We Don't Go Back, appendix 1: How Robin Redbreast Ends

(This is a continuation of my post about Robin Redbreast, part of We Don't Go Back, a series of folk horror reviews. It's separate from the main essay because it deals with the ending of the film, and I feel quite strongly that while how it ends is important to explain what I think about it, I would also recommend that you see it, and without the quiet force and terror of the ending being ruined. So if you haven't seen Robin Redbreast, and you really should, keep this post for later, OK? OK.)
She doesn't know how to kill, but she knows where to make it hurt. 
Here's the thing. Norah invites Rob around for dinner. At the end of the evening she boots him out because she realises what a terrible idea it is. As he leaves, someone hits him over the head.

While Norah gets ready for bed, she hears a noise on the roof, and then something comes down the chimney. She panics. Rob comes to himself and rushes into the house; it's only a panicked bird. He comforts her and she gives in to her loneliness and horniness. Except tonight is the one evening she can't find her contraceptive cap. That's how she gets pregnant.
A woman's blood wouldn't serve no purpose.
Of course it was contrived. As it dawns on Norah that she's being kept here for some reason, she realises this. She refuses to see Rob.

Then the mice come back.

She's told she needs to be there on Easter Sunday. Then she can leave. The night of Easter Saturday, Rob comes to Norah's home, begging to be let in. She let's him in, but as it dawns on her what they've done – "the bull was brought to the cow" – she turns on him, threatening him at knifepoint.

But he's just as scared – terrified – as Norah is. Noises outside. Someone trying to get in. Rob pleads. It's Fisher, along with Peter the carpenter, who wields an axe. They take Rob away. Norah faints as a bloodcurdling scream rings out.

In the morning, Mrs Vigo tells her she's an idiot, that a woman's blood isn't any good.
It's in Fraser's Golden Bough, complete in seven volumes.
After the service, Mr Fisher, elliptically, politely, tells her about a tradition where the king of the year would be raised from childhood, and he would be coupled with a woman, not married, not a virgin, to spread his seed.

And then his blood would fertilise the land.

Robin Redbreast lives only for one year; but the female robin has many mates. Robin Hood died, and where his blood fell, the grass grew.

(Early on, Rob tells Norah his name is actually Edgar; that he was adopted by Mrs Vigo and answers to Rob because that's what they call him.)

Mr Fisher asks, so very politely, if she would put her baby up for adoption. He is close to the owner of a local orphanage, he says.

Norah realises what he means. Horrified, she refuses, and drives away.
Pagans.
She turns around as she leaves, looks back. For a second, the villagers appear as pagans, witches.

One of the constant themes of folk horror is fate. Characters who get trapped in its clutches have fates they cannot escape.

In Robin Redbreast it is implied that Norah might be independent, strong, and all those other epithets but she is not, as much as she might try to be, the mistress of her own fate. Even back to the ease with which she bought that particular cottage, the villagers contrive her story. they make sure she sees Rob naked; they make sure he comes back and calms her after the dinner date goes badly. They leave the eye marble as a charm.

Her liberated status is, it seems, an illusion. in the city, her relationship gone, she has nothing to do, only while away the time with friends she doesn't even like. In the countryside, all her choices are stripped away. Norah does one thing freely: she changes her mind and sleeps with Rob.

She doesn't have to sleep with him; she gives in to her own urges. In surrendering to biology without caution, she loses her bodily autonomy and her geographical freedom. She is trapped, and it's implied that her future is locked now too. She's going to have the baby, it's too late now to have an abortion, and she's going to live with the fear that her son – and how does everyone know that it's a boy? – will be the next Robin Redbreast.

(back)

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