He said, “The French call an orgasm a small death.” This line struck me silly but also hooked me in thinking, ok what’s this filmmaker have up her sleeve, what is she playing with here?
Initially, I had gone in under the impression this was a horror film, on the contrary it’s more along the border of a psychological thriller with a pedigree of innocence being lost. With Maisie Williams and Florence Pugh leading the charge in a coming of age story of girls understanding their sexuality with some melodrama pretext attached to it, well made me reconsider. There’s a thinly twisted, nugget of horrific truth that I can see why some may argue this is a horror film. I won’t give the spoiler away, you’re just going to have to dig beneath all the context, which can be fun to extract as long as you focus on the mother daughter relationship between Lydia and Maxine. That’s all I’m going to say.
Carol Morley, the director elicits some atmospheric charm to fan the flames, which in essence gives us an array of second-splitting imagery that stitch this story together with an ounce of emotional hysteria. It makes sense as the power of emotion from any female is an interesting subject to explore on screen. It’s compelling even with the story taking place in 1968, because so much of the issues that are explored are very similar issues being talked about today.
When one school girl faints and dies, the heart of the story begins to shift with the rest of the school girls sympathizing their grief which systematically creates this “fainting” epidemic. No one can truly understand why girls are fainting and even some of the teachers are fainting. Is it a form of solidarity or is something else entirely? There’s the mystery. Then there’s the emotional side of it all. There’s the psychological part. This is all attributed to Florence Pugh’s character Abbie, who’s the first girl in the school having sex. It becomes this “falling” aesthetic because once you start having sex things change; hormones, bodies, feelings, etc. So exploring that under the guise of adolescent girls developing and introducing sex into the equation creates a decadent series of continuous flashbacks igniting these girls with what their feeling on some level where simultaneously their bodies seem to be falling into some form of fainting shock. You can tell the director is fascinated with this, citing a sort of Virgin Suicides influence which is pretty cool. I just wished I understood why Lydia was peeling paint off a wall. I'm still trying to understand the meaning behind it and I know I'm missing something here because there has to be a visual representation of something. Why else would the director focus on it? Or am I looking too deeply into this? Nonetheless, I was captivated with it, because every time the girls would gather together almost like a coven of witches, while Lydia would peel the paint off the wall. Even writing this, I'm still dumbfounded.
I wasn’t so much a fan of the sentimental, somber-like music in between intervals. It made it feel fluffy, and instead I really enjoyed the scenes where the girls are playing experimental type music which had a layer of eeriness making it fit perfectly. I just wished it was used a lot more persistently. The scene where all the girls fainting at the same time forms a unity of letting their bodies take control as opposed to a regulated system of school teachers, advisors, administrators, doctors, proposing otherwise. They’re the ones who want to control them, while the youth want to retaliate utilizing the “fainting” as a function of empathy. Something that seems to be horribly lost in our society at times. Feeling as opposed to suppressing, really becomes the trigger that’s pulled in the end which is juxtaposed nicely towards the end in a poem by William Wordsworth:
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh afar.
Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come”
This film was a bit of a challenge to tackle, because I anticipated something else entirely in the vein of blatant horror. This doesn't mean I was disappointed or let down, I just had to readjust my thinking because there's a message lurking beneath the surface and maybe a few more viewings, I'll be able to identify what it is. Ultimately, this is film has gusto in its subtlety which sounds like an oxymoron but there's definitely something there and am intrigued it captivated me.