16.04.2019 Dr. Lynn Turner
‘Raising Animals’: Two Powers of Horror between the Cellar and the Kennel in The Woman
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‘Have you fed the dogs yet?’ This anxious phrase along with their agitated barking frequently reminds the viewer that somewhere there are dogs, close to yet never stepping inside the large country house in which Lucky McKee’s 2011 horror film The Woman is set. This house or The House - following the definite article of the film’s title - invites a spatial analysis of the gendered logics of domestication, of metaphysics as a gendered oikos, not least since the film’s plot centers upon a patriarch-lawyer capturing a ‘feral’ woman, imprisoning her in the cellar and framing her as the family civilization project. Crucially, the film is also shadowed by ‘the animal,’ the concept of which remains troublingly static in this otherwise astonishing story of revenge.
The spatial and conceptual parallel between the cellar and the kennel substantially structures The Woman. From these classically uncanny spaces, two beings return to light. The Woman, named an ‘animal’ is finally freed from the cellar (and narrative expectation served). But the film saves its biggest scare for the penultimate revelation of just what has been going on in the kennel for all this time: the family’s anopthalmic eldest daughter has been raised as a beast. Her release however, channels not the transcendence of a recuperative humanity but a pethood that raises questions about the alternative presented by and as the newly feminized family in the concluding scene.
Mckee’s film explicitly and admirably works to expose and condemn domestic violence against women. Recent work by feminist philosopher Kelly Oliver brings the ‘question of the animal’ in Derrida’s critical sense to bear upon the Kristevan concept of abjection as foundational to the human subject: Oliver shows how both the feminine and the animal are abjected in Kristeva’s view. Developing Oliver’s insights, this paper investigates the domestic scene as one that differentiates between humans and non-humans according to tight conceptual prescription. While the film offers a thrilling, if bloody, figure of retribution against violence against women, the elevation of women to center stage is bolstered by their maintenance of a family pet.
My titular invocation of ‘raising animals’ conveys several senses. Both the eponymous Woman and the anopthalmic daughter were raised by animals (the former by wolves in the woods, the latter by a brutalized Alsatian and brutalizing father and son): these upbringings result in different outcomes. ‘Raising animals’ also asks what happens to ethics when we pay attention to the animal question with the woman question, given that political emancipation classically demands the repression of animality.
Lynn Turner writes on deconstruction and animals, feminism, film, voice, posthumanism and science fiction. The editor of The Animal Question in Deconstruction (EUP, 2013) coauthor of Visual Cultures As… Recollection (Sternberg, 2013), and co-editor of The Edinburgh Companion to Animal Studies (EUP, 2018), she is currently completing her monograph Exposing Deconstructions: Animal and Sexual Differences (Bloomsbury, 2020). She is Senior Lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London.