The monstrous “other” in Richard Matheson’s ‘I am Legend’

A post-apocalyptic world, filled with the undead, hunting down survivors, wiping out the last traces of humanity. Sounds like your everyday zombie-dystopian plot line, right?

Wrong…

Matheson’s 1954 novel ‘I am legend’ challenges common horror tropes of the ‘good’ hero fighting ‘bad monsters’. The protagonist Robert Neville is a sexually perverse, violent alcoholic who ruthlessly slaughters the undead in their sleep. While the vampires, the assumed antagonists, are depicted sympathetically; clinging to the habits of their old lives and gravitating towards their loved ones. This interesting plot line , setting up a morally ambiguous human fighting morally ambiguous vampires, questions readers preconceptions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’.

Matheson goes on to explore fear of ‘the other’, interrogating how an ‘us vs them’ mentality leads to the complete breakdown of humanity and sympathy in individuals.

‘The other’ 

“The other is an individual (or minority group) perceived by the group (population) as not belonging, as being different in some fundamental way”.

The conception of otherness was a dominant theme in the 1950s, with the rise of the civil rights movement, increased tensions towards emerging homosexuality and fears of the effects of the cold war, Americans were alert to emerging threatening groups. In this context Matheson’s questions of otherness reaches a new intensity when readers consider that the vampires could represent black Americans while Neville represents a distrustful violent white American.

In ‘I am legend’ the initial ‘other’ is the people effected by the vampiric mutation, their apparent destructiveness and cannibalism is perceived as monstrous to the uninfected humans. However, when readers are first introduced to Neville, by definition he is an ‘other’ within the new world. As the last man “alive”, Robert is intrinsically different to the rest of humanity who are all infected with the vampire mutation.

Each group, the vampires and Neville, perceive each other with suspicion and hatred, seeking out to destroy their opponents otherness. In his work on ‘Orientalism’ Edward Said discusses this societal violent reaction towards groups who are viewed as ‘others’ , using Islam as an example of a “threatening other with Muslims depicted as fanatical, violent, lustful and irrational”.

Image result for i am legend book folio illustrationsIn The London Folio’s society 2018 edition of ‘I am Legend’, Dave Mckean captures the moment of violent confrontation between the hyper-intelligent vampires and Neville as they face off.

This misrepresentation of an ‘other’ is a consistent theme in ‘I am Legend’; Neville dehumanises the vampires, using the females bodies to fulfil his twisted voyeuristic fantasies and brutally slaughtering crime-less vampires in their sleep. While the hyper-intelligent vampires see Neville as a ‘monster’ that needs to be executed for his despicable war crimes against their race. At the novels close, in a moment of anagnorisis, Neville acknowledges his own brutality and lack of humanity, realising that he has become “a black terror” that needs to be removed from society.

Matheson’s message of wrongfully labelling groups as others is still very relevant today, with issues surround fears of different races, genders, cultures and religions still effecting modern societies. Like Neville, we need to look to our own inadequacies before seeking out others to punish. After finishing ‘I am legend’ the last question readers are left with is ‘What is they didn’t punish each other for their differences?’

‘What if?’

 

 

 

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Halloween Season: ‘Dracula’ and his Vampire Vixens

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) follows a group of Englishmen trying to destroy Count Dracula, a centuries old “undead” monster plotting to travel from Transylvania to England to prey upon innocent victims. After corrupting Lucy Westenra Dracula sets his sights on Mina, protagonist  Jonathan Harker’s brave and intelligent wife, who assists Van Helsing in tracking him down. Interrupted before feeding fully on Mina and unable to complete his act of vengeance, Dracula attempts to flee back to his castle, only to be captured and killed by Harker and his friends just before he escapes.

Stoker’s use of epistolary form; chronologically dating journal extracts, ship logs, letters and newspaper reports, heightens the tension of the novel; readers hear about the heinous monster from each character as they chart the carnage he causes. Very few scenes contain the present day Count owing to the fact that he is seen exclusively through other characters eyes, consequently heightening his mysterious and ambiguous position within the novel. Like all good monsters, the Count forces his victims to confront their deepest fears and examine the monstrosity of their own lives. Lucy, Mina, Jonathan and Renfield all fall under the vampires spell, which completely corrupts them.

Stoker’s Dracula seduces his victims, appealing to their dark sides and causing them to commit various atrocities.This seduction has been translated onto the big screen with director Francis Ford Coppola redefining Stoker’s original work in his 1992 movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Although Dracula has become a popular myth, inspiring films like House of Dracula (1945), Count Dracula (1970) and Dracula (1970), Coppola’s interpretation of the story remains the most well known, largely due to its title directly linking it to Stoker’s original work.  

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(Above) Gary Oldman plays Vlad the Impaler from the House of Draculesti, reborn as Dracula to search for his lost love who has been reincarnated as Mina Harker.

However, despite sharing the name of the popular novel, Coppola’s Dracula barely resembles its literary precursor. From Gary Oldman’s ridiculous tinted sunglasses, to the films unsubtle references to Dracula’s identity as Vlad the Impaler with Mina as his reincarnated wife, Stoker’s revolutionary monster novel is completely lost in translation. The films most disastrous error is it’s attempt to humanize Dracula, a figure that only interacts with characters to torture them in the novel. Mina’s bloody baptism, an act of brutal revenge, is transformed into a tragic seduction between Dracula and his lost love. Instead of fearing an unidentified emotionless killer, viewers are left seduced by his plight to reunite with his one true love.

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In the movie Mina (Winona Ryder) enjoys drinking from Dracula, the experience is sensual and full of love. Whereas in the novel Mina is terrified of Dracula and fights him off as he forces her to ingest his blood.

Creating a romantic narrative irrevocably changed key characters from the novel; Mina is transformed from an intelligent and disciplined young woman to a lovesick fool, while Lucy metamorphoses from a sweetly innocent girl to a seductive, vivacious woman. Disappointingly, Coppola dumbs down his female leads, editing out Mina’s pivotal role in hunting down Dracula and Lucy’s heroic fight against his compulsion to fit them into a predominantly masculine plot revolving around sex and violence. Stoker’s literary finesse, creating a novel that is made up of characters writings, debases into a narrative of blood, sex and tragic love, a formula that sets the precedent for most modern Vampire movies and novels follow (see Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Queen of the Damned, and True Blood etc).

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(Above) Dracula and Mina meeting for the first time at the theatre.

Inevitably, the movie’s focus on seduction results in the sexualisation of characters, transforming the Count from a monster to a lover, Lucy from a virgin to a floozy and Mina from a prude to a romantic. Its heroines are completely eroticised, which can be seen through Coppola’s inexplicable insertion of a scene where Lucy and Mina run around in see-through dresses, frolicking together and sharing passionate kisses. Rather than focusing on character nuance, viewers are encouraged to pay attention to suggestive clothing and raunchy lines, establishing sexuality as the central theme.    

Both Dracula’s forceful seduction of Mina and Lucy’s encounter with the wolfman demonstrate Coppola’s complete objectification of women. On first meeting an odd stranger, Mina, a normally cool and aloof character, falls into his arms as he forcefully pins her to a wall and threatens to bite her. In the novel, when threatened with the Count’s deadly bite, Mina struggles against him, fighting back against his monstrous intentions. This strength and common sense is erased from its digital successor, leaving a watered down, unfaithful Mina that resembles typical vampire consorts like Bella Swan, Elena Gilbert and Sookie Stackhouse.

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(Above) Lucy (Sadie Frost) wantonly giving herself to the wolfman.

This objectification of women is even more clear in Lucy’s demise, where she is shown gliding through the cemetery in a tight fitted red corset dress, swaying to erotic music as she lays herself out on an ancient crypt. Then when confronted with a fiendish wolfman Lucy spreads her legs and moans in apparent ecstasy, allowing the wolf to snoot between her legs before latching onto her exposed neck. In Stoker’s Dracula Lucy resists Dracula’s seduction; terrified of the darkness inside him and desperate to hold onto her purity for her fiance Arthur. Each time Dracula feeds on Lucy it is a cold predatory act, completely devoid of feelings which makes Coppola’s directorial choice to present it as a semi sex scene strange and uncomfortable.

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Coppola alters the relationship between Lucy and Mina, eroticising their friendship through scenes of the kissing in the rain.

To readers of Stoker’s masterpiece, Coppola’s cinematic rendition comes across as a little more than bizarre. By appealing to a modern audience, centralising a love story, and eroticising characters, Coppola has erased the horror of Dracula. His efforts to eroticise a completely non-sexual novel have rendered his film intermittently awkward and nonsensical. Ironically, in an age of increased gender equality, Coppola objectifies women; taking Stoker’s strong, independent heroines and turning them into whiny, love-obsessed, loose women. Most people remember these women, rather than their admirable literary predecessors, as Coppola’s romantic, sexy dark prince stalks modern minds. This Dracula is the precursor of Edward Cullen, the father of Angel, the patriarch of Bill Compton, while Stoker’s legendary monster remains buried within his words.

 

Halloween Season: Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’

For centuries black cats have been associated with the mystical. Thought to be representatives of bad luck, power and death, they have been loved, hated and feared from the beginning of civilisation.

Around 3100BC, two of the most sacred deities in Ancient Egypt were the felines Bastet and Sekhmet. Cats themselves were central to Egyptian households, not only believed to be living incarnations of the goddess Bastet, but also to keep poisonous snakes away and protect the domicile from vermin. Entire families would mourn the death of their cat, commemorating its passing by shaving off their eyebrows and mummifying the animal’s body.

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Pictured on the left is Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of the home, domesticity, women’s secrets, cats, fertility, and childbirth. On the right stands Sekhmet, one of the oldest Egyptian deities, depicted as a lioness to symbolise her position as a warrior goddess of Upper Egypt.

During the Medieval Period Europeans viewed cats with animosity, as influential  writers like William Caxton (1422-1491) and Walter Map (1140-1210) condemned them as “the Devil’s descendants”. By asserting that the devil takes “the black cat” as his form “before his devotees”, Map cemented the animals malignant reputation, forever linking it to witches and the dark arts. Fears continued to deepen, at their trial in 1307 the Knights Templars were accused of practising witchcraft with their familiars, who took the form of black cats at meetings. In 1484 the situation came to a head when Pope Innocent declared that the “cat was the devil’s favourite animal and idol of all witches”, which led to the mass persecution of cats during the witch trials.

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Above a medieval manuscript depicting a black cat hunting. Many linked cats to the devil through their predatory nature, comparing their slow hunt and torture of mice to that of the devil’s persecution of human souls in hell.

In Japanese culture the cat is seen as a symbol of good luck. The Maneki-Neko (the Beckoning Cat), a waving cat figurine, is used as a good luck talisman and is often displayed in shops and restaurants to bring prosperity to their owners. Many stories and folktales surround the origins of the Maneki’s. The most popular myth says that an owner of an impoverished shop took in a stray cat who, as a reward for the man’s charity, sat in front of the shop to beckon to customers. In contrast to European beliefs, the black Maneki-Neko cat is thought to ward off evil spirits and protect its owners homes.

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Above A variety of Maneki-Neko figurines. Each different colour has a specific meaning: White is happiness and purity, Gold wealth and prosperity, Red for love, Green is good health, Black wards off evil and Calico is a combination of all of these and considered the luckiest

Superstitions continue to surround black cats, a few popular beliefs are:

  • Dreaming about black cats means you will have good luck.
  • Seeing a black cat in your dream indicates you are fearful; unable to use you psychic abilities or intuition.
  • Funeral processions with a black cat forecast another family members death.
  • Seeing a black cat from behind is a bad omen. If a black cat walks towards you it brings good fortune, so if it walks away, it takes good luck with it.
  • If a black cat crosses your path while you’re driving, turn your hat around backward and mark an “X” on your windshield to prevent bad luck.

Unfortunately, as fears continue to run deep, black cats still face animosity in the US and some parts of the UK. Statistics show that dark cats are less likely to be adopted from shelters, more likely to suffer from abuse, and in greater danger on Halloween nights than their paler contemporaries.

Poe’s Black Cat (1843)

In The Black Cat, Poe capitalises on superstitions surrounding dark felines to create an eerie, unsettling atmosphere. The story follows an imprisoned madman who tells readers of his relationship with a “remarkably large and beautiful” black cat named Pluto. At the start of the novel ,the narrator gushes about how close he and Pluto were. But as the friendship sours the narrator lashes out, first maiming Pluto by cutting out his eye, then hanging him from a tree. From here, the narrator’s voice becomes a reflection of his guilt; he begins to see Pluto everywhere, even adopting another black cat who is also missing an eye. Readers are left unsure whether this new cat, who has a white gallows on his chest, actually exists or if he is a figment of the man’s imagination.

Pluto’s successor symbolises the narrator’s guilt, “leaving him no moment alone” as he tries to move on and forget about Pluto. Bizarrely, the cat perfectly resembles Pluto, making the narrator feel a constant “sense of shame”. Events climax when the narrator becomes “full of evil thoughts” and, in a mad rage, attempts to kill the cat. His wife tries to stop him, so he strikes her down, then calmly conceals her body in the basement wall.

Mysteriously, the cat then disappears along with the narrator’s guilt in a moment of catharsis which leaves his “future felicity as secured”. The next day policemen call to the house, completely deranging the narrator, who continuously taps the wall where he buried his wife in an act of utter self destruction. In a moment of horror, a cry is heard “at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman — a howl — a wailing shriek”. Readers are left on the edge of their seats, wondering if the narrator’s wife has returned from the dead to seek vengeance. But as the wall is torn down the avenger is revealed to be the cat, morbidly sitting atop the woman’s decaying corpse. Ironically, after spending hours hunting for the missing cat, the story ends with the narrator lamenting “I had walled the monster up within the tomb”.

The cats, which appear everytime the narrator commits despicable acts, can be viewed as a figures of guilt. Whether he is drinking, beating his wife, or abusing his animals, they bear silent witness to his sins. For example, when Pluto is absent, the narrator becomes completely detached from his humanity, sadistically delighting in causing pain to those close to him. However, as the second cat stalks the narrator he is a constant reminder of Pluto’s “agony and death”, marking a re-emergence of the narrator’s conscience.

Readers continue to dispute the meaning of Poe’s macabre story, suggesting that Pluto could  represents a witch, a child, or even a black slave .The surrealist, supernatural tone of the tale leaves it open to interpretation. By touching on themes of witchcraft, alcoholism, domestic abuse, religion and self, the narrative taps into our deepest fears. Poe subtly calls our own understanding of events into question, hinting the cat may be malevolent after all, when the wife describes it as a “witch in disguise”.  

 

Have a happy Halloween season and remember to keep your black cats inside!

 

For those interested here are some more myths and legends about black cats:

  • Sixteenth-century Italians believed that if a black cat jumped on the bed of an ill person, the person would soon die.
  • In Colonial America, Scottish immigrants believed that a black cat entering a wake was bad luck, and could indicated the death of a family member.
  • The Norse goddess Freyja drove a chariot pulled by a pair of black cats.
  • A Roman soldier killed a black cat in Egypt, and was killed by an angry mob of locals.
  • Appalachian folklore said that if you had a stye on the eyelid, rubbing the tail of a black cat on it would make the stye go away.
  • If you find a single white hair on your otherwise-black cat, it’s a good omen.
  • In England’s border countries and southern Scotland, a strange black cat on the front porch brings good fortune.

 

The Enchanted Garden

With the bursts of red

And the petals of blue,

Among the garden shed

She felt brand new.

 

The daffodils sung,

The daisies smiled.

New shoots sprung

Through the rocky guild.

 

The angel flowers swayed in glee.

The poppets commemorated soldiers  misery.

The bees buzzed their fertile paths

Replanting the flowers, so the beauty lasts.

 

As she walked past, she stopped to stare

At the enchanted garden planted there.

 

 

 

‘You’, Joe is the good guy?

Caroline Kepnes’ 2014 novel You follows the hysterically comedic stalker Joe Goldberg as he pursues his victim Guinevere Beck, a beautiful self-involved aspiring writer, after she walks into his bookstore. Now a hit series on Lifetime, You comments on the dangers of the hyper-connected society in which we live; social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allow Joe constant access to Beck. Kepnes’ use of the second person pronoun ‘you’ hits audiences hard; Joe seems to be talking to readers as well as Beck, criticising the narcissism of the modern generation. By publicising our entire lives we allow people constant access to us, inviting them to love, hate and judge us.

Joe utilises society’s cyber ‘invitation’, logging onto the “beautiful internet” to look up Guinevere Beck. Then, armed with tweets and Instagram posts, he seeks Beck out, watching, waiting and commenting on her “dirtiness” and apparent attraction towards him. Kepnes captures the emotional disconnect most stalkers suffer; Joe fails to see the real Beck and controls the reader’s idea of her in a Nabokovesque fashion, justifying his behaviour through claims that she is made for him, only mattering after being “born into my world today”.

Like Lolita, You employs a poetic flowing prose to symbolise the deep emotional attachment Joe feels towards his victim. His light, conversational tone is uplifting and attractive to readers, who at first interpret Joe’s fixation as admiration, as he analyses Becks every detail “your loose pink jeans, a pink spun from Charlotte’s Web”. However, something sinister lurks beneath the elegant speeches and selfless acts as Joe inserts himself further into Beck’s world. It quickly becomes apparent that he is capable of anything, even kidnapping, tricking and killing for the woman he loves.

Wait… is Joe actually the good guy?

Interestingly, Joe the stalker is the most relatable character in the novel. In a superficial world he speaks with brutal honesty, criticising the “insecure nymphs”, the “fake Salinger-Browns” and the “failing quote unquote writers”, as they parade through his bookstore with pretentious acts and unconvincing lies. Joe exposes both the characters’ need, as well as our own, to be approved and accepted by our peers, holding up our shortcomings for us to analyse and judge. He maintains a witty, fast-paced conversation throughout the entire novel, distracting readers from the depraved acts he commits. In fact we find ourselves sucked into his delusion, like a case of literary Stockholm syndrome, as we root for him against his adversaries Peach and Benji. Lifetime’s Penn Badgely captures Joe’s wit perfectly, imitating Kepnes’ satirical conversational banter, while using his dark brooding looks to emphasise Joe’s creepy, disturbing nature.

Kepnes inverts traditional stalker narratives, creating a victim that is completely unlikable. Beck is incredibly selfish and superficial, “an attention whore who has no standards”, having sex with Benji, Joe and Dr Nicky to get ahead. Beck revels in attention, openly masturbating in front of her large open window to attract passers eyes and using her online personas to maintain her “variety show”. Her fear of being judged controls her entire life; the friends she chooses, the men she sleeps with and the poetry she likes are all aimed at impressing others. Even though she likes Joe, Beck allows Peach to push him out of her life, pulling “further and further away” as Peach criticises her dating an uneducated book shop owner.

Becks is drawn to insincerity, surrounding herself with fake friends and a deadbeat boyfriend. Her best friend Peach is a mean girl, who uses her expensive clothes, impressive degree, exceptional job and relation to writer Salinger to intimidate both her friends and new acquaintances. Readers become frustrated by Peach’s blatant emotional blackmail of Beck, staging breakdowns and acting out, which hinders both Beck’s writing as well as her relationships with other characters. Ironically, in crying wolf Peach seals her fate; after her murder Beck believes that she has run off after a melt down and does not question what has happened. Similarly, when Beck’s indifferent boyfriend Benji is kidnapped by Joe she instantly believes his tweets about ‘flirting with Miley Cyrus’ and smoking coke. Here, Kepnes warns against a blind belief in social media, Joe is able to use Twitter to fake both Peach and Benji’s disappearance and manipulate how they are remembered.

Joe stands alone, a vigilante against fakery and phoniness as he kidnaps, maims and tortures liars around him to expose them. At the novel’s climax after realising Beck’s deceptions Joe acts as an avenging angel, squeezing Beck’s throat in “an exorcism, a rebirth”. Readers are left in terror after realising that Joe will act again, looking for new victims to judge and expose, after he chillingly reveals “You are gone, forever and she is here, now”.

Shark Attack! ‘Jaws’ vs ‘The Meg’

‘Da derrrr, da derrrrrr, da derrr, derrderrderrderrderrderrderrderrderrderrderrrrrrrrrrrrrrr’

Even today the haunting theme of the classic horror movie Jaws hammers in one’s ears when entering an ocean or even getting into the bath. Steven Spielberg’s use of intimate underwater shots paired with a chilling soundtrack creates a spooky atmosphere, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats until the film’s close. Based on Peter Benchley’s novel (1974),  inspired by the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916, Jaws is set in a fictional New England town called Amnity whose residents are being attacked by a Great White shark. Spielberg ingeniously encapsulates fear within the production; the shark is more talked about than seen and the residents fear of the creature renders it completely terrifying and monstrous. This use of suspense, selectively allowing audiences to see the after effects of the Great White rather than the beast itself, constitutes Jaws as one of the greatest thrillers made to date. It remains the first major ‘shark attack’ film, fighting to maintain its supremacy over new challengers like The Shallows, Sharknado, 47 Meters Down and The Reef to name but a few.

Image result for jawsAbove: Police Chief Martin Broody (Roy Scheider) throws bait into the water, unaware that his nemesis is lurking behind him. Director Spielberg captures the message of the film in this poignant scene, symbolising the sharks constant presence in Amnity’s residents minds.

Now, a new challenger arises. “Miles away a much larger predator moved through the abyss”The Meg: A novel of deep terror (1997).

Jon Turteltaub’s recent adaptation of the novella The Meg is most certainly larger than life, using over-the-top effects and overblown action sequences to replicate the fear that Jaws instilled in audiences 33 years ago. Like its predecessor, The Meg follows a group of marine scientists as they hunt down a ravenous Megalodon, the largest marine predator to ever exist, as it terrorises beaches along the Pacific Ocean. Jason Statham plays the cool and charismatic Jonas Taylor, a veteran deep sea diver, who is called to fight the beast after it breaks free from its prison in the Mariana Trench. Statham’s performance is enjoyable, filled both with bad-ass lines and witty jokes that pay comedic homage to Jaws. However the production itself proves bigger is not always better. Excessive shots of the 75 foot long CGI shark detracts from the mystery and suspense that Jaws exudes, making The Meg a formulaic monster movie focused less on terror and more on the ultimate destruction of the shark.

Image result for the megPictured above: Jonas Taylor’s (Jason Statham’s) confrontation with the colossal prehistoric shark, brought to life by director Turteltaub’s realistic use of CGI.

Who won? , you decide

I have mainly talked about the films here, but be sure to check out the books as well.  Both are fabulous (the descriptions can be found below).

Jaws (novel) 1974, Peter Benchley: ****

The classic horror novel that sets nature against civilisation as three men battle a murderous Great White Shark on a killing rampage. Featuring a detailed, well thought out cast of characters who are confronted with their greatest fears as the supernaturally indestructible Jaws haunts the shores of the coastal town Amnity. Issues of class, capitalism, politics and gender roles are exposed through the terror of the attacks, revealing the fragility of human existence. Unlike Spielberg’s action-packed adaptation the novel focuses on the residents responses to the crisis, exploring the corruption of human capriciousness, suggesting that humanity poses a greater threat to itself than what lies beneath the waves. Climatic, thrilling, deeply unsettling in its revelations, Jaws is a short, powerful, thought-provoking read that questions the morals of humanity and emphasises the uncontrollability of nature.

The Meg: A Novella of Deep Terror, Steve Alten (1997) ***

A fresh take on the Shark attack genre, The Meg follows deep sea diver Jonas Taylor as he tracks down a prehistoric monster terrorising the Pacific shores. The aquatic apex predator Carcharocles Megalodon is bigger and better than its modern ancestor, proving almost impossible to kill and readers are left on the edge of their seats through multiple action packed confrontations with the leviathan. Although not as thought provoking as Jaws, The Meg offers a sensational imaginary world that questions humanity’s supremacy over the oceans and gives readers a detailed, well thought out plot that submerges them into its depths. With themes of adultery, mental health, superficiality and the supernatural The Meg commentates on the pressures of the materialistic modern world and provides readers an escape into a primitive prehistoric period where one’s only worry is the beasts swimming beneath.

 

 

 

 

‘Laura’: Miss Diane Redfern

Vera Caspary’s most noted novel Laura (1942-1943) follows an array of characters proceeding  the murder of the protagonist, a mysterious enigmatic New York advertising agent who is killed in her apartment. In 1944 Caspary’s work was adapted for the big screen, starring the elegant and poised Gene Tierney whose crisp performance brings the perplexing starlet to life.

An essential theme of Caspary’s work is the engendering of erotic fantasy, the novel is made up of the differing perspectives of Laura’s three suitors; the pessimistic writer Waldo Lydecker, a dark and brooding detective Mark McPherson and her self-obsessed vulgar fiance Shelby Carpenter. Laura is created through the eyes of these men, she is never allowed her own perspective and continually evolves accordingly to her male counterparts moods. This sets her apart from other ‘Femme Fatales’ like Phyllis Dietrichson (Double Indemnity), Brigid O’Shaughnessy (The Maltese Falcon) and Cora Smith (The Postman Always Rings Twice) who all control their male correspondents for their own agendas. Paradoxically Laura is controlled by the men around her, who shape her identity in both life and death for their own morbid intentions.

Waldo Lydecker is a mad, obsessive writer who configures Laura’s identity through his writing and testimony. At the novels opening he installs himself as Laura’s creator, informing Detective McPherson that she was an extension of himself like his “gold-banded stick”. By comparing Laura to an inanimate object Lydecker foregrounds her lack of agency, while claiming her as his own personal possession. Moreover, after learning of Laura’s death Lydecker disturbingly eroticises her dead corpse, imagining her spread out “naked except for a blue silk taffeta robe” which furthers his power over the figure of Laura. She remains passive, sexualised in her death by her over-bearing, obsessive necrophiliac ‘mentor’.

Image result for Laura filmLydecker (Clifton Webb) staring down at Laura (Gene Tierney), who appears to be meek and submissive to him. It is important to note that at this point in the film viewers are following Lydeckers own personal memories and fantasies of Laura.

Otto Preminger echoes the novels obsessive hyper real tone in the opening of the film, using dream-like music as Lydecker (Clifton Webb) woefully describes the morning he found out about Laura’s death. The romantic, obsessive imagery used like “the sun burned through the sky like a magnifying glass” foregrounds Lydecker’s manic fixation with Laura and establishes his dominance as her narrator. As the film progresses Webb’s charismatic frantic performance becomes more pronounced as he struggles to maintain his version of Laura over detective McPhersons. His loving praise “the way she listened was more eloquent than speech” encapsulates their one-sided relationship, inaugurating Lydecker’s projection of his erotic ideal onto Laura who he names his “better half”.

Detective Mark Mcpherson also becomes transfixed with Laura, after initially learning about her from the other characters he falls in love with his own idea of her. At the beginning of the novel McPherson dismisses Laura as a typical frivolous “dame” but as the narrative progresses he examines her life, trying to link it with his as he ponders “we might have passed each other on the street often”. McPherson’s obsession develops simultaneously with the case, becoming increasingly sinister through erotic fantasies about her dead body in acts of necrophilia. Throughout most of the novel McPherson stares at a portrait of Laura, using its passive depiction to shape his own Laura who appears to him after he falls asleep in her apartment. Readers are left uncertain if the detective is dreaming, the tone of the novel shifts and the pace of action speeds up dramatically to bring Laura and McPherson together. McPherson indicates the fictional tendencies of his Laura when he ponders “A girl had died. Her body laid on the floor of this room, this is how Laura and I met”, suggesting that Laura herself had to die to give rise to McPherson’s ideal version of her.

Image result for Laura filmThe moment in the film when Laura returns as a ghost-like figure. Viewers are unsure if she is a fragment of McPherson’s imagination, the Laura in which he has been fantasising about gazes down at the two of them as the detectives delusion comes to life.

The film mirrors McPherson’s necrophiliac feelings for his murder victim, using whimsical longing music to symbolise the detectives desire to get closer to Laura. By depicting McPherson’s comfort and casual enjoyment in Laura’s apartment as he roots through her letters, lounges on her bed and watches her portrait Dana Andrews charts his developing yearning for her. This infatuation climaxes when McPherson falls asleep staring at Laura’s painting, dreaming of her or at least his version of her. When he awakes Laura is standing before him and McPherson’s passion for Laura is fully realised as he grows increasingly possessive over her person. Like the novel, the second half of the film perplexes viewers who are unsure if Laura is really alive or merely a phantom corpse bride dreamed up by the sleeping Mcpherson.

Caspary’s most complex character is Diane Redfern, the murder victim that is mistaken for Laura. Readers are left uncertain of her identity and like Laura she is only introduced through the monologues of other characters. We find out that she was having an affair with Laura’s fiance Shelby Carpenter who becomes “infatuated with a bronze Diana” as he describes Diane to McPherson. The image of a statue links Diane to Laura who is frozen in her picture, both women are rendered passive in idealised images of themselves, images they struggle to live up to. Furthermore Diane’s lack of autonomy from Laura suggests that she is related to her, representing the true Laura that has died at the novels opening to give rise to each male fantasy about her.

Image result for Laura film diane redfernImage result for Laura filmBoth women share very similar features, linking them together and suggesting they are alternative versions of the same person.

Both women look very similar, at points in the novel they are mistaken for each other by other characters including the killer who shoots Diane. In the film Preminger casts an unknown actress to play Diane, echoing her anonymity in the novel. Caspary’s convolution of the two women’s identities proposes that they are the same person and that Diane (Laura) who is described as a “beauty, but beauties are a dime a dozen” died. The myriad of “beauties” in New York paints Laura and Diane as conventional, interchangeable with other women and as the three suitors describe the women they become different people according to each male fantasy. Furthermore by shooting Diane’s face leaving it “ruined” the killer wipes away her originality leaving an anonymous body with “pale ringless hands”. Caspary uses this brutal crime to represent Laura’s violent appropriation by her suitors, by destroying her personal identity and features they are able to replace them with their own idealised ones.

The plot of Laura transforms from that of a classic noir to a comedy of suitors that turn nightmarish. Each man murders the real Laura, replacing her with their own ideal of her which can be read as an act of sexual molestation. Laura is unable to live up to her equivalent identities and so must be killed to give rise to them, leaving her actual life a mystery to readers who are left questioning who was Miss Laura Hunt, Miss Diane Redfern?