[Warning: Contains mild spoilers]
Amidst many struggles and hardships of the adult life, to be young at heart (or having a energetic, childlike approach to life) is a characteristic that most people often look up to. People who are like these tend to have a positive approach in life, taking risks, making bold choices, and generally approaching life head-on. Although this characteristic is a positive one, some people also tend to be the opposite – that which blurs the line between being more childish than childlike, and this may prove problematic to a whole lot of people.
These are the grounds in which the film May (dir. Lucky McKee, 2002) navigates around. In the film, we meet the titular character May, who is socially awkward and was brought up to be that way because of her lazy eye. Since she is othered from the very beginning; as a child, her mother gives her the advice “If you can’t make a friend, make one,” and in turn also gives her her childhood ‘friend,’ the doll named Suzie.
This set-up for me, at first, led me to believe that the narrative would involve yet another one of those ‘doll goes to life’ tropes ala Chuckie or Anabelle, but what what the film instead became was all sorts of wacky, eccentric, and deliciously fun. The scenes in the film may have been too awkward to handle for many, but I personally liked how May (as a character and the film itself)’s eccentricity made it very unique and interesting. Her characterization was one of the best things to come out of the film, carefully and meticulously crafted, planned in a way that gives her transformation from awkward girl in the beginning to the ‘monster’ that she became at the end of it. There were a lot of small tidbits that made this all the more meaningful, such as May’s fixation on body parts, dolls, and how those small things came together to create a grand narrative of ‘redemption’ for the character in the end.
Plenty of the childlike attributes that May showed can are actually supported by theories presented in Harry Benshoff’s The Monster and the Homosexual, and Paul O’ Flinn’s Production and Reproduction. What stands out among all of May’s childlike, or even childish attitudes are that of her fascination with the idea of being in love. She clearly did not have many experiences in terms of relationships, both in friendships and romantic relationships, with other people given the weird way in which she acts. And because of this, she struggles her way as she interacts with new people (like Adam and Polly) on this level, eventually feeling hurt in the process and leading to her transformation into a Dr. Frankenstein-like character. Although traces of actual homosexuality are seen in the film, as may ‘experiments’ or tries to be in a relationship with her colleague Polly, the queerness in the film goes beyond just the homosexual act. Her queerness, in this case, is more in relation to her weird disposition in life, being far from a normal person – making her an other that people don’t quite understand, and therefore villainize. This, as Benshoff suggests, shows the interaction between the concepts of homosexuality/queerness and monstrosity, as clearly depicted in the film.
Furthermore, we can see in this queerness and monstrosity how O’Flinn identifies the monster created by Frankenstein in the classic story. He describes Shelly’s work by saying that “the monster’s eventual life of violence and revenge is the direct product of his social circumstances.” And that is exactly the case for May. Much of her struggles are associated with how society has treated her for being an outcast, and that in turn leads her to be the ‘violent’ person by the last act of the film. For May, there is certainly a desire to be loved and accepted by the people around her, but with her [boy]friend Adam telling her “you f*cking freak! I’m not gonna be your friend,” she was clearly disappointed and triggered. At one point, she even tells Amy, her creation, “All I want is for you to see me,” and that really shows her desperation, to the point of her removing her own eye.
Personally, I found it quite difficult to villainize May and even treat her as a monster. To a point, I could relate to her in a sense that I am very childlike, having an interest in collecting figurines, with these figurines meaning a lot to me. It does hurt when people disregard the things that you care for and worked hard to collect, and so the struggles that May went through actually made sense. It’s not saying that I would go to the extremes of literally cutting people off when I get disappointed, but May’s characterization really allows for the audience to resonate and empathize with her.
In the end, May is still a girl, still very very young at heart. And this makes her susceptible to the childish things one can do, such as doing whatever she wants and not thinking of the consequences. She only wants to be loved, but the situation she has found herself in gave her no choice but to make someone to genuinely love her back. After all, her mother did give her that advice.
Harry M. Benshoff, “The Monster and the Homosexual.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).
Paul O’Flinn, “Production and Reproduction: The Case of Frankenstein.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).