A graphic horror movie about women being butchered by a masked murderer has become part of the #MeToo movement.
Yes, that is confusing.
Debuting at Number One at the US box office and opening in Australia on October 25, 2018’s Halloween stars Jamie Lee Curtis in a reprise of her first film role from 40 years ago. Curtis plays Laurie who, in 1978’s Halloween, was the key survivor of a murder spree by knife-wielding killer Michael Myers.
Four decades on and the new Halloween finds Laurie is a gun-toting survivalist who has spent decades fortifying her home and preparing for another showdown with Myers. Just as repentance never enters Myers’ course of action, something as taxing yet cathartic as forgiveness has not entered Laurie.
“What we have found is a confluence in the way real-life horror – that we are hearing brave women come forward to share their stories – [has come out] and what we were telling,” -Jamie Lee Curtis
How the #MeToo movement has become linked is through the prominent plotline of Laurie, her daughter and granddaughter taking a stand against the ongoing threat of a male attacker. The effect of trauma upon Laurie is critical to the new Halloween – even as this well-made horror film piles up bodies in gruesome fashion. Frequently, the sixth commandment is tossed out the window. Do not murder? Um, thanks for the “suggestion”, God, but Myers has other cold-blooded plans.
At the final Q&A session of her Halloween world tour, Curtis told a rapturous Sydney audience on Wednesday night that, in some way, art had imitated life and vice versa. While Curtis stressed Halloween was written months before first reports surfaced late last year of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, she noted some overlap between the subsequent #MeToo tsunami and Halloween‘s portrait of empowered women.
“What we have found is a confluence in the way real-life horror – that we are hearing brave women come forward to share their stories – [has come out] and what we were telling,” explained Curtis before the new Halloween movie had been screened to the Sydney crowd.
“Somehow, this story needed to be told at this time and its just being highlighted by the true life horrors. Women, by the way, didn’t just suffer during the past year … Women have been oppressed since the beginning of time and we are only just starting to really talk about it and honour the courage of all those women.”
The audience in Sydney applauded wildly. But what Curtis said next indicated how bizarre it is to be speaking of Halloween and #MeToo in the same breath.
“I know it’s a horror movie, everybody. I know,” interjected Curtis, cutting off her applause. “You’re sitting here thinking, ‘This is so heavy. This is getting political. It’s like an Oprah show. Can’t we just watch some guy with a f…ing knife kill people? Is that so much to ask for?’ It’s coming, everybody.”
Curtis knows Halloween‘s fans. After the Hollywood star left the Sydney stage and her new slasher flick got going, the crowd lapped up the inevitable string of killings by methodical murderer Michael Myers. A guy steadily referred to on-screen as evil incarnate. A one-dimensional bloke showing no sign of remorse or rehabilitation. The kind of character most are happy to sum up as what flat-out sin probably looks like.
As Laurie (Curtis) stepped up to confront the ageing killer, I was put off by the life/art moment I found myself in. Before the movie, we cheered Curtis for celebrating the courage of women speaking out against abuse. During the movie, some cheered for a deranged man whose sole goal in life is to viciously take life from others, particularly women. Sure, they also cheered for Laurie but there was definite delight in the escalation of threat against her.
Although the new Halloween doesn’t limit women to being victims, it’s a stretch to uphold it as an empowering work of art.
Although the new Halloween doesn’t limit women to being victims, it’s a stretch to uphold it as an empowering work of art. Like Curtis said, it’s a horror movie. As such, instant contradiction emerges when it comes to deeper meaning. For anything substantial Halloween tries to say about the human condition is hacked apart by the fact it’s being said amid brutal murder projected as entertainment. Valuing human life is hard when its being constantly devalued in the same story.
Curtis took the recent US box office success as an indication audiences like Halloween‘s portrait “about what trauma looks like and what it feels like when you take it back.” Perhaps that is true. But what Halloween has to say about people trying to cope with trauma isn’t exactly a great addition to a world responding to #MeToo fall-out.
Trying to not give too much away, Halloween inevitably heads to a confrontation fuelled by vengeance. Spoiler alert: taking some other path is not an option here, including anything as outrageous as leaving vengeance to the God who is looking down upon all of this carnage (Romans 12:19-21). But don’t panic. I’m hardly going to flippantly remind Laurie to turn the other cheek and love her enemy, as a famous Prince of Peace once urged us all to do. Offering forgiveness and moving forward when someone has wronged you is harder than words suggest. That’s why we need an empowering example like Jesus to help us even begin to comprehend how to do it. But Halloween easily demonstrates the damage to all concerned when violence only begets violence.
Offering forgiveness and moving forward when someone has wronged you is harder than words suggest.
Laurie has dedicated most of her life to being consumed by what her attacker did and what she’d like to do to her attacker. Laurie isn’t a survivor so much as a prisoner. Halloween certainly doesn’t depict her as an ongoing victim yet I couldn’t help but see her that way. Responding to trauma totally defines her. What she suffered through consumes her. And Laurie’s response to violence only boils down to responding in kind. Little else is offered in terms of how to respond to what Laurie experienced. Just more of the same, if from the vindicated might of a woman.
As Curtis alluded to, horror movies like Halloween are not the first port of call for real-world advice or solutions. But, at the same time, she didn’t shy from Halloween being strangely swept up in #MeToo momentum. I left thinking about how sad it would be if victims of sexual violence (or any other form of male aggression) took Halloween as inspiration for recovery.
I’m no expert in trauma. Curtis or Halloween‘s film-makers don’t claim to be either. But I pray women who have survived sexual violence or any other abuse find help, comfort and healing beyond tales of revenge doused in more trauma.