Do you live in an existential horror movie?
This is a short essay about a challenging and uncomfortable psychological topic. This is the closest my reflections have gotten to talking about broody existential, horror of our lives.
For these reasons, you may want to skip this altogether. Be warned.
My favorite movies do something to me. They reach over past the screen and touch me and then when the movie end credits come up and the lights slowly come up... I'm still sitting there shell shocked. So affected by them that I am unable to move.
I walk out of the movie disoriented, the world is the same, but it looks different. It's not the world, but me who has changed.
I watched a movie a year ago called Cure that was just like that. And I'm still thinking about it.
It's framed like one of those classic serial killer stories. There's a detective who must find a serial killer who is somehow wilier and more evil than he can imagine. The case takes the toll on the detective and through a series of clues he gets closer and closer to the killer.
He eventually finds him. It's shocking and brilliant, but there's a piece of his soul that has inedibly gone missing. Any naiveté he had about the world is now gone.
I love these types of movies. Even if they're trash, I love them.
But most of the movies don't actually affect you. They have no deeper thesis than evil exists and is unexplainable. They explore this theme in the most cliche way.
In the better ones, you watch the detective learning and go through a character arc. But even then they change, but you don't.
Cure was different.
Cure is about a series of murders that are all happening, but it seems as if each victim has a different killer. The killers don't know each other. But each victim in the movie dies with an “x” slashed along their throat.
The weirdest part is they all confess.
The detective finds the killers almost immediately. They confess to the murder.
The real question of the movie isn't: who did it?
One of the killers kills his wife. He supposedly loves his wife. But something overtakes him. He kills her and he has no idea why. There was no fight. No precipitous event. Only murder.
He is conscious while doing it, but he does it almost possessed. It just feels "right" to do it. Natural.
Afterwards the murder, he confesses readily. He bangs the floor wailing in anger and sadness "I killed my Tomoko."
This movie isn't considered a thriller movie (like all other serial killer movies), but a horror movie. And watching it you realize why it's a horror. The scary part of a horror movie isn't when you see the ghost, it's when you don't. The equation for horror is knowing there is a ghost + not being able to see it.
Why is Cure a horror?
As a character says later, "nobody can understand what motivates a criminal. Sometimes not even the criminal."
The movie is a horror movie because it reminds us that we have NO idea what we are capable of as human beings or as a human being. We rarely know why we do the things we do.
The movie reminded me of a poem I read about a Jungian concept about the shadow:
“To keep our parents love, we started an invisible bag, and we put in that bag the parts of us our parents didn’t like. By the time we got to school, our bag was quite large. There, we added our teachers’ comments...
“As teens, we do an extraordinary amount of bag-stuffing in high school. This time it’s no longer the evil grownup that pressures us, but people our own age...
“People in puritanical cultures tend to push sexual desire into the bag, and also fear of death; usually much ecstasy goes with them. Old cave impulses go there; longings to eat the whole world. Then the part left in the light looks quite respectable...
When we put a part of ourselves in the bag, it regresses in the darkness. It de-evolves toward barbarism and becomes monstrous. Suppose one seals a bag at twenty and then waits another twenty before he opens it again. What will one find?
The sexuality, the wildness, the spontaneity, the anger, the freedom and creativity one put in have all regressed. They are not only primitive in mood, they are hostile. One who opens the bag at forty rightly feels fear.
Every part of our personality that we do not love will become hostile to us. It may move to a distant place and begin a revolt as well. The aggression escapes from the bag and attacks everyone.– Robert Bly, The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us
Cure is different than the other serial killer movies is because of the horror inspiring premise. Not only does evil exist in the world and is unexplainable, but it exists within you.
Cure suggest we are trapped by our traumas, our psychological dispositions, our emotions and if we are pushed in the right way those things that exist inside of us can start to show up in how we interact with the outside world.
The movie fucked me up.
I came back home realizing how little I knew about myself. In what ways was the shadow controlling me? It what ways was it deep down repressed within me ready to come out?
I was never worried that I was one of those characters in Cure who would commit murder. But I was worried about a more banal, careless type of cruelty. The apathetic cruelty and dismissive anger you feel to loved ones. The weird need to escape the world and disappear into a cocoon.
The strange feeling I sometimes get on a layover to walk out into the city and disappear never talking to or interacting with anyone who I've know uptil now in my life.
The feeling I get when I'm especially angry at someone and when I wish that I could show them how much they hurt me by never being there for them ever again.
The overwhelming almost surprising sadness I feel while watching a seemingly trashy movie for no reason as if to suggest that even the dumbest content can unlock some deep frozen reservoir within me.
There are many times I feel like I'm not in control. Sometimes my body feels pains that I can't explain. Sometimes I get angry for seemingly no reason. It feels sometimes as if I'm the passenger on a rollercoaster and all I can do is try to enjoy what's happening.
The more I've tried to do "the work" to work on myself, improve myself, to feel emotions the more dangerous and scary everything has seemed.
Reminds me of a quote:
"Joy is the matriarch of a family of emotions. She won't come in your house. If her children are not welcome" - Joy Hudson
When you start to feel emotions, the repressed emotions come back asking for love, asking to play.
It feels like a deep form of horror and distress. Emotions control and use you like you're a little puppet on their strings. They're barabarous and cutting, seemingly hurting everyone in your path.
They want to dance with you, but instead they come out hostile and aggressive and attacking everyone.
I am scared to find what's within me is unexplainable and un-understandable. I'm terrified that I understand myself just as little as those murderous characters did. I'm scared that I can be coldly ruthless than I could imagine and more weak/docile than I ever wanted.
The thing that most scares me is everybody else is just as fucked up and nobody else seems to realize it.
Before I would willy nilly give people advice on how to improve their lives, on how to feel their feelings, on how to tap deeper into their primal form of aliveness. Now I'm much more wary.
Self improvement should come with a label of side effects like those old medicine commercials where a narrator eerily with a perfectly calm voice begins to describe what might happen to you if you take their allergy medicine.
You may want deeper aliveness, feelings of deep profound joy, and a comfortable and kind authenticity when you interact with others. But the side effects may include trauma, existential depression, and maybe even a sort of death.
I felt all these side effects and as I go deeper and deeper into aliveness, they gnaw at me.
In Cure, the detective finds that each of the murderers talked to one man before they committed the murders.
As an audience member, you slowly feel the horror lift. Ah a man forced them to do it. Your questions are answered.
Or are they?
I read an essay by the director of Kiyoshi Kurosawa after the movie and he said that horror movies are escapist.
We go to see a monster and see something “real.” Something that we can project our deepest existential horror onto.
A monster can be conquered.
The insignificance of lives and the absurdity of our deaths cannot be.
I felt good that the horror was lifted and there was a serial killer
But Kurosawa plays on his very definition of horror.
We know that this man seemingly got them to commit the murders.
But he didn't really DO anything to get them to commit the murders.
He is a nobody really. And if he did anything to cause these people to commit the murders it was the bare minimum.
To hear him explain it, he just set them free.
In the movie all he does is ask them questions about their lives that's all.
His favorite question to ask is:
"Who are you?"
They'll reply with their job. Something like I'm a detective.
And he'll ask "Who are you?"
They'll repeat it, "I'm a detective"
And he'll ask, "Who are you?"
As if to say... is your job all you are?
Who are you?
A father, a child, an employee?
What if you strip this away?
Who are you?
What if you had no body? Or if your body started working against your will, like in the case of a chronic illness.
What if you hurt your head and cause brain trauma?
Who are you then?
I can't stop thinking about this question. It keeps rattling around in my mind. Because there is no good answer.
If I strip all of that away what is left?
What are the meaning, morals, and values I've constructed except some thing that just exists in my brain? What if a butterfly flaps its wings somewhere and all my memories disappear like that? What's left?
If I can't even figure out who I am, how can I figure out what I am capable of? How can I figure out what i SHOULD do?
How can I figure out anything?
Not only is this hard, but what of this shadow, this bag of stuffed emotion, trauma, impropriety, and other that I've put away.
What happens when the shadow leaks out?
I hope to God that I can open the bag and befriend it before it becomes barabarous and ruinous before my base instincts cause me to yell at loved ones in rage and disappear into my life wasting precious years that I will not get back hurtling ever increasingly into the empty void that we call death.
As for the rest…
There are no words to explain our weird, trapped, terrifying situation as human beings. We are trapped in game with no understanding of the rules or boundaries with only one ultimate goal: try not to die or do anything that causes the very little life you have to be an un-alive one.
I only hope that I can find peace knowing that we’re all fucked. We’re all going to die. And there’s no answer.
Somehow we must learn to love the horror.
I live with the shadow and it lives within me.
I hope I can learn to shake its hand.