The True Horror
By Nick Hoobin
Coraline is a beautiful and gorgeous movie. I should clarify. Coraline looks good, but that beauty is only skin deep. Much like the doppelganger doll Coraline encounters during the events of the movie, there is a much more nefarious side to the experience. The one percent produced the movie Coraline to deter the working class from aspiring to climb the social ladder and to be content with their current financial and social situation.
To support this thesis, Coraline and her family must come to represent the common people of the United States. According to the 2000 U.S. Census data, Coraline’s last name, Jones, is the fifth most popular surname in the United States. It was a calculated move on the writers’ parts to brand Coraline and her family with this common last name. While they could have gone with Coraline Smith, Coraline Jones sounds interesting enough for a character name while still appealing to a large amount of people. Next, Coraline’s exotic sounding first name is consistently mispronounced as Caroline in the movie by her similarly classed neighbors. They refer to the titular character as Caroline to bring attention to her common upbringing and social status. The character Wybie explains this process when he calls Coraline by the wrong name, “Ordinary names can lead people to have ordinary expectations about a person.” When Coraline’s parents named her with an uncommon name they were testing the boundaries of their social status. By choosing that name for their daughter they are tasking her to break out of her economic status and to climb the social ladder. This aspiration of social mobility is then met with resistance by her peers who refuse to refer to her by her given name. Instead they demand her to be content with the class she was born into. By name alone, Coraline represents the ninety nine percent and their desire to improve their current financial and social situation.
Coraline herself acts as an empathetic audience surrogate, but the same can be said for her parents and her family’s overall situation. In the movie Coraline’s parents are working class, barely able to make ends meet. They have to rent a house out in the middle of nowhere and their fridge remains empty unless they grow their own food. Her parents are working so much that they don’t have the time to spend to take care of their daughter. Their situation is common, with projections showing 85% of the population being considered lower middle class or under. Because Coraline is denied attention and opportunity by her overworked parents she aspires to climb the social ladder. She dreams of having a better life for her family and those aspirations are used by the villain to convince Coraline to stay in the other world and give up her past life. The other world is a rich world: in money, love, and opportunity. Coraline perceives her current situation to be subpar and desires to become wealthy so her parents don’t have to work to get by. The aspiration to gain wealth and influence is the worst case scenario for those in power as they do not want to give up their status. That desperation of the one percent is what writes the rest of the plot and why the other world ends up being so hostile to the dreamer Coraline.
The movie makes sure to emphasize that it is undesirable to climb the social ladder, not to be born into wealth. This hostility presents itself as the act of Coraline entering the other world willingly. Each time she makes the journey to the other world it is her own decision. It is Coraline herself, and thus the audience, who want to achieve wealth and power. The point that the movie is making is a typical thought of the one percent. They strive to protect their class and are threatened by anyone who attempts to achieve what they have. They feel like they will be lessened if more people have status.
A well used motif by the movie is the button. The button is used to distinguish the denizens of the other world with the inhabitants of the real world. From a visual perspective the button instills a sense that something’s not quite right. As a tool for the one percent the button represents a warning for those who wish to seek a higher social position. The button symbolizes the influence the one percent naturally has obtained and the sense of security that comes with it. The other world characters have buttons for eyes, demonstrating that they view others through a filter. This filter is caused by the disdain those in power have for the common people. Without buttons our clothes would come undone, exposing us to the elements, both natural and economical. The people of the other world already have buttons placed into their eyes, thus they are born with their wealth and power. To stay in the other world Coraline must have the buttons forcefully sewn into her sockets, an act that the movie portrays as being revolting. To receive the buttons is to achieve status and security, which the movie tells the audience is something they wouldn’t be able to handle. To receive the buttons leads to inevitable death. The viewer can never achieve what they aspire to, they must be born into it to. Coraline’s, and therefore the viewer’s, aspirations are unwelcome to the already powerful.
The nature of the other world is also used to elevate the people in power from the masses. The name of the world, “the other world,” and the names of the characters, other mother and other father, are used to separate the extraordinary from the ordinary. The people in the other world are better, the food is better, the entertainment is better, and the family connection is better. Coraline is enthralled with her experiences in the other world and views it as superior to her own. However the movie tells the viewer that these benefits are tricks to begin with and that they should be content with what they have. By the end of the film the other world has crumbled into nothingness, and the viewer’s dreams are shattered.
It is worth noting that the themes and visual motifs presented so far can be used to construct a different interpretation of the movie. While happy-go-lucky, this aesop and learning experience only serves to deter legitimate criticism and analysis. However, it is only fair to bring up the alternate viewpoint of the film: that it can be interpreted as telling the audience that the life of the one percent isn’t something to look forward to. Arguments supporting the alternate interpretation would also posit that the other world represents the world of the powerful. By portraying the other world as a deadly place it informs the audience that the wealthy aren’t to be trusted. The end result would be the same: the upper class would be cast as horrific in and of itself. The viewer would still be deterred from aspiring to climb the social ladder.
The question remains why the rich would cast their own lifestyle as something to be afraid of. Self deprecation is used to show humanity and to appear humble. This humanity lightens the mood and tone of the film which allows the viewer to empathize with the message. The humbleness captivates the audience and prompts them to examine their own lives and situations. Common people are told it isn’t worth climbing the ladder, when the one percent themselves know that having immense wealth and power is the ultimate purpose.
The movie concludes with Coraline’s dreams being crushed. She is unable to handle the world of the wealthy and the power that comes with it. She rejects the better family, she cannot handle the buttons, and she willingly escapes from the world. She learns to accept that her current status is all she and her family will obtain and that she should not strive for anything else. Coraline should live with the life she was born into and not strive to make it better. The people in power will retain their influence and those unlucky enough to not be born into it will never achieve a better life. That is the true nature of Coraline’s world and our own. The true horror.