Dissecting the Autopsy of Jane Doe

The Autopsy of Jane Doe has to be one of the scariest movies I’ve watched. Ever. It has elements that horror movies have, such as the monster (Jane Doe), the structure of the story, the movement of the characters, the structure of the film, and the moments of isolation and loneliness in the film.

The film begins with a normal day of disecting bodies for Austin and Tommy. The father and son duo are coroners. At the beginning of the story, they were just finished with identifying a cause of death for one dead body in the morgue. Everything is normal until the local sheriff brings in Jane Doe. Jane doe herself is an anomaly. There are indications that she has been dead for sometime and yet she is very life like. Her skin is flawless – she does not show any external damage despite having multiple internal injuries that warrant external signs. When Tommy and Austin finally open her up, things go downhill from there. Bad things begin to happen. Their cat dies, the electricity goes out and dead bodies start chasing them. Jane Doe spares no one.

Robin Wood tackles the concept of the “other” in his article, The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s. The “other” is the outcast, suppressed by society. They have been “othered’ by society or not accepted by the general society. The “othering” is very much about repression – the dominant and repressed. I have never thought of horror films this way before, but Robin Wood’s way of looking horror films gives it a social dimension. Horror films is a way for us to see what we repress in society. If the common narratives of horror movies are of any indication, what is repressed can The Autopsy of Jane Doe can be seen through this lens.

The Jane Doe is hypothesized to be one of the witches burned at the Salem Witch trials. Back then, witches were ‘othered’ by society and they were punished for being ‘different’. Being ‘different’ was looked down upon and repressed by society. This was especially so since women were not supposed to have power. When a woman was called a ‘witch’ she had power, one that threatens the hold of men in a patriarchal society. This suppression of the Jane Doe eventually gets a release in her death. This especially evident in that most of her victims were male.

Another way where tackling of the repressed and dominant can be seen as Jane Doe does not move. She cannot stop Tommy and Austin from doing anything to her. In this way, it can be thought of Tommy and Austin as being dominant while Jane Doe – who can’t move, as the repressed. And like all that is repressed, there comes a point where it can no longer be repressed. In the end, Jane Doe kills them all.

Aside from this, the way the morgue was built, under the house of the Tilden’s contributed to a more repressive and isolated feel to the movie. It can be noticed that the many of individual shots in the film had a lot of space. This also contributed to the feeling of isolation of the film. The way that the morgue was built made it seem as though it was in a separate world with no way out. Which was the case when the characters, Tommy and Austin tried to escape.

Jane Doe herself is a figure of repression. Jane Doe’s injuries were all internal and couldn’t easily be seen from an external examination. Her injuries were repressed and only when the autopsy was conducted did they surface. Aside from this her powers, which as far as we can see has an extremely wide range, were repressed into her body and only until when they cut into her were her powers unleashed.

Some final notes, first, horror films can be seen as reminders on why society should not repress and “other” people. All that is repressed finds a way out. Second,  I personally find the Jane Doe an extremely effective monster. We do not see her move and yet she brings about a feeling of terror that not a lot of horror film monsters have. Finally, I found the movie an extremely great horror film. It still scares me to think about it up to now. But it also gave me this feeling of catharsis that I can only get after watching horror films. 100% would recommend the film to other people.

Robin Wood, “The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s.”  Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).

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