Who are we when we’re children? What is this world that surrounds us, that defines us? Who are we when we’re children and when do we change? When do we leave innocence and childhood behind? What is this world that transforms us?
Red by Jorge Jaramillo and Carlo Guillot takes a classic story that most of us know, probably by heart, and turns it into something so much more. It reminds me of Wolf Parts by Matt Bell, which is one of my favorite things he’s written. He deconstructs and transforms Red Riding Hood over and over until the familiar breaks apart, becomes something so very different, but somehow all the same. He captures the core elements of Red Riding Hood but first he rips them apart, stitches them back together, creating a sort of Frankenstein monster version of the fairytale. It looks right and feels right but it sounds like hell, like beauty, like all the different ways we recreate our life over and over. Like a memory of tragedy.
And isn’t Red Riding Hood about the loss of innocence? What is that moment? How do we put a pin on the day, the hour when we stopped being children and started being something in between, something strange and alien to the human we were before?
I imagine, for many, it’s more of a gradual thing. I wouldn’t know how to put a pin on it, honestly. Maybe it’s the fight that led to a decade of silence between me and my brother. Maybe it’s the first time I got drunk at an age way too young. Maybe it’s even further back, when me and my brothers all shared a bunkbed and my older brother thought I slept with my eyes open, not realising that I just never slept. Even just at the age of five, I was staring all night at the ceiling, creating so many things, my thoughts racing so loud I couldn’t hear the way the night was meant to swallow me, pull me under and drag me to dreams.
It may not even matter. We are who we are. We become ourselves more and more every day. And every day we grow new, become gradually different. We house a thousand different versions of ourselves, some of them long dead, some of them waiting to rise again, and many hoping to one day emerge, bright and beautiful and new.
But we’re getting distracted. This isn’t really about me [of course it is], it’s about Red.
It begins classically. We see a young girl skipping carelessly through the woods. Probably, we think, she’s heard of the wolf. Probably she’s heading to her grandmother. Probably this is exactly what we expect it to be. And then the wolf. A spectre. A blackness. An impending evil. The beginning and end of horror. We will watch the young girl mutilated, eaten whole. And then things shift.
This Red Riding Hood waits for the wolf. This Red Riding Hood maybe even sought out the wolf. She smiles, pulls out her knife, and the fairytale turns from horror to martial arts. The child fights the demonwolf. The child welcomes the challenge, and they rage against each other. The wolf pouncing, snapping its jaws, but the child slashing it apart with her knife.
And then there is only the sound of pants Deathly. And then there is the knife disembowelling the wolf. And then there is the child. She murders the wolf.
And then there is only her.
And things turn again.
And this is where the film becomes so much more than a retelling, than a twist on a classic tale.
It becomes human. It becomes so much about us.
She stands. Alone in the woods. Silence everywhere. And she must stare at what she’s done. At the life she ended. And in this moment she stops being the child. In this moment her life is transformed. She is no longer the girl who sought the wolf in the forest. She is the woman who murdered the wolf in the forest.
And the reality, the weight of her actions hits her. And it nearly buries her. The tears are our tears, and the tears of all who have aged.
It’s not just the wolf who dies. It’s the child she was. In killing the wolf, she has murdered her childhood. She can never go back. She can never be that skipping careless girl again. At this moment one version of her has been lost forever, and a new one emerges. Harder, colder, more acutely aware of the weight of the world, of the terrors of the dark, of what it means to be alive, of what it means to be dead.
And she drags a cloak from within the wolf. She dons it, like a superhero. Like Batman when first he cawls his face.
And then we see the purpose of all this.
The body she drags.
And we know that this is not the story we believed it to be. This is not a fairytale, but reality sinking in, drowning us.
Which brings me back to Matt Bell’s Wolf Parts and all the ways that stories change. Of how a simple tale can become so much more, can twist and transform. And in the transmogrification we learn more about who we are, about what life is.
And about how sometimes, even after all we’ve learnt, after all we’ve been through, we still stay up all night wondering what this world is, what this life is, and how we’ve come so far without knowing.