- ESTHER – PROTAGONIST
- JOHN AND KATE – PARENTS
- DANIEL AND MAX – SIBLINGS
Creative artists, familiar with the formal prerequisites of their art, have welcomed the opportunity of extending or violating those prerequisites. They have seemed most anxious to adopt the scientific and clinical descriptions of the unconscious to their own needs and tastes. (Page 144, Hoffman Fredrick, psychoanalysis and literary criticism, jstor)
Thus it has become an effective tool in order to understand the characteristics of any personality that has been propounded, especially in classical writings and movies. It has become what Hoffman calls 'a necessary division of the modern intellectual's knowledge.” This equipment, however, does not become a successful tool because of language and the style, the connotation of space and time, and culture. It loses relevance as the list of these factors continue. However, psychoanalysis as a film criticism explores characters in a new way that otherwise would be impossible.
Marianne Hirsch defines a bildungsroman as the story that arc encompasses an individual’s adverse conflicted growth through and into a social order, initiated by loss and extra familiar bonding. The protagonist of the movie, Esther is opposed by multiple social normativities that force her to regulate sexual interest in men of her mental age and other carnal pleasures from the sexuality she is interested in. The movie questions the viewer’s understanding of the genres of bildungsroman and its inability to encompass social abnormalities. It further complicates the idea of exceptions that inherently questions such genres.
The passive attention Esther receives in this scholastic arena contributes to the dynamic attention seeking personality trait that she possesses. In fact, the inability to comprehend and follow the socially normalized womanhood narratives would not allow or welcome Esther. Due to which there is a need for a rather rebellious narrative to that of the normal womanhood. In order to understand the rebelliousness, one should contrast the idea of Electra complex to that of Esther’s situation. Abnormalities like that of Esther’s, question the credibility of analysis of that of
Freud’s. To plot the desires of a 33-year-old mind present in a nine-year-old girl and other numerous situations where the validity of the analysis is being questioned. Being deprived of social personal and emotional stratification, Esther becomes a passive rebellious character, whose active rebellion can only be seen through the character she is infatuated to and of course these characters being heterosexual male individuals who are often in the closed circuit to Esther, one such character is John. The chemistry between John is purely carnal. The immense crave for a carnal satisfaction due helps Esther become a pervert and sex defining character. The psychopathic element of Esther.
The responsibility of sex defining character inherently makes space for a pathologically perverse nature in an individual. The temperance of physical attachment was one such sentiment which was need in Esther’s life. For her, the question of being accepted by the family she was adopted into had a massive impact, and for her it came as a challenge as she always tried to bring upon difference within the family. The only emotion that she lacked was the physical attraction by the male of the family, wherein she tried hard to gain it and come as a noticeable event.
The need for emotional and other non-physical validity is quite a common one. In fact, one could justify even her psycho-pathological behaviour using this argument. The argument is very simple, how can a physically dwarf looking female fulfil her normal sexual needs without enforcing oneself on men like John. There is no particular interest to be seen towards the character of John by Esther.
It is only her physical desires that she wants to fulfill, because of her physical appearance, she can only be accepted as a child who needs a parental care and love. Same for John, he never saw Esther more than a child, but still she intended to force herself on him.
Esther started to see Kate as a competition to win over John’s love. Though in the beginning the couple could not sense her indifferent behaviour. As Esther enters the house and strange things starts to happen, Kate realizes that something is wrong. Esther tries her best to bring about the differences between Kate and John as she self-harms herself to gain sympathy from John and portrait Kate as a bad mother, who is trying to hurt her whenever she gets a chance. In this case, Esther is only looking at the opportunity to get Kate out of the frame so she can get the love of John in the way of a lover and not that of a father.
Being adopted in a family, which already have two kids, came out to be a big challenge for her. Max, being the youngest siblings, who is deaf and dumb, Esther learns the sign language just to impress Max so that she can create a strong bonding with her. Whereas on the other hand, Daniel, the older son, was very rude and less welcoming towards her. Esther appeared to be very subtle, gentle and polite, who dressed up like an Old Russian women and kept herself away from other children. Kate senses that there is something strange about Esther’s behavior, because she was way too different from other kids. Kate uses the phrase “there’s something wrong with Esther”, by stating this, she wanted her family to believe that there might be some chances of Esther being violent and harmful to the family. But the family could not believe her as she was suffering from alcohol issues and was quite disturbed with the fact about her third stillborn child.
If we view Esther from Kate’s vision, even though she is a child, Kate is unable to believe that, for a nine year old it is a bit strange to act in such a manner, with total isolation with her peers, her mature way of talking and the way she represents herself in front of others. Using the kids to be a part of her plans, as she murders the people who get to know the truth about her, upon that, tries to threaten them so they do not say anything about her plans and behavior. Max being dumb and deaf is unable to communicate with her parents what she is suffering through, instead she draws all the incidences where Esther is murdering everyone who comes her way. Daniel after getting to know the truth about Esther, tries to tell his parents but Esther stops him and tells him that “I will destroy you if you say anything”, which makes him more scared of his own ‘adopted’ sister. None the less, Esther had succeeded in gaining John’s trust and made him turn against his own wife, who is only trying to tell him the reality and save her own family.
On finding the bible from Esther’s room, Kate comes under confusion as the notebook belongs to a mental hospital, where she might have been treated for some illness. She tries to gather all the information which is possible and goes into its depth. Kate finds out that she is suffering from a disorder named ‘Hypopituitarism’ (diminished hormone secretion by the pituitary gland, causing dwarfism in children and premature ageing in adults) and she is dangerously psychotic. For Kate, Esther is just a child, who is suffering from some psychological and physical problems but, she also knows that she is capable of hurting others in order to fulfill her desires. Kate realizes that Esther who appears to be a child can be seen with the traits of aggressiveness and violence as she has suppressed emotions of her sexual needs and desires as she is unable to attract any male towards her which makes her angry and agitated most of the time.
If we view from different prospective, apart from her disorder, her orientation has been developed in such a manner that she finds every women as a threat with an intention to win over a man but she fails to understand that men are not physically and mentally feel attracted towards her. In the bible that she carries around with her have a lot of pictures of many families that she has stayed with from past many years and also the individual pictures of male member of the family, because she tried to find that solace and sexual satisfaction or attention that she got from some of the men and with whom she was unable to make connection, she killed them and their entire family. In turn if she did not receive any response that she expected from the male of the family, her reaction to it would turn into self-harm or harm to the other person and his family.
The director of the movie (Jaume) has wonderfully played around with the concept of Electra complex. How? According to Freud, Electra complex means that the female child develops an attraction towards her father and hatred towards her mother, where she does not like her father being around her mother at all. But in the case of Esther, though she seems like a little girl and is also portrayed to the audience that she might be suffering from Electra complex, captures the attention and engages with the audience very well. Towards the end of the movie when the truth is revealed about her disorder and her violent behavior, it becomes alarming for Kate to save her family. For Esther, aggression was the most noticeable form of behavior which was directed outward against others, or sometimes it could be inwards which led to self-destruction. It was driven by emotional arousal which was a form of agitation. “Sigmund Freud postulated (1920) that all humans possessed an aggressive drive from birth, which, together with the sexual drive, contributed to personality development, and found expression in behavior”.