It seems to be turning into a new tradition. During the family Thanksgiving holiday up at the North Shore of Lake Superior, we watch an old movie involving an evil vehicle and then I blog about it. Strange, huh? Last year it was Duel. This year, we watched John Carpenter’s/Stephen King’s Christine. I enjoyed it. Admittedly, the story, much like many of Stephen King’s, offers up a creepy dose of repressed sexual desire and the reduction of women to object (car/”pussy”). Just check out this trailer:
And memorable exchange from early in the film:
George LeBay: Her name’s Christine.
Arnie Cunningham: I like that.
Dennis Guilder: Come on Arnie, we gotta get goin’, huh?
George LeBay: My asshole brother bought her back in September ’57. That’s when you got your new model year, in September. Brand-new, she was. She had the smell of a brand-new car. That’s just about the finest smell in the world, ‘cept maybe for pussy.
But, even though I shuddered at some of the lines and was dismayed by the female characters’ roles in the film (let’s just say that this film doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test), I was entertained and intrigued as I thought about Christine in relation to my favorite John Carpenter film, Halloween. I’m not interested in devoting a lot of time to thinking through the parallels and contrasts in these films. I don’t have time now and I’m not sure Christine really merits that much scrutiny. Apparently I’m not alone in wanting to skip the in-depth critique. Just try googling critical analysis of Christine. It’s slim pickings. Instead of a lengthy post, I’ll post just a few thoughts that arise when I put Halloween and Christine beside each other.
But. before offering those thoughts, here are brief summaries of each movie (SPOILER ALERT!!):
Halloween: Nerdy girl is taunted by her mean friends over her lack of boyfriend. While these friends have sex (or make plans to have sex) with their boyfriends and are subsequently killed by an escaped mental patient on Halloween night, she babysits and uses her wits (and crafty skills as a knitter) to fend off the killer and live to do the sequel.
(bonus summary) Boy kills sister after watching her have sex. Is locked up in mental hospital. Escapes and returns home 15 years later. Kills several teenagers after watching them have sex. Tries to kill the lone teenage virgin, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. He fails and she lives to star in the sequel and subsequent Activia commercials.
Christine: Nerdy, virginal boy is taunted by the tough guys in his shop class, smothered by his mother and pressured by his best friend to lose his virginity. When he buys an old car named Christine, his luck changes: he gets a girlfriend, eliminates his shop class bullies and successfully pisses off his mother. Only problem: his car is evil. It tries to kill his girlfriend, brutally murders his enemies and turns him (Arnie) into a deranged sociopath.
Halloween introduced the classic teenage slasher trope: have sex or express strong desire to have sex, then die. Laurie’s (main character, played by Jamie Lee Curtis), friends die after either having sex (Linda) or planning to pick up their boyfriend to have sex (Annie). It’s easy to read their deaths just as a warning to teenagers (especially girls) to never have sex (because you’ll die). However, when we put Annie and Linda beside Christine and its female characters:—Arnie’s (main character) car, Christine; Arnie’s girlfriend, Leigh; Arnie’s super-bitchy mom, Regina; and the school slut/”sperm bank”, Roseanne, it’s possible to read it differently.
In Halloween, the primary characters are all women who have their own agency and exist independently of the boys/men in their lives. Wow! I just realized that this film passes the Bechdel Test. And, when they talk about and engage in sex, they demonstrate a surprising amount of sexual agency. In fact, throughout the movie, the female characters are either initiators of or equal partners in the sex that they have or talk about having. They aren’t just objects of teenage boy’s lust or ostracized as super sluts. Sure, they all are killed (boo), but so are the boys that have sex with them. And it seems significant that Annie and Linda are represented as enjoying sex.
In contrast, none of the female characters in Christine enjoy sex or demonstrate a healthy sexual desire. Arnie’s girlfriend is a virginal prude who refuses to have sex with him. And the only other teenage girl in the film, Roseanne (played by a young Kelly Preston), is described as a “sperm bank.” Hmm….it’s the classic Virgin/Whore complex. Arnie’s mom no longer has or expresses sexual desire. She’s just mean and controlling. The movie seems to suggest that her domineering/smothering parenting is a main reason for Arnie’s geeky, loser status. And, Christine, the evil car that’s “bad to the bone,” is all-consuming in her desire for Arnie, body and soul. Her voracious (sexual) appetite and excessive desire for Arnie is his undoing. In crafting this character, I wonder if Stephen King was wanting to refresh the myth of the vagina dentata (the vagina with teeth)? It might be interesting to reread Barbara Creed’s discussion of it in The Monstrous Feminine (chapter 8).
Wow, writing and thinking more about these movies makes me appreciate Halloween even more.