à l’intérieur (inside) comments

(click to enlarge three screen-caps from the movie:  à l’intérieur – inside)

the following post is in response to Reinaert de V’s review of the horror movie À l’intérieur.

Dear Reinaert de V.,

Thank you for the selection & review of the French movie À l’intérieur (Inside)[1] Admittedly, this is a difficult movie to warm-up to. As horror movies go, it did have the requisite bloodletting & a few desperate-clinging-to-life scenes. Your imaginative review demonstrates how the movie proves to be more than just horror-kitsch. The film is worth commentary because of its bloody extremes & how the Inside paroxysms blend with other interesting ideas on the abject, the maternal & femininity.

After watching the movie, I thought of the philosopher/psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva & her thoughts on horror, the abject & women.

You have mentioned Kristeva (along with others) & the (post-structuralist/psychoanalytic) idea of the inside/outside dichotomy. In her famous book: Powers of Horror[2] we find countless notes on the horrifying abject that strangely seems to presage this movie. She writes on the abject with her own brand of psychoanalysis, literary figures (namely the tragic Louis-Ferdinand Celine) & elsewhere in the book she looks for abjection’s biblical roots.  

In a sub-chapter titled: Inside/Outside, Kristeva writes on one of the the possible origins of the abject from a Christian (biblical) perspective & sets out a position that suggests the abject developing from within the subject, rather than from outside the subject. Her idea is made by showing Jesus’ “abolishment of dietary taboos, contact with lepers,[3] she writes that:

“An essential trait of those evangelical attitudes or narratives is that abjection is no longer exterior. It is permanent & comes from within.”[4]

…& she quotes Jesus from the Bible (Matthew 15:11) as saying:

“Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth defileth a man.”[5]

I take it Kristeva is saying that by Jesus touching (healing) the leper/s & his doing-away with the Judaic restrictions on pork (& other foods), that by him touching & eating these then “abject” things, Jesus causes abjection itself removed from without to then go inside & originate within the subject, this she theorizes is an interiorization of the abject & by that she means sin:

“Through the process of interiorization, defilement will blend with guilt, which already exists on a moral & symbolic level in the Bible. But out of the merger with the more material, object-like abomination, a new category will be established—Sin.”

Our very repulsion of the movie on its simplest terms has to do with the death & killing of several people. The base antagonism of murder cannot be overlooked. In a Christian & secular sense of the word, the movie can be said to be sinful. It should be noted to avoid any confusion that Kristeva is not evangelizing as a Christian. Her approach is from a secular psychoanalytic tradition looking to Christainity for possible links to how culture affects our everyday world & behavior.

As you’ve written, we have the notion that the then pregnant widow has an un-motherly resentment for the unborn baby,[6] who I suggest represents the father/lover who is now dead. The baby is inside her & perhaps unwanted. The “Alien” reference you write of happens as the mother dreams, where the infant is thrust from the woman’s bloody mouth, hence an oblique metaphorical reference of defilement from within, projected outward. Oddly with all this said, the movie frequently shows the baby “inside” the womb, within the amniotic fluid, as a living embryo, who (we are shown) is literally shoved & affected by the impact of the multiple traumas visited upon the mother/widow from the “outside.” As you observed, this inside & outside relationship is toyed with & made to be a profound motif. On the complexities on the maternal specifically, Kristeva has plenty to say & we’ll touch on that important issue a bit later.

Meanwhile, we see that the projection of the outside/inside dichotomy is also vividly clear with the large quantities of blood spilled during the movie. The blood from inside the body reminds & represents to us the flowing carnality of our life. Blood is made to be violently drawn-out, taken outside the body & in a brazen cinematic way, displayed out of the body to represent a frantic clinging to life as near death, near defilement & ‘inside’ anguish. The movie is soaked in blood. Blood is made to project itself from within the bodies of the victims to fill the screen with nothing else—yes, we’ll call it a blasphemous-baptism.

Not surprisingly Kristeva writes a few sentences on blood. For her it is a fluid that doesn’t represent death, but it is that which must be put aside in order to maintain life, once is has been shed, once it has fallen.

“A wound with blood & pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death. In the presence of signified death—a flat encephalograph for instance—I would understand, react, or accept. No, as in true theater, without make-up or masks, refuse & corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly & with difficulty, on the part of death.”[7]

In another part of the book Kristeva writes again on blood as prohibitive, with respect to menstrual blood. In describing various things that are prohibitive & polluting, she illustrates the oppression of women as with the now dubious assumption that menstrual blood was a pollutant.[8] Remarkably for our reference of the movie, it is in this explanation where she writes describing the multiple examples of feminine oppression & how women have been regarded by men as crafty & deceitful:[9]

“That other sex, the feminine, becomes synonymous with a radical evil that is be suppressed.”[10]  

In the opening scene of the movie the boyfriend/father is heard in a muffled voice saying to the unborn baby something like: “you are inside me, no one will take him from me.” It is at this moment that the couple crash with another car.[11] It is as if the father was saying that the baby is inside him, with this it is implied that the mother is little more than the vehicle for the son of the father, she is his carrier, his vehicle. The character of the widow is made to be not likable, but not evil. The evil is reserved for the villainess. The widow is self-absorbed, cold, distant & laughably incapable of knitting. Maybe if she were to not have the baby cut out of her, she would’ve made an unfit mother. We can only speculate.  This film is a fiction. Add to this that she is dating this older man who looks to be her father. Was he married? This man & the dead boyfriend complexify an Electra reading.

Abjection from within is also represented by the inadvertent killing of the pregnant widow’s mother, by the widow herself. The mother was the victim of her own daughter’s fear. In the myth of Electra, she & her brother Orestes kill their mother Clytemnestra. This is done as an act of revenge for Clytemnestra’s killing of her husband Agamemnon, who was also the father of Electra & Orestes. As we can see Inside distorts the Electra myth interesting ways. The antagonist-villainess-baby-thief will stop at nothing to remove the baby from his mother’s womb. This baby is positioned for us as a symbol for the father. Could the villainess be killing the mother to renew a love she herself had with the father? Is the baby, she can’t do without, a link to the boyfriend/husband she could never have? When the widow kills her own mother accidentally, this is due to the power struggle she’s having with the villainess. The struggle is for the baby, regardless of the mother’s life. Again the mother is simply a carrier, an obstacle. Maybe the villainess is the “father-obsessed” Electra, looking to avenge the self-absorbed mother to then be unified with the father’s infant, the father’s son? Surely Kristeva writes on Electra & I’ll have to research that later. Psychoanalysis looks at the Oedipal complex & the Electra complex is basically the same with the difference that the daughter has a (matricidal) rejection of the mother, with an over-interest (sexual desire) for the father.

On maternity & the problems that emerge thereof, Kristeva has many observations, in fact, way too many to note here. For instance, the following passage is from the chapter “Something to be Afraid of” is too perfect to ignore. Let us pay attention to how closely it mirrors several corresponding themes that we’ve looked at that run throughout the film (maternity, the tragic feminine, inside/outside, body fluids):

“But devotees of the abject, she as well as he, do not cease looking, within what flows from the other’s ‘innermost being,’ for the desirable & the terrifying, nourishing & murderous, fascinating & abject inside the maternal body. For, in the misfire of identification with the mother as well as the father, how else are they to be maintained in the other? How, if not by incorporating a devouring mother, for want of having been able to interject her & joy in what manifests her, for want of being able to signify her: urine, blood, sperm, and excrement. Harebrained staging of an abortion, of self giving birth ever miscarried, endlessly to be renewed, the hope for rebirth is short-circuited by the very splitting: the advent of one’s own identity demands a law that mutilates, whereas jouissance demands an abjection from which identity becomes absent.”[12]

This passage reflects on Kristeva’s idea that the child/subject/patient rejects the mother (or father) by objectifying the mother or father by means of their bodily refuse. The products that become the abject symbolize the border from the subject, the mother’s waste can be repulsive & this repulsion differentiates her from the subject. She is other than I. Mother & father become the other, as no longer a part of me, physically. Understanding the basic differences between our selves & that of our parents becomes a drama of abjection that Kristeva alludes to in the above quote.

In the closing scene of the movie, when the villainess (the now ghoulish midwife) is cutting out the baby from the hapless widow, brutally with a pair of scissors, (note: a stereotypical woman’s domestic tool) the widow cries out “Mommy!” This displacement, this misidentification is perplexing. Is she calling the villainess Mommy? Is the widow declaring that the real mother is at hand & that she is returning the baby to his rightful mother? Or is she crying out to her already dead mother upstairs, as any child when in pain might call out Mommy!? The villainess certainly wants to be the mother of the child, as she tenderly cradles the newborn child who is delivered through abject violence.

In another remarkably prescient passage Kristeva writes on the misanthropic author Louis-Ferdinand Celine who had a questionable & misogynistic relationship with women, including his own mother. She quotes Celine with:

“…those females can wreck the infinite…”[13]

…& to this quote Kristeva writes:

“I have already mentioned that birth-giving is for Celine, the privileged object of scripition. In its miscarriage too, in abortion the writer discovers, quite naturally, the basic fate & abominable tragedy of the other sex. He evokes this insuperable drama in the Journey[14] when sexual pleasure is drowned in a pool of blood during a confrontation between the sensual daughter & her jealous deadly mother.”[15]

With Inside the females are depicted as problematic, she is incapable, she is a fantasy, she is sexualized, she is a mere carrier, she is fragile, she is deceptive, she is soaked in blood & she is murderous.

Does anyone ask: what the bloody-hell is wrong with the MEN who make these movies?

Thanks again for the gory movie selection & I wish I had time to explore more of Kristeva’s ideas as they relate to the film & your ideas. I’m surprised that you could take me out of my movie watching comfort zone, to explore & speak on the possibility of what is inside, obscure &/or abject.

Thank you,

Aurelio Madrid

[1] À l’intérieur directed by Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury. La Fabrique de Films 2007

[2] Kristeva, Julia, Powers of Horror, an Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press 1982.

[3] Ibid. pg. 113

[4] Ibid. pg. 113

[5] Ibid. pg. 114

[6] Reinaert de V. “On some level it appears she selfishly blames it for her husband Matthieu’s death. Instead of being grateful for what she still has and the future and promise her unborn child holds, she seemingly sinks away in gloomy self-absorption with the way things were.” À l’intérieur, Reinaert de V.’s Blog, May 2010

[7] Kristeva, op.cit., pg.3

[8] Ibid. pg. 71

[9] It is worth a note to say that Kristeva’s larger discussion in this part of the book is on Mary Douglas of whom you mentioned beforehand.

[10] Kristeva, op.cit., pg. 70

[11] We learn later that the other car was in fact the lady (the antagonist or “baby-stealing witch”) who will return to “extract” the baby from the widow.

[12] Kristeva, op. cit., pg 54

[13] Louis-Ferinand Celine, Death on the Installment Plan, trans. Ralph Manheim. New York: New Directions, pg. 46

[14] Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Journey to the End of Night.

[15] Kristeva, op. cit., pg.159