Monday, 7 January 2013
©Lions Gate Films 2000
As part of my recent dissertation titled "The Babe in the Woods: Feminist Views on 21st Century Cinematic Retellings of Little Red Riding Hood", I analysed the Canadian horror film Ginger Snaps (2000) (a line from which titles this blog). In this analysis I investigate Ginger Snap's use of the fairy tale of "Little Red Riding Hood", where period blood is a red cape, and where the wolf is a threat from within.
Ginger Snaps uses lycanthropy as an allegory for menstruation and sexual awakening and features two sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, who have not had their periods yet, even though they are both 15. Blood in general turns out to be of central importance in Ginger Snaps. The film opens with the sisters talking of their blood pledge to commit joint suicide at the age of 16: “Out on the scene and dead by 16, but together forever”. The sisters feel that growing up and thereby conforming is a fate worse than death. The site where Ginger simultaneously gets her period and is bitten by the wolf is relevant, as it takes place on a playground. Before the wolf attacks, a wind makes a little white pony ride-on bounce back and forth and creak. The image of the white horse is used here as a symbol of childhood innocence, and is contrasted and threatened by the darker forces of adulthood and the approaching wolf. Before the wolf attacks, we see Ginger’s period blood run down her thigh, and Brigitte screams during the attack that the wolf was attracted to its smell. This is a very brazen interpretation of the Little Red Riding Hood story which avoids all squeamishness on the subject, as it uses the symbolism of Charles Perrault’s tale completely literally. In Perrault’s tale the wolf is attracted to the young girl because of the red colour of her cape, or more accurately: because of what the colour signifies. In the case of Ginger, her sexual maturity is in evidence through the fact that she is having her period, and the wolf, both perceived literally as a bloodthirsty animal and symbolically as a predatory man, is attracted to the blood and to what the blood signifies, respectively. Contrary to what the girls believe, the onset of Ginger’s womanhood turns out to be the opposite of conforming and being ‘normal’. In fact, Brigitte is the one who increasingly conforms, while Ginger challenges the borders of what is socially acceptable. Ginger's sexual hunger which arrives with her ovulation two weeks after the incident, is closely linked to her hunger for killing, and in fact, Ginger cannot distinguish between the two. In the following quote she describes how she feels while killing humans and likening it to an orgasm:
“It feels so good. It’s like touching yourself, you know every move, right on the fucking dot! Then after, see fireworks! Supernovas. I’m a goddamn force of nature, I feel like I could do just about anything.”
Ginger’s joy in her newfound power is completely unchecked by herself, but Ginger’s ‘sane double’, her little sister, takes the controlling role. From the point where Ginger’s new powers prove ‘anti-social’, Brigitte attempts to suppress Ginger. I see this relationship as really just one girl trying to conform to society, attempting to suppress the wild sexuality within. Tellingly, the name Ginger also refers to the colour red, while Brigitte means ‘strength’. Ginger, like Little Red Riding Hood, is associated with the colour red and all that this signifies of passion and abandon. Brigitte, on the other hand, is associated with strength - in this instance the strength to control and suppress. Thus Brigitte and Ginger become the struggle within one girl to deal with her burgeoning sexuality which is here the true wolf of the fairy tale. Seen from the perspective of Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Ginger is “the madwoman in the attic”, and Brigitte’s mad double. The main male character of the film is Sam, with whom Brigitte forms a friendship and potential love relationship. Because Sam has already successfully killed a werewolf and is intent on finding a cure for lycanthropy, I liken him to the hunter figure who seeks to keep the wild beasts of man in check. Ginger is wary of Brigitte’s friendship with Sam as she, correctly, identifies him as someone out to put an end to her newfound lust for sex and life.
At the bloody conclusion of the film Sam and Brigitte attempt to give Ginger, who is now fully transformed into a werewolf, the cure. Ginger kills Sam and attacks Brigitte, who screams: “I’m not dying in this room with you!” and fatally stabs Ginger. Finally Brigitte owns up to not wanting to be “together forever” and that she intends to conform to society. While Ginger is dying, Brigitte holds her and cries while looking at the photos on the wall of the two of them together. Brigitte is thus mourning the death of the beast within, but understands that it is the only way that she can survive. The film ends with this scene rather than any kind of happy ending, which indicates that the ending is indeed meant to be tragic rather than an instance of the triumph of good over evil.
At first glance Ginger Snaps ultimately seems more rebellious in its words than in its plot. The combination of a consciously feminist script, and the more conventional portrayal of female sexuality as monstrous, as criticised by Barbara Creed, does not offer any solutions or even alternative role models for that which it verbally criticises. I see it as being through the fairy tale angle that its more subtle and hidden rebellion is found. Its use of “Little Red Riding Hood” and its connection to the period is ingenious, and cleverly lays open the hidden messages in the use of the colour red. Ginger becomes a fertile and sexual woman the moment she wears her version of the red cloak: her period blood. Her sudden sexual appetite is then directly connected to the basic physical changes of a girl entering puberty, and the film does not stint on addressing exactly what happens during the woman's monthly cycle. This connection of the fairy tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” to the physiological changes rather than cultural changes surrounding girl- and womanhood, then manages similarly to focus on the fear of biological change, rather than a fear for which culture has found symbolic substitutes – such as sin and guilt. The use of the hunter is also interesting as Brigitte mourns the death of the wolf far more than the death of him, her potential lover and protector. In fact, the male character in the film is a side-note compared to the centrality of Ginger and Brigitte’s relationship. Brigitte’s love for and battle with the wolf, becomes the story of a woman's navigation between what comes natural and of what is expected of her, very much like when Gilbert and Gubar saw a hidden feminist rebellion in Snow White's mad double: the evil queen. Brigitte and her mad double, Ginger, love each other, but the conservative world they live in demands that only Brigitte is allowed to survive. The film’s ending is therefore tragic from a feminist perspective. Ginger Snaps surprises, both by being able to conform to the expectations of the horror genre’s monstrous feminine, while exhibiting a more hidden feminist rebellion. This retelling of the fairy tale thus manages to continue the old tradition of superficially conforming, but secretly objecting to the society into which it is told.