talktooloose: (naked_sword)
[personal profile] talktooloose
“The Woman in Black” is a fairly crappy cookie-cutter angry-ghost-in-old-mansion horror film. About the only thing to recommend it is the fun the director had in choreographing the creepy sequences, and the good-looking cinematography. But despite its half-assed scripting and wasted opportunities, I still rather enjoyed it, since I love ghost stories.

Béla and I had an interesting discussion about why these stories are powerful. They all revolve around the wall that is drawn between us and the experience of death, and the brief period when there are cracks in the wall.

We are surrounded by death, and throughout our lives, we walk a tightrope over the chasm with the sure knowledge that we will eventually miss a step. Yet, even though we are faced constantly with death, we cannot truly know death. We talk about people “dying,” and think of it as a sometimes prolonged process. But in fact we only ever see two states: alive and dead. If you have ever watched a person of animal die, you might have experienced the sure knowledge of the moment when the state changes. All the cliches are true: a light goes out, a spirt departs. Something clearly changes. And it is sudden. The wall that divides life from death is real, and the crossing is sudden, no matter how long you’ve been expecting it.

Ghost stories tell stories of when that wall becomes permeable. The experience of this is necessarily terrifying for the characters (and us by proxy), but neither they nor we can turn away. That is why the hero goes into the basement or the attic even as we scream, “Don’t!” The view of the unviewable is irresitable.

In the best ghost stories, there is resolution, but it is incomplete. The hero can never be the same again. That is why there is often a final shock — you think you’ve escaped, but now you know death all too well, in an unhealthy way that does not allow ever again for perfect peace.

June 2012

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