Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
Freudian psychoanalysis is all about sex. Christianity concerns, among other important issues, human relationships: relationships between human beings and God, between one human being and another, and between human beings and nature. In psychoanalysis, the superego replaces God, heaven, and moral righteousness; the ego, human will, the earth, and corrupted virtue; and the id, the devil, hell, and sin. Therefore, literary analysis and criticism that is based upon Freudian theory will offer an interpretation of fiction as representing sexual concerns, whereas literary analysis and criticism from a Christian perspective will offer an interpretation of fiction as representing human relationships with God, humanity, or nature.
In much horror fiction, when sex is depicted, it is often perverted sex: incest; non-procreative sex, both hetero- and homosexual; group sex; and the like. A psychoanalyst would explain such deviations as expressions of the tendency of human beings toward “polymorphous perversity,” wherein any body part is capable of providing its owner a form of erotic pleasure. A man, a woman, or even an infant, Freud argues, can find sexual pleasure in almost anything.
Christianity explains sexual perversions and deviations as expressions of human beings’ innate depravity, or inborn tendency to sin. Most theologians would define sin as disobedience to the divine will; an action is sinful if it defies or is at odds with God’s will, whether communicated directly or through institutions he has established. For example, God instituted marriage between a man and a woman, not between two men and two women; therefore, homosexual unions would be considered sinful. Likewise, he orders men and women to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Therefore, non-procreative sex is sinful, whether it takes the form of masturbation, oral or anal copulation, bestiality, or some other activity. Moreover, whatever sexual unions that God has forbidden, such as those between parents and siblings, between two men, between two women, and otherwise, is, by definition, sinful.
It is important to understand these distinctions if one is to understand the differences between the sexual perversions and deviations that are fairly commonly depicted in horror films, which is the subject of this post.
The Freudian critic sees the film as a visual exposition of the Oedipal complex in which a son comes to terms with his burgeoning masculinity by seeking to mate with his mother but, frustrated by his stronger father, seeks, instead, to marry--or at least to mate with--a woman just like dear old mom.
A Christian interpretation would view this film as an example of the sexual perversions that result from human beings’ rejection of God’s commands for moral and sexual purity in favor of a sinful pursuit of forbidden fruit in the form of beautiful, helpless women over whom they may exercise a seemingly omnipotent and sadomasochistic power of life and death. In short, for Christians, the film exemplifies a sexual expression of idolatry; the idol is the self of the sinner whih, separated from God, employs lust instead of love in failed relationships with women.
Freudians would no doubt interpret this movie as an exemplum of the harm that can be done to children who witness the primal scene. Usually, the primal scene is enacted by the child’s parents, but, lacking a father and a mother, Miles and Flora must settle for witnessing the sex that occurs between their uncle’s servants. As children, however, they are unable to assimilate the sex they see and, as a result, they themselves become hypersexual. In the novella, Miles is expelled from school for what the governess seems to believe was an incident involving precocious sexual behavior. According to Freud, a child who witnesses sex between his parents (or other adults) is apt to regard their lovemaking as a sadistic act, so it might be that Miles’ own behavior at his boarding school involved some sort of homosexual act of sadism. James merely hints at such things and even suggests that the sex may be in the governess’ own mind, like her encounter with the ghosts of Quint and Jessel, but the film’s director, Michael Winner, makes his own interpretation of the story’s psychosexual dynamics clearer than most fans and critics like.
As we saw in Part 3 of this series, a Christian interpretation of the story has been offered by Robert Heilman, who argues, in “The Turn of the Screw as Poem,” that--
The story is virtually a morality play, involving the typical conflict of divine and demonic agents fighting for the soul of Everyman. The garden at Bly is the Garden of Eden; Miles and Flora are Adam and Eve in a state of prelapsarian innocence; Quint corresponds to folklore descriptions of the Devil; the governess is both an angel sent from God and a Christ-like mediator. By the end of the story, the Fall has occurred, but at the last minute the governess exorcises the demon from Miles’s soul and thereby saves him. Other apparitionist critics have expanded and rounded out this interpretation; the only character left unaccounted for is Miss Jessel, who too often is seen as merely the artistic counterpart to Quint. Miss Jessel, as cohort of Satan, is probably the Lilith in the Judaeo-Kabbalistic tradition who united with Adam and brought forth the race of demons, imps, and fairies (Rictor Norton, “Henry James's The Turn of the Screw,” Gay History and Literature, 1971, 1999, updated 20 June 2008).In William A. Fraker’s A Reflection of Fear (1971), an adolescent falls in love with her father when he returns home after a fifteen-year absence, seeking to divorce his wife so he can remarry. She also develops a strong hatred of both her mother, who has reared her in isolation, and her grandmother. A boy kills the women and later seeks to harm the girl’s fiancée. Her father pursues the male attacker, only to discover that he is really his own daughter, who was raised by her mother (his late wife) as a girl, because her mother hated men.
Freudians would attribute the transvestite adolescent’s dilemma to an emasculating mother who herself suffers from penis envy. Apparently having driven her husband off, perhaps because of her emotional castration of him, she now avenges herself upon men by denying her son his own masculinity, feminizing him in a symbolic and, indeed, socialized castration through feminization.
From a Christian point of view, the film is another instance of sexual perversion such as results when human beings substitute their own will for the will of their Creator. God created men and women in His own image, and, for Christians, God does not make mistakes, intending males to become men and females to become women. The Bible, in fact, forbids the wearing of clothing of the opposite sex, judging such behavior to be abominable: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 22:5). The mother is guilty, not the son, however, for he is in her charge and subject to her authority.
The Bible commands children to “honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12), but the mother has denied her son the opportunity to honor his father and she has made it difficult, if not impossible, to honor her, for her emasculation and feminization of him is abusive in the extreme.
The son’s love for his father, although it may involve a homoerotic aspect, since the boy has been reared as a girl and is clearly jealous of his father’s fiancée, seeing her as a rival for her father’s affections (in what Freudians would characterize as a twisted Oedipal situation of sorts), nevertheless shows his desire to embrace masculinity and to be himself a man. For Christians, the movie is the story of child abuse, not gender dysphoria, resulting from another instance of an individual's (the boy’s mother) defying God’s will in favor of her own.
Examples could be multiplied, for many horror films depict all manner of sexual perversions and deviations, including adultery, homosexuality, incest, masturbation, sadomasochism, sodomy, voyeurism, and other activities that modern psychologists define as paraphilias or sexual deviations. Indeed, the 2009 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual lists 547 paraphilias! To Christians, however such sexual deviations are sinful acts, usually considered instances of sodomy, a term which includes any sort of unnatural or non-genital sex act, and result from the sinner’s idolatrous placing of his or her own will above that of God’s will that human beings be either and exclusively male or female, in accordance with their sex, adopting the roles, manners, and modes of behavior that are consistent with their respective genders. The Bible insists that the only legitimate form of sex is heterosexual, marital, and, in principle, reproductive. Anything else is sinful, hellish, and demonic. Horror movies show that the sexual gateway to hell, so to speak, is wide, indeed, but the way to heaven is narrow.
Note: In the next installment of "Sex and Horror," I consider the haunted house and the sex and horror that are sometimes associated with this horror fiction icon.