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Discuss the Significance of ‘duality’ and ‘the Double’ in Gothic Character

1738 words (7 pages) Essay in Film Studies

08/02/20 Film Studies Reference this

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It can be argued that gothic at its core is a deviation from the usual. This can be seen across a variety of gothic expressions such as; architecture, film, fashion, and literature. To name a select few. Here however, my primary focus will be in analysing how the contemporary films The Addams Family and Coraline use duality and double in their narratives, and how this impacts their characters in narrative. To be able to dissect and analyse these films however, it needs to be understood what ‘duality’ and ‘double’ truly mean, and what they mean when it comes to gothic.

Duality is when something has two sides to it, usually with opposite meanings. “If there are two sides to a coin, metaphorically speaking, there’s a duality. Peace and war, love and hate, up and down, and black and white are dualities” (Duality Definition, n.d.). And when it comes to Double, it’s when something “has two parts or if there are two versions of it” (Double Definition, n.d.). Double can be examined as a reflection of a self that could be, it might even be used as a tool to propose concepts that explore “the ambivalence of identity and the instability of the social, moral and scientific codes that manufacture distinctions” (Fred Botting, 1995, p.92). The double can also perhaps be correlated to the uncanny, which is an experience that can be described as “strangely familiar” and can occur when said familiarity is “encountered in an unsettling, eerie, or taboo context” (Uncanny Wikipedia, n.d.).

Fig.1 (First shot of Gomez and Morticia Together, The Addams Family, 1991)

When looking at the societal structure of The Addams Family ‘universe’, it’s made very clear what is and isn’t accepted as the usual. Margaret to Tully at the party stressed that ‘these people are abnormal’, and throughout the film being called foolish or idiotic from characters such as Tully and Judge Womack. The unapologetic sense of identity and eccentricity that the Addams have are directly paralleled by the outside world. This sense of true division and duality is easily comparable to the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In Gothic Realities, Cooper writes that “Jekyll explains that even before giving birth to Hyde, he had ‘two natures,’ one ‘unjust’ and the other ‘upright’” (L. Andrew Cooper, 2010, p.76). Using the couples Morticia and Gomez, and Margaret and Tully, we can deconstruct and examine their duality and roles as doubles to the other, especially when looking at the appearance scenes for each. 

The first interaction we see of Gomez and Morticia together, is Gomez speaking in a hushed tone to Thing while Morticia sleeps; ‘Look at her, I would die for her-I would kill for her…either way what bliss’. After, Morticia slowly opens her eyes to gaze on her husband Gomez. In fig.1 it can be inferred a sense of tenderness, affection, and sensuality between the two characters. That they have a deep loving connection, and here in this scene from Gomez’s perspective the focus is on Morticia. From the lighting, angle, and placement in the scene, your eyes are drawn to her as the primary focus. The characters themselves are placed very close within the scene, and the dim lighting suggests another layer of intimacy between them. What we can also infer from their body language is a complete sense of comfort and ease from them both.

Fig.2 (First shot of Margaret and Tully together, The Addams Family, 1991)

This is a complete contrast to when we meet Margaret and Tully later. We are introduced to them bickering and tense, with little to no physical contact between them. In fig.2 we can see there’s a great amount of distance between them, and Margaret’s tense body language. In this scene Margaret mutters rhetorically to herself ‘Why did I marry you?’, if we can infer anything from this scene it’s a complete lack of romantic connection. Its visually and tonally different to how Gomez and Morticia were introduced to us, with empty driveway and lots of empty space between these two characters, in complete duality to The Addams couple. The shot here is really focused on Margaret’s discomfort and unhappiness, she’s at the forefront of the scene and solemnly looking down. This however, is in duality to a later scene with Margaret and Cousin It in fig.3.

From this shot we can see a complete shift in body language from Margaret, her posture has straightened, and she is gazing happily upwards at the night sky. There’s a feeling of intimacy and tenderness between the characters, and when talking about her unhappy marriage with Tully, Margaret says ‘people grow, people change’. This can be interpreted in a few different ways, however in the context of duality and double, it could perhaps mean Margaret growing to accept the inherent strangeness of the Addams and challenge those social rules set out to in turn find happiness.

Fig.3 (Shot of Margaret and It on the balcony, The Addams Family, 1991)

Coraline’s use of duality and double isn’t so much a reflection of a society’s set rules, as is more a look at the specific individuals targeted. And while doubles of the people around her are significant to the plot of Coraline, they are what she desires and change as she grows and learns throughout the film. The duality in this narrative is primarily condensed in the Other World, where the doubles of Coraline’s family have their underlying sinister plot.

Fig.4 (Coraline Doll first revealed, Coraline, 2009)

While the reveal of the Coraline Doll sets up the rest of the doubles yet to come, it is an uncanny double to Coraline; and as Botting puts, “the double is also used to present a more terrible possibility as a figure that threatens the loss of identity” (Fred Botting, 1995, p.86). The Coraline Doll is an omen of the Beldam (Other Mother), later when the Other Mother offers to sew buttons into the eyes of Coraline she calls her ‘our little doll’. The seemingly innocent statement itself has a duality to it, as all the beings in the Beldam’s domain who have buttons, are puppets to her grand scheme. Once Coraline begins to disobey the Beldam, along with her other puppets, the Other World becomes unstable and the Beldam’s true form is revealed.

Fig.5 (The Other Father riding the mantis contraption, Coraline, 2009)

Examining the duality of both fig.5 and fig.6, it isn’t solely restricted to the change in character of the Other Father. The environment and machine itself have had a change in hue, resulting in a change of atmosphere. The desaturated tones in addition to the clunky and erratic actions of the Other World are in total duality to the illusion of perfection the Beldam set up before.  Comparable to fig.6, Botting writes that the double is a “shadow of himself”, the shadow of the Other Father’s first form is limp and misshapen, however still tries desperately to disobey the Beldam and assist Coraline in her escape (Fred Botting, 1995, p.60). Pleading to Coraline while his body is forcibly manipulated by the mantis, the Other Father says ‘sorry- so sorry, Mother is making me’. The focus of fig.6 even, is the mantis contraption instead of the Other Father, the bright lights of the eyes draw us to it instead of the Father. The bright eyes amongst the dark surroundings is alike tapetum lucidum (a reflective surface in the eye, making it appear to be glowing) in many animals, especially nocturnal predatory animals.

Fig.6 (The Other Father dishevelled and the mantis contraption, Coraline, 2009)

The duality within the Other World of the Beldam is reflected in everything, for example the jumping mice forming into dishevelled rats, which themselves are revealed to be stuffed dolls operated by the Beldam to gather information and other tasks.

While both The Addams Family and Coraline implement duality and double differently, it only stands as a testament to how versatile the use of these concepts in gothic narrative are. From looking at these two films, it’s clear to see that the versatility of duality and double which is applicable to character and narrative, can be explored and experimented with in many different approaches. However, it can be surmised that despite the different uses of duality and double, both notions act to cause a character to grow and learn from themselves and the environment they are surrounded by. And from this, the significance of duality and double in gothic character is apparent, it is used as not only a plot or character device, but a way to achieve an arc within the narrative it is used. 

Bibliography

References

  • Academy Originals (2016). Creative Spark: Deborah Cook (Interview). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oplvz1bnmdw [Accessed 25 Apr. 2019].
  • Botting, F. (1995). Gothic. New York: Routledge, pp.60, 86, 92.
  • Cooper, L. (2010). Gothic Realities: The Impact of Horror Fiction on Modern Culture. North Carolina: McFarland, p.76.
  • Coraline. (2009). [DVD] Directed by H. Selick. United States: Laika.
  • En.wikipedia.org. (n.d.). Uncanny. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny [Accessed 27 Apr. 2019].
  • The Addams Family. (1991). [DVD] Directed by B. Sonnenfeld. United States: Orion Pictures, Paramount Pictures.
  • Vocabulary.com. (n.d.). double – Dictionary Definition. [online] Available at: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/double [Accessed 27 Apr. 2019].
  • Vocabulary.com. (n.d.). duality – Dictionary Definition. [online] Available at: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/duality [Accessed 27 Apr. 2019].
  • Illustrations
  • Figure 1, 2, 3. Screenshots taken from The Addams Family. (1991). [DVD] Directed by B. Sonnenfeld. United States: Orion Pictures, Paramount Pictures.
  • Figure 4, 5, 6. Screenshots taken from Coraline. (2009). [DVD] Directed by H. Selick. United States: Laika.
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