JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Ginger Snaps Back

The third film, set in 1815 colonial Canada, begins with Brigitte and Ginger on horseback, lost in the woods in the bitter prairie winter.

An old Indian woman hands the girls necklaces and tells them a prophesy to "kill the boy, or one sister kills the other." Ginger and Brigitte are seen wearing the same necklaces in the first film.

After their horse flees, Brigitte gets her foot caught in an animal trap. An Indian hunter frees her and takes them to the fur trading fort where he is a scout.

Deep gouge marks and a crucifix hanging on the outside of the door and...

...men with guns arguing inside the fort don't indicate a welcoming or safe atmosphere for the sisters.

Captain Rowland's portrait, with his recently deceased Indian wife and son, Geoffrey, hangs in Geoffrey's room - where Ginger and Brigitte are to sleep.

Geoffrey, however, isn't exactly dead - nor does he look much like the boy in the painting.

After Geoffrey bites Ginger, she and Brigitte arm themselves with swords and attempt (unsuccessfully) to flee the fort.

On their second night in the fort, a feverish Ginger dreams of an erotic encounter with the hunter, which turns bloody.

The funeral procession for the latest victims of the beasts surrounding the fort.

The scripture-spewing Reverend on one of his misogynist and racist rants.

Unlike in the first film, Ginger finds nothing empowering about the transformation from human to wolf, or Windigo as the Indians call it. She finds herself unable to kill Geoffrey, even to prevent her from killing her own sister, as foretold in the prophecy. The boy's father, Captain Rowlands, then kills the boy rather than have him fall victim to the mutinous men under his command.

Brigitte and Ginger escape the fort the same way the beasts got in.

Ginger's first victim is Milo, who was turned out of the fort because of his mixed white/native heritage. Also, in contrast with the first film, Ginger expresses remorse for her deed, which was beyond her control.

She does however quite enjoy having killed the nasty James in the film's final bloodbath.

Ginger and Brigitte seek out the old Indian woman who, with the hunter, explains the meaning of the prophesy to them.

Brigitte in a drug-induced hallucination sees her and Ginger's fate laid out for her, which includes...

...her killing her sister.

Brigitte lies over Ginger's body in the same pose as the final shot in the first film. This is still part of Brigitte's hallucination.

Brigitte returns to the fort with the hunter in a trap set for Ginger who, rapidly transforming into beastly form, has killed the old woman. After killing James, Ginger lets the beasts into the fort wherein "nature," and the prophecy, takes its course.

Again quoting the first film, Ginger and Brigitte join hands and fuse their blood in a pact to be "together forever."

In the final shot they hold each other as the fort burns.

 

 

Werewolf nation

As I have argued elsewhere, werewolf tales are as old as sovereignty itself, if not directly implicated in its origins.[38] [open notes in new window] It is the wolf-man, not the wolf, which populates ancient Germanic and Anglo-Saxon legal texts as a bandit who can be harmed without impunity and expelled from the community, banned from the city. In the laws of Edward the Confessor, the bandit "bears a wolf's head from the day of his expulsion, and the English call this wulfesheud."[39] For Agamben, these words echo through Hobbes's own formulation of sovereignty as the state in which "man is a wolf to all men." The state of nature is therefore not a matter of a war of all against all but

"a condition in which everyone is bare life and a homo sacer for everyone else."

The werewolf, then, marks not only the threshold of indistinction between the animal and human worlds, but the passage between nature and politics. The werewolf film, therefore, cannot be but an articulation of the political.

Moreover, the werewolf and the sovereign are in proximity to each other. The passage from human to beast achieved by the werewolf is proximate to the sovereign likewise assuming a bestial form. Agamben illustrates this with the transformation of the guardian into tyrant in the Arcadian myth of Lycean Zeus. Citing the Republic:

"The story goes that whoever tastes of one bit of human entrails minced up with those of other victims is inevitably transformed into a wolf... Thus, when a leader of a mob (demos), seeing the multitude devoted to his orders, does not know how to abstain from the blood of his tribe...will it not be necessary that he either be killed by his enemies or become a tyrant and be transformed from a man into wolf?"[40]

The continuous zone of indistinction between man and beast, nature and culture, is why the originary juridico-political relation is the ban. We thus need to question "the myth of the foundation of the modern city" in accounts from Hobbes to Rousseau.[41] Indeed Hobbes erred in defining the sovereign relation as a contract rather than a ban. The effect is that democracy is rendered impotent when confronted with the problem of sovereign power. Moreover, Hobbesian thinking has

"rendered modern democracy constitutionally incapable of truly thinking politics freed from the form of the State."[42]

In his later work, Derrida as well points to the inadequacy of the simple dichotomy between "man" and "animal" which props up Western philosophical thought (including, I would argue, the horror film), precisely because the delineation of the human coincides with the inauguration of the sovereign. In his 2002 Critical Inquiry essay "The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)" he argues that

"the sovereign, by definition, reserves the right as sovereign to become 'bestial'." As an agent before the law, the sovereign may exceed the law and act outside the law, to literally, be an "outlaw."[43]

As with Agamben, Derrida rereads Rousseau to uncover a genealogy of the werewolf in the logic of sovereignty. Building on a series of seminars on "The Beast and the Sovereign" Derrida writes in Rogues that

"packed full of wolves from the four corners of the world, the seminar [...] was in large part a lycology and genelycology, a genealogical theory of the wolf (lycos), of all the figures of the wolf and the werewolf in the problematic of sovereignty. It just so happens that the word loup-garou in Rousseau's Confessions has sometimes been translated into English not as werewolf but as outlaw. We will see a bit later that the outlaw is a synonym often used by the American administration along with or in place of rogue in the expression 'rogue state.'"[44]

There was nothing anachronistic, therefore, in George W. Bush's heavily maligned, and subsequently withdrawn, quip of "wanted: dead or alive" to spur the capture of Osama bin Laden following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. That is to say, the frontier discourse of outlaws and bandits summons the "wild wild West," from which the modern West has clearly not strayed too far.

Here the role of outlaw, or bandit, does not belong solely to bin Laden, but to Bush in his capacity as the sovereign: the outlaw who by definition acts outside of (international) law, the ultimate rogue. Roguishness, it would seem, is a perpetual state. Commenting on Chomksy's Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs, Derrida agrees in principal with Chomsky that the "first and most violent of rogue states are those that have ignored and continue to violate the very international law they claim to champion" and that "the name of these states" is the United States.[45] However, for Derrida there is no relative degree of roguishness. One state cannot be more or less roguish than another, for "as soon as there is sovereignty, there is abuse of power and a rogue state." There can be no sovereign who is not at the same time also a rogue. There are only rogue states.[46]

If I seem to have veered off the navigational path set by Ginger and Brigitte in their perpetual flight from (and into) harm, it is precisely to get to this discourse of perpetual frontier justice, particularly inasmuch as the third film is set in frontier Canada, prior to its founding as a sovereign nation-state — sending message boards aflutter with speculation, in advance of the film's release, that it was a remake of the first, but "in a different time." To a certain extent the fans were correct. The sisters are both alive at the beginning of the third film and, unlike in Unleashed, share equal amounts of screen time. And, as in the first film, it is Ginger who is bitten, while Brigitte reprises her role as caretaker of her elder sister. They have a pact to be "together forever," and as in the original film, there is a curse. But what is especially significant is that whereas the beast in the first film is described as a lycanthrope and as a werewolf in the second, in Ginger Snaps Back there's no mention of either. Rather, the mysterious and deadly creatures which have been attacking the inhabitants of the fur-trading outpost are described by Native locals as the Windigo, brought by the White Man and deliberately at that.[47] According to the fort's Reverend the beast is the devil's doing unto the sinners amongst them (in particular the Captain for having married an Indian woman).

The "time" is 1815, some 50 years prior to the founding of the Canadian state. As director Grant Harvey explains, "new Canada is sort of the suburbs of Britain and France in the 1800s."[48] The suburb, as frequently represented in North American pop culture, is where scary things happen beneath its idyllic but bland veneer. Indeed, in a post-Columbine North America, the suburb has taken over the inner city as the eminent site of danger and lawlessness.

In the opening scene of the third film, the Fitzgerald sisters, on horseback, are on the run, but we don't know from whom (or what) nor do we ever find out. Are they outlaws? Quite possibly. Their parents are dead but not from drowning while on an expedition to find a westward passage, as in the tale concocted by Ginger when she and her sister first arrive at the fort seeking refuge. While out in the snowy prairie wilderness, the sisters, lost, had come across the bloodied tent of an old Indian woman — a seer as it turns out — who handed the girls necklaces (which they wear vehemently in the first film) warning them to "kill the boy, or one sister kills the other." Their horse, as freaked as they are, takes off leaving the girls lost in the woods whereupon Brigitte steps into a steel animal-trap, mangling her foot in the process. It is here that we first meet the Indian hunter whom both girls assume at first to be foe rather than friend. The hunter is a scout for the outpost, and upon freeing Brigitte from the trap and tending to her wound with herbs, he takes the sisters to the fort, where danger and lawlessness abound. Indeed, the exterior walls of the fort bear deeply gouged scratch marks and are adorned with crucifixes. "Welcome to civilization," says Ginger to Brigitte as they walk past the Reverend's presiding over a (sizable) graveyard only to be greeted with guns drawn by the rest of the outpost's skittish inhabitants.

The men have good reason to be nervous. Not only are they being terrorized by beasts, but their contingent that had embarked on a trading expedition in the spring failed to return with provisions for the winter and were feared devoured by the beasts, if not turning into beasts themselves. Their captain, Wallace Rowlands, while suspicious of how Brigitte acquired the wound to her leg, is at this point still in command of his men and reluctantly grants the girls safe haven (of sorts). The Indian hunter doesn't seem an especially welcome presence in the outpost either. When he returns at dinner time with the bones of a "seven footer" beast, he is treated by one of the more aggressive inhabitants, named James, as even more of a threat than Ginger and Brigitte, and with an added note of racism:

"What keeps him here? Some sort of blood brothers out there? They work for us from the outside and you, red skin, work us from the inside?"

The hunter does, in fact, know much more about the way of the beast than he lets on, at least to the men inside the fort. His role, however, is not as the enemy within but as protector to the girls and, in accordance, the guarantor of the fledgling nation's future. For unbeknownst to them, red-haired Ginger and her black-haired sister, are central to an Indian legend about a "curse" passed down through the blood of generations, and which they are fated to either break forever or allow "to live on to plague generations to come."

As explained by Brigitte in a voiceover to the opening credits, the curse is the legend of the Windigo "and the coming of the red and the black." On the day of reckoning, "death would consume the land and good would face evil," or the curse would be broken and good would prevail. "But," Brigitte continues,

"ours was a story of survival, of two sisters bound by blood, a bond that would not be broken. That was our promise, above all, above men, above God, above fate. It was in our blood, together forever."

The "but" in the narration is significant, indicating that the sisters' survival may bode well for them but ultimately spells the triumph of evil over good for the rest of the land, and into perpetuity. To be sure, at the end of the film Ginger and Brigitte are both alive but the curse has not been broken. Ginger has been bitten, and moreover, has failed to "kill the boy." Nor has one sister killed the other, in accordance with the prophesy told by the old Indian woman. (That doesn't happen until almost 200 years pass.)

The boy in question is Geoffrey, the son of Captain Rowlands and his Indian wife, who had (presumably) died a few weeks prior, while Mrs. Rowlands passed away some time before that. For the scripture-spewing resident Reverend, the "plague" which has befallen the fort is the direct result of Rowlands' love for his "savage wife," the "sin which has brought the devil upon us." Geoffrey, as it turns out, is not dead, nor are the circumstances of his birth (i.e., miscegenation) responsible for the "plague" which is sweeping through the outpost.[49] But he has been bitten, and once he started exhibiting symptoms of "turning" was hidden by his father inside the fort rather than suffer the same fate as others who have turned (think of that graveyard). When Ginger awakens in the night and hears sounds of a child crying, she sets out exploring and finds the boy who, frightened, bites her. If the behaviour of the men in the fort didn't convince her, this certainly did, and Ginger wakes her sister and tells her they have to leave. Here the possibility of the girls' having a less than stellar past again comes to the fore. For when Brigitte sees that Ginger is bleeding she doesn't ask what happened to her, but rather what Ginger has done (which is not lost on the latter). "Where are we going to go?" asks Brigitte. "The same place we always go — away." Brandishing a sword, and with a suspiciously great facility,[50] Ginger and her sister are, however, stopped at the gate by James, but not before they manage to open it and inadvertently let in the beasts outside. A bloodbath thus ensues.

In what follows, the girls are captured by the Reverend and locked inside the house (where a beast roams), but escape to their room upstairs while outside the hunter kills many beasts and the men turn on each other. The Reverend continues his scriptural rant and the captain comes to suspect that Ginger has been bitten, and by Geoffrey at that. And it is with this realization that Brigitte and Ginger gain the upper hand. For if any harm comes to Ginger, Brigitte will reveal to the others that not only is Geoffrey "alive" but that the captain has been lying all along. Usurped of his power by a teenaged girl, the captain has no choice but to comply and let Ginger live, signalling the onslaught of the decline and fall of his increasingly unstable empire.

Meanwhile, Ginger's transformation into beast is intensifying (there is a full moon after all) and, as in the first film, she is acutely aware that she is "turning into something dangerous," and poses a threat to her sister. Here, the "kill the boy, or one sister will kill the other" of the old woman's prophesy is read by Ginger as a warning that she must kill Geoffrey in order that she not kill her beloved sister. But also as in the first film, Ginger's transformation is accompanied by an awakening of sexual desire, for the hunter in particular. But the moment of passion we see between him and Ginger, kissing in the upstairs hallway, is revealed to be but a dream on Ginger's part, thus miscegenation is in this instance a desirous fantasy only. When Ginger awakens and goes to find Geoffrey, the hunter approaches Brigitte and urges her to leave Ginger behind and go with him to find the seer wherein the truth will be revealed. The hunter, we now learn, has known Brigitte before he found her in the woods, her face having appeared to him in dreams since he was a boy. Indeed, his role is to protect Brigitte as, according to the seer, their fates are tied together.

Brigitte, however, refuses to leave without Ginger. And Ginger discovers that she is unable to kill the boy. The survivors of the fort do find him however and, confronting the captain, stage a mutiny. Outmanoeuvred, Rowlands shoots his son himself rather than have him die by the hands of anyone else. During the commotion, the Fitzgeralds make their escape and eventually find the old woman and the hunter, but not before Ginger is briefly separated from her sister and kills Milo, another Indian who had earlier been turned from the fort.

For the seer, Brigitte has arrived too late as the curse is upon them[51] and the hunter finally explains the White Man's legacy to the girls:

"The English and the French brought with them their diseases to plague our land, and with them came the Windigo. This was all foretold, watched for. And with the Windigo would come two sisters, the red and the black, and their love and their deaths would decide the way of things."

This still leaves things, like the future of the land and its Native inhabitants, rather vague however. The seer hands Brigitte a potion to drink which will enable her to "see things," more specifically, her death. Brigitte falls into an hallucinatory state in which she sees herself back at the gate to the fort with a knife in hand and a beast before her, which morphs into Ginger. The hunter appears and is about to kill Ginger when Brigitte rushes forward, raises the knife, and plunges it into her sister's chest and the two fall together in the same position as the final scene in the original film. One sister kills the other.

But not really. This is according to the prophecy and realized in a drug induced state. If we recall Brigitte's voiceover at the beginning of the film, theirs is a story of survival, above all else including fate. When Brigitte awakens, the old woman is but a bloody corpse, Ginger is gone and the hunter, packing up his weapons, demands that Brigitte tell him what she saw.

Brigitte: I didn't see my death. I saw Ginger's.
Hunter: It was you that killed her, wasn't it?
Brigitte: It's what I saw. What did you see?
Hunter: I saw myself die. I give up my life to save you, so that you kill her.
Brigitte: It's still her. We will be together. She will come back to me.
Hunter: She has to die by your hand....or the land suffers forever as foretold.

Brigitte follows the hunter back to the fort, not to kill Ginger but to save her from the fate laid out for them. At this point, the outpost is in a state of utter lawlessness. The Reverend seizes Brigitte, screams at her to beg for mercy, whereupon the hunter reasons with him to be patient and that "the other will come." And enter the fort she does. Again the Reverend lays the blame on the Captain for letting

"a pair of little girls destroy us. You could never see how they lied and tricked us into oblivion just like that bitch wife of yours."

And thus the Captain kills the Reverend, and Ginger kills James and lets the beasts inside. The Captain sets the house on fire, the hunter proceeds to kill many beasts, and the Captain kills himself.

With just Ginger, Brigitte and a now bitten hunter remaining, the hunter turns to Brigitte: "You know how it must end," and gives her the knife which she plunges into his, not Ginger's, chest. In the final scene the two sisters, holding each other in the woods, embrace hands and fuse their blood. "The day of reckoning," goes Brigitte's final voiceover, "the day the curse grew stronger in the red and the black. Sisters united in blood. Together forever."

Whilst this is indeed a tall tale, for those who like to think that the Canadian state, unlike say revolutionary France, England or United States, was not founded in blood, the history and practices of sovereign power suggest otherwise. Every society, as Agamben says, sets its limits and decides who its homines sacris will be. And one thing that has been consistent throughout the history of the Canadian nation from the moment of colonization is the subjugation and demonization of its native population.

The cast of characters who man the outpost in Ginger Snaps Back are a microcosm of early 19th-century frontier Canada: predominantly English and Irish, with a smattering of French, and set in "Indian territory" which can at any moment erupt from the "outside." But there is no distinction between inside and outside in this infernal region "on the edge of the known New World." Peace is precarious and security a myth as danger lurks everywhere and for everyone, whether within or beyond the (gated) walls of the fort/ community. All the characters within this film are in some sense rogues: both outlaw and sovereign, acting outside the law or taking the law into their own hands, deciding who should live and who should die.

Conclusion: sympathy for the werewolf

It would be helpful here to return to Charlotte Otten's observation that the figure of the werewolf in medieval narratives evokes sympathy and pity because of its barbaric shape and exclusion and banishment from human community. As I have argued, in the first Ginger Snaps film Brigitte and Ginger present a slight departure from the medieval norm as it is the human shape and inhuman conditions of community which the girls seek to escape. Ginger even embraces the monstrous, which offers her a flight from the banality, and persecution, of home and high school. Ultimately, however, it is Brigitte who elicits the most sympathy as she struggles to save her beloved sister whom she sacrifices in the end. Indeed the final scene in which she cradles her dying sister (however beastly) is infused with a pathos seldom seen in a horror film.

Brigitte also elicits sympathy in the second film as she struggles diligently against the beast within only to be betrayed and exploited, in short, managed, by the human child Ghost. Indeed in both films, Brigitte is a tragic figure whose fatal flaw is her consuming love for her sister. But in the third film the ethics of love and death is more complex. If, according to legend, the Windigo has been brought by the White Man, it might be fitting that it is the responsibility of the White Man (i.e., Ginger) to break the curse. But why must that involve killing Geoffrey who is, after all, the product of a Native woman and a White man, unless within Native lore miscegenation is as taboo as it is within White colonial practice? Insofar as he crosses several zones of indistinction, Geoffrey is doomed from the very beginning to a life without qualification. It is his life which is considered the most expendable and which can be taken without sanction. As part-Indian, he is considered by the Reverend to be less than human. As werewolf he is neither man nor wolf. And as a child, younger even than Brigitte and Ginger, he is not even a man. Yet it is his status as a child that prevents Ginger from killing Geoffrey, even though her letting him "live" might mean that she ends up killing her sister, as foretold.

In the end Ginger Snaps Back is a tale in which there are no survivors, contrary to Brigitte's opening narration. Not only are the old woman, the hunter, and everyone at the outpost dead, but the Fitzgerald sisters are as good as dead with Ginger bitten and Brigitte having cursed herself with Ginger's blood. They may have defied the ascribed fate in which one kills the other, but in doing so have opened the door to a life not worthy of being lived, of being hunted and persecuted, continually in flight but with no place that will have them, "together forever" in their banishment. Moreover, Ginger and Brigitte's perpetual flight bespeaks a nation without survivors, with nationhood a state of exception in which force trumps law and wherein everyone is a potential homo sacer to someone else. To this end, the third film is indeed a remake of the first, in which the violence and pain inflicted upon and lived in terror through "the body fantastic" sees its parallel in the subjugation, violence and terror enacted in forging the fantasy of Nation itself. Wrought through biopolitics, it is the body (as nation) and nation (as body) that are "together forever."

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