Monique is one of the smartest, funniest, and most courageous people I know. She describes herself a media scholar and student botherer who loves movies and cultural criticism. Monique says that she has been known to turn into a werewolf when provoked.
Monique has taken her brief much more seriously than I usually do (this is the first film article I've posted that has a proper bibliography!) and there's some real meat here.
The complexities of structure in The Company of Wolves allow for the navigation of a landscape of dreams, and the film's isolated geography, with a sense of combined proximity and distance so like the British countryside, lies in the territory of an adolescent imagination. In many ways it's a companion to Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, and several scenes are direct callbacks to that strange, awkward little film.
Enough of me. Today we're here for Monique.
Many doors stand ajar; others beg to be unlocked. What is in the forbidden room? Something different for everyone, but something you need to know and will never find out unless you step across the threshold. If you are a man, the bad female character in a novel may be -- in Jungian terms -- your anima; but if you're a woman, the bad female character is your shadow; and as we know from the Offenbach opera Tales of Hoffman, she who loses her shadow also loses her soul.
– Margaret Atwood
|Toys. Just toys.|
|Terence Stamp as the Devil (Rosaleen is driving the car).|
The duality of the two Rosaleens – one the dreamer and the other the dreamt – makes the piece particularly Gothic, as the objects, emotional struggles, and events of the two worlds become more and more entwined over the course of the film. This film is unique in that it takes the psychosexual dynamics of fairy tales as a serious point of inquiry and contestation. Carter spoke of the inspiration for her stories, and thus the film based on them, in Fireworks, saying:
“I’d always been fond of Poe, and Hoffman – Gothic tales, cruel tales, tales of wonder, tales of terror, fabulous narratives that deal directly with the imagery of the unconscious… The Gothic tradition in which Poe writes ... retains a singular moral function – that of provoking unease. The tale has relations with subliterary forms of pornography, ballad and dream ... ”Carter wants to provoke unease with her work. In The Company of Wolves, she and Jordan do just that by adding touches of surrealism to their tales of terror and wonder. The film’s subversion of classic fairy tale tropes serves as an overt critique of the patriarchal sexual mores in Charles Perrault’s classic version of Little Red Riding Hood. Many discussions of the film have highlighted the way the nonlinear narrative, the depictions of male sexual threat, the use of colors and imagery to explore the idea of innocence and loss, and the ending that allows Rosaleen to rescue herself, make the film a feminist narrative about the power of claiming and defining one’s own sexual and romantic destiny. Less discussed, though, is how the film’s focus on the dual constraints of time and flesh, as well as its play with the idea of embracing the shadow self, also make the film an exploration of what it means to claim one’s own soul.
Similarly arcane images permeate the film. Toads lurk on logs and inside homes. Spiders fall from the rafters of a church and land in Rosaleen’s lap. Giant snakes curl around gnarled tree branches. A creature that resembles a mink hangs from the rafters in Granny’s house and rides on her shoulders like a living scarf. The forest teems with life, much of it out of place and alien. Thus, from the first scene, the film establishes the forest as a liminal space where the suppressed but potent forces of myth and magic peek out from every crevice.
|Sarah and the bear.|
This is the first hint that, in this tale, the fair maiden is less a damsel-in-distress than a predator-in-waiting. Indeed, Dream Rosaleen frequently has contrary responses to the terrors, both real and imagined, that surround her. For example, as she attends her sister’s funeral the next day, she is more bewildered by the death than saddened; she never cries over the coffin, and when her grandmother pities her sister for having no one to save her, Rosaleen’s only response is to wonder why she couldn’t simply save herself.
|No one to save her.|
“a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.”Rosaleen’s journey is thus a moral one, and the questions of moral choice and emotional truth loom large over the film.
– Terence Hoyt
After her sister’s funeral, Rosaleen spends the night at Granny’s house. While spinning red thread for a cloak, Granny tells her a story. From this point, the narrative of the film is split between the sleeping Rosaleen, the journey of Dream Rosaleen, and the stories and vignettes that interrupt the main narrative of the dream. These worlds are not divided but entwined, each informing the others and becoming increasingly inseparable as the plot advances. Granny’s first story is one of caution. She speaks of a woman who married “a traveller” who turned out to be a werewolf. After transforming into a wolf, he abandons his new bride, who eventually remarries and has children. The werewolf returns years later and, upon discovering his wife’s betrayal, transforms into a wolf in one of the most explicit and grotesque werewolf transformations ever put on screen. The woman’s new husband comes home and beheads the wolf. Granny’s words to Rosaleen, that “a wolf may be more than he seems,” and “the worst kind of wolves are hairy on the inside (and) when they bite you, they drag you straight to hell,” send the clear message that men are dangerous. However, in the context of the story, they also imply that a woman’s choices are fraught with potential for damnation.
|He looks just the same as the day I married him.|
|"I brought you a present." "What kind of present?"|
|What the stork brings.|
|And the wolf, too, stains her lips red.|
|The wolves of the forest are more decent.|
|I may have found my way after all.|
|I never knew a wolf could cry.|
|Breaking into the real.|
Little girls, this seems to say
Never stop upon your way
Never trust a stranger friend
No one knows how it will end
As you're pretty, so be wise
Wolves may lurk in every guise
Now as then, 'tis simple truth
Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth.
Atwood, Margaret. 1994. “Spotty-Handed Villainesses: Problems Of Female Bad Behaviour In The Creation Of Literature”, Gifts of Speech.
Carter, Angela. 1987. Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces. Penguin Books.
Hoyt, Terence. Practicalphilosophy.net. “Carl Jung on the Shadow”.
Warner, Marina. 1994. From the Beast to the Blonde: Fairy Tales and Their Tellers. Vintage, London.