HornsPosted: November 2, 2014
OK: Christianity is officially stalking me.
My fiancee and I decided to hie ourselves to Harvard Square last evening for a dirt-cheap indie movie. W both had work to do – I have got to read and review a book by an insane Bulgarian and Mary’s got a paper to write – but I’d been working all day and she’d been working all day and darn it we were ready to hang out. For the edification of the rest of us, parking at Harvard is as mad expensive as Brattle Theater is not. Plus, it’s valet and they hate you so. Very. Much. I hated me for using valet parking. Why does anyone use valet parking? It’s like its whole purpose is to turn you into a tool. Don’t fucking park there. Take the goddamn Red Line.
This was apropos to the movie we saw, which was Horns and starred Daniel Radcliffe. To his credit, I rarely thought of him as Harry Potter. He really inhabited the role. Here’s what I got out of the story.
So there’s this dude, Ig. I assume that’s short for Ignatius, which is a religious name that also for whatever reason means “on fire.” And, is also apropos. He and his girlfriend have the perfect relationship, until she decides to take a break and immediately dies. Obviously, everyone thinks Iggy did it. He doesn’t think he does, because for whatever reason everyone associates Dead Girlfriend Character (DGC) with Mother Mary and Ig with Satan. Seriously: they do NOT like him. It seems like they never did. All these people sort of glare at Ig whenever he’s with Dead Girlfriend Character. I don’t blame them. I think he probably killed her, too. I’ll explain why in a minute.
Anywho, as Ig generally reacts badly to all the media attention and the loss of DGC, he suddenly sprouts horns. Nobody seems to think this is odd except him, but they also behave oddly when he’s nearby. For one thing, they can’t keep their damn fool mouths shut. Whether they’re secret exhibitionists or actually despise themselves or want to hurt their toddler, they’ll act out whenever he’s around, and it gets worse as his horns get bigger. They also get needy and suggestible in this really childlike way. They tend to believe what Ig says, ask him for advice, and do what he tells them to. One of the most hilarious moments in the entire film is when Ig gets a crowd of reporters to beat the shit out of each other over a background of Marilyn Manson’s cover of Personal Jesus. Sounds wrong, right? Totally is. I laughed my fucking head off.
Once he figures out the extent of his demonic powers, Ig decides to use them to find out who really killed DGC. It turns out to be his good childhood buddy, lawyer, and all-around trusted “nice guy”, who is actually a closet psychopath who thought that DGC was in love with him and lost control when it turned out that she didn’t. Ig goes full Satan and offs him before dying and reliving his memories of his time with DGC for the rest of eternity, because that’s Heaven for him.
The surface metaphor is obvious: people though he was the devil incarnate, so that’s what he became. People tend to rate themselves in degrees of goodness or badness compared to the worst criminals – the phrase “I can’t believe he did that!” implies “I would never do such a thing!” Except, of course, you might, under the right circumstances. Mental illness, for example, drives people to do horrendous things that they truly regret, but we still generally hold the mentally ill responsible for crimes. Fair? Nope. And if you ever find yourself lying awake at night looking for something upon which to focus your anxiety, ponder the fact that if something out of your control happened in your brain chemistry today, you could be on your way to the chair tomorrow, and everyone in your life would approve.
So the point I saw them making – that we were supposed to take away – was that instead of measuring themselves against Ig, people were being forced to act out the things inside of them that they felt guilty about. Instead of saying magic words and making those bad impulses and feelings OK (at Ig’s expense) they just went ahead and did them. No superego, you see.
And that’s great – except it ONLY happened when Ig was around, and nobody remembered it later. Real-world consequences of incidents where people acted out weren’t clearly apparent. For example, a bar supposedly burned down, but nobody said anything about it, no fire trucks were seen, nothing.
Did it happen? Or was that just what Ig wished would happen?
Ig, by the way, was the narrator. As far as I’m concerned, the whole movie came to us through his filter. And he may well have been imagining destructive or inappropriate things that he knew people wanted to do to their lives to make himself feel better.
Ig also got psychic visions when he touched people, but again, there was never any objective evidence that those visions were accurate. They were, however, all very exonerating for Ig.
Finally, DGC left Ig a note written in Morse code that theoretically told him that she had really broken up with him because she had cancer and didn’t want to waste his time and life. But Ig translated it for the audience. Our hero (?) had actually spoken to DGC’s dad several times, and he had never said a thing about cancer. Wouldn’t he know? Why wouldn’t he say anything? It just doesn’t make sense that DGC really has cancer. DGC, we barely knew you. I think that Ig is probably fooling himself: he’s not really a devil, he doesn’t have powers, his girlfriend really did want to leave him. He’s hallucinating that the people in his life are doing dreadful, id-crazy things because he needs to externalize his guilt. He wants to know that everyone’s as awful as he is. Because, my friends, Ig really did kill his pretty girlfriend. Obviously. And he feels terrible. Of course. That’s why he’s visualized himself as a devil. Ultimately, he dies in a bloodbath along with the only other people who could have sorted things out, so that’s the end of that.
Now, this was based on a book written by Joe Hill, who I must now absolutely read. He is the son of Stephen King, who had a moderately large impact upon my teenage years of of whom I am fond. However, (sorry, Mr. King) he does have some unfortunate patterns. He’s obsessed with psychics, for example, and terrifying psychopaths feature prominently in his stories. I mean, on one level, that’s kind of a no-brainer, but I kind of prefer dark stories where I can see where the villain is coming from, even if he’s a complete monster. It’s scarier that way because it implies that I’m no angel, either. If I can sympathize with Amy from Gone Girl, if I can understand how she got so manipulative based on what I know about her gender and upbringing and even admire her a little bit for playing the system to her advantage, that makes both her and me horrible. Obviously I’m not about to behave like her, but it does play with my insecurities about how “good” I actually am. I think it’s healthy to wonder if you’re really a decent person, to examine yourself now and then and try to objectively see what kind of a job you’re doing fitting into society today.
If Joe Hill’s Ig character is anything like the one I saw in the movie last night, then I suspect that I might actually prefer his writing to his dad’s. I read Ig as an extremely unreliable narrator, sympathetic and realistic in his context, and ultimately as weak as any mortal. Who wouldn’t want revenge for the death of their love? Who hasn’t been so caught up in romance that they lost their identity to it, were destroyed without it, became a beast because of it? While another guy was executed for the murder of DGC, only Ig was aware that this person was at all involved, which says to me that Ig’s probably either delusional or lying to the audience. First person narrator, remember. Still, in his twisted mind, I believe that he really thought that he was using the powers of Satan to avenge his love – and maybe find some way for the murderer to not be him. All the while, his guilt manifested in the indelible horns growing from his head.
It was interesting. I felt richer for having seen it, which is more than I can say for any of the mainstream Hollywood blockbusters I’ve seen recently. As far as reasons for being a parking tool go, this one wasn’t so bad.