The Still Catastrophe

The Autopsy of Jane Doe sets itself from the very start of the movie as dark and gloomy. This dark atmosphere is actually backed up by the eerieness of the morgue wherein the whole movie was shot in. In addition to that, what seemed to be as taboo, such as refrigerating and cutting up dead bodies for an autopsy, has a sense of normality to it.

In the hallway of the deadly morgue comes two gentlemen: the father (Tommy) and his son (Austin). This duo comes alive as characters of difference and similarity. Tommy is more grounded in the morgue family business. On the other hand, it is explicit in the movie that Austin actually wants to diverge from the family business and move to a new place. Similarities, on the other hand, are supposed between these men. They are both satisfied with solving the mysteries of dead bodies. One can only imagine what they felt about Jane Doe. The unraveling story of the girl who seems to hold a lot of secrets gave the two men more than just a scare.

Robin Woods article, “The American nightmare: Horror in the 70s,” revolves around repression. According to Wood, repression is “universal, necessary, and inescapable” (Wood, 1986). Relating it to The Autopsy of Jane Doe, repression is seen in the projection of characters.

First, repression is seen in Jane Doe. Jane Doe is named as such because of her anonymity. However, it was later found out that she is actually a normal woman who was accused of witchcraft. It was also revealed in the latter part of the movie that the tortures that she had endured turned her into the very being that the people were trying to kill. Repression here, then, is in the form of the inescapability of Jane Doe from the tortures whether they may be intentional or not. Furthermore, Jane Doe is a victim of surplus repression in which the culture of society with regard to witches and black magic is meant to be followed. The eradication of such evils is a cultural norm in which Jane Doe has suffered through generations. In addition to this, Wood also distinguished the difference between repression and oppression. Repression is linked to the accessibility to the conscious mind (thus called internalized oppression), while oppression is related to external factors (1986). Going back to the movie, Jane Doe was oppressed because of the idea that witches exist and pose danger to humans hence torturing her was necessary. Concomitantly, Jane Doe’s being was repressed in the sense that she was psychologically transformed into a witch.

Second, repression is seen in the dad. The mom of Austin is not revealed until Austin and Tommy were attacked by the undead and were trapped in the elevator. Apparently, the mom died because of depression. The dad felt learned helplessness in which it perpetually haunted him. Adding assault to injury, Jane Doe was actually playing the song that goes “and let the sunshine in” on purpose. This is addressed to Tommy as a reminder of his “ray of sunshine,” his wife.  With this, Wood introduces the concept of Otherness in repression. It is the projection of the self that is it to be hated and disowned (Wood, 1986). The dad repressed his guilt which ultimately backfired on him as seen when he accidentally killed the girlfriend of Austin. His repression was projected in how he was tortured by Jane Doe. Tommy, in a sense, is oppressed by Jane Doe who is a woman. The mental torture is being emulated by the physical torture. The other, a woman, is not even moving yet can still do so much damage and catastrophe. Like Tommy, he was still at the time when his wife was suffering from depression. His stillness brought more harm to her, and even caused her death. He hated himself for that, the same way he wanted to get rid of Jane Doe by burning her. In another perspective, Jane Doe was Other-ed when her body was cut open for the autopsy. She was treated as a mere body by Tommy because simply it is his job to conduct the procedure. However, in the latter part of the movie, there was a realization of the Other-ing that happened to Jane Doe, not only by Tommy but also by the people who had crossed her path. People have Other-ed her because they feel like she is the projection of threat. She is more threatening because she is a woman. In male-dominated society, women are supposedly weak, submissive, and inferior. However, with Jane Doe, she projected a woman who is capable of hurting others with her power and presence. Her mere presence is the “supreme insult” to this patriarchal society (Wood, 1986). Hence, it was necessary for people to treat her as an Other that includes torturing and killing her.

Robin Wood, ‘The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s’, from Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan (New York, Columbia University Press, 1986).


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