Warning: This entry contains spoilers.
May, directed by Lucky McKee, was first premiered in the Sundance Film Festival of 2002. The film centers around its own namesake, May (Angela Bettis), who grew up with a lazy eye, was treated as an outcast, and was seen as different by the people around her. Because of the difficulty that May encountered while trying to make friends, her mother gifted her Suzie the doll enclosed in a glass case, accompanied with the following advice: “If you can’t find a friend, make one.” As well-intentioned as the mother may have been, she may not have realized just how literally the advice would be taken to heart.
The film started off as a lighthearted one, making it almost akin to a romantic comedy movie. We are first introduced to May, a socially-awkward young woman who works at a veterinary clinic, who has a huge crush on a mechanic, Adam (Jeremy Sisto), but doesn’t know how to go about it. The movie was comedic in a sense, because of how relatable May was acting – secretly watching the object of her affections, focusing on changing her appearance (i.e. switching from a patch to glasses to contacts, trying on various outfits, etc.), and coming up with sly schemes to try and catch her crush’s attentions (i.e. “accidentally” bumping into him on the streets, walking past him multiple times, etc.).
Despite the initial happy-go-lucky feel that the film gives out, there was something about the movie that made it hard for viewers to completely relax. May’s antics and the way she was treating the crush that she harbored was off-putting. Although her personality can be seen as relatable, May’s awkwardness is amplified and is started to be considered as creepy because she starts doing things that normal people wouldn’t do.
May goes against social barriers that society has planted as the norm. She goes up to Adam while he was napping, and uses his hand to cradle her own face. She does this despite never even having a prior conversion with him. Aside from this, we find out that May finds pleasure in gore and blood, as evidenced in her smiling and being able to continue eating while telling Adam a work story about one of their dogs whose gut burst out in the middle of the day, and her reaction to Adam’s film “Jack and Jill,” which is about a couple who are making out, but then suddenly begin biting and eating one another like cannibals. May also seems to have no filter when it comes to the things that she says. She has a weird fixation with body parts, and even goes so far as to make inappropriate comments about them to people she isn’t even close to (i.e. “I love your hands. I think that they’re beautiful,” “So many pretty parts, but no pretty wholes.”). Additionally, we see that May’s room is filled with dolls – some complete, some just its body parts – and we learn that she considers her childhood doll, Suzie, as her best friend, talking to her and confiding in her on a daily basis. From these instances, it’s clear that May is much more than just a socially-awkward woman, rather, she is also troubled and lonely and this had dire psychological consequences on her well-being.
Adam is first accepting of the weirdness that May has, but soon finds that her weirdness is too much for him. After a makeout session, May made Adam’s lip bleed and showed no signs of remorse or understanding that the situation wasn’t all right anymore. This is when Adam starts getting creeped out by her, starts avoiding her phone calls, and tries cutting off all contact with her. Hurting from her rejection from Adam, May turns to Polly (Anna Faris), one of her colleagues at work, who had been overtly flirting with May for the longest time. Polly reassures May that she “loves weird,” encouraging May to feel safe and accepted with her. However, soon after a short love affair, May finds out that Polly is already seeing another woman, prompting feelings of hurt and rejection to resurface again.
It was already ingrained within May at a young age that she was different from what society considers normal, and she knew this. When she first starts getting close with Adam and Polly, she tells them both on separate instances that she is weird. This shows that, in a way, she has embraced self-acceptance on her weirdness, or as Benshoff puts it, her “queerness,” which, in this context, is the narrative moment wherein the oppressive binary definitions of a society dominated by patriarchy and heterosexism are negated.1 The things that May enjoys and how she lives her life isn’t necessarily aligned with how society perceives a “normal” life should be, and it is through this that she is considered queer.
The other meaning of queer that Benshoff refers to, is related with homosexuality and can be seen through the example of May and Polly’s brief relationship. The queerness that occurs between the two disrupts the heterosexual status quo.2 The “love story” between Adam and May is interrupted by Polly, another female, who inserts herself into the narrative and makes herself known as another potential love interest for May. Polly here, is a force that attempts to block the usual heterosexual romance storyline that films usually follow.3 This same-gender relationship opposes patriarchal heterosexism and the stereotype that states there should be someone playing a dominant (masculine) role and a submissive (feminine) role within a relationship.4
Through May’s encounters with Adam and Polly, she believed that she found “friends” other than Suzie to be accepting of the differences that she has. But after being hurt, May breaks down and realizes that she still has no one. Throughout the film, we see that the glass case of Suzie is slowly cracking. This could be a representation of May’s own state of mind and how the events that she experience one after another are only adding and compiling to form a massive internal breakdown that will shake May to the core and enable her to do inhumane acts.
After the doll’s glass case fell and shattered – destroying Suzie along with it – something changed within May. From the very beginning, May had a fascination with body parts. After her doll – her only real friend – becomes irreparable, May becomes distraught. But rather than staying still and silent, she chose to take matters into her own hands and make a “new doll” instead. This is where her fixation with body parts becomes “useful.” She starts seeking out body parts that she can use to form a new creation. This transformation in May can be related with O’Flinn’s article, “Production and Reproduction: The Case of Frankenstein,” where he talks about Frankenstein and his monster.
The story of Frankenstein is about how Victor, a young scientist, began experimenting on bringing the non-living to life. This experiment of his caused him to create a terrifying creature, who we know today as Frankenstein’s monster. In Frankenstein’s story, it shows that “scientific advance pursued for private motives and with no reining and directing social control or sense of social responsibility leads directly to catastrophe.”5 This can be related with May’s case, where she goes on a vengeful spree and starts killing people and gathering up body parts that she desired. Her mission to create a new doll led to chaos, bloodshed, and death. This evolution within May sparked a change – “The Monster . . . is no longer separate, he is quite simply ourselves.”6 Through her actions, May becomes the real monster herself.
Overall, I enjoyed May. It wasn’t the usual kind of horror movie filled with jump scares, rather it was terrifying in the way that it manipulated the psychological state of the audience, pushing them to feel disturbed with the events that they witnessed onscreen. It was both scary, sad, yet satisfying to watch the transformation of May from the innocent, awkward, and love-struck young girl that she was to a cold-hearted, unforgiving, and vindictive murderer.
1 Harry M. Benshoff, “The Monster and the Homosexual.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 93.
2 Ibid, 93.
3 Ibid, 93.
4 Ibid, 95.
5 Paul O’Flinn, “Production and Reproduction: The Case of Frankenstein.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 108.
6 Ibid, 107.