Barbarian | The Essential Explanation

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  1. The trailer shows the movie as a true horror but I’ve seen defense of the movie as a campy spoof on horror. While your explanation is appropriate it doesn’t answer the question here – what was the intent with the horror? The audience when I attended laughed at moments I would have thought were supposed to be “scary.” Ex: the death of Andre. And while you show the character of Tess to be somewhat heroic, you have to also see her as an absolute idiot. When she woke on day 2 and saw the neighborhood – why would she ever go back? Plus sharing a house with a complete stranger? Come on!! Tess loses all credibility with these moves as the girl who fought against her distrust of men and fought to survive.

    • Hey Kate! I think the movie’s taking a multi-faceted look at the male-female dynamic. When it’s from Tess’s perspective, the tone is more horror/tension. When it’s from AJ’s perspective, there’s an absurd entitlement and egoism. When they’re together, it blends. About sharing the house, I think the movie takes some time to show why she decided to stay. She’s not going to stay, but can’t find a hotel. She’s going to stay in her car, but it’s a bad neighborhood. Bad weather. Has an important job interview in the morning. Plus, he’s saying all the right things. Seems relatively normal. Personally, I one time had a late connection in Chicago and we missed the red eye home. I didn’t have a phone charger or anything and my phone had died. A number of us started talking about what to do. I ended up splitting a hotel room with this random dude who was about my age, seemed normal, and had a charger. Went to Steak & Shake, talked, went to bed, woke up, back to the airport. It definitely had moments where I was like, “Am I going to get killed?” But there was never a red flag. Nothing problematic. So I don’t think it’s too unbelievable. And then I think she went back because she liked Keith. He was involved in a niche interest she was really passionate about. So as awkward as the beginning of things were, she was looking forward to spending more time with him. I think if he was just a normal guy, it would be stupid. But with him being part of the underground jazz world and being kind of a celebrity to her, I think it makes a bit more sense.

  2. What’s the point of the Jane Eyre paperback in Keith’s suitcase? It was shown twice…

    • Thanks for the question, Jill! Jane Eyre is a very important feminist story. Jane spends a lot of time in subjugation. First in the orphanage, then at boarding school. She has to overcome a lot before her life transforms for the better. You can take that in a variety of ways. Like, it could be a subtle way of showing that Keith’s actually really thoughtful and considerate of women. Or it could be drawing a connection between Tess and Jane. Or even The Mother and Jane. Or kind of all of the above. I don’t think the book being there changes any major reading of the film. But it does reinforce Barbarian as a feminist film.

  3. In the last moments of the film, a thought occurred to me. Could “the Mother” be a stand-in for “Woke America.” Many like to think that they are helping women who are victims, but it many ways they are keeping them in victim status (one way is by labelling them as victims). Some will say “woke” people are more interesting in feeling good about themselves, feeling like they are actually helping.

    I know this might be a completely misguided reading, but I can’t shake it.

    • Yo, Chris! So I think all works have a basic intended reading and then are completely open to applied readings. For example, the book The Great Gatsby was very much about 1920s America and the economics of that time. That’s the basic intended reading. But someone could do an applied reading where they analyze Great Gatsby through the lends of 21st century political paradigms. What you’re saying sounds more to me like an applied reading than something I think is intended. But it’s very true the mother does want to keep Tess in this reduced state. But Cregger wrote the film specifically with the idea of the ways in which men give off red flags toward women and are a danger to women. So I think the Mother character’s intended reading has more to do with what Frank did to her.

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