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Pearl (2022): Love in the Time of the 1918 Flu

Ti West’s Pearl serves as a prequel to his X film’s memorable villain, the older, sexually-starved Pearl who wreaks havoc on the young bodies that had the audacity to engage in sexual relations on her property. Gabe appreciates the aesthetics of the film and Ti West's dedication to the theme. Kat dives into the troubled mind of young Pearl and how the complicated stew of terrible situations could influence her decisions. Having a husband away at war, taking care of family, isolating due to a pandemic, and living in the early 1900s?! No wonder Pearl is taut with tension and troublesome thoughts.

Sources in this Episode: COVID has officially won as the most deadly disease in American History The effects of social deprivation on adolescent development and mental health Reviews: ‘Pearl’ Review: A Farmer’s Daughter Moves Up the Food Chain - The New York Times Pearl review: a slasher prequel that makes the original even better - The Verge Pearl review: a star is born (and is very, very bloody) | Digital Trends Pearl review: Mia Goth melts down as a serial killer in the making | ‘Pearl’ Film Review: Stunning Prequel Makes ‘X’ Even Better Than It Already Was Pearl Review: Wild A24 Horror Improves on Ti West's X | Den of Geek ‘Pearl’ Review: Grainy, Gory, and Goth | Arts | The Harvard Crimson Pearl review: Mia Goth is breathtaking in a flawed horror prequel - Polygon


Media from this week's episode:

Pearl (2022)

In 1918, a young woman on the brink of madness pursues stardom in a desperate attempt to escape the drudgery, isolation and lovelessness of life on her parents' farm.

Director Ti West

Writers Ti West & Mia Goth


Pearl (2022): Bad Love in Technicolor by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Ti West’s Pearl serves as a prequel to his X film’s memorable villain, the older, sexually-starved Pearl who wreaks havoc on the young bodies that had the audacity to engage in relations on her property. The prequel provides us with a glimpse into Pearl’s complicated past and a slight defense for her actions. The film follows Pearl, in her youth, as she fights against the life the world has forced upon her, one of idle hands and quiet mouths. She lives on a farm with her mother and father, the latter of which has become quite ill after an encounter with 1918’s own pandemic. Because of this, the care for her father, the maintenance of their home and their well being falls on the two women. Despite this heavy existence of farm chores and carework, Pearl’s world is lit in technicolor. Because Pearl is going to be a star. I appreciate Ti West’s dedication to the genre and the cinematic influences of the film’s time period. With X, he stuck to a Texas Chain Saw Massacre aesthetic against the backdrop of the sex industry of the 70s. An antithesis to the horror genres obsession with murdering sexually charged youths. With Pearl, the saturated colors carefully cover the grimy truth of Pearl’s life and actions. It inspires a twisted version of The Wizard of Oz, only this time Dorothy doesn’t accidentally drop a house or bucket of water on the villain, instead she stabs them with a pitchfork to the chest or takes an axe to their head.

When we first meet her, she is found spinning in her room, holding a beautiful red dress to her body and fantasizing about the stage. After being ordered to put that away and tend to her chores, Pearl, now dressed in overalls and boots, continues her performance. This time, to an audience of farm animals. We get a taste of Pearl’s sinister nature when she murders one of the family’s ducks for intruding on her performance.

Later, Pearl gets an opportunity to head to the “big city” to pick up her father’s medication. Her mother warns her about the pandemic, telling her to wear a mask. While in town, we see the world Pearl desperately wants to be a part of. She steals away into a theatre, watching the dancers and dreaming of a day when she’ll be that star. She has a fateful interaction with the theater’s projections who flirts with her, offering her a glimpse behind the scenes. She asserts that she’s married. She’s a good girl before heading home. We get to see more of that tainted repression Pearl suffers from when she has an intimate and loud moment with a scarecrow. Having a husband away at war, taking care of family, isolating due to a pandemic, and living in the early 1900s?! No wonder Pearl is taut with tension and troublesome thoughts. As the story progresses we see just how isolated Pearl is because of her mother. After she gives in to those desires, coupling with the hot projectionist she learns of a possibility, the chance at an escape. He is a self-proclaimed bohemian, living a life for himself only (a luxury only a white man in 1918 could have) and he indulges her with kisses and the first pornographic films.

After this interaction, Pearl’s yearning for an escape and for freedom grows stronger. Only now, Pearl’s intruding thoughts start to leak out and take shape in the real world. She fears something is wrong with her and in response to the fear of being found out, she lashes out first.

We watch as Pearl seeks that freedom wherever she can get it, whether it be dancing alone in her room, humping a scarecrow in the corn field, or cavorting with the handsome projectionist. Her desperate spiral is intense, leaving a path of blood and pain in her wake. At the heart of the film though, what truly elevates it, is Mia Goth’s performance. As Pearl performs in front of a panel of judges, in hopes of becoming a professional dancer, so convinced she’s going to win she prematurely burns bridges (and her mother) anticipating her escape. She is the very spirit of Judy Garland. Only, she doesn’t get the role. The news is so at odds with Pearl’s interpretation of the world and her skills that she lets those quiet parts out. She’s a star. This is the smoke of the volcano, a warning before her final explosion.

Late in a truly harrowing, heartbreaking and awe-inspiring scene, Pearl sits in front of her sister-in-law, the sweet Mitsy. Mitsy explains that of course she could tell her anything, she is a safe source, they are family. Only, she doesn’t know who Pearl really is and when Pearl finally gets an opportunity to pour out all those inner fears, it doesn’t stop. Mia Goth gives us one long shot of rambling fears and frustrations. Pearl unloads on the unfairness of her life, a complaint of the life she deserved but Mitsy got instead. She confesses and reasons and worries. Her spiral is controlled and affirmative. The world has been unfair to Pearl and she’s been dealt bad hand after bad hand, but she’s no victim. Something is wrong with Pearl. And she knows it. Yet, she demands to be loved in spite of it. She’s too far gone and what we’re left with is a Pearl making the most of a bad situation, ready to play house for her returning husband the way she’s been “playing” good girl her whole life.

Pearl is a story of repression in an unfair, sexist world. Pearl’s life was one of hushed desire. Caring for her father and enduring her mother’s constant criticism, the demands to act appropriately. As a married woman should. It’s enough to make anyone snap. This prequel gives us some much-needed context for older Pearl’s murderous actions in X. Pearl is seeing these young folx enjoying their bodies, being bold and free in a way that she never could be. They taunt her with their youth and opportunity. They had defended themselves, explaining that their bodies are to do with whatever they please. That was never the case for Pearl, only having glimpsed a small breath of sexual freedom in the french pornographic films the projectionist showed her. And here they are living her life and dreams. I think what's even more important is that even though the film Pearl gives us context it is not an excuse for Pearl’s behavior. The events in the film didn’t inspire her to be the killer in X but was instead give us a coming-of-age tale with a killer twist, releasing something sinister that was in her all the time. Because just as Pearl fears, something is wrong with her.


In Pearl's Defense, on Ti West's film by Kat Kushin