I recently became fascinated with the 2008 short There are Monsters by Jay Dahl. It took me a while to realize what it was that was so compelling about this movie; and, through repeated viewings it became unmistakably clear to me that the “monsters” that exist within the film are comprised simply of women. The unnamed male protagonist faces only one threat to his sexuality and that is the fertility of his wife and the possibility of reproduction.

The opening scene of the film approaches a house that lies beyond the woods. When we are first introduced to the character of the wife we see her performing a very domestic task – mixing batter in a bowl for an upcoming party. She is the dutiful wife who must arrange the perfect social gathering. Meanwhile, the husband sits in front of his computer looking at an article about “black holes” on the Internet. He not only seems mentally distant from his wife, but it becomes safe to assume that his fascination with “black holes” is a metaphor for a fear which he himself cannot face – the vagina. I admit that this does seem like a stretch, but the intrusion of a child on this family’s life would mean the end of couples’ parties and, probably sex. Less than a minute after we see what is on his computer screen (behind his iTunes window and safely in the back of his mind) the wife all-too-conveniently notices a little girl in their yard.

The wife, realizing she is missing ice-cream for the pie she is baking, asks her husband to pick up some for the party and we, the audience, watch the man drive away in his car as the aforementioned little girl watches him behind a fence. What we then hear on his car radio is a monologue about how something, we don’t know what exactly, is “almost like arriving on a desert island.” Quick – what do we naturally think of when we hear the words “desert island”? I think of sex. If I were stranded on a desert island and Donald Trump was the only man with me and the future of the human race depended on us, would I mate with him? You get the point. The focus is once again on human reproduction.

Just when we remember that the wife is now home alone with this “creepy” child, we revisit her and find the little girl on the porch outside the kitchen. Then, in what is literally a jump-out-of-your-chair moment the child quickly places her open mouth against the glass. It is a scary moment because it is not only sudden and grotesque, but it is disturbing in what the open mouth recalls as a symbol. Once again, we are back at the vagina and the threat of pregnancy. The little girl, who is not frightening on her own, is only scary in the context that she could enter the household. What is even more suspect is that the child so closely resembles the main female protagonist, that she could very easily be her biological daughter.

Switch back to the husband – when he arrives at the convenient store it takes a while for the female clerk to emerge. When she comes out from the back wiping her mouth, the husband seems to assume that she has eaten something, or even, someone. Call me crazy, but the first thing that came to my mind was that she had just performed oral sex on the shadow we see looming in the back. Either way, it is her too-big smile and the presence of blood on her fingers that confirms the husband’s suspicions that she is literally a man-eater.

At the party later that night the husband states, “I’m telling you, I thought she was going to eat me.” The woman is a sexual threat in that she could essentially devour him whole. Oddly enough, it is at this party that one of his friends tells him that she also saw a man smile at her in the same manner that the husband just described. Now, you may think that this blows a hole in my theory about women as the enemy. You’re thinking, ‘Why, then, would the man be the enemy in this story if this whole vagina nonsense is true?’ The answer is simple. It is the woman who is sharing this story who is “the enemy.” It is she alone who is encouraging the husband’s paranoia and indulging in his whims. The power she elicits by agreeing with him is enough to keep him unsettled.

At the end of the short we see the husband fully clothed and lying on his bed reading a book. He seems to be fixated on, and largely disturbed by, the large breasts of a particular visitor – once again, a sign of fertility. The subsequent appearance of the girl who was in the yard earlier, Emily, scares him to the point where he yells, “Jesus fuck!” After all, what is this strange girl doing beside his bed? Once the wife steps out of the bathroom she introduces the little girl to the husband and says, “It’s happening” before she, most likely, devours him with her suddenly colossal mouth.

Now, it’s important to note that I am not saying that Jay Dahl is a misogynist. To imply that would be absurd. Rather, my claim is that the main character is afraid of the possibility of a life-changing event (namely, his wife’s pregnancy) which I believe is realized at the end of the film when he comes face-to-face with his wife and the child that so closely resembles her.

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CLARISSA OLIVAREZ holds a Master's degree in Literature from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Master's degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University. She currently lives with her husband and two dogs in the Washington, DC area. Her writing has been published in Haggard & Halloo, Blood Lotus, Fogged Clarity, Midwest Literary Magazine, and an anthology entitled Winter Canons. She has taught at American University and Northern Virginia Community College.

5 responses to “A Feminist Reading of 
There Are Monsters

  1. Joe Daly says:

    Clarissa-

    Now I have to go find this flick. At first I thought that I should perhaps see the short first and then read your review, but I decided to read on and I’m glad I did. I don’t think your impressions will interfere with viewers evaluating it independently, and in fact you’re adding some context that might even make the piece more compelling.

    Another reason I love TNB- getting turned on to books, movies and music that I would have never found on my own. Rock on!

  2. Clarissa Olivarez says:

    Thanks Joe! It’s a really interesting short, to say the least. You can find it on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsL_5bovozE
    Enjoy!

  3. Cory says:

    This is so very interesting. If I didn’t know jay and his wife ( the wife) in the film personally, I would watch it much differently. However, what I do know about them well, is the eye for satire. And his commentary is not so far off. But what it does is what most satire does: misleads the viewer and sends a cautionary tale. The bigger picture, the complete disregard and fear of women, is there, yes – but in fact, it’s a statement he’s aware if and a question he’s presenting. Danger of anything with a satirical content = an insane amount of psychoanalysis of the creater’s own issue, not the issue he or she is creating. Cool breakdown though – and very close. And in fact, I think he would be happy you pretty well got it.

  4. Thank you so much for your reply, Cory! It’s definitely a film I would like to explore further and which warrants multiple viewings. Jay did some great work here and I can see how there are indeed many layers to this short.

  5. Oh – and take care @ Cory!

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