I was just watching the 1980’s version of this movie with my niece and I was struck by quite a number of things, I felt I had to explain to her. She’s nine and will hereby be referred to as The Potato.
As the movie began, we started out discussing carnivorous plants and had to interrupt our film viewing to look at videos of Venus Flytraps, while I tried to explain to her that the plant in the movie was from Venus and it was supposed to be funny.
There were other things in the movie that weren’t so funny. I’m sure somewhere on the internet, someone has written a review or analysis of this movie’s various themes. I’m pretty sure they haven’t written an analysis of how to talk to their kids about it.
The second topic we discussed was the names of the young chorus girls in the movie. I explained to her about the Greek Chorus but she finally got it when I referenced the Greek Chorus in the Disney version of Hercules that we’d watched a couple of years ago. I explained the names of the girls were the names of singing girl groups from the fifties. The Ronettes, The Chiffons, and The Crystals, and promised her I’d play some of their music some day. For the record, Alan Menken relied far too much on the idea of the Black Backup singer. Why is that a law?
Then she had questions about Audrey getting beat up by her dentist boyfriend, and that’s when I started to think, maybe this is not the film we should be watching. But I didn’t shirk from this. We talked about how her boyfriend beat her up and she was scared to leave him – if he hurts her when he likes her, what might he do if he ever got mad. Audrey insisted she had to have a man in her life, and I wanted to explain to The Peanut that’s not a good reason to have one, but it’s hard to explain such things to prepubescents.
When Audrey sang about her fantasy Ozzie and Harriet life, The Peanut thought it was beautiful and the way she said it, made me realize, she has fantasies about her idyllic future, too. Possibly involving a white picket fence, I guess. Far be it from me to begrudge her such thoughts.
She dutifully hated The Dentist, though. Didn’t think it the slightest bit funny or romantic when he was on screen. There’s a scene where he slaps Audrey. It’s in silhouette, so not graphic and I lightly suggested beforehand that she might not want to watch it, out of consideration of our personal history with domestic violence, but she seemed unfazed by it. She cheered for the Dentist’s death afterwards though. I’m not sure I like her being bloodthirsty but there’s no possible way I could talk about compassion for all human life when we just watched him slap the Hell out of his girlfriend. We’ve watched a lot of monster movies together but human violence is much harder to explain.
I think she seemed mostly puzzled by Audrey II. At one point, she asked if Audrey II was male or female. I had to explain to her that plants weren’t just all one gender and it was possible for Audrey to have little Audreys. But it’s a Venusian alien and has the voice of Levi Stubbs, so it’s hard to say the plant isn’t male. It’s certainly coded as male but the presence of the little mini-Audrey’s kind of threw her for a bit. I have no idea how to explain plants and gender coding to a nine yr. old. Had no idea I’d have to when I began watching this movie. The things you don’t see coming.
She did laugh when the Dentist died from sucking his own laughing gas. It was impossible for me to explain Bill Murray’s character to her, without condemnation. I quietly, and without hysteria, tried to explain to her that he was a very odd man and was made very happy by strange things and that it was supposed to be funny. She didn’t laugh once during that scene and that was as close as I could get to explaining sadomasochism. I wasn’t even going to go there.
She did have questions about Audrey II, though. How did he learn to use the phone and shoot a gun? She had no questions about his assault on Audrey I, which looks and sounds a lot like a sexual assault, right down to touching Audrey I’s body without her consent. I could see The Peanut thinking about it, though. She wouldn’t know that the language Audrey II used is the kind of language that all rapists use, but I recognized it, very well, and I just cringed.
This is one of my favorite films. I know every song and camera move and most of the dialogue. I love that Levi Stubbs was chosen to play Audrey II in the film, but hesitate to consider what the creators of this movie were trying to say, in light of what I just said about his assault on a pretty White girl. That scene has always disturbed me, but it isn’t until I was watching it with The Peanut, that I realized that the makers of the movie, very deliberately, chose to film Audrey’s seduction as a sexual assault. And since I don’t like to think Alan Menken or Jim Henson had ill intention, in doing so….well, there it is.
Audrey gets horribly abused by the males in this movie. Her boyfriend beats her, Audrey II assaults her, her boss, played by Vincent Gardenia, while not indifferent, is helpless to stop her abuse. The only person who doesn’t abuse her is Seymour, and he saves her from Audrey II and I wished Audrey had had the wherewithal to save herself. From her crappy job, her helpless boss, and her series of abusive relationships, if not the plant.
Yeah I finally got that this isn’t a female friendly movie. I’m not going to stop watching it. I’m just not going to be watching this with her again unless she specifically asks for it.
But man! That music is the shizznit, though.