“1972 saw the birth of one of Spain’s most notable talented directors. Alejandro Amenábar grew up in Spain after having fled the corruption-wracked Chile as a young boy along with his family. He quickly acknowledged his unquenchable thirst for a life dedicated to film-making, and as a teenager was already directing short films.
His family moved to Madrid in Spain where they lived for a while in a campervan before moving into a more permanent residence in 1978. His parents preferred Alejandro to not watch television, but to read, write and play musical instruments which is probably why he is so creative today. Alejandro Amenábar studied in various schools in Madrid and the surrounding area. Amenábar began studying at university in Madrid but famously dropped out. However, here he would make many useful friends that would help him later in life, such as the famous Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega.
Alejandro Amenábar has said that his movies are not movies of answers but of questions. His collection of films features intelligent, intricate and twisting plots that tackle a variety of highly original subjects in highly original ways. Pulling his influences from classic terror movies and effortlessly integrating other genres such as science fiction and the demented “snuff-movies,” the majority of Alejandro Amenábar’s films are flawless, tension-filled psychological thrillers.
Always questioning and exploring new terrain, Alejandro Amenábar takes a break from the thriller genre to delve into the ever-controversial subjects of death with dignity and euthanasia in the emotional and heart-breaking film Mar Adentro
While Alejandro Amenábar’s film career has no indication of slowing down any time soon, he has already garnered a lifetime supply of awards. Not only have his films impressed and inspired audiences around the world, but they’ve also earned the young director Oscars, Goya Awards, European Film Awards, Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes, and much more. Amenábar’s masterpieces include:
•Abre los ojos
• Los Otros (The Others)
• Mar adentro”
John Lewis, University of Nottingham, writes in “Mother Oh God Mother …”: Analysing the ‘Horror’ of Single Mothers in Contemporary Hollywood Horror:
“…Initially, The Others appears to have little in common with The Sixth Sense. Although it is linked (as is The Ring) to The Sixth Sense through its surface generic traits – supernatural occurrences, a focus on single mothers and children in peril – where The Others differs is in the presentation of what seems to be a monstrous single mother as a central character. The Others stars Nicole Kidman as Grace, a housewife living in a mansion on the island of Jersey just after World War II has ended. Although she is married, she lives alone with her two children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), and anxiously awaits news of her husband, a British soldier, who was has not returned home. A thick fog has surrounded the house and Grace is completely isolated from the other inhabitants on the island; her employees vanished one night and she is unable to leave the house because her two children suffer from Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a rare allergy to sunlight, and cannot be left alone. When three new domestic servants arrive at the house seeking work, unusual, supernatural phenomena begin to occur; locked doors are mysteriously opened; the house piano plays by itself in the middle of the night; crying and hushed whispers can be heard all over the house and Anne claims to have seen a man, a woman, a young boy named Victor and an old woman, a frightening figure with strange eyes whom Victor claims is a witch. These ‘intruders’, who are either ghosts or unseen human invaders, have told Anne that the house belongs to them. Upon the discovery of the ‘others’ however, Grace is forced to accept a shocking truth she has heretofore unacknowledged; that she murdered her own children and then killed herself. Grace has haunted the house in which she and her children once resided and is now owned by Victor and his parents. Grace and her children are in fact the unseen, terrifying others.
Because her husband has left to fight in the Second World War, Grace becomes both mother and father to her children and adopts the traditional, gendered ‘norms’ that those roles entail. Thus, although Grace is not a ‘working mum’ in the same way Lynne in The Sixth Sense or, as I discuss later, Rachel in The Ring are, by blurring traditionally gendered roles and behaviour, Grace violates “the social norms of masculinity and femininity, the social definitions of manliness and womanliness” (Wood, 2002: 26). Grace is at once lovingly maternal and stereotypically feminine as an emotional comforter to Nicholas and Anne and yet she is a tough ‘man-like’, disciplinarian: active, aggressive, self-assertive, organised and powerful – traits, which Robin Wood observes are “culturally associated with masculinity” (Wood, 2002: 26) – in the role of academic teacher, religious councillor (to her children) and ruler of the house.
During an early scene in the film, Anne cryptically informs her new nanny, Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), that some time ago (undisclosed in the film) “[Grace] went mad” and until the film’s revelatory ‘shock’ finale this “madness” is repeatedly alluded to but never explained. The first revelation of the film’s final act is that Mrs. Mills, Mr. Tuttle the gardener (Eric Sykes) and Lydia the maid (Elaine Cassidy) are in fact dead, a discovery Grace makes at the same time her children discover their graves in the grounds of the house. However, from the audience’s privileged position, this revelation is not nearly as shocking as the second climactic ending of the film during which Grace and her children discover that they are also dead. This second revelation is far more disturbing because director Alejandro Amenábar deliberately makes the audience suspicious of the three domestics by showing them holding mysterious discussions about what to do with Grace and the children (although their intentions are ultimately good – they only want Grace and the children to realise they are dead). In contrast, for the majority of the film’s running time, Amenabar focuses upon Nicole Kidman’s vast array of wide-eyed, startled and fearful facial expressions, repeatedly displayed in close-up as she peers into the dark corners of the mansion’s many rooms and combines the them with intense bursts of silence in which Kidman’s rapid breathing can be heard or with equally sudden eruptions of spine-chilling music, all of which is designed to make the audience fear for Grace and her children’s safety. Amenabar therefore successfully exploits Brian De Palma’s observation that “women in peril work better in the suspense genre…If you have a haunted house and you have a woman walking around with a candelabrum, you fear more for her than you would for a husky man” (Schoell, 1985: 56). However, at the end of the film when the old lady Anne has described (who is in fact a medium) asks the children, “Is that how she killed you? With a pillow?”, a conservative reading of the film suggests that Grace committed these violent acts precisely because she became a single mother through circumstance. Indeed, Grace ‘went mad’ after she was left all alone to fulfil the dual roles of mother and father and be the sole provider for her children.
At one point in the film, Grace’s husband, played by Christopher Eccleston, ‘appears’ at the house and questions her about what happened on the day she went mad. Grace says to him, “why did you have to go to that stupid war that had nothing to do with us? Your place was here with us, your family”. One could argue then that Amenábar elicits sympathy for Grace from the audience but only through her revelation that she could not cope with the rigours of childrearing alone. However, by the end of the film Grace is “made to bear strong associations with the monster, who, like her is defined by its difference from the masculine norm. As [Linda] Williams claims, when the woman looks at the monster, she ‘recognises their similar status within patriarchal structures of seeing’.” (Jancovich, 2002: 57) When Grace stares at the family, who she believed were the frightening unseen ‘others’, she is faced with the realisation that she is the monstrous other, and the reality of her own monstrous deeds. In light of this final revelation, what appears to be suggested is that if Grace had had her husband, the patriarch (at one point he is described as the “master”) and ruler of the house there, she would not have become homicidal, suicidal and committed infanticide. Thus, the revelatory shock ending of The Others acts like a cinematic sledgehammer, establishing the virtues of patriarchal father figures but also suggesting that without their domineering presence, mothers who raise their children alone resort to self-destructive behaviour.
However, as in The Sixth Sense, Amenábar’s narrative undercuts suggestions of misogyny that threaten to dominate the film’s subtext through a sophisticated critique of the rational ‘male’ gaze. Anne tells Mrs. Mills that, “[Grace] says all this stuff about ghosts is rubbish and then she expects us to believe everything written in the Bible”. Therefore, although Grace is a believer in the Christian faith and the ‘supernatural’ all-encompassing spirit of Christ, her perception of the world is also mediated by the patriarchal, scientific gaze, which rejects any possibility that ghostly phenomena can exist within the realms of the living; it is this rational belief, which prevents Grace from realising the truth…”