There’s no greater power than the power of goodbye.Madonna (the one that was *like* a virgin and not the actual virgin)
Hi kiddies, it’s real time again. This article idea came to me because I’ve recently had a friend, let’s say, be spirited away by Kayako. I had someone that was becoming a regular human in my life and then – poof! Not anymore.
Many people experience this. Of course, myself being between 5 and 115 years-old, I’ve experienced this myself many times, too. Hell, I’ve even been broken up with by a best friend in high school with the whole “we’re going in different directions” speech. I’ve been friend-ghosted and have done some friend-ghosting that I’m not super proud of, but I am only mostly human, so cut me some slack.
Losing someone is terrifying for a lot of reasons. It’s not just the fear of being alone. It is the fear of losing a part of yourself with that person. As Seneca points out,
“If you consider any man a friend whom you do not trust as you trust yourself, you are mightily mistaken and you do not sufficiently understand what true friendship means…Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship; but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul.”
To lose a friend is to lose part of that trust in yourself, your judgements and capabilities. The faith you had within yourself is shaken, even if that loss is not your fault or not your decision. It’s a part of your heart-goo (some people call this a “soul”) that you’ve exposed and let this person lay their roots into. When they’re gone, we’re they’re pulled out, it feels like parts of your heart-goo are pulled along. Plainly spoken – it sucks.
And with that being said, loss is in horror as much as my Glorious Spouse’s hand is in my isolation-Oreos. The answer is always. Death, spiriting away, demon-breaking-up-with-you, sacrificing your ex-fiancé to bees, becoming lost in ghost fog with your ghost daughter – it’s a constant flow running in the currents of horror. Whether the audience cares about that loss is really up to subjective interpretation; say, a teen slasher’s loss of youth/life may not resound as much as Heredity’s loss of a child. But loss and fear of loss is still a major component to all horror.
However, let’s talk about some of the clever instances of loss from horror films (in my opinion) and a little bit of what they mean to me.
Yo ho, spoilers ahead.
7) The Blackcoat’s Daughter: loss of attention/someone who wants to be with you
We talk about this one at length in the High Art Camp Podcast here, if you’re so inclined. But this movie is ripe with loss and super sad, somber cello solos. However, the biggest moment comes at the very end as we see that our main character, after struggling through her ordeals and trying to appease the friend/entity that had left her alone years ago, that she, in fact, still remains alone. She is rejected. She cannot win them back, no matter what she does.
Sometimes even if it’s an unhealthy relationship (and yeah, it was for them), we would rather be with someone who wants us than to be alone. Being alone can mean rejection from others. It can feel like a dysfunction within us. It’s nice to feel wanted and for someone to like being in our company. In fact, it’s a necessity.
People need people (or demons in this case…?) and need engagement with our community. We all fear being un-engaged and disconnected to others, no matter how introverted or how much we say we “hate people”, because it’s a human basic need. Like the song goes, “I want you to want me”, and we do. We want to be wanted. We want to be picked for someone’s team. And if you can’t get it from girls your own age, I guess find a pay-booth demon to fill that gap.
6) The Uninvited – loss of the normalcy and efficacy
Yeah, I’m pulling out the “evil-cat-inside-another-cat” movie. Are you seriously surprised?
Apart from Alex Cord’s absolutely flawless performance, I always find such unironic vulnerability in Shari Shattuck’s performance of Suzanne, as she grows more and more despondent and irrational. This reaches a climax after her friend is killed and she realizes that she is trapped; events beyond her control are hurling her towards her own unavoidable and painful demise.
We see the anger, frustration, nihilism, and fear jump and bump around each other in her performance. She shuts down. She cries out. She mistrusts. She blames herself. She blames others. She breaks down as she watches those around her perish in agony and is constantly threatened by the extreme level of insanity of an evil cat within a cat, when she and her friend were just there looking to score some ritzy free food over spring break.
Her performance over the top, and then it’s muted. It’s all over the place, much like we all are in extreme situations, with the sudden loss of our bearings and how to maneuver through the world. We lash out. We shut down. We blame ourselves for things beyond our control in an effort to control it.
The honest truth is that we don’t always know how we will react to a situation when it happens, especially one that is so overwhelming. When we don’t have norms to lead us to how to react, we rely on our instincts, and with the world going crazy, even our instincts can be off-centered. I know myself enough to admit that I don’t know how I would react in every situation. If faced with a poisonous, cat-ception cat, I can’t say for certain that I’d be any more rational.
5) Jaws – loss of stability/mentor
There’s a beautiful little moment in Quint’s eyes as he’s being chomped on by our primordial god, Jaws. A brief moment of agony and anguish shared between he and Brody before succumbing to the beast and being dragged beneath the bloody water. It’s a very human moment for a very larger-than-life hero. Throughout the film, he is presented as the hunter, the macho one, the embodiment of survivability and masculinity. He doesn’t take crap. He demands attention. He takes rather than gives. He is powerful. He is commanding. Even Chief Brody, a man of authority, tries in small ways to gain his approval or acknowledgement. Hooper is often resentful of being dismissed by Quint, but still desires his recognition.
Quint is basically everyone’s dad. We just want him to pat us on the shoulder, just once (twice is for sissies) and tell us we did a good job. We want him to be proud. We want him to accept us. He holds that respect and dominance with his presence…
Until he doesn’t. Until a force of nature literally tears him asunder and we are holding on for dear life to that concept and hope that what we perceived as a stable foundation throughout the whole adventure, will somehow be able to survive. Survive and thrive. And then pat us on the shoulder once.
But in that moment, with that look, we understand that he is powerless, just like we are. Our image was flawed. What we thought was unshakable and unkillable is just as flawed and vulnerable as we are, maybe even more so.
This often becomes the case of our parents as they grow older, as we hear the menacing music on the horizon, growing closer. We begin to realize that there is no true stability in the chaos, apart from which you create. And sometimes that sonuvabitch just doesn’t smile. Sometimes he just comes and rips that sense of permanence right from your hand.
4) Contracted – loss of control and identity
Contracted has a running theme as she slowly becomes…something else. She loses control of her body, of her perceptions, and her own agency. She cannot connect to her truths, as painful or terrifying as they may be, because she is losing her own identity.
None of this are clearer than in a climax scene that sounds so simple – taking her prized orchid to a competition. From the first shots, we see her carefully doting on the orchid, carefully controlling every drop of water and rise and fall of temperature. It’s, like, a super rare kind of orchid, or something, so she puts so much energy and focus into its well-being. Then, throughout the movie, as she becomes sicker, as she disconnects from the people close to her, as she continues to deny her rape from the beginning of the movie and the affront of her sexuality, she loses her ability to care for it (and the ability to care for herself).
Finally, in this pinnacle scene, sick and broken, she struggles to bring the plant to the competition, as if nothing else matters, as this is the only thing she can do within her control.
But the orchid is already dead.
She just doesn’t or will not accept that. Everything she had worked so hard for, had struggled to control and manage, is dead. She cannot see that. She cannot admit its death and her self-control and efficacy.
Just as she cannot admit her own dying. She is not of her own agency any more and cannot perceive that. She has lost the core concept of herself and is trapped there, unable to move forward or backwards. Due to her power ultimately given away to others, she is no longer herself but now a monster.
3) The Ritual – loss of “old times” and the people we once were
The Ritual is just a terrific movie all the way around, but there’s a sense of loss right off the bat as one friend in a group is murdered by a robbery gone wrong. In order to find closure, the surviving friends decide to make a hiking trek in Sweden. Then shit goes wrong and people start dying.
It’s great as a whole story of losing friends, but also, more cleverly, losing the people we once were as we age and priorities change. The freedom and safety that we had with our friends in the wild days of past slowly fades as responsibilities increase. Promises made need to be shuffled for other priorities. We lose those pieces of ourselves and we grow and alter into new ones. In a way, one can argue that very old traditions and truths kill those former selves.
We get married. We have kids. We have mortgages. We spend less time connecting to the people we used to hang out with. We spend less energy on old hobbies. We grow in ways we say that we won’t. Do the things that we say we’d never do when we get older. Get excited to buy f-ing new socks and try a new flavor of coffee before we drop off the kids at crunk practice.
And with losing that, we also lose the people that were once close to use as they begin to alter and navigate through life. They become ugly and bitter after their third divorce. They become politically opposite than us. They become obsessed with a stupid adult hobby that’s utter boring compared to your stupid adult hobby. They have obnoxious kids and a dog that won’t quit it with your leg. They become different…even unfamiliar.
They no longer want to go hiking through Sweden and be stalked by the ancient rituals and traditions of the past because they’re already adhering to the ancient traditions and rituals of the past every day, from having to appease their awful mother-in-law, to paying another tax for the roads not to be fixed, to singing the Alphabet Song for the hundredth time in a row.
2) The Forgotten – the loss of our memories
The Forgotten is a quiet, little spook piece that’s part coming-of-age, part mystery, but all deep, dark loss. One day I will probably even interview the director! How hip is that?
But the core of the pain and the real spooky is simple: losing the memory of our loved ones. How many times have you picked up a picture or a note from way back that you don’t even remember – a place, or event, or celebration – and there’s a thoughtful note or someone in the picture that’s gone and that you miss dearly. And you think, “I don’t even remember what this was about.”
You don’t remember what was said then, or you forgot all about those written words, or why you were wearing all denim with jellies at a skate park with grand-mama. You just…don’t remember. It’s blank and there’s a small pocket of ache that wasn’t there just a second ago.
That’s how The Forgotten develops and ends (I don’t think that’s technically a spoiler). It’s a stark reminder of those moments, sometimes very important moments, that we lose during the slow shifting sands of time. Maybe it was a lesson from a friend. Maybe the sound of our childhood dog’s barking. Or how our grandfather smelled when he’d hug us goodbye. Or the face of a teacher that taught us more about life than the algebra they were meant to.
These fade over time. Our memories, our words, our experiences and thoughts will eventually leave us. So quietly, you won’t even know that they’ve gone. You won’t even feel it. They say that time heals all wounds, but that’s because time robs us of them. We lose our joys and sorrows, apart from a select group that linger in there, that keep us company, while the others seamlessly slip out the back door.
1) Final Girls – loss of a loved one without closure
Horror is wonderful because most of its stories are made from just one gigantic question: what is happening or has happened? And we slowly unravel the answer, usually in long montages of Google searches and going to the library. Sometimes someone is wearing a wolf shirt while dumping the juicy exposition like in Mama. Or it’s the creepy neighbor across the street that keeps telling us that “dead is betta”.
However, sometimes we don’t have the answers. We don’t have the rules. We are left without explanation or exit. We are trapped within that obsession for answers that will never appear to us.
Final Girls has an unfortunate title for a sweet gem of a film. Our main character loses her mother in a sudden car accident and is devastated. Her mother was once an actress in a cheesy horror film that’s having its anniversary, so she goes to support her friends and to try to find closure while watching the movie at a theater.
Movie magic happens and she and her friends get sucked into the movie where everything is real. Painfully, she becomes close to her mother’s character, trying to save her mother’s character from being killed, with the hopes of bringing her back into the real world. But things don’t quite work out…
So, this dumb film makes me cry every time. There, I admitted it. I’m more of a man now and I can now live an honest life. Yeah, it’s the Betty Davis Eyes scene that gets me. There can only be one final girl and so her “mother” sacrifices herself, having our main character lose her mother again, but now having some closure.
But not really much when we think about it. This person is not her mother; she is a doppelganger of sorts. She is just a stand-in for the real person who already is gone. The person who is not coming back. Who will never come back…
We experience this in real life, too, often. Endings without closure, rhyme, or reason. Even when they’re longer, they can still feel abrupt. It can be a cold shadow hovering for days or months before happening, and in the aftermath, you’re still left wondering why and how it happened. Or like how it is in this movie, a sudden accident. A force of nature outside of yourself that steals that thing, place, opportunity, or person from you in a matter of seconds before you can even process a damn thing.
We search for answers to process, to wrongs to be righted, for things askew to be straightened. Without closure, without our stand-ins and doppelgangers (in whatever forms they take), we obsess over the questions that we may never have answers to.
We may have to accept the sudden cleaving of something important from us, gracefully or not. I’ve done weird shit in the name of closure. I’ve tried a different crapload of things to get that sweet feeling of some sort of cathartic satisfaction. That’s why we have the rituals we do, a bridge to get us from loss to acceptance, to find some truth between the two.
However, sometimes there is no truth or resolution in our loss, and the only action we can take is our reaction to that fact. We can move forward, alone, and wait for time to unravel that obsessive need for meaning; or to endlessly wait for a sequel that probably won’t ever be released, and even if it was, it still wouldn’t be as satisfying as we’d hoped it would be.
Endings suck; loss sucks. If you’re going through that, I get it. It’s easily the worst part of the human experience, no matter your dogma or beliefs. It hurts and we fear it, not only for the pain that it causes, but for the self-reflection it forces us to confront. We see our vulnerability and shame magnified when we feel loss.
But it’s not the end. Just like Friday the 13th (the original), we are the Jasons underneath the water, weighted by sorrow, but still there and ready to give that final push to the movie. Because, ultimately, the movie is about us, and not the absence we endure. Loss is just a part of the ride, a part that makes us stronger and more iconic in the subsequent sequels (okay I’m stretching it, but you get my meaning).
Sometimes the answers won’t come right away, if they come at all. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re going crazy or there’s something wrong with you. Sometimes you’ll curse the people or opportunities for leaving you in this crudtown of puke-feels. It might take years, decades, or a life-time, but you’ll learn to grow through it. Your heart-goo with readjust and heal. Just learn how to forgive yourself for taking that time to grieve. Then learn how to wipe that snotty Final-Girls-cry-face and think, “It’s time for me to make my come-back sequel.”
All right, I’m not as eloquent as the French, so I’ll quote one of the greatest writers, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I think is a beautiful encapsulation of the process and pain of letting go and moving on after a significant loss, in his instance, a friend.
Bit by bit… it comes over us that we shall never again hear the laughter of our friend, that this one garden is forever locked against us. And at that moment begins our true mourning, which, though it may not be rending, is yet a little bitter. For nothing, in truth, can replace that companion. Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.
So life goes on. For years we plant the seed, we feel ourselves rich; and then come other years when time does its work and our plantation is made sparse and thin. One by one, our comrades slip away, deprive us of their shade.”
Good luck out there.