Eng 363 / Essay #1
On the surface, Ginger Snaps can be easily dismissed by critics as a typical B-rated teen-turned-werewolf movie. What distinguishes this movie from other horror films, however, is its subversion of the traditional perspective of its genre. The transformation in the film is suffered by Ginger Fitzgerald, a sixteen-year-old girl. This lycanthropy coincides with Ginger's first menstrual period, making the subject matter metaphorical for the often fearful transition into the sexuality and identity formation of adulthood. Moreover, the relationship between Ginger and her sister Brigitte deteriorates in such a way that is also emblematic of the human psycheÕs conflicts. As their paths diverge in the film, each sister is confronted with the instincts of love and death or aggression; Eros and Thanatos in Freud's terms. The focus here will be to view these salient themes in Ginger Snaps through the lens of Freudian analysis. More specifically, this paper will analyze the psychical conflict due to complications of the instinct toward love or aggression, as represented in the metaphorical transition into adolescence and the relationship between the two sisters.
Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald share a close relationship that becomes challenged as the narrative progresses. Ginger, who is a year older, is the more dominant, while Brigitte takes a more subordinate role. Both girls are late bloomers, and in Freudian terms, their outlooks and relationship with one another can be seen as the result of an extension of their latency periods. The girls do not deal well with their transition into adolescencethey recognize the budding sexuality of their peers and are themselves located between the latency and genital phases. The girls hold a particular hostility toward their unaware, but doting mother Pamela, and seem indifferent toward their father Henry. Their attachment toward one another is a type of displacement of Oedipal affection, since at times they nurture each other like parental figures. In one of the earlier scenes for example, Ginger protects Brigitte from bullying by a classmate during a field hockey game in gym class. Ginger reacts to the aggressors like a female animal would in protection of her young. Overall, the girls' strained relationship with their parents and peers explains some of their dependence upon one another, and symbolizes on a Freudian level a disturbance in their psycho-sexual stages of development. This dysfunction of the girls' Oedipal Complex is a precursor to the conflicts that arise for the sisters throughout the narrative.
The sisters' macabre bond is formed by a general apathy toward life, hostility toward societal conventions, sexual norms, and aggression toward other people and even themselves. The girls displace their instinctual sexual drives in a fascination with death, as exemplified in the subject matter of their shared artistic endeavor. The film's opening credits, for example, reveal images of the sister's death projecta series of photographs that show the girls in dead, mutilated positions due to staged suicides, impalements, decapitations and theatrical violent accidents. They also entertain a suicide pact which they made at the age of 8, of which their slogan is, "Out by 16 or dead in this scene, but together forever."
Ginger and Brigitte are characterized in such a way that allows a Freudian interpretation to view them as separate faculties of one psyche. As the film progresses, and Ginger's transformation into a werewolf becomes more complete, the sisters' divergent paths and what they represent on a Freudian level are developed. Brigitte's attempt to save and protect her sister represent the "reason and common sense" of ego, while Ginger's physical and emotional change "contains the passions" of the id (The Ego and the Id, Freud 636). In this view, the characterization of the super-ego is less obvious, though the attributes of this faculty can be defined as all the forces outside of the sisters' relationshipthe social conventions, expectations and rules of their gender, home, school and peers. In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud says "the cultural development of the group and that of the cultural development of the individual, are always interlocked some of the manifestations and properties of the super-ego can be more easily detected in its behaviour in the cultural community than in the separate individual" (769). Therefore, societal forces serve as an apt representation of the super-ego in the film.
To view Ginger, Brigitte, and their community as psychical functions is further compounded by the film's emphasis on "parts," and the fragility of those parts in relation to the whole and to the eventual outcome of the narrative. The girls are first presented to the audience as kindred spirits, an inseparable unit that foreshadows their inevitable separation. Additionally, their shared basement bedroom is stylistically symmetrical, and the cinematography frames it as such. Their death project photographs also emphasize the idea of "parts" and suggest the duality of how they view their own bodiesthey are both disengaged and fascinated.
Ginger's transformation and her role as Id
The bond between the girls is challenged by Ginger's simultaneous transformation into both a woman and a werewolf. This transformation is a point of high symbolism for Freudian analysis, since sexuality and libido are the source of psychical neurosis. Ginger's menstruation is met with contention"Kill yourself to be different and your own body screws you!" Immediately after Ginger gets "the curse" and menstrual blood trickles down her leg, she is attacked and dragged into the woods by a monstrous beast during a full moon. After this point, a rift develops between the sisters within a span of 28-days. This temporal cycle is important because it marks the complete phase of the moon, a full menstrual cycle and the catalyst of lycanthropy. The connection between the moon and the menstrual cycle enforces the change into werewolf, and also suggests that these changes are something inevitable and fearful. After the attack and moment of menstruation, each sister begins to align herself with a specific faculty of the psyche and instinctual drive. Symbolically, Ginger's transformation aligns her with the instincts of the id, while Brigitte takes on the ego role. Though both girls' instincts can be related to different phases of Eros (sexual versus "aim-inhibited"), Ginger's sexual and aggressive instincts are more problematic because of her lycanthropism.
The type of love that the sisters share for one another is initially "aim-inhibited." Freud recognizes this kind of love as "fully sensual love" that has been sublimated into another formsuch as affection between relativesin order to preserve the psyche and civilized society (Civilization and its Discontents 744). Ginger's aim-inhibited love changes due to the "monstrous" force within her. This force is derivative of the id and the Eros instinct and is reverted to the sexual love required by the genital phase that she now enters. Though the movie is an exaggeration of sexual desire gone awry, it is accurate in dramatizing the uncomfortable, often traumatizing induction into adolescence and adult sexuality. Whereas Ginger once scoffed at the overt sexuality of her peers and the come-hither stares and comments of her male classmates, she now acts out her sexuality in an extreme manner. She develops a grandiose sense of bravado and becomes highly moody, aggressive and unpredictable. Her body also changesshe is sprouting body-hair, talons and even a tail.
The tail, a phallic figure, makes two important appearances in the film. The first shows Brigitte helping Ginger tape the tail to her leg, to hide it during gym class. This act is essential to a Freudian reading of the film because it is symbolic of Ginger's sexual aggression and the impossibility of it existing out in the open without consequence. It is necessary for Ginger's safety, as well as that of her classmates, that the tail (phallus, sexual aggression) remain hidden (repressed) in an effort to remove, repress or "castrate" her aggressive instinct entirely. The fact that Brigitte is helping her is also important because she is here an enabler to Ginger's repression, but is also the only one who can possibly save her. Brigitte is a foil to Ginger's charactershe represents the delay of sexual genital love because has not yet been initiated into womanhood.
The second appearance of the tail occurs in a later scene which shows Ginger trying to cut it off. The tail is an emblematic source of her monstrous aggression, as well as her inability to integrate into adult sexuality and society. Moreover, the fact that she tries to "castrate" it can be read as a symbolic gesture on Ginger's part to disengage from so-called "penis envy." It is also symptomatic of a drive toward aggression (Thanatos) that is internalized and directed against the self. What is notable here is that Ginger's Eros instinct of genital love comes into conflict with the Thanatos instinct toward self-destruction and aggression. Freud explains that "the instinct of destruction is habitually brought into the service of Eros" and "in a number of circumstances hate changes into love and love into hate" (The Ego and the Id, 646-647). The opposition of these two classes of instinct is in part what contributes to psychical and social turmoil.
The conflict of sex and aggression in Ginger's transformation is a result of the werewolf virus, but what does it say about her sexuality in Freudian terms? The nature of her sexuality seems traditionally male, as witnessed in her first sexual encounter with Jason McCarty, the school's resident pig-headed playboy. Ginger is extremely aggressive during their coital scene in the backseat of a car
J: Take it easy, we got all night. Just lie back and relax.
G: You lie back and relax!
J: (laughing) Who's the guy here?
G: (angrily) Who's the guy here? (she straddles him into submission) You're fucking hilarious, cave boy.
This scene subverts the role of traditional female sexuality, which explains some of GingerÕs conflict on a symbolic level. In order for her to live within societal expectations, she must suppress her sexual desire and shift her "instinctual aims in such a way that they cannot come up against frustration from the external world" (Civilization and its Discontents, Freud 731). This suggests that Ginger's inability to sublimate her instincts and to engage in a socially acceptable, feminine (passive) sexuality is the symbolic source of her conflict.
After Ginger returns from her foray with Jason McCarty, she says to Brigitte, "I get this ache and thought it was for sex, but it's to tear everything into fucking pieces." Here, the id has taken a dominant role in Ginger and her ambivalence or "coexistence of love and hate" toward her object-choices are exaggerated (Class Reader 1). The vision of sex that is portrayed in the film is one of danger, violence and impulse. Ginger may have been inducted into womanhood, but her ambivalence and her contradictory feelings toward sex have been magnified. A growing dominance of the id becomes clear in her character, as she frequently gives in to her base urges. It is important to note that she is depicted as being simply unable to do anything other than satisfy her desires. Her instinct is beyond reason, as if the "reality principle" that helps sublimate the drives of the id is weakened or non-existent.
Brigitte as Ego
Brigitte undergoes a more subtle change that parallels Ginger's transformation from human to werewolf and girl to woman. During one of the many Fitzgerald family dinners, Ginger storms away from the table during a tantrum. Brigitte gets up to follow her, but is stopped by Pamela who says, "You just do whatever she wants you to do, you always have, I wish you'd start thinking for yourself more." Here, Pamela assumes a kind of super-ego role, which chastises the choices of the ego for its inability to control the whims of the id.
This attitude changes when Brigitte, for what is presumably the first time in their relationship, has to take charge in order to save her sister. She monitors Ginger's transformation and seeks help from Sam, the town drug dealer. This is significant because Brigitte seeks help outside of their exclusive bond. Since the ego is that regulating function or filter to the external world, it is fitting to view Brigitte as the ego counter-part within the pair.
Brigitte's love for her sister remains an aim-inhibited love. Because Brigitte has not reached puberty (the genital phase), her love is not subjected to the kind of unsublimated impulses that Ginger acts out. BrigitteÕs continued sublimation of her own erotic instinct allows her to function as a representative of the drive toward preservation. She takes on the ego role by being the force of reason and accountability. As ego representative, Brigitte serves as a moderator for the super-ego forces of social relations in the film. When classmate/nemesis Trina Sinclair is accidentally killed during a scuffle in the Fitzgerald's kitchen, it is Brigitte who master-minds the cover up and plan of action. This scene exemplifies the problematic fact that the super-ego force of the film often shifts. Aside from this moment, however, it is the exterior worldthe one from which Brigitte must protect Gingerthat serves as the super-ego.
The sisters as cinematic representation of the Eros and Thanatos
Freud attributes the purpose and struggle of life to the conflict between Eros and Thanatos which he defines as "the instinct of life and the instinct of destruction," respectively (Civilization and its Discontents, Freud 756). The relationship dynamic of Ginger and Brigitte is a melodramatic, yet interesting example of the love and aggression instincts at odds. After the werewolf attack, a rift develops between the sisters and their aim-inhibited love for one another grows in ambivalence. Ginger's love toward her sister takes on an almost sexual tone in a later scene, after Ginger kills an innocent school janitor:
G: It feels so good Brigitte. It's like touching yourself. You know every move right on the fucking dot, and after you see fucking fire works, supernovas. I'm a goddamn force of nature. I feel like I could do just about anything. (she leans in seductively). We're almost not even related anymore.
G: you'd love it, you should come for the ride, a little scratch, swap some juice. We'll be our own pack like before. It's so us, B.
B: I'd rather be dead than be what you are!
G: We have a pact. I said I would die for you!
B: No, you said you would die with me, because you had nothing better to do.
When Brigitte objects, Ginger becomes violent. She objectifies Brigitte as a sexual object and her efforts to get Brigitte to "join her" and become a werewolf is reminiscent of seduction. Ginger outwardly relates her lycanthropic experiences in a sexual, masturbatory way"it's like touching yourself." There is also sexual innuendo in the lines "we're almost not even related anymore" and "swap some juice." Both lines suggest a "deviance" in Ginger's sexual object-choice. The former line reflects narcissism (libido directed toward self), and the latter line suggests the taboo of an incestuous object-choice, which is a forbidden sex act. Regarding the view of masturbation in society, Freud says "the choice of an object is restricted to the opposite sex, and most extra-genital satisfactions are forbidden as perversions" (Civilization and its Discontents, 746). The above dialogue is an interplay between love stuck in two different realmsgenital versus aim-inhibited, but it can also be read as psychical conflict between the ego and the id. Here, Ginger as the id tries to coax Brigitte as the ego to allow this aggressive instinct or death drive to be enacted. Essentially, it is the death of the selfparticularly of the ÔsocietalÕ selfthat Ginger is attempting to complete.
After Ginger makes the full transformation into werewolf, she bears no human resemblance. She has fully succumbed to the id and to the death drive. The end scene is played out in the sisters' basement bedroom, with Brigitte holding a knife in one hand and a syringe full of "monk's hood" (the cure to lycanthropism) in the other. Intending to cure her "sister" with the injection, Brigitte stabs her with the knife in self-defense and kills her instead. In a Freudian light, this act can be seen as the ego triumphing over the destructive base urges of the id. Though Brigitte protects herself from dying and/or becoming a werewolf, she still chose death and Thanatos prevails. The film ends tragically on several levelslove did not save the "unit" of the sisters, and death was inevitable. If one were to view the two sisters as one psyche, the ego and ego-ideal manage to fully suppress the Eros drive of the id. This suppression leads to a future of "neurotic symptoms" that are "in essence, substitutive satisfactions for unfulfilled sexual wishes" (Civilization and its Discontents, Freud 767). Ginger Snaps symbolically portrays the drives of love and aggression as a necessary though problematic source of human interactions.
The subversion of narrative & Concluding thoughts
The basic idea behind Ginger Snaps creates some contentious views when related to Freudian theory. The film subverts the traditional horror movie aesthetic by narration through a female perspective, and by relating the changes of female adolescence to lycanthropy. However purposeful or inadvertent, Ginger Snaps is as much a satirical commentary on society's view of sexuality as it is a horror movie. It would not be surprising to find male viewers frightened by the film, perhaps by the fear of female sexuality or the "castration" undertones. Female viewers, on the other hand, could be angered by the characterization of female sexuality as being something monstrous and almost inhuman. This is the kind of response, however, that can bring into a dialogue contemporary society's prevailing notions of sexuality.
Class Reader, Glossary. "Freud and the Literary Imagination." Compiled by Professor
Richard Gray, 2006.
Freud, Sigmund. The Ego and the Id. The Freud Reader. Ed. Peter Gay. New York:
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1989.
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. The Freud Reader. Ed. Peter Gay.
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1989.
Ginger Snaps. Dir. John Fawcett. Story: Karen Walton & John Fawcett. Perf. Emily
Perkins, Katharine Isabelle. Lions Gate International, 2000.