Sleep No More: You Might Not Wake Up!
Aska Alex & Renu Raju
(BA English Literature, Assumption College Changanacherry)
This paper aims at bringing out the psychological aspects of the movie ‘Insidious’, with a special emphasis on the role played by the music and the background score in contributing to the supernatural element of the movie. To achieve this objective we had made use of the theories put forward by Sigmund Freud.
The movie is about an 8-year old boy named Dalton, who falls into coma when his mind had gone away from him in the astral dimension, thus leaving his body to be possessed by evil entities. The story is about the struggle of his parents Josh and Renai to bring him back to his body, before the change becomes irreversible. Dalton being the eldest of the three children is not given much attention by his parents. One can see that when Josh, Renai and the other two kids are having a family time, Dalton is seen to be playing with his toys alone in a dark hallway. A door behind him creaks open and he goes into the attic where he falls of a ladder and scrapes his head. He is taken into his room by Josh, but the next day he doesn’t wake up. The medical diagnosis comes up as normal but Dalton continued to be in coma. After three months at the hospital he is taken back to the house. Elise and her assistants Specs and Tucker, who are experts in the field of paranormal activity, are called upon to investigate the matter. She finds that Dalton has the ability to travel in astral dimension and that he is now trapped in a dark realm which she calls ‘The Further’, “a place without time as we know it”. She adds that Josh also has the same ability and that he must bring Dalton back. Josh does so, and saves Dalton from a demon. But Josh couldn’t get back and his body gets possessed by the old lady, who haunted Josh in his childhood. Elise realizes this fact but she is mercilessly killed by Josh (the old lady).
Dalton is an adventurous boy who likes exploring. He often wears a red cape like Superman and even in the drawings in his bedroom he depicts himself to be flying. Though Dalton had made these travels before, that day he had gone a little too far. We can get evidence of the fact that he had done these kinds of travel from his drawings where he had written “Last night I watched myself sleep, then I flew away”. But he wasn’t afraid of these travels as he believes them to be dreams. Sigmund Freud is of the opinion that the repressed feelings in human mind find their expression in dreams, fantasies, hallucinations etc. Dalton who was unable to fulfill his desire of being a superhero finds a way to realize it, travelling in astral dimension. His unconscious mind is at work here. According to Freud, the mind has three aspects; the id, the ego, and the super ego. The id represents the innate desires of a person. So it had been Dalton’s id that was the controller of the above mentioned travel. ‘The Further’ can be considered as the visual representation of his unconscious mind.
Jacques Lacan is yet another eminent figure in psychoanalytic criticism. He is called “the French Freud”. He was very much influenced by the findings of the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. He viewed the unconscious mind as a language, and divided it into three; the imaginary, the symbolic and the mirror stage, which is the sense of separate self. A clear allusion to this can be seen in the last part of the movie where Josh confronts the old lady, who had haunted him in his childhood, in front of a mirror.
Yet another matter to be noted is the role played by the parents of the boy. Josh who is a teacher is a family man. But he is not a responsible person. In the kitchen scene, he tells Renai that he will be unable pick the kids from the school as he had a PTA meeting , but he had failed to inform her this, earlier. Once paranormal activities start at the house he stays at his office and comes home late. Renai tells him that he is not there with her in the situation. Later he changes house for her but the incidents kept on happening. When his mother Lorraine takes sides with Renai he questions them rationally. He asks, “How does the voice of reason become the bad guy here?” Later when Elise tells about the astral dimension travel he remains skeptic and turn down her offer to help. But only when he see things for himself does he believe them . He can be called “a modern day Thomas”. Renai is a very different person. She loves composing songs. Though she is a good mother she fails to keep an eye on things. She is a tough woman who tries to cope up with the situation whereas her husband fails to do so. Her voice act as a guideline for Josh and Dalton while returning from ‘The Further’. Lorraine, Josh’s mother plays a supportive rule throughout the film. It was she who had a dream about the demon that haunts Dalton and so she understood the seriousness of the situation. She is the one who recommends Elise’s name, as Elise was the one who made Josh forget his ability to travel in astral dimension when he was haunted by an old lady in his childhood. When the film opens what we get to see, is a boy (young Josh) sleeping quite peacefully in his bed. His parents are not near him but the old lady stands watching him. So we can deduce that the children who are not given proper attention often come up with psychological repercussions that are often the work of their unconscious mind to bring them into the attention of their parents.
‘The Poltergeist’ is a similar movie where a boy notices supernatural things at his house, whose parents take note of the situation very late. A comparative study between ‘The Poltergeist’ and ‘Insidious’ would be appropriate here. Just as in 'Insidious' a family moves into a new house. A boy little older than Dalton senses the supernatural presence and warns his parents but they pay no heed to him. One day a vigorous attack by the paranormal agents takes place and the youngest child of the family , a girl of about five years is taken along with her body to a dark realm just like ‘The Further’ in ‘Insidious’. A paranormal expert is called upon who devices a plan to bring her back. Just like Josh, the father of this girl is also reluctant to accept the expert’s views. They try sending a helicam to the dark realm but when something goes wrong the boy himself goes there and brings her back. Thus when everything had seemingly settled down and the audience is about to relax the girl again gets dragged to the dark realm and to save her the paranormal expert sacrifices himself. But later we find that he is not dead. One can see that almost all the important characters in ‘Insidious’ are allusions to that in ‘The Poltergeist’. Both the stories depict parents who are ignorant of what their child is going through. They often dismiss what their children say and ask them to grow up, just like Lorraine did with Josh, when he was a little kid.
Music and background score play a pivotal role in contributing to the super naturalistic aspect of the movie. The music is done by Joseph Bishara, who also plays the role of an evil entity in the film. The highlight music of the movie is its title music of wailing violins which gives a creepy effect. The occasional use of sounds like dripping of taps, creaking of doors and steps, ticking of clock etc in the otherwise quiet environment builds up tension in the audience. But the two things that would remain with the audience after watching the movie would be the songs “I’m looking West” and Tiny Tim’s “Tip Toe through the Tulips”. The latter one is seemingly an innocent and sweet song but the way in which it is incorporated in the movie would make our hair stand on e nds. “Nuvole Bianche” by Ludovico Einaudi and “Black Angels” by George Crumb are the two other important songs to be found in the film.
The director of the movie, James Wan is famous for his other films like ‘The Conjuring’, ‘Annabelle’ etc. What is special about ‘Insidious’ is that the director succeeded in creating terror in the minds of the audience without resorting to the use of blood and violence in the film. Instead he makes use of powerful visual images . Colours like red and black had been used particularly in the film. The demon is red and black in colour with sharp nails and hooves for feet. The door that leads to ‘The Further’ is also red in colour. While Josh was in the dark realm in search of his son, he comes across a family of four, shot dead by one of the daughters. Wan presents this scene in a tableau manner, where these people stand with comic expressions on their faces. This scene actually acts as a comic relief to the audience in the otherwise tense atmosphere.
So, to conclude, one can say that the movie had contributed in making people aware of the need for parents to be there for their children. Very often when people exhibit mental problems they are taken to hospitals. Instead of doing so it would be better to understand the psychological circumstances that led them to this. Then the treatment could be made more effective.
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Insidious. Dir. James Wan.Perf.Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne,Ty Simpkins.Filmdistrict,2011.
The Poltergeist. Dir. Gil Kenan.Pef. Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt.20th Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 2015.