This is the first installment of a feature we call “Harpy Cinematical Society,” in which we watch a movie (new or old) en masse and then replicate for you our subsequent discussions about it.
Today our subject is the new release “Coraline,” a movie based on a story fantasy writer Neil Gaiman wrote for his daughter. While her horticulturist parents are busy working on a seed catalogue in a remote part of Oregon, bored little Coraline Jones discovers a tiny door to an alternate dimension, where her “Other Mother” lives with other mirror-images of Coraline’s real life. At first this alternate dimension seems an improvement on the real world – other than the fact that everyone has buttons for eyes – but when
Coraline is asked to stay permanently…
WARNING: Slight spoilage after the jump, though we doubt we say anything that would actually ruin enjoyment of the movie.
PilgrimSoul: I think we can all agree that the movie was a complete visual stunner – although sometimes the visuals seemed to be fighting the overall “for kids” genre classification of the story and the writing. It was like the writing couldn’t quite catch up to the visuals at times.
PhDork: I don’t know to what degree the story really is “for kids.” The film did a lot of weird hinting-around about issues of children and parents: What are children for? Who are they for? (That is, how are they culturally configured?) These are questions that are pretty far over the heads of the supposed target audience. Besides, if kids go, they’re almost certainly going to go with one or more adult. Anyway, there are three lost ghost-kids devoured by the Other Mother (who was…what? the spirit of the house? a witch? the Eternal Maternal?), a bright-but-neglected pre-pubescent girl (her age is crucial) who must defeat her, a motherless little boy named “WhyBorn” (this is never dealt with, either), weird-o neighbors who are decidedly not parent-material… there’s just a whole of stuff swirling about, but I don’t feel that it hung together to add up to anything useful.
SarahMC: I appreciate that this film has a girl child protagonist, which is rare for a film marketed to children of both sexes. Apparently, though, WhyBorn was not a character in the book. He may have been added to the movie because, in the book, Coraline has a lot of internal monologue going on (which does not translate as well to the screen) and she needed another person to speak with in order to get those thoughts out. But the cat would have been just as (or more) effective, don’t you think? Another theory I have is that the filmmakers decided they needed to add a boy child to the story in order to attract more little boys to the theaters. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle; I don’t know.
PilgrimSoul: The Other Mother seems to be a weird conglomeration of male fears about women – i.e. that women are so obsessed with child rearing they will seek to steal someone else’s child, that behind the face of every pretty woman lurks a devious schemer…
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: There was also the fact that the Other Father was impotent in the face of the Other Mother, until he just fades away and becomes inconsequential. He is almost trying to help Coraline by the end (or, at least, is not truly malicious) but is foiled by his wife’s evil designs. When there is only room for one evil parent, the mother is the default setting.
PhDork: Whyborn not in the book? Wow…that makes his naming even more bizarre. Anyway, while I can accept him as a device, I was/am deeply bothered by the images of monstrous femininity–webs, wombs (a metaphor for the family home, Domain of the Mother), vaginal tunnels, devouring insects, emasculating flowers, horrible barrenness and/or freakish fertility (you can’t win, either way!) and sinister ends behind cozy domestic products like home-cooked meals and home-made clothing…they were legion and decidedly UN-subtle, particularly in the face of all the other vague stuff.
sarah.of.a.lesser.god: When the Other Mother shape-shifts at the end, she morphs not only into a spider but into an almost succubus-like creature. That’s how she hopes to trap Coraline and draw out her essence, leaving only a ghost. She spins her own web, i.e. makes her own house in which to trap unsuspecting children.
PilgrimSoul: That the Other Mother is called the “Belle Dame” is undoubtedly a reference to this Keats poem. Of course “Belle Dame” is literally French for “pretty lady,” but I assume this was an intentional shout-out, either by Gaiman and the filmmakers. The poem is yet another male testimonial about how women will hold men in thrall, and there are other textual similarities – the ghosts lingering palely upon the hill, for example.
SarahMC: The end was a bit unsatisfying, IMO. What was the moral of the story? Kids, even if your parents neglect and ignore you, it could be worse. Coraline’s parents never redeemed themselves, as far as I could tell.
PhDork: Not really. They finished their book project, and the idea is that they’ll be more attentive to their daughter now, but they don’t have to learn a lesson, Coraline does. I heard Gaiman on a radio program on Sunday, and he said something about the lesson being that people who are nicest to you don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart, and that people who aren’t always so nice may love you very much… *shrug* Since I haven’t read the book, I’m very interested in the changes made to suit the film medium (and the different audience it entails), and recently having learned that a musical with lyrics by The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt will be coming out in May, I’m very curious to follow up.
Readers, what did you think of “Coraline”?