Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Horror of Birth

For the most part, people live in an illusion of physical integrity. Day after day, their bodies keep functioning, with nothing going in except what should go in (air, food), nothing going out except what should go out (waste products). This is an illusion because at any time the integrity of the body can be damaged or destroyed, and at least at two points it certainly will: birth and death. At death, the living organism is destroyed; in pregnancy, the mother is invaded by an organism that attaches itself to her, and at birth, both the mother and the child suffer the shock of disintegration from each other. Most horror movies are concerned with death, but fewer concern both birth and death. The French film Inside (2007) is one of these.

Inside is an ultra-gory fever dream about giving birth. Sarah is a pregnant woman who loses her husband in a car crash. Four months later, she is scheduled for induced labor on Christmas Day--Western culture's iconic day for giving birth. The main action of the film takes place the night before, on Christmas Eve. Sarah is alone in her house, having disturbing Alien-like dreams about giving birth, while the audience gets to see creepy womb-cam images of Sarah's unborn baby.

A strange woman in black, known only as La femme (the woman), shows up at Sarah's house and breaks in. Wielding a pair of scissors, La femme intends to cut Sarah open and take her baby. It later emerges that La femme lost her unborn child in the same car accident that killed Sarah's husband, but this plot detail is as mysterious as much of the movie. Supposedly there were no other survivors from the car crash; is La femme even alive?

The rest of the film similarly balances gory slasher images and disturbing dreamlike ideas. Sarah aims to kill La femme and instead ends up stabbing her own mother, who has come looking for her. Policemen come investigating and are picked off by La femme--but one of them is later resurrected, in zombielike form, only to attack Sarah blindly, as if she is the monster. Sarah burns off La femme's face with a makeshift flamethrower, yet La femme not only survives but has the strength to perform the bizarre C-section she has been craving all night. The film's conclusion suggests that La femme will now be the child's mother--though there is ambiguity about whether the child is dead or alive.

All of this makes for a film that is not your usual horror movie. It looks squarely at the most horrific facts about birth--the blood, the agony, the disintegration of flesh, the rival biological interests of the mother and child, the continuing psychological tension between them even after the child has grown up, the different social interests tugging at ownership of the child. To encapsulate all these horrors, the film creates a sort of birth demon in La femme--a being whose deformity and destructiveness are new in this form to the screen but as old as human regeneration.

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films


Jon T said...

Very interesting, George. You made me look at this film in a different way, and perhaps appreciate it a little more.

George Ochoa said...