Culture Gabfest “Squids, Women, and Chainsaws” Edition
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S1: I’m Stephen Metcalf, and this is the sleek culture Gabfest, Squids, women and Chainsaws addition, it’s Wednesday, October 6th, 2021. On today’s show, the South Korean show Squid game is en route to being the most streamed show in the history of Netflix. We discussed this dystopian battle royale satire and then the French body horror movie Titane won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. The grisly gender bender has made its writer director Julia Dukan, now only the second woman to win the Palme d’Or Dana. The first was
S3: the first was Jane Campion for the piano.
S1: Yes. And then finally, the doe eyed virgin known as the final girl. We discuss the genealogy of this horror movie trope The Last Girl Standing the subject of a very cool essay on Slate by Neil McRobert. He’s the host of the Talking Scared podcast. Joining me today is Isaac Butler. Isaac, how’s it going?
S2: It’s going. All right. How’s it going, Steve
S1: hanging in there? You’re the author of the forthcoming The Method How the 20th Century Learned to Act. That’s out which day again,
S2: February 1st, 2022.
S1: Superb. And you will join us to discuss it. I know, and of course we do. And of course, Dana Stevens is the film critic for Slate Dana. How you doing?
S3: Pretty good. How are you, Steve?
S1: Uh, good. Give me your title and subtitle, please.
S3: You’re the best unpaid publicist, Steve. I love it. My book is called Cameraman. It’s about Buster Keaton. It’s coming out on January 25th, 2022.
S1: That’s also known as my birthday Dana Stevens.
S3: That’s right, we have to celebrate it in style, Steve.
S1: I know the two magnums of champagne, please. All right. Shall we make a show? Let’s do it. OK, let’s let’s do the Squid. Guin is currently the top ranked show on Netflix, but that’s a gross understatement. It’s on its way to being the most watched show ever, really. I mean, if it ends up the most streamed show on Netflix, it’s the most streamed show ever, and it’s probably the most watched TV show ever. It’s so popular a South Korean broadband providers now suing Netflix over usage costs anyway. Squid game is a new take on an old theme the old battle royale genre maybe best known, I think, to listeners from the movie Hunger Games, in which a group of contestants fight one another in a fabricated game like environment, they’re forced to kill one another until there is a single surviving winner to this Squid game. Add several curious twists. The contestants are all down on their luck South Koreans, who for one reason or another, are so badly off they’re typically deeply in debt they will risk anything for this prize money. I mean, you obviously have to be at the absolute extremes of social despair to agree to do this, but they do agree to do it. Another curious twist about the show that we’ll get into. Among them, we have our hero anti-hero. He’s Seong ji hoon, a man entering middle age who still lives like a child. He’s at home with his mother. He’s out of work. He’s a ne’er do well. He likes to gamble. And in the first episode of the show, he blows the last of his little family’s tiny nest egg. He’s recruited by a mysterious stranger, a smoothie in a business suit into the Squid game. He’s gassed unconscious, taken to a remote island, housed in a soulless barracks, and he begins to compete against a couple hundred or so others in what are child’s games, familiar games from the playground, the backyard. And by the end of each round, contestants have been eliminated, i.e. slaughtered. This is a hermetic and pitiless world in which solidarity is all but impossible. And it’s meant, of course, in some level to echo our own. We’ll also get into that. It’s a satire. But Isaac, let me start with you, maybe describe the aesthetic of the show. It’s very distinctive, the tone and feel of it. You have a very dark world offset by bright preschool colors in the, I guess, arena you call it that they’re competing and talk about this crazy hit show.
S2: Yeah, I mean, that is one of the things and probably the thing that I liked the most about it other than its lead performance is the kind of aesthetic sensibility that it that it has. You know, it has these bright, bright colors, the the jailers, I guess you could call them, who are sort of themselves kind of down on their luck schlubs that work for this game where these kind of pink jumpsuits and these fencing masks with with with shapes on them that denote their rank, they’re either a circle or a triangle or a square. And the music is actually really great. It’s really suspenseful and and strange. In fact, we have a little clip where we can hear a little bit of it in the beginning of the movie. Usually, the environments that the games themselves are played in almost look like, you know, it’s sort of like someone has tried to build a video game, you know, a level out of out of real materials. I don’t know about the. Who have you found this show almost unbearable? I found it unbelievably distressing to watch in the first episode, you see 200 people get shot in the head. I mean, it’s a you actually just sit there and watch a massacre for about 15 minutes and that keeps happening episode after episode. They start with 400 some odd contestants, and they’re narrowing it down to one, right? I kept watching it in hopes that it would grab me the way it seems to have grabbed the public, but it actually just filled me with greater and greater levels of despair in particular. I feel like there seems to be just from looking online, a disconnect between the kind of critical take on the show, which is that this is an intentionally difficult to watch and unpleasant critique of global capitalism and the kind of online fan response to it, which is that this is an exciting show full filled with thrilling twists and turns, and that in particular, I don’t know. There’s just something about it that that that really turned my stomach as I was watching it. It made me feel very bad for the state of humanity, to be completely honest.
S1: Dana Isaac gets right at the nub of it in a way. I mean, this is a dark, dark show. I think in a, you know, critical viewer or whatever you want to call it would watch it with mounting feeling of nausea, dread and even complicity. Right? And I guess you buy off your conscience by saying it’s actually an astute satire. It reflects the horrors of the world that we actually live in back to us the way in 1984 does. For example, I’m watching it to be morally enlightened, to discover that it’s maybe going to be the biggest hit in the history of television viewing for its thrill kills. How’s that make you feel?
S3: I mean, I wonder if that is why people are watching it. I think the most interesting thing about Squid game is why is it such a huge hit? And that would be really interested to see an audience survey, especially in different countries, since it’s basically been a hit all over the world to see how people are responding to it. I’m also curious whether people are watching the dubbed or subtitled version because both versions were watched in my household. I watched it with subtitles or as much of it as I could get through. I agree, Isaac, it’s very, very grim viewing and I made it through about four and a half episodes and then just thought, I get it, I can’t go on. But my partner watched the same show with dubbing a few days earlier because the subtitles are so poorly done on Netflix and a lot of the dialogue isn’t translated at all. And that’s just those are two such completely different experiences, because then of course, you don’t hear the same performances and it has this this sort of strange, sterile quality, which in a way goes with the show. But at any rate, now I’m not responding to the show now, just responding to the phenomenon of the show. And maybe that’s because, like Isaac, I just found it such a grindingly unpleasant experience. Well, actually, that’s not completely true. The first episode, the very first episode before the premise is established and before the main character who’s wonderfully played by the Korean superstar Lee Youngjae, is pretty funny. I mean, he’s played for some broad comedy in the first episode, and you know, you sort of see what a misfit he is in his world and in his family, and how he would end up being so desperate that he would agree to this crazy essentially being sort of consensually kidnapped and taken away to play this game with these hundreds of strangers. But that all kind of drops away. And I feel like after that, the show is very sketchy in its treatment of these people’s lives. I mean, it reminded me in some ways of of war movies where conventional kinds of war movies, where you’re introduced to a bunch of soldiers just to watch them be picked off one by one. And that kind of treatment of characters as potential cannon fodder or, you know, game fodder is just is just not something that’s going to keep me watching for that long. I will say that this show is original. You’re right, Isaac, that the design scheme, when they’re in that game world is sort of amazing and there’s something so unusual about it. Even though the premise, obviously the Hunger Games style most dangerous game premise is very familiar. But the way the story treats it is original, and I can see why people can’t stop watching it, but I could stop watching it all too easily. In fact, it was hard for me to start each new episode as it began.
S1: Yeah, I’m at the end of episode six, and as with each episode, I’ve ended on the fence about whether I’ll continue and then just click, you know, next episode, I’m sure I’ll watch it to the end. I do want to see how it ends. I love the performance of the lead unreservedly. It’s probably the one thing about it that I that I love. To that extent. But let me let me point out two things that I think the show’s astute about. First of all, it it’s obvious social point comes from the observation that these are people who’ve lost the game that we’re all playing out in the real world. And that game is so pitiless, so stacked, you know, so unlevel. It’s playing field is so on level that some people become kind of almost absolute losers, even though they, you know. In some sense, formally at least live in a quote unquote free world, you can end up so radically unfree thanks to your financial circumstances. And like Parasite, this is a South Korean genre picture social satire disguised as a genre picture, and it’s pretty astute about, you know, how people end up like that and indebtedness is a big background theme to this. I mean, these people aren’t facing out in the real world. They’re not facing death row. They’re facing insurmountable accumulated debts in a system that was designed to turn them into peons. The original meaning of the word python is supposed to thrust peonage upon them so that they live in a perpetual state of fear and subservience so that you’re one in 400. Some odd chance is better. It’s marginally better than only one thing you can think of, which is actually committing suicide. You’re willing to take those odds so that incredible sense of pervasive darkness. The second thing I think it’s very astute about is it’s a combination of these bright primary color painted, almost preschool like interiors and the survival and Auschwitz vibe that the whole thing begins to take on the drab barracks that they’re all staying in the sense that you know that the horrible kind of primo Levi dilemma thrust on people in the concentration camps is solidarity is totally necessary and totally impossible at the same time. In one sense, you have to form alliances, you have to trust and be trusted. At the same time, you cannot trust anybody. You have to be able to liquidate those bonds of association and possible feeling at a moment’s notice, or you will end up among the dead. And so it’s it’s that I do think that show does something beautifully over and over and self-consciously over and over and over again, which is the balance between that, that pitiful ness and tenderness that I think people in these circumstances would feel. That said, you know, Isaac, I think it bears just saying a very basic thing out loud in relation both to this movie and Titane, which we’re going to discuss is I get that there’s a meta commentary on violence going on in both, you know, the movie, the movie we’re discussing in the TV show, but how a costume we’ve become in our entertainment too repetitive and extreme acts of violence. I was floored by that, and I’m inclined to really admire this TV show. But still it was it was really, really stomach turning. I just wonder if is that? Is that artistically justifiable here?
S2: I’m not sure, to be completely honest. You know, some of the reviews that we read for Prep make the argument that the violence is so horrific and unsanitized on purpose, right? To make you really think about each of those deaths. And I and I take that point, although I’m not entirely sure that’s true. There’s a part of me that feels like it’s done to raise the narrative stakes so that you’ll want to keep watch it until the next episode. I go back and forth on that. I will say that, you know, the massacres that you watch, along with the thematic structures that you just described, Stephen, which I think are accurate in describing what the show is doing, but it’s really repetitive on both of those scores without, I think, developing either of those ideas in an interesting way. Any further, once you get to the end of the second episode, or maybe like a little bit of the way into the honeycomb game in which I think is in the third like the show has made the points that it’s going to make. It just doesn’t feel like there’s anything more for it to do. Whereas to talk about the film that you compared it to Parasite, which I think is a is a truly brilliant movie. I mean, that film keeps complicating and elaborating and flipping things on you over and over and over again, whether it’s about genre or about theme or about character or about social structure like it keeps finding new ideas. And so by the time it climaxes in a truly horrific series of violent acts, it’s really taken you somewhere and done something, whereas I just felt like this was continually making the same point. I don’t really want to watch a TV show and be thinking about Auschwitz all the fucking time. You know what I mean? Like, I just like, I know capitalism is bad, you know, like, like, I just at some point I was like, I am not. This isn’t doing anything beyond upsetting me. There is not another move. It’s making
S1: the way. A complicated for me was that, you know, they have to team up or they’re going to die. You can’t you can’t play this game and make it toward the final rounds without teammates and cooperation. So, you know, there are these solidarity breeds, these little moments of genuine tenderness between people who will have to eventually. Not only betray one another, but effectively kill one another. And it’s the tiny accretions of those little acts of tenderness as you head towards this inevitably horrific conclusion, right? That that give the show its power to me and are going to keep me watching it till the end. I mean, giving an example. I thought the betrayal of an older person than this was done with real sensitivity. What would it be like for a, you know, pretty aged man to be in this world? And at one point I didn’t give anything away in the course of the show, he he soils himself and just the little act of of of of humanity, of covering him up, because this other character, a protagonist, understands the depth of that humiliation and what he must be feeling. I thought that that was I thought that was beautifully, beautifully delivered.
S3: Yes, if I haven’t gotten to that point in the show yet, but I think that relationship between our protagonist played by Lee Youngjae and that older man is one of the few relationships that I believe in this story, and it doesn’t seem completely contrived in that cannon fodder way that I was describing earlier, something we haven’t mentioned that I think is a weak point of this show, and it takes it very far from the world of something like like Parasite, for example, is the villains. The villains are terrible in the show. I mean, I haven’t gotten far enough to to learn sort of who’s behind these masks in these hot pink hazmat suits that all the bad guys in the gaming world wear. But any adventure story or thriller type story in which the villains are these completely masked identical creatures and are very rarely or maybe never revealed to be who is beneath the mask, who’s an actual human with a story is just boring to me. It reminds me of the stormtroopers in the Star Wars movies, which always seemed like the most boring villains possible. Like, it’s the more guys in white armored suits coming to kill you with lasers. And that was why the moment when John Boyega character in The Last Jedi emerges from his stormtrooper suit and, you know, becomes a rebel becomes a different kind of character is so exciting because it’s the shedding of this anonymous face of evil. But so far, at least in this show, we haven’t gotten past that, and that in itself makes it a less interesting parable or allegory to me. I mean, if you take something like Parasite, as Isaac was saying, you know who appears to be the villain suddenly gets, you know, reveal a new face is revealed or somebody who we thought was our protagonist does something unexpectedly horrible and we have to question their morality. That doesn’t seem to happen in this show. And so insofar as those guys in the hot pink hazmat suits just represent capitalism with a capital S. Yes, I don’t think they’re doing anything beyond. I mean, maybe this is just going back to what Isaac said of sort of like, I get it, you know, I’m sure that more twists are to come and more characters are going to die in horrible ways and betray each other. But as of almost exactly halfway through four and a half episodes, I’ve already gotten it.
S1: This is one of those times you’re confident the vast majority of the listeners of this podcast are actually consuming this cultural item and will have a very definite opinion about it. That is probably frictional to ours at many specific points. So do email us at Culturefest at Slate.com. I’d love to hear what you know the listeners of the show are making of this particular entertainment product. OK, moving on. All right, well, before we go any further, this is typically where we discuss business in our podcast at Dana what do we have?
S3: Steve, our first item of business is just to remind listeners that we’re doing a book club, which we haven’t done in a long time. So next week, we’re going to be talking about Sally Rooney’s new novel Beautiful World. Where are you? So we’re all reading that now and prep for next week if you want to join us or listen to the audio book, if you like. And if you want to let us know what you think of the book as you’re reading, you can send us an email at Culturefest at Slate.com. We would love to hear your thoughts. Our next item of business is just to tell you that today’s Slate Plus segment is once again a listener request. A listener named Hannah wrote in to ask if we have any favorite books, movies or shows or other cultural items that deal specifically with parenthood. All three of us on the show are parents this week, so I’m sure we will have a lot of recommendations on that score. Slate Plus members can hear that bonus segment at the end of the show, and if you’re not a Slate Plus member, as always, you can sign up at Slate.com. Slash culture plus signing up costs only a dollar for your first month, and for that dollar, you will get ad free podcasts and lots of bonus content like the segment I just mentioned. You also get to hear members only programming on other slate podcasts like Slow Burn and the Political Gabfest. And of course, you get unlimited access to all the writing on Slate.com. You’ll never hit a paywall if you’re a Slate Plus member, and I should also mention that you’d be supporting our work and the work of our brilliant colleagues at Slate. These memberships are really important to keep the magazine going, so please, if you would sign up today at Slate.com slash culture plus again, that Slate.com saga culture plus.
S1: Titane is the second feature from writer director Julia del Canal. Her first was the movie Raw. This one begins with a small girl were meant to take her as a bad seed child whose misbehavior in the back seat causes a car accident, and the car accident requires to have a titanium plate sewn permanently into her skull. Smash cut to the present she’s now a stripper with. We’re meant to see quite a fan base. She’s still cold, detached and hostile, to put it very mildly, as we discover she’s a serial killer. She uses a long, I don’t know, I guess, knitting needle or hairpins. She uses a knitting needle as a hairpin to dispatch her victims how to even describe what happens next. She has sex with the car and becomes pregnant with its child. She botches a kill and changes her identity, changing her look to be far more masculine. She pretends she’s a missing boy, a milk carton kind of boy, and reunites with that boy’s father, claiming she’s the long lost child. He’s a middle aged and very macho firefighter who takes her in not knowing, but maybe also kind of knowing that this is not actually his son. The movies and friends that we also don’t really have a clip here. Dana I’m just going to start with you. I mean, I kind of wrote down one word watching this movie.
S3: I mean, I think one place to start is that Titane won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, and Khan is just this very specific festival that always has to have this the successor to Scandal kind of movie that leaves everybody shocked and divided and people storming out of the theater and throwing up and others passionately defending it. Someday, I want to go to Cannes in person just so I can experience that, you know, the Cannes hysteria in person. But Titane seems to have been that movie this year, and it’s so it’s that kind of deliberately provocative, edgy, raw movie that wants to mess with the audience’s head. So depending on whether you like to have your head messed with, you might or might not consider this movie to be worth the the grueling experience that it is to watch it. For me, this was a movie of highly diminishing returns, but I will say that it takes a turn in the middle and I won’t give away more than you already have, Steve, but around this moment that you know, she starts to. The protagonist tries to fake her way into this fireman’s life by pretending to be his long-lost son, where at the very least it ceases to be simply a string of serial murders, which is all the first maybe 40 minutes of the movie is. So if you make it that far into this movie, if you want to watch someone murder almost everyone she meets with a knitting needle for 40 minutes, then you will get to a part of the movie that has some unexpected moments of human relationship and a really great performance by Vincent, known as the fireman. It still doesn’t really make much sense dramatically to me, and I really want to hear Isaac, as you know, dramaturge, that you are Isaac. I want to hear what you think of that development in the in the middle section. But I found it really hard to get any empathy going with this main character simply because she’s presented, as you say, Steve as a kind of bad seed from the beginning. Right. We see her as a child played by a child actor, seeming to cause a car accident by her malevolence. And then that car accident, in turn, seems to make her into this metal human hybrid. So it’s this kind of Cronenberg ian thing where she’s attracted to cars and has sex with cars. But I don’t know what motivates her ever. I don’t know what motivates her to murder people or stop murdering people or decide to forge this relationship with this one guy. And I don’t know what how we’re supposed to feel about that relationship. And I guess you could say that that’s Julia do Courtney of the director, writer director shocking me and, you know, get it taking me off balance or something like that. But I I kind of felt over this movie by about an hour in, and I probably would have abandoned it if I weren’t watching it for the Culturefest because I was angry at it for taking me on this journey where I have to see so many gross, horrible things and witness so many murders and and not really understand why in any of it’s happening or what I’m supposed to get out of it. So I guess I would say that this felt to me like an edge lord kind of movie, even though I know it’s trying to be the reverse. I know it’s trying to be all about gender fluidity. And when I read interviews with the director, I think that sounds amazing. I can’t wait to see that movie, but that doesn’t feel like the movie that I saw a movie that’s, you know, all about opening yourself up to different conceptions of gender. It just, to me, felt like a movie that wanted to take your eyeballs and grind them against an Emery board for no apparent reason.
S1: Isaac, were your eyeballs ground against an Emery border?
S2: I mean, there were definitely times where I was cringing so hard that I think my skeleton was visible through my through my skin. I mean,
S3: was it a metal skeleton?
S2: It was a metal skeleton. Yeah, no. I mean, the movie is a visceral experience in every meaning of that of that term, you know, but it is really two different movies and they don’t go together. That’s the thing. You know, there’s the movie of its first 30 45 minutes about the. The serial killer, who also has a metal plate in her head and is impregnated by a Chevrolet and kills people with a knitting needle, and does this are you sure about
S3: the make of the car?
S2: Yes, it says Chevrolet.
S3: Yeah. Eyes are peeled.
S2: And then there’s the movie about that same character kind of going under disguise as this fireman son. There are certain themes that connect them, particularly around gender. I mean, I think a lot of what this movie wants to be about is gender and performance. But there’s also this thing about kind of the human and the post human and, you know, the slipperiness of the South and all this stuff. But but none of it really coheres into anything, you know? I mean, the the the closest comp for me is that movie that Scarlett Johansson movie under the skin. Is that what it was called? You know, it’s sort of reminds me of of that in a lot of ways in which you have this filmmaker who has like a really incredible technical sense and and and and sensational sensibility. I mean, the movie looks amazing, and there’s a number of sequences in it where I was like, Holy shit, how did you film that or think of that? That’s incredible. But also ultimately kind of doesn’t go anywhere or do enough with its ideas was sort of my my feeling about it.
S1: Mm hmm. Yeah. I mean, let me begin by saying upfront that the director is a huge admirer of David Cronenberg, and I agree that she’s what she’s doing with the camera in this movie is extraordinary. I am not a big Cronenberg fan, and body horror is by and large, too gross to me. And secondly, I mean, as was Squid Guin, what is going on in the world that the creators believe that between you and witnessing human decency and tenderness on screen first, you know, you must go over some gigantic hump of alienation, dread and gore. I mean, just outright. I mean, I thought the I Dana would have turned this movie off as well if I weren’t watching it for work. I found it, you know, decadent beyond decadent. The violence was just so fucking over-the-top and so pitiless, and I’m not sure I understand what’s achieved by depicting this person with whom we are. Finally, finally going to get dramatic sympathy form a bond of dramatic sympathy with having them be so radically Nietzsche and like completely beyond could an evil and so totally damaged. And the movie makes an interesting statement upfront by having the little girl pre accident. Be a bad seed, be a kind of super low affect, you know, behaviorally challenged kid in the tiny clip we get of her first. It’s not the accident that makes this kid kind of anti-human in some level or the titanium plate in her head. And but but but think about the cost to the. Themes of the movie by making these two incompatible plots and ethics go together, right, because you’re yoking a story about kind of anti-human ultraviolence, which is the distinctive thing about her in the first part of the movie to a story of gender fluidity and acceptance in ways. The. It’s just it’s just borderline rendered me speechless this movie, it’s it’s got a certain kind of, you know, a moral self-importance to its aesthetic and vibe to get at a point that it could have gotten to Isaac. Another way, I think, which is that this person wants acceptance, wants to exist beyond the, you know, gender imprisonment. You know, that’s been thrust upon her by society. She wants to create a provisional family. I mean, it’s almost as if people are so terrified about how trite those things sound in a world that’s grown is just so jaded as ours that quote unquote earn it first. You have to have her be depicted as a heartless butcher.
S2: Right, right. I mean, you know, it’s interesting because there’s a thing I wrote down while watching it, which is that she manages to smuggle herself into this, this family structure with with the father figure, in part because she kind of embodies because she can’t talk so. But she embodies the kind of ways we think about trauma, and she uses that as part of the Con. So, for example, she doesn’t speak, and they take that to be because the the kidnapped boy that that she is disguising herself as was so traumatized that he’s lost the ability to speak, write, for example, or the way she just sort of response the world. They all misinterpret that as being about the the trauma that that the boy she is masquerading as must have experienced. And I feel like in a weird way, that’s kind of a metaphor for how the movie uses its gender and performance study. Is thematic content right? That, like, is it really about that? All that stuff that you just said, Stephen. I’m not. I’m not sure. Or is it about the kind of riotous technique of of that opening tracking shot and about in how much the director clearly is is is thrilled by these totally bonkers and often beautiful, actually, but totally bonkers images that she’s she’s put together in this film. I mean that, you know, I will agree that that that there’s many things about this movie that I felt provoked and enraged by, you know, but but I often felt like that’s actually what the film’s actually after. It’s not actually after all this the kind of post human post gender stuff that’s coming up in in the interviews. That’s not what it’s really interested in on some level. I mean, it does that stuff. And that’s certainly why if people are talking about a decade from now, they’ll be talking about it. But what it’s really interested in is, you know, the technical aspects of the way it’s filmed in the outrageousness of its content.
S3: Yeah, I wish that there was one of us who had more sympathy toward this movie because first of all, I just like segments where we we don’t completely agree and it doesn’t feel like a pile on. But I think that I’m I’m pretty much with everything that Isaac just said. But then I’m just also thinking about, you know, people’s response to this movie and how many people responded very intensely positively to it. How many tweets that I saw from fellow film critics or film lovers saying, I can’t wait to watch Titane again? It’s the most exciting movie I’ve seen this year, because again, if I saw all this on paper, I am a Cronenberg fan. I mean, I think great Cronenberg is as great as horror movies get, and I appreciate that she is taking it to a different place and using it to think about gender in a different way and with this female protagonist. But that protagonist just doesn’t. That, to me, doesn’t rise to the level of earning my respect like I. I need to care about her more and understand why she committed all those murders in the first place and not have it suddenly turned into a tender family drama about pregnant car babies. So I want somebody to to tell me why I’m wrong and why we’re not looking at this movie, right? And if anybody out there wants to sit through the stomach churning this of 40 minutes of knitting needle murders to get to the juicy part in the middle and explain it to me, I would be grateful.
S2: The one sequence that I would just like really was like, Wow, that’s amazing is the dance scene at the very end, towards the very end of the movie in the firehouse, I was like, Oh, that’s that’s the movie that if the movie was this the whole time, I would think it was a masterpiece. That scene is incredible.
S1: Again, like as as with Squid game, I really want listeners who responded this material to email us and tell us we’re wrong and why. All right, the movie is Titane. It’s only in theaters now. Check it out. But if you can’t, you know, we’re told comes on streaming and and then let us know. Okay? Moving on. All right. Neil McRobert is the host of the Talking Scared podcast, his new piece for Slate is about the final girl trope in horror movies. You know what that is the female lone survivor at the end of a slasher movie? Neil, great piece and welcome to the show.
S2: Thank you for having me and thank you for for like in the piece. You write these things and you never know how it’s going to go.
S1: I know you think that they just float into the ether, but thankfully sometimes they don’t. Can you tell us a little bit about your podcast before we get going?
S2: I’ll keep you very simple. I every week on talking SCAD, I interview a prominent or emerging horror author or horror adjacent. Sometimes it’s it’s a broad church and we speak about their books, their their lives, their inspirations, all of that thing. It’s a kind of deep dive into the workings of of Metcalf creatives.
S1: I love it. OK, well, let’s dive in here. I love, funnily enough, I’d never heard of the final girl trope. But of course, as soon as you hear the phrase, you know exactly what it refers to nonetheless, like give us a little potted history of of the final girl.
S2: The Final Girl is a term that was ostensibly coined by a feminist film critic called Carol Clover. And I think in nineteen nineteen ninety two, I believe, though, don’t quote me on that 91 or 92. She released a book called Men, Women and Chainsaws Gender in the the horror movie, in which she kind of looked to horror cinema and horror media from a feminist standpoint looking for misogyny. All of these things that you know, since then have become very self-referential. We now know about them at the time that was overlooked. And what she kind of really nailed down was this idea of the final girl being the very typical template driven female character who survives the killer’s massacre. And whilst I think what she revealed was that while it’s very easy on a on a surface level to think of a film like Halloween and as as easily feminist because it’s about a woman overcoming male rage, in fact, it’s much more complex than that because these women are pigeonholed massively as largely asexual. They issue all kinds of salacious behavior that they’re very, very good girls, and they often have male names. So as Laurie in Halloween, all the way through to Sydney in Wes Craven’s Scream, they have male names which which decentralise them. And in my opinion, as I say, Michael, I think it was a kind of an conservative Trojan horse that was slit inside a media that was largely aimed at young people. I think it was a kind of secret guide to how to be a good girl within this otherwise very extreme media.
S1: I love it. I mean, I love among the many things you said that that I love is this idea that, you know, genre pictures happen upon a set of conventions, academics abstract from them to a thesis about those conventions, and then genre picture makers assimilate the academics observation in a better way and ironical way into what they’re doing, almost to inoculated against what might be misogynistic or patriarchal or otherwise, you know, unsavory about them. I mean, the great example you gave is in Scream, the Wes Craven classic you, as you say, it ushered the slasher into a phase of heightened self-awareness. It explicitly laid out the genre’s puritanical, simple rules have sex. You die, take drugs. You die.
S2: Yeah, and you just put that in a really beautiful way. I I spent many years writing a book about self-referential tendencies in horror. And and I don’t think I ever quite pull the processes as succinctly as you just did. You just got Metcalf. There you go is a skill. Yeah, I mean, Craven’s scream remains even now the kind of high watermark of of self-referential reality and and that that beautiful tightrope between parody and pastiche, between deconstructing the genre whilst also perpetuating the genre. And that’s why you know that everyone still refers back to scream just as the kind of the key text. But the two books that I mention in the piece I wrote for Slate, in my opinion, are quite genuinely the first texts in any media to to push that conversation along. Because I talk about two books. Basically, eBooks came out this summer, one by Grady Hendrix called the Final Girl Support Group, the other by Stephen Graham Jones, who was a phenomenal horror writer. And that one is. Hold my heart is a chainsaw. And they they both take the final girl as a trope that we understand implicitly, and then we look at them in a different context and these films normally provide. And for me, I can go into more detail about them. But for me, what they do that Craven didn’t do in Scream is they bring. Earnestness and meaning back into that parody, because where a scream is an exercise in intellect and humor in many ways, the two books I just mentioned really drive home the fact that these are books about women being harmed and haunted and traumatized, and that has to mean something more than just fan service. Yet, you know, one thing your article really brought up is the great lengths that they seem to feel are necessary to make us sympathize with a woman who’s being hunted by a man like it’s not enough to be a woman being hunted by a man. That’s not enough to make her sympathetic in order for her to be sympathetic at the end. There has to be this sort of elaborate, you know, series of very restrictive tropes that the character has to pass through in order to make us finally root for her, which is a very strange and chilling thing to spend some time thinking about. And it sounds like Stephen Graham Jones, the Grady Hendrix actually spent quite a bit of time thinking about that as they kind of constructed these books. Well, very. I mean, that that is a lot to impart. That’s a really kind of interesting way to look at it. I mean, I’ll say a few things that I’ll say it briefly. I have to be very careful. First of all, because I’m somebody, you know, who is, you know, proud to be part of the horror community. And I don’t think I made explicit enough in my piece that I genuinely do not believe that if you read a horror novel or watch a horror film that you are in any way kind of damaged or wrong or anything like that, it’s a thing that’s thrown at horror fans a lot that there must be something wrong with you. You know, bull, you still have to confront the facts. And I asked Grady about this. You have to confront the fact that particularly with the slasher subgenre, not only are these films predicated on the victimization of women, they are also films that are almost always at the more lightweight end of the horror spectrum. They’re often not very weighty at all. They are simple propositions man with knife or the phallic objects chasing woman, you know? And we are we are conditioned to treat that narrative format, as, you know, very lightweight entertainment. So that’s that’s not a problem, but something we have to really question. I think and what both of these books do is ask that question. Grady’s eBook looks at these final girls as if they were real years after the events that you know, that brutalized them and say, Look, you know, this stuff does not end when the credits roll. Trauma lives on, and it explores that aspect of it. And Stephen’s book, I would argue, even more profoundly looks at what the real lived trauma of many, many women around the world is and says, that’s the real horror. We don’t need to create this spectacle. You know, there’s one part in the book where the protagonist jade the great victories that she realizes she does not need to and aspire to the template of the final girl because her life is already so much harder and has already made her a much greater hero than those films ever could. And so, yeah, they they stay in a lot. They are still on both books to wrestle with exactly the point you made.
S3: Neil, I’m wondering, you say that this is these two books are to you as a as a longtime horror fan and somebody who’s been working on horror in a scholarly way for a long time. They’re the first time that you’ve seen this final girl trope get twisted in this way. And I’m just wondering going back to its history in the movies, if there are any particular places that you would point viewers to, where are the most, most remarkable final girls in movies, whether because, you know, they adhere so classically to all the rules of the form or because they break the form? You know, like where are the signpost final girls in horror movie history?
S2: Right? Well, for a start, the piece I put together makes the claim that these final girls are incredibly reductive. That’s not actually quite as generally true as I’ve made out for the purposes of kind of brevity. There are kind of outliers, and weirdly, one of the first outliers is one of the very first final girls. And that’s the gimmick was the name of the characters kind of escapes me. But back in the film, Black Christmas, which is often considered the first true slasher, is a film set in a sorority house over Christmas, when and a guy is basically taunting these women, these young women. And the final girls in that are they really do break the mold because they do drink, they do have sex, they do take drugs, all of those things. And and it feels kind of like a protocol version of the final girl, the everyone else’s key final girl, the one that really, you know, is the would be on the poster is Laurie Strode, Jamie Lee Curtis from Halloween. She is the typical type and. If you’ll allow me, I’ll come back here in a second. Going on further, you’ve got Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street. And again, who fits the mold? She’s very kind of go next door, but in an asexual way. The one that really I think a lot of kind of modern listeners will be aware of is Sidney Prescott from Scream, who is aware of the rules and kind of Willow empowered by the rules to fight back. She still has a lot of those tropes. Her name is masculine, ized, her clothing is and is very conservative, all of that stuff. But she’s armed with some knowledge of what’s going on, and I think that makes a difference. But very briefly to go back to Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. The really interesting thing with her is that with the recent kind of reckoning of the Halloween franchise, then David Gordon Green’s Halloween on Halloween Kills, which is coming out very soon. They basically cleared the table and said that the last, like eight sequels of the franchise don’t exist. We’re going back to what happened after the first and second movies. And she’s the only final girl I can really think of who stature has grown to rival the man with the mask or to rival the villain who is the person that we normally mythologized. But the marketing around the new Halloween films, I would say prioritize Laurie over Michael, and for me, that’s a really important step forward.
S1: Well, Neil McRobert is the host of Talking Scared podcast. Neil, this was a tremendous, tremendously good segment pegged to your tremendously good piece. That piece is the final girl breaks out. It’s up on Slate now by Neil McRobert. Neil, thanks so much. This was a great segment.
S2: Well, thank you very much. I’ve really enjoyed it.
S1: All right, now is the moment in our podcast when we endorse Dana. What do you have?
S3: Steve, I’m going to start off my EndorsementsThe with a little response to the the reader response to our third segment last week, which was about eBooks. First of all, I wanted to say that that eBooks segment was my idea. I brought it in to our weekly meeting about what our topics would be after reading an article in The Atlantic by Ian Bogost. That was the piece we were discussing titled eBooks are an abomination, which, by the way, is not how I would have titled our segment. And I wanted to just address some of the reader pushback that we got, some of which I think is legitimate and some of which I think isn’t so. First of all, I want to make clear that that segment was not meant to, nor do I think it did in practice, dismiss eBooks or the people who read them. We weren’t trying to say, if you read eBooks, you’re not really reading or those aren’t really books. My idea was to sort of investigate why eBooks have not taken over the market, why they didn’t do the thing that some people feared they would 15 years ago, or whenever they started to become a thing and take over the market that that print books currently occupy. Why have they not risen above 11 percent of the books sold in America? But one of the criticisms that some listeners wrote in with is that to dismiss eBooks is to be ablest, and I think that they have a point there, and that is something that we should have addressed more completely. It’s something that I was trying to gesture toward in that segment when I talked about my mom, who in her late 70s, early 80s, started switching over to eBooks and reads eBooks sort of interchangeably with regular books. Now that’s not necessarily related to disability. My mom’s not disabled, but she is older, and I’m sure it’s related in part to her vision and not wanting to lug around a lot of heavy books, etc. So several people wrote in to say things like, You know, I read on eBooks because I have tendonitis, one person said, and can’t hold a regular eBook. Other people had vision issues. All of those obviously are completely legitimate reasons to read books electronically. And another thing people wrote in about that, I think is just unrelated is audiobooks. And why didn’t we talk about audiobooks? And that maybe is just a question of, you know, it’s a whole separate segment. The piece that we were talking about was specifically about electronic reading. Audiobooks are obviously something completely different that harks back, as one listener pointed out in their email to an oral tradition. And I know if you’ve been listening to the show for a while, you know that I’m a huge fan of audiobooks. In fact, that leads me to the closest thing I have to an endorsement. I don’t want to take up all this segment just talking about the response to the eBooks segment. But I did listen to a great audiobook this week that I wanted to point listeners to. It’s a memoir by Alan Cumming, the actor, singer, queer activist. I think everybody knows who Alan Cumming is a beloved figure in show business, and he wrote a beautiful, beautiful memoir in 2014 called Not My Father’s Son. That is a very unexpected memoir from him. It’s not a showbusiness kind of memoir. He actually has a new one out, which I’m reviewing for The New York Times, which is why I went back to listen to this older one. And and it turns out that Alan Cumming had this absolutely brutally traumatic childhood that he miraculously survived and, you know, managed to become a happy and successful person in his life. I won’t give away much about it, but it’s essentially about his sadistic father and the very violent childhood that he had in rural Scotland and how he grew up and got out of that world. It’s narrated by Alan Cumming in his wonderful Scottish accent, and he’s just such charming company and actually a very funny writer, even though he’s writing about some very grim things. So it’s called Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming. If you want to just have a lullaby like Scottish Voice, tell you a pretty harrowing story. But before we go to the next endorsement, I just wonder if either of you have any thoughts on this, this eBooks question that got such listeners so riled up.
S2: Yeah. I mean, you know, I read eBooks, as I said in that segment, you know, I mean, it’s not a majority of my reading, but it’s probably like a quarter of my reading. I read eBooks. I have a bad back, so I don’t like carrying around huge hardcover books. My father, as he ages his eyesight, has gotten worse and worse, and he exclusively reads eBooks on his iPad with the font at the maximum size. Now, because that’s that’s how he can read. I do also think, you know, of course, for the three of us as writers, one of the reasons why we became writers is because of the romance we had with the physical object of the book as children. You know, I mean, l most every writer I know had that experience. And it’s and so, you know, for what we’re really talking about is sort of the different aspects of these, these experiences. And I guess what some of the positives and negatives of both of them are. I am actually going to recommend two things. The first of which will be in e-book form. I’ve had a lot of trouble sleeping lately, and I don’t really want to turn on the light because it’ll wake my wife up. And so I’ve been on nighttime mode, making my way through the eBooks of Ursula Gwen’s collected novellas all. She collected her novellas into a very large tome called The Found and the Lost. They are amazing, she says in her introduction that she actually thinks the novella is what she’s best at, and it was her favorite form to work in. And I think maybe she’s not wrong. Particularly the second half of the collection is just like one stunningly beautiful story about people trying to repair the world after another. I mean it. It’s just an unbelievable collection of work. I probably would not have read it in its actual, you know, original eBook form because it’s just too big and my my hands and back would eventually suffer from reading it. And I’d have to turn on a light and wake my wife up, which I don’t want to do. So that that I think is a really, really great book that I’m happy to recommend in terms of our theme for this week are sort of shadow theme of Halloween. I must, must must recommend this is a friend’s book, so take that with a grain of salt. But I must recommend Jason Zinoman shock value, which is a history based on very deep reportage and a love of the form and a almost comprehensive knowledge of horror cinema. It’s about the kind of horror auteurs of the 70s, like Wes Craven and John Carpenter, and how they change horror cinema and ushered in what we know of as horror. Today, it is so good and so well reported and filled with juicy details and lots of, you know, opinionated writing men, women and Chainsaws makes an appearance in it. You will learn so much about horror movies and come to love them more through reading it. I just highly recommend it.
S1: All right, so I’m going to keep it so simple this week and recommend three songs. I love them each in very different ways. The first is the old Leeds band The Wedding Present. The Widows love those guys. They had a song I didn’t know. It’s kind of a monster rock, so I think of them as the quintessentially sort of, you know, post Velvet Underground, understated indie rockers know. I think kind of late 70s, early 80s was their heyday. They had a song called Blue Eyes. Oh, it’s great. Maybe it was the play for a bigger sound and more commercial airplane, I just didn’t know that phase of their career didn’t know that song is so good. It just it just it just totally totally rocks. And then I would describe Courtney in Barnett, maybe as you were swept up. I wish you were a friend of the program. I I think she’s sort of a friend of the program. She’s a friend of a. This is what she is. She’s a friend of a friend of the program. Her I know her partner listens to us, and that’s how we connected with them, both delightfully down in Australia. She has a cover of the old Velvet Underground song. Speaking of them. I’ll be your mirror that just slaps. It’s so good. I mean, it actually almost literally slaps her. She’s playing it on a whatever acoustic guitar she’s playing on. That is just a great instrument. It just is is resonant and sensitive to the touch. And she kind of this is not quite the right word, sort of banging it in a way, but like with total control, it’s just this really percussive style of playing a good old like, I don’t know, Gibson J. 45 that just brings out it’s it’s it’s tonality is.
S3: I’ve bonded whores.
S1: Her singing is beautiful, and it is just it is a truly, truly great, stripped down acoustic cover of I’ll Be Your Mirror. And then finally, I this just proves what an open mind I have. The children of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett are making music that I liked, that I’m not afraid to admit I like Willow. Do you guys know Willow this song? Meet me at our spot?
S3: No, no, it’s old.
S1: I know. And so am I. But this makes me marginally younger to listen to this song here.
S4: So good. I’m older. I’ll be so much stronger. I’ll stay up. Courtney Barnett,
S1: meet me at our spot is a really great pop song, you should check it out. It’s wonderful, Isaac. We get you again next week.
S2: Next week, I’m really looking forward to it.
S1: Superb. I’ve not had my fill. You’re one of the OG flops and Dana, as always. Just a complete pleasure.
S3: It was. I love the conversation this week. I didn’t really like almost any of the art we were talking about, but I loved our conversations about it.
S1: I know it proves that that total non correlation once again right, the thing under discussion and the quality of the discussion. No, no link there whatsoever. OK. You will find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page that Slate.com slash Culturefest. Please email us. The emails have been great, like they spur us on to further thoughts and conversations like the eBooks one. Email us at Culturefest at Slate.com. We really do love it. We try to respond to everybody. Our production assistant is Nadira Goff. Our producer is Cameron Dru’s for Isaac Butler and Dana Stevens. I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. This is a good one. We’ll see you soon.
S4: Something I’ll show.
S3: Hello and welcome to the slut plus segment of our show, this is the bonus segment for those of you who are members of Slate Plus, we really appreciate your membership and your support, and we try to bring something a little bit different and more personal to this segment. This week, we’re going to talk about representations of parenthood in art. This comes from a listener question from a listener named Hannah. Or maybe Hannah. I’m not sure how she pronounces it. Thank you for the question. It’s a good one. I’m going to start, I guess, with you, Isaac. And I think that we were saying before we started rolling that for the moment, we have more to say about representations of parenthood we don’t like than than ones that we do. So you want to start with your least favorite?
S2: I just really, you know, I have to watch a lot of children’s movies because we have a Friday night pizza movie night with our with our daughter and I just oh, the way the dads are depicted in American mainstream animated films drives me up the wall. Probably the the worst offender is the dinner sequence, an inside out, a scene that ruins the entire film. For me, I find the movie unwatchable where we zoom in to the dad’s consciousness and he’s not paying attention to any one thing anyone is saying because he’s so focused on sports, and it’s just the laziest fuckin portrayal of what dads are like. And I guess maybe this is an identity politics thing. It’s it’s like speaking as a dad. It just drives me crazy. Pixar is really bad on that front in a lot of ways, even though I love those movies. So, you know, I just wish. I mean, even the recent Mitchells vs. the Machines, which is a very fun movie. You know, the dad is still an outdoorsy guy who doesn’t listen to anyone and is stubborn and is kind of a man child and can’t identify with his kids. It’s just such a tired series of tropes that we’ve been dealing with for decades. Let’s let’s do something else for the love of God. But in terms of representations of childhood and parenting of children and stuff like that, you know, if we’re talking about movies, Studio Ghibli knocks it out of the park with this stuff again and again and again. I think even though it’s often from the children’s point of view, you know, a movie like The Secret World of Area E.T., for example, which is based on the borrowers. You know, the relationship of the parents of trying to like, make do and take care of their child and survive is really beautiful. There’s, of course, the The Dad and My Neighbor Totoro. You know, the way that parenthood and the the child parent relationships is is handled in those movies I actually find really delicate and well-observed and beautiful. I do think to our letter writers point because there are quite a lot of their questions about sort of like what is the thing you would assign for someone who’s about to have a kid? I do think the experience of early parenthood of the first couple years of being a parent is kind of underrepresented in in in books and film. I am I wrong about that, folks?
S3: Yeah, I think that’s true, especially when it comes to motherhood. It seems like motherhood is so centralized, right? I mean, in culture in general, but in the way that is represented in movies, I feel like all you’re supposed to take away from here is a woman with a baby is one of two things it’s either the Babadook and it’s some sort of horror. Or, you know, she’s having some sort of violent fantasy in a horror movie, or it’s a completely idealized Norman Rockwell glowing, you know, a completely happy bonding experience. Right? This sort of messy difficulties of having a baby and the way that your identity is divided between what it was before and what it’s becoming as you learn to be a parent, that’s not something that is very well depicted in certainly movies, I don’t think.
S1: Yeah, I agree. Not at all. And it’s it’s it would almost almost be impossible to depict it either accurately or or in a dramatically interesting way. In some sense. I mean, it’s so in one sense, it’s a set of routines, you know, over and over and over again, like feeding diaper changing on and on with this semi inert, you know, object or whatever. You know, just getting them to walking and talking is itself, you know, is this the immense labor of love, love the soul and on and on? And you’re right, and you spoke to that so beautifully. I mean, you become two people all of a sudden the person you were and the person you are and will forever be right. I mean, is this the obligation you never walk away from? Couldn’t imagine walking away from and and a bunch of. I was surprised at how no titles occurred to me, and then suddenly a bunch occurred to me, none of which are about that, that first 18 months to two years. Let me just throw them out, you know, a few years ago, Julia endorsed this movie. Definitely. Maybe a romcom that is very intelligent about divorce and the relationship between the two people separating and their relationship to the kid. It’s for a rom com, strangely searching and honest about what would it. What it might mean to a child to have parents decide to go their separate ways and what the father might do, even in the course of falling in love with someone new to make that not grievously wounded to the kid? I thought it was a strangely wise movie. I saw it soon after she recommended it, so it was 10 or so years ago, but my memory of it is of a of a surprisingly astute movie. Another one is the is the movie that I think sort of gets forgotten because it was made before Marriage Story. You know, we broke. Noah Baumbach is, you know, the great indie filmmaker The Meyerowitz Stories new and collected. You know it. It got a four. I think a four minute standing ovation at Cannes, I think won one of the big prizes, if not the Palme d’Or. Or maybe he won for director. And and and then kind of fizzled and went nowhere. And deservedly, it’s it’s it’s very, very funny and very sharp, especially on the issue of what it’s like to have a narcissistic, narcissistic parent, which is sort of what white whales, you know, took Baumbach white whales were to Melville, you know, sort of failed narcissist artist or writer for a parent is a theme that he comes back to over and over and over again. And it’s this excruciatingly well drawn portrait of of that with Dustin Hoffman playing the sculptor who just can’t accustom himself to not having had the career he felt he deserved back in the 70s when he was emerging with a bunch of other people who became art stars and how that is just placed a fucking millstone around two half-brothers, heads and how they’re trying to work that out with one another. Belatedly really smart about that. In other words, The Meddler, a movie that came and went with Rose Byrne and Susan Sarandon, Sarandon portraying, I think, quite well, the neediness of a of a parent who’s older with a kid who’s fully an adult and how the roles reversed. And in this infantile way, you need now need something desperately, emotionally from this person that you poured so much life into. And then very quickly, like two completely obvious ones, the portrayal the Toni Collette gives in Sixth Sense sort of been forgotten because now all we talk about is how predictably unpredictable what’s his face’s movies are. But The Sixth Sense really quite a successful genre picture, have been a billion dollars for a reason that was really well done, but her performance was tremendous. The anguished parent of the not right kid I thought was was really made me aware of who she was and what a, you know, extraordinary talent she is. And then there’s just that. I know this is so mawkish, but it still rings so true to me. There’s that scene at the end of Terms of Endearment, where Debra Winger has to say goodbye to her own children. There’s that kid, angry kid who has withheld himself so defensively and self-protective protectively from his mother even before. It’s like a boy. A boy has a part of this in their relationship with their mother, I think almost no matter what. Right? Like, like, I’m going to have to develop apart from and hidden from her at some point, and that’s going to be frightening. And. And that scene where she says goodbye to him still to me, just leaves me right in half, you know, and what she says to him in that speech, I won’t give it away. But but I mean, anyone who’s seen that movie will remember it. And it’s so it’s just incredible. Like, I mean, just it is an astonishing act of political forgiveness.
S2: You know, one eBook that I that I think of that came out last year, I guess, is Jessica Winter’s the fourth child, which it gets at something about motherhood that both of you were discussing. Obviously, I’ve never been a mother, but you know, it gets at something about the like. Who am I other than an extension of my kids who are my kids other than an extension of me? Like how do we differentiate and become people and accept that? And you know, all of those things in a really, really beautiful and intense way? It’s a really, really stunning book about a woman who a woman who gets gets pregnant and marries very young, right? And then it sort of flashes forward to she has, you know, three adolescent kids, and she and she adopts a fourth child from Romania as a sort of Christian mission kind of deal. And the child is it’s very problematic in a number of ways, and it’s about her kind of reckoning with how it is changing who she is and how it changes all of her dynamics with everyone else in the family. It’s just a really beautiful, beautiful, fascinating, rich, complicated novel that I highly recommend.
S3: Oh yeah, that’s such a good one, Isaac. And that was that was the first book I read in 2021, and it blew me away. I mean, it’s so good writing. Yeah.
S2: Oh my god. Yeah.
S3: And it is also about aspects of the domestic experience that are not that often portrayed. I mean, it’s it’s well into the book that she adopts the Romanian orphan, and that kind of action starts. And up until then, there’s a lot that really is just about being a young, frazzled mother in the suburbs and the kind of life that is usually not depicted in fiction or movies because it’s sort of to every day to be worth noticing,
S1: say the title again.
S2: The Fourth Child by Jessica Winter, who’s an editor at The New Yorker.
S1: Of course, the friend of this program, good friend of this program,
S2: easily one of the best books I’ve read this year,
S3: for sure. I totally agree, Isaac, as you were talking, I did think of a couple titles to throw to that. I think answer this question about showing parenting on film, although in one case, at least, it’s more a movie about kids. It’s just it’s striking to me that a lot of my favorite movies of all time have child protagonists, but those child protagonists tend to be kind of unmoored from their parents the way in fairy tales, right? The kid sort of has no parents, or at least symbolically seems to be operating alone. But one of my all time favorite movies that has two child protagonists also has a really fascinating father figure and relationship with the father. So I’ll do that as my fatherhood movie, and then I’ll do a motherhood movie. The fatherhood movie is the 1932 Ozu movie I was born, but have either of you seen I was born?
S2: But no, no, no. I thought you were going to say Night of the Hunter as your as your one with your two kids protagonists and a fascinating father figure. It’s like, Is this going to be Nadira the Hunter?
S3: No, I’m not going to go down that road because when we talked about so much slashing and killing this, I mean, there certainly are great parables about parenthood and violence, right? And Night of the Hunter would be one. And The Babadook, which I started off the segment with would be one. But I don’t want to talk about like the dark fantasies like, I’m interested in actual depictions of normal living parents that are not being chased by slashers and their children and trying to think of some, some good examples of that. So I was born, but is a silent movie because movies were silent in Japan longer than they were in the U.S. even though it’s 1932, it is silent, but it’s one of those movies that you don’t remember as silent because the characters are so vibrant, you swear you could hear their voices in your mind. It’s the story of these two little boys in the suburbs of Tokyo, and they’re played by little boys. It’s not one of those things where, you know, a 12 year old is playing an eight year old or something. There’s two little kids. Probably one is, I don’t know, seven or so, and the other is about 10. And and it’s just about their wanderings. It’s about them getting in fights with bullies and skipping out on school and getting in trouble for that and looking up to their father, but also being at times ashamed of their father, who is this sort of, you know, classic post-war Japanese salary man who’s who’s very much submissive to his boss and the boys hate to observe that I don’t want to give away. It’s a very sort of meandering story, but it’s one of the best depictions of childhood ever. And the father, who’s played by Tatsuo Saito, a very familiar face in Japanese cinema for decades, is really fantastic. So I was born, but for the depiction of parenthood, but mainly just because it’s an incredible, incredible movie with two great child performances in it and in the motherhood movie is on the other end of the kind of snobbishness spectrum from a silent Japanese film from 1932. It’s Mamma Mia! Which is one of my favorite films to watch with my daughter and I think is one of the best depictions of a mother daughter relationship. I absolutely love Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried in this movie. I completely believe they’re related. I understand their whole back story just from the way they relate to each other. And there’s this song, this absolutely tear jerking song where it’s the eve of the Amanda Seyfried character’s wedding. She ends up not getting married that day, but we don’t know that in the movie yet. And there’s just a moment where it will. It’s an Abbott jukebox musical, of course, right? So there’s a moment that Meryl Streep is on her own singing this song about letting go of her daughter and kind of looking through her daughter’s things. And it’s just so intense. Like, I remember watching it as a mother of a much younger child. I guess that movie came out when my kid was, I don’t know, four or something like that and already feeling like I had had that experience like, Oh, I identify. With his experience of the mom who’s about to give her daughter away in marriage, you know, it was almost this prolific kind of thing where I felt like that had already happened to me and mom and me has just had such a surprisingly long life right for such a cheesy throwaway musical that was so kind of lovingly dismissed as utter chaff when it came out. It’s proven, so long lived. I’ve been to children’s birthday parties that are completely themed around Mamma Mia! With dress up in karaoke to Mamma Mia, etc. it. It appeals to little kids, even though it’s about mainly about middle aged women’s love lives. And it’s just wonderful. Mamma mia, i can’t get enough. All right, well, I’m curious if listeners have any recommendations, I’m sure there’s something I’m missing, I’m sure there is a great classic movie about parenting a small child out there, and I’m just not able to think of it. It just all seems like it gets so idealized. So please, listeners, point us toward your favorite movie. eBook TV show other work of art about parenting. And thanks so much, Hannah, for writing in with that really interesting question. And if any of you listeners out there have ideas for Future Slate Plus segment, please always do. Feel free to email us at Culturefest at Slate.com. For Isaac Butler and Stephen Metcalf, I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks so much for subscribing to Slate Plus, and we’ll talk to you next week.