Pearl: a drama-turnt-slasher


courtesy Polygon

In Pearl, Ti West’s second movie in his X trilogy, we see the life of a girl in her late-teens separated from most of society play out with disastrous effects. Set in rural Texas in 1918, our main character Pearl, played by Mia Goth, is obsessed with the glamorous lives of movie stars and longs for a life dancing on the big screen. While her husband is off in Europe fighting in World War ​​I, she is stuck taking care of her parents on the family farm. Desperate to get far away from her life, she does whatever she thinks could help achieve her dream. This includes commiting gory murder against anyone who ever wrongs her. Praised for impressive acting by Mia Goth, Pearl is on its way to being the next classic slasher film.

The opening scene of Pearl starts off with a slow montage of the farm guided by an angelic instrumental piece. The film has the spirit and aesthetic of technicolor filmmaking, a process that became prominent because of The Wizard of Oz. It is important to mention that Pearl actually pays homage to this timeless film. From the plot to the film techniques that The Wizard of Oz iconically created, Pearl dances around the idea of the two movies being parallel. Each character in Pearl has a correlating character in The Wizard of Oz that they match with.

The first time we see Pearl in the movie she is admiring herself in the mirror, pampering away. This introduction to her character is perfect because it shows what she truly cares about most: herself.

Cut to Pearl in the barn, she starts talking to the farm animals, going on about her dreams of being a dancer. She lusts for a life off the farm, dare I say…over the rainbow? She dances for her animals, and it makes it seem like Pearl actually believes the animals are in awe of her talent, like a real human would be. 

Dancing around the barn, Pearl’s psychopathic tendencies are revealed when a goose enters the barn. Without hesitation, she kills it with a pitchfork. This impulsiveness lets it be known that Pearl is not your average protagonist.

In a drastic scene change, Ruth, Pearl, and her father are seated in their dining room eating dinner. It is learned that the father is paralyzed by an illness and he is unable to speak. The family dynamics between the three are so unnatural that it is uncomfortable to watch. In each scene with Pearl and Ruth, the contrasts of the two characters are emphasized. The strictness and cause of Pearl’s lack of freedom are attributes shared with Auntie Em from The Wizard of Oz. Ruth’s restrictions on Pearl are the reason she is so miserable with her life and why she longs for a life that’s so different.

From the plot to the film techniques that The Wizard of Oz iconically created, Pearl dances around the idea of the two movies being parallel. Each character in Pearl has a correlating character in The Wizard of Oz that they match with.

As she rides to town on her bike to pick up her fathers medicine. In town, color becomes more saturated and vibrant. Exaggerating the difference from the farm to the town. This indicates how the town is an escapist, happy place for her. Escapism is a theme throughout the movie, but it eventually leads to her demise. For Pearl, escapism means dancing and going into town, and anything that helps her cope with her troubles. 

Pearl’s curiosity leads her to meet the projectionist of the local theater, and a spark grows between the two. 

Biking home, Pearl becomes mesmerized by a scarecrow. She goes off to sexually groping it, but her mind distorts the scarecrow to be the projectionist. Lashing out, she screams, “I’m married!” scurrying away. Here we see that what happens in Pearl’s head is rarely what happens in reality. Her distorted view of her world affects and justifies the murderous actions ahead of her.  

An awkward visit from Pearl’s family in-law the next morning introduces Mitsy, her sister in-law. Establishing Pearl and Misty as polar opposites. Mitsy is blonde, rich, and wears fancy clothes, while Pearl is brunette, poor, and in dirty overalls. Pearl’s jealousy of her grows throughout the movie, but for now it’s tame enough to ignore. Mitsy informs Pearl that there are auditions at the church for a traveling dance troupe. Pearl is ecstatic; this could be her debut to her ultimate dreams!

With a thunderstorm roaring outside, Pearl and her parents munch down on dinner. The weather foreshadows the chaotic and grim events about to occur. Pearl tells Ruth about the dancing audition. Ruth ridicules Pearl and her selfishness. Ruth takes this opportunity to reveal that she is scared of Pearl and what she is capable of. Saying “I see what you do when you think no one else is watching.” continuing to say, “You aren’t well Pearl.” As the argument gets more intense, it becomes physical, in the midst of it Ruth’s dress catches on fire. In this moment we watch how the parallel of Ruth to The Wizard of Oz is warped into a metaphor, because it is then that Pearl throws the hot stew onto Ruth. Recalling the climactic scene in The Wizard of Oz, when they pour water on the witch. Now Ruth has become a parallel to the Wicked Witch of the West. Pearl drags her mother’s burned half-dead body down to the cellar. Pearl runs away from her mess, to the projectionist, then an iris shot closes the scene with the two kissing, a film technique used in the era of The Wizard of Oz, that emphasizes particular details when closing or opening scenes. 

The following morning, day of audition, Pearl gets driven back home by the projectionist. When they arrive at Pearl’s house, the projectionist sees the disarrayed home from the dispute and starts becoming skeptical of Pearl. He hears thuds from the basement, finally confronting her, and later catching her lie. When he tries to leave, Pearl bursts into a tantrum. Pearl’s hysterical perspective that he is heartless and judgmental, like the image of the Tin Man that was portrayed, so when she stabs him in the heart it creates such a meaningful metaphor. Truly making him heartless.

Despite the two murders, the show must go on because it’s audition day! Dorothy has her ruby slippers, but Pearl serves in her ruby dress. Hopefully the dress has the same powers of the shoes, Pearl is gonna need it. 

Before she can go to her audition she has one more job to do. Finish off her dad! As “kindly” as Pearl can she smothers him with a pillow.

Now that all of Pearl’s stressors in her life have problematically been taken care of, she is free to go and nail her audition! She meets Mitsy and waits in line with the other girls. Pearl is very serious talking about her audition, stating “it has to be me.” Creating no possibility to not get the spot.

The parallel between Pearl and The Wizard of Oz is warped into a metaphor. Ruth is the Wicked Witch of the West.

Pearl walks into the audition room. It’s time. Emphasized in slow motion, she walks onstage, spotlighting the marked ‘X’ on stage for her to step on which must be referring to the first movie in this trilogy. She dances, smiling a big smile to an unsettling extent. This is the first time we see her really dance, and it’s kind of a let down. It’s not bad, but it isn’t good either. At the climax of the audition, it cuts to the bluntness of the unimpressed judges. They decline her right off the bat. Pearl’s dreams are tarnished. She is left with nothing after all she did to get there.

Pearl has her biggest tantrum yet. It’s hard to watch, but it’s hard to look away. She begs “I’m a star! Please I’m a star!” and begs for the part, but is escorted out of the room. For a moment Pearl sees the woman who escorts her away as her mom’s corpse, further showing how her mom is the burden on all her dreams, even after death.

Mitsy, being a good sister in law (Glinda the Good Witch!), takes her home and tries to comfort her. Back at Pearl’s farm, Misty prompts Pearl to talk to her as if she’s Howard, and that she does. Pearl’s eight minute monologue, her tell-all of every bad thing she has done. This monologue is perhaps Mia Goth’s magnum opus, she is incredible to watch.

Mitsy is unconcerned at first, but as Pearl’s tell-all gets more and more disturbing, she lets out all her inner thoughts she had been containing. Most of the monologue is in her eyes justifying her actions and resenting Howard for not only leaving her but forcing her to settle on farm life. Mitsy is uncomfortable, and understandably. Leaving, Pearl follows her out the door, grabbing an ax. Pearl’s inability to admit she had anything to do with causing her problems, she finds a way to blame Mitsy and takes it out on by killing her, classic Pearl.

In a disturbing, mirrored split screen scene, Pearl grooms her mothers burnt corpse so very delicately, setting her parents’ dead bodies and sits them at the dinner table. Then she grabs the decaying bug-filled roasted pig and sets it on the table to create a disturbing dinner tableaux of the family.

But then Pearl’s husband comes home! He is frightened by the image Pearl created but she’s there to greet him like the perfect housewife she wants to be.

The end credits show Goth’s second best acting performance of the movie, after her eight minute monologue. For over two minutes Goth artificially smiles into the camera, which becomes more cheesy as the credits roll. This represents her slow descent into madness. The music gets more eerie throughout this, and it ends the movie off being so perfectly Pearl, just as it started.

The reason many people love this movie and why it will be the next big slasher classic is because of one reason: Pearl herself. She is honest with emotions and advocates for herself. Her desperation is simply relatable. In all her craze, you can’t help but root for Pearl’s dream of being a star to come true.