Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Cabin In the Woods: Free Will, Husband Bulges & Jim Carrey

"Do we want it to go down?"
Dana asks an excellent question because, as we the informed viewers know (and Joss Wheadon's The Cabin In the Woods wants everyone to be an informed viewer about horror films and what they mean) "going down" always symbolizes a digression into the dark passions and appetites which is exactly what has been going on throughout the film and, quite frankly, the reason they are in this situation. (If you haven't seen the film, this post contains spoilers). As I noted, the film wants us to be informed viewers, and one of the first meaty bites it throws us is a year: 1998.
Remember, please, a house is a symbol for the soul, and since there are no "upstairs" to the house, the film makers want us to know that there is no higher level of thinking for any of these characters; the "control room" manipulating everything going on in the cabin, wants the group to go into the cellar because the cellar is the symbol for our lower passions, our dark desires and what we keep hidden, hence, the reason that's the room wherein they make "the choice" of how they will die, we are defined by our vices in horror films, not our virtues, and vice is a form of weakness which leads to death. Out vices weaken us and make us unable to choose greater goods, greater freedoms. This is not me reading my morality and Christianity into the film, this is what the film itself says, which is great, I love it!
There wasn't anything in particular that happened in 1998 which would have one think of a "glitch" as control room operators Sitterson and Hadley call it, but The Cabin In the Woods is a movie of movies, and the more movies you have seen, the more you will recognize, including a film that was made in 1998, The Truman Show starring Jim Carry. There were lots of great films made in 1998, why on earth would this one be sited? One, because The Truman Show formed the basis of what makes The Cabin In the Woods possible, a constructed reality (like in the arena of The Hunger Games).
Marty, the pot head, finding one of the control room's cameras in a lamp he has knocked over. Usually, a source of light will signal a "bright idea" or the "light of reason" entering, and Marty, finding the camera thinks, "I'm on a reality TV show," so he's close, but his thesis needs a bit of work. His thought is, "My parents are going to think I am such a burn out," because he is. At that moment, a zombie hand grabs him through the window and drags him out; windows symbolize reflection, so Marty has realized he's a zombie because he smokes pot all the time and that's why he can be taken by the zombies and punished and killed (because those are the rules of the horror genre, you vice is the very thing that kills you). Why doesn't Marty die? Marijuana, which he seems to always be smoking, is legal in a lot of states (up to a certain amount) so the legislative bodies of this country have changed the morality by making something legal that previously wasn't. That's why Marty can be a drug addict but survive a horror film.
If you think I am making a stretch, please recall that one of the people in the control room (the new guy) is named Truman (Brian White) and he's the one upset with how the kids are being treated on the other side of the control room screen (he's identifying with them to at least some degree). What would be the glitch that Hadley and Sitterson refer to connecting them back to The Truman Show? One, that Truman escaped his world as the kids in The Cabin In the Woods nearly do and, two, we the audience learned a new way of watching films and becoming self-aware of how they--and ourselves--are manipulated.
Sitterson with the coffee and cooler, Lin who says she doesn't bet on the proceedings but does anyway, and Hadley who wants to see a merman. They go about their own individual lives with no care or concern for the kids being butchered on the other side, only that they do their job well and make sure the kids die. There are a couple of glitches actually that makes them look bad. Marty finds one of their cameras, then he doesn't die when they thought Marty had and Marty finds a control room power panel that allows him some electrical control over what's taking place within "the grid." One way of describing the control room guys is that they are the masterminds of a satanic cult who use technology to insure the devil gets his food; there are other ways to look at them, too.
How do each of the kids dying reflect their sin?
Jules is the whore (the film names her this, I don't) and so, as the director (Sigourney Weaver) says, she has to die first because she taints everyone else (again, the film says this, I didn't). But that's absolutely true. Marty dares Jules to make out with a stuffed wolf hanging on the wall and Jules does it, quite erotically, and then they applaud her performance and she takes a bow. She later does a kinky little dance in front of everyone and her and later her and boyfriend Curt go off into the woods to have sex and they encounter the first of the red-neck torture family zombies that will kill them. The reason Jules doesn't think about making out with the wolf as being... abnormal (necromania and bestiality in one) is because she does it all the time: Curt is the wolf hungry for sex with her and she gives it to him.
Jules exhibits outrageous sexuality in the film; one might argue, and justly, that the blond hair dye she used had been treated by the control room to slowly release hormones to increase her libido, and hormone mist was released when her and Curt when into the woods to have sex; the point is, Jules was all ready going in that direction and if her free will--her moral base guiding her free will--had been stronger, she wouldn't have gotten killed. In the scene pictured above, Jules accepts Marty's dare to make out with a stuffed wolf and when she walks up to the wolf, she plays a little charade with it, telling the stuffed beast, "You don't need to huff and puff, I'll let you in," citing the story of The Three Little Pigs, and yes, we should be thinking of all the pigs that have been showing up in films lately (by coincidence) especially the one from Contagion. How can I prove that Curt is the wolf? Marty says compares Kurt to an alpha male, which is, of course, the designation for the leader of a wolf pack. So we can deduce that Jules names herself as a pig when, in reality, I thought she was going to cite Little Red Riding Hood instead, but the film steers clear of the successful little heroine (Riding Hood) and goes for the animal that best fits Jules, the pig.
When the zombies actually come and get Jules, they stick a knife (or some such sharp object) through her hand first when she's still in the foreplay stage with Curt. That's important, Jules and Curt haven't actually started intercourse, just Jules taking off her clothes for Curt is sufficient to constitute her as a whore and warrant death in a horror film. The zombie sticking the sharp object through her hand has layers of meaning. First, it symbolizes the sexual act (the sharp object piercing the skin) that Jules would be participating in, and her free will choosing that path means she's all ready dead, all ready a zombie to her moral responsibility. Secondly, since the hand is a symbol of strength, it shows that Jules didn't value her real "jewels," her brain and heart, but relied upon her sexuality as her main strength in life. The third reason will be discussed below regarding Patience Buckner.
Why is Curt able to survive the zombie attack? Two reasons, first, because Marty--being a drug addict--is supposed to die secondly, so it's just not Curt's time yet, but also because of a rule from video games: if there is some good in a person, that can keep them alive to help them overcome serious injuries that, in real life, would be fatal. It's the rewarding of what virtue may be in a character, but in The Cabin In the Woods, it's really just saving the character until the moment they are really supposed to die. Why does the zombie toss Dana Jules' head through the doorway? An open door symbolizes what we have "opened ourselves up to" especially in our hearts, and the head symbolizes the governing function of ourselves and our knowledge, so Jules had knowledge about Dana opening herself up to the professor that Dana had an affair with and how Dana could easily have been the whore instead of Jules. There are lots of ways to decapitate a person, especially in horror films, so why do the zombies utilize a two-person tree cutting saw to kill Jules? Because it takes two people to make a whore, the man and the woman. It's a cultural fallacy that men can't or shouldn't be responsible for chastity and celibacy in a relationship outside of marriage (and one that more films are challenging; case in point, Holden has the perfect opportunity to watch Dana undress when he discovers the two-way mirror but he abstains from it and alerts her to what is happening and she thanks him for not being a creep). If Curt valued and respected Jules beyond her sexuality, he could have insisted that they not be sexual, but that's not what Curt did, and it was Curt and Jules together that separated her brain from the rest of her body (her sexual organs to be exact). 
So if Curt has some good in him, why doesn't he survive the jump with his bike? There's an invisible boundary between dating and being married to someone, and the grid symbolizes that invisible boundary. Curt "made the jump" with Jules from boyfriend to husband without them being married, so even though, as Curt tells Holden, he's jumped a lot further with his bike in the past, he doesn't have the moral strength to overcome the power of the grid that is holding him back morally. In the sacrificial pictures, the athlete that Curt fulfills is shown with a spear, and that spear is the phallic symbol: athletes have to have good bodies to compete, the problem is, the body becomes their whole being (in art and stereotypes of them) and they then look at others as being only bodies as well, including Jules.
At this point pictured above, they have lost Jules and they think they have lost Marty. They were trying to make it out of the grid and almost succeeded when a "tunnel avalanche" caused by the control room makes it impossible to pass, and Curt, driving the mobile home rambler, quickly thinks and steps on the gas, backing out all the way out of the tunnel in reverse; pretty impressive driving. It symbolizes the unconscious thinking Curt has been doing because going into the tunnel (since Curt is driving) easily symbolizes the sexual act, and going in reverse means that he's wishing to undo what he and Jules had been doing because he realizes now that's why she died. The sheer rocks they are surrounded by? The "hardness of heart" that sin causes and is caused by sin. Even though Curt is being sweet and kind and self-sacrificing, it's too late for him, the grid, which resembles honeycomb (as in bee hives) invokes the work of bees, and how all our works will be held before us when we are judged, either for us or against us. This is the basis of The Cabin In the Woods, because each of them basically judges their own self by the way of death they were going to choose in the cellar. Because Curt, as the athlete, has played games all his life (as in sports) he dies on his bike in the game of trying to jump the cliff and loses his life.
"You can't tell me you don't want a piece of that," Curt says after Jules has done her little dance in front of everyone, and Marty replies, "Can we not talk about humans in pieces?" and this is a big point for Marty, because he's not letting Jules be dehumanized even though he and her had made out their freshman year (which is the reason why the zombie is able to drag Marty out of the window and do serious harm to him, Marty had physically used Jules years earlier so Marty has to be punished for that sin/crime). Curt talking about "having a piece of her" reveals what he really thinks of her but also what Jules has allowed him to come to think of her because of her behavior. This is a great illustration of how promiscuous sexual activity weakens men and women.
From left to right: Dana, Curt, Holden and Marty, Jules has just had her head cut off and it's waiting for delivery on the other side of the door. Dana and Marty get beaten up pretty badly, but survive; Holden and Curt get killed, and it seems like the should have died a couple of times before they actually succumb. Each person, as mentioned, fulfills a stereotype and each of the kids somehow fulfills that stereotype. Curt is called the athlete, and he is athletic, but when we first meet the sociology major, he's telling Dana the differences between the books on Soviet economic structures she should be reading for class; Holden appears to be just as athletic as Curt but he's labeled the scholar. The only real moment of scholarly activity we see in him is his deciphering of the Latin Dana had read from Patience's diary. How does Holden stack up as a man? He wants to watch Dana undress, but stops and does the right thing and lets everyone know about the two-way mirror; good for him, how many guys would have had a strong enough free will to overcome their inner struggle and do the right thing? But later, he and Dana are making out on the couch and Dana lets him know that she doesn't want to "go far," and he assures her that she doesn't have to do anything she doesn't want to; we could leave this scene at that, however, Marty walks by and, employing the phrase they got from Patience's diary, says out loud for the audience's benefit that Holden has a "husband's bulge" from making out with Dana. Jules and Curt had set the two up, and Holden and Dana mention that Dana has practically been sold to Holden has his wife even before they met, but they still are not married, so Holden shouldn't be participating in activities that are the husband's right.
Why does Holden die?
He does the right things, right? He doesn't peep on Dana when she's undressing, and he doesn't push her to go further than she wants, so why does he die?
Francisco de Goya's Witches Sabbath, not the painting hanging in Holden's bedroom in the cabin, but it does show (as we better see when Dana looks at it) how it presents the goat as a religious figure. In the cabin painting, there is a very large goat surrounded by a great pack of dogs and hunters and the goat is being torn to pieces by the dogs. This is how it should be in life, instead of the goat tearing people apart, us apart. Satan is the allegorical goat figure, and the dogs are the "dogs of God," the Dominicans (Latin for dogs of God, and it's okay to use Latin because Patience uses Latin in her diary). The religious will tear apart Satan as the dogs tear apart the goat, but Holden and Dana are disturbed by the painting because they don't realize the importance of what it depicts, which is the victory that they should have in their spiritual life but because they don't that is precisely why they are so easily victimized for their sins/vices.
As Marty pointed out, he got the "husband bulge" from making out with Dana; now we can say that in and of itself that's not enough because a zombie pulls him through the black room floor whereto Holden and Dana escape, but Holden escapes the zombie grip so why does the zombie in the back of the rambler get him through the throat?
Before Holden found this mirror, there was a painting covering this section of the wall that he decided to take down (discussed above), revealing the mirror. Holden pounds on the wall and lets Dana know to stop undressing and he shows everyone the mirror and Holden offers to switch rooms with Dana so she won't have to worry about him looking at her so they switch. Dana just gets into the room and turns around to face the mirror and Holden has started undressing... intentionally? Come on, he should have known that Dana wouldn't have had the time to get the mirror covered back up, but he takes off his shirt and starts taking off his pants, and Dana can't look away, well, she finally does, (exhibiting the same sexual appetites that the guy did, which is why she's attacked by a werewolf later, no sin, vice or crime is EVER forgotten in a horror film) and Holden tempting Dana with his body, the way Jules will do later with her little dance, is one of the reasons why Holden isn't a great guy.
Holden has a sharp object rammed through his throat meaning, symbolically, he wants Dana to give him oral sex and just wanting that is enough to get him killed. A film can't say something like that, but it can show us. That zombie (and we saw the bloody hand print of it when the kids first got in with Curt to try and escape) had been lurking in the back of the "rambler" the whole time, just like Holden's thoughts on how far he might get with Dana lurking in the back of his mind, rambling around back there. Holden has started dehumanizing Dana the same way Curt dehumanized Jules because Dana starts thinking out loud about what's been happening to them and Holden thinks she's going crazy instead of listening to how she's pieced everything together.
Holden being pulled up by one of the Buckners through the floor where he and Dana had escaped to.  I can't quite remember, but I think Dana saves Holden in this scene, using various devices in the black room--the Buckners' own torture room--against them. Why is this possible, to use the red-neck zombie family's own tools against them? Because they did not use them justly, as Patience mentions in her diary about what her brothers did to the strangers. They were probably innocent (at least innocent) and the brothers were killing the strangers for excitement (they get the husband bulge over their unnatural excitement of death and torture), and this is why the torture implements can be used against them.
Why, towards the end, is it that Dana gets attacked by a werewolf? The film does a great job of being consistent with people getting attacked by what they themselves are, and Dana getting bitten by that werewolf just before she's ready to shoot Marty to "save the world," is a reminder of what Dana did when Holden switched rooms with her and she saw him taking his clothes off in the mirror and she was watching (and basically drooling over) him. Dana was acting as the sexual predator which is usually attributed to men. Which brings us to the merman.
One very old depiction of a merman.
How many of us had heard of mermen before this film? Again, The Cabin In the Woods was made in 2009, but writing for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides with the man-eating mermaids was being written at the same time, so the flipping between the mermaids sexuality and the man's sexuality corresponds to Dana being bitten by the werewolf which usually happens to men.

Marty, Curt and Jules in the cellar. It is an interesting situation how they get down there. They are playing truth or dare and Marty dares Jules to make out with the wolf. It's then Dana's turn and before Dana can say if she wants truth or dare, Curt says, "Truth," and reasons that Dana always chooses truth because she's too chicken to do the dare, so, using her free will which has been seriously impeded by peer pressure at this point (to say the least) Dana says "Dare," and about that time, the previously unseen door to the cellar blows open and Dana is dared to go down into the cellar.
Why is the “Zombie red-neck torture family” always winning as the choice of death? The description is divided into two parts: the red-necks and the zombies, which, as the film itself points out, are two different monsters from mere, regular zombies. For my readers outside of the United States, the phrase “red-necks” is a cultural reference originally referring to farmers sunburned on their necks while working in the fields; today, however, it’s a pejorative phrase aimed at people considered “trashy” regardless of occupation. Symbolically, just as Mordecai is a false prophet, we can take the Buckners to be "false Christians," who twisted the Gospel and used force to preach rather than, like Patience will do, sacrifice themselves and use Love to preach the Gospel.
Dana after the rambler has crashed and the zombie waits to get her. Please note, if you will, the irony of a family of back hill red-necks knowing Latin--even at the age of Patience Buckner--and yet Dana doesn't, it's just nonsense to her, and many of us in the audience don't know it. This is how marginalization works in art, that which we do not know or cannot make sense of, we push off into the margins and forget about it, when, according to Jacques Derrida, those things we don't understand are the ones we should be focusing on, like the Latin incantation that raises the dead.
So the Buckners were farmers/trappers but zombies are those who go through the actions of life without any “life” in them, and this is another layer of irony about Patience Buckner, her father accused her of not believing in the true faith (being zealous), but the father and brothers were the ones mindlessly going through the sacrifices and rituals and Patience was alert to what was really happening. Patience is so alert to what is going on in life, even when she’s a zombie, she has the strength to do the right thing in making the choice the audience would and kill the director (Sigourney Weaver) who has caused all the problems (we’ll be seeing that axe again in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). But this isn't the most important thing about Patience Buckner.
Very easy to read this: green usually means re-birth, hope; blue usually means wisdom. In Jules' and Dana's case, however, green means rotten--as in mold--and blue is symbolic of Dana's depression over her break-up with the professor. Why is this important? Sometimes, when we are depressed, it colors our choices, that is, we do things we might not normally do or we don't do things we normally would. This depression within Dana helps us to know why she choose Patience's diary to read in the cellar: she's wanting to read her own emotions and understand what happened in her failed relationship.
In the opening images of the film are scenes of human sacrifice, the Egyptians sacrificing and the Mayans and Aztecs sacrificing people to gods... but Patience sacrifices herself instead of sacrificing others, and that is the genuine human sacrifice. Why do we hear Patience telling Dana to read the Latin in her diary, or telling Marty to go for a walk? It's not, as Marty suggests, that Patience is trying to inhabit Marty's brain, rather, she's trying to save them. By the Buckners being released instead of one of the other forms of horror that they kids could have chosen, Patience (a virtue) can help them and save them even though she is dead because Patience is more alive than any of the kids.
This is how naive I am, that long silver thing Marty is holding is a bong, and I (silly me) thought it was a coffee mug, ha ha. In this shot, Dana has been getting tortured by a zombie and Marty miraculously appears and uses his bong to get the animal trap (pictured) away from the attacking zombie. This is a real problem for a horror film because, again, Marty has a problem with drugs and here he is saving the day, and I think that's a point they are hoping to make: when our legislative bodies decide to eradicate morality or redefine morality, these are the kinds of heroes we are going to be forced to accept because a council has decided how all of us should live and what the rules of survival have now become in society; what was once the horror of the horror film (unacceptable social or sexual behavior) is now heroic.
How do the items in the cellar reflect each of the characters? The necklace on the bridal gown is feminine and that’s what Jules tries to be, hence, dying her hair blond, but she's also hoping that Curt will marry her; Dana was going to take books to the cabin, so she goes for the book, the diary; Curt was playing football, so he goes for the round object that looks like a ball; Holden is there to get hooked up with Dana so that’s why he opens the jewelry box (a reference to the sexual act with her) and the ballerina refers to the awkward “mating dance” Holden and Dana are doing; Marty goes for the reels of film (he also reads the book about Nemo, after the Pixar film) so he’s always trying to get a “frame of reference” for something and that’s why he went for the movies (possibly also because of the drug culture depicted in the films, but more likely, because Marty has been feeling like something’s strange, as if they are in a horror film and that’s why he’s mentally referencing movies).
If the film is going to be consistent in saying that the control room can only get someone to do something that is all ready within them as an act of free will, how is the "gas" coming out of the ventilation system and changing Curt's idea from staying together to splitting up coherent with what control is doing? Curt isn't a natural leader, yet he's trying to be, and his inner indecision is coming through and the control room (as they would argue) is just taking advantage of that. We know Curt isn't a "natural leader," because Marty informs the audience that Curt isn't an "alpha male" which is a leader.
 The Cabin in the Woods is a movie about movies. Again, the more films you have seen, the more films you will recognize, including, I am so happy to say, the tarantula from The Incredible Shrinking Man (I told you that was important! ha ha ha! I was so happy to see it there!). This is the reason there is a control room and a space, a boundary, between "them" and "us," because horror films are rarely scary because there is the boundary there, the fourth dimension that The Cabin In the Woods successfully breaks down by Marty and Dana getting into the elevator and, just like the cubicle library of all the horror films ever made being stored, we store all the films we have seen; will they do us any good? That's for us to use our free will to decide.
I wish I could have found an image of Mordecai, the "gas station" operative who is in with the control room. Who is Mordecai? He's the "false prophet" and his Biblical name (Mordecai took care of the orphaned Esther of the same book) refers to a warrior, which is the reason why a "war" is mentioned when the kids are at his "gas station." Which war did Mordecai fight in? Marty jokes that it was the Civil War, an important reference we will be citing in later posts on other films (as this is becoming an important theme for this year) but it was probably Vietnam. Mordecai means "warrior" in Hebrew, but it can also be translated as "servant of Marduk," a pagan god, which is probably most accurate here because the ancient gods discussed in the film are the pagan gods. Mordecai, as a false prophet, can joke about the kids being "the fools of the gods," and the lambs passing the gates but just as Holden and Dana will not like the painting of the goat being attacked by the dogs, so none of the kids will listen to what Mordecai is really saying. Prophecy is always encoded language, but you can tell by the tone if it's negative or positive. The reason they control room puts him on speaker phone is because prophets should be on speaker phone, they need a general audience to hear what they have to say or it's not worth anything if no one hears the prophecy; the problem is, no one is used to prophetic language so, just like Dana skipping over the gibberish of the Latin in Patience's diary, so the control room skips over the gibberish of Mordecai's prophecy and him in general. He's a false prophet because instead of leading people towards good and towards God, Mordecai delivers them to the ancient evil (the opposite of the Mordecai of the Book of Esther who helped her to deliver her people from death). Remember, a house (or in this case, a dirty disgusting gas station) is a symbol for the soul: the dead animals and grime lets us know exactly what Mordecai is all about and the blood-shot eye means there is "blood" in his "prophetic vision." Mordecai can also say, accurately, that they have gas to get to the cabin, but they won't have enough gas to get back from the cabin, symbolically meaning that they have the inner energy to go to the cabin because of their anticipation for a good time, but after they have been there, they will not have the strength of free will to return and lead the life they need to in order to avoid becoming what they have all ready become.
 Looking back on the year when we get to December, I think I will remember The Cabin In the Woods as one of the most significant films of the year because of the moral impeccability of standards it offers us as well as its call to action for us to make sure that we are not falling into the animal traps of the Buckners when we entertain our animal passions, but we are truly worthy of being the heroes, not just for surviving a horror film, but life itself.
Had to get one more important picture in that was just posted to Twitter; this is Sitterson in the control room and behind him is "the list" employees at the "center" for insuring sacrifices to the ancient gods can bet on regarding which form of death the kids in the cabin will choose (yes, this is a total betting pool like the Super Bowl or something; please click on the image for greater detail). I still have some observations I am wanting to add to this post--it was such a great film, really, it'll be one of the most important of the year!--but I have to get Lockout up first. As always, thanks!