30 April 2010

Coraline by Selick, 2009

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 2:31 pm

There are plenty of captivating images in this movie…

…but from the first few minutes we started getting creeped out by its personal uncanniness. The film’s premise is that the kid, Coraline, gains access to an alternate reality through a portal in her house. Evidently this portalic transport is mediated by a doll given to her by a new friend’s grandmother — a doll that looks just like Coraline. As we start watching we soon discover that Coraline…

… and her doppelgänger doll…

…have blue hair. That’s funny: Kenzie has blue hair. Then we see the dad writing something on his computer. He’s wearing a Michigan State sweatshirt.

That’s funny: I went to Michigan State. There’s a black cat — we have a black cat. The town where Coraline lives is preparing for the Shakespeare Festival — we just received our local Shakespeare Festival brochure in the mail yesterday. Extra-diegetic music in the film is provided by the Children’s Choir of Nice — we moved here from Nice. Hey, wait a minute…



  1. Wow that is interesting! I thought Coraline was wonderful movie! I made the mistake though of thinking it was a kiddie movie and then seeing that witch lady, I was like “uhhhh maybe not” lol I think you’ll be ok….just don’t travel through any small doors in your bedroom lol


    Comment by drdashsays — 30 April 2010 @ 2:43 pm

  2. I agree: a very good movie. And thanks for the advice, dr.d. There is a little door downstairs, leading into the crawlspace. I’ve never gone in there, but our cat has. He’s never told us what’s in there though — maybe I’ll ask him.


    Comment by ktismatics — 30 April 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  3. You can try asking him, but if I were you I would just watch him in his sleep….if he shakes and whimpers, then he’s been there lol!


    Comment by drdashsays — 30 April 2010 @ 3:01 pm

  4. I’m surprised you didn’t discover this earlier Clysmatics, though I remember reviewing it with distinctly Lacanian thoughts – having to do with the fact that Coraline is afraid of getting devoured by the Mother, with the Father such an ineffectual figure *no pun intended

    I also felt there was latent potency in the idea of the 3D ”virtual” space down the rabbit hole as an unfinished network, but I didn’t philosophize it to any fruition yet – maybe you have an idea?

    My big complaint is against the film’s Tim Burton look. Every American animation either looks like a Disney, or a Tim Burton.

    The cat bitch erased my latest artwork, of which I was kind of proud:



    Comment by voice of parody — 30 April 2010 @ 5:43 pm

  5. Yay! You’ve discovered a little corner of your brain that sees the world like my ex-wife saw it all the time! ;-p

    When these inevitable coincidences of symbolic saturation happen Rachel and I turn to each other knowingly and intone “They’re fucking with us.” Which of course is an awesome way to feel pre-Copernican.


    Comment by Carl — 30 April 2010 @ 6:20 pm

  6. The director of Coraline also directed Nightmare Before Christmas, which Burton only wrote, so maybe Burton movies have a Selick look. Selick also did James and the Giant Peach. The devouring maternal theme is inescapable: even the portal looks umbilical. Despite all the uncanniness, Anne detects no relation whatever to the mom in this film ;)

    I think the business of the eyes being turned to buttons has something to do also with artistic self-referentiality. Commercial films want you to love them, and so they supply you with visions of lush and gluttonous spectacle in order to take you captive. Coraline finds that little triangular object with the hole in the middle, through which she is able to see reality through the illusion. This returns us to the terrain of Peretz’s Becoming Visionary book about film. Coraline’s vision allowed her to see not the magic of Disney but the tawdriness of the everyday disguised by Disneyesque fantasy.

    Carl, I’m endlessly fascinated by the sense of the portalic and the iconic, where two realities seem to overlap in a single object or gesture, like the bread and wine overlapping with the body and blood. When I was a more religious soul I saw the hand of God reaching toward me through such overlays. Lacan sees that hand of God reaching through too, in the overlap of conscious and unconscious. I’ve got some of that mysticism left in me, though maybe it’s more of a Vonnegut vibe now.


    Comment by ktismatics — 30 April 2010 @ 7:13 pm

  7. This returns us to the terrain of Peretz’s Becoming Visionary book about film. Coraline’s vision allowed her to see not the magic of Disney but the tawdriness of the everyday disguised by Disneyesque fantasy.

    I thought the buttons were directly referencing Lacan’s account of psychosis (there is a famous example where the psychotic, being unable to use metaphor, says ”my eyes have been turned upside down” or something like that) but your Peretzianism is also interesting – though i don’t experience this as a visionary film at all, its denouement being rather commonplace.

    What I meant is that in these kinds of narratives the girl usually encounters the demon as the Father figure, while in this instance it’s an all-woman world, the father is nowhere to be found, completely ineffective. It’s as if Coraline were to be absorbed by her own unlimited jouissance?

    Sadly I missed the 3D projection last year, the movie is especially interesting from this perspective, and I read somewhere that it was like a catalogue of all the past forms of stereoscopy.


    Comment by voice of parody — 1 May 2010 @ 9:46 am

  8. I know you’re also a connoisseur of the Sandman story from the Tales of Hoffman, voice, which is the primary case example in Freud’s essay on “The Uncanny.” The Sandman throws sand in children’s eyes until the eyes jump out of their heads bleeding. Then he gathers up the eyes and puts them in a sack. Then there’s another character who fabricates artificial eyes. The eye, says Freud, is the castrated phallus. Doubling of characters is another primary theme of the Sandman. Freud elaborates on doubling as the paradigmatically uncanny experience:

    “These themes are all concerned with the phenomenon of ‘the double,’ which appears in every shape and in every degree of development. Thus we have characters who are considered to be identical because they look alike. This relation is accentuated by mental processes leaping from one of these characters to another — by what we should call telepathy –, so that the one possesses knowledge, feelings, and experience in common with the other. Or it is marked by the fact that the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own. In other words, there is a doubling, dividing, and interchanging of the self.”

    These themes dominate Coraline, of course, but as you point out it’s the mother who does the castrating here. There’s a dead father in the Sandman; in Coraline the doubled father is spineless, controlled puppet-like by the doubled mother and the fantastic machines of the world she creates. Maybe this Disneyesque, Avatar-like, but false alternate reality is the psychotic’s vision?


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 May 2010 @ 5:32 pm

  9. Well if the father/Phallic function isn’t established in Coraline’s world, and the mother wants to devour the child, then yes the alternate Disney-world is psychotic. But this alternate world is also 1) Coraline’s own projection and 2) a place where all of Coraline’s wishes come true, and materialize, which also means, I guess, a place where unbounded feminine jouissance reigns free. In a sense, Coraline is a witch (notice she’s followed by a black cat).

    I was wondering whether the Russian acrobat character is the Doppelganger of Coraline’s real-life love interest, the foul-mouthed boy, and what that means, while the fat lesbian sisters made me think they were workings-out of Coraline’s narcissism, or something.

    But Peretz also comes to mind in the depiction of the half-formed-ness of the alternate reality, remember there’s a moment when Coraline and the cat walk into a blankness. I wonder if this blankness isn’t the ”blind spot” which Peretz was describing? This is the enormously interesting point vis-a-vis the 3D, but goddammit, I didn’t see the film in theaters and the 3D DVD you can buy isn’t really 3D either.

    Also, in the end, the mother is a spider-like monster, suggesting that female power operates as a network?


    Comment by voice of parody — 1 May 2010 @ 8:28 pm

  10. It’s just that I found the ending – Coraline back in ”reality” – disappointing. Of course they had to make a buck, it would have been too upsetting for children to suggest there’s no way out of the psychosis. It would have been much more interesting if it ended with the suggestion that the portal is, like, a two-way ”object entanglement”, to use Dr. Sinthome’s newest hype, so that it generates another entity, but maybe this is something I should do in my own story.

    Comrade Analite Elite, who performs the curious function of my lesbian conscience, made me wonder whether I was too harsh with Kvondique on Avatar. But the more the phenomenon grows, with DVD sales reaching stratosphere, the more I hate the movie. Its affinities are less with Disney than with Spielberg’s Close Encounters (it’s reflected in the alien design) but the perverse way it continues the logic of humanitarian bombing by pretending to subvert it, to critique interventionism, is truly obnoxious, even by Halliwud standards. If it proves anything, then it proves that we have really built a psychotic 3D reality in which all history may be erased and the Empire may continue to exist without any sort of awareness of the bloody consequences of its reign. If there’s any instance where Chabert’s hammering on Spectacle Society makes sense, then it’s Avatar. But the Diva hasn’t yet spoken on the subject, curiously.


    Comment by voice of parody — 1 May 2010 @ 8:42 pm

  11. It’s Coraline’s fantasy but the mother created the Coraline doll. So surely it’s a maternal fantasy as well: to satisfy the child’s every desire in exchange for total and permanent control over the child’s life. The child has to escape this maternal fantasy world, which as you observe has its complement in the child’s fantasy of fulfilled desire and loss of autonomy — permanent reabsorption into the uterus. Coraline breaks free, gains her identity independent from her mother, which is the happy ending for such a story. What other entity should be created by the two-way portal: a hybrid Coraline whose desires remain unfulfillable, who sees with real eyes a shabby reality, and who remains under permanent subjection to the mother? That would have slipped the film over into the horror genre: it might have been an interesting twist.

    I’ve seen two movies in the new 3D: Avatar and Alice. The effects were successful in Avatar, but not in Alice. The psychotic fantasy world created by Coraline’s mother actually looked like the Avatar world, with the lushness and the glowing moving plants and so on. When Coraline reached the edge of that world and the blankness set in, the fantasy world promptly reassembled itself. The boy said that they’d gone all the way around that world: it’s a recurring cycle of delusional pleasure and total emptiness. Interestingly, this is how Philip Dick’s Time Out Of Joint ends: the character’s delusional fantasy world fades to emptiness as he moves toward its frontier. In Dick’s story the main character’s psychosis is augmented by a widespread plot to keep him in this delusional reality: the madness isn’t just in the head; it’s in the world. This is not unlike Coraline’s fantasy being reinforced by the mother’s madness.


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 May 2010 @ 10:58 pm

  12. What other entity should be created by the two-way portal: a hybrid Coraline whose desires remain unfulfillable, who sees with real eyes a shabby reality, and who remains under permanent subjection to the mother?

    I think what would have made it really uncanny (but then maybe that’s really way too scary for kids in the ”target group”) would be the implication that the ”real” world is the ”dream” of another, a third Coraline, sort of like the ”apparition” that is created in the ”entanglement” of objects – read dr. Sinthome’s newest post.
    Then the implication would be that there exist countless Coralines and they all by interacting affect each other.


    Comment by voice of parody — 2 May 2010 @ 3:26 am

  13. It’s Coraline’s fantasy but the mother created the Coraline doll.

    The Mother is a strange demiurge: she’s an insect, for one, and she spins networks. This brought the film close to current discussions. But I’m also making the fairly anti-feminist statement that this horror fairy-tale is modern for suggesting that Freddy Krueger (whose murderous claw is reflected in the Mother’s, as per your slide) has been replaced by Miss Krueger. While in that other seminal fairy-tale, the world is under threat from a demented father figure, here the men are but puppets. I largely forgot the intro to the movie, perhaps it’s fresher in your memory, and can’t remember what the young boy’s problem is – he talks too much?


    Comment by voice of parody — 2 May 2010 @ 3:37 am

  14. My initial reaction is that the whole portality-and-doubling logic of a world like Coraline’s doesn’t fit well with Latourian entanglements and translations elaborated on in Sinthome’s posts. However, it’s perfectly compatible to propose that the material world and the individual’s imagination can become entangled in some sort of emergent hybrid. In dreams our brains weave together memories from actual events with other material to arrive at some alternate dreamworld. So too is Coraline’s (and/or her mother’s) doubled world a translation of the material world filtered through imagination. The uncanniness is a function of the similarity of these two worlds to each other without ever achieving identity, the doubling that isn’t a simulacrum but a distortion of the original material template, different yet still recognizably the same.

    We just watched Pan’s Labyrinth again last night. The girl’s alternate reality in that story doesn’t have as close a parallel to the material reality as does Coraline’s. But they’re there nonetheless, in a more metaphorical form of translation. So, e.g., the frog under the tree is the evil stepfather and his aristo cronies growing fat by exploiting and killing off the people, there are keys and storehouses and feasts in both realities, etc. And by the way, Pan’s Labyrinth also a character whose eyes have been gouged out, remember?


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 May 2010 @ 8:15 am

  15. And by the way, Pan’s Labyrinth also a character whose eyes have been gouged out, remember?

    I don’t know, I’m not allowed to mention the Oedipus complex; Comrade Analite Elite banned me for this, and given the way object-oriented pathology is developing, pretty soon we won’t have any need for psychology, children will be raised by polymorphously perverse objects!


    Comment by voice of parody — 2 May 2010 @ 3:22 pm

  16. I finally clicked onto the Narcissistic Cat art from the earlier link — sublime, voice.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 May 2010 @ 10:32 pm

  17. Did you read DOT PALIN’s new review of the new movie MOTHER from the maker of THE HOST by the way? PALIN admits herself that we’re dealing with ”Oedipal horror” but when you face her with the Oedipus complex, she starts that Marxist-feminist rant. Maybe it’s a kind of a defensive pose – also, with Analyte Lite. But I think Palin’s mothering over the years has confronted her of the reality of certain crucial psycho-analytic insights.

    Speaking of mindfuck horror narratives, I saw the trailer for the new ”Nightmare On Elm Street” (remake of the Wes Craven original) and one of my fav movies of all time. Anycase at one point in the trailer one of the characters says that insomniacs have micro-naps, meaning they dream while being awake. In the original movie, there was a clear demarcation line between sleeping and being awake, which became increasingly blurred but still, remained a border. Here it seems the idea is given that there’s no distinction between dream and ”reality”, but more importantly, that there is a fluctuation, a flux between the two states, however you define them. This made me think of Shaviro’s recent brilliant writing on GAMER, and how the experience of living in digital capitalism has precisely this frightening snap in- and out- effect as you ”multi task” between all the iPod, internet, advertising and ”reality” levels.


    Comment by Dejan — 3 May 2010 @ 2:27 am

  18. Oedipal is a genre trope, like vampire or scifi or noir. It doesn’t matter whether the thematic elements correspond with everyday reality, as long they can be put together into a compelling alternate reality. That’s what I think about all of these metaphysical schemes that aren’t amenable to empirical falsification: it’s intriguing fictional nonfiction which can be assembled into an alternative speculative universe that can be populated by characters and stories and the other conventions of fiction. It’s like Roberta Sparrow’s Philosophy of Time Travel book in Donnie Darko.

    Mother sounds good — hopefully I’ll remember it when it becomes more readily available. I enjoyed The Host, and in the world of Korean films I very much liked Oldboy.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 May 2010 @ 7:26 am

  19. The novel on which this movie is based was written by Neil Gaiman, who it turns out also wrote the Sandman comic book series — so there’s another connection between Coraline and Sandman noted in comment 8.


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 May 2010 @ 2:19 pm

  20. Yes but to return to my previous thought (which also has to do with the Porn Gang), Coraline didn’t strike me as a story of splitting. The portal connecting the two worlds is not a barrier, it is a two-way membrane. The horror of this story is in the possibility of Coraline’s enjoyment growing uncontrollably, and of her remaining captive in her mother’s desires for an eternity. To this end we might have gotten the first post-Freudian horror where the Father figure is threatened instead of being the threat.


    Comment by satire incognito — 8 May 2010 @ 3:34 pm

  21. I’m not familiar with the Sandman comic books, so I don’t know if Gaiman follows the Hoffman story’s premise. But now surely, satire, you know plenty of stories in which the Mother-Child bond dominates while the Father recedes into insignificance or is absent altogether. It’s a common enough phenomenon in real families, where the Father cedes involvement in both nurture and discipline, becoming more a playpal and clown in the family dynamic. In Porno Gang there’s a performance based on the decline of the patriarchy in Serbia, in which the men grow boobs and dress as women.


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 May 2010 @ 3:55 pm

  22. But now surely, satire, you know plenty of stories in which the Mother-Child bond dominates while the Father recedes into insignificance or is absent altogether.

    Oh yes for sure but what seems unique for ”Coraline” is the examination of her jouissance, the fact that she is able to generate this fantasy (which isn’t really a fantasy given the equal ontological status of the two planes), her witch-like qualities. Compare this to narratives like ”A Nightmare on Elm Street” where the heroine builds up defense against the father’s attack in order to ultimately restore the ”bourgeois” or Oedipal order. I am not saying that Coraline is a female empowerment narrative this way, it is far too subtle for such a thing, but that it opens a new 3D space of female desire into the world of Gothic fairy tales.


    Comment by satire incognito — 8 May 2010 @ 5:04 pm

  23. The horror of “Coraline’s enjoyment growing uncontrollably,” with the portal being not a barrier but a “two-way membrane” — this is Freud’s primary narcissism, isn’t it? The magical thinking that wishing for something makes it so in reality, combined with the paranoiac sense that an external “influencing machine” is controlling you; the grandiose self combined with the idealized parent imago; the inability to disconnect from the mother, as if desiring to return up the portalic umbilicus; the psychosis — it’s a pre-oedipal disintegration more than an oedipal split.


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 May 2010 @ 6:37 am

  24. the inability to disconnect from the mother, as if desiring to return up the portalic umbilicus; the psychosis — it’s a pre-oedipal disintegration more than an oedipal split.

    well yes if you look at it from the clinical perspective; but what if this ”psychotic condition” is indeed the condition we find ourselves in, should it be considered an ”illness”?


    Comment by satire incognito — 9 May 2010 @ 6:49 pm

  25. It seems like there could be a connection with Deleuze & Guattari’s market-induced schizo condition, the reabsorption into the body without organs as a psychotic deterritorialization induced by explosive commoditification. Is it possible to regard the market as a psychotic maternal force trying to reabsorb all independent agents into itself?


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 May 2010 @ 7:03 pm

  26. those pictures are like making me feel like im in the actual movie of coraline


    Comment by lilyanna sierras — 28 November 2011 @ 5:20 pm

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