|What do you see?|
Written in 1892, it is a stark foray into mental illness. The movie trailer makes it out to be a horror story, and in fact it does have elements of terror in it, but it's mostly due to the frightening realism with which Gilman portrays her main character's descent into madness. Back in the 19th century and well into the 20th, women who had any kind of anxiety or depression were thought to be not only a nuisance, but a problem to tuck away and ignore. In particular what is now readily recognized and diagnosed as post-partum depression.
The Yellow Wallpaper tells the story of an unnamed woman who with her physician husband John, rents a house in the country for the summer to recuperate from what he calls a 'nervous condition'. In fact, it is hinted that there is a baby in the picture, so it's safe to assume she is indeed going through post-partum depression. Instead of simply acknowledging the problem, John feels it is best for his wife to do absolutely nothing but rest. He drags her to said house and stuffs her in an attic room, with nothing to stimulate her except the patterns in the wallpaper.
If it sounds cruel, it is. But unintentionally. Back in those times it was standard procedure to prescribe bed rest and complete so-called relaxation to ward off those nervous troubles. John even goes as far as to lock her in the room so she can't have any access to the rest of the house. He works out of the house a lot, leaving her alone, so he fears her wandering and keeps her stowed away for her own safety. She has also been told she is not allowed to write (apparently her previous profession or hobby) so she hides her journal from him and writes when she is confined to the room with no interruptions. Unfortunately as I mentioned, she has no stimulation of any kind, and while at first finds the faded yellow wallpaper ugly and strange, as time goes by she begins to see shapes and patterns. Eventually she has decided there is a woman hiding behind the paper waiting for someone to help release her. The ease with which this happens is probably the most terrifying element of the story. It's not like suddenly she's off her rocker...it's a gradual decline that you almost don't see coming.
The story is told in first person and moves quickly even as it seems nothing is truly happening. The woman's inner voices convince her there is something at work in the paper - behind the paper - and just when you think she is getting better or that the summer will end and her husband will move her out of that house...she descends even further into madness.
I was entirely impressed with the story and can't wait to see what they do with it on film. That being said, books always have their own degree of unattainable palpable fear. It's your mind at work, formulating the story in your head and planting pictures to go along with it. I'm always glad to have read the source material before seeing a film, if for no other reason than to have the story unspoiled. In most cases the book is usually far superior to the movie, but I'm always hopeful. Rarely does a short story grab me like this one did. I'm more of a full-length novel girl in reality.
Even though the story was written in 1892, it wears the years well and translates to become effective at any period in time. Hopefully the film will be able to wrap its head around the real root of the story, the woman's subtle slide into psychosis, and not just try to freak us out with jump scares and filler. I do know they add a bit of back story to it, which I will reserve judgement on until I see the movie. The last film I can recall that handles mental illness/depression well was the largely ignored (except in certain horror-loving circles) Let's Scare Jessica To Death. Maybe we can add The Yellow Wallpaper to its ranks. I'm hoping.
For now, check out the trailer.