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Women Transformed




WARNING: Contains spoilers for AppleTV+’s Shining Girls and IFC Film’s Resurrection.




Do an internet search for “warning signs of domestic abuse” and you will come up with a list that includes: jealousy, sudden mood swings, controlling behavior, making others feel responsible, rigid roles, unrealistic expectations, and isolation. These are all behaviors that Rebecca Hall’s character Margaret has experienced at the hands of her abuser in 2022’s Resurrection. When we meet Margaret she is (we believe) on the other side; she has left her abuse in the past. She is confident and put together. She walks tall and straight. She makes jokes and a room full of people laugh. She closes business deals and has her own large office at a leading biotech company. We watch Margaret as she engages in an affair with a married coworker while her daughter, Abbie, spends the night at a friend's house. Margaret seems to keep others at arm’s length. She’s not looking for commitment, at least, not from anyone outside of her offspring. Margaret is so composed and self-assured until she’s drastically not. While attending a lecture, she recognizes a man sitting a few rows over. There is a complete and utter transformation of Margaret’s face and demeanor that is astounding. Hall does such a magnificent job of completely transforming Margaret’s character and making us feel the absolute terror in the formerly confident and calm woman. It is Hall’s performance, again and again throughout the film, that transfixes the viewer and makes Resurrection worth the watch.



In the TV series Shining Girls, Elizabeth Moss plays Kirby, a woman living in Chicago. When we meet Kirby, we can tell that something is seemingly wrong in her life, but we’re not sure what it is yet. Kirby is someone that is hiding in plain sight. She hides in the oversized clothing she wears. She hides behind her headphones, listening to loud punk music while delivering archived articles to reporters at her job at the Chicago Sun-Times. She feels like a shell of a person speaking in breathy whispers. Kirby is the survivor of a violent attack that has left her scarred both mentally and physically. She was viciously stabbed and left for dead one evening, while she was out walking her dog. This experience completely derailed her career aspirations of becoming an investigative reporter. She has spent the time since this experience, living under a new name, in an unassuming job, with her mother, until she notices similarities between her case and the murder of a local woman whose body is found. The similarities of the cuts made on the victim’s body (among other strange details) spark something within Kirby that leads her to further investigate who is behind several other attacks on women in Chicago.





Margaret’s daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) is about to turn 18 and leave for college. She mostly plays video games, and at times, she drinks a little with friends, but altogether, she is a good kid who does not do anything too crazy. Her mom seems overprotective. We’re not sure why Margaret seems so overprotective until we see the mysterious specter from her past: David (Tim Roth). We do not know who he is to Margaret, we only know that his presence is terrifying to her. When we first met Margaret in the film, we witnessed her coaching a younger intern in a toxic relationship. The intern goes to Margaret in confidence, asking her not to share what she has said. Margaret encourages her to stand up for herself and to say no to her partner’s demands and leave him. This clues us in that she has escaped some form of toxicity in her past. We don’t have any idea what that is until David reappears in her life 22 years later.



We are introduced to Kirby’s abuser, Harper, as a middle-aged man who miraculously, does not seem to age. Jamie Bell plays Harper and I think it is one of his most interesting performances to date. With Harper, we are given the opportunity to meet and get to know our villain. We see the circumstances that shed light on his true nature. We understand when he feels he has been wronged or when he feels he is in a position to gain from a situation. There are moments at the beginning of the series when it’s possible to feel sympathy for his character. His love for a childhood friend goes unrequited. He’s poor and has always tried to find money. He returns home from World War I without any medals of honor, but we learn he’s capable of murder. We see no such revealing backstory about David. Our only knowledge of him is when Margaret chillingly recounts to her intern how David groomed a young naive Margaret, how he won over her and her parents until he gained what he wanted: complete control over Margaret’s life.





The difference is in how the abusers and the abused seem to affect one another in each story. In Shining Girls, physical things begin to change drastically for Kirby. At first, it is minor: her desk at work is in a different location than she remembers. Then it escalates - her hairstyle and wardrobe change; until we finally watch her come home to her apartment where a coworker is now her husband. Kirby has no memory of marrying him or their life together. We don’t understand how these things are happening to Kirby, but as the series progresses, we realize that they connect her to Harper and his actions. The problem is that Kirby is an unreliable narrator to those around her. She comes off as potentially crazy, damaged by the experiences of her past. It takes several episodes before any other characters even start to believe her.



Once Margaret starts seeing David pop up in public places around where she lives and works, some of her old habits begin to resurface. She becomes more and more paranoid and unsure of herself. She is willing to perform “kindnesses,“ a form of psychological and emotional abuse that David proposes to her in exchange for leaving her and her daughter alone. These kindnesses are bizarre at best and completely sadistic at worst. Margaret must walk to work daily instead of driving, barefoot the entire way, or else, David threatens, something bad may happen to her daughter. There is a way of gaslighting that comes so naturally to David’s character. Tim Roth who can seem so handsome and charming in some films is at his worst here and it is one of his best performances. He is manipulative and also a complete and total degenerate human being. His hair is greasy, his teeth are crooked, and he is quick to flash a smirk when he knows he has turned the tables, calling Margaret “Maggie,” and swearing that he only wants her happiness all these years later. David is able to manipulate her and cause her intense fear and paranoia. Despite making statements about their past (and present) that seem completely delusional, he is able to gain control over Margaret. Abbie becomes concerned for the safety and sanity of her mother as she struggles more and more to appease David in an effort to protect her daughter. Margaret never confides in Abbie about what happened between her and David all of those years ago.




In Kirby‘s case, she is not alone. Over time, her coworker Dan, a washed-up reporter, begins to believe her. The odd evidence of all of these murders starts to stack up and he has seen Harper, seemingly agelessly reappearing, throughout history and the series. When Harper is finally confronted by Kirby it is a complete shock to his system. Up until that point he has succeeded in feeling powerful over the women he has murdered. Kirby is the lone survivor of his attacks and her survival has triggered something that he cannot control. Not only can he not control the physical change of events happening around them, but there is something that Harper hasn’t felt over all these years: fear and a lack of control. Kirby transforms from a potentially paranoid delusional character to a woman full of quiet rage and determination. It is jarring to watch her make the switch. If you’ve seen Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale, you know what I mean. Once Kirby changes, she becomes a force to be reckoned with. She stands taller, fixed on revenge against Harper for what he did to her and all of the other women he murdered. Even though Moss displays a compelling metamorphosis in Kirby, I would argue that Rebecca Hall‘s transformation in Resurrection is even more impressive. Hall’s Margaret shows complete vulnerability, like a caged animal, afraid of its tormentor returning, and yet, willing to fight to the death to protect her daughter from any harm regardless of the cost.





In Resurrection, we always get the story from Margaret’s point of view. Hall’s performance is both breathtaking and devastating. There is a suspension of disbelief that is tested by the audience the further Margaret is pushed by David’s actions. The more she becomes unhinged, the more confident we may become that to a certain degree, some of this may just be inside Margaret’s head. In Shining Girls, the supernatural and fantastical are reality. We witness experiences from other characters’ points of view that only lend validity to the originally unbelievable accounts of Kirby. In the end, she gains control of her life, even though it feels bittersweet. Margaret on the other hand may have lost total control if we believe the film’s end is all a dream or inside her head. In that sense, it feels much more like part of the horror movie genre than Shining Girls ever does.






 


Diana DiMuro

Associate Editor

Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro


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