This essay discusses animal-to-human metamorphosis in film, with particular regard to the ways in which therianthropy is used to communicate and investigate the theme of social isolation. Films under discussion are John Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete (1946), Kurt Neumann’s The Fly (1958), Sam Raimi’s Spiderman 3 (2007) and Mary Hannon’s American Psycho (2000).
Research sources include Sigmund Freud’s The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, being used to analyse the psychological effects of the transformation on everyday existence, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, as well as the 2000 film adaptation by Mary Hannon, acting as an example of a psychological transformation in society and the above films The Fly, La Belle et La Bete and Spiderman 3, for their themes regarding transformation on an emotional level.
The discussion begins by comparing the symbolic use of metamorphosis in La Belle et La Bete and The Fly, before examining the associated idea of the Symbiote in the Spider-Man universe, reinforcing ideas surrounding social isolation found in American Psycho. In conclusion, the assignment will seek to address the psychological and emotional repercussions that come as a result of metamorphosis.
Breaking the Films Down
The idea of ‘the outcast’ is a staple theme that appears to ride in tandem with themes of metamorphosis and transformation, being displayed liberally in films such as Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete (1946) and Kurt Neumann’s The Fly (1958).
In La Belle et La Bete, the Beast is initially seen as a being a creature to be feared. This is brought on by not only his grotesque appearance, but also his stern, dismissive attitude towards those he would consider have wronged him.
“You steal my roses. You steal my roses, the things I love most in all the world”
It could be argued that his isolation from the rest of society was not necessarily the result of his appearance, but more for his general distaste for the company of others, as demonstrated in the quote above. Conversely, his personality traits may be the result of a lack of social interaction, with isolation from society being known to be a catalyst for anxiety, stress, violence and depression (House, 2011).
Throughout the film, The Beast gradually becomes less of a creature and more of a man in terms of personality, thanks to the interaction he has with Belle. This change would suggest that his personality was more likely to be the result of a form of depression, subsequently serving as a personification of the beast within all of us.
In The Fly, Andre’s isolation is a result of his transformation, but unlike the Beast in La Belle et La Bete, it is his own choice. A choice he has made initially through the hope that one day he will be able to return to his normal, 100% pure human form. Eventually, the instinctive nature of the fly he has been spliced within begins to shine through, erasing whatever human elements remain within.
Although Andre has deliberately isolated himself from the outside world, the effects of solitary confinement begin to take their toll. Andre becomes increasingly restless and impatient with Helene’s attempts to save him, when he simply wants to be able to leave his laboratory. Carly Frintner addresses this idea, saying,
“Prisoners who are isolated for prolonged periods of time have been known to experience “depression, despair, anxiety, rage, claustrophobia, hallucinations, problems with impulse control, and/or an impaired ability to think, concentrate, or remember.”” (Frintner, 2005)
This frustration could be considered reminiscent of the nature of the fly, particularly the idea of a fly attempting to leave a room through a window. The fly struggles in futility to fly through, getting more and more restless.
A modern example of therianthropy-induced isolation is the Symbiote from the Spider-Man universe. The Symbiote is a creature that takes an individual as a host and subsequently alters the host’s physical and emotional attributes. In the 2007 film, Spiderman 3, directed by Sam Raimi, the Symbiote initially provides the host with somewhat of a confidence boost. In this case, the host Peter Parker has an emotional metamorphosis, shifting his typical personality traits from shy and reclusive to wildly confident and outgoing. The Symbiote appears to amplify the supressed characteristics that the host would normally keep from displaying.
“This suit, where'd this come from? The power, feels good... But you lose yourself to it…”
These characteristics, at first, make the character more socially active, moving away from the isolation theme. Although, it is the repercussions of these actions which knock the host back to a state of social isolation. An example would be the scene where Peter Parker dances in a jazz club in order to impress Mary Jane and, in theory, win her back. Parker is at the peak of his confidence as he displays his talents to the various club-goers. His effects on the crowd are destroyed as, in the midst of a fight, he forcefully shoves Mary Jane away. All respect that he had momentarily established is blown away in an instant, dropping him back where he began.
The idea of a psychological transformation is also present in the Bret Easton Ellis novel, American Psycho, as well as the 2000 film adaptation directed by Mary Hannon. In American Psycho, the character Patrick Bateman is a Wall Street executive moonlighting as a psychopath. Unlike the previously mentioned films, Bateman does not physically transform from a human into a beast, but psychologically he is as much of a beast as any other.
“I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust.”
In terms of social isolation, Bateman is forced into human interaction due to his career, meaning in order to indulge in his sadistic hobby, he must force isolation upon himself. This feeling of intended isolation is present throughout the film adaptation, particularly in Bateman’s apartment. Everything is stark, cold and clean, a personal prison, of sorts.