A father and a son living in a pretty house – a very normal setting in day to day life. But to live in a pretty house with an underground morgue? That is beyond creepy. For a family that has been doing autopsy for ages, living with dead bodies under their humble abode was pretty much a normal thing. And what’s creepier is that the son’s girlfriend wanted to see what was going on in the morgue. Basically, the movie Autopsy of Jane Doe was set in a strange way, and living with dead bodies under their house was just the tip of the ice berg.
Two men were assigned to execute an autopsy on the people the local police bring in for an investigation. As Austin Tilden, the son, heads off for a date with his girlfriend, the sheriff brings in a Jane Doe for an autopsy and results were expected within the day. Of course, being an obedient son, Austin extended his work hours, telling his girlfriend to come back at 11.
An autopsy begins on a beautiful victim, or at least they thought what was a victim, and finding it weird that they were no traces of severe bruises externally, but finding intense damages internally. As they progressed with the autopsy, they slowly find out clues that were implanted in her body and later on deducing that she was a witch and was related with the Salem Witch Trials decades before. The movie ends with everyone dead and the Jane Doe healing its bruises and is transported to another county.
One thing I found weird about this movie is that the father was the one who was rejecting supernatural idea and the son was the one proposing that all the weird things happening are works of the mysterious body. The movie was set in a way that there was an allegory to science, being able to study the anatomy of the body through the autopsy and supernatural from the unexplainable experiences they went through. The son being (and probably supposed to be) a believer of science since he was much younger and he grew up with technology was pushing that the Jane Doe was the reason.
Apart from this, another striking idea that was put into this movie was about the Salem Witch Trials, mass hysteria and the incapability of explanation phenomena that were extraordinary to the people at this age. According to Robin Wood, the idea of “Others” were resolved by two ways: either by demonizing it or by assimilating and rendering it safe. Unfortunately, a number of people who were having convulsions were branded as demons, therefore the people who saw it had no choice but to annihilate them, having the majority being women.
I will look at the movie side by side with the season 3 series of American Horror Story: Coven which concentrated on, yep, witches. Both shows concentrated on women being an outcast and was subject to burning at the stake. However, what Jane Doe experienced was far worse than the normal punishment. These women were subject to isolation due to their differences, the only difference is the women from AHS: Coven found their safe haven, although some characters weren’t able to escape death. On the other hand, Jane Doe’s isolation was intensified as though she was not a witch, she was still abused by certain individuals that made her a witch and was out there to seek revenge.
In both shows, it could be seen that women were so oppressed, that they had to undergo great measures to fight against the sexism of a long reigning patriarchy in the world that they live in. Although in AHS: Coven, the women were able to find their strength as witches, there were episodes in which women are perceived as nothing without men. For example, the supreme witch Fiona Goode (played by Jessica Lange) was suffering from an inevitable cancer due to a new supreme claiming the throne, wished for a man’s company in her final days. She felt incomplete even after life without the man’s presence and was subject to the belief that she will suffer for the rest of her after life. In the movie, Jane Doe was portrayed as helpless when she herself can control all things without even blinking an eye and was going to be helped by Austin’s father to end her misery.
All in all, other than the movie being perceived as a horror story and a very effective one, the underlying message of science versus supernatural and individuals being an outcast in a certain society leads me to think that in this world, there are people who really execute dominance over species. It is a never ending cycle of survival of the fittest and unfortunately, women were and are still being perceived as isolated and weak individuals, although it isn’t as evident today.
Source: Janovich, M. (2002). Horror, The Film Reader. London: Routledge.