The Others

Gen X Movie Review of The OthersThe Others are always closer than you think.

Excruciatingly paced, deliberately slow, and self-consciously clever (with far too many nods to Sixth Sense), The Others is one seriously scary movie. Using elegant complications and reversals, Spanish writer/director Alejandro Amenábar’s ghost story is as demanding a film as Hollywood is likely to create.

The Others makes you wait. And wait. And wait. In a world of instant gratification, potatoes-poured-from-a-box films and art, it is a starchy, itchy, old-fashioned haunted house yarn – with a decidedly Pomo kicker. Its gothic moodiness just doesn’t seem at home in the same theater where Dinosaurs roam freely, Apes belly dance and cartoons pretend to be real.

What if our reality is only madness made to look true? What if we are the other – the stranger waiting patiently for the real to acknowledge our existence, turn us to dust? Otherness is intimate in this film: It permeates our most primary relationships, revealing the odd underpinnings of the family structure itself.

Grace (Nicole Kidman) is a young mother abandoned on the secluded Isle of Jersey with her two young children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) during World War II. Her husband hasn’t yet returned from the front lines and her servants have deserted her mysteriously. Alone with her beautiful, strange children in a dark Victorian mansion, she rules the household with a steel hand.

A trio of servants arrives uncalled for and the children begin seeing intruders in the house. Anne reveals she has seen and talked with unexplained apparitions that come and go in every room of the house. Grace refuses to believe in her children’s sightings, but soon she, too, begins to sense an intruder at large.

Driven by paranoia and fear, Grace’s already erratic behavior worsens as her grip on reality begins to come unhinged. Her religious faith and maternal attachments are not enough to sustain the jolt of wartime loneliness and alienation.

The Others conflates the psychological with the spiritual until repression can be seen in psycho-religious terms. Refusing to face the shock of separation, Anne and Nicholas cling onto Grace and doom themselves to a pale existence of monotonous repetitiveness.  It’s impossible for them to lose one another, but it’s also impossible for them to grow.

These characters are stunted, stifled, endlessly feeding back into the same tedious domestic patterns. The film’s glacial stillness reinforces their inability to accept change. The truth is less important than the comforting fiction they’ve constructed, the insubstantial real of the family.

The family structure is a reconfiguration of Eden, but it’s a paradise without redemption, a kind of prison guarded on all sides by guilt, cannibalistic love and fear. Grace illustrates the diabolical side of motherhood, where anything is better than separation. She holds reality at bay in order to keep her little family together, but the cost is unimaginable.

The children’s sensitivity to light (an actual allergy that could result in their deaths) justifies Grace’s overprotective actions. She pulls curtains over the windows, locks the doors and shuts out the dangerous outside world, but she also smothers these kids, holds them so tight that they haven’t any power to define themselves.

Every attack on their belief system is met by Grace’s faith in a ration god. The world outside her walls might have gone insane – with war, strife and fear – but Grace keeps her world ordered behind the walls of her house. She is less holding the world at bay, however, than repressing and reconfiguring reality to adhere to her will.

Ghosts, war, and death are merely challenges to her resilience. Any truth can be re-interpreted to keep her fantasy alive.

But what is secretly longed for is a love that has the courage to let go.


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