With great enthusiasm, I grabbed guests and headed for a showing of “Halloween.” Since learning that Jamie Lee Curtis would star in a new iteration of the franchise had me excited. The supreme court debacle and bizarre permutation of the “Me Too” movement had left me weary and ready to see a woman of age “whup ass.” I came out of the movie with a great deal more than I bargained for.
As a young teen, the original “Halloween” represented without a doubt a brand of cinematic terror that was unparalleled. The scene near the end where the heroine is trapped in the old closet with the slatted folding doors remains one of the most frightening scenes I have ever witnessed in film. To this day, I do not care for louvered doors. Yesterday, I went into a darkened theatre as a 54 year old mother of three. I have lived an entire life since the original movie came out, and I am not sure what I was expecting. I suppose, if I am honest with myself, I was hoping for a reckoning. Finally, the female “victim” is definitively turned into the victor. Evil male energy is vanquished. We enter into a new era–a 21st century era–of powerful women who are their own saviors–perhaps even saviors of a broken society drunk on testosterone and greed.
I was primed for this reckoning. With embarrassment and a growing sense of dis-ease, I have watched the “Me Too” movement sputter and spin. The endless parade of accusers and accused began to make my head feel like it was going to explode. The climax of the entire social movement was the Brett Kavanaugh hearings dealing with the allegations of abuse he supposedly meted out at a high school party back in the 80s. I began to look back at my high school years with a shudder and moan, for who among us would want to have all our teen and young adult malfeasances dragged out into the light? Equally mortifying were the crass and hateful attacks on Ford, the woman who appeared to make the statements concerning Kavanaugh’s youthful indiscretions. It seemed to me that she was condemned from the get-go by right-wingers without even an attempt to understand the broader context of the allegations. I found myself in a terrible moral quandary. I believe in “innocent until proven guilty,” but men who aspire to sit in judgment on others should be held to higher standards. I abhor violence against women and date rape, but I know that parties got wild back in the day before we knew better. It seemed hopeless and doomed to try to go back in time and apply our evolved standards to a by-gone time. In the end, the hearings seemed desperate. My party had lost the battle to keep balanced courts and was trying to stop the process by any means necessary. In the end, all the hearings did was to solidify the far-right and cast doubt on the veracity of victims and their stories everywhere. In a deeply cynical and ironic twist, it was First Lady Melania Trump who gave the final death-blow in her statement that you “must bring evidence.” This is true, but it also defaults back to the societal denial of sex as violence. It is the very nature of its intimacy that makes sexual crimes so insidious. The First Lady confirmed the natural order promoted by POTUS and his minions: in a “he said/she said” situation, the man is to be given the benefit of the doubt ALWAYS.
Back to Halloween….As the movie opens, we are introduced to the age old cliche of the “asylum” with its howling and screaming minions–minions who are simpatico with Michael Myers. From the very beginning of the movie, we are reassured that society has not progressed one iota in terms of the understanding of mental illness and the bizarre conflation of mental illness with evil. Because we do not understand evil or even believe in it, the villain is able to camouflage himself and set himself up for escape into the very town wherein he committed his first atrocities.
In another early scene, a teen character reduces the 70s murders to trivia when he basically posits that in light of all the horrors we have seen since then, what are a handful of knifings? It was this scene that made me realize there was more to my trip down memory lane than a few jump scares–this movie was a mirror being held up to our society. The thesis was simple and brutal: we have not evolved. In fact, our brutality has become commonplace. The theme music with its horror-movie chords is almost funny to us in these latter days. Subsequent violence in the film was either intentionally or unintentionally satirical (Myers stepping on a head so hard it exploded, the usual feet clattering as he strangled hapless women). But it was in the female characters that I found the most darkly satirical elements.
Jamie Lee’s character is the aged Laurie Strode, who lives cloistered in a compound designed to help her fend off the inevitable return of her stalker. Any woman who has ever been harassed understands the idea behind this. Her layers of protection, lighting, firearms, and way of life are an exaggerated version of what all women who have experienced violence at the hand of a man endure. Most women understand, too, when the Strode character is derided by her family as being “crazy” and “paranoid,” of not being able to “move on.” Here were echoes of the Kavanaugh trial and the subsequent discussion about how sexual violence should be handled. We women are admonished to have evidence as though our bruises, our memories, our wounds, our shattered minds are not evidence enough. Without giving things away, we watch as Strode battles to end her nightmare once and for all. It is no accident that all the male characters are either psychotic or ineffectual. They are betrayers and totally undependable–except for Myers himself. The movie posits the thesis that nothing has changed since the 70s for women. Our battles are still solo engagements, despite the well-intentioned efforts of social activists. The other female characters are stereotypical–save for Strode’s daughter, a mother of a teen daughter. Strode’s daughter is iconic in her portrayal of the offspring of a victim who has totally invalidated the power of her own mother, her mother’s experience, and most importantly, her mother’s wisdom. I liken her to the women in 21st century America who champion policies and laws that are against the best interest of women. In the end, Strode must lead her daughter and granddaughter out of a nightmare encounter with evil–an evil that is MALE. The three women move away from a war zone in the end, and for a brief moment, I was feeling rectified. My heroine had finally and definitively exorcised the demonic male. She walked away from the scene with her genetic inheritance intact. Her granddaughter would live to see another day, to help build a world where the language of violence could be challenged and where if we refused to hear women, we would, as a society, be forced to deal with their power.
As the credits rolled, I started to get up when my son said, “Hold on–internet says there is an after-credit scene. Let’s hang out and see what happens.” We sat as the credits rolled. What did I expect? I do not know, but I do know that what I got was something that left me feeling empty, sad, and somewhat hopeless about the direction of our human race: black screen and the sound of breathing through a mask.
Ultimately, the message was that the battle still rages. Emotionless violence lives on to stalk another victim. Laurie Strode will not live to see old age without the worry of being stalked, terrorized, murdered. Women will not be able to look toward a world wherein they are truly equal, wherein justice is served. We as a society will never escape the thread of horror that runs like a trail of cheesy stage blood from Columbine to Aurora to Oklahoma City to 9/11 to Sandy Hook to…… There is a marriage between the demonic impulse in men and power itself. At least for the creators of the “Halloween” franchise, the impulse, as symbolized by the indestructible Michael Myers, can never be defeated and more importantly, women who fight it must face not only the evil itself, but a society which automatically assumes they are incapable of truth-telling and self-advocacy.
As I walked from the theatre yesterday, I was filled with a new sense of despair and at the same time, a child-like thrill overtook me. I became horrified at what I saw in this mirror I had allowed Hollywood to hold up to me. For I had just watched a highly stylized murder-fest that at its most fundamental level was about the abuse and terrorization of women, and G-d help me, I had enjoyed it.