Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Unpleasant Effects of Rabbit-Mothering: The Ring.

Directed by Gore Verbinski (of later Pirates of the Caribbean fame), released in 2002. IMDB's synopsis: "A young journalist must investigate a mysterious videotape which seems to cause the death of anyone in a week of viewing it."

I must be getting old or something. I saw this in the theater when it was first out and thought it was literally the most terrifying thing I'd ever seen. I don't think I actually had nightmares or anything, but I distinctly remember repeatedly looking over my shoulder a lot in that week's aftermath. It scared me a lot. I was a little nervous about revisiting this. But before we get to creepy gimmicks and editing, let's talk narrative and theme.


Back in 2003, I had a ten o'clock class in Folwell Hall, Cinema and Ideology. The first film we "examined" was Fatal Attraction. What was so interesting about the ideology of that film? Our professor showed us that the unfortunate events of Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) and Alex Forest (Glenn Close) happened because Gallagher was spineless, placating, and (professor's words) not a real man. When you're being told to look for all these things, it becomes striking just how obvious they all are---he was very spineless in the film, and what was basically being posited was that he deserved what he got because he invited it all to happen. Not everyone in the class agreed with this, of course. I had another professor (film, art history) who actually shunned film theory and cautioned us all from becoming like "those people over in Folwell."

I only mention this because it occurred to me during The Ring that Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) kind of brought everything down on herself, also, and I wanted there to be some sort of comparative relevance that had some validity so people wouldn't jump on me for going off on some mothering tangent.

Rachel's ideology then is that of The Rabbit Mother, or I will parent my child when I get around to it. Career first, cell phone first, picking up the son that just recently lost his babysitter cousin? Yeah, when I get around to it, the teacher will watch him, right? And if he happens to be having a hard time with it--tough, I've got my column to write, a murder to investigate, and he can, you know, draw some little pictures with his crayons while I'm off doing these things.

I have an uncle who, after the birth of one of my second cousins, would yell almost every five minutes, "Who's watching that kid?" I couldn't help thinking the same thing during this entire film. The father is out of the picture, the kid (Aidan) calls his mother by her first name, gets his own lunch ready in the morning while calling out casually "I'm going to school!" And she does, what, exactly? Is it really any surprise that he finds the tape and watches it? She obviously is out to lunch, so fate comes down on her (as Anna Morgan's did for trapping her daughter in the well). I may have been able to let this lie had it not been for the gray-haired doctor Rachel goes to see, the one who cares for her autistic grandson. When Rachel asked about Anna Morgan and her baby, Samara, the doctor explains, "When Darby here was born, we knew straight away that something wasn't right, but we loved him anyway. It takes work. Some people have their limits." I took this to apply directly to Anna Morgan, as in, she was not able to hack caring for a child that was special or not average, so she killed the child and then committed suicide. Right. Back. To. The Mother, every time. The whole narrative kind of started to bother me after noticing all this and honestly I couldn't feel anything for anyone, even that creepy kid. So the theme seems to be "All Rabbit Mothers are Soon Parted From Their Children" and similarly, "Don't Anyone Forget That It's Always The Mother's Fault."

That said, there were some very creepy moments, mostly due to the editing and special effects. The ripples in the television were nice, Samara's kabuki movements were a little scary, and the film was put together artfully enough and paced well. They had a big enough budget to warrant some helicopter shots of the Pacific Northwest, that was pretty sweet and added some depth, I guess. What scared me most the first time were the images on the tape, the random stuff, ladder falling, Anna Morgan combing hair and turning around, the dead horses, etc. When I watched them last night I felt like it was trying very hard to be Se7en or an Aphex Twins video but in a dolphin-safe kind of way. It was clever at the time (2002) but for some reason it was flat this time.

The writing was . . . a little cheesy. The scene between Rachel and Noah just outside the elevator was bad enough to make me clench. The whole talking to the dead Anna Morgan bit? "What happened to you, Anna?" "Are you in here, Anna?" Just silly, don't do that. I suppose I'm being a little harsh on everyone, but honestly, I didn't like any of them. Samara's coming after you and you're going to die with a bitched-up face? Ho-hum, that sucks. The Twins game would have been more interesting.

So is it scary? It was scary the first time, in the theater, definitely. If you're not expecting those images or the jagged jump cuts it's definitely going to make you gasp once or twice. It has a kind of lingering creepiness to it, I suppose because of all the random, specific images, on first time viewing, anyway.

And dreams? I had none last night, but only because I hardly slept. Some rogue, retroactive mosquito decided to flee Ma and Pa Ingalls's watermelon patch and infect me with a case of fever and ague at about ten o'clock. I spent half the night shivering and the other half sweating. With the lights on because I couldn't be bothered to get up and turn them off. Goo.

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