Maybe it was that it was raining heavily and the sky was slate grey and dark. Or maybe I just don’t like Mondays. I don’t know. But once again, I found that I was compelled to watch The Ring –a film I’ve seen countless times, yet for every time I have seen it, “I looked but I didn’t see.” That there are Easter Eggs buried in nanosecond film clips – those ghost images you can spot if you really look hard. These little blips of footage have the same staccato effect as a strobe – the way things seem to move haltingly, so in a way, though you see less, you see more.
I came across a review that said, pithily, “The Ring will never be more than a pretty good movie.” I agree that it’s pretty good – but will it ever be more? I was under the impression that it already was more. That there is this whole generation who grew up with films like Nightmare on Elm Street and The Exorcist, Damien: The Omen, that all contrived to set the stage for The Ring. In almost all, there is usually a weird, prescient kid (I keep seeing them in modern horror movies) who all have the same folded and pressed, slightly evil look with their latex white pallor and glossy, dark hair and squinty blue eyes. Kids at the age of innocence– between seven and twelve – I even spotted one in About a Boy (a horror film in a slightly different way). They’e all kids who are a bit outcast, those unaccepted by their peers, and even weird out their parents. Think: Stir of Echos, The Sixth Sense, The Others, and countless others. In every case, they are children who, odd as they may be, are able to see things that the rest of us are blind to.
Like Rachel’s (Naomi Watts) son, Aidan, in The Ring, they are children who seem wiser than the adults who surround them. It is Aidan who lays out Rachel’s clothes for her as they solemnly prepare for his cousin’s funeral (do seven year olds usually do this sort of thing?). That he calls her Rachel, not mom; that he is calm and she is sort of hysterical. That he knows about Samora and the threat she poses and Naomi Watts, in her ditzy effort to do right by what she perceives as this poor girl, will eventually go and unearth her from the depths of her well-hole and once again, unleash Samora’s fury on society.
That Aidan knows this to be the worst thing his mother could have done perhaps illustrates for us what we felt when we were young – seeing ourselves surrounded, we thought, by stupid and mindless adults. It seemed too often that our parents were ineffective. They often thought we were weird or burdensome, that we never quite fit in somehow. We were not the be-ribboned, neat children they themselves had been. The Leave It To Beaver kid. Our generation was largely undefined. We may have been disaffected and spoken and still speak in this monotonous, disaffected tone, but that’s only because we got tired of all of the hysteria and shrillness around us, largely brought on by our parents who, seemingly immune to the threat of nuclear war and so many other painful and frightening things that we saw, went out to discos and mod clubs and listened to “I Love The Nightlife” and hid on the disco and had pool parties with the neighbors, who rubbed our silky heads like we were little pets, as they stripped down to their crochet bikinis. The things we saw: it’s a wonder we didn’t go blind.
Our elders had no inhibition about showing it all in front of us – joking openly about sex, rapping about their days of free love, or later, when we were teens, getting divorced and taking lovers and introducing us to them before we’d even adjusted to the fact that our parents were divorced, and insisting that we call some girl who was maybe just a few years older than us Mummy, or some asshole was to be our new Daddy. These strangers we had to share a home with, pretending to be a family, preserving the nucleus, and who we heard, unfortunately, doing our mother and who we had to sit at the table the next morning and eat our Count Chocula like nothing weird was going on.
If we were and are dark and weird, it’s only because we had to grow up too fast because our parents weren’t really interested in parenting. And we had TV, which we loved, and we knew that one day, the prophetic shittra was gonna hit the fan and it was just a question of when. We’re the generation with our ear to the ground, waiting for echo of the other shoe that would soon drop over Your State’s Name Here.
Boomers had taken the good jobs and we were too young, and by the time we were their age, well, they still had a lock on the good jobs and were hiring their friends and getting together on the weekends to do blow with Jay McInerney and Brett Easton Ellis types in their black and white apartments with too much fucking chrome furniture us and were the Movers and Shakers with the hot jobs and the polished chrome kitchen gear, while we were just going to graduate high school with the threat of nuclear war looming in our hearts that, according to most studies, was a bigger fear for us than it was for any other generation before.
You’d think that Boomers would have been more afraid than us. That they would be wiser somehow. They had lived through the Bay of Pigs and much more. Somehow, they were able to put this behind them, like they forgot about nuclear power and actually saw it as this great thing. Or maybe they were just hiding it all in their tall glasses of cloudy Kahlua and cream. I don’t know.
But we had seen Chernobyl and nuclear power plants and Three Mile Island and all these things that suddenly were no longer just hypothetical but real. The problem for us was that in some ways, despite real-world events, nuclear weapons and power hung over us like an unknown. We had countries pointing them at us, and us pointing ours at them in this stalemate, and we were told that it would all be over in one phone call or the the push of a button.
I guess the point is (getting back to The Ring), like Rachel’s kid, Aidan, we knew what was evil and we knew where it lurked and we knew better than to let it out and confuse that with a god deed. Our parents on the other hand seemed to love the evil kids from our school or neighborhood – some little bitch like Samora who looked like the perfect princess but made your life a living hell, and mom said, Why don’t you invite Samora over to play?
I say all this, but I also think we’re Naomi Watts and Martin Henderson. We form the same kind of loose, unconventional attachments. We have long-term relationships, and maybe even a kid or two with that person and if we break up, we don’t divorce or break up the way our parents did, or even the generations before them.
Our endings are a lot less final and messy. We break up because it’s not working out for some reason and that’s oftentimes okay (unless there has been real violence – physical or emotional, those deep, blood-red betrayals that are better left in the past.) But in most cases, though breaking up and divorce will of course hurt like hell, we seem to know that that’s life. If the bond was tight enough, if there were many years (“always the hours between us…”), then it is not simply about romance, it is about friendship and family – and while the romance may indeed end, the friendship often continues. It will change, possibly even deepen. But unlike our parents generation (The Kramer versus Kramer ethic), in most cases, we lack that animosity and absolute vindictive hatred that sets us (and any children) against the other partner.
Instead, we hang around like Naomi Watts and Martin Henderson do in The Ring, and just as they do in their filmic crisis, it is often at the hardest of times that we turn to the ex.
All this to make a point: The thing with The Ring that interests me is that I think we are all characters in the film. We are the boy, Aidan, we are Rachel and her ex Noah, and we are Samora, the pissed off child in the well. It seems the filmmaker knew his audience: We are all of these people, and I think most especially, we may be Aidan, who has dreamt Samora, and even tells his parents as much. Christ, he draws countless pictures and is annoying as hell with that black crayon, but the kid knows.
Why don’t these people ever ask the kid what he thinks? After all, he seems more together than these dopey adults. The adults are more naïve than he is. It reminds me of my own and many others’ childhood, when we feared war and terrorism (our own hell) while our parents sat on the redwood deck having barbeque and Michelob and laughing at dumb and bigoted jokes.
As in a dream, the whole film clip on the video that will kill you shares a dream’s structure. The various elements that don’t seem to make sense but if you extrapolate them one by one, as they do in the film they do. Each image is taken from a sequence in real life, and in the film, you will see flashes of every single clip from the video if you look closely enough.
Look even harder, when Rachel is having a nightmare about Samora in the mental institution (which she cannot know yet, because she still doesn’t know about the institution, yet it’s in the dream), she sees little, pissy and pithy Samora with her long, dark hair hanging grungily about her, like a tiny Elizabeth Wurtzel giving the finger, and in a millisecond, look again and you’ll see one frame of Watt’s herself – sitting in the white clinic, electrodes glued to her blonde hair, now matted and greasy, her facial expression deranged.
In these roles, as in The Ring, as in Stir of Echoes, The Sixth Sense, children are used as vehicles to some Other because by their very nature, they are closer to something more primal, just by virtue of their age. Kids are not yet socialized enough to know that ghosts or weird chics in wells or dead people can’t possibly exist. They simply say what they see. They’re much closer to a natural state than adults who are so heavily imprinted with Should and Ought. We edit without knowing. If we are taught that something is impossible, no matter that we may see it, we will always find another explanation. It’s not a miracle, it’s a coincidence. It’s not a ghost, it’s the wind.
If there’s a message in The Ring – it’s that some things are just not meant to be. That Samora’s mother had tried many times to have a child to no avail. She lived a sheltered and beautiful life, with a great big farmhouse and beautiful horses to ride all day and she rode and competed and was beautiful and light and a true champion. Shit, why question that? Her desire for a child is not one I would I ever question. It is probably the most natural of instincts for all women, or most anyway, but the writer’s point of view here seems to be that some things should be left alone. It’s often hard to accept that something or someone so wanted is not ‘right.’ Haven’t we all felt a degree of that? Been in a relationship or wanted a thing or a person that for as much as we craved and loved and desired, in the final account, this would be the very thing that would hurt us the most?
The Ring tell us, mess with the natural order and you will pay. Pursue it anyway, go against the natural order and ignore all warnings, and bad shit will happen. She went against it and wound up with Samora, who for whatever reason – maybe because she was unwanted previously, or maybe because she represents a much darker and ultimate Truth about what happens when you force things. We do know that Samora was not unloved; at least, not initially. But it wasn’t enough love for her. Something pissed her off and Samora wanted everyone to see things the way she saw them – and those things she could burn into walls, onto MRI film, and imprint onto people’s brains. When you saw those images, you went mad. The horses go running to the shore and into the sea and they die. We hear from the island doctor who says to Rachel, that when Samora came things changed and compares it to one person on the island getting sick – the whole island catches the cold. Samora, she is saying, is the sickness.
In the end, this child who felt so disenfranchised is told by her mother how much she is loved, just as she pulls a cloth over Samora’s head and shoves her head first into a deep well.
The Ring may be scary because perhaps we identify with Samora, as she is shoved aside and hidden from view. Didn’t we, as children, wish like hell the grown ups could see the things that caused us such great anxiety? A whole generation of what has been called “the disenfranchised” – did we want to burn those images into the minds of adults, so that just once, they could see what we saw? Not that we would want them dead or wish them harm; and not, I hope that they would push us down a well and kill us any more than we them. But the basic relationship with its disconnect and lack of understanding is there. All we want is to be loved and to love – but we remain Other.
All of these fears are conveyed so well in The Ring – and especially, the film within the film, the video that shows suicide and desperation and domesticity at its worst and decay and rotting so well illustrated with grubs and maggots. It’s not just death or classic horror-movie killing anymore. The Halloween and Friday the 13th films that terrorized us as teens represent the unknown – the stranger who forces the knife through your back as you’re getting laid at summer camp (the obvious morality play). The Ring is more insidious and complex – it’s not a quick kill. It’s seven days of hell. Seven days to sit and anticipate just what, exactly, will happen to you. The way we sat in high school and college, sure some nuclear nightmare was about to occur. Now, we wait for the some other disenfranchised, one whose face is cloaked in black, whose reasons we don’t quite understand because they’re not fully explained, and that’s just it. The scariest things of all are those with no obvious logic. The pure randomness that strikes when it crawls out of its hole. We wait for this. Seven days can be a lifetime.
Sadi Ranson-PolizzottiPowered by Sidelines