The house of horror, grief and love

‘I’ve seen a lot of ghosts. Just not the way you think. A ghost can be a lot of things. A memory, a daydream, a secret. Grief, anger, guilt. But, in my experience, most times they’re just what we want to see. Most times, a ghost is a wish.’ – Steven Crain

It was not often but my family relocated to new places when I was a kid. Every time that happened, I remember having mixed feelings, of excitement, anticipation, a thrill of the unknown. These feelings were most likely different for the different members of the family. But one thing I never experienced, or for that matter any other member, was a feeling of dread, or fear even if we were moving into one of those quarters in the government colonies that look antiquated with an occasional plant growing on the outer wall, and with huge gardens, usually in a dilapidated state thanks to the laziness of the previous occupant. So, as I turned off the lights and played the first episode of the Netflix horror series, I expected it to start with the family moving in to the haunted house.

But that was not to be, this series is not linear in terms of time. It is not a typical horror series either. There are, of course, the usual tropes. Great jump scare moments, haunting long shots and fitting sound engineering, but what stands out as you watch this show is the fact that horror is not about the any of these external effects but is an extremely personal experience. An experience that you go through in the dark crevices of your mind, an experience that you wont be able to put down in words. This may be the reason why watching horror with friends is so different than watching alone.

This aspect of not being able to explain is no better demonstrated than by the experience of the twins, the youngest of the Crains, who keep trying to alert the family of the evils in the house. But like all kids, they are never taken seriously. It is this element of fear that hits you hard as you watch them suffer. But the show is about the house, you snap back to realize, as the title clearly indicates. After a few episodes, we do indeed go through the excitement of the Crain family of five kids entering it. The parents buy old houses, renovate and sell at a high price.

Every house has a character, they say, but here the house has a purpose and it lives to further it’s purpose. The heinous purpose being to consume life. It feeds on people, luring them to the red room, which is the device by which the house operates. It is however not the soul or the heart but it’s the stomach, as explained by the enlightened and beatific ghost of Nell, one of the twins. The red room is different for each member of the family, depending on the members disposition and interests. Once you get comfortable in the red room, the house slowly suffocates the person with things that would affect them the most. It could be fear, shame, guilt, regrets, and such dark constructs till that person gives up and commits suicide to be eternally present in the house.

It lays claim on the mother to begin with, which it does that by convincing her into poisoning the twins who are the most vulnerable from her perspective because they are the youngest. The house convinces her that this is the only way to protect them from the unjust, scary world outside, to which she is eventually going to send them. The scene when we find her in a daze looking at the twins, and the way Nell and Luke talk about the future is in a way more scary than all the jump scares put together. It’s quite symbolic too, the house is actually no different than the world outside, one might also say that the world consumes us by luring us into our red rooms, that comfort zone we build around us, where we wither away over our lifetime. The family flees on the night when the mother dies, but the house and it’s effects never leave them.

There are two timelines running in parallel in this show, one with the family moving into the house and lasting up to the death of the mother. The other is with the kids grown up and how they are coping up with their lives, professions they have chosen, but mostly it’s about how they have been coping with their troubled past. The dad never told the kids what exactly happened on that fateful night. All the grown up kids seem to be suffering, a common thread of unrest and grief runs through all of them. And it is this grief that makes you think if the show is about horror or is a metaphoric take on life, existence and grief.

‘No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.’ – C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

This quote is so apt in the context of the show, with each of the five siblings representing a stage of grief, or fear, however you want to see it. Even though fear is about things you don’t want to lose, whereas grief kicks in after loss, both have similar characteristics when you evaluate their effect on the individual. Both paralyze you, at least your senses, and the faculties of thinking clearly. Also, both get diluted when shared, but when contained within they keep getting heavy. They lead to a heaviness upon the soul that distorts one’s conception of space and time, no different than how gravity of heavy masses and intense energy distorts the space time fabric as postulated in science.

In Hill House, time curves to the extent of coiling around, like confetti as Nell says in her final, enlightened speech. It does so for her at the least, as the mystery of the beloved bent-neck lady is disclosed. Nell was the one who never doubted the existence of the lady, her embracing of the fear and the conviction creates that heaviness within her, surpassing that present in other siblings. It is a vicious cycle though, the ones who accept get to experience the anomalies and cannot help but try to show it to others. But the others, obviously, cannot see or feel the same way and find the person illogical, and this furthers the urge in the condemned one to try even more to convince. This process keeps reaffirming the fear within, or say, keeps magnifying the grief.

The ending of the show is on a positive note though, something I like in a story that’s allegorical. The beauty of this show lies in the ways it lets you interpret the scenes, lives, thinking and behavioral patterns of the characters. A review of this show, if you call my post a review, cannot avoid posting the ending quote by Steve, the eldest of the kids. He gets most of the philosophical lines, and rightly so because he has become a writer, of horror.

‘Fear is the relinquishment of logic, a parting with reasonable patterns and it gives you two choices, fight it or submit to it, there is no meeting it halfway. But so is love, it is also a relinquishment of logic’ – Steve

You cannot help but agree, you can fight love and deny yourself or you yield to it, and thereby let yourself dissolve in the feeling, it is a self annihilation no different than yielding to fear or grief and killing yourself. There is indeed no meeting any of these halfway, and that is the reason why love may be the only antidote to fear, pain, to grief and to everything that brings in a heaviness upon the soul, bending our space and time in ways that end up with us getting strangled by the confetti of life. This confetti is most likely the true representation of the universe around us, but we choose to ignore such thoughts and turn on the lights.


Haikus that saved the Wilderpeople


Hunt for the Wilderpeople is based on a story that is as bland and predictable as any coming of age or the innumerable similarly themed movies are based on.

An abandoned boy in early teens, a generous and abnormally kind woman and a gruff, irritable old man come together in an attempt to bring some normalcy to the boy’s miserable life. After a few hiccups, as the domestic scene is setting down, the motherly figure dies. We now have two disconnected unsettled individuals. And what do they do. Against all bets they go on a wild adventure fashioned like the typical road trip movies, where nuances of the characters unfold slowly and that inevitable bonding forms, predictably happens to these these two also. The ending is made overtly dramatic with a car chase and crash.

Well, the real ending is a damp squib because it is added to keep the spirits high. But we might forgive the creators because we have been tolerating bigger atrocities in the name of happy endings.

But it’s not the story, the ending or the elements of interpretation, it’s not even that big picture which forms at the back of your mind as you watch a sensible movie that capture your imagination. It is the storytelling technique that is employed, the bits and pieces you are given, fairly interspersed with distractions, making it fun to get everything together to form a plausible version. In addition, the movie is divided into chapters giving you the sense of reading a book.

What keeps you engaged are also the subtleties in the execution. The opening scene for example, a wonderful aerial view of dense New Zealand forest and undulating mountains. For some reason, they call it the bush. Anyways, what accompanies the visuals is music that sounds like an anthem, and then a car winding through the deserted road with the music changing along with it and the close-ups of the characters.

It is definitely one of the best opening scenes, or probably I was in such a mood when I watched it. I didn’t plan to watch this movie, I wasn’t aware of the fact that such a movie existed, nor was I aware of its renowned director. What caught my attention was ‘Wilderpeople’.

Besides the verdant location and the eclectic choice of background music, what makes an impression, but in an understated way, is the ordinariness of the characters. They don’t seem wise, or insightful, or say having dreams and plans for the future, they are the beings of the present. Waiting for the next scene, or the next dialogue. And therein lies the charm, that longing within us not to think about the past or the future, to just inhale the fresh air, of life, and to talk about wild horses.

Having said that, the characters don’t come out as idiots either. They are made of style, innovativeness, there is hunting, the wisdom of love and ‘knack’. It’s however not the individual qualities but how all these come together in a matter of fact way that is impressive about the characters. The best scene to illustrate would be how the gracious and seemingly tender Bella running with a knife to kill a wild boar.

To be able to make such a movie and avoid the slippery slopes of being cute, preachy or developing a ‘we stand for world peace’ attitude is a feat in itself. The concept that is invariably applied to avoid the slippage is humor, and humor in this movie is as much a saving grace as it is an undercooked egg, quirky, uncertain yet delectable. The lord of the rings scene is my pick, especially how it goes unregistered.

I developed an aversion to Haiku after starting my blog. In my opinion, it is the worst format to write and I keep wondering why it is so popular. So, when out of the blues Ricky mentioned Haiku, it was a laugh among my fellow viewers. In spite of reiterating my views on the subject and earning the ‘will you shut up’ looks, I must confess I liked the two Ricky recites to Bella.

There’s heaps of maggots.
Maggots wriggling in dead sheep.
Like moving rice. Yuck.

Kingi, you wanker
Kingi, you wanker.
You arsehole. I hate you heaps.
Please die soon, in pain.

The actor playing Ricky is absolutely brilliant. Without him this movie would have never worked, not even with the greatest story, locale or director. Uncle Hec is good too, but never a scene stealer. The adventure is reasonably fast paced but what stands out is the bizarre behavior of the other people. The ridiculous hunt for the two seems symbolic of what the authorities, governments and society undertakes to ensure its survival, or at least the survival of its tenets. It also reinforces the perception of how grounded and real the boy and the uncle are, in the circumstances.

In retrospect, it seems like this was the idea behind, the big picture that drives a motion picture. It is captured beautifully by the incorrect word ‘majestical’ that is coined by Hec looking around the lake, with a honesty that comes only when one is overwhelmed. The feeling that this movie infuses into the viewer is that things don’t have to be nice and agreeable, people don’t have to be flawless, even you can be wrong, politically or morally, and all you need for redemption is something as simple as that one honest, straight from the heart Haiku, or that word, a decision perhaps, or a choice that you truly believe in, that defines you.

Redemption is usually incomprehensible when seen from another’s perspective, but you won’t care because once there you are bound to be in a good humor. At the end, it is humor that saves a movie and also you.


Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights can be described as a tragic love story along the lines of the great tragedies that have been written on the theme. What sets it apart from other works in this genre; however, is the description of pure depravity, which is propounded through its central character, the ever famous Heathcliff. He seems too unearthly, someone who is conceived only to draw hatred and disgust. There is; however, a meek justification proffered in his defense. He is brought to Wuthering Heights with a handicap of not belonging to the society, a world full of etiquettes, refinement, and conventions that come with civilization, a world which eventually abandons him as an outcast. What follows is an unchecked wrath and contempt that propel him to inflict pain and helplessness on everything he comes across. This unadulterated scorn for humanity and all of its good qualities makes him look illogical, more like an idea instead of a person, something that would look almost ridiculous if placed out of the frame of the story and it’s setting. The ability to transcend logic while writing fiction and yet make it acceptable, as a form of pure thought and imagination is characteristic of poetry. It is the poetic element in Emily Bronte’s writing that impresses you as you start on the journey towards the Wuthering Heights.

‘one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.’ – Chapter I

Poetry comes with its uncertainties, with a requirement for interpretation that is human and individualistic, one that doesn’t get bounded by logic and reasoning. There is no universal truth that is presented, but a bare thought, almost whimsical because it doesn’t come fortified with reason. The omniscient narrators in fiction; however, cannot afford to stray, cannot be seen as manipulative while presenting the story. To compensate for the poetic nature of the theme and the unnatural behavior of the characters, we have not one but two narrators who are themselves part of the story. Mr Lockwood is the primary narrator but his version is derived, or possibly reproduced as it was from the narration of another character in the story, Ellen Dean. She is a narrator who has been a participant in most of the scenes, but throughout the book she seems to be wavering between romanticism, honesty, loyalty and redemption, something that induces doubt on the veracity of her words. These choices; of having layers of narration and adding some dubiousness to it, seem like a conscious decision taken by the author, most likely to make the readers question each event. Maybe it is an invitation to the discerning reader to look beyond the surface of the story as it is perused.

‘but I have undergone sharp discipline, which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more than you would fancy, Mr. Lockwood. You could not open a book in this library that I have not looked into, and got something out of also’ – Ellen Dean

The story commences from the childhood of Heathcliff and Catherine when love gradually takes root as the kids go exploring the heaths and the moors away from the eyes of adults and their ways. It is in the conflict between their innocence and the moral and appropriate behavior as professed by the adults, that this love grows offshoots; those which reach beyond the realms where it could have been destroyed. This story can be seen in the light of this conflict. Society adds a lot of constraints and restraints, keeping innocence and individuality in check for its sustenance. It is eternally in opposition to the free, childlike spirit of the individual which has an inherent tendency to oppose any restraint, in the process even going to the extent of appearing irrational. But it is the same children that grow into the convention abiding adults, once they concede defeat to the forces of society and its rules, that is. Even in such a person, the spirit of the kid doesn’t die. It manifests itself in the moments of extreme emotions or extreme abandon when one loses one’s guard. Catherine, when faced with the forces and the lure of society concedes to it, she chooses the worldly beau who is refined, rich and sensitive. Heathcliff, on the other hand is not offered any such option, he is left alone in the heath of his bare existence. He is no different from a child who has been shown the pudding, given a taste of it and then denied any further access to it. So like a child he goes about, for the rest of his life, not just hating the cruel world but wrecking havoc on it. Never graduating to become a conformist, he has no regard for the forces of conscience, pity or a definition of good and bad. He knows he has been wronged, for no apparent transgression on his part and therefore the world he is against is evil. His actions are not only justified since he is acting against the wickedness, but they also make him the righteous one. We see no remorse in the man as his deeds keep ruining the lives of people around him, making him a villain who deserves all the hatred of society, if only because instead of giving a speech for his redemption at the end he offers sarcasm and a sneer.

It’s odd what a savage feeling I have to anything that seems afraid of me! Had I been born where laws are less strict and tastes less dainty, I should treat myself to a slow vivisection of those two, as an evening’s amusement.’ – Heathcliff.

The poetics employed in the book also take us to the domain of romanticism. The gothic background and the delineation of characters conjures up images that elicit strong emotions from the reader. The disconnect between the world outside Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, and the world inside guides the reader to go on the path of fantasy. The flaws in all the characters makes us question the flaws within us. Romanticism makes the world seem fantastic but it comes with a side effect, a consciousness of what is lacking, a question to what is real. These thoughts invariably take a turn towards the cardinal conundrum of existence. Love once stripped down of romanticism can be construed as an undertaking to further one’s existence. Existence of self is the most beautiful and profound concept for the individual, it’s so palpable that everything else starts to seem trivial. However, this solitary nature of its realization forces us to find an extension of our existence beyond the self, as a proof that it’s not an illusion we hold within us. The acknowledgement of our existence, to its very minute details, in another person is more satisfying than life itself, and more liberating than death. We therefore tend to efface our ego when we are truly in love, the loved one becomes the only person that exists in our world. Most of the love stories resist in bringing about a union of the lovers, it’s in death and failure to consummate that this proof of existence, and therefore life, is strengthened. Catherine, in her quavering speech justifying her decision to marry Linton ends up saying that she herself is Heathcliff, there is just no distinction.

I have not broken your heart—you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine.So much the worse for me that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you—oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?’ – Heathcliff.

The later part of the book seems like an effort to exonerate the author for being too bleak in her outlook towards life. The older generation consisted of Heathcliff, amply described above as the rebel against goodness, Catherine who is just like Heathcliff but betrays her freedom from the norms and switches to the other side, the side of Linton who represents the civilized world. It is in retrospect that we see how the world, with its ultimate intention to survive, embraces the renegades. Linton goes to the extreme in this act, almost losing his respect and identity. This leniency is contradicted by his stern decision in matters of his rebel sister, symbolic of the way how the rational world is unforgiving and shuns the ones who stray. The younger generation is, and is presented to be treading the boundaries between these worlds. Young Cathy maybe saucy but she has a balance in her mental faculties and physical endurance that was lacking in her father or her mother. Young Linton is shown as weak, and almost immoral, for he is the child born from a union of the rational world who erred into the unwilling and disinterested arms of the rebel. Mirrored as the new Heathcliff, a cheerful Hareton contradicts the former’s image in his ignorance and his endeavors to gain favors from the seemingly unkind yet beautiful lady, his sense of righteousness and concern awakening amidst the almost animal identity tells us how life, and reason eventually finds its way.

In spite of all the possible ways you may choose to read and interpret the events and the people of Wuthering Heights, you will still be left enchanted and searching for meaning, searching for a better explanation of the feeling it leaves you with. It’s a feeling of being haunted by the place, by the moors, and the possibility of a love, so violent that it would destroy yourself along with everyone around you. Just like the horror movie actor who finds himself in a haunted house and to your exasperation, walks into the red room defying all logic, you will be drawn to this book again, for another reread.

‘I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth. The end.’