would-be swimmers here not t’ go in, but none of ’em listen to me. They go in and die the same way. And then is when I started drinkin’…out o’ despair.”

“Very well, then,” Cecil said, getting up with Eleanore. “If it’ll make you feel any better, we won’t go in the water.”

“Thank you,” he told the couple, then stood up. “That gives me a peace o’ mind that I rarely have these days. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” they said, and walked back into the woods.

They’ll still go in, Nelson thought. Lake Real is callin’ for ’em.

Cecil and Eleanore walked through the forest in a semicircle around the lake before coming out in a clearing on the other side. (Nelson had gone in a semicircle the other way; the equidistant roundness of Lake Real made it easy for him to reach the same area in roughly the same time. He hid behind some bushes before they got there.)

The couple looked around for any signs of Nelson hiding.

“Good,” Cecil said. “That crazy old drunk is gone. Let’s go in the water.”

They stripped down to their undergarments and waded into the water, up to their upper legs. So far, nothing to fear. They ventured in further, up to their waists, and far from sensing any danger, they found the water to be most refreshing. They felt an urge to go in deeper, so they went in with the water up to their necks.

“What do you think, Eleanore?” Cecil asked her.

“The water is lovely,” she said.

“I agree,” he said. “Let’s dip our heads in and swim around some.”

At that point, Nelson came out of the bushes and approached the shore. Here’s where it happens, he thought. As soon as they put their whole bodies under, as those priests who did the baptizing, they who couldn’t resist going all the way under, too. The lake makes them want to.

As soon as Cecil and Eleanore dipped their heads under the water, they froze.

They couldn’t paddle their arms or legs at all.

They just floated, immobile, under the water.

“Mmm!” they both whined repeatedly as they tried to fidget in the water, but neither could budge in the slightest.

Both of them were facing the shore, so they could see Nelson standing there, frowning at them. He took another swig from his almost-empty bottle.

Go on, you old bastard, Cecil thought, scowling. Gloat at us. Shout out, “I told ya so!” Go on. You know you want to.

Eleanore wanted to scream at the top of her lungs, but all she could do was whine as before. Why is this happening to us? she asked herself. Cecil and I never hurt any Indians. Why are they taking their revenge on us?

Because you came here with the rest of the white men, a voice said in her mind’s ear and in that of Cecil. You took our land from us, scorned our religion and culture, and stopped us from practicing it. You all abused us, raped us, beat us, and killed us in massacres and spreading your European diseases onto us. Worst of all, you’ve benefited from our suffering. That’s why you all deserve to die!

Cecil and Eleanore assumed that, no longer able to hold their breath and forced to inhale, they’d pass out, drown, and be put out of their misery. But when they breathed in the water, a strange thing happened: not only did they not pass out and die, they found themselves breathing the water as if their nostrils and mouths were gills! The Indian spirits possessing the water were keeping Cecil and Eleanore alive…for the moment.

As they breathed in the water–which felt as natural to them as breathing in oxygen–they found their bodies slowly merging with it. Nelson watched with horror–a horror only somewhat mitigated by his drunkenness, and not at all mitigated by having seen the same thing many times before–as the couple’s bodies were melting and mixing with the surrounding water. Their undergarments slipped off and floated to the surface while the peach colour of their naked skin stretched out into the water, merged with each other, and began melding with the blue.

Nelson saw a growing, wavy rectangular form made up of the skin colour of both of their melting, merging bodies. The two pairs of terrified eyes, however, stayed where they were and stared at him. He almost heard what those eyes were saying to him.

Help me.

Please.

That rectangular mass of skin colour was slowly changing into the blue of the lake. Those pairs of eyes, though, remained intact and kept staring at him, pleading with him.

Help us, please.

Save us, if you can.

Could he save them? In his staggering drunkenness, Nelson knew, far off in the back of his mind, that he could.

The voices of the Indian ghosts in the lake had said to him, every time he watched all the other deaths as with these two, that he could have saved them…if he’d had the guts. He still could, this time.

All he had to do was replace the couple in the water.

Nelson had come to hate his life. He hated his cowardice, the cowardice that had kept him from saving the lives of the previous victims. He hated himself for running away from his responsibility, and running towards bottles of whiskey.

Getting drunk was an attempt to escape the pain, of course, but it was a failed attempt, every time. This time, however, he was so drunk that he felt fewer inhibitions about going in the water, so this handsome young couple, young enough to have been his own son and daughter, could come out of the water and live the full lives they should have been allowed to live.

So, Nelson? one of the Indian ghosts’ voices asked him, the voice echoing in his mind’s ear. Do you have the courage, finally, to do it this time? Will you demonstrate the truth of your religious beliefs? Will you be an imitator of Christ, go in the water, and die for these two people?

Nelson watched those fading bodies and shuddered.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends, the Indian voice said. Isn’t that true, Nelson? Are you ready to redeem yourself, your religion, and your people?

Cecil’s and Eleanore’s bodies continued turning blue, and those pleading eyes kept staring into Nelson’s.

He gulped down the last of the whiskey.

A tear ran down his cheek.

He was shaking all over.

You had better hurry, the Indian voice said. Time is running out for the two of them.

“The hell with it,” he slurred, then tossed the empty bottle to the side. “I’ll do it.”

He waded into the water, staggering and stumbling. By the time he was up to his neck in the water, he turned around to face the shore, took a deep breath, looked down at the pairs of eyes in the water one last time, and dipped his head in.

He froze.

Cecil and Eleanore felt their bodies slowly materializing: blue turned back into the peach colour of their skin, which condensed and reshaped itself into their naked bodies, and they found their undergarments. They rushed out of the water, so eager were they to get out of it that they didn’t care about their exposed nakedness.

They wrung out their undergarments and put them back on; then they put the rest of their clothes back on. Finally fully dressed, they looked out at Nelson in the water.

As motionless as they had been, he was facing them and smiling at them. Eleanore wondered, at first, if his smile was from the lecherous pleasure of seeing her body. Then she realized it was a smile of peace of mind.

It was his body that was melting and dissolving in the water this time. His eyes looked out at Cecil and Eleanore, who looked back at him teary-eyed.

Eleanore couldn’t bear it. “No!” she said, starting back for the water. “We can’t just leave him there to die! We have to–“

“No, Eleanore, no!” Cecil said, grabbing her by the arm and stopping her. “We ain’t goin’ back in there. I won’t let you experience that hell again. He’s done this for us. He wanted to. Don’t refuse it. Look at his face. He’s found peace.”

Indeed, they saw a dissolving face with a smile and eyes that shone peace of mind, something he hadn’t felt in years.

Soon, all that was left were Nelson’s floating clothes and those peaceful eyes.

Then the eyes faded away, too.

‘Ghost Town,’ a Western Horror Short Story

Duane Parkhurst rode on his horse into his small hometown of Arlington only to find it completely deserted.

“What the hell?” he whispered to himself as he looked around and saw not even one person on the main street.

Far off in the distance along the main road, he could see the local saloon, which looked burned down to its foundations. It was an eerie sight, seeing it all turned from a healthy brown to a black of death. It reminded him of some nasty business he’d been involved in just a few days ago.

Don’t mind that for now, he thought; I’ll check on it later. I wanna go home ‘n’ see the Missus, see if she’s alright.

He rode off the main road and found the neighbourhood of houses where his family’s was. He got there in a few minutes. He got off his horse, took off his hat, and went in through the front door.

“Emily?” he called out for his wife, then for his kids: “Billy? Sue?”

He looked around the parlour, then the kitchen, and finally, in his and Emily’s bedroom.

“Where the hell is everyb–” he said as he entered the bedroom, then he saw Emily.

She was hanging by the neck under a wood beam from the ceiling. A kicked-over stool was lying by her feet.

“Oh, my God! No!” he yelled, then ran over to her body.

He untied the rope and took her down. He laid her on the bed, then removed the rope from her broken neck. The red marks were deeply cut into her neck. He checked for breath and movement, only to find none. The top of her dress was torn open, revealing her breasts. He looked over at the floor, by the stool: her torn-off drawers were lying there. He wouldn’t allow himself to imagine what had happened.

“No, baby, no,” he wept. “Why? Why’d ya do it?” He held his head in his hands and continued weeping for several more minutes. Then he got up and left the room, fearing for his kids. “What the hell happened here?”

He kept looking around the house for little Billy and Sue, but they were nowhere to be found. It was getting harder and harder for him to contain himself. He returned to the parlour and sat on his chair. He needed a moment to think things over, to reflect on what had happened over the past several days…not that they had had anything to do with what was going on now, surely.

It had been three days, since September 23rd, 1883, to be exact, when he and his gang robbed the bank in Chesterton, Nebraska, and burned down two buildings there to distract the locals from chasing the gang. Actually, two of the boys in the gang, brothers George and Ronald Wilson, also burned the buildings down for the sheer fun of it.

All of them had safely ridden out of town on their horses after a shootout with the sheriff and his men, and Duane and his partner in the robbery, Clifford Keane, hid out by some trees. (George and Ronald were slowed down by the shootout, which injured both of their horses.) Then Duane pointed his sawed-off shotgun at Clifford.

“What the hell d’you think you’re doin’, there, boy?” Clifford said as he stared at the barrel of Duane’s gun.

“Drop yer share of the loot,” Duane said.

“You’re gonna regret this, Duane,” Clifford said, then untied his bags from his horse and dropped them to the ground.

“I’m sure I will,” Duane said with a grin, then shot him.

George and Ronald were approaching on foot, their horses too badly hurt to be ridden on anymore, when they saw Clifford fall off of his horse and hit the ground, a river of blood flowing from his gut. Their jaws dropped.

“What the hell you doin’, Duane?” George said.

“Drop yer bags, boys,” he told them.

They did. Then he shot them. He got off his horse and picked up Clifford’s bags of loot.

As he went over to get George’s and Ronald’s bags, he heard the gasps of barely-alive Clifford: “You will pay dearly for your sins, Duane…You…will…pay…dear…ly…”

Duane tied the other bags to his horse, got on, and rode on towards Arlington. Any posse coming for me would first find the bodies of my gang, he thought. They’ll be too distracted with the bodies to continue searching for me. In fact, who knows? Maybe the posse will think the whole gang was killed and they’ll stop the search completely.

If this last possibility came true, he would be totally free. Then he would ride into Arlington with all that extra loot and enrich the entire village, not just his family with his original cut. So were his hopes at the time.

But now that he’d reached Arlington, he saw nobody, not a soul, to share all that money with.

His triple murder and grand theft had all been for nothing.

Unless his kids were still alive. He hung on to that fragile hope.

He went back outside, put his hat back on, and got on his horse.

I’m going back to the main street, he thought as he began riding. That saloon down the way, burnt to a crisp, looks ominous, but I’ve got to find the truth to whatever happened here.

As he was riding along, he heard, Duane, whispered from a familiar voice.

Emily’s.

He spun his horse around in a panic.

There she was, a glowing, ghostly apparition that was floating before his face. The rope marks were still on her neck, she was in the frilly dress she’d had on–still torn and showing off most of her breasts–when she killed herself, and on her pretty face was a permanent frown.

“Hey, baby,” he sobbed. “Why’d ya kill yerself?”

I couldn’t live with myself after what…they done to me, she said in a reverberating whisper.

“What…who done to ya? Done what to ya, darlin’?” He still refused to contemplate the meaning behind her torn dress.

Three men…yesterday…they…knew me…in a way…only you’re supposed to know me. The ghost began sobbing.

No longer able to deny it, Duane blew up. “Where are they?! I’ll kill ’em, the lousy sumbitches!” He was ready to ride off.

You can’t.

“What’dye mean, I can’t? I’m quick on the draw! You think yer husband ain’t man enough to–“

It ain’t that, honey. You can’t kill ’em ’cause they’re already dead, like me.

His eyes widened so much, you could have seen almost half his eyeballs, it seemed. His jaw dropped so low, it was almost touching his chest. Naw, he thought; it couldn’t have been them.

“How can dead men…v-violate you, honey?”

I don’t know, but three ghosts came at me and…they did things to me…that are so filthy…I can’t describe ’em to you. She began weeping again. They were like…ghosts with bodies, ’cause I could….feel them…inside me. She was weeping louder now.

“Who were they?” Duane asked, afraid to hear the answer.

They told me their names, ’cause they wanted me to tell you: Clifford Keane, and George and Ronald Wilson.

Duane fell off his horse. His hat fell off, and the wind took it away.

He just sat there on the dirt road, stunned, for several minutes.

That can’t be! he thought. Emily never met the members of my gang, not even once in her life. There’s no way she could have known their names. Still, can ghosts come back from the dead like that? Naw, they can’t!

He snapped out of it and looked around. Emily was gone.

“Uh, baby? Where’d ya go?”

No answer.

He got back up and got on his horse. He continued riding over to that saloon, full of emotional exhaustion and dread.

He reached the front of the saloon, that is, its charred and blackened remains, and he got off his horse. He walked in so slowly, it was almost as if he were standing still.

As he walked around the remains of the ground floor, with its coal-black stools, tables that once had been, and a bar totally devoured by fire, he heard faint voices from below.

We’re down here, a group of voices whispered.

“In the basement?” he asked.

Yes, they said in those eerie, ethereal voices. Come down and meet us.

He gulped, then looked around for the stairs down there…hoping he wouldn’t find them, but sadly, he did find them.

Duane went down those stairs with shaking legs as the whispering voices grew louder.

Come and meet your destiny, one voice said.

Come and meet your doom, said another.

Daddy, two children’s voices whispered…familiar voices.

“Billy?” Duane yelped, then rushed down the rest of the stairs, almost tripping at one point. “Sue?”

He stopped dead in his tracks just a few steps from the bottom. For in the basement, he saw a hill of charred corpses. It seemed to be pretty much the entire population of his village here in this large basement. The stench was unbearable. He put his hand over his mouth and nose, then continued inside.

Daddy, Billy’s and Sue’s voices said again.

“Where are you?” Duane asked in sobs, his eyes darting all over the place to find their ghosts.

Over here, Daddy, they whispered. He followed their voices over to the hill of bodies.

He stopped before a slope of the hill of corpses when he saw two tiny, blackened arms sticking out, each with a distinctive bracelet on its wrist. Though they were damaged by the fire, he could still recognize them by the names carved into them: Billy and Sue.

He’d given them the bracelets as gifts a year ago.

He broke down and wailed, “Oh, my babies!”

Why’d you do it, Daddy? Billy’s voice asked from over his right ear.

His head spun around behind him, and he looked up to see floating apparitions of his eight-year-old boy and six-year-old girl. They looked down at him with a kind of despairing frown that should never be seen on children.

“Why’d I do what, boy?” Duane asked in sobs.

Kill those three men you were workin’ with, Sue asked. Weren’t they yer friends? You’re never supposed to do that to yer friends, ain’t that right, Daddy?

Duane’s heart was pounding with terror to know that they knew something they couldn’t have known. The words of his sweet, innocent daughter gave him a pang of conscience.

It’s enough of a sin that you robbed that bank and had your men burn those buildings and kill all the people in ’em, but killin’ yer own buddies, Daddy? Billy asked in that haunting, echoing voice. That’s just too much.

An’ yer buddies done killed all o’ us to get back at you, Daddy, Sue said in that same, chilling whisper. If you hadn’t done killed ’em, they wouldn’t ‘a’ killed us.

“How could this’ve happened?” Duane sobbed. “I just wanted to use all the loot to help our poor town to invest it and prosper. Those three men were just thieves. No one woulda missed ’em.”

You got greedy, Duane, the familiar voice of a man, Clifford’s, rang in Duane’s ears. I told you you’d pay dearly for your sins.

Duane turned his head slowly, away from the ghosts of his kids, the other way to find the source of Clifford’s voice. Sure enough, now he saw apparitions of not only his ghost, but also the ghosts of George and Ronald.

It’s payback time, Duane, George said.

Remember what it says in Galatians 6:7, Ronald said. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

“Since when are you a preacher all of a sudden, Ronald?” Duane said. “You’re as much an unrepentant sinner as I am. I never committed arson, as you ‘n’ yer brother done!”

True, but we’re paying for our sins now, Ronald said. As you will be doin’ soon…with us, in Hell!

All three ghosts were glowing and hovering over Duane’s head, looking down at him with malevolent smiles.

But before you’re sent to Hell, where we’ll really torment you, Clifford said, we want you to see how all your efforts to help your town done the opposite.

“How’d you kill everyone here, you sumbitches?” Duane asked.

Well, after we raped yer wife… Ronald said.

…and did things to her that are illegal in every state in the Union, George added with a lewd grin. What exactly are the laws against sodomy, fellas?

“You shut yer goddam mouth, George! That’s my wife you stained!”

Oh, yeah? George said. Whatcha goin’ do about it? Shoot a ghost?

We played the incubus on yer wife as part of yer payback for betrayin’ us, Clifford said.

Yeah, Ronald said. You ain’t got no right to complain.

Anyway, after we had her, we took possession of all the people in this town, Clifford said.

We led ’em all down into this here saloon, down into this here basement, and locked ’em in, George said.

Then George ‘n’ me set fire to the building, Ronald said. It was fun listenin’ to all o’ them screamin’.

Especially the cryin’ o’ yer two li’l brats, George said.

“You bastards!” Duane shouted.

Shouldn’t ‘a’ killed us, Duane, Clifford said. And now it’s your turn to die.

And when we have you with us in Hell, that’s when the real torture begins, George said with a malicious grin.

“Whatcha gonna be able to do to me if I’m already dead?”

You’ll see, Clifford said. In Hell, there’s sufferin’ you’d never dream of up here on Earth.

Just so you know, it ain’t just yer wife ‘n’ kids that are ghosts, Ronald said. Yo mama, papa, ‘n’ kid sister were in that fire, too. Look aroun’ in that pile o’ bodies. You’ll find ’em in there, too.

You’ll have a whole eternity to see unspeakable things done to yer family, George said. And you’ll hafta watch, ‘n’ won’t be able to do nothin’ ’bout it. He giggled at the thought of it.

“I won’t letcha kill me, you bastards!” Duane said. “I’ll–“

You’d never be able to stop us from killin’ you, Clifford said. But even if ya could, we won’t need to kill ya.

Posse’s on its way, Ronald said.

We guided ’em here, George said.

Duane ran back up the stairs with the laughter of his three former friends echoing in the background. As soon as his head was over the ground floor, he saw a group of men on horses, out on the street, staring at the burnt saloon.

“The remainder of the gang must’ve burned down this saloon the same way they did those buildings in Chesterton,” the leader of the posse said.

“Hey, look!” another member of the posse shouted. “Look down at the stairs to the basement. That man hidin’ down there–he’s one o’ the gang, ain’t he? Betcha he’s hidin’ down there, thinkin’ we won’t look for ‘im down there.”

“I saw his face,” a third posse member said. “I reco’nize ‘im. He’s one o’ the bank robbers.”

“Get ‘im!” the leader said. All of them got off their horses and ran for the basement stairs.

I’m dead, Duane thought, running back down as he heard the laughter of the three ghosts get louder. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna hang by the neck in shame back in Chesterton. Maybe the ghosts of my family and friends in Arlington can help me ‘gainst them three sumbitches.

He took a pistol out of his right holster and put it to his head. He saw the posse coming down the stairs and pointing their fingers at him.

He blew his brains out.

He woke up in Hell.

No burnin’ fire, he thought as he looked around. No Satan. Where am I?

He was in the outskirts of Chesterton again. He saw himself, as if looking in a mirror, pointing his sawed-off shotgun at him.

“Drop yer share of the loot,” Duane said to…himself?

He untied his bags of money from the horse he was on–not his own–and dropped them to the ground, then saw himself in…Clifford’s clothes?

He felt a bullet pierce his gut. He fell off his horse. His half-closed eyes saw, in blurry vision, his blood flowing out in a river. He blacked out.

Now he found himself on his feet, walking with bags of loot in his hands and approaching fallen Clifford and…himself? He looked over at Ronald, then at himself: he was in George’s clothes!

He and Ronald were again told to drop their share of the loot on the ground. He felt a bullet pierce his heart, and just as he began to fall to the ground, he felt his consciousness go over to Ronald’s body…just in time to feel a bullet pierce his heart again.

Everything went black.

He found himself in his bedroom. He looked down at himself…or was it herself?…and saw that frilly dress Emily had worn. His arms were skinny and hairless…his wife’s arms!

He…or rather, she…felt three incubi hit her like three huge balls, knocking her onto their bed. Duane was experiencing it all in his wife’s body. The dress was torn away to reveal her breasts. Then her undergarments were torn off.

Yes, what these three incubi…Clifford, George, and Ronald…were doing to her was unspeakable. Duane felt three female orifices, not two male ones, being invaded. The physical pain was nothing compared with the shame he felt.

So this is how it feels for a lady to be transformed into a whore, he thought as the three-way penetration continued. I’m so sorry, baby. I wasn’t here to protect you.

When they finished, they shot out of the house as quickly as they’d shot in. He could hear himself crying his wife’s tears as the trembling body his soul was trapped in was searching for some rope.

He felt her step up on the stool, tie the rope to the wood beam on the ceiling, put it around her neck, kick the stool, and felt the rope fibres cutting into her neck, cutting off her air supply, breaking her neck, and making her lose consciousness.

Next, he felt himself being compelled to walk out of the house and towards the saloon. He looked down at himself, and realized his soul was inside Billy’s little body. He looked to his right and saw Sue there. She was looking straight ahead, with what looked like no independent will. He could sense the presence of Clifford, George, and Ronald controlling both his boy and girl.

No, he thought. No. Don’t make me experience their deaths. No!

Yes, the voice of Clifford buzzed in his ears. You’re not only gonna experience yer little boy’s and girl’s deaths, not only yer mama’s, papa’s, ‘n’ sister’s deaths, but you’re gonna re-experience them all, over and over again, for all eternity.

What? he thought.

That’s right, George said. Why’d ya think they call Hell ‘eternal death’?

The Devil’s makin’ us three experience the same thing, Ronald said. Experiencin’ and re-experiencin’ the deaths of all the people we done killed. But the Devil done made a deal with us three. Since you double-crossed us, we can enjoy makin’ you suffer far worse than we have to. You see, you’re in what’s called the Ninth Circle o’ Hell, which is reserved for traitors. You’re a traitor, havin’ double-crossed us, so you’ll suffer far worse than us.

This can’t be happenin’, Duane thought as he saw himself and Sue nearing the saloon. This is a nightmare, ain’t it? Please pinch me an’ wake me up!

This is no dream, Clifford said. And you ain’t ever wakin’ up.

No! Duane thought, trying to take control over his son’s body, but he couldn’t move any part of it an inch.

You ain’t got no control, George said. Whatcha think you’re doin’? There ain’t nothin’ you can do ’bout it.

He and Sue walked into the saloon, over to the stairs, and down them. In the basement was almost everybody else.

He saw his mother, father, and kid sister, all of them standing there without any ability to retake control of their bodies and get out of the building. He and Sue were now also standing there, helpless and immobile.

A few more people from the village were made to enter the basement.

Everybody’s here, Clifford said. Alright, boys, go burn the saloon down.

Still trapped in little Billy’s body, the soul of Duane watched, in all helplessness, as the ghosts of George and Ronald flew out of the basement. After several minutes, he could smell smoke.

A while later, he and all the others felt the heat growing, then the flames appeared all around them.

Here are the fires of Hell, Duane, Ronald said. You were wonderin’ about them. Here they are.

The worst feeling of all wasn’t so much the physical pain of the burning; it was feeling the terror of his helpless son and daughter, feeling his boy’s heart pounding, his little pulse racing, his shaking body, and knowing he couldn’t do a thing about it. Looking over and seeing the mounting terror in little Sue’s eyes was all the more unbearable for him.

The flames got closer and closer, already burning his neighbours. The boy wept as he heard their screams. Duane could say nothing to comfort poor little Billy. He had no control over the boy’s body, which was fixed in its spot, practically paralyzed, as all the other victims were, being possessed by Clifford, George, and Ronald.

Then the flames came for him.

As the flames crawled along his skin and devoured everything in their path, the boy screamed and wailed. His father wanted to say, “Sorry, Billy. I’m so sorry!” but he couldn’t even do that.

When Billy passed out from the excruciating pain, his consciousness went over to little Sue.

Oh, God, no! he thought. Don’t make me feel my little princess sufferin’! Please, God, no!

But he would feel it, and hear her shrill screams of pain and bawling until she lost consciousness.

Then he went into his father’s body, and he felt his father’s body burning. Sorry, Daddy, he wanted to say…but couldn’t.

Then, after his father passed out and died, Duane’s soul went into his kid sister’s body, which immediately after began to burn. It broke his heart to know her pretty face and hair were being destroyed by the flames. Sorry, Sis, he wanted to say…but he couldn’t.

Finally, his soul went into his mother’s body. The sacred body of the angel who gave him life…burning in Hell like a devil.

And he could tell her no words of apology or comfort. He could only hear her screams, and watch her body destroyed.

After she passed out, Duane felt himself back in the outskirts of Chesterton again, in Clifford’s body, and looking at himself pointing that shotgun again.

And let’s do it all over again, he heard Clifford’s voice say to him. And again and again and again…forever.

NOOOOO!!!! he wanted to scream, with all of his might, and all of his soul.

But he couldn’t.

‘Will,’ a Surreal Horror Short Story

They’re trying to kill me. I know. Those pills they keep giving me…there’s some kind of drug in them that’s making me hallucinate, see things, hear things. It’s all to break me down, control me, weaken me.

Then, when I die, they can get at my will.

I’m getting old, and they no longer want to wait for me to die. I’m too much of a burden to take care of. Why did I become a father?

Oh, look. My eldest son, Gaines, is coming in my room. What’s he got for me this time? Another pill to make me high as a kite?

Hey…wait! What happened to his face? He has no nose or mouth! The holes are all walled off with skin! How can he breathe like that? What’s that in his hands?

“Here, Dad,” Gaines says, giving me a surgical mask. “You need to wear this from now on. It’s to protect you from germs, and to stop you from passing your own germs on to other people.”

His face moves around as if he has a mouth and jaws, and I can hear his words, muffled as the sound is; but there’s no mouth for the sounds to come out of!

“How can you talk without a mouth?” I ask him.

“Without a mouth?” he says. “What are you talking about? I’m wearing a mask, like this one.” He puts it on my face, saying, “Oh, wait, it must be that my mask has a beige, peach colour. You can’t see well without your glasses, so you think the mask is my skin. You must be imagining things again. You aren’t well. Poor Dad!”

Oh, this mask is uncomfortable on my face! I feel like I can’t breathe with this thing on.

“Mmmf…mmmf!” I moan with this mask against my mouth. I begin to rise from my pillow.

“Dad, relax,” he says, holding me back on my bed and stopping me from getting up. “You’re OK. Don’t be scared. Everything that Valsi and I are doing is for your own good.”

All the time, looking at just his two eyes–no nose, no mouth on that face–it’s creepy-looking.

Now my daughter, Valerie Antonia…Valsi, as we call her, is coming into the room. Oh, no! She doesn’t have a nose or mouth either! There’s no point in my saying it, though: they’ll just tell me she’s wearing a skin-coloured surgical mask, too. I can’t keep quiet, though.

“Mmmf…MMMF!” I’m mumbling in a panic.

“Dad, what are you so scared about?” she asks in her gravelly voice (she smokes too much), though now it’s also muffled, like Gaines’s. “We’re taking good care of you. You’ll be OK. Just trust us. We know what we’re doing.”

Again, I’m trying to rise from my bed, but Gaines is holding me down.

“There’s a nasty bug going around,” she says, getting a shot ready for me. “This vaccine should give you at least some protection from it.”

“Nnnn…NNNN!” I’m moaning in protest, fidgeting and trying to free myself from Gaines’s grasp. I know the drugs they give me make me hallucinate, and I can only imagine how much worse the hallucinations are going to be with that vaccine.

“Dad, it’s OK,” he tells me as he’s trying, with all his strength, to keep me still on the bed. “Stop…being so…paranoid. We’re trying…to help you.”

“I think his mental health is going as well as his physical health,” she says, bringing the needle up to my arm. It’s a few millimetres away from my skin.

“MMMM!” I’m screaming. “NNNN!”

Do I no longer have a mouth and nose? It feels that way.

Oww! I’m feeling the prick of the needle in my arm, only it stings worse than it normally would, like the sharp end of a knife.

Oh, no! I feel the drugs going in my blood.

O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick.

Everything I see is getting blurry and dark. My energy is fading. I seem…to be floating…between wakefulness…and sleep…

Gaines and Valsi…can do anything…they want…to me now…

I’m seeing…what look like…the waves…of a dark ocean…undulating…all around me…My body is vibrating…with the high…of the drug…but it’s a…paranoid high…

My will…is being taken…from me…I must fight…against the effects…of this drug, with all my effort…with all my strength…I, Nate Ed Will, mustn’t let…my greedy son and daughter…kill me, at least not…without a fight!

I’ll lose…in this struggle–my death is…more than likely–but I will not…die through…a lack of trying…to stay alive! I’ll make…their murder and theft…of my money…and property…as difficult as I can!

Am I dreaming now,…or am I awake?

Are the bizarre images…I see before me…the hallucinations…of the drugs…they’ve given me,…is it just…a dream…or am I losing my mind?

I see…babies coming out…of my mouth? Am I…vomiting babies? Now I see…an oval stone, swaddled like a baby, flying out…of my mouth.

Wait…that needle…Valsi has in her hand…its prick felt…like the tip of a knife…when she stuck it…in my arm…It really is a knife!…I see a knife…in her hand…and now, she’s bringing it down…in a stabbing motion…to my crotch!

Blood is splashing…everywhere around me…an ocean of red…Something further off…is it a fish?…it’s swimming in the blood, swimming and jumping…up out of…and back into…the red. I can’t see it…clearly from here…all I know is…that it’s long and thin…at the top…and it has a beige…peach colour.

It’s coming closer…jumping in arcs…in and out of the red…and towards me. I’m beginning to see…it better now. Hey, wait a minute…that’s no fish…it’s a cock and balls…my cock and balls!

Valsi emasculated me!

Groping around…at my crotch area…I feel nothing…between my thighs. She really cut them off!

Why…would she do…such a thing…to her own father? What purpose…would such…a mutilation serve her? To hasten my death…so she…and her brother…can get their filthy hands…on my money? Or is it all…out of spite?

What did I do…to her…to deserve this?

It must have been…to get at my money. Of course, that’s what…all of this…has been about. My defiance is…slowing down my death…so they’re trying…to speed things up…by castrating me.

Ungrateful, unfilial monsters! That’s what they are.

Still, I’ll defy them…and try to stay alive…as long as I can.

Is this a mask…on my face…or have I lost…my mouth and nose? I’ve got…to find out.

My fingers…are moving all over…my lower face…I don’t feel…any cloth material on it…only skin. I don’t feel nostrils, either. Instead of…a bump…where my nose should be, I feel only…a rounded elevation…below my eyes…and where my mouth…should be.

No hole there! No lips, no teeth, no tongue? They removed…my mouth and my nose! How could they do that…by just putting a mask…on my face? I don’t believe in magic, but I’m…going crazy enough…to start…believing in it.

No mouth. No nose. No cock. No balls.

I’ve lost them all.

Have I lost…my mind, too?

Everything around me…is pitch black, not even…a darkness…with a faint…bit of light…so my eyes…can adjust…to the dark. I haven’t lost my eyes, too, have I?

I’m feeling around…my upper face…that round elevation…where my nose once was…is now just…sloping down smoothly…to my forehead…No depressions…where my eye sockets…are supposed to be.

I have no eyes!

I don’t…even feel…the hair…of my eyebrows.

My hand is…sliding all the way…up and down my face, and all I feel…is smooth skin…with an ovoid shape.

I no longer…have a face…I’ve lost it!

I don’t feel myself breathing, but I must be, since I can still…feel myself…to be alive. Even though my thinking…is that of…a madman, it’s still thinking. Therefore, like Descartes…I exist.

I hear footsteps approaching…yet stopping from…a noticeable distance. I still…have my ears, anyway.

“Dad?” Gaines’s voice is heard to say.

If I can breathe…without a mouth and nose, I suppose…I can still talk…without them, for such is…the bizarre world…I’m living in now. Still, regardless of whether…I can or cannot speak, I don’t wish…to talk to him…or Valsi, so I’m remaining quiet.

“Dad?” he says again. “Are you awake? Can you hear me?” He waits a few seconds…for a reply, which he doesn’t get, then says, “Well, anyway, because of your illness, neither Valsi nor I can get too close to you, so we’re going to leave you alone for a while. When the time comes to give you your next shot, or your pills, or anything else we need to do, we’ll have to use some kind of extension rods or something [I think he said that] to give you what you need, or to move you if we have to. Bye.”

I hear…his footsteps…and the closing…of my bedroom door. I’m all alone in here.

Or so it seems.

Could there be someone…or something…in here with me…all quiet…and ready to pounce on me…not caring about catching my illness…if I even have an illness?

I never really felt sick…until Gaines and Valsi…started harping…on and on…about how ‘sick’ I am. Then, after hearing…about my ‘illness’ enough times, I began…to believe in it. Funny how…all you have to do…is hear a lie…told over and over again, then you…start believing it.

Wait…was that a noise I heard?

Someone shuffling around in here?

Gaines and Valsi left. I heard them walk out, Gaines closing the door. Nobody should be…in here…but me.

Again…a shuffling sound!

Some agonizing silence…I hear…my accelerating heartbeat.

A grunt?

Silence.

Another shuffling sound.

Silence.

Another grunt!

Is there…an animal of some kind…in here?

A shuffle…and a grunt!

Oh! Did I…just feel an animal’s limb…a leg…or a tentacle…brush against…my upper left arm?

Two grunts!

Silence…for about twenty…excruciating seconds.

Uh! Something just brushed…against my right calf! It really felt…like a giant tentacle…or maybe a snake.

My God! A long, loud grunt!

What kind of animal…grunts and has…huge tentacles? What snake grunts? I wish I knew more…about zoology, or marine biology, so I could have…at least some kind of idea…what this thing is!

A tentacle…or a giant snake…just brushed against…my right shoulder!

Silence…for about ten seconds.

I’m shaking all over…sweat is soaking me.

Another grunt…almost as loud…as the last one.

Silence.

Oh! The tentacles…or giant snakes…are grabbing me…by the arms…and legs! I’m being pulled…off the bed!

“NNNN!” is my muffled, mouthless scream, then, “MMMF!”

As the monster…this giant octopus…or group of…giant sea-snakes…is carrying me away, I hear two…familiar voices. I’m fidgeting, trying to free myself.

“Dad, it’s OK,” Gaines says. “Don’t be scared.” Are the snakes…carrying him and Valsi off, too?

“We’re just carrying you to another room,” Valsi says. “We’re using extension rods because we can’t get too close to you. We’ll catch your disease if we do.”

These don’t feel…like any kind of rod…They’re giant snakes! Rubbery, slimy, and slithery!

If Gaines and Valsi…are being carried off…by the sea-snakes, too, aren’t they trying…to free themselves? They seem…willing to be taken…to their doom with me…or maybe…I’m wishing it.

Before, I saw the dark waves…of an ocean…all enveloping me. Now, I feel those waves, as if these giant, grunting sea-snakes…have pulled me…from the beach…and out into the sea. Have Gaines…and Valsi…been taken…into the sea…with me?

Am I breathing water? For all I know, I could have…grown gills, since I no longer…have nostrils.

Everything is…so black, wet, and wavy all around me.

At the moment…it’s…almost peaceful.

Wait!…I just bumped…my leg into…what feels like wood. Now I feel…hard wood…under my back, just over my head, tightly on…either side, and just below…my feet. A lid…just closed over me, though it feels like…it’s covering me…only up to…my neck.

“What’s going on?” I say in the muffled, slurred voice of someone drugged (How can I speak without a mouth?). “What are you…doing to me?”

“It’s for your own good, Dad,” Valsi says.

“This will keep your germs from getting out and infecting us,” Gaines says. “We have no other choice. Sorry, Dad. We have to do this.”

The open space…where my head is exposed…to the outside…is no more. I hear…a board put up…over that space, sealing it up. I move my head…up and hit against it, feeling the wood.

I try…moving around, but can move…only a few inches…if that…in all directions.

Am I in a coffin?

I feel myself…being lifted up…in this rectangular box. Not too long after…being carried somewhere, I’m lowered…far down until…I feel a thud…shaking me and the box.

I hear…what sounds like…shovels digging…into dirt…and the dropping…of the dirt…on the box I’m in. Bits of the dirt…go through…the cracks of the box…and hit me…on the collarbone…and shoulders.

I must be in a coffin.

I know…they’re killing me, but I feel…no urge to resist, to bang my fists…on the wood…and scream for help. Not only…do I lack…the strength and energy…to do so, but the drugs…they’ve put in me…have sapped me…of my will.

I just don’t seem…to care anymore.

I’ll just…let myself die.

They’ll take…all my money…and property. Oh, well…

I just don’t…have the fight…in me anymore.

Just let me die.

To be betrayed…by my own blood.

I worked all my life…to provide for those two…with the wife…that I lost…years ago.

As a professor…of English literature…and Greek myth…I made good money…I gave…Gaines and Valsi…an easy, comfortable life…

And this…is how they repay me!

The lack of love…pretending to be love…is what takes away…my will to live.

I can’t feel myself breathing…having no mouth or nose…but I don’t want to breathe…so it doesn’t matter…

I can’t move…in this coffin…but I don’t want to…

I see only endless black…but I don’t want to see…anything else…there’s nothing else to see…but black…

I feel the life…draining out of me…I am fading to black…I’m becoming the black…that is everywhere…outside of me…What’s within me…and without…are merging.

To be alone…with no love…

People around me…only talking…never listening…

I could have been…left in…a nursing home…and been loved more…than I am…by those…two…INGRATES!

They’ll take my money…and my property…and they’ll prosper…because in this world…the evil thrive…and the good…get no justice…

It’s fitting…that I’m buried…six feet under.

I’m in Hell.

The dirt…is filtering in…more plentifully now…I can feel…more pebbles…hitting my chest…and shoulders.

Wait…are the pebbles…getting bigger?

How are the bigger pebbles…able to slip…through the cracks? The slits…between wood planks…must be wider…than I assumed. After all, I cannot see anything.

Oh!…What was that thud? A rock?

Silence.

Uh!…Two more thuds?

Are they dropping rocks on this coffin?

I feel the rocks…shaking the coffin, cracking the wood!

The dirt…is falling through…more cracks, hitting me…on the stomach, legs,…and my face…rather, where my face…used to be.

More pounding rocks!

I feel the wood…of the coffin…caving in on me. Splintery wood…is stabbing into…my legs, arms, and chest. The weight…of the rocks…is pushing me down…further into Hell…into Tartarus.

Are the Hundred-Handed Ones…hurling rocks at me, burying me in them? It feels that way.

I feel the wood…pressing into…my faceless face, my chest, stomach, groin, arms, and legs.

I’m going to be crushed!

That Gaines…and Valsi…would want…to get rid of me…and get my money…is one thing,…but to be…this cruel about it?! I wasn’t…the most loving father…in the world, but surely…I never did anything…to have them…bear me…any ill will, did I?

The other profs…in the faculty…of humanities…were never friends…of mine, nor I…to them, but surely…my own kids…don’t outright…hate me!

Or do they?

Et tu…brutes?

I’m really…getting…squished…now.

I don’t know…how…much…longer…I…can…t–

Analysis of ‘Blowup’

Blowup is a 1966 mystery thriller film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, with a screenplay by him and Tonino Guerra, and dialogue by Edward Bond, based on the short story “Las babas del diablo” (1959), by Julio Cortázar. It is Antonioni’s first entirely English language film.

The film stars David Hemmings, with Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, John Castle, and Peter Bowles. A performance by the Yardbirds is featured towards the end, while the non-diegetic music was composed by Herbie Hancock.

Blowup won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The partial nudity and sexual content of the film defied the prudish Production Code of Hollywood, while its critical and box office success helped bring about the Code’s demise. Blowup influenced such films as The Conversation and Blow Out. Sight and Sound ranked the film #144 in its poll of the world’s greatest films.

A link to quotes from the film can be found here.

To understand this enigmatic film, it helps to get acquainted with Cortázar’s enigmatic short story. The English translation, by Paul Blackburn, is also titled “Blow-up,” but the Spanish title means “The Drool of the Devil,” which refers not only to an older man in a car who seems to have lecherous designs on a teenage boy (more on that later), but also to the transient, evanescent existence of the drool, or spittle–“angel-spittle…devil-spit,” as Blackburn translates it at the bottom of page 109 (page 7 of the PDF, link above). This notion of transience, of evanescence, impermanence, the ephemeral, will be a dominant theme in both the short story and the film.

The narrator of the short story, French-Chilean translator/amateur photographer Roberto Michel–the filmic equivalent being London fashion photographer Thomas (Hemmings)–begins by struggling, in a state of great mental agitation, with how to tell his story. He’s even indecisive about whether to narrate it in the first or third person: he ends up alternating between the two throughout.

This switching back and forth between the first and third person narratives suggests a state of depersonalization, which is fitting given how traumatizing he finds the events following his taking of a picture of a teenage boy and his elder seductress (in a park on the Île Saint-Louis); his blowing up of the photo traumatizes Michel so much that he has a psychotic break with reality.

Indeed, several days after taking the photo, Michel blows it up in his room to scrutinize a detail of it, then he has a hallucination of the moving leaves of a tree in the photo’s background, of the woman’s hands moving, and of a man stepping into the picture. Michel speculates, to his horror, that this man is a pederast who has used the woman to help him seduce the boy, who has run away in terror as soon as the photo is taken. Michel’s photo shoot has saved the boy from the intended sexual abuse, apparently, but Michel has also lost his mind in the process of figuring out what (he thinks) has happened.

Michel’s loss of his grip on reality is the basis for understanding what happens in the film with Thomas, and his belief that his taking of photographs of a young woman (Redgrave) and her elder male lover in a London park–obviously the film’s equivalent of the short story’s boy and seductress–has prevented, or at least delayed, a murder (the gunman hiding in the bushes being the film’s equivalent of the pederast). Just as Michel, in his mental instability, is an unreliable (first or third) person narrator, so is Thomas’s perception of the details of his blown-up photos (and his account of his trip to the park at night, where he sees the dead body of the woman’s elder lover) unreliable.

Michel, prior to his taking of the picture of the woman and boy, is fully confident in his perception of visual reality; by the time he’s seen the blown-up photo, he’s lost that confidence. At the beginning of the film, Thomas is not only confident in his abilities as a photographer and in his visual perceptiveness, but he’s outright cocky and egotistical; by the end of the film, he has failed in his search for a deeper meaning in his photography, he’s become disillusioned with reality in general, and his dissolving into the green grass background represents the dissolution of his ego (more on that later).

So, if Michel has saved the boy from being raped by the pederast, why is he so upset over what he has seen? A hint can be found, I think, in his extensive, meditative description of the boy on pages 105-106 (page 5 of this PDF). Michel says “the boy was well enough dressed”; “it was pleasant to see the fingers of the gloves sticking out of his jacket pocket” (Could the glove fingers be phallic symbols?). The boy’s face, in profile, was “a terrified bird, a Fra Filippo angel, rice pudding with milk” (this last metaphor seeming to describe a creamy smooth cheek). The boy is “an adolescent who wants to take up judo,” suggesting he has a good body, or is at least working to build a good body. His home has “romantic landscapes on the walls”; he’s “mama’s hope…looking like dad.” Then there’s “the pornographic magazine folded four ways”.

From quotes such as these we can glean that Michel has revealed, through Freudian slips in the erotic connotations and imagery of his word choices, that it is he who has pederastic desires for the boy. As for the man in the car, who knows for sure what he is doing or thinking; perhaps, at the worst, he wants to watch the woman (his wife?) make love with the boy. Who knows? Does it even matter?

Considering Michel’s mental instability and hallucinating, we can have no doubt that he’s an unreliable narrator, so his belief that the man in the car is a pederast is on, at best, flimsy ground, if not outright baseless fantasy. Michel’s way of mitigating his guilty lust, therefore, is to project it onto the man; such an explanation would account for his mental breakdown (I’m not alone in the speculative opinion that he has repressed homosexual feelings), for even the hallucinatory projection wouldn’t eradicate the guilt from Michel’s unconscious completely. Repressed feelings always reappear in conscious thought, though in such unrecognized forms as projection and Freudian slips.

And just as Michel projects his guilty thoughts onto the man in his blown-up photo, so does Thomas on the imagined gunman in all of his blown-up photos, too. Thomas fantasizes that a gunman hiding in the bushes wants to shoot the woman’s elderly lover, but it is Thomas who has been shooting them…though with a camera instead of a gun.

We see photos of the woman looking apprehensively at Thomas, looking right into his camera, and of her looking in profile at the bushes, where the supposed gunman is; but I believe this second photo, and those that more explicitly show the gunman, are figments of Thomas’s imagination, at least in terms of how he interprets the meaning of those grainy, imprecise splotches of black and white in his photo blow-ups. He is projecting his intrusion, on the lovers’ privacy, onto the imagined gunman, as a way to mitigate his own guilty trespassing.

Now, why has Thomas–who until now hasn’t cared about how disrespectfully he’s treated his (generally female) models–suddenly become troubled about the situation with this woman in the park? Because unlike all those submissive “birds” who take shit from him all the time (i.e., his bossing them around, his objectifying of them, his inconsiderate tardiness for a shoot with Veruschka or his leaving a group of models in the lurch with their eyes closed), this woman complains of his unfair treatment of her. She demands to be treated with more respect; she fights for her rights. Unlike the models he dehumanizes, she demands, as a feminist would, to be treated like a human being, and this touches him.

Michel, at least unconsciously, treats the boy–Michel’s “angel…with his tousled hair” (page 113, or page 9 of the PDF–link above)–as an object, then his guilty conscience causes him to have a psychotic episode. Thomas objectifies the woman in the park, making her one of his models without her permission; and her assertion of her rights forces him to rethink his own relationship with the world…and with reality.

So Michel’s psychotic break with reality, based on a projection of his pederastic guilt onto the man in the car, is paralleled in the film with Thomas’s faltering sense of reality, based on a projection of his guilt onto an imagined gunman. This faltering sense of reality becomes the thematic basis for Antonioni’s film.

While Michel’s break with reality is blatant, with his hallucinations of his photo blow-up turning into a movie of sorts of a pederast’s attempt at a seduction, Thomas’s break with reality is far more subtle. Indeed, Antonioni’s film lies on the cusp between reality and non-reality. We don’t see anything surreal or hallucinatory, but we see realities that contradict–or at least seem to contradict–each other.

The theme of transience–of evanescence and impermanence, that short-lived spittle–is apparent in many forms throughout Blowup. The film begins with the credits against a background of the grass of the London park, Maryon Park in Charlton, to be exact; with Antonioni having had the grass painted a more vivid green, he’s given the park an Edenic quality (more on that later).

We see a car passing by, overflowing with boisterous people dressed as mimes. We will see them again, with that green grass, at the end, making the film come full circle.

Thomas appears leaving a flophouse with a group of impoverished men. He being as filthy and dishevelled as they are, we assume he’s as destitute as they are, since we don’t yet know anything about him, including the camera he has hidden in a crumpled-up paper bag.

Soon, though, we see him driving a nice-looking car after having sneaked away from the poor men. He isn’t destitute at all, with that fine automobile: we’ve seen the first of many examples of shifting, transient realities, or evanescent perceptions of them.

He arrives late for a photo shoot with Veruschka, as noted above, and he couldn’t care less about how annoyed and inconvenienced she is for having been kept waiting for so long. All that matters to Thomas is himself, not any of these “bitches.”

When he’s taking pictures of her, he gets closeups of her lying supine on the floor while he’s on top of her. Their positions, combined with his enthusiasm and excitement at her inspiring poses (as well as with his kissing of her a couple of times, and her outfit, which reveals along the side openings that she’s naked under it), means that this photo session is symbolic of, if not almost literally, him fucking her.

An important point must be made in connection with this juxtaposition of closeup camera shots and of his virtual shooting in orgasm. The taking of a photograph is a capturing of a millisecond moment, to be preserved in a permanent form…that is, one intended to be permanent, one desired to be permanent.

Buddhism teaches us that nothing is permanent, and that attachment to things, none of which can last forever, leads to suffering. Thomas the self-centred, sexist egotist, in practically screwing his model (including in the figurative sense of having made her wait an hour), is bursting with desire for her and for all the photos he’s taking, those evanescent moments he’s so attached to.

Still, he wants something more from his art than just taking pictures of (in his opinion) vapid fashion models. He wants to find a greater meaning. So he leaves a group of them–whom he’s been barking orders at and told to keep their eyes closed while they wait for him to return, which will be never–to wander off to an antiques shop…then, to that park.

Just as he treats his models like commodities (and fetishizes them accordingly, as described above), so does Thomas fetishize literal commodities, be they the use-values that his painter friend, Bill (Castle), paints and only later makes sense of what he’s painted (and won’t sell to Thomas), or the exchange values he finds, like the propellor, in the antiques shop. Just as he’s into his own ego, so is he into things; this craving, this attachment to what is perceived as having a state of permanent fixity–be they things or his own ego–is what he must overcome to rid himself of his unhappiness and emptiness.

He goes up into that park that he’ll later describe to Ron (Bowles) as “very peaceful, very still.” Indeed, there’s something symbolic of the Garden of Eden in this place, with not only its trees and pre-Fall serenity, but also the two frolicking lovers, who in this context correspond to Adam and Eve.

Such a scenario would make Thomas into Yahweh, “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3: 8) with his camera to intrude on the lovers. They hear his sound, and the woman is especially apprehensive, as if caught naked and wishing to hide as Adam and Eve did. The imagined gunman in the bushes is thus the devilish serpent, linking him with the devilish ‘pederast,’ and his spit, in Cortázar’s story.

Thomas has ruined paradise for the lovers, in his egotistical wish to steal their moment for his new collection of photos. Her complaining of his taking their pictures without their permission–to the point of following him to his home and continuing, with great agitation and even an offer of her body to him, to get the photos back–has planted the seed in his mind that his ill treatment of people, especially of women, is a judgement on him. In his egotism, he’d rather project his guilt than confront it.

This is why his projection of that guilt onto an imagined gunman is so important to him. This woman, Jane, has presented herself to him as a complete human being, as more than just one of those “birds,” his models. He realizes there’s a real person in that attractive body, with wants and needs just like him.

Everyone else is just somebody he uses to advance his career whichever way he can advance it; but Jane shows agency–she doesn’t just passively react to him and his whims, she moves right into his personal space and demands her rights be respected. He doesn’t normally experience this sort of thing, so she’s pulled him out of his solipsism. He has to acknowledge the existence of other people.

To give another example of the ephemeral in his presentation of the truth, Thomas–as he gets to know Jane in his home–speaks of a person on the phone as his wife. Then he admits to lying about that, saying they only have some kids out of wedlock. Then he admits this is a lie, too, but that she’s easy to live with…then he admits she isn’t easy to live with, and he doesn’t live with her. The ‘truth’ keeps changing, and changing, and changing. He has no qualms about lying to her at first, but her humanity is forcing him to admit to his lies.

Why she is so anxious to get the photos from him is never revealed–recall that his belief that a murder has been committed, that she’s supposedly trying to conceal, is just his interpretation of the sin committed. In fact, her dalliance with the elder lover, the one believed to be murdered, could simply be an affair she doesn’t want displayed in Thomas’s photos. After all, she tells him she doesn’t live alone. At her age, she thus is presumably married, and the man in the park is her paramour.

So once she’s left his home with the (wrong) negatives and he has received from her the (wrong) name and phone number he wants so he can contact her again (Note how their attempts at connection are vitiated by their dishonesty with each other, a symptom of alienation!), he goes to examine the park photos. He marks one of them, something he wants to see enlarged, and he blows up the photo.

This blowup leads to the enlargement of several photos, with which he constructs, in his mind, the narrative of someone hiding in the bushes. The details of these black-and-white photos are vague, blurry, and grainy, so the image of a man’s head and hand (supposedly holding a gun and pointing it at Jane’s lover) is far from certain.

The central point of Blowup is how huge the disparity is between reality and our perception of it. Thomas is trying to glean a hidden reality from split-second images forever caught in a state of fixity; but reality is never fixed or frozen…it is fluid, ever-shifting and changing. Those white spots that, to him, look like a man’s head and hand could actually just be the light reflecting off the leaves of the bushes.

When we see Jane’s photo in profile, her seeming to look in agitation at the bushes where the ‘gunman’ is hiding, for all we know, she could have just swung her head around for any old reason, and the photo just caught her head in that split-second position as a pure coincidence. Or that particular photo could be a figment of Thomas’s imagination, a mental duplicate of the real photo of her looking directly at his camera, at him, agitated that he’s taking pictures of her and her lover without their consent.

Thomas’s experience of Jane as a real, flesh-and-blood human being, and not a model (despite his attempts to make her into one), has caused him to feel a kind of remorse that has made his unconscious create another man in the bushes (recall that Thomas was in the bushes, too, as he took a few pictures) on whom he can project his guilt. He thinks his blowups are uncovering a deeper truth, but actually they’re making him stray further and further away from the truth.

Consider how those vague splotches of white, the ‘hand’ in particular, are further enlarged to reveal, in precise detail, a hand holding a pistol with a silencer on it, aiming it at Jane’s lover. How do we go from a blurry splotch of white, only vaguely suggesting a hand, to so exact an image of a hand holding a gun? The enlarged splotch should become only a larger one; no details can be revealed from it…that is, except in Thomas’s overactive imagination.

Thomas fails to understand from all of this that no photograph can capture an ever-flowing and ever-changing reality; a photo can only represent it, give an impression of it. Such an understanding is the basis of impressionist art: painters such as Monet knew that no painting could ever capture a scene in all truthfulness because of how such things as the wind blowing at leaves changes their position, or how light reflects off of things differently from second to second because of such changes in position. So Monet could only paint ‘impressions‘ of natural scenes–hence the blurry look of his and other impressionist works. Thomas’s wish to capture truth in a state of fixity is the basis of his deluded sense of reality, a delusion grounded in desire and attachment.

Speaking of Thomas’s desire, two teenage girls, aspiring models to whom he earlier wouldn’t give the time of day, suddenly appear at his door, hoping he’ll do a photo shoot of them. While Jane, in her pressing to have him acknowledge her rights, has affected him somewhat, he’s still largely the same self-centred man who uses girls for his pleasure, then kicks them out of his home as soon as he’s had his fun with them.

In his narcissism, he’s imagined that he saved the life of whoever the ‘gunman’ intended to kill; now, in his continuing narcissism, he’s going to enjoy these two teenage “birds” with little, if any, thought as to whether they are willing to give themselves to him (apart from a wish to further their modelling careers).

Since his sense of reality has begun to fade with his shaky, fantasied grasp of the meaning of the photos, we can easily assume that his romp with the two girls–on that large piece of purple construction paper, symbolic of a bedsheet–is distorted by his narcissistic wish to believe they want to have sex with him as much as he does with them. It’s far from likely that the sex was consensual, especially if the girls are underage. Consider how frightened the topless blonde is when he makes sexual advances on her; he thinks she’s playing hard to get…I don’t think so. She and the other girl switch from fear to giggles far too fast for it to be believable; I think he’s imagining the giggles, which may have been more like screams.

Still, just before he kicks them out, having blamed them for tiring him out, he sees something new in one of the photos, something suggesting he failed to protect the victim of the shooting of the ‘gunman,’ thus deflating his narcissistic fantasy that his impromptu photo shoot has made him a hero. Since Jane’s protestations against Thomas have led him to see a disturbing projection of his guilt, has his sexual encounter with the girls–bordering on, if not lapsing into, the realm of rape–provoked further unconscious guilt in him, which he’s now projecting onto the ‘gunman’ having succeeded in killing Jane’s lover?

In Cortázar’s story, Michel’s break with reality comes from, in my interpretation, a projection of his pederastic desire for the teen boy onto the man in the car. In Antonioni’s film, I see a parallel process going on with Thomas’s taking advantage of the teen girls, then finding his own grip on reality slipping further, all because of his projected, unconscious guilt. His phallic camera took shots of Jane and her elderly lover, his literal phallus took shots inside the girls, and now he projects his shots onto the phallic pistol of the imagined gunman.

Indeed, Thomas returns to the park that night, and he sees the corpse of Jane’s lover lying supine on the grass by a bush. I believe Thomas has imagined the body: I find it unlikely that the man was shot dead in the morning (presumably when Jane was trying to retrieve the camera from Thomas at the stairs of the park, our not hearing the gunshot being due to the silencer on the pistol), and that the body lay there all day, never noticed until Thomas finds it in the dark. (The park, lacking lampposts, would be much darker than what we see, which is because of the lighting of the film crew.) The darkness thus has facilitated his hallucination.

He goes back home after hearing a twig snap nearby (either imagined by him, or caused by something completely other than, presumably, the ‘gunman’ trying to sneak up on him); then he visits Bill’s home, where he sees him making love with Patricia (Miles). The juxtaposition of sex with killing is curiously recurrent in this film: just as Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit can be seen as symbolic of sex, and this leading to them losing their immortality, so do sexual encounters lead to some sense of death, or are at least associated with death, in Blowup. Certainly, Thomas’s sense of reality is dying, with all of this sex going on. Desire in an impermanent world leads to suffering, or the death of happiness.

He returns home, only to find it burgled: all of his enlarged photos (save the closeup of the ‘corpse’ by the bush), as well as his negatives, have been stolen. Presumably Jane, who’s realized he cheated her in giving her the wrong negatives, has sent someone to burgle his home, in my interpretation, to conceal her affair with the elder man, but in Thomas’s, to remove evidence of the murder she’s implicated in.

Thomas feels an attachment to his interpretation (i.e., that the splotch of light by the bush in the enlarged photo is the dead body of Jane’s lover), so the theft of his proof of the ‘murder’ is the frustration of that desire, the denial of indulging his attachment, which leads to suffering in the Buddhist sense. His grip on the reality he is so used to is slipping. Slavoj Zižek writes, “the body is, according to the code of the detective novel, the object of desire par excellence, the cause that starts the interpretive desire of the detective…” (Zižek, page 143)

Patricia, who noticed Thomas watching her when Bill was on top of her, comes to his home to ask him why he went to Bill’s home. In this scene, Thomas tells her about his conviction that a murder was committed in the park. He speaks to her with uncharacteristic respect: all other women, no more beautiful than she is, are called “love” or “bird” by him, or are barked at by him. He is so shaken by his interpretation of the photos, as depicting a murder, that they have transformed him.

They have transformed him, of course, because he has transformed them. In chapter one of Transformations: Change from Learning to Growth, WR Bion discusses such things as, on the one hand, a field of poppies or a psychoanalytic session, and on the other hand, a painting of the field of poppies or the therapist’s interpretation of the analytic session. The first two things are the actual experiences, the realizations; the second two are representations of those experiences or realizations. Going from realization to representation is what Bion called transformations, which is an effective way of thinking about what Thomas has done with the park incident (realization) with his photos and subsequent blowing up of them (representations). He has transformed what happened into what he merely thinks happened.

He thinks that by blowing up and analyzing the photos, he’s coming closer to the truth, but really he’s straying further and further away from it. In Cortázar’s story, Michel acknowledges he’s imposing his own ‘truth’ onto his photos (page 103, page 4 of the PDF: “the photographer always worked as a permutation of his personal way of seeing the world as other than the camera insidiously imposed upon it”; later, on page 107, page 6 of the PDF, “Strange how the scene…was taking on a disquieting aura. I thought it was I imposing it, and that my photo, if I shot it, would reconstitute things in their true stupidity.”). Thomas is, little by little, coming to the understanding that he’s been imposing himself on his ‘reality.’

He shows Patricia the one photo left behind, a vague, grainy closeup of what he sees as a head and upper torso lying on the grass by the bush. She says it looks like one of Bill’s paintings, and, recall, Bill himself doesn’t know what he’s looking at as he paints them, but only later finds meaning in them. Thomas, in imagining his photos have depicted a murder, is doing the exact same retrospective interpreting as Bill.

Thomas’s faltering sense of reality isn’t making him act wildly, like a madman, as is the case with Michel; rather, Thomas seems merely crestfallen as he realizes how wrong he’s been. Still, he tries to get proof elsewhere. He drives out to find Ron, but he first spots a woman who seems to be Jane outside a club where the Yardbirds are playing, so he goes in. (Incidentally, ‘Jane’ is standing by a sign that says “Permutit,” presumably for a hair salon, but the fortuitous choice of a name for the sign is associable with permutation, what reality in Blowup is all about.) He doesn’t find her in the club, but the gig is itself interesting to comment on.

The Yardbirds are performing their high-energy rendition of “Train Kept A-Rollin’” (actually renamed “Stroll On” in the film, with new lyrics by singer Keith Relf, because they couldn’t get the legal rights to the original lyrics), but the audience is watching the performance standing still, not at all bopping to the beat; one would think that, instead of watching a rock band, they were contemplating a Jackson Pollock painting in the MoMA. Only two people are seen dancing to the song.

It is only when Jeff Beck–frustrated that he’s getting buzzing noises from his amp (which exposes the Yardbirds’ music-making as the illusion that it is…and this film is all about exposing illusions)–smashes his guitar Pete Townshend-style and throws the broken-off neck into the audience, that the audience finally comes to life and grabs at it. The fetishizing of a commodity is of more appeal than actual music-making.

Since I have written about how Blowup presents reality as an ever-shifting phenomenon, as opposed to how we perceive it, or want to perceive it, as being in a state of fixity, it seems apposite to discuss the evolution of “Train Kept A-Rollin'” in this light. The song started out as a jump blues tune by Tiny Bradshaw in 1951, with lyrics based on “Cow-Cow Boogie,” from 1942. In 1956, Johnny Burnette and his band did a guitar-riff driven version, with an early example of deliberately distorted guitar. Next came the Yardbirds’ version, opening with Beck’s guitar imitating a train whistle and Relf singing two superimposed vocal tracks; in the film, we see Jimmy Page and Beck giving the song a powerful dual lead guitar sound. Their version would become the standard way of playing the song, later emulated by early Led Zeppelin (“the New Yardbirds“), Aerosmith (who begin the song at a slower tempo before speeding it up), and Mötörhead. Like reality in Blowup, this is a song that always changes.

Thomas finds Ron in a house where a party is going on and everyone is smoking marijuana. Perceptions of reality are once again being altered. Thomas wants to have Ron go with him to the park to see the body and take a picture of it, but Ron is far too stoned to be of any help. Veruschka is at the party, smoking dope with everyone else; she was supposed to be in Paris, yet she says, “I am in Paris.” One can be high on much stronger dope than pot, and still be aware of what city one is actually in. Thomas hearing her say she’s in the wrong city, and country, is not due to her being stoned: it’s another manifestation of his ever-weakening grip on reality.

Ron asks again what Thomas has seen in the park, and the answer, the penultimate word of the film, is “Nothing.” Thomas says this, knowing it’s pointless getting Ron to help him, but also because Thomas is slowly realizing he’s been making a big thing out of nothing.

Nothing can also be interpreted as “no thing” (no fixed state of being), wu, or sunyata, the nirvana-like void from which everything comes. Thomas’s realization that all that he’s been groping for is nothing, there is no corpse in the park (as he indeed discovers the next morning), and so there is no deeper meaning in the photos he took there, has led not only to his sad disillusion over the whole thing, but also his liberation from those illusions. In losing the corpse, he loses his attachment to it.

That deeper meaning he’s been trying to get out of his art has resulted in an absurdist failure. One cannot capture reality in a fixed form: it always shifts, changes, and therefore loses its original contextual meaning. Back in that Edenic, nirvana-like park, Thomas is beginning to accept this disappointing truth. Reality is impermanent, just like the impermanence of the ego. He’s also being humbled.

The carefree mimes have accepted absurdist, empty reality from the start, but they ‘play the game’ of life all the same. They don’t need rackets or a tennis ball: they’ll just pretend, as all of us should do in life, provided we all understand that it’s just an illusion. One can be happy in absurdity, as Camus observed.

As Thomas watches the mimed tennis match, he smirks and gradually accepts that things like rackets and tennis balls are a part of the maya of the universe, an illusion, because nothing has any sense of permanence.

When the ‘ball’ is knocked out of the court, and one of the mime players gestures to him to retrieve it, he does so, with an acceptance of the illusion that is life, but also with a new understanding that one should help others. He’s stepping out of his egoistic shell.

The mimes resume their game, which we no longer see, but now hear. Yes, we hear rackets hitting a ball. Once again, reality has shifted, this time from seeing to hearing. He smirks again, then frowns. Pleasure is fleeting.

We see a far shot of him on the grass, going over to pick up his camera. Hancock’s jazz soundtrack begins again, just as at the beginning of the film, which has come full circle, like a spinning of that huge propellor.

With Thomas’s acceptance of the fluidity of reality, including the fluidity and impermanence of his own ego, he attains a kind of nirvana. Hence the dissolving of his body into the Edenic green background, just before the end title.

Thomas, like Michel, tried to capture reality in a fixed, photographed state. Michel went mad and tried to pacify himself with visions of clouds and birds passing by. Thomas has come to accept what he can’t capture, because reality, like the train, kept a-rollin’.

Analysis of ‘Re-Animator’

Re-Animator is a 1985 horror-comedy film directed by Stuart Gordon and written by Dennis Paoli, William J. Norris, and Gordon; the film is loosely based on parts of the HP Lovecraft 1922 horror serial novelette, “Herbert West–Reanimator.” The film stars Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, and Barbara Crampton; it costars David Gale and Robert Sampson.

Apart from the basic premise of Lovecraft’s story–namely, a serum that brings the dead back to life, created by the narcissistic young scientist Herbert West (Combs)–not much is taken from the tale and put directly into the film. Dr. Alan Halsey (Sampson), dean of the fictional Miskatonic University medical school, refuses to let West and the narrator (Dan Cain in the film–played by Abbott) do the reanimating experiments on corpses on the campus. The dean himself dies and is reanimated, making him a wild, cannibalistic, zombie-like monster and forcing him to be committed in an asylum.

The above plot elements are from the first two episodes of Lovecraft’s story, while also being updated (by Norris) to the 1980s and expanded to include Halsey’s pretty daughter, Dan Cain’s girlfriend, Megan (Crampton). Another doctor, the middle-aged Carl Hill (Gale), who is decapitated and reanimated by West, seems to be derived from the last two episodes (as is the plot of the first sequel–link in the next paragraph), from a WWI surgeon who is also decapitated and reanimated; and who, as in the story, commands an army, as it were, of reanimated corpses at the climax.

The film spawned a few sequels, 1990’s Bride of Re-Animator and 2003’s Beyond Re-Animator. While the sequels weren’t well-received, the first film was, and it is now considered a cult classic.

A link to quotes from the film can be found here.

During the film’s opening credits, we hear a soundtrack (composed by Richard Band) that is a blatant and intentional rip-off of the opening theme of Psycho. Only a few minor differences and variations are heard, with an original wind melody (bass clarinet?) played over the strings and a drum beat in the background. The film’s obvious campiness–a kind of black comedy whose over-the-top, even humorous violence may remind us of that of Titus Andronicus–inspired Band to make a similarly obvious, campy, and tongue-in-cheek reference to Psycho‘s stereotypical horror film music. Apart from this joke-reason, can we find others to justify the link between Re-Animator and Psycho?

I believe we can find other such reasons. With similar musical themes, we can also find similar motivic themes. Indeed, a careful analysis and comparison of the themes, symbolism, and motifs of both films shows striking similarities. Does all of this justify ripping off Bernard Herrmann‘s music, beyond it being a musical joke? I’ll let you decide, Dear Reader.

In Psycho, after Norman Bates has murdered his mother, in order to rid himself of the unbearable guilt of his crime, he tries to ‘reanimate’ her, in a way–not literally, of course, but in his mind. He uses a number of elaborate methods to convince himself of his delusion that she’s still alive. He robs her corpse and uses taxidermy on it to stave off decomposition as best he can. He dresses in her clothes, including a cheap wig he’s bought, and speaks in her voice. He gives over half of his life to bring her back from the dead.

Similarly, Herbert West deludes himself that his serum will restore life, when all it does is it turns the corpses it’s used on into savage killers…rather like Bates’s mother personality.

Another thematic similarity between the two films is that of invasion of privacy, intrusion, penetration. (See my Psycho analysis to see how I explain these themes in that film.) West intrudes on the world of Dan Cain and Megan, just after they’ve made love, and says he wishes to rent the basement of his house; he meets Dan at the front door of the house when Dan has only a sheet to cover his nakedness.

Later, the couple’s cat, Rufus, dies–did West kill it for use in his macabre experiments? West has the cat’s body in a small refrigerator, the sight of which naturally upsets Dan and Megan, the latter of whom has, in fact, invaded West’s privacy by going into his room without his permission, because she has been looking for her missing cat. Still, West will have to explain why he’s using their dead cat, without their consent, for his experiments.

The injecting of West’s vaccine-like [!] serum into the cat’s corpse, and later into corpses at the university morgue in defiance of Dean Halsey’s express forbidding of it, is further intrusion and unwelcome penetration. Indeed, it’s as if the violent reactions of the revived corpses are a reflection of how they hate the penetrative intrusion of West’s syringe jabs.

The stabbing of West’s needle into the corpses, like the stabbing of Bates’s knife into showering Marion Crane and Detective Arbogast (if in only a symbolic sense), is a projection of West’s psychopathy into the dead, making them as violent to the living as he is to the dead, by making them take on their stabber’s violent traits. Recall that narcissistic West doesn’t actually care about helping humanity with his reanimating; he just wants to play God, amazing all his science colleagues with his brilliance.

He has no respect or empathy for the feelings and rights of others, living or dead. This is why he has no qualms about insulting Dr. Carl Hill to his face, or using pets and human corpses without anyone’s consent in his experiments. West is thought of as a rather weird fellow, but the point is that he’s cold and calculating. Like Bates, West feels no human, emotional connection with others; all that matters to him is the reviving of the dead, as Bates wants a relationship with only his ‘reanimated’ mother.

West, like Bates the ghoul who stole his mother’s corpse, is an example of what Erich Fromm called the necrophilous character in his book, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. Fromm wasn’t necessarily, or even primarily, referring to a sexual attraction to dead bodies; he was referring to people who have a morbid fascination with death and destructiveness.

West’s wish to bring the dead back to life mustn’t be confused with Fromm’s notion of biophilia, a love of life; rather, West’s claim to want to give people life is a reaction formation. West is fascinated with death for its own sake. The human body is a soulless machine to him; death just means that the body has broken down, malfunctioned, and reanimation is a repairing of the human machine, which, being soulless in his eyes, is already as dead as a machine, anyway.

Fromm explains: “Necrophilia in the characterological sense can be described as the passionate attraction to all that is dead, decayed, putrid, sickly; it is the passion to transform that which is alive into something unalive; to destroy for the sake of destruction; the exclusive interest in all that is purely mechanical. It is the passion to tear apart living structures. (Fromm, page 369, his emphasis)

West isn’t reviving the dead out of a wish to generate the biophilic joy of living; he is just fascinated in the technique of repairing biological machinery, as he sees it. In describing the necrophilous character, Fromm was referring “…to those individuals whose interest in artifacts has replaced their interest in what is alive and who deal with technical matters in a pedantic and unalive way.” (Fromm, page 382, his emphasis)

To return to a discussion of the intrusion/penetration/invasion-of-privacy theme, the equally narcissistic Dr. Hill enjoys stealing other doctors’ research (hence, West’s contempt for him), and when he tries to steal West’s work, West kills him with a blow to the head with a shovel (reminding us of the ending, a kind of second matricide, of Psycho II, a film made just two years before Re-Animator).

Hill also intrudes on reanimated Halsey’s personal space by lobotomizing him, with the intention of controlling him through telepathy after brain surgery. The ultimate invasion of privacy, however, is when decapitated, reanimated Hill uses zombie-Halsey to abduct his daughter Megan, has Halsey take her while she’s unconscious to the university morgue, has Halsey strip her naked, and ties her to a table so the lecherous doctor can enjoy her.

Hill’s sexual assault on her can be paralleled with the shower scene in Psycho, in which naked Marion is, figuratively speaking, raped by Bates’s penetrating, phallic knife. Hill’s voyeuristic lusting after naked Megan parallels Bates’s lusting after Marion, watching her undress through his peep-hole in the wall.

Yet another point of comparison between Re-Animator and Psycho is, to be put in general terms, the conflict between the older and younger generations, usually understood in a psychoanalytical sense as the Oedipal love-hate relationship a son or daughter has with his or her parents. Bates Oedipally loves…and hates…his emotionally abusive, domineering mother, and her bringing a lover into his house pushes him over the line, making him kill them both with strychnine, which causes them to convulse violently and painfully before they die. West’s serum causes a similarly violent, toxic reaction in those reanimated by it.

Instead of domineering mothers, in Re-Animator we have a domineering father, Megan’s father, the dean, who angrily forbids Dan and West (he is a symbolic father to them) to do their experiments in the university morgue, to the point of threatening to kick them out. The two young scientists’ defiance of Halsey infuriates him, causing an argument between him and Megan in the hospital near the morgue, in which he tells her she’s his daughter and she’ll do as she’s told…just before he’s killed by a reanimated corpse there.

When Bates’s mother-personality forbids him to give Marion any food from their house, he defies ‘her’ by making Marion a sandwich. Since Hill is old enough to be the father of West, Dan, and Megan, and since Hill as a professor of medicine is as much an authority figure over West and Dan as Dean Halsey is, Hill can be seen as another symbolic father (i.e., through transference) to the two young scientists, and maybe even to Megan, too.

When West makes Hill lose face during his medical lesson, West is defying what could easily be a father-transference. West’s breaking of pencils, and later decapitating of Hill with the shovel he’s hit him with, are symbolic castrations, reminding one of Cronus‘ castration and dethroning of his father, Ouranos, and then, according to the interpretations of Freud (page 469), Robert Graves, and John Tzetzes, Zeus’ castration and dethroning of his father, Cronus. West would similarly dethrone Dr. Hill as god of medicine. (Just before the reanimated corpse kills Halsey, it bites off two of his fingers, another symbolic castration.)

Normally, we think of the son being afraid of being castrated by his father, but West symbolically reverses this. West should be afraid of the symbolic father’s wish for revenge, though, especially since West has reanimated him. Bates similarly should fear the revenge of the mother he’s killed and ‘reanimated,’ for by giving her half of his life with the mother-personality, he is being possessed by her internal object, what WRD Fairbairn called the return of repressed bad objects (Fairbairn, page 67). She avenges her murder, as it were, by possessing him as an evil spirit would, dominating him even in death.

Reanimated Hill attempts a similar revenge in death by controlling the lobotomized, reanimated Halsey (who as Megan’s father and Dan’s once-hoped-to-be father-in-law, is thus a double of Hill), and by using the serum and research he’s stolen from West to reanimate all the corpses in the morgue, sicking them all on West, Dan, and the Megan who rejected his advances.

Now, while West’s interest in reanimation is of a necrophilous nature (recall that he shows not even the slightest sexual interest in the sight of the lovely and naked Megan), Dan’s interest in West’s obsession is of a biophilous sort. Dan has a genuine wish to save lives, as seen at the beginning and at the end of the film. First, there’s a dying woman he tries feverishly to save, but his superior, Dr. Harrod (played by Carolyn Purdy-Gordon), tells him to face reality: the woman is dead, and he must give up trying to save her.

At the end of the film, the far more devastating death of a woman is a fear of Dan’s that’s come true. Hill and his army of reanimated zombies have been mostly defeated, but not before one of them has strangled Megan to death. Dan’s attempt to revive her has failed just as it had with the woman at the beginning of the film. Dan does have West’s serum, though, and with her having just freshly died, surely her reanimation will give him her whole personality intact…won’t it?

Her scream, just before the ending credits, raises our doubts.

Analysis of ‘The Third Man’

The Third Man is a 1949 British noir film directed by Carol Reed with a screenplay by Graham Greene, from a novella Greene wrote to flesh out the story, but which wasn’t originally meant to be published. The film stars Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, and Valli; it costars Wilfred Hyde-White, Paul Hörbiger, Ernst Deutsch, Erich Ponto, and Siegfried Breuer.

The film is noted for its superb cinematography, sometimes inviting comparisons with Citizen Kane (even to the point of making some think mistakenly that Orson Welles was involved with the writing and production), and for its distinctive music, all played on a zither by Anton Karas, its composer. It is regarded as one of the best films of all time.

A link to quotes from the film can be found here.

A recurring theme in The Third Man is the relationship between illusion and reality. The charming zither music gives us a sonic sense of how quaint Europe comes across to American visitors, as we see with Holly Martins (Cotten–“Rollo Martins” in the novella) when he gets off the train, having reached Vienna. Anticipating getting a new job from his old boyhood friend, Harry Lime (Welles), Martins is eager to reunite with him. That zither, however, gets plaintive and gives off a dissonant chromaticism whenever scenes get tense, a sonic shift from pleasant illusion to unpleasant reality.

Similarly, we see all the beautiful sculpture and architecture of Vienna, but it’s juxtaposed with the rubble of destroyed buildings, since this is postwar Vienna, divided into zones controlled by the US, the UK, France, and Soviet Russia. Cold War tensions are in the air. The illusory charms of Europe quickly give way to the reality of WWII horrors.

The illusory pleasantness of Vienna, as symbolically understood through the zither music, is further changed to unpleasant reality when Martins learns that Lime is dead, having been hit by a car…or so we understand. After attending the funeral with such people as Lime’s ex-lover, comedic stage actress Anna Schmidt (Valli), Major Calloway (Howard) of the British Royal Military Police, “Baron” Kurtz (Deutsch), and Dr. Winkel (Ponto), Martins goes with Calloway for drinks in a bar.

Illusions are further broken when Martins learns from Calloway that Lime was involved in one of the worst rackets in Vienna. Drunk Martins doesn’t like to hear Calloway say that his late friend has been responsible for people’s deaths, and that Lime’s own death is the “best thing that ever happened to him,” so Martins tries to punch Calloway, but instead is hit by Sergeant Paine (played by Bernard Lee), who works under Calloway.

Martins begins trying to find out what exactly has happened to Lime, and the first man he talks to about this is Kurtz, an associate of Lime’s who explains how, after Lime was hit by the car, two men carried him off the road (Kurtz and a Romanian named Popescu [Breuer]), Dr. Winkel arrived, and Lime died soon after that.

Martins hears the testimony of others, including Schmidt, who is reluctant to speak about Lime. Karl (Hörbinger), Lime’s porter, however, lets it slip that there was a third man who helped carry Lime’s body. These contradictory accounts make Martins suspicious of foul play, and cause us to see further rifts between illusion and reality.

This sense of suspicion and disorientation that is growing in Martins is symbolized by the extensive use of the Dutch angle in this film. The tilted view of events on the screen suggests not just his looking askance at what people are up to, but also our looking askance at it. What he, and we the audience, see is a distortion of reality, an illusion that alienates him and us, the new visitors of Vienna.

In the novella, Kurtz wears an obvious toupee, and when Martins visits him at his home (pages 2 and 8 of the link to the novella), he sees the toupee in a cupboard, and Kurtz is not bald. Martins surmises that the toupee has been part of a disguise, “useful…on the day of the accident,” another illusion furthering his suspicions of Kurtz.

Testimony about the late Lime that Martins hears, given from the multiple perspectives of Calloway, Kurtz, Schmidt, Dr. Winkel, and Popescu (an American named Cooler in the novella) suggests the influence of Citizen Kane. Indeed, we’ll eventually learn that Lime was…and is!…as unscrupulous and narcissistic a businessman as Kane was.

In the novella, when Martins talks with Dr. Winkel in his home about Lime (page 3), and Martins hears the doctor’s laconic answers, we read a description of the copious examples of religious art and icons the doctor owns. These include a crucifix with Christ’s arms above His head; Winkler explains that this rendering is meant to show how He died, in the Jansenists‘ view, only for the Elect–arms up high to indicate how high are those who merit salvation, as it were. This is representative of the narcissism of those involved in Lime’s racket: only they ‘deserve’ to live.

Karl has been murdered for his loose lips about the third man, and some suspect that Martins, one of the very last people to talk to the porter, is his killer. Those involved in Lime’s racket wish Martins would stop his investigating.

Martins is put in a car and hurriedly driven somewhere. We suspect, as he does, that the driver has been paid to have him killed. This fear soon turns out to be yet another illusion, for the driver is actually taking Martins to the gathering of a literary club, organized by Mr. Crabbin (Hyde-White), where Martins, a novelist himself, is expected to lecture on and answer questions about all things literary.

So Martins, as a writer, is also a creator of illusions. Having a novelist as his story’s protagonist seems to be Greene’s way of making a private commentary on his own illusion-making as a writer. Indeed, the careful reader of Greene’s novella will note that it is a first-person narrative given not by Martins, but by Calloway, who is oddly able to know many of Martins’s private actions and thoughts (Calloway’s having spies follow Martins everywhere, or to have Martins tell him all that’s happened, can’t possibly account for all of the exposition of Martins’s inner thoughts and motives).

Small wonder a writer of Greene’s calibre didn’t originally want the novella published; at the same time, the later publishing of so slightly-revised a narration gives us an interesting commentary on literary illusion-making as illusion.

The literary snobs in Crabbin’s gathering ask Martins, a writer of Westerns, about all kinds of high-brow concepts (stream of consciousness, how to categorize James Joyce‘s work, etc.). Martins’s idea of great writing is Zane Grey, much to the disappointment of Crabbin et al. The illusion that Martins is a writer of their lofty literary ideals has been shattered, since along with Grey as an influence, he cannot answer their questions to their satisfaction, and they leave.

In this scene, we also have an interesting comparison of the illusion-making of authors with that of the racketeers, in the form of Popescu asking Martins about his writing (menacingly implying that he should stop it if he wishes to be safe), with Martins’s bold, defiant answer that his ‘new book’ will be called “The Third Man,” a work based on fact (i.e., the crooked circumstances that have led to Lime’s death), not fiction (his supposedly accidental death on the road).

Popescu’s men then chase Martins out of the room. He goes up a spiral staircase, of which we get an upwards shot. It symbolically suggests Martins’s attempt to escape the hell of the Viennese racketeers (and the pretentious literary types) and up into the heaven of safety. Such heaven and hell symbolism will recur later. “Long is the way/And hard, that out of hell leads up to light.” (Milton, Book II, lines 432-433)

He hides from his pursuers in a dark room, in which he hears a whimpering voice. Assuming it’s somebody scared because of his entry, he says, “It’s all right,” then turns on the light and sees that the voice is coming from a parrot. This chiaroscuro shift from dark to light, or from concealment to revelation, paralleling the relationship between illusion and reality, is an important feature of the expressionist cinematography in this film, something aided well with the black-and-white photography (i.e., without distracting colour). This contrast of dark and light will feature again soon enough.

Martins’s pursuers chase him out of the building, and he goes down a hill of rubble and succeeds in hiding from them. The zither music is heavily chromatic in harmony, to add to the tension. In this hell of Vienna (whose shiny wet cobblestone streets parallel the water in the hellish sewers below–more on them later), one can’t hope just to escape up to heaven, but must confront its evil (i.e., descend into it…the sewers!) in order to defeat it.

Martins sees Calloway again, and indeed, he must confront that evil: Lime, his childhood friend, really has been involved in a despicable racket. An orderly named Harbin, who works for Lime, steals penicillin he finds (available only in military hospitals), then Lime sells it on the black market, diluting it so he and his men can maximize sales; in its diluted state, though, it cannot work as an effective treatment, so patients either get worse (gangrene, exacerbation of pregnant women’s problems when in childbirth, poor physical and mental health in children, etc.) or die.

Martins’s illusions about Lime have been utterly shattered: Calloway has provided proof that Lime, Martins’s good old friend, was…is…one of the vilest human beings out there. Martins gets drunk again, in a seedy area strewn with prostitutes, but his growing romantic interest in pretty Anna Schmidt means he buys her flowers and goes to see her.

In her apartment, they discuss what he’s learned about Lime. As they’re chatting, a camera moves in on some plants on her balcony; the shot then goes through the plants and out onto the streets below. A man dressed in black hides in the shadows of a doorway, where a cat goes over to his shoes: who is he?

Martins finishes his visit with Schmidt, realizing he hasn’t got a chance to replace Lime and be her man. His illusory hopes are dashed. (Speaking of illusions vs reality, she is an actress only doing comedies, yet she seems to have a permanent frown.) He leaves her apartment and goes out on the streets near where that man is hiding.

The cat’s meowing draws Martins’s attention, and he assumes the man is a spy tailing him. In his drunkenness, Martins shouts at him to come out and reveal himself. His shouting bothers a neighbour up above, who turns her apartment light on; the light shines out and is reflected in the man’s hiding place.

Martins sees guiltily smirking Lime.

Out of the darkness, and into the light; or, out of illusions and into reality. Lime faked his death!

Or, is this revelation just another illusion? Has Martins, in his inebriation, seen a ghost, or had a hallucination? A car shoots between the two men, and after it’s gone, Martins doesn’t see Lime in the shadows of that doorway anymore; that flash of light from the window has disappeared, too–we’ve gone from light back to dark, from reality back to illusion.

Martins hears Lime running down the street, though, and he chases him to a kiosk in the town square, where Lime unaccountably disappears. Martins summons Calloway, and they and Paine go to the kiosk, where Calloway puts two and two together: the kiosk has a secret doorway leading down to the sewers. That’s where Lime went!

The three men go down into the filthy, smelly place, an underground symbolic of hell, which is an appropriate place for our villain to be hiding. Lime’s racket, the selling of diluted (and therefore worthless) penicillin on the black market, is a lawlessness symbolic of the unregulated “free market.” Calloway’s police, combined with the American and French authorities of the Viennese zones, represent postwar, regulated capitalism. The Russians, of course, represent communism.

Because The Third Man is a post-WWII British film, it ideologically represents the centrist, liberal world view, as contrasted with the unregulated, right-wing libertarian capitalism of Lime’s racket on the one side, and the left-wing, Soviet position on the other. Both of these sides are portrayed as evil, due to the Cold War Western biases of the time, as well as the Keynesian, welfare capitalism of the Attlee era.

Accordingly, not only are Lime and his ilk the villains, but also the Russians, seeking to deport Schmidt for her forged immigration papers, are portrayed as politically repressive, when a closer examination of the political predicament of, for example, East Germany, would adequately explain why the communists were sometimes averse to their citizens defecting to the West, and averse to letting fascistic types enter the Soviet Bloc.

Calloway goes to the cemetery and has ‘Lime’s’ body dug up: sure enough, it isn’t Lime’s body, but that of Harbin. The darkness of the grave hid the illusion of Lime’s death, and Harbin’s body, brought up to the light, has revealed the truth.

Martins makes an arrangement to meet Lime at a Ferris wheel. There, Lime, still fittingly wearing a black coat and hat, discusses his racket with Martins, who is horrified at his friend’s unfeeling attitude towards his victims. In the Ferris wheel, they rise up to the top where they can talk in private.

That topmost point is Lime’s narcissistic heaven, where he can feel superior to, and look down at, all the people, those little “dots,” on the ground. He feels no compassion for his victims, and sees the erasure of many of those dots on the ground as expedient for the accumulation of profit, all tax-free.

In this way, it is so fitting that the post-war film takes place in Austria, of all places.

Lime feels little pity for Anna, either, knowing of her grief over his ‘death,’ and her prospects of being deported. Nonetheless, he keeps up the illusion of loving her by drawing a heart with Cupid’s arrow in it, rubbing his finger on the window of their carriage, and writing ‘Anna’ over it.

Just as it is heartbreaking for Martins to learn how low Lime has sunk (recall his refusal to accept the truth when he’s tried to hit Calloway near the beginning of the film), so does the defender of the “free market” experience cognitive dissonance when his illusions of it are shattered upon learning of its ill effects.

The narcissistic highs last only so long, and that topmost point of the Ferris wheel where Lime is standing must come back down. Still, he wants to fancy himself among the top men of the world; so when he and Martins return to the ground, he mentions–in Welles’s famous, improvised line–that the cruelties and violence of the Italy of the Borgias also produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance, while the more humane and democratic Switzerland merely produced the cuckoo clock.

Apparently, psychopathy and narcissism–rather than talent–are what create great things.

Having seen for himself in a hospital the effects on children of Lime’s diluted penicillin, Martins decides to help Calloway catch his old friend. Schmidt, however, doesn’t like knowing Martins plans to betray her former lover. Her sympathy for Lime, as over Martins and those who deserve justice for Lime’s crimes, symbolically suggests how the conditions that have given rise to racketeers like Lime will resurface in the future (see the end of this analysis)…and recall that Anna Schmidt is the sympathetic love interest of the film.

A trap is set for Lime to meet Martins in a café, but when Lime arrives and is warned by Schmidt, he runs off to the sewers again. Calloway and the police are there, though.

Trapped in that filthy underground that reeks of excrement, Lime is in his narcissistic hell, the hell of his True Self, which he hates, as opposed to the illusory heaven of his False Self, which we saw at the top of the Ferris wheel. No longer do we see the smug, smirking villain; now he is visibly scared. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. All he can do is hide in the darkness from which he can’t escape, hoping the shadows will give the illusion of his absence.

But his pursuers know he’s there: no blackness can deny the reality of his being there. He shoots and kills Paine, then Calloway shoots and wounds him, then Martins shoots him dead with Paine’s pistol. It’s with great sadness that Martins must kill his friend, but no reforms can end the capitalist evil that Lime’s racket represents; that end can only be violently forced.

Now, Lime is gone, and a second funeral is held for him; but for all we know, his racket could be continuing, if not by Kurtz, Winkel, and Popescu (who have been arrested), then by someone else. The regulatory force of the British, American, and French authorities can try all they will, but the economic system they defend still creates the want that leads to some racketeers committing such crimes…

…just as the Keynesian/welfare capitalism of 1945-1973 protected the backbone of a system that later would morph into the Lime-like neoliberalism of today, which has produced its own lethal medical frauds.

Along with these problems is the alienation this system creates, an alienation symbolized in Schmidt’s snubbing of Martins at the end of the movie; indeed, he tries to keep alive his illusion that she’ll return his love, and her walking past him replaces illusion with reality once again, with that plaintive zither playing in the background. Greene wanted the happy ending given in his novella, in which Martins and Schmidt walk together; but Reed’s sad ending worked so much better that even Greene had to acknowledge it.

This sad ending implies what needs to be said about all the political circumstances surrounding the story: getting rid of one or two bad apples (be they Lime or, in our day, Trump) isn’t enough to mend our emotional and social wounds; the entire system that causes such division–not just the lines dividing Vienna (or Cold War-era Berlin, for that matter) into zones…and we see a lot of lines, a lot of people divided and isolated, boxed into geometrical shapes, in this film!…but also the lines dividing us into classes–is what must be abolished.

‘Germ,’ a Horror Short Story

[SEXUAL CONTENT]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were gone.

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

“Holy shit,” she whispered.

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

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

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

…and no imperfections from ageing.

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

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

She couldn’t explain it.

She couldn’t stop grinning, either.

*********

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

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

Someone like Derek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*********

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

He gazed in awe at her nakedness.

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

“Thanks,” she said with a grin.

“How much for anal?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

She lay there on the bed, sobbing.

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

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

His dick fell off.

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

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

His nose fell off.

Oddly, there was never any blood.

He screamed again. A few teeth fell out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

********

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

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

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

Then she saw Derek.

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

He approached her with a smile.

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

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

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

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

“You are so sweet to me.”

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

“Uh, OK,” she said, and took his arm.

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

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

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

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

“I’d like to beat Bob up.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Black magic?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know I love you,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oww!” she yelped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m…almost…there, too. Ah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, God! Are you OK?”

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

“Thank God.” So far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oomph!” he grunted as his knees buckled.

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

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

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

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

********

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

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

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

He spat a few teeth out.

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

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

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

He shook his head and groaned.

Then his head fell off.

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

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

“Derek?”

“Yeah?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Succubus,’ a Surreal Erotic Horror Short Story

[SEXUAL CONTENT]

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

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

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

“Who’s she?” Ivy asked.

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

“Oh, you pig,” Ivy said with a sneer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I could…but not with magic.”

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

*********

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

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

He yawned again.

“This wank should wake me up.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Jack,” she said to him in a sigh.

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

“Jack,” she said louder.

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

“Yes,” she sighed. “I want you.”

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

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

“What are you, some kind of succubus?”

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

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

“I don’t want any guy. I want you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

“They may…want to rape…me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Svetlana? he wondered. I’m Svetlana now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The waiting was unbearable.

What were they about to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He stuck the needle in her.

She blacked out.

***********

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jack,” she purred, waking him up.

Analysis of ‘Rear Window’

Rear Window is a 1954 crime/suspense thriller produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by John Michael Hayes, based on the 1942 short story, “It Had to Be Murder,” by Cornell Woolrich. The film stars James Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Thelma Ritter, with Raymond Burr and Wendell Corey.

It is considered not only one of Hitchcock’s best films, but it is also considered one of the best films of all time, placing at #42 on the AFI‘s 100 Years…100 Movies list (it placed #48 on the tenth anniversary edition). It ranked #14 on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills list.

Here are some quotes:

“The New York State sentence for a Peeping Tom is six months in the work house…They got no windows in the work house. You know, in the old days, they used to put your eyes out with a red-hot poker. Any of those bikini bombshells you’re always watchin’ worth a red-hot poker? Oh dear, we’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change. Yes, sir. How’s that for a bit of home-spun philosophy?” –Stella

[Discussing Lisa Fremont] Jeff: No, she’s just not the girl for me.
Stella: Yeah, she’s only perfect.
Jeff: She’s too perfect. She’s too talented, she’s too beautiful. She’s too sophisticated. She’s too everything but what I want.
Stella: Is, um, what you want something you can discuss?
Jeff: Well, it’s very simple, Stella. She belongs to that rarified atmosphere of Park Avenue, you know. Expensive restaurants, literary cocktail parties…Can you imagine her tramping around the world with a camera bum who never has more than a week’s salary in the bank? If she was only ordinary.
Stella: You ever gonna get married?
Jeff: I’ll probably get married one of these days, and when I do, it’s gonna be to someone who thinks of life not just as a new dress, and a lobster dinner, the latest scandal. I need a woman who’s willing…to go anywhere and do anything and love it. So the honest thing for me to do is just to call the whole thing off and let her find somebody else.
Stella: Yeah, I can hear you now. Get out of my life. You’re a perfectly wonderful woman – you’re too good for me.

Jeff: Did you ever get shot at? Did you ever get run over? Did you ever get sandbagged at night because somebody got unfavorable publicity from your camera? Did you ever…those high-heels, they’ll be great in the jungle and the nylons and those six ounce lingerie…
Lisa: Three!
Jeff: All right. Three! They’ll make a big hit in Finland just before you freeze to death.
Lisa: Well, if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to wear the proper clothes.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. Well try and find a raincoat in Brazil, even when it isn’t raining. Lisa. In this job, you carry one suitcase, your home is the available transportation. You don’t sleep very much, you bathe less, and sometimes the food that you eat is made from things that you couldn’t even look at when they’re alive.
Lisa: Jeff, you don’t have to be deliberately repulsive just to impress me I’m wrong.
Jeff: Deliberately repulsive! I’m just trying to make it sound good. You just have to face it, Lisa, you’re not meant for that kind of a life. Few people are.
Lisa: You’re too stubborn to argue with.
Jeff: I’m not stubborn – I’m just truthful.

Lisa[preparing to leave] I’m in love with you. I don’t care what you do for a living. I’d just like to be part of it somehow. It’s deflating to find out the only way I can be part of it is to take out a subscription to your magazine. I guess I’m not the girl I thought I was.
Jeff: There’s nothing wrong with you, Lisa. You’ve got this town in the palm of your hand.
Lisa: Not quite it seems. Goodbye, Jeff. [She turns and starts for the doorway]
Jeff: You mean, ‘Good night.’
Lisa: I mean what I said.
Jeff: Well, Lisa, couldn’t we just, uh, couldn’t we just keep things status quo?
Lisa: Without any future?
Jeff: Well, when am I gonna see you again?
Lisa: Not for a long time…[pause]…at least not until tomorrow night.

Lisa: How far does a girl have to go before you notice her?
Jeff: Well if she’s pretty enough, she doesn’t have to go anywhere. She just has to be.
Lisa: Well, ain’t I? Pay attention to me.
Jeff: Well, I’m, I’m not exactly on the other side of the room.
Lisa: Your mind is. When I want a man, I want all of you.

Jeff: I’ve seen it through that window. I’ve seen bickering and family quarrels and mysterious trips at night, knives and saws and ropes, and now since last evening, not a sign of the wife. All right, now you tell me where she is…
Lisa: Maybe he’s leaving his wife, I don’t know, I don’t care. Lots of people have knives and saws and ropes around their houses and lots of men don’t speak to their wives all day. Lots of wives nag and men hate them and trouble starts. But very very few of them end up in murder if that’s what you’re thinking.
Jeff: It’s pretty hard for you to keep away from that word isn’t it?
Lisa: You could see all that he did, couldn’t you?
Jeff: Of course, I…
Lisa: You could see because the shades were up and, and he walked along the corridor and the street and the back yard. Oh Jeff, do you think a murderer would let you see all that? That he wouldn’t pull the shades down and hide behind them?
Jeff: Just where he’s being clever. He’s being nonchalant about things…
Lisa: Oh, and that’s where you’re not being clever. A murderer would never parade his crime in front of an open window.
Jeff: Why not?
Lisa[pointing to the newlyweds’ window] Why, for all you know, there’s probably something a lot more sinister going on behind those windows.
Jeff: Where? Oh, no comment.

Lt. Doyle: Didn’t see the killing or the body. How do you know there was a murder?
Jeff: Because everything this fellow’s done has been suspicious: trips at night in the rain, knives, saws, trunks with rope, and now this wife that isn’t there anymore.
Lt. Doyle: I admit it all has a mysterious sound. Could be any number of things – murder’s the least possible.
Jeff: Well, don’t tell me he’s an unemployed magician amusing the neighborhood with his sleight-of-hand. Now don’t tell me that.
Lt. Doyle: It’s too obvious, a stupid way to commit murder in full view of fifty windows? Then sit over there smoking a cigar, waiting for the police to come and pick him up?
Jeff: Officer, go do your duty. Go pick him up!
Lt. Doyle: Jeff, you’ve got a lot to learn about homicide. Why, morons have committed murder so shrewdly it’s taken a hundred trained police minds to catch them. That salesman wouldn’t just knock his wife off after dinner and toss her in the trunk and put her in storage.
Jeff: I’ll bet it’s been done.
Lt. Doyle: Most everything’s been done – under panic. This is a thousand to one shot. He’s still sitting around the apartment. That man’s not panicked.
Jeff: You think I made all this up, huh?

Jeff: [Jeff watching Lt. Doyle staring at Miss Torso dancing in her room] How’s your wife?

Lisa: It doesn’t make sense to me…Women aren’t that unpredictable…A woman has a favorite handbag and it always hangs on her bedpost where she can get at it easily. And then all of a sudden, she goes away on a trip and leaves it behind. Why?
Jeff: Because she didn’t know she was going on a trip. And where she’s going she wouldn’t need the handbag.
Lisa: Yes, but only her husband would know that. And that jewelry. Women don’t keep their jewelry in a purse, getting all twisted and scratched and tangled up.
Jeff: Well, do they hide it in their husbands’ clothes?
Lisa: They do not. And they don’t leave it behind either. Why, a woman going anywhere but the hospital would always take makeup, perfume, and jewelry…That’s basic equipment. And you don’t leave it behind in your husband’s drawer in your favorite handbag.

Jeff: You know, much as I hate to give Thomas J. Doyle too much credit, he might have gotten a hold of something when he said that was pretty private stuff going on out there. I wonder if it is ethical to watch a man with binoculars and a long-focus lens. Do you, do you suppose it’s ethical even if you prove that he didn’t commit a crime?
Lisa: I’m not much on rear-window ethics.
Jeff: Of course, they can do the same thing to me. Watch me like a bug under a glass if they want to.
Lisa: Jeff, you know if someone came in here, they wouldn’t believe what they’d see.
Jeff: What?
Lisa: You and me with long faces, plunged into despair because we find out a man didn’t kill his wife. We’re two of the most frightening ghouls I’ve ever known. You’d think we could be a little bit happier that the poor woman is alive and well. Whatever happened to that old saying: ‘Love thy neighbor’?
Jeff: You know, I think I’ll start reviving that tomorrow. I’ll begin with ‘Miss Torso.’
Lisa: Not if I have to move in to an apartment across the way and do the Dance of the Seven Veils every hour. [She lowers the blinds] The show’s over for tonight. [She picks up her overnight kit of lingerie] Preview of coming attractions.

Thorwald[entering Jeff’s apartment] What do you want from me? Your friend, the girl, could have turned me in. Why didn’t she? What is it you want? A lot of money? I don’t have any money. Say something. Say something. Tell me what you want! Can you get me that ring back?
Jeff: No!
Thorwald: Tell her to bring it back.
Jeff: I can’t. The police have it by now.

The obvious, overarching theme of the film is voyeurism, a recurring trait of Hitchcock’s camera, especially in films like Psycho. In Rear Window, though, this voyeurism is taken to the hilt.

But what is the point of voyeurism here? One is fascinated with other people, how good they look or whatever interesting things they’re doing that catch our attention.

This leads to an understanding of Lacan‘s thoughts on desire, which he said “is the desire of the Other,” that is, a desire to be what the other desires, or to be recognized by other people.

Now, there’s watching those whom we desire, then there’s being watched by others, which causes anxiety, something Lacan regarded as linked with desire. Lacan said that our anxieties spring from not knowing what others want–“the sensation of the desire of the Other…Anxiety is the feeling of the over-proximity of the desire of the Other.”

What both of these emotions have in common (in the Lacanian sense) is the preoccupation that the subject has for the object, or that the self has for the other. People gazing at other people–voyeurs–they’re people looking into metaphorical mirrors; for there is a dialectical unity between the self and other that I’ve explored before.

One desires to be what the other desires, to be as desirable to the other as one desires this other. Such is the feeling all men have for the provocatively dancingMiss Torso” (Georgine Darcy, whose mother suggested, by the way, before she got the part in Rear Window, that she become a stripper for a “fast buck”!). Since she moves her booty around by a huge, open window so all her neighbours, like Mr. L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (Stewart), can enjoy the show, it’s safe to assume that she, at least unconsciously, wants to be as desired as she desires the company of male admirers (i.e., all those men she dates…while her beau is in the army!)

Then there’s anxiety when one is confronted with the other. Mr. Thorwald (Burr) takes a look around the rear windows of his neighbours just in case any of them is curious about what he’s doing with Mrs. Thorwald. Similarly, Jeff quickly rolls his wheelchair back into the dark whenever Mr. Thorwald looks into his window. When Thorwald confronts Jeff in the dark in his apartment at the end, he asks the voyeur in the wheelchair, “What do you want from me?”

In Woolrich’s short story–in which discussion of the neighbours (page one of the link provided above, in the first paragraph) is limited to the newlyweds and their forgetting to turn off the lights when they leave home, a lonely widow who inspires pity in the first-person narrator, and Mr. Thorwald–there are several examples of Thorwald making sweeping gazes of the entire community of rear windows, from one side to the other. This surveying is a vivid example of anxiety confronting the desires of others far too close to oneself.

And what are the desires of Jeff, the voyeur who is far too curious about the goings-on of the Thorwalds? To know his desires, we must go into his background. He is a professional photographer (i.e., his very job is seeing people and events and taking pictures of them…he was a voyeur of sorts long before he broke his leg). He has been stuck in that wheelchair in that boring apartment with nothing to do, for the past six weeks.

The breaking of his leg is a symbolic castration, a lack giving rise to his desire for something to relieve his boredom, and Thorwald has given him that relief. His beautiful, sophisticated, and fashion-conscious girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Kelly), would love to marry Jeff, but he’s afraid of commitment, using stories of the danger and discomfort of his job as a traveling photographer (Has he made these stories up?) as excuses to deter her from pressuring him to marry her.

…And here’s where his notion of Thorwald’s killing of his wife comes from, in my interpretation. Jeff wants to project his distaste of marriage, and the guilt he feels over his fear of commitment, onto Thorwald. Whether or not Thorwald is actually guilty of uxoricide is irrelevant as far as Jeff’s psychology is concerned: it’s all about making himself feel less guilty about not wanting to marry Lisa.

So the neighbours on the side opposite to Jeff are metaphorical mirrors, each in different ways, of different aspects of Jeff’s personality. Miss Torso reflects his wish to have a flamboyantly sexy and beautiful lover, those aspects of Lisa that he likes; the newlyweds represent a part of him that would like to commit to Lisa; Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn) represents his fears of loneliness if he never marries; and the Thorwalds represent his wish to end his relationship with Lisa.

This mirroring is also an expression of feelings of empathy: Jeff feels sorry for Miss Lonelyhearts, and he can understand Mr. Thorwald’s unhappiness with his marriage, hence his projection of ill intent to his woman onto Thorwald (however repressed Jeff’s own ill intent towards Lisa may be). We, as an audience of voyeurs into his world and those of his neighbours, also feel empathy for Jeff whenever he feels a hard-to-reach itch, then share his relief when he finally scratches it.

Now, just as Thorwald has his anxieties over whatever Jeff could want from him, Jeff too has anxieties over what Lisa wants from him. What is Jeff supposed to be for her? A future husband? The loss of his freedom to travel the world taking photos terrifies him; Lisa as his wife would make him feel as grounded as Thorwald feels with his invalid, bedridden wife (See how the two relationships mirror each other.). Still, what heterosexual man in his right mind would ever refuse a woman of Grace Kelly’s beauty?

Pairings of characters are mirrors to each other. Lisa’s vanity mirrors Jeff’s narcissistic wish to continue being an adventurous, risk-taking, globe-trotting photographer. Thorwald’s apparent wish to knock off his wife reflects Jeff’s conflicted wish to avoid marriage with Lisa.

Elsewhere, Miss Torso’s desirability mirrors how desirable she finds so many men. The newlyweds reflect their passion to each other so intensely that they often have their window coverings down…on days so hot (symbolizing the heat of desire) that one always wants to keep one’s windows open. A piano-playing songwriter’s creativity (envied by Lisa), as well as the creativity of “Miss Hearing Aid,” the sculptress (Jesslyn Fax), reflects Jeff’s artistic talents as a photographer. And Miss Lonelyhearts’s fantasy dinner-date with an imaginary man looking back at her at her dinner table reflects the emptiness in her heart, her feeling of not even existing herself.

People are mirrors of each other in this film–a reflection of how there is much of the self in the other, and vice versa–hence all the gazing and voyeurism, representing a wish to connect with other people, WRD Fairbairn‘s object-seeking libido. That intoxicating shot of Grace Kelly’s face up close when we’re introduced to Lisa–we the audience want to be who Lisa desires, yet she desires smiling Jeff, and she gives him a kiss we’ve wanted to receive from her.

While Jeff eventually manages to get her and Stella (Ritter), the insurance company nurse, to believe his suspicions about Mr. Thorwald; his friend, a New York City Police detective named Tom Doyle (Corey), refuses to believe him until the end of the movie. I’m inclined to side with Doyle.

Though it’s assumed at the end that Thorwald is indeed guilty of murdering his wife (and of course he probably is), technically speaking, we see and hear nothing more than circumstantial evidence throughout the film. Mrs. Thorwald’s body is never produced, and we only assume that she never really went upstate on vacation. (Actually, there’s a scene–at night, when Jeff is sleeping–with Mr. Thorwald leaving his apartment with a woman: is this a mistress? The more natural interpretation is that this is simply Mrs. Thorwald.)

Whatever crime Thorwald confesses to is never explicitly stated as him having killed his wife; a detective at the end only tells Doyle that Thorwald will take them “on a tour of the East River,” which presumably will lead to finding his wife’s body (there’s incriminating evidence, which the dog was digging up in the flower bed, and is now in a hat box in Thorwald’s apartment; we never explicitly hear what it is), or it could refer to a different crime, one Jeff has known nothing about, but which could be what Thorwald has referred to by mentioning how Lisa could’ve turned him in, but didn’t.

Thorwald’s attempted murder of Jeff may be for either this suspicion of another crime, or for a fear that Jeff is going to blackmail him with something else (i.e., Jeff’s note about whatever Thorwald has “done with her,” and Jeff’s remark on the phone about Thorwald’s “late wife” could have been interpreted by the confused receiver of the note and phone call as a threat other than knowing about an uxoricide…perhaps a threat to kill his actually still-living wife). Thorwald could simply be a man with a nervous disposition, with as vivid an imagination as Jeff has for dreaming up threats against himself (making him all the more a mirror reflection of overly-imaginative Jeff!), and Thorwald’s resulting fear would be enough to drive him to want to kill Jeff.

Granted, my own devil’s-advocate, speculative reinterpretation of Thorwald’s motives is probably even more far-fetched than Jeff’s suspicions seem to Doyle, but my point is that–even allowing for Jeff to be perfectly correct about Thorwald–Jeff’s suspicions have less to do with him being right than they do (from the point of view of theme) with him projecting his wish to avoid marriage onto Thorwald. In fact, Thorwald’s attempted murder of Jeff turns projection into projective identification, which is a manipulation of the one on whom projections are hung into being the very embodiment of such projections…hence, Jeff’s suspicions become a self-fulfilling prophecy, goading Thorwald into being the very murderer Jeff has fantasized that he is.

What’s more, Lisa’s belief that Jeff is right about Thorwald stems in large part from her noticing how his wife has left the apartment without her handbag or jewellery; this, too, seems to be a projection of Lisa’s own preoccupation with having such things available to her at all times. Again, who knows what possible reason Mrs. Thorwald could have had for not taking them? Just because we don’t have an available alternative explanation doesn’t mean no such explanation can exist.

To return to the theme of desire, we should consider Lacan’s dictum that “there’s no such thing as a sexual relationship,” meaning that feelings of romantic love between two people are an illusion, right from the beginning of courtship. Jeff can intuit this, so in spite of his physical attraction to Lisa, he knows their love will decay. Similarly, Stella knows such decay will apply to Miss Torso, who she says will “wind up fat, alcoholic, and miserable.”

We see the illusion of romance manifested among all the neighbours, in one form or another. Obviously, the romance died a long time ago (among other things, it seems) with the Thorwalds. The songwriter dreams up illusory expressions of love at the piano. The middle-aged couple that sleep outside show more affection to their dog than to each other. Miss Lonelyhearts is constantly frustrated in her efforts to find love (with her imaginary date, with the young man who attempts a sexual assault on her…and though her time in the songwriter’s apartment, listening to his new song, gives us hope for her, we have no guarantees things will work out for her afterwards).

Furthermore, Miss Torso is unfaithful to her short army boyfriend, yet she also has to fight off a lecherous date at her door. Doyle is married, yet he ogles Miss Torso, giving Jeff an opportunity to project his own fear of commitment onto the police lieutenant. Finally, even the newlyweds–whom we’ve assumed to be so happy and deliriously in love–have an argument when the wife realizes her husband has quit his job.

Oneself is afraid of losing the other, but one doesn’t want to be entangled with the other, either. Hence Jeff’s mixed feelings about Lisa, and whatever problems there have been with the Thorwalds.

This love/hate relationship we have with each other is a projection of the love/hate relationship we have with ourselves. As a man stuck in a wheelchair and unable to go outside, Jeff is dependant on others to give his life meaning…yet he’s afraid of commitment to Lisa! External, social alienation comes from inner, psychological fragmentation, which is symbolized by Jeff’s broken leg(s).

Rear Window may feature a murder, but the film in its essence is about relationships, the jolts of attraction and repulsion that exist between the sexes. Woolrich’s story, lacking the girlfriend for the protagonist/narrator, and without the variety of neighbours and their idiosyncrasies, is just about solving a murder that is proven to have happened.

Hitchcock’s film expands the murder case into a study of the dialectical paradoxes of human relationships: we attract and repel each other; we love and hate each other; we’re lonely, yet afraid of losing our free solitude; the self and other are dialectical reflections of each other, reflections expressed through mutual projection and introjection.

Speaking of dialectical paradoxes, another one is that between light and darkness, something exploited in Woolrich’s story, too. This opposition is sublated in the climax when Thorwald, trying to approach Jeff, is blinded by the flashes of Jeff’s camera. The villain emerges from the darkness only to be put in deeper darkness from the light of the flashes.

What makes Rear Window such a great film–in my opinion, for what that’s worth–is this interplay of unified opposites: love/hate, attraction/repulsion, self/other, loneliness/entanglement with others, and light/darkness. As I concluded in Un Chien Andalou, the union of opposites is a universal quality, and greatness in art comes from universality.