See Me — A Response to May
This movie came out in 2002 and I remember wanting to see it very badly at the time. Unfortunately, it got a very limited release. As happens, once it was off my mental radar, I’d forgotten about it.
Along comes the Fear of God podcast. The hosts tackle classic and modern horror movies through a Christian lens. It’s very unique, given the reaction of many Christians to the genre. They are very pro-horror and their responses are thought provoking. This isn’t about that podcast, though I do recommend it.
If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend you go forth and watch it. Then come back since spoilers lie ahead. The movie’s fifteen years old, but I like to give warnings.
This story deals a lot with characters seeing and being seen. Both vision and perception are themes which run through the plot and characterization. Ultimately, you have (at least) three very damaged people. They’re all searching for different levels of intimacy and use the tools at hand to get it. This is most true of May. Her unique personality and amblyopia result in people distancing themselves from her, her whole life. Her mother encourages her by telling her if she can’t find friends to make one and presents her with a doll.
For most of the rest of her life, May is only able to be friends with the doll. Then along comes Adam and Polly. He wants a girl who appreciates his weirdness, but only to a certain point. Polly’s only interest is physical intimacy. It’s only after being rejected, actively or passively, by them that things take a dark turn. Then, May takes her mom’s advice to a gruesome level. Ironically, the “friend” she makes out of the beautiful parts she gathers has no head and thus only fake eyes. Even if it were given life, it wouldn’t be able to see her. Once she realizes that, she tries to give it one of hers. The movie ends with her begging the creation to see her.
We all want to be seen. In my case, and I’m sure in many other people’s cases, we do whatever we can to be seen/noticed/loved. When May stalks Adam and discovers his favorite cafe, she makes a new dress and hopes by flaunting herself that he’ll see her. Instead, he falls asleep. It’s only by forcing the issue, taking his hand while he’s unconscious and using it to caress her face, that he opens his eyes and really sees her for the first time. Most people don’t take it to that level, but we certainly dress in ways we believe will catch the eyes of another person. We act in ways that push the boundaries of what’s normal for us to experience another’s touch in our lives.
Of course, this movie takes that to an extreme level that makes its audience gasp and squirm, but I think many of us who see it are doing so because they see themselves in one of these three. We show our creations, as Adam did, expecting to be rejected, but hoping against hope to find a kindred spirit. Some of us use humor, innuendo, or sexuality as Polly did, to draw someone in to our lives, even if it’s only for the briefest of physical encounters. In that moment we’re “seen”, even if it’s not for who we really are. We make an outer covering for those in our lives, praying they don’t see what we are on the inside. May used her hair to cover the eye patch, learned to smoke to please Adam, and wore clothes and makeup that weren’t really “her” to draw in someone to love her.
I’m certainly “guilty” of many of these very behaviors. I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with some of them. They’re natural ways of trying to connect. I think the problem comes when we get our priorities confused. When you’re no longer being true to who you are, when your efforts damage yourself or others, it’s time to reexamine those priorities. I believe there’s also value in having community who embraces who you are, but let’s you know when things get strange. Adam was too freaked out and perhaps too damaged in his own right to help his new friend. Polly was too self involved and focused on the here and now to worry about May’s feelings or see any warning signs.
As a Christian, I believe humanity has intrinsic value. We need to recognize how precious we are to our Creator. We also need to see that value in our fellow creatures. We need to really see them and embrace then, even if there’s a strange quality to them, whether that’s a physical or emotional one putting a barrier in the way. Ultimately, May was failed by her parents and friends. They didn’t see how fragile and precious she was. When she didn’t meet their needs, they tried to ignore her oddities or send her away. If we do that enough to people, they will shatter and the resulting damage can hurt a multitude.