Did You Ever Hear the Tragedy of Laurie Strode, The Survivor?

Did You Ever Hear the Tragedy of Laurie Strode, The Survivor? October 26, 2018

 

I know this will come as a surprise to many of the evangelical Christians this site caters to but I am a committed fan of Halloween.[1]  As a result, I waited with great anticipation for the latest sequel after it was announced and went to the first available showing of the film in my area.

Two disclaimers before we get any further.

One, both Halloween 1978 and Halloween 2018 contain scenes of female nudity.  As a result neither film will get a feature review on the podcast that this website accompanies. You can, however, find our (warning: spoiler-rich) general thoughts on the 2018 film at the 13:21 mark of our Haunting of Hill House episode. If you haven’t seen the movies and are considering whether you will or not then please let me encourage you to obey your conscience.  Far better to miss a movie than to defile you conscience.

Two, the remainder of this post will be positively chock-full of plot spoilers so read on at your own discretion.  There are also some scattered (and similarly spoiler-filled) thoughts about Halloween 2018 attached to the bottom of this post.

With that out of the way let us press on:

Laurie Strode’s Triumph

Much of the narrative around Halloween 2018 leading up to the release of the movie has been built on the return of both John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis to the franchise that put both of them on the popular map and which continues to feed their celebrity.  The anticipation that built for the story was focused on Curtis’ iconic character, Laurie Strode, meeting Michael Meyers in what should be an epic confrontation.  In many ways the story could write itself – two fated persons, their stories inextricably intertwined, facing off years after their first storied meeting.  Both Strode and Meyers are now more than a bit older and yet their mutual animosity for one another has never been stronger.  How will this latter-day confrontation, almost of eschatological significance, play out on the big screen?

If you’ve seen the movie (or read the widely-available plot details) you know that Laurie Strode has her moment of triumph.  Her years of anticipation and strategic planning pay off, not only scoring her a victory over her tormenter but also providing life-saving protection for her daughter and granddaughter.  It is no surprise that this plot construction, paired with the particular cultural moment Halloween 2018 has been released into – namely, one so saturated by the ascendant #MeToo movement – has led many (including Curtis herself) to connect the dots between a woman suffering unimaginable trauma and yet finding the strength to confront and even overcome her abuser.

The narrative arc of Halloween 1978 + Halloween 2018 provides us a story of a young woman, only in her mid-teens when we first meet her, being preyed upon by an irrational monster for no reason whatsoever.  Through sheer ingenuity and grit the young lady survives.  She knows, however, that the final chapter hasn’t been written and thus uses her adult life to prepare to finish the story in her favor.  By the end of Halloween 2018 we have a tale of not just Laurie Strode, Survivor but Laurie Strode, Overcomer.

Wait, Are We Sure It Is Triumph?

As a fan of the original film I can honestly say I enjoyed the 2018 sequel, largely because of the story it tells about Laurie.  However, I left the movie more than a little saddened by what has become of our dear girl in the intervening years.  I wonder, too, if the film’s vision of what it means to be a survivor and an overcomer is really as wonderful as the buzz around the movie would have us to believe.

Famously, the Halloween universe comes into being, at least narratively, when a six year old Michael Myers attacks and kills his older sister Judith.  This act of unpredictable violence is the first indication that Michael Myers, in the words of Dr. Loomis, was less boy and more unmitigated evil – “…I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”  Thus Michael’s infamy begins by denying his sister Judith her most basic right, the right to life.

Halloween 2018 suggests strongly that Myers has done just the same with Laurie Strode.

It is commonly held, rightly in my opinion, that Halloween 1978 is so compelling in large part because Laurie Strode (and her teenage friends) seem not only like girls found in the real world but also the sort of young ladies that, when encountered in the real world, one finds it easy to root for.  Laurie, in Halloween 1978, is charming, a bit awkward, intelligent, resourceful, and clearly still finding her way into her soon-arriving adulthood.  When Myers sets upon her the audience can’t help but care, deeply, about her survival.  We want to see Laurie not only escape from the threat of Myers’ knife but, perhaps only at a subconscious level but really nonetheless, enter into a future of good things that so evidently awaits her.

Contrast that with the Laurie we meet in Halloween 2018.

We learn early on in the 2018 sequel that Strode has been living for some time in a fortified compound that looks more like a creation of a dirt-poor hoarder than a security-conscious grandmother.  Fair enough, you might say, because Laurie is faced with far worse threats than meth heads looking for a quick score.

However, we find out very quickly that it isn’t only her home that indicates Laure is living in isolation.  In the opening conversation with two podcast-creator journalists Laurie reports that she has seen not one but two marriages fail over the course of her adult years.  Much more significantly, Laurie is alienated from her daughter Karen (who had been taken from Laurie’s custody by the government years before the events of the 2018 film) and, through Karen, also largely absent from the life of her granddaughter Allyson.

We later see an attempt between Allyson and Laurie to create a family moment.  Allyson invites Laurie to a dinner out celebrating Allyson’s graduation[2].  The Laurie who appears gives credibility to Karen’s adult decision to keep her family’s life separate from Laurie.  Strode arrives at dinner and, in the midst of being introduced to Allyson’s boyfriend, compulsively grabs and downs a large glass of wine.  Eventually Laurie is seated, only to break down into tears within a total loss of composure – ending the dinner awkwardly for all involved.

The clear message is that Laurie, understandably but nonetheless depressingly, is living a life defined and still controlled by the trauma of Michael Myers’ attack.  Yes, Myers took his sister Judith’s life in brutal fashion.  The Laurie we meet in Halloween 2018 raises the question of whether or not Laurie Strode, also by Myers’ hand, has been visited by a fate worse than death.

Consider too the hard contrast between the Laurie we see at dinner and the one we later observe prowling the streets of Haddonfield and within her home.  The movie indicates strongly that when Laurie is something other than a semi-functional mess it is within the context of her relationship to Michael.  Once Myers returns to Haddonfield and resumes his killing spree we see Laurie leap into proactive animation.  She stalks Myers from the confines of her truck, draws first blood with a handgun, and even profitably directs the largely bumbling Haddonfield police force in their efforts to find and subdue Michael.

There is also the matter of my favorite scene in the movie.  Myers has ambushed Laurie in an upstairs bedroom.  Being the stronger of the two physical combatants, Myers throws Laurie from a balcony and watches her roll down a lower roof before landing with a thud on the ground below.  This scene is a clear reference to Michael’s own fall at the end of the 1978 film.  And just like in 1978 the character looking down on the fallen body from the balcony turns their head.  When Loomis looks back in 1978 Michael has disappeared from the lawn.  When Michael does the same in 2018 it is Laurie who has disappeared.

The viewer can almost hear Michael say to himself, “So that’s what that feels like.”  This is an excellent creative choice by the creators of Halloween 2018 because it does more than call back to a famous scene in the 1978 original.  The audience gets the message, loud and clear: in this confrontation between Laurie and Michael circumstances are very different than in their first meeting.  Now it is Michael who is being stalked, Michael who is kept off guard, and Michael running up against a force of personality that he did not anticipate and cannot comprehend.

Ryan Green/Universal Pictures

As much as I rejoice to see the power dynamic shift in favor of the supposed victim we, as the audience, are left to conclude that Laurie only functions with real agency and competence in the context of her relationship to her abuser.  In the trappings of normal family life and social interactions Laurie is barely able to rise above non-functioning.  However, in dealing with Michael, she is like a lioness moving in on an oblivious food source.

Celebrating, Yes.  But Mourning Too.

So what does this all mean for our real-world concept of surviving and overcoming?  In many ways the answer is not so much.  Likely everyone reading this knows someone who, having suffered tragedy, has never been able to move on in meaningful ways from that tragedy.  For these survivors the continual intake of breath and the process of putting one foot in front of the other is victory.  Certainly this kind of overcoming is worth of celebrating.

Also, however, we have other models of surviving and overcoming available in the real world.  Again, most everyone reading this likely knows someone who, having suffered tragedy, has managed to build a healthy and meaningful life not defined by their tragedy but still comprehending it.  I think, if pressed to choose between the two, everyone would desire the latter for people they care about.

Interestingly enough, considering the franchise under discussion, we have an alternative vision of Laurie Strode presented through a cinematic lense.  The alternate comes from the now-retconned Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later.  In that story Laurie has changed her name and her location, working as the headmistress of a boarding school (which seems a fitting career for the intelligent young woman we first met in 1978).  Laurie is also a mother in this world.  That relationship is a bit rocky but her son is has never been taken from her custody.  In H20 Laurie’s life is haunted by her relationship to Michael Myers but, I think, less-so defined by it.  The Laurie of H20 is also a fighter, one that looks less like a doomsday prepper but a fighter nonetheless.

Dimension Films

Halloween 2018 is a better film than H20, no doubt.  Yet I can’t help but wish for some combination of the character we get in the 2018 film and her counterpart in H20.  Perhaps a woman who stayed near family, family in which real relational difficulties exist, but family nonetheless.  Maybe Laurie is teaching in the school we first see her in as a student.  Maybe in this world, like Karen in Halloween 2018, Laurie is married to a bit of a goof but one who loves her and to whom she returns that love.  Maybe she’s haunted by the thought of Myers’ return and has been quietly planning for that contingency.  But also maybe she’s the kind of woman who knows what it is to have enjoyed many nights out to dinner with her children and grandchildren.

Is it a good thing that Laurie, like so many victims in the real world, has managed to continue living a life despite the violence inflicted upon them?

Absolutely.  And I am also rooting for better years at the end of Laurie’s life.  Her daughter will obviously appreciate Laurie in new ways.  Laurie, Karen, and Allyson are now all each other have relationally and I expect that the eventual processing of what happened in Halloween 2018 will give them positive emotional bonds and moments of reflection on what they accomplished together.

I can’t help, however, seeing a young lady with a bright future reduced, over the course of a life of losing the most important relationships a person can have, to a hermit whose existence is defined by the possibility of one final confrontation with her abuser as anything other than, well, a tragedy.

I am left thankful she survived, thankful she overcame, thankful she won in the end.  I just wish there hadn’t been so many significant losses on the way there.

Universal Pictures

Now for some unsorted thoughts on Halloween 2018 because I don’t know where else I would publish them:

– David Gordon Green and Danny McBride really did a great job acknowledging what had gone before and, in ways profitable to their story, folding it into their story.

Particularly great is the scene were Allyson in 2018, sitting in the same class and talking about the same subject where we first saw Laurie in 1978, looks out the window to the street just like her grandmother did 40 years prior.  Yet where Laurie saw Michael now Allyson sees her grandmother.

– I really despised the entire story line around Dr. Sartain.  Not only does the idea that he, even as a crazy person himself, would let (or be allowed to let) a journalist confront a mental patient in such hostile fashion really took me out of the movie for a moment.  When we get to what eventually happens with Dr. Sartain the entire thing seems like a Red Herring for a Red Herring’s sake – which is beneath the storytellers who gave us the rest of this movie.  Sheriff Barker, too, was entirely vestigial.

– I get that we are seeing a needed course correction in Hollywood right now.  Far too often women in these kind of movies are presented as brainless pieces of eye candy, present only to be objectified. As the pendulum swings back I understand we’ll get movies like Halloween 2018 where the stereotypical dynamic is flipped in some ways – a world of highly competent women surrounded by buffoon men.  Even so, I am looking forward to the eventual calming of the waters where we have horror movies where we can have a mix of competent and incompetent characters of both genders.

– If you are old enough you may remember the popular mood of curious anticipation after 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers when it looked like Michael’s niece Jamie would assume the mantle (?) of Michael Myers.  That ultimately went nowhere in the subsequent movies but am I crazy to think that Halloween 2018 ending on the camera zooming in to the knife in Allyson’s hand (which she had just used to stab Michael) may be setting us up for a Halloween: Next Generation future for the franchise?  I am not saying I am rooting for that, just asking the question.

—————————

[1] The 1978 film; not so much so on the sequels although I have seen each of them multiple times.  Well, except for the two films directed by Rob Zombie.  Once was more than enough for those.

[2] By the way, did anyone out there celebrate graduation at Halloween time like Allyson’s school does?  I thought that was a Spring-time event

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