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Robert’s (In)formal Blog Post on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”

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Gilman’s imagery of the threatening yellow wallpaper reminded me of producer Guillermo del Torro’s latest film, El Orfanato (The Orphanage.)

(Guillermo del Torro produced the horror film, Pan’s Labyrinth.)

The first connection between the short story and the film was, of course, wallpaper. In the opening credits of the El Orphanato, the hands of very creepy children reach across the screen to rip chunks of blood red wall paper away to reveal darkness. At the end of the opening credits, the children’s arms reach out toward the audience. (Scary, no?)

More relevant to this course and this blog are the topics of disability, disfigurement, infantilization, and institutionalization. In El Orfanato, del Torro presents a horror story full of the ghosts of murdered orphans, one of whom was disfigured. The disfigured boy, Tomás, is hidden from the world. Even indoors and among his peers, he must wear a sack cloth painted with a clown’s face over his head. His ghost returns decades later when Laura, a former resident, buys the orphanage and moves in with her husband and son.

The orphanage itself is located by the sea in a very isolated and lonely area, much like the house in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” It is here that Laura’s son disappears, taken by the ghost children. The film plays off of the mysterious horror of Tomás’s disfigurement to shock and engage the audience. When his face is finally revealed in grainy home-video footage, the music and editing and initial shock make you jump.

Disability also comes into play after Laura breaks her leg and is confined to a wheelchair for several frightening nighttime haunting scenes. The film uses her relative immobility to heighten tension during these scenes: can Laura escape?!

Both Tomás’s disfigurement and Laura’s disability (after she recovers and leaves the wheelchair, she still has pain and limps slightly) are associated with the infantilized orphanage setting, the paternalistic indifference of Laura’s husband and local police force, and the otherwordly realm of ghosts and hauntings.

What implications result? Can you think of other instances in which disfigurement/disability are used/exploited by horror films/novels?

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Written by Robert

September 29th, 2010 at 12:31 am