Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Truth and the Unreal

Hauntings can't be dismissed by calling them reflections of psychological issues. The priggish psychologist played by Ron Silver in 1981's The Entity seems to believe showing pictures of mythological demons to Carla (Barbara Hershey), and telling her how people used to blame these demons for physical and psychological illness, will help her on the road to recovery. But as the nicely made horror film demonstrates, in more ways in one, the legendary demons have a real power.

Carla, the young mother of three, one night is beaten and raped in her bedroom by an invisible assailant who leaves no trace when Carla's teenage son Billy (David Labiosa) frantically searches the house for him. Billy concludes, somewhat resentfully, that his mother had a nightmare.

This is the first example of several men who, sometimes loudly sometimes quietly, blame Carla for the assaults. Of course this works as a way for a film to convey the feelings that too often surround real incidents of sexual assault where the victim is blamed by those unable to confront the horror of the reality. Carla begins to feel an undeserved sense of guilt, too. The more successfully that men in her life convince her she is to blame, the stronger the entity becomes.

The movie wisely never explains precisely what the entity is. But it does seem to have consistent characteristics--strengths, weaknesses, a personality. The psychologist, Dr. Sneiderman, is right in presuming Carla had been given a distorted impression of sex in her childhood. Her father was a minister from whom she perceived a physical lust for herself; her first husband, when she was sixteen, was abusive.

Sneiderman eventually seems to get his own libido mixed up with his position though perhaps his desire to assert himself as an authority over Carla and her mental health is not an abnormal case of malpractice. But I liked that the diagnoses he and his colleagues produce regarding Carla aren't all wrong--that would be too easy. They are right when they say Carla is actually afraid of a stable relationship with her current boyfriend, Jerry (Alex Rocco). Curiously, even after a whole team of parapsychologists from the university have verified and are studying a supernatural presence in Carla's home, and the acknowledgement of its existence seems to significantly weaken the entity, she's still compelled to blame her own mind when she tries to tell Jerry about it.

The fact that these men--doctors, her boyfriend, her son--can make the irrational sound so very rational is a crucial part of what makes the horror in this movie so effective. It's hard to imagine stronger physical evidence of something than being assaulted by it--that Carla is made to so thoroughly doubt her own senses is a real existential horror. Again, it's very appropriate the invisible entity grows more powerful the more she denies herself.

When Sneiderman shows Carla the old stories about demons, one might observe that the movie itself is a story about a demon. Considering what it conveys about the reality of human existence it seems foolish for anyone to discount it for being fiction. Mind you, the movie is supposedly based on a true story but apparently the writer and director embellished it quite a distance from the facts.

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