Imagine Yourself Better: Lessons of The Fall

by Kate Reed

In the most selfless act of love I have ever committed, I told my husband that once a year on Halloween, I would watch a horror film with him— his pick.

On year one of this new agreement, he chose The Conjuring. Have you seen The Conjuring? In case you haven’t, I’ll tell you a story to illustrate how thoroughly petrifying it is: after we finished it, I could not sleep for more than an hour at a time— basically as long as it took for me to enter a dream state. Once I started to dream, I jerked awake, literally choking on my fear— breath stopped, body rigid with adrenaline, cold sweat. When the night was over, I’d somehow pulled a muscle in my neck and pinched a nerve in my back. I could not turn my head for three days.

My husband was kind enough to rub my neck while hiding giggles; he thought it was hilarious, in a very empathetic yet condescending, you-poor-puppy way. At moments, I got it— I mean, really? Come on? How scary can a movie be? At other moments, I had to fight urges to punch him in his neck, which enjoyed a smooth and full range of movement.

Needless to say, we don’t watch horror films anymore unless I approve the pick first. This limits us to the occasional mumblegore flick and any horror film Joss Whedon happens to make. And it also allows for a few TV shows, which leads us to the subject of this blog post: The Fall.

Recently, I was chatting with someone about how excited I am about the second season of this show, in which Gillian Anderson plays a gorgeous, obsessive, and detached detective pursuing a gorgeous, obsessive, and detached serial killer, played by Jamie Dornan. My friend was all like, “What?! Doesn’t it scare the shit out of you?” Followed quickly by, “How can you handle that but not supernatural scary stuff,” specifically the supernatural scary stuff in The Conjuring.

And I don’t know what it is about The Fall–which, yes, does terrify me in a way–that somehow makes it palatable. Shouldn’t real life be scarier? I mean, all kidding aside, I don’t think a month goes by without my being afraid of some sort of assault, even if it’s just a wisp of fear as I walk down the street, and this is number is down considerably from when I was younger and in possession of traits that made me more culturally desirable, like a flat stomach and a penchant for putting myself in dangerous and dumb situations. And I’m not alone in this fear of assault, especially among women. So it would make sense that I would be afraid of the violence committed by the serial killer in The Fall, who stalks his victims, murders them, then dresses them up nicely and paints their nails. (Not joking. It’s much more unsettling acted out than it sounds here).

On the other side of the horror coin, I should not be scared of an old haunted house, because exactly no times in ever do I think about ghosts torturing me so intensely that I hang myself in my basement.

I’ve been trying to bring some order to this dissonance. Someone suggested that The Fall is less disturbing because Jamie Dornan is that beautiful. Which I think infers that we don’t mind imagining him murdering and defiling us. And although obviously no one is that beautiful, I have to think his looks play into what people find so compelling about the show. Despite the fact that he is clearly a sociopath, you find yourself sort of liking him. And there is absolutely nothing besides the fact that he is achingly pretty to make you like him.

Recently I heard and took at face value immediately without researching it at all that our brains can’t differentiate between what is happening to us and what is happening to the people we’re watching on the screen. In fact, our brains can’t even differentiate between what we’re thinking about what’s happening and what is really happening, which is why visualization is supposed to be so powerful.

I started wondering, maybe it’s the fact that I do fear stalking, sexual assault, and murder— that they are tangible things that happen to people, that could happen to me— that makes me like The Fall. Which: ugghhh. I feel weird admitting that, even though I’m separated from you, reader, by space, time, and a lot of wires. Why would I want to expose myself to these terrible things? That are happening to real people?

I don’t think the super-true scientific fact that we think we are in whatever TV show or movie we are watching is something we do consciously. But I’m trying to observe myself when I’m in front of the boob tube. And as far as I can tell, I put myself in their shoes. And by their, I mean pretty much whoever is on the screen at a certain moment. But once I’m in their shoes, I find myself doing something else: I imagine myself even better.

And with The Fall, you get it all. The characters are so grossly flawed that there are endless places to imagine yourself better. You get to be the hero, but also know when to pat yourself on the back and step away. You get to be the guy pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes, but you don’t kill anyone in the process. You get to be the victim, but you somehow become clever or strong enough in the last moment to get away. And all the while, you get to be gorgeous, obsessed, and detached, which in my darkest of hearts, is the answer to why I ever turn on the Big Screen at all.

In addition to serving as the fiction editor for Rock & Sling, Kate Reed works at Spark Central (a non-profit creative learning center in West Central) and at her desk (shhh! it’s actually a couch) writing fiction and the occasional blog post.

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