Monday, 10 June 2013

Pschoanalysis and Ginger Snaps



Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett, US, 2000) is a werewolf tale set in the Canadian suburbs that centres on sisters Ginger and Brigitte.  On the night that Ginger first menstruates, she is attacked by a lycanthrope and begins a twenty eight day transformation that threatens to ruin her relationship with her slightly younger sister, Brigitte.  The film can be analysed with reference to Freudian theory, in particular with the systematic or topographic model of the mind.  In his book, ‘On Metapsychology’, Freud (1923) refers extensively to the id, the ego and the super-ego as different parts of the mind.  These can be seen in a single person but also can represent different characters in a film.  For example in Ginger Snaps Brigitte can be seen as the ego and Ginger as the id, particularly after being bitten by the werewolf.  Fittingly the id and the ego are seen as related, as Freud (1923) argues, the conscious ego extends into the unconscious id.  The super-ego develops from the ego and is represented in the film through a number of characters, mainly the adults in the film such as the sisters’ school teacher and mother.  The film is interesting in it’s linking of entry to womanhood with blood lust and violent desires (Williams, 2001) as though puberty can be seen as the id trying to take over the mind.


The ego in the film is represented by Brigitte.  The ego was originally part of the id but developed from it through contact with the outside world and it organises thoughts in a rational way.  Freud (1923), states that ‘the ego is not sharply separated from the id’, and the two merge into each other.  The sisters are very similar at the beginning of the film and seem inseparable, to the extent that they make a pact to kill themselves together.  Brigitte is wary of killing herself and the consequences of suicide saying ‘even our death could be a cliché’ but Ginger is determined that they are ‘together forever’. 

The sisters are both repressed and cut off from the outside world as they spend so much time together in their room.  Brigitte is closer to being in contact with the norms of society as with the ego which is, ‘that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world’ (Freud, 1923).  The film can be read as Brigitte’s attempts to suppress her id, represented in the film by Ginger, ‘the battles with sinister monsters…are an externalisation of the civilised person’s conflict with his or her primitive subconscious or id’(Tarratt, 1995).  There are numerous examples of this such as when Brigitte tapes up Ginger’s tail and the pure silver piercing.  Brigitte also tries locking Ginger away, which represents her suppressing the id as Ginger tears up the bathroom and eventually escapes.  The scene where the girls are involved in Trina Sinclair’s death represents again Brigitte’s attempt to control the id.  She hides the body of the girl (and later tries to hide a teacher’s body) from her parents and the sisters dig a shallow grave in their shed, a possible metaphor for burying the desires of the id.  Brigitte is ruled by the reality principle and is therefore trying to encourage the id, Ginger, to postpone fulfilling her desires.

Brigitte says ‘I’d rather be dead than what you are’ to Ginger towards the end of the film, but in the climax, she attempts to become the id.  This is shown when she gives into her desires and begins to eat Sam’s blood.  Her vomiting is representative of her repressing these desires and her rejection of the pleasure principle that controls the id.


Brigitte is, as the film progresses, becoming more like the super-ego which in Ginger Snaps is represented mainly by her mother and Sam the drug dealer.  As Ginger’s transformation gets worse, Brigitte learns to identify more with these other two characters, ‘you picked Sam over me’, Ginger says.  This represents the end of the Oedipus complex where there is a ‘forming of a precipitate in the ego, consisting of these two identifications in some way united with each other’ (Freud, 1923).  She asks Ginger after sex, ‘did you use something’, a clear indication of her taking the role of the mother and also echoing what the school nurse said earlier in the film. 

In the film, the super-ego is represented mainly by the adults that the girls encounter. The super-ego is the part of the mind that develops from the ego when the authority of the parent is taken in and it exercises ‘moral censorship’ (Freud, 1923).  When Pam, the sisters’ mother is first shown she says to Ginger ‘don’t push your sister’.  She seems to be always trying to separate the sisters and is therefore trying to encourage the ego to become less influenced by the id.  Pam says to Brigitte at the dinner table, ‘you just do whatever she wants you to’, indicating that Brigitte needs to listen less to Ginger, the id, and more to her mother, the super-ego.  The teacher at the beginning of the film also makes a point of asking to see the girls separately in the ‘guidance room’. 

The father of the girls is a minor character in the film and instead of him being representative of the super-ego; it seems that Sam the drug-dealer takes his role.  He too can be seen as wanting to repress the id; he flattens the first wolf with his van and tries to help Brigitte to cure Ginger.  The super-ego is also as Freud (1923) argued ‘a substitute for a longing for the father’ meaning that Brigitte wants Sam sexually but must force herself not to have him in order to save Ginger.  Sam is instrumental in helping Ginger, his use of biology and rational thought leading to the finding of a cure.  It could be argued that the girls have no authority figures to identify with which is why they are delaying adulthood.  This also accounts for the dominant id as the ego has not developed properly.


The id in Ginger Snaps is represented by Ginger when she is becoming the werewolf.  The id Freud (1923) says strives to ‘bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle’.  The id is therefore primal and constantly seeking to fulfil its wishes and desires.  This is represented in the film with Ginger’s urges, ‘I thought it was for sex, but it’s to tear everything into fucking pieces’ she says.  The car scene shows her desires clearly, she throws Jason down on the sports field and then again pushes him down in the car.  It has been suggested by Jean Loth ‘that film monsters should be regarded as embodiments of women’s virginal sexual fantasies - a cross between fear and desire’, (Tarratt, 1995).  The film shows this with Ginger’s reaction to the sex and subsequent killing of the neighbours’ dog.  Her fear also comes from the symptoms she experiences from the taking over of the id; the claw, hair and tail she grows.

The id is ruled by the pleasure principle, it ‘knows no judgements of value; no good and evil; no morality’, (Freud, 1923) and in the film Ginger is a murderer and described as a ‘slut’.  She threatens to kill Trina and is eventually involved in her death.  On one occasion she literally describes herself as feeling ‘wicked’.  She uses violence on the dog she kills, on Trina during the hockey match, and on the teacher and janitor she kills.  She even compares killing to ‘touching myself’ which shows her submission to her primal desires.  She seems obsessed with these desires as shown when she accuses both Sam and the janitor of trying to take Brigitte for a sexual object, ‘you pervert, she’s fifteen’ and ‘he’s looking down your top’, she says. 

The scene where Brigitte locks Ginger in the bathroom shows the id as trying desperately to break free and therefore become conscious.  When Ginger escapes she is changed, she says to Brigitte, ‘I don’t even know you’.  She has become unrecognisable, ‘I know you are but what am I’ is her response to Brigitte saying ‘I am you’.  By the end of the film Ginger is completely dominated by her id, and the desires that drive her as she tries to steal Sam from Brigitte.  The id has taken over, ‘the beast has no sentiment, no room for love and no memory of loved ones’, (Williams, 2001).  The final battle between the ego and the id takes place down in the basement, a symbol of the unconscious where the id must be laid to rest.

Psychoanalysing Ginger Snaps is challenging and lends itself to numerous pieces of Freudian theory such as the Oedipus complex, repression and the systematic model of the mind.  Fawcett has made a chilling film about werewolves, but more importantly about entry to adulthood through the eyes of two female characters.  The film ends with the repression of the id as Brigitte is forced to kill Ginger to save herself.  The final shot of the film shows the pair as one, with the ego over the id as in Freud’s description of the mind.


Read more:
Ginger Snaps (2000) Directed by John Fawcett. 104 mins. Lions Gate Films. Videotape
Freud, S. (1923) On Metapsychology. s.l. s.n.
Freud, S. Cited in Tarratt, M. (1995) In: Grant, B. (ed.) Film genre reader 2. Austin: University of Texas Press
Gauntgirl (2001) Ginger Snaps (online) Available from http://horrordiva.com/new/essays/ginger.php (Accessed 26 October 2003)
Dog Soldiers (2002) Directed by Neil Marshall. 105 mins. Pathe Distribution Limited. DVD
Tarratt, M. (1995) In: Grant, B. (ed.) Film genre reader 2. Austin: University of Texas Press
Williams, L. (2001) Ginger Snaps (online) British Film Institute. Available from: http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/2001_06/ginger_snaps.html (Accessed 26 October 2003)