Movie Macabre: ParaNorman-al Investigation
Imagine for a brief moment that you are a child again. I ask you not to remember yourself, but instead to picture yourself as someone else. Your name is Norman, but your life is anything but “normal”. Born and raised in a small town known for its history of punishment of “witches”, you have the tragically ironic ability to see and hear ghosts. As a result, you are bullied both at home and in school by persons who believe that you experience this in order to garner attention. The only solace you have lies in your own company. While you do not fear how these bullies treat you, you fear responsibility, and the possibility of changing who you are in the process. When a curse placed upon your town hundreds of years ago goes into effect and the dead rise from their graves, you are called to save the living. Will you fight or be frightened?
This is ParaNorman, a clay-animated comedy/horror feature film that is currently playing in theaters nationwide. I went to a screening of it this last weekend, and was not disappointed. Upon telling some of my peers about it, however, I was disappointed (but not surprised) with what they said. Most responded similarly: “I’m not even going to bother with that movie,” “It isn’t worth paying for,” and the most unfortunate response, “That movie looks stupid”. Although I agree that animated movies are not for everyone – especially adults who prefer to watch realistic films – I absolutely disagree that ParaNorman is a “stupid” movie.
Rather than agree with how horrible the film is, I must insist that the movie’s obvious call to action on the horror that lies in the hearts of humankind makes the film very thinkable. While exposing and attempting to correct bullying and scapegoating is the main theme of the movie, ParaNorman explores various types of fear, and how this concept is ultimately the cause of both kinds of human victimization. The film argues that our main fear is of what we do not understand – making humans more monstrous than any ghoul, vampire, werewolf, or zombie.
While there are certainly images in the film’s animation that startle and nauseate the audience (moths spewing from an old teddy bear’s mouth suddenly and a slug crawling out of the nostril of a mannequin, etc.), the exaggeration of the characters’ body parts comments on the horror that lies in the humans. Everyone other than Norman and his only friend, Neil (who has also been bullied), has a part of them that is not in proportion to the rest of their body or even distorted. It is ironic that these “abnormal” boys look physically normal, while the vicious townsfolk physically represent what they are internally – distorted.
What is also interesting is the switching of “good” and “evil” roles. If one thinks of a zombie, they automatically assume the worst. When the townsfolk meet the living dead in ParaNorman, however, they act barbaric – wielding pitchforks, rifles, and even brass knuckles to beat the “fiends” to a pulp. When the zombies look at these rallied humans, they have a moment of terror and flee these “living monsters”. We find out later that these zombies did not intend to harm anyone, but rather ask for their help in breaking the curse put upon them.
It is not my intention to close this blog post with my own film rating, but rather work my way back to you. Why did I ask that you imagine yourself as someone else? Why should one ever think of being anyone other than you? If the film ParaNorman teaches us little else, there will always be fear as long as a horror of others different than us remains in our hearts. Even if you choose not to see this film, I hope that you will reflect yourself in light of its messages. Where do your words, actions, and empathy lie? Is what is considered “normal” always right? What makes you a human – or a monster?
– Christine Sellin, Art & Design Editor
Editor’s Note: Christine Sellin is a senior undergraduate English major and Film Studies minor at Lewis University and the Art & Design editor for Jet Fuel Review. She enjoys bizarre and psychological literature and film, and is a budding buff of both.