*So here I am, with more thoughts about this movie, because I just love thinking about it, and analyzing it. Its also a good way to exercise my brain and practice writing. Hopefully this post isn’t too much of a wankfest, and when you watch the movie, maybe some of this will occur to you, too.
For my earlier review of the movie, and the meanings behind the monster, see:
I’ve wanted, for some time now, to follow that first review with several more observations of the plot and characters. A lot of the meaning gleaned from the movie is through implication, but by looking at the movie’s details, listening carefully to what the characters say, and what they, and the monster, does, you can get a clearer idea of the movie’s meaning.
This movie is not just about sexuality and STDs. That’s just a surface-level description, and the one most easily accessed by the viewer. Those two subjects are merely the vehicles through which the meaning of the story is being imparted. The movie is actually about the existential fear of growing up, growing old, and death.
Jay is a pretty blond girl right on the cusp of womanhood. She is presumably attending some type of community college in her city, and is entering the part of her life where she’s considering leaving home, getting married, and having kids. These are major issues for her, and I think the monster reflects these anxieties about her present and future.
In Rockwell’s famous painting, we see a young girl contemplating her oncoming womanhood. She has thrown her doll to the side (ie. put away childish things) and is considering her future, comparing herself to the woman in the magazine.
Mary’s pose seems “apprehensive, as if she understands that womanhood is upon her and fears that she is not quite ready,” writes art expert Karal Ann Marling in her 1997 book, Norman Rockwell.
I feel that the above is an accurate statement of Jay’s mindset. Several times we see Jay looking at herself in mirrors. In the first instance, she is just using it to put on her makeup. She is playing at being an adult, copying behavior she’s seen her mother engage in many times. But Jay is very young and not as sophisticated. The reason I say playing at being a adult is becasue of Jay’s visible bra straps. A more sophisticated, and experienced woman would know to wear a bra with straps that match with her dress. We can tell from this, that Jay is still new at this whole, dating thing, and is pretending at being an older, more experienced woman.
The second time we see her, in the mirror, is after Hugh has passed the monster to her. Everyone believes she has been raped, although the sex was consensual. Nevertheless, this scene evokes the type of contemplation scene we often see in movies, where a woman has undergone some radical, physical experience (such as a sexual assault) and is staring, wonderingly, at herself in a mirror.
We’re not sure exactly what Jay is thinking here, as she carefully inspects her privates, but the idea being imparted, is that she’s genuinely a woman now, whereas before, she was only playing at being one. In the parlance of gaming, she has had sex with an adult male, of her own free will, and so now, has leveled up. She is no longer a child. This has nothing to do with sex, exactly, because Jay was not a virgin when she slept with Hugh, but what happened to her does represent some type of major change in her life that she is apprehensive about. When seen in the context of the rest of the movie, for the first time, she may be thinking of her impending death, in some nebulous future.
The time period for the events in the movie have been deliberately obscured, according to the director. There is no specific year, that it occurs, as evidenced by people’s clothing, the TV shows they watch, and cars they drive. People are dressed modern, but all of the TV shows anyone watches are more than twenty years old. All of the movies are in black and white. The cars are all older models, except for Paul’s car which looks slightly more modern at the end of the movie. Yara’s shell reader throws a monkey wrench into everything by being futuristic. That’s an object, that’s never been invented in this world.
Its also impossible to tell what time of year it is. The weather changes from sunny, to dark and cloudy, from day to day. Its cold enough for people to wear heavy jackets and boots in the evening, but warm enough at midday for Kelly to drink cold sodas, and for Jay to swim in the backyard pool. One night, its warm enough for Jay to fall asleep on top of her car wearing nothing but a t-shirt and shorts, but earlier on her date with Hugh, she wore boots and a jacket. Detroit exists above the snowline, so its not winter, but neither is it clearly Spring, or clearly Fall.
Another thing that adds to the obscurity of the time period is that we’re not sure how long it takes for any of these events to occur. We know that the events at the end of the movie occur very close to one another, because Jay is still wearing a cast on her arm, from when she crashed Greg’s car, but for the events that happen before that, there could’ve been a few days, weeks, or even months between those. For example, we don’t know the time period from when Jay has sex with Hugh, to the time when she retreats to Greg’s lake house, or from the beginning of the movie, to its end.
Water is Jay’s safe space. This is a message reinforced throughout the movie which begins with an image of Jay floating in her backyard pool, just before her date with Hugh, after which her life is irrevocably changed. Just before, or just after, each encounter with It, Jay retreats, or runs to water, and there are images of her in water throughout the movie. Water represents safety and childhood. Or possibly even the womb. Jay’s mirror is surrounded by photos of her in her pool, for example, and after she witnesses Greg’s death, she drives to the woods, next to another body of water.
Just after one of her first encounters with It, Jay runs to her room, and although there’s no water there, one of the first things she says to her sister, during her panicked reaction, is that she wants some water. When the monster invades her bedroom, Jay runs away, but only as far as the neighborhood playground, which represents, yet another, retreat to childhood.
Jay spends most of the movie, not trying to pass the monster on to someone else, but running from it. And in doing that, one could argue that she is regressing to her childhood, as she doesn’t want to think about what it means to be a grownup, even though she seemed happy enough to pretend at it earlier, and when she’s in the water she doesn’t have to. One could also think of her backyard pool as a a kind of womb, from which she feels she never has to emerge. Later in the movie, there’s a shot of the pool, broken, with all the water emptied out, a not so subtle metaphor about birth. After that, Jay can no longer retreat to her special womb, because its been destroyed.
At the end of the movie we find that It does not like water, and will not enter any water voluntarily, reinforcing the idea that Jay is safe from death, as long as she remains in it, as long as she remains a child.
The Monster – Again
At this point we need to discuss the monster again, and why it appears to Jay in the forms she sees. Its interesting to note that It pays no attention to any of the other people in Jay’s surroundings. When she’s sitting on the beach, as It approaches, It doesn’t register the presences of her friends. I suspect that It can’t see anyone but its victims. This reinforces the idea that death is a specific event, for each individual, who has to grapple with their mortality alone. When a person walks through that door to the other side, they have to walk through it alone. So it’s fitting that Jay is the only person who can see It.
Throughout the movie, her friend Yara’s only quotes from The Idiot, are about the inevitability of death.
“The most terrible part of the whole punishment is, not the bodily pain at all—but the certain knowledge that in an hour—then in ten minutes, then in half a minute, then now—this very instant—your soul must quit your body and that you will no longer be a man—and that this is certain, certain!” -One of Yara’s quotes that she reads from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.
When Paul attacks It with a chair, it pauses in its attack on Jay long enough to knock Paul aside, but otherwise, acknowledges no one but Jay, and the only time we see It register the presence of someone who is not its immediate victim, is when its pursuing Jay’s neighbor Greg, to whom she passed it, at the hospital. Jay has followed It into Greg’s house, and the creature, in the form of Greg’s mother, is determinedly knocking on his bedroom door, when it pauses long enough to notice Jay’s presence. This moment is especially chilling because, until then, It has not noticed anyone else in the movie. It notices Jay because she is the only other person who can see it, and she’s next, when it finishes its business with Greg.
The first time it appears to Jay is in the forms of strangers, who represent concepts of adulthood, that Jay has anxieties about. Later, after its been pursuing her for some time, these forms become much more specific. The first form it appears in, that she knows, is her friend Yara, then her sister, Kelly. It appears to her later as Greg, while its stalking him. Its unclear if the creature took Greg’s form only because she can see it, or if that’s just a projection from Jay.
After Greg is dead, It appears in the forms of the dead, her father and grandfather. Its interesting that it doesn’t appear in Greg’s form again, as you would expect Jay to have some anxiety about Greg’s death, and for the creature to exploit that, but Greg’s death is probably too immediate to register as a subconscious anxiety.
It never appears to her in Paul’s, or her mother’s, form. Jay has no anxieties about Paul, it seems, and worries very little about her mother. She feels secure about the two of them, in a way that she doesn’t, about Yara and Kelly, who appear to be closer friends to each other, than they are to her.
There are three mothers in the movie, and no fathers. We never see Yara’s and Paul’s parents at all. It appears to us, first as Hugh’s mother, and then later, as Greg’s mom. It’s interesting that it never appears to Jay in the form of her own mother, but it does appear to her as her father, which has led some people to speculate about the sexual component to the creature’s transformations. As I said, I don’t think the creature’s appearances have anything to do with sex. I think that’s just the vehicle by which it’s passed on.
There are many theories about Jay’s mother. That she is an alcoholic after her husband’s death, or that her alcoholism drove the father away, and that she is neglectful of her kids. I disagree. I believe her husband is dead, but I don’t think that’s her fault. She does drink, and makes no secret of her drinking. The day after Jay’s assault, she is seen drinking, with Greg’s mother, in the middle of the day. But I don’t consider her a full-fledged alcoholic. After all, she is still working and paying the bills. According to Kelly she has some job that requires her to be up at 5AM.
Jay’s mother (she has no name) does care about her daughters, and what we see as neglect, is probably just the usual parental obliviousness to what’s going on in their kid’s lives, since the movie is told from their point of view. She is at the hospital after Jay’s car accident, and at the end of the movie, we can see her giving Jay a backrub. Her full face is never shown. I think that’s meant to illustrate how teens often believe their parents to be peripheral to their lives. Or that Jay has assigned a decreased level of importance to her mother. Greg and his mother are shown as being close enough to have conversations about their neighbors, and Hugh’s mother, although she knows nothing of her son’s extracurricular activities, is warm and friendly to Jay, when they meet.
Much has been made of the fact that for Greg and Hugh, It appears in the form of their mothers. I don’t necessarily believe there is any Oedipal component to this. Their father’s aren’t present. Their mothers appear to be the primary influence on their life, so it would make sense that the creature would appear as someone that they have anxieties about. Although, I do understand why people would think the above, because both of their mothers appear to them either entirely naked, or half dressed.
Paul and Yara
I said earlier that we never see Paul and Yara’s parents. (Also, I think Paul and Yara are twins.) Most of their time seems to be spent in Jay’s house. I think Paul and Yara represent the past that Jay is leaving behind as she grows up. I think Paul represents childhood, and Yara represents being a child.
For example Jay and Paul are almost always having conversations about the past. The two of them never have a full discussion about the future until Paul comes up with his plan to destroy the creature. When Jay and Paul talk later, Jay makes it clear there are no hard feelings about any of Paul’s past misdeeds, but once again she and Paul reminisce about some past sexual behaviors, like finding some porn magazines, or being each other’s first kiss.
When Yara isn’t quoting death passages from The Idiot, she mostly discusses past events. She talks about how, when she was a child, she wasn’t allowed to go the Fair, without her parents permission. She mentions this while all four of them are out at night, going to the Rec Center they visited as children, and this is meant to delineate the divide between childhood and adulthood. Adults go where they want, when they want, but children always need permission. She and Kelly both take turns mentioning embarrassing events from Paul’s childhood.
The only person Jay ever discusses the future with is her sister, Kelly. One of Kelly’s first statements to her is asking if she’s going on a date later that evening. And when the two of them go out for a walk, Kelly asks Jay if she’s going to sleep with Hugh. Kelly is in a place where she also play acts at adulthood, by smoking, but she’s still mentally in a child’s place because she tries to hide that from her mother.
At the end of the movie, all of them believe they have defeated the creature. After Paul shoots it ,it falls into the swimming pool, where Jay believed herself to be safe. Using dream-logic though, there is no body left behind in the pool, only a giant bloom of blood. Some people have theorized that this is meant to represent menstrual blood, as across many cultures, menses is the moment that represents a young girl’s final ascent to womanhood. Jay’s journey is now complete and her existential wrestle with her mortality is over. She isn’t any safer than she was before, because death could still come for her “in any form”, but she has now made peace with that.
I think this is illustrated by Jay finally agreeing to have sex with Paul. During their sex scene, its raining heavily outside, but not storming; keep in mind that water means safety. Instead of fearing the future, she has decided to find some kind of future with Paul. The last scene, in the movie, is of the two of them, walking down a sidewalk, hand in hand. Jay is wearing the same dress she wore on her date with Hugh, at the beginning of the movie. She’s no longer pretending at being grownup, now.Jay looks mildly apprehensive about her relationship with her childhood friend, but seems like she ‘s okay to live with her curse, as long as she has Paul by her side. And this is how most people deal with existential dread. They form relationships, they love each other, and hope, by doing so, to keep their “demons” at bay, which Jay may well have done. Far in the background, can be seen a figure, walking slowly, keeping pace with the two of them.