Issues & debates
“They Don’t Come Back The Same”: The Horror of Repression in Pet Sematary (2019).
Stephen King’s popularity, while it has never dropped to low levels, seems to have signs of surging cinematically over the past few years, with the remake of It (2017, Directed by Andy Muschietti) being the highest grossing horror film ever at over $700 million. This popularity has been followed up by a remake of his 1983 novel, Pet Sematary (2019, Directed by Kevin Kolsch and Denis Wydmyer). While Pet Sematary has been done on the big screen before back in 1989 (Directed by Mary Lambert), the film was never a success. The film focuses on the Creed family, Louis (Jason Clarke), Rachel (Amy Seimetz), their daughter, Ellie (Jeté Laurence), and their son, Gage (Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie) as they move to rural Ludlow, Maine, into a house nearby to a tainted burial ground, where what is buried there is later brought back to life. When the family cat, Winston ‘Church’ Churchill is killed, the family’s elderly neighbour, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) shows Louis the burial ground and helps him to bring Church back.
While the lesson to be learned from Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is the damaging effects of grief, to take this to a broader scope, it could be said that the true danger is repression of emotions and events. Repression, according to Freud, is the act of pushing a trauma into the unconscious mind as a means of protecting the conscious mind. As a result, the mind then runs the risk of plunging into either neuroticism or psychoticism as an alternative means of expressing the repressed material. As such many of the characters in Pet Sematary engage in the act of repression as a means of psychological protection, especially when death occurs. One example of this is the death of Church, which Louis does not tell the rest of the family about, and, in bringing him back to life, invokes the damaging effects of repression, such as Church’s newfound aggressive behaviour towards anyone who is not Louis. Furthermore, when Louis cannot bring himself to euthanise Church, attempting to repress his mistake, he takes him out to a gated area to be rid of him, which will, in turn, repress his mistake. The gate, also has ‘restricted access,’ which represents the way in which Louis is hoping to put Church’s resurrection into the unconscious, which is the part of the human mind that is inaccessible from the conscious mind, and is the destination of all repressed material. However, the next time Church is seen results in Ellie’s death by her running out into the road in front of a tanker. This further displays the way in which repression can have damaging effects, because if Louis had never tried to repress Church’s death and resurrection, then the damage would not have escalated to Ellie’s death, despite the good intentions of not wanting to hurt Ellie with the truth. Likewise, Ellie’s own resurrection has similar consequences, with her harbouring similar violent and destructive tendencies. One way this is exemplified is through her dancing in the living room, destroying a family photo in the process. This connotes the way in which Ellie’s death and resurrection is destroying the family. Furthermore, after Ellie is resurrected, she endeavours to kill them all and bring them back via the burial ground, so that they can live as a family once more.
“While the lesson to be learned from Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is the damaging effects of grief, to take this to a broader scope, it could be said that the true danger is repression of emotions and events”
Returning to Louis and Rachel, both of them repress the concept of death in some form, with Louis’ occupation as a doctor, and Rachel’s fear of death as a result of her sister, Zelda (Alyssa Brooke Levine) dying. Starting with Louis, his job as a doctor, by its nature, involves defying death to save lives. However, when Ellie is killed by a tanker, this capability to defy death in turn reinforces his doctoral urge to avoid death by resurrection in the burial grounds, and the same can be said for Church. As Ellie is killed instantly, his skills as a doctor are not enough, and so he resolves to use the burial ground as the only thing that can defy death in this instance. Likewise, when Louis fails to save Victor Pascow (Obssa Ahmed), a student who was killed after being hit by a vehicle, he is consequently haunted by Pascow, who warns him against using the burial ground. Furthermore, Pascow appears after Ellie attempts to climb over the barrier between the known Pet Sematary and the burial ground, which represents the breaking down of the separation between the conscious and unconscious minds. Turning to Rachel, her attempt to repress death comes as a result of her sister’s death. As a child, Rachel was entrusted by her parents to care for her sister, Zelda, who suffered from spinal meningitis. She subsequently suffered, not only from feelings of guilt over her own good health compared to her sister’s, but also guilt over her sister’s death, when Rachel decided to use a dumb waiter to give her sister her food. As a result, Zelda falls down the dumb waiter, killing her instantly, inciting her guilt. However, despite Rachel and Louis’ assumed long-standing relationship, it is only within the timeline of the film that Louis finds out about it, displaying the way that Rachel has repressed the trauma for a long time, and is likewise displayed in her hesitancy to talk to Ellie about the concept of death, while Louis wants to tell her how natural death is.
The subject of repression in Pet Sematary is a well-invested one, and acts as a warning against it. To repress undesirable material is a common practice, and a dangerous one at that. However, while the film acts as a cautionary tale to show what happens when repressed material is not met with catharsis, it does not mean that all who repress are destined to meet with the material fighting back, and are capable of gaining catharsis through confrontation with the material.
“The subject of repression in Pet Sematary is a well-invested one, and acts as a warning against it. To repress undesirable material is a common practice, and a dangerous one at that”
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