The Cabin In The Woods, a Joss Whedon-horror-genre-deconstruction came out in theaters in 2012. I’m not a big movie watcher, but I am a long time fan of Joss Whedon - Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dr. Horrible, Dollhouse, all storytelling I enjoyed in past decades.
I especially appreciate Joss Whedon for his willingness to tell stories about a post-collapse world. Almost all of his work either takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, or incorporates possible visions of the end-of-the-old-world-beginning-of-the-new. Revelation, in the original meaning, the lifting of the veil. Shift change from day to graveyard.
Here goes the disclaimer. I have an affection for certain kinds of horror – densely mythological, such as Lovecraftian horror, Ann Rice, or Clive Barker’s work. Having said that, I’m not a fan of blood and gore. The violence in The Cabin In The Woods challenged me. Don’t watch it if you don’t feel confident in your ability to absorb it and stay centered!
I never claim that artists intend the communications that I receive from their work. See my thoughts on Frank Miller. Discussion of authorial intent distracts from the real work here – to hear stories with animist ears, turn them into life-giving lore by metabolizing them into animist relationships.
If you constantly re-examine the media that confronts you from an animist point of view, you can begin to “make sense” of this insane world. Much like the Native Americans who, upon witnessing European settlers beating their children, made sense of this horrible family culture by saying, “They must want to make life here feel really bad so that their children will work hard to get into their heaven”.
If we “consume” modern media, then we have no choice but to confront it as rewilders and animists. But this requires thoughtfulness and reflection. Onward.
The rest of this article contains spoilers – you really need to watch the movie first. Proceed at your own risk.
Truthfully, the movie grew on me more and more after having watched it. The story, in brief:
The hierarchy maintains civilization by sacrificing a select small group of youth every year (at “the cabin in the woods”), to keep the ancient and terrible gods satisfied and sleeping. Much like the work of folks at NORAD deep within Cheyenne Mountain, the bureaucrats and technicians do this critical work in secret, and maintain it with efficiency and technological controls. The highest authorities of this modern world justify the annual killing of the youth by pointing to, in its absence, the immediate return of a boiling world of chaos and horror, ruled by the ancient gods. This in fact happens at the very end of the movie, as one of the youth discovers the “men behind the curtain” and picks the return of the horrors over the awfulness of what it takes to keep them at bay.
Actually, the last thing the character in question says: “Humanity has had its turn.”
Given: modern humans do not comprise all of humanity. Countless indigenous cultures still work in and celebrate an abundant world of relationships with nonhumans. This movie speaks to the moderns, however, and in that sense, no mainstream scientist at this point can possibly feel otherwise – “humanity”, the modern world, indeed has had its turn. A turn comprised of illusion, denial, and psychopathic enslavement of any who fell under its sway – but a turn nevertheless.
I know I live in a bizarre bubble. As the love of a meaningful, relational world continues to nest me ever-deeper into, as Daniel Quinn said, “Another Story To Be In”, and as I surround myself more and more with those who value that perspective, I periodically get shocks from other ways of seeing.
Recently, after having seen the movie, a deeply respected colleague of mine squashed a spider in front of me. I felt so shocked, I had no words. They felt a bit defensive and justified their action, but I felt strangely disoriented. Like I had met a completely different kind of human being. Something so simple, so casual, just killing a spider – surely my car squashes countless bugs and insects, and I recognize the systems that bring power and water to me also deeply injure the surrounding living world, and on and on.
But still – I felt like they had killed a relative of mine. I kill moths in our house all the time – they infest our dried food. I have nothing against killing.
But it had been so long since I had seen someone kill out of fear.
And this brought me back to the movie .
In the movie, the five college youth selected for sacrifice accidentally decide their own fate in the cellar of the cabin, by choosing amongst an array of pandora’s boxes – journals containing incantations, hellish puzzle boxes, cursed pendants, etc. etc. – and “transgressing” with it. Each artifact could summon a particular horror.
But lets look at horror – what modern people think of as horrific. Look at the horror expressed by folks at the smallest of passing animals – a bee, a tick, a spider, a snake, an ant. Look at their horror and disgust of what it takes to turn an animal’s body into food through killing, skinning and butchering. The churning confusion about natural relationships – do I root for the cougar, or the fawn? The incredibly childish pitying of roadkills, rather than seeing the holy enormity of a wild life lived in spite of everything. They hate the forest fire, the storm, the landslide, but unthinkingly celebrate (and rely on!) the fertility that they bring. Modern eyes alternately absurdly romanticize natural beings, and cruelly demonize them, just as they do with indigenous peoples and modern nomads.
I can think of no other way to describe it, besides a kind of spiritual atrophying of the imaginative mind. Small, childish, enslaved, domesticated.
Make no mistake – we all must battle this domesticated pettiness every day. I don’t claim exemption from the impact of my many years of conditioning in civilization. But I do absolutely reject it and battle it everyday.
In the picture at the top of this essay, you can see what the institutional mind has done with that which horrifies it. It puts it in boxes, in cubes, under control, though no one can possibly “control” natural forces. By unleashing horrors by choice, by permission of authority, they create a fantasy of orderliness.
Chemical weapons. Biological weapons. Nuclear weapons. Torture, and the inducement of psychological pain. We will codify and organize the horrors, and they will do our bidding – so thinks the modern mind.
In the movie, the little men and women maintaining the gears and levers of civilization discover at last the immense fragility of their endeavor. The youth release the horrors from their cages, a bloodbath ensues at the hidden facility, and the age of the ancient ones returns with a gigantic arm, as big as a skyscraper, exploding from the earth.
As the days passed after watching the movie, I began to realize that each horror – gigantic spiders, gigantic cobras, mermen, carnivorous trees, zombies, psychopathic killers – represented those in the community of life I had come to respect and celebrate. Only through modern eyes do they become horrors.
In this way, The Cabin In The Woods has become a deeply beautiful story to me – a story of two young people making the decision that no amount of comfort or stability justifies what civilization does to continue its existence. A story of a return to life at the feet of the impossibly enormous nature gods. A story where like hummingbirds, like tiny green sweat bees, our personal, family, and village capacity for beautiful smallness will determine whether or not we have a place in this world as human beings in the ensuing decades.
Much like the tiny mammals that survived the fading of the grand epoch of thunder lizards, we can choose to grow beautifully small – or not.