Where was I?
Actually, I've got some time before I can return to the play-by-play of Poltergeist in order to (maybe) prove it's a feminist film. That entry yesterday only took me to the halfway point in this film, then my tournament downtime--of which I had very little--was over and I didn't get to the second half of the movie until hours later, on the drive home. Now, it's on again, but, per the blog rules, I gotta get through the first half of the film before I can get back where I was.
In the meantime, I would note the peaceful music playing over the establishing shots of Cuesta Verde, and how deliberately pleasant it is. This begins as a simple story about a family living in a recently built suburb of Los Angeles. The mother and father get along fine, but the father occasionally falls asleep in front of the TV because fathers do that. The kids have the usual monsters in their closet... which just happen to turn out to be a bit real.
(Sidenote: I just noticed that among all his Star Wars decorations, Robbie has an Alien poster on his wall. From the original source for the Bechdel Test, of course--that is the Bechdelian film.)
Notes on the first half, part two (i.e. things I notice in passing):
Figuratively speaking, Carol Anne walks in on her parents having sex. Really, they're just playing around after smoking some joints, but the effect is the same. And, there are plenty of other elements in the film that tie into a) the awakening of female sexuality and b) the thwarting thereof. Regarding a, Dana is familiar with the hotel where the family goes at the end of the film. She doesn't say why, but the implication is clear from the tone of her brief exchange with her mother--she has been going there to have sex. Just now in the film, Steve went to say good night to Dana and she was on the phone, hiding it in her covers. He tells her to get off the phone, but makes no real effort to make her comply. This is a permissive household.
(Sidenote: Nice foreshadowing with the dead bird's cigar-box-coffin getting dug up by the bulldozer.)
Hence Diane laughs when the workers come on to Dana. Sexuality is welcomed in this family. But, it's not supposed to be. And, openly sexual behavior from females, especially, is supposed to be frowned upon in suburban America. But, horror film and all, "the portals of occult horror are almost invariably women" (Clover, 1992, pp. 70-71). Not to suggest that Dana is the portal. Given that Diane is specifically said to be 31 (or 32), she was a teenager when she had Dana. As Devin Faraci (2012, January 1), puts it, Diane "fell into suburban motherhood."She was probably younger than Dana is in the present (since the actress Dominique Dunne). That Dana heads off to the motel is not so unexpected then, is it?
And, now we're caught up to where I left off yesterday.
Dining room table, teapot moves. Then living room to communicate with Carol Anne... and, how odd is it that Diane can identify her daughter by smell?
(Sidenote: on the notion of the suburb being the problem here, the aforementioned Faraci calls the suburbthe invader. These identical masses of homes are like rapidly metastasizing cancer cells (Cuesta Verde is about to expand yet again in the next phase of development), and they aren't just eating at the land, they're eating at the very values that made the American dream. Cuesta Verde isn't a place built on connections with neighbors, it's a place built on the desire to insulate yourself from everyone else.
Faraci points out, somewhat correctly, there are no real signs that Cuesta Verde is populated. It doesn't seem to be a particularly bustling community in need of an expansion.)
Steve is useless when Robbie is upset. It takes Diane and Dr. Lesh to calm him down.
Marty goes to the kitchen to cook (feminine) himself some steak (masculine), but also puts a chicken leg in his mouth (feminine?). Then he pulls his own face off. Really, he's imagining the entire event, but what is it that he's imagining? Is he becoming less of a man because he wants to make himself some food? Or because he is powerless to understand or do anything about what's going on in the Freeling house? Tangina will later suggest that the big evil spirit haunting the house is "the Beast" but the ghost everyone sees after the face-tearing scene is feminine. The video equipment picks up a crowd of ghosts but the central figure is feminine. The force invading this particular suburban house is female. And, right after this incident, Robbie and the dog are sent away.
But, the specific moment there that I want to mention involves Steve. And it reminds me of the Grail legend, of Perceval. Perceval neglected to ask the necessary question about what was wrong and because of this, the kingdom turns to a wasteland. On another occasion, he asks what is wrong and the King--the Fisher King--(and kingdom) are healed. The kingdom of Cuesta Verde is not a wasteland, exactly, though it does seem empty. It is definitely ailing; the Freeling house is the wound.
(Oddly timed sidenote, since I just compared the house to a wound: there was a mangled dead tree outside the Freeling house, but they have a living tree in the living room, near the stairs. It's backward.)
The active protagonists here are all women--Diane, Dr. Lesh, Tangina. And, Tangina uses Steve's masculine (patriarchal) sternness to get Carol Anne's attention. The women have the power within the story, but man's power is still there beneath the surface.
A couple things to note before they go in after Carol Anne: Carol Anne is 5. Cuesta Verde was built on part of the old cemetery in 1976 (i.e. 6 years ago). Carol Anne was born in Cuesta Verde, probably the very first child born there. Faraci calls the "rebirth" of Caroll Anne (with Diane, I would point out) "a cleansing new start, a reclamation of the birth process."
And, there are obvious (and clearly intential) visual echoes of the womb, the vagina, and birth itself. Diane and Carol Anne even emerge covered in... amniotic goo that must be washed off to complete the process.
To belabor the imagery a bit more. The first things Tangina sends into the portal are two balls. Then, Steve holds a rope, the end of which holds the key to, well, birthing Carol Anne. He lets go and Diane and Carol Anne are born into the living room.
Dude just had sex with a bilocational portal.
Diane does all the heavy lifting, of course. As women do, carrying the child to term while men sit around and watch sports on TV while competing with their neighbors.
So, that previously mentioned exchange between Diane and Dana happens and how does Dana distract from the implication that she spends time at a hotel? She points to her mothers' newfound grey streak of hair. Dana's youthful sexuality is countered by Diane's age. Except, Diane has proven that her age is, if anything, an asset. It offers strength, resilience.
Still, she takes a bath and colors her hair to get rid of the grey. Her femininity has been challenged and upheld at the same time. Now she reclaims it just as just a couple scenes before she was reborn. That earlier rebirth was in her role as mother. This one is more like a rebirth in her role as woman.
A note on color: before she gets into the bath, she goes in her robe to tell the kids to tuck themselves in. Robbie wears bright red pajamas. Carol Anne wears white. Cut to the bathroom and Diane is bathed (pun unintended) in pink light. Then, after her bath she dresses in a red shirt with white numbers on it. Like she is somewhere between male and female? When she is assaulted in her bedroom, there is a red heart balloon by the bed and the attack begins as something seemingly sexual, her shirt being lifted. She is lifted around the room, up the wall and across the ceiling, and then we meet what is probably the Beast in something like it's real form. It is not so feminine anymore. Or, at least, not so beautiful as before. Diane ends up outside, falls into the hole dug for the pool (which was introduced somewhat arbitrarily earlier in the film) and must save herself... mostly. The barely seen neighbors show up at the last moment to help her out, but she has already done most of the work of getting out. Then she reenters the children's room, down a long hallway to a white door surrounded by red light. And, that's where the closet becomes quite... anatomical. And Diane saves both Robbie and Carol Anne as Steve arrives home to be fairly powerless again. Their dialogue implies that Steve is somehow going to save Diane and the kids from the house now full of dead bodies bursting up from the ground. And, sure, he confronts his boss (who arrived with him) about the cemetery, but he doesn't do much else. In fact, he can barely get the car started--classic horror film key fumbling. Dana arrives home just in time to join her fleeing family. She arrives in a red car, and she is dressed in white and pink.
The house implodes and I am reminded of some misogynist rants by comic book writer Dave Sims about the feminine void and how horribly dangerous it is. Like women are just something men get lost in, and the world barely holds itself together. But, the men here are a) powerless already or b) specifically responsible for the horrors that occur. This is not a film about the usurpation of power by women but rather one that suggests that women had the power all along already.
In the end, it is Steve who pushes the television out of the hotel room--giving up his masculine outlet for his family. Giving up his masculinity itself, perhaps.
Clover, C.J. (1992). Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Faraci, D. (2012, January 1). Schlock Corridor: POLTERGEIST (1982) Part I. Birth. Movies. Death. Retrieved from http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2012/01/01/schlock-corridor-poltergeist-1982-part-i