August 12, 2015 Wednesday: After watching “The Social Network” yesterday, I found myself wanting to watch another very specific movie, ”Beetlejuice”. In 1985, the year this movie was released, I was 3 years old. A staple from my childhood, I watched this movie countless times from about age 7-13. For years my favorite name was Lydia and wished it was mine. I even watched the drastically different animated series from 1989-1991 which follows buddies, Lydia and Beetlejuice, on all their adventures in The Neitherworld, “a wacky afterlife realm inhabited by monsters, ghosts, ghouls and zombies.” I'm watching it again tonight after maybe a year, 13 days after giving birth and I'm struck by several questions: Did Barb and Adam Maitland have a miscarriage? Are they infertile? How long have they been "trying?"
Within the first five minutes, Barb and Adam are shown on their "stay-cation" fixing up their big white house on a hill. Jane, a local real-estate-agent-mom (and decorator) shows up unannounced at 6:45 in the morning and attempts to shame Barb into moving. "This offer is real from a man New York...He wants to bring a wife and family up here for some peace and quiet....but Barbara this house is too big for you - really it should be for a couple with a family...Oh, pumpkin I didn't mean anything it's just that, really, this house is too big for you!" Driving into town to help Adam pick up some parts for his model of the town, Barb tells Adam, "Jane says we should sell the house to someone with a family." Adam responds with, "Well I don't think it's any of Jane's business. Besides, we could try again on this vacation, you know?" as he leans over to lovingly kiss Barb on the neck. And then at 8 minutes into the movie, on their return drive home, they die in a car accident trying not to kill that pesky dog on the quaint covered bridge. It’s important to note that Adam doesn’t know how to drive so that Barb is the one at the wheel during the accident.
In the original script, written by Michael McDowell (according to Wikipedia), among much more violent plot lines like Beetlejuice wanting to rape Lydia rather than marry her and the desire to racistly depict Betelgeuse as a “winged demon who takes on the form of a short Middle Eastern man” and who only speaks in “African American Vernacular English”, Barb dies in a slightly different way. In the car crash, she is shown explicitly with her arm being crushed and the couple screaming as they die. In the movie, they allude to the original script with Barb complaining that her arm feels cold. Why Barb’s arm and not Adam’s? I speculate that it’s because Barb is a woman, and culturally, she needs to be punished for being a “failed woman” who cannot conceive a child despite trying and wanting to. Even if it was Adam whose sperm count was low, culturally we would blame Barb for being unable to get pregnant. In the Garden of Adam and Eve, it is Eve, the everywoman, who is always blamed all throughout history for everything. A vital function of rape culture and victim blaming, how else are the institutions of patriarchy going to control and influence women’s powerful, intelligent, life-giving and life-taking bodies without devaluing and delegitimizing a woman at every opportunity, even in a silly movie? I think we expect and accept that the “failed woman” will be at fault at every turn, driving the car, getting into the car accident, accepting that she “deserved” to be punished further with a broken arm and punishment for her failed female body.
How significant to the plot line is it that Barb and Adam were experiencing pregnancy loss before their untimely deaths? They are likeable and attractive, though with an impossible, and now eternal, limited sense of fashion, is it necessary for us to feel even more sympathy (or empathy?) for them? Possibly, yes. After the living Deetz family moves in, things get worse and worse for the Maitlands. The new matriarch, Delia, a red-headed step mother who dresses in structural black and white ensembles, is also a flakey and pretentious “aspiring sculptor” from New York City. This Wild Woman appears to give “zero fucks” about anyone’s feelings except for Otho’s, her “interior designer” and obnoxious friend, and no mention is made of whether she wants to have or has tried to have biological children. Despite her teenage step daughter, Lydia, one would not associate a maternal identity with her, at least not a traditional or recognizable one. It’s possible Delia is a fertile woman or had her tubes tied or knows that having kids can limit her options + aspirations or that she’s just not interested. The only thing she appears to have birthed and mothered are her strange sculpture objects which she treats better than her family. We really don’t know but it would be interesting to juxtapose the stereotypical mom character of childless, “Norm Core” Barb who longs to become pregnant to the worldly woman of selfish Delia who actively chooses not to have biological children. It’s the limiting dichotomy of the virgin vs. the whore concept that gets applied to almost all female characters in pop culture, etc.
The concept of The Wild Woman who doesn’t want children (because any woman who doesn't want children is WILD) really is a mind-fuck for much of our culture and individuals at large. There is still a widespread belief that all women and female-bodied-folk want to have babies and that they want to birth said babies (because of course all women are hetero-normative/sexual). Delia challenges this concept but is also vilified in the process. She’s a pretty reprehensible character all throughout the movie and rarely do we sympathize with her (except maybe after that “nasty stunt with the staircase”). Plus she is the step mother, one of the most hated character types of all time (think “Cinderella”)!
The House seems to be the only thing Barb and Delia have in common in terms of each trying to make it their own and give it their own distinct identities much like one would do with a child. When they enter Charles' favorite room, Otho remarks, "Deliver me from L.L.Bean." Charles confronts the two of them and Delia tells/screams at him, "I will not stop living and breathing art just because you need to relax. I'm here with you. I will live with you in this hell hole but I must express myself. If you don't let me gut out this house and make it my own, I will go insane and I will take you with me!" The art and the house, both objects, are the only babies Delia is willing to concede to, and enthusiastically so as they are Things that she can manipulate and change and control at will. Barb on the other hand receives wall paper from Adam for their anniversary and is excited to finally get the guest room finished in their rustic, homey style. Barb loves the house yet questions whether she actually deserves it when pressed by Jane as if she should be punished further for not being able to get pregnant and fulfill her female destiny. At the end of this scene in the L.L.Bean room, Barb says, "I'm gonna get her" further cementing their binary relationship. In a later scene, in response to what should change about the house Lydia says, "I think we should keep it the way it is." Delia's plans include changing everything. "Everything goes including everything in the attic," Delia says in response.
Barb is further blamed in the plot line when things get worse. Adam, having read The Handbook for the Recently Deceased, starts to draw a door while Barb considers contacting "that beetle guy." Barb unleashes him and is also the one to get her and Adam back to safety. She has both the power attributed to the traditional nurturing mother (see her skills with the Sandworm on Saturn) and is also blamed for unleashing Beetlejuice. When they're called to see Juno, their case worker and told to bring their handbook, Barb says, "Oh, we forgot our handbook" even though it was Adam who left it behind. The model of the town (which lives in the attic), though built by Adam, is their baby. It it what saves them in the end, and therefore it is Adam that saves them in the end...sort of. Barb, who up until now is at fault for everything, does her part after being banished a second time to Saturn by riding the Sandworm into the impromptu wedding between Beetlejuice and Lydia and "eating"/taking Beetlejuice back to the afterlife.
Lydia, the goth step daughter and likeable, misunderstood teenager that every girl in the 80s wanted to be and audiences identified with, embodies all that is The Lonely Parentless Child. Although it’s hard to believe that she’s related to her biological father from his first marriage, she is someone’s daughter though slightly neglected. In the Maitlands, she gets “parented” by the dead parents she just doesn’t have and likewise they find the child they always wanted. Here it becomes clear that it was necessary for Barb and Adam to be infertile so that they could “adopt” Lydia as part of their undead family. In the end, of course, the whole dead and living big happy family stays at the white house on the hill while Betelguese continues to wreck havoc on the afterlife and himself because...boys will be boys! (smh)
And Rape Culture is a powerful drug best served cold.
Next up for viewing and review through a radical pregnancy loss lens: “Up”! If you have other movies to suggest that allude to, include or talk about pregnancy loss, please mention them in the comments here or on the Facebook page!
Also, Part II of My Radical Home Water Birth / My Spirit Walk Through Fire (+ more baby photos since they really increase traffic) will be coming soon! Thank you for reading friends! In peace and solidarity!
(*Editor's note* I only re-watched this movie until right before the shrimp scene. I wrote most of this after only re-watching the first 10 minutes - that's really all I needed for the analysis because I've seen this movie 500 times. The more I watch, the more this becomes a feminist college paper which could go on for days. I had to stop watching because I couldn't enjoy the movie any more. I had to edit out whole paragraphs and ideas because really I think people want to hear about the labor and the postpartum experience, not this, and I'm finished writing about Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!)