#DBW ‘Honeymoon’: How Leigh Janiak Subverts the Traditional Role of Women Within the Home

Honeymoon is a 2014 American film directed by Leigh Janiak and written by Janiak and Phil Graziadei starring Rose Leslie as Bea and Harry Treadaway as Paul, two newly-weds from Brooklyn who after their wedding travel to Bea’s family’s cottage in the woods to enjoy their honeymoon. In their second night in the cottage Bea is abducted by creatures that impregnate her with a device that slowly deletes all her memories in order to take a hold of her. Although this scene is not shown it alludes to gang rape as Bea explains to Paul what happened to her: “They went inside me. And then they left and I couldn’t see them anymore but I could still feel them inside.” The film does not explore this suggestion of rape and takes a different turn. Janiak argues that the abduction story is a metaphor for identity, in which she explains that the film is ‘about watching, and questioning how well you can know another person’).

The film starts by introducing the couple and their dynamics. Both characters are respectful and playful towards each other and the film builds their relationship in an intimate and real way. The sense of realness works in favour of the depiction of Paul’s desperation and terror when he no longer recognises Bea towards the end of the film. Although the film is mostly told through Paul’s point of view, it is not voyeuristic and the gaze the audience is offered is not scopophilic nor male, as the camera does not linger specifically on Bea’s body and both Bea and Paul are shot in similar ways. During the sex scenes their pleasure are explored through sound and subtle camera movements that convey a feeling of real intimacy, as Janiak opts for close-ups on their hands and other parts of their bodies, instead of on their sexual organs in explicit shots.

The couple’s dynamics and their individual personalities are a big part in why the film works so well. It is possible to say that Bea belongs in a post-feminist era where she can be whoever she wants without a second thought; and the same goes for Paul, as he takes the role of the sensitive one in their relationship. Neither of them expects or needs the other to be different: Paul is happy to be the sensitive one and Bea is happy to be the active one. Paul is constantly cooking and telling Bea to sit while he takes care of the house. Their relationship helps to create a new norm for the diegetic world: they are from Brooklyn, New York, a modern environment where their roles within the relationship are perfectly normal and acceptable. They represent the possibility of role reversal in modern relationships, where traditional roles (man as the active and woman as the submissive) no longer apply. However, for their honeymoon they choose to spend at Bea’s family cottage, a place that has stopped in time and where traditional values are still the norm. When they arrive at the cottage, they joke about it being old as Bea gives Paul a grand tour of the place and talks about the “TV and VCR from 1991”.

The first night that they spend in the cottage is uneventful and peaceful. The changes happen after the first disagreement Paul and Bea have over breakfast, when Paul tells Bea to sit and ‘rest her womb’ while he cooks breakfast. Bea does not understand the joke and the couple argues about whether or not to have kids. Although this should have been a previous discussion between them, the way they handle it shows once again how submissive Paul is as he apologises countless times and tells her he does not want kids right away after Bea says she is not ready. However, Paul’s comment is the first hint that the place they are in is slowly changing them and their dynamics. When proposing Bea to take the role of mother when she clearly does not want nor have previously expressed the desire to do so. The second occurrence happens when they decide to go to a restaurant nearby and find Will (Ben Huber), an old friend of Bea, and Annie (Hanna Brown), a married couple who are clearly having trouble, as Will acts violently towards her. When they go back to the cottage, Paul expresses his shock towards the way Will treated his wife and Bea defends him by saying that “she obviously did something awful”. Paul is horrified by his wife’s response towards domestic violence, which is a sign that her views were different prior to coming to the cottage. Despite reassuring Bea they are not like them, Paul wakes up at dawn to go fishing as a way to provide dinner for them, and despite treating it as a joke it is clear that he is trying to fit into a stereotype of the provider. When he wakes up he notices Bea is not in bed and searches her, and finds her naked and alone in the woods. Bea refuses to tell him what happened and continues to act normally.

In the morning after, however, the first important change in their dynamic happens: Bea is cooking breakfast. Paul is surprised by it but promptly realises she burnt the bread and failed to make coffee. Paul realises there is something wrong with Bea but still takes it slightly by making fun of her and helping her with the cooking. Bea, on the other hand, receives the criticism almost as a humiliation and a sign of incapacity.

With the repetition of their daily chores and their confinement in the cottage, an uncanny feeling arises. As Freud explains in his essay of the Uncanny: ‘[repetition] undoubtedly evokes such feeling under particular conditions, and in combination with particular circumstances – a feeling, moreover, that recalls the helplessness we experience in certain dream-states’. As the cottage belongs to Bea’s family, it means that she was brought up around those traditional values, but as she grew older she has surmounted them as she has adopted new and modern values. Therefore, when the old values return to Bea while she is in the cottage, she recognises them as familiar but is unable to make a peaceful connection to her own new values. This uncanny feeling combines with the repetition of daily chores, which reminds Bea of the traditional role of the woman as caretaker of the house and husband, bringing about a distrust and confusion as to what she truly believes.

Freud claims that one prominent theme of the uncanniness is ‘the double’. He explains the double (doppelgänger) as he draws from Otto Rank’s concept of the manifestation of fear of death. The double takes shape as a ‘special authority’ within the ego, ‘which is able to confront the rest of the ego, performs the function of self-observation and self-criticism, exercises a kind of psychical censorship, and so becomes what we know as “conscience”’ The double becomes ‘an object of terror’ and in Honeymoon it manifests itself inside of Bea.

As the double takes place as the conscience, it becomes the individual’s alter ego, a privileged figure created from the relationship between normality (the boring normalcy) and the monster (the cause of the disturbance). The alter ego, thereby, embraces both variables as ‘two aspects of the same person’. Honeymoon presents this “boring normalcy” with a twist: Bea and Paul are a heterosexual monogamous couple, however, as mentioned before, they are a modern version, where both assume different roles in the relationship. Therefore, when Bea represents a threat to that new normality, it means that she is starting to embrace the old values she had once given up on and they clash with the couple’s dynamics. Bea starts to repress her sexuality, denying sex for the first time, and then giving in when she realises how upset Paul is. Paul, however, dismisses her attempts in oral sex stating his real preoccupations.

Paul fails to recognise Bea as her attitudes are completely different: “You have her toes. You have her knees. You have her thighs. You smell the same. You taste the same. But you’re different. You’re different.” And the solution he finds is to go back to the city, to what is familiar and right for them, and leave the cottage that stands for everything they have surmounted: “Nothing is feeling right out here. Everything feels different.” Having already raised serious doubts about herself, Bea is unable to choose between the two versions of herself.

Bea’s physical state begins to deteriorate and she slowly takes the form of a monster. As Linda Williams suggests in her 1996 essay ‘When the Woman Looks’, the monster’s distorted figure works as a mirror-reflection to the woman’s own image in the eyes of patriarchal society. Once in the cottage, Bea is seen as a disturbance in the patriarchal traditional roles, and within her relationship, Paul begins to see her as a threat to their own normality.

Unable to make a choice and by having her body change, Bea stands on the border between norm/disrupt, death/life, and city/woods. Bea needs to reject the abject and expel what she no longer needs and what is causing her own destruction. Paul finds Bea in the bathroom floor penetrating a metal object inside her vagina trying to kill something (suggestion to abortion from the implicated rape in the beginning of the film). Bea asks Paul to help her to pull out what is inside of her and he succeeds to pull out of her vagina an unidentified cord. At this point, it is clear that Bea has made her choice: to abject the traditional roles and be with Paul. However, when Paul exits the room, the chord comes to life and enters Bea one last time, proving its deep roots in her.

What is most alarming to Paul is not Bea’s physical changes, but the fact that she fails to remember details about their life.  In her 1982 book Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection Julia Kristeva explains that abjection is more violent than uncanniness because it ‘is elaborated through a failure to recognize its kin; nothing is familiar, not even the shadow of a memory’. Therefore, unable to reject the abject, and unable to recognise herself and make a peaceful agreement between her new values and her old ones, Bea becomes the abjection. As Kristeva explains:

If it be true that the abject simultaneously beseeches and pulverizes the subject, one can understand that it is experienced at the peak of its strength when that subject, weary of fruitless attempts to identify with something on the outside, finds impossible within; when it finds that the impossible constitutes its very being, that it is none other than abject.

Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, 1982

In the end of the film, completely in the form of a monster, with distorted sight and sound, Bea joins a group of women in the woods guided by black unidentified figures, hinting that what has happened to her is more common than one might think. By going into the woods (running away from their lives and society) these women are being treated as abjects and are being expelled by society that believes they are threatening their stability by standing on the border.

Honeymoon inspects the deep roots and the impact of society’s values upon the individuals. It explores Freud’s definition of the uncanny as something both familiar and unfamiliar that is also frightening in many ways, as argued above, but also through the use of the house and the marriage, both a domestic setting in which women are made to be in and understand it, but that ends up causing distress.

Moreover, the film explores how women struggle to meet other’s expectations: no matter how modern society might label itself, women are always asked to give more of themselves, to try harder, to make a choice between family or career, to sacrifice themselves for their families, and more importantly, women are made to doubt themselves. Bea’s body is her own, but as she is expected to fulfil her roles within the patriarchy it belongs to everyone else as well. However, by keeping her monstrous form and choosing to live in the woods with the groups of monstrous women, Bea is accepting her body, her difference and she is defying and resisting expectations. She is a strong woman who does what she pleases, but still, she is confronted with doubts about herself and is filled with a sense of inadequacy.

 

by Bruna Foletto Lucas

Bruna is passionate about film, especially horror. Her favourite films are HalloweenScream and Cabaret. She has an MA in Film Studies from Kingston University. Her writing can also be found on London Horror Society and UK Film Review. You can find her ranting on Twitter @Bruna_FinalGirl and posting nonsense stories on Instagram @foletto.b

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