Jessica Jones and the Mechanics of “Post-Series Depression”

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Image from afterellen.com

Warning: The following content contains spoilers.

While I should have been studying for exams, I finally gave in to the hype and watched the first episode of Jessica Jones… and then the second episode, quickly followed by the third. Several days later, I found myself finishing the entire first season and dealing with that strange post-series depression; the kind of ache that arises only after you know you have finished a great show.

I know I’m late to the party since Jessica Jones aired on Netflix in November 2015, but this empty, void-like feeling after finishing this great show has got me thinking—why do we feel this way only when we have finished something that we really enjoy? After mulling over this for quite some time, I decided to do what I always do when I do not know the answer to something: write about it. I have decided that the answer to this question lies within Jessica Jones itself, or more specifically, its treatment of human psychology.

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Image from screenrant.com

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, Jessica Jones is a Netflix series produced by Marvel that follows the titular character’s quest to stop a mind-controlling psychopath named Kilgrave. Kilgrave himself is fixated on Jessica, and will stop at nothing to possess her. The show is one of the few television programs that accurately depicts a psychologically-tormented protagonist with an equally psychologically-complex villain. Characters on both sides of the good/evil spectrum suffer from mental illness. This is one of the reasons that Jessica Jones is so complex and compelling—it shows that people with mental illness are neither inherently bad nor good. Illness has no direct causal effect on a person’s morality, and thus we must examine the other, deeper reasons behind a character’s actions.

Everything about Jessica Jones is phenomenal, except for one glaring aspect that I find myself somewhat troubled with: Kilgrave’s death. There were so many interesting avenues to develop—Kilgrave was obsessed with gaining power and in one of his last scenes, his father warned him that the serum to expand his abilities might kill him. It was the perfect set-up for his death: in trying to develop his powers, his quest to become more powerful would end up killing him. Jessica’s ethical conundrum of having to kill someone would be avoided because Kilgrave’s own mad desire for control would do it for her.

So imagine my disappointment when Kilgrave falls for Jessica’s trap and gets himself killed in what felt like the most anti-climactic death in the entire series. I was so upset at this seeming cop-out of an ending. I ranted to all my friends about it, wrote this angry blog post about it… until I started thinking about why I was really so distraught by Kilgrave’s death.

I missed him.

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Image from screenrant.com

I missed Kilgrave, the psychopathic, mind-controlling, cold-blooded murderer who rapes women and makes people commit suicide with his voice alone—but let me explain. I did not miss the unspeakable acts that Kilgrave committed. Rather, I missed Tennant’s chilling yet incredibly entertaining performance of him. I missed seeing what Kilgrave was up to next, and guessing at how he was going to carry out his next grand plan. Most of all, I lamented the potential to explore the possibilities of Kilgrave’s powers as a villain.

It is here that we come back to that empty feeling, that “post-series depression” we all get when we finish a great show. I would like to examine the effects of post-series depression first through the series’ most captivating (albeit disturbing) character, Kilgrave. He is a textbook psychopath, cunning and manipulative with an aura of superficial charm, and a complete lack of guilt for the atrocious acts he has committed. He does not see people as individuals, but rather as tools for his entertainment; characters in a play of which he is the director. We see this in the way he treats and imagines Jessica—although he claims to love her, he has no problem in trying to kill both her and the people she loves. What Kilgrave loves about Jessica is his ability to control her, to possess her, and it is this control that Kilgrave misses about Jessica when she is gone.

On a less extreme level, we miss our shows in the same manner. We miss our everyday interactions with them, seeing the characters we love, and the degree of control in what we choose to watch and when. Once the show finishes, we do our best to find other shows similar to the one we have just finished, but it is never really quite the same. Kilgrave’s character demonstrates the darker implications of this emptiness, since he tries to replace Jessica with Hope Schlottman (with the hope of filling the void), but this ultimately fails. Kilgrave’s behaviour demonstrates that possessiveness towards the things we love is not by any means the kind of relationship we should strive for.

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Image from rollingstone.com

Jessica is the offered solution to this problem in the show. Although she suffers from depression and PTSD, she does not let these illnesses define her, nor is she isolated by them. On the contrary, Jessica has people she cares about and people who care about her. Despite her repeated attempts to “not give a shit,” she finds herself caring about people anyway, and in the end she chooses to accept these friendships rather than reject them.

It is worth noting that all of Jessica’s plans to defeat Kilgrave fail, and it is not until she starts including her friends in her plans that they start making progress. She includes her best friend, Trish, in her plan to take down Kilgrave. In addition, the very last scene shows Malcolm, one of Jessica’s allies, answering Jessica’s phone at her apartment, and viewers are left with the hopeful assumption that Jessica and Malcolm are to run Alias Investigations together.

Maybe the right way to love our shows is not to find another one to replace them with, nor to let post-series depression keep us from discovering new things, but to share our experiences with the people we care about. Having a good relationship with art means having a good relationship with people; we should want to share the things we love with others, not keep them exclusively to ourselves. It’s the reason we always want our friends to watch the same shows that we do, so that we can talk about the shows with them and have a shared experience. In a way, it is like we are keeping our experience of the show alive in our everyday conversations so that, technically, a show is never really over if we keep talking about it—and that, I think, is a comforting thought.

-Contributed by Carine Lee

Anna Biller’s The Love Witch: A Feminist Approach to the Alternative Horror Genre

THE LOVE WITCH-illustration

Anna Biller’s faux-1960s alternative horror film, The Love Witch (2016), follows the narcissistic and eyeshadow obsessed Elaine in her search for the perfect fairy-tale romance. The self-proclaimed “Love Witch”, Elaine (played by Samantha Robinson) is a woman who uses home-made love potions, sex spells, and her own mysterious allure to seduce men until, of course, it takes an unexpected turn for the worse.

Aesthetics and visuals are central to the film. The costumes, scenery, cinematography, and soundtrack are all carefully directed and consulted on by Biller herself, a Cal Arts graduate. The sequences seem spontaneous, taking on a life of their own beyond the linear plot of the picture. These vivacious, colourful, and intrusive statements guide the film from the tropes of a mainstream horror flick to the unconventional features of an independent art film.

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In the director’s statement for The Love Witch, Biller mentions, “While I am quoting genres, I am using them not as a pastiche, but to create a sense of aesthetic arrest and to insert a female point of view.” Although Biller takes influence from aspects of the alternative horror/thriller genre, she uses a perspective that twists the typical male gaze of that genre, and brings about a sense of female empowerment. By using her knowledge of what men want, Elaine controls her own sexual agency.

This feminist concept is intermingled with the rules of witchery and the occult within the film. This is evident when the members of Elaine’s cult discuss how the strength of a woman’s sexuality both excites and challenges men’s patriarchal position in society, and how this makes men feel inclined to “put women in their place.” It is the figures of magic who bring attention to this, and the concept is juxtaposed with Elaine’s controversial behaviour regarding her lovers. Elaine uses her attractive persona to seduce men, but with her potions and her high expectations of romance, she “loves them to death.”

In a twist, Biller presents the dichotomy of Elaine’s lack of concern regarding her lovers with their increasing emotional attachment and eventual toxic separation from her affection. Elaine lacks any moral conflict in her actions, believing that the tragedies that result are simply a shame.

Biller borrows from the trope of the 1960s femme fatale, utilizing their hatred of betrayal by former lovers and twisting it so the woman gives the man what he wants physically but uses magic to separate herself from the emotional response he desires. Here, Biller references the social ideology in which men are thought to lack an emotional response in relationships. The moment Elaine denies her lover an emotional response is the moment that he starts to long for her love and support.

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Another vital aspect of the plot is Elaine’s obsession with fairy-tale romance. Despite the contrary ways she exhibits this, she greatly desires a relationship in which her love is fully requited and without complications. While Elaine presents herself as imposingly stern and careless, she fantasizes about a pseudo-medieval scene in which she rides off with her prince charming, away from the difficulties of a mundane life.

When Elaine’s curious landlord Trish (played by Laura Waddell) snoops around in her apartment, we are exposed to the hyper-erotic drawings and paintings that cover the room. These depict explicit scenes in an artistic style that is unexpectedly harmless and bubbly. This seems contrary to the darker erotic aspect of the film’s visuals, but its absurdity and spontaneity are central to the alternative rhythm of the plot, and play on the extreme paradoxes in Elaine’s character.

Overall, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch explores the rhetoric of the ill-fated search for a perfect love affair. In unison with the occult genre, this results in over-the-top dramatic sequences, stunning visuals, and a soap-operatic flair. Although the film is identified as a horror/thriller, it most definitely isn’t the type of film that has you at the edge of your seat in anticipation. Rather, the overly dramatic acting, quick-cut sequences, and flashy and comical costumes leave you with a smile plastered across your face.

-Contributed by Mia Carnevale

Such a Terrible Room: Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung at the Canadian Opera Company

0102 – John Relyea as Duke Bluebeard and Ekaterina Gubanova as Judith in the Canadian Opera Company production of Bluebeard’s Castle, 2015. Conductor Johannes Debus, director Robert Lepage, revival director François Racine, set and costume designer Michael Levine, and lighting designer Robert Thomson.  Photo: Michael Cooper Michael Cooper Photographic Office- 416-466-4474 Mobile- 416-938-7558 66 Coleridge Ave. Toronto, ON M4C 4H5
Image from http://www.coc.ca

There is without a doubt something about opera that lends itself to otherworldliness. The magic of music and stage has, since opera’s inception in the late sixteenth century, often drawn on mythology and folklore for subject matter. The Greek myth of Orpheus and his descent to the underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, has been retold countless times in operas by Monteverdi, Gluck, Offenbach, and others. The four operas of Wagner’s Ring Cycle involve characters from Norse and Germanic myth, including gods like Odin and Thor and mythical creatures like valkyries, giants, and dwarves. And these are only the best-known examples of fantasy in opera.

The Canadian Opera Company’s 2014-2015 season ends with a speculative work: a double-bill of Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung, a remount of a COC original that first premiered in the early nineties. Both are early twentieth century operas with similar psychological themes. They complement each other well: Bluebeard, through the discoveries made by Judith, can easily be classified as horror, and the plight of the woman in Erwartung is one of pure terror.

Bartok was a prominent Hungarian composer, musician, and collector of folksongs in the early twentieth century. His contributions to the field of ethnomusicology, particularly in Eastern Europe, were particularly significant, and his love of folk music and tales comes across in many of his compositions. Bluebeard’s Castle comes from a French folktale in which Bluebeard’s young wife finds the bodies of her husband’s former wives locked in his castle.

The COC’s production begins on a dark stage surrounded by a golden frame. Bluebeard enters at the front of the stage, solemn and foreboding, followed by Judith, his new wife. He doesn’t seem like he really wants her there, suggesting she leave and return to the life she had before, but she insists.

The music moves them into the set and the story as Judith enters the dark castle. Its walls weep, but if she’s second-guessing herself it doesn’t show. She asks why it is so cold and sad; she wants to heal Bluebeard, to  fix him. He may want the same. They come to seven doors lining a hallway and she requests they be opened to let in the light and the truth. The castle groans in pain at her suggestion; it is almost a character in itself, a part of Bluebeard that needs to be cared for by Judith as much as he does. “Are you afraid?” asks Bluebeard. “No,” Judith replies. Her white dress billows and trails around her like a ghost as she moves across the stage. It becomes steadily more bloodstained with every door she opens.

Bluebeard gradually opens the first three doors. The first burns like a furnace or like hell and the castle bleeds as she looks upon his torture chamber. The second, blaring white light and brass, reveals  his armoury, and the third, his treasury, burning like pale fire. But there are bloodstains through these doors and darker secrets still. Perhaps he sees her as a saviour: someone who will bring light into the castle and onto his dark past.

Bartok’s score moves between complex, all-out motion to a single bassoon line throughout; a reflection of the edge the characters stand on as well as the mood of the weeping castle. The fourth door reveals a garden and some of the softest, loveliest music in the opera. Judith has some hope that perhaps it’s not all bloodshed and violence, and picks a flower. The set at this point is really incredible, using a projection on the stage to show the trees and setting a moment of peace. But the illusion is shattered when she picks a flower and finds it covered in blood. “Who has bled to water your garden?” she demands, but he knows she won’t like the answer and keeps quiet.

The fifth door shows his vast kingdom before them, clouds, lakes, and land that will all be for Judith. The music at this point is an amazingly loud brass choir so glorious it made my hair stand on end. In gazing proudly at his realm, Bluebeard seems, for a moment, truly happy. But Judith cannot share his emotion, as she sees only rivers of blood and stained earth before them.

As the sixth door is opened, downstage slowly fills with water; a lake of tears. He avoids her initial questions about his former loves, but when she confronts him about their bodies, which she believes she will find behind the last door, he gives her the final key. At the seventh door, his three former wives come up silently out of the bloody lake. They look like ghosts, but Judith says they are still alive. They are his queens of morning, noon, and evening, and Judith will join them in night. They dress her in robes and jewels and lead her back into the seventh door. Darkness falls on the bloodstained stage, and Bluebeard sings of eternal night while the castle shines behind him.

The opera is light and dark and covered in blood, endlessly creepy but also very emotional. Bluebeard is not exactly sympathetic but he is hardly depicted as just a murderous tyrant; the characters, both of them, have more depth to them than first appears. Written in an age when it was first really taking hold, there are strong psychological themes at work in both this and Erwartung, the second act.

Erwartung, by Schoenberg, similarly works with themes of women, weird relationships, and psychology. The opera only lasts half an hour and the plot is simple: the woman, the only real character, wanders through the forest seeking her lover, whom she eventually finds dead. The COC’s production shows everything through a white screen upon which handwriting is projected; the woman is in a psychiatric hospital relating her story to a psychiatrist, whose notes are what we see on the screen.

As she recounts her story she removes her straight jacket like an angelic escape artist to reveal a white gown similar to Judith’s. A bright moon shines above like an operating light. At one point, shadows carry off her hospital bed like pallbearers.

At one point she thinks she’s found her lover in the dark forest, and her singing and the effects at this point genuinely instilled fear into the audience. We felt her terror and her anger as she accuses her missing lover of infidelity, and we felt her hopelessness when she finds him dead and wanders off into the night of the hospital. Branches and blood move across the stage as in Bluebeard, and it’s no wonder these operas are often performed together.

 -contributed by Risa Ian de Rege

God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut

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Image from amazon.com

“Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.”

These are the words that begin Kurt Vonnegut’s great 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, also known as The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. This is not Vonnegut’s only work of science fiction; indeed, it is not even his only good one. But of all his novels, Slaughterhouse-Five has perhaps best stood the test of time.

This is a book about a man named Billy Pilgrim, a soldier in World War II, who is time-traveling up and down his own personal timeline, from his childhood to his old age and his time as an optometrist; from being a soldier in the Second World War to his kidnapping by aliens. But even with all this mayhem of time travel and aliens, Slaughterhouse-Five never loses sight of what it is truly about: the firebombing of the city of Dresden in WWII.

Vonnegut has no concerns for linear storytelling. He tells you exactly what the book is about, what happens, and how it ends, all in the opening pages. He explains openly and almost callously the entire life story of Billy Pilgrim before actually telling that story. There are no surprises to the plot, and when Billy climbs out of the wreckage of the destroyed city on the last page, it’s something you always knew was coming.

One of the many things that are truly miraculous about this book is how science fiction ideas are used to sell the emotional story of a historical event. Vonnegut cares very little about the plausibility of his story. He doesn’t bother with scientific explanations for any of the things that happen. When he says that Billy Pilgrim is now time-traveling, that is that. Billy is time-traveling, and Vonnegut doesn’t give a single hoot if you want an explanation as to how.

When Billy is kidnapped by the extraterrestrial Tralfamadorians who put him in an alien zoo and teach him about fate and time as the fourth dimension, and who tell him that one day a Tralfamadorian test pilot will accidently destroy the universe, that is that. Vonnegut is not concerned with whether the Tralfamadorians are plausible or even remotely believable.

Illustration
Illustration by Iris Benedikt.

 

Vonnegut instead is completely unabashedly unashamed of his use of using science fiction as the vessel for his tale. The aliens are there because he wants them to be there; they translate Vonnegut’s own strange ideas onto the page and add to the chaos and inhumanity of the story.

Vonnegut does not insult you with expository jargon on pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo, and instead invites you to revel in the lunacy of what is almost secretly a very sad story. Vonnegut uses aliens and time travel to speak about the horrors of the Second World War. But he isn’t speaking about the war generally; he’s speaking about something that actually happened to him.

Billy is not only captured on earth and taken to the alien planet of Tralfamadore, but he is also captured at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, and is held as a prisoner of war in the German city of Dresden, just as Vonnegut himself was. He is held in a building called Schlachthof-fünf: Slaughterhouse-five.

And, just like Vonnegut, Billy Pilgrim and his fellow inmates are some of the very few survivors of the allied firebombing of Dresden that took place between February 13 and 15, 1945, which destroyed most of the city and killed close to 25 000 people.

This was a major event both in the history of the war and in the life of Vonnegut himself, and part of the novel’s brilliance is Vonnegut’s own apparent struggle with the fact that yes, Dresden was a German city controlled by the Nazis, and yes, the Nazis were evil, but the firebombing of Dresden was also a horrifying event. Vonnegut is writing about his inability to comprehend how human beings, on both sides of the war, were capable of doing such things to one another.

This is a dark subject. This novel is about war and depression and massacres. So it stands to reason that a book about these things should be as dark, grim, and serious as its material. And yet it is not. Vonnegut finds humor in how, after all this carnage, an American soldier is tried for pillaging and shot amongst the wreckage. He finds humor, and thoughtfulness, in the idea that somewhere out there in the stars is an alien race that sees our world the same way we do.

To the Tralfamadorians, a person’s death is not sad because they are still alive in the time period in which they lived. To them, time is lucid and eternal, not linear: It is just like the pages of a book, and can be flipped back and forth. And no matter what, when you read that book, those events are still happening. All of us—everyone who has ever lived and everyone who will ever live—are still alive in those moments, and those moments are happening right now.

This is the beauty of Vonnegut’s book. He has taken a horrific event and wrapped it in the musing of science fiction in the way only he could. For Vonnegut, science fiction was about the conveying of ideas; it was about making it possible to tell a story that would otherwise be impossible to tell.

He used science fiction so that when Billy Pilgrim climbs out to survey the wreckage of Dresden, it is sad, yes—but it is also beautiful in the way that the story has been told, right down to a little bird hopping up to speak to Billy in that mass grave:

“Poo-Tee-Weet?”

-contributed by Ben Ghan

The Uncanny Beauty of Death, Scent, and Belonging in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Illustration by Ann Sheng
Illustration by Ann Sheng

I propose to start this on a whiff .

Inhale, and let it out; pick up your favourite book and close your eyes and just breathe. Let’s talk about scent and murder.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind  explores a fantastical and fabulously decadent universe. We follow the story of Jean-Baptiste  Grenouille, born at a fish market to a mother who leaves him to die after giving birth to him. She is executed for abandoning him, and so Grenouille is left an orphan in the depths of eighteenth century Paris.

There is no compassion to be found in this book. There is no happy ending. Grenouille is a monster created by the cruelty of the society he lives in and by his own unique gift: an olfactory sense that stretches beyond normal human understanding.

Grenouille is treated like an animal by those around him. His painful existence drags through a cold childhood into a miserable youth, but this story is enlivened by a rich portrayal of the senses, brought to life with Grenouille’s every breath.

We are taken through every filth-filled part of Paris, but, disturbingly, the city doesn’t come across as repulsive. Süskind makes it his duty to connect the reader to the main character in such an evocative yet delicate way that once we are present for his first murder, it becomes a disappointment to not experience the rest.

Perfume is a mix of carnal desire and disappointment, but perhaps most importantly, it is about the fear of the fleeting existence of the individual. Because Grenouille has no scent, the people around him are repulsed by him; it is this social ostracism and isolation that underlies his fear of not truly existing. He collects the scents of young girls that astound and captivate him in order to make a scent for himself out of their scents and thereby ascertain his own existence. Grenouille’s killing is almost an afterthought to this mission.

While reading, I was struck by how realistic and familiar the brutal characters portrayed were. Grenouille is the killer, but no character in the book has any shade of goodness or any other redeeming qualities.

As individuals, we tend to not recognize our sense of smell as important because it is merely one of our many senses.  But it is supremely important. Taking every scent for granted—taking breath and life for granted—is something every character in this novel is guilty of.

The importance of the power of smell is perhaps most evident in our reaction to perfume, which the book uses to highlight our desire to be individuals—to have our own scent and to be unique. In fact, many of us live our lives in the knowledge that we each have individual scents, and looking for a perfume to compliment us as we see ourselves can become a huge part of what makes us us. We share this hunt for singularity with the protagonist, and the disturbing message of the book is knowing that on some level, our stories may resemble his much more closely than we would like to admit.

The brutality of the novel is directly proportional to its fantastic and beautiful qualities. Perfume depicts the hunt of a killer not only for a victim, but also for a sense of self, which is presented as an essential beauty. Yet the fear of not being able to hold on to beauty is also present. The end of the novel is unexpected and shriveling. Despite its use of the highly fantastic, it somehow succeeds in staying unashamedly human in the rawest sense of the word.

-contributed by Magdalena Wolak