Crimson Peak: Divine Love In Spite of Imperfection

 

Tonight, as I finished listening to the director’s commentary for Crimson Peak, Del Toro struck me with one of his statements: “imperfection is an altogether attainable human goal,” and “love is acceptance of imperfections.”

The reason that line stood out to me, amid all the others, is that this year for Lent, I chose to give up “self-criticism.”

Some might argue that without self-criticism, we cannot be humble. Instead, I pose that self-criticism is a form of self-worship, through self-loathing. In hating myself, I commit dual sins of turning myself into an idol (to which I devote much time, energy, and emotion) and by criticizing God’s artwork. My imperfections are the result of living in an imperfect world; God intends me to be a masterpiece. I am a bit tarnished, but still His work of art and He will one day complete me in the fullness of time. I need neither hate myself in my current fallen state nor strive for perfection. I must neither self-worship through loving self excessively nor offend God through self-loathing.

People choose all kinds of idols to worship… to love or hate, but an idol is that which preoccupies the mind such that it removes focus from God onto a person, object, thought, or belief. An idol can be of flesh and blood, of carved stone, of paper, but it is that to which much time and energy is devoted.

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In Crimson Peak, Thomas is an idol to Lucille – who inevitably destroys him, because her obsession is selfish, sick, twisted, and controlling. In Gothic Romance, the house represents the moral decay of a character – this house and Lucille are entwined, so much a part of one another that they breathe together. As Lucille steps away from her constraint and control, the house “bleeds,” the moths stir, and violence escalates. Her poisonous love has trapped Thomas as an eternal child – a boy lost in the attic, still creating toys for his sister… beautiful, complex toys that show the state of his emotional arrested development; he engages in sexless marriages for money to please his sister, and while his pristine toy machine is exquisite, the real one is a hideous monstrosity… rather like how his childish submission to his sister has allowed her to become a hideous human being, a monster without conscience, because he has never tried to stop her. His lack of will enables her to become a twisted version of Self. His sin generates her sins, and her sins cause him to sin, showing an endless negative cycle of abuse.

One friend likened the house to Purgatory: a hellish, surreal world neither present in reality nor entirely outside it, whose occupants become more and more unsuitable to live in the outside world the longer they remain there. Crimson Peak is certainly a hopeless place in a state of increasing decay. It is cold, dark, and full of ghostly presences, the lingering remnants of its sins echoing in distant corners.

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The novelization goes a step further in stating the house is a living, breathing, evil force that grows in power and delight each time a murder is committed inside its walls. Did the house generate the darkness that warped the Sharps, or has their continued bloodshed, and Lucille’s sick joy in murder, corrupted the house? Which came first, and was the catalyst for the other, or did they grow at the same time, feeding off one another’s powerful evil energy? Is it the moral decay of the souls in it, and the misery of its ghosts, that has eaten away at the innards of the house, or is it living in that dank, oppressive, hellish place that drove Lucille insane?

Crimson Peak’s occupants could not afford to keep it up, but even if they could, to do so would have preserved the dark memories of that house – of unhappy childhoods, of a father reckless with money and at times violent, of an abusive and controlling mother. After their removal, after being sent away after her death, they had a chance to start a new life elsewhere… but they were drawn back to the house, to the state of unhappiness, to reminders of their former actions, to repeat old sins endlessly in a circle of violence… and to be miserable in the midst of it, a propagating cycle of abuse and murder for Lucille, and self-loathing for Thomas. It is only in Edith’s acceptance of him, her love for him despite his imperfections, that he finds freedom in loving her in return — and can strive to become his True Self. But because he has no support, he cannot save himself.

I cannot save myself; it is Christ’s love for me, despite my imperfections, that saves me. I cannot go forth and become my True Self on my own; I need Him to draw me from the brokenness of my imperfections, from the shame of my former mistakes, from the guilt of my sins, and set me free.

17 Replies to “Crimson Peak: Divine Love In Spite of Imperfection”

  1. Crimson Peak is both stunning and grotesque . . . all at the same time. Thomas saddens me especially because I believe he had such capacity for love, for improvement, and for developing into the man he was meant to be. But he never truly tried. His entire sphere of influence was his sister and he never genuinely attempting to break outside that sphere. In the end, his choices lay on his own head. He could have stopped the cycle had he tried, but he didn’t, either out of weakness or something else, it’s hard to say. Poor boy, such a lost lamb.

    1. Thomas is like one of Lucille’s butterflies — she has him, symbolically speaking, pinned to a board. He is fluttering to get free. He wants freedom. He covets life. He hates the trap she has him in. But he knows nothing else, and he cannot quite escape. He loves her too much, in his own sick, twisted way, to flee from her, to leave her there… alone.

      Did his weakness create this, or did she create his weakness? Where does one of them end, and the other begin?

      He tries to resist her, to find the Light (Edith), but she is stronger than he is. She governs him. Still, he resists. He defies her — he chooses Edith, someone he likes, rather than who she chose for him. Rebellion stirs in his heart. And like an angry, vengeful moth preying upon a butterfly, she refuses to let him go. Like a covetous, twisted, maligned thing, like the devil caught in the snares of hell, she destroys him, because she cannot bear that he will find light… happiness… hope… love… without her. She smothers him.

      (Wow, I wax poetic today!)

      1. This story probably is one of the finest examples of a gothic tragedy. Poe would have absolutely resented it being written by anyone other than himself.

        I have to wonder about their family life. Did the isolation push Lucille and Thomas together in such an unhealthy way? Isolation does funny things to people and if they had no other playmates . . . How does a relationship like that even begin? Not that I want to think on it too much, but you would suppose that most people would instinctively know it was wrong. Unless she was a psychopath from the very beginning, and if that’s the case, then he never stood a chance.

        You do enjoy your diabolical discussion points, I’ll give you that! 😉

        1. Isn’t it a shame that the studio marketed it as a horror film, rather than a gothic tragedy or romance? They misunderstood it and as a result, people hated it, because it was not a ghost story — but a story about many different things, with ghosts in it.

          I read the novelization around Halloween, which is even more interesting — the book actually has the house as a living, breathing entity, feeding off the despair and loneliness of the people in it. It captures ghosts in its halls, delighting in their torment, which means by the end I was left wondering — did the House turn Lucille evil by preying on her mind for all those childhood years, or did Lucille make the House more evil by contributing ghosts and torments to its dark corridors?

          ANYWAY… in the book, Lucille started controlling Thomas at a very young age, and emotionally manipulating him. One instance had her protecting him from a beating — one of their parents caught them in the library looking at the “bad books” — she shoved him under a table so he went unseen and took the punishment, which she then used to hold over his head (“I’m the only one that loves you, see what I did for you?”).

          In a discussion with another friend, we surmised that Lucille used their relationship merely to control Thomas — it’s interesting that in their one scene of intimacy, they are not looking at each other. Thomas is looking down / away — as he confided to Edith, when he sees something he does not like, he “closes his eyes” (to the abuse) — Edith, on the other hand, desires to “keep them open / to see everything.” She confides this at the ball, near the beginning — eventually, her eyes ARE opened.

          AH. So much layer. So much nuance. Such twisted, sick brilliance. 😀

          1. A part of me is curious about the novelization and the other part is like . . . NOPE, not gonna happen. I do better with film than books sometimes simply because filmed imagery fades with time for me, but if I read something it sticks around a lot longer.

            Love your thoughts at the end of your reply, about Thomas looking down and away. I never noticed that, but looking back, YOU’RE RIGHT. So a part of him, and who knows how big a part, didn’t like what had happened to him and Lucille. I just wanted so desperately to fix that situation, to rescue them, even Lucille, although I think a sanitarium would have suited her best.

            It’s interesting how in a lot of gothic literature the houses are alive. Man, I really wish I’d been able to take a gothic lit class. I probably should read more of it. I’ve only really dabbled here and there. It was my mom’s favorite class in high school. Then again, she had an awesome teacher and that helps.

          2. I’m the same way; impressions from book last longer than film impressions — I think because film being a visual medium, the thought process is done for you — but in reading, your imagination fills in the gaps, thus something that may not even be all that graphic can become so, thanks to a vivid abstract comprehension of the event. (Hence, why I wish more authors would show restraint — abstract comprehensions are often more powerful than lurid details!)

            From what I remember, the novel is not that sinister and does not have much more disturbing content than the film; I actually read it, to decide if I could handle the ghosts in the film.

            The nature of human kindness often causes us to make mistakes — our feels of sorrow for Lucille, our desire to rescue her in spite of her awfulness, are reminiscent of our Creator chasing after humanity; but in real life, we must be more careful. His desire to save Lucille is what got Thomas killed. He could have left with Edith. He didn’t. He stopped, to persuade his sister to leave the Hall and come with them — he tried to save her, and died as a result.

            One could almost say that only Christ is capable and wise enough to tread where humans should not; that our human compassion, our desire to save lost, sad things, could drag us into terrible sins or bad situations. Sometimes, God says “stay with them, love them anyway,” and sometimes He might say, “Leave them. I am the only one who can save them.”

            Lucille certainly belongs in the nuthouse. 😛

            The nice thing about not taking a gothic lit class is that you can read all the gothic novels on your own time, on your terms, without having to write essays on them — the downside is that the discussion is absent, unless you happen to find another person *cough* me *cough* as fascinated with gothic lit as you are. 😉

          3. One of the things I did love most about my lit classes was the forum for discussions. You came away with so many ideas and interpretations, it was just awesome! I sort of miss it sometimes, but not enough to take more lit classes. I’m not quite that crazed.

            I think it was Paul somewhere that mentioned shaking the dirt of an unrepentant city from your feet and moving on. I’m not sure we know, as modern believers, when to stay and when to go. When we’re called to stay by God and when we’re called by Him to leave. It’s easy to interpret His instruction to leave people as our own fear telling us to leave. That’s a very fine line and I suspect that only men and women of faith who’ve been delving deep into God’s presence for many years can tell the difference. Spiritual discernment comes with time and much, much effort.

            Poor Thomas lacked discernment, which we already knew judging by his behavior, but still, I so desperately wanted him to live. He just couldn’t leave his sister and it was the death of him. I do appreciate the vision of him as the butterfly compared to Lucille as the moth. That’s where del Toro turns the classic gothic concepts on their head because it’s always the woman who is the weak link and here you have the man as the weakest and most vulnerable.

            I wonder if he would have been able to live a normal life if he’d left with Edith, just the two of the. Would she have stayed with him? Would there have been a scandalous divorce? I wonder.

          4. Discussions can be had without taking classes, but you do have to organize a collaborative effort. Perhaps this summer we could do a “book group” online or something, where we pick a novel and discuss its theological or symbolic concepts. I’m sure at least a few FEMNISTA writers would be interested.

            Yes, that was Paul. Sounds like him too. Heh.

            I think “when to leave” is when someone is drawing you further away from faith, rather than closer to it; when they are threatening your morals instead of strengthening them. But — I think it is easier to judge from outside the situation. It may be that someone says, “Leave,” but God is saying, “Stay. You won’t fix them. You can’t. But you can love them. That’s all I ask from you.”

            Lucille is killing butterflies — she has killing jars in her room. She’s been killing things for a long time — only with Thomas, it is a slow process. She has him trapped in a killing jar, beating his wings to get out. He wants good things, beautiful things. He makes intricate, lovely little toys — and big, ugly machines. It is the toys that make his soul sing. In a sense, he is forever trapped as a child. He retreats to his attic, his inventions, his toys, when he cannot deal with their lives.

            Del Toro intended Edith to be the butterfly, and Lucille the moth — but I think subconsciously, Thomas is also a butterfly, he’s just decaying.

            I think, had they left the house before she discovered the truth, Edith and Thomas would have been fine. They did love each other. Away from the toxic influence of Lucille and all the awful memories in the house, they might have made it.

            (Thomas saw ghosts too, I thought. That’s the implication I had. Lucille was more worried about Edith knowing things she shouldn’t — her first ghost sighting was Thomas.)

          5. Here’s a thought . . . do you think Lucille intended to eventually destroy her brother? Was that in her thought processes at all or could she not see what she was doing to him? Did she connect him to the helpless creatures she loved to kill or was she incapable of seeing the similarity?

            Maybe Lucille didn’t even connect herself to the house. If she couldn’t see the ghosts, maybe she really couldn’t see the rest of the evil in that house.

            If Edith was intended to be the butterfly then she was absolutely the strongest, most vibrant butterfly of all time. I can’t imagine that most butterflies are actually able to have victory over a moth that’s decided to eat them. Even though she wore fluttering garments and was absolutely stunning in the way of a butterfly, I never saw her as weak, not really. Especially not at the end when she gathered more strength than I imagined possible.

          6. I don’t think she consciously intended to destroy him, no… it was a case of controlling smothering happening. I think in her twisted, warped way, she would entice him into sin, then make him feel guilt and shame for it, so that he remained under her power, because it was “their secret.”

            In the book, there’s a line they left out of the film — after killing Thomas, Lucille becomes convinced Edith did it. She accuses Edith of killing Thomas. She’s so delusional, she cannot face what she has done, so she turns around and blames the nearest person. So it is entirely possible that Lucille is not even consciously aware of her murders; she deflects them onto others. His ghost appearing at the end is as if to say, “Look. Here I am. See what you have done to me.”

            She’s… fascinating. Sick, but fascinating. A psychologist would have a field day with her!

            Edith’s butterfly kicked butt, that’s for sure. I like her metamorphosis — in the beginning, she really is like a butterfly. Vibrant. Innocent. Naive. The house changes her. It tatters her wings. She must fight for her life. She wins, but she can never be that vibrant butterfly again. Being in that house, living with those people, forces her to grow up. It forces her to change. It forces her to adapt. In a sense, even though she IS a butterfly from the very beginning, she “emerges” at the end from a cocoon, larger and more spectacular before. She gave up everything for Thomas. Her home. Her father. Her life. Her book. She stopped writing. Her dream went away. But at the end, she has written her novel. She found herself again.

          7. That’s an interesting thought you had . . . that Edith will never be that vibrant butterfly again. I think she will be stronger, but still a butterfly. If she didn’t let the house destroy her then I imagine she will endure. She won’t live her life trapped by fear. She escaped that . . . she overcame. If anything I think she might be more vibrant now that she has an awareness about her that might have been lacking before. Thoughts?

          8. You are right, I should probably have used ‘no longer naive’ instead of ‘no longer radiant.’ Her innocence is gone, but from it, hopefully, wisdom has sprung.

          9. And I do like the idea of reading a book as a group for intellectual debate and discussion. I’ve honestly always wanted to discuss Brideshead Revisited in a group setting, but my classes never read it. But I’m open to all sorts of suggestions. 🙂

  2. That is so true! I can’t dwell you how many times I’ve been caiught in my self-loathing for the mistakes I made in the past; the things I have and sometimes still struggle with. This post was a good wake up call. I love how you take films that some Christians wouldn’t see as something they can learn from and find something to direct us back towards Jesus. Thanks for sharing your gift!!! 🙂

    1. God forgives easily; it is harder for us to forgive ourselves. But is it right to hold a grudge where God does not? Does that, in fact, raise us above God, if we think our opinion is worth more than His?

      Ahh, questions, questions.

      Glad you liked the post. 🙂

  3. This movie interests me, but at the same time, I’ve been assured that if the “ghosts” in “The Abominable Bride” freaked me out, I would never survive this movie. I do really like the soundtrack, though!

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