Feminist Gothic: Crimson Peak and Why You Should See It (again)
By Jessica Dwyer
Crimson Peak is one of my top five movies of this year. This isn’t a surprise to a lot of you I’m sure. I mean…I’m certain in your head you are saying “Of course Jessica, it’s Tom Hiddleston in a gothic ghost story wearing velvet.”
Well yes, that’s a part of this movies appeal. But what if I told you that the role of the “damsel in distress” is actually being played by Hiddleston and NOT by either of the two fantastic lead actresses? I guess at this point I should just say SPOILERS.
Guillermo del Toro has created a beautiful Gothic masterwork with Crimson Peak. It’s set closer to the turn of the 19th century so it is allowed to be more modern than most Gothic works (which are actually referenced in the film quite often.) But the other thing he has done is created another epic women power stories much as was done with Mad Max Fury Road. Like Fury Road, Crimson Peak isn’t in your face about the fact the women are truly the power players in the story…it’s just how it is.
The brother and sister duo of Thomas and Lucille Sharpe are example number one of this. Usually it’s the male figure who is the brains and the will of scenarios like the one in Crimson Peak. But here this is completely Lucille’s game. She’s, for want of a better word, pimping out her brother as the bait for the women. This power play is typically what we see in films (most recently Game of Thrones with the Targaryen siblings) where the brother is marrying off his sister for monetary gain.
Here Lucille is the one pushing her brother to marry as the fetching husband of any unfortunate with some money and a heart to lose. It is Lucille that “gets her hands dirty” to make sure their plans go off without issue.
It’s obvious as you learn their history that Lucille is the Alpha in this relationship. She’s powerful, willful, smart, and ruthless…and also insane. But within this dynamic she’s also the one holding Thomas prisoner and using him in every way possible. He’s the one trapped in the tower (somewhat literally) and unknowingly desperate for rescue.
The other side of this tale is Edith Cushing. Edith is a modern woman and the only child of a powerful man in the new age of America. Her father, knowing he will not have a son for an heir, lets his daughter pursue her dreams whatever they may be…and he SUPPORTS them.
Edith is intelligent, knows her mind and her heart, and knows what she wants out of life. She pursues Thomas, spurring even her beloved father’s obvious distrust (with good reason) of him. She wants what she wants. If you want to get technical the “wedding night” scene is total evidence of this as Edith does in fact wind up on top. That’s representative of she and Thomas’s relationship.
Edith also has an open mind when it comes to the strange things she’s seeing. She is smart enough to realize that there are bad things around her and warnings she should pay attention to. In the realm of most horror and gothic literature and film…this is rare and actually realistic.
When the dashing BFF in the form of her childhood friend Alan comes to “rescue” her it’s Edith that rescues him and who does battle with the evil that has been dominating Crimson Peak. It is Edith’s courage and drive that keeps both she and Alan alive.
In the end it is Edith who frees Thomas from his torment and from his prison in the tower of Crimson Peak through not only her love but who she is inside. She’s a dreamer, a futurist who believed in the same dreams that he himself had…but she was actually the one strong enough to break away from the grips of the house and the past.
When you go back to see Crimson Peak again (which you should because I’m sure you’ll see something you didn’t notice before) or for the first time (why haven’t you seen this movie yet?) look at it through this new perspective. It’s impressive to see what Guillermo del Toro has done here…taking a genre and while still paying homage to it, turning it on its head. The tropes that should remain are there…but its seen through a glass of modern thought and reason.
He’s created something extremely special with Crimson Peak and I think it’s a film that movie goers and film historians will be talking about for years. Go see it for yourself.
You can follow Jessica’s website at Fan Girl Mag