Crimson Peak straight up tells us that the ghosts are a metaphor. Great! That takes the mystery out of that! Can we end this article now?
What is that metaphor?
There’s a very superficial way to understand that metaphor: the ghost represent the past. There’s nothing new or groundbreaking in using ghosts as symbolic entities for human history. I feel like 75% of Are You Afraid of the Dark episodes did the exact same thing. The Grudge is legitimately about a dead family’s anger being so extreme it creates a curse that kills people. So ghosts representing the past: familiar territory. Seriously, go watch the pool episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark (“Tale of the Dead Man’s Float”)
Screenprism.com brings up an really interesting reading of the ghosts. Contributor Shelley Farmer discusses the ghosts as “illustrating in a heightened, fantastical fashion the ways in which women can protect each other, even while living in a world that is structured to act against their autonomy and self-preservation. They, too, are visions of the legacy of the past trauma and violence that reverberates through the lives of the living, though theirs is not limited to their own personal suffering, but carries the burden of an eternal history of women lost to violence.”
It’s true that the ghosts are women helping one another. Since the film outright states that the ghosts are metaphors, I think it’s absolutely fair to read into the sex of the ghosts and the importance that plays.
But if we’re viewing the interaction between Edith and the female ghosts as a metaphor for how women can protect one another, then we also must look at the interaction between Edith and living females.
That means the relationship between Edith and Lucille. Between Edith and Alan’s mom, Mrs. McMichael. Edith and Eunice. Edith and the society girls.
- Lucille is only being nice to Edith so her and Thomas can inherent Edith’s assets then murder Edith. So Lucille’s kindness is duplicitous.
- Mrs. McMichael likes openly shaming and emotionally bullying Edith.
- Eunice has zero positive interactions with Edith.
- And the society girls laugh at Edith and look at her in a condescending manner.
In Crimson Peak, no woman who is alive is ever nice to Edith because she likes Edith and wants to be nice to Edith. ZERO. The only women who are ever “supportive” are the ghosts.
What’s that mean if we are looking at Crimson Peak as taking a metaphorical stance on the relationship between women?
It would mean that Crimson Peak makes two arguments about women who are alive. First, that living women are either outright mean to one another or secretly plotting against one another—either way, you can’t trust or depend upon them. Second, that living women survive by learning from dead women.
We never get to see Edith interact with her living mom. So if that was a positive relationship, who knows? Lucille’s mom was such a jerk that Lucille killed her with a butcher’s knife.
Really, the only woman who is sort of nice to another woman is Mrs. McMichael caring about Eunice and Eunice’s potential relationship with Thomas Sharpe. But neither of them are main characters, much less secondary characters that have a subplot. They’re foil characters that show the innocence of Edith. Their rudeness actually serves to endear us to Edith. Then they’re out of the movie.
What are we to then take away from Crimson Peak’s use of metaphor?
Either we can think:
- There’s actually no metaphor for the ghosts, and that’s okay!
- There’s no metaphor for the ghosts, and that makes the movie shallow!
- The ghosts only represent the past.
- The ghosts only represent the past, and I’m okay with that!
- The ghosts only represent the past, and that’s pretty cliche.
- The ghosts represent the past and how women protect one another, but we’ll ignore how living women are really mean to Edith.
- The ghosts represent the past and how historical women provide insight to living women, even though living women only compete and seek to take advantage of one another
Pan’s Labyrinth had a fully developed metaphor that contrasted the dangers and ugliness of reality against the dangers and magical wonder of fantasy. Both worlds were terrifying, but the fantasy world offered an escape from the stresses Ofelia faced in the form of war, the asshole Captain Videl, and her sick mom. I find the contrast between the two worlds fascinating, especially since both are extremely dangerous. There is, I think, a lot of meat to the idea of how we perceive danger, and what danger we prefer, and why would we prefer one over the other. I feel I could write essays about Pan’s Labyrinth.
But when I look at the ghosts in Crimson Peak and what they could possibly represent…I don’t think there’s anything of real significance. At least nothing that I haven’t seen done elsewhere. And that’s okay. That doesn’t make Crimson Peak a bad movie or a movie that people shouldn’t like. But it’s one reason that Crimson Peak hasn’t won the hearts of people like myself.