Crimson Peak (2015)

How does a movie like Crimson Peak come to be produced?  Well, I cannot say that I actually have inside knowledge of this movie in particular, but over many years of watching movies, I have noticed that a lot of plots seem to be getting more convoluted.  Perhaps it was feared by certain authors that a simple story that might have satisfied audiences in the early part of the twentieth century would have been regarded as too thin by mid-century, requiring additional elements and twists.  But even these more complicated stories may have been thought boring and repetitious as the years wore on, requiring even more stuff to be added.  Not all movies have suffered from this trend, fortunately.  It is still possible to tell a simple story well.  But for some authors, this process of accretion, by which an originally simple plot is given more and more elements until it is bloated with material, continues unabated to this day.  An especially egregious example of this  is Crimson Peak. And so, although I have no specific knowledge of how this movie came about, I suspect it might have happened something like this:

Scriptwriter:  “I have an idea for a story.  An American woman named Edith Cushing, who has a lot of money, marries Thomas Sharpe, a man from England with a title.  But when she gets to England, she finds that Crimson Peak, the house he owns, is a ruin with a gaping hole in the ceiling that lets in the snow and the rain as well as lots of moths.  There are certain parts of the house she has to avoid because of the danger of a collapse.  Furthermore, her husband is a loser, a would-be inventor who spends his time fruitlessly trying to make a machine that will allow him to extract the red clay from the earth in hopes of making enough money to restore Crimson Peak to its former glory.  In the meantime, she must struggle trying to live in a house that in America would have been condemned years ago.”

Producer:  “Is that it?  That might have been story enough for the Brontë sisters, but that’s not enough for today’s audience.”

Scriptwriter:  “All right.  The man has a sister named Lucille, who lives there too, and she is overbearing and hostile to Edith.”

Producer:  “Yawn.”

Scriptwriter:  “How about this?  Thomas and Lucille are not really brother and sister.  Actually, they are married, and they have schemed to get their hands on Edith’s money by way of a phony marriage to her.”

Producer:  “That’s better.  But there is no need to get rid of the brother-sister relationship.  That way the marriage between Thomas and Lucille will be incestuous.  Juicy!  Still, you can’t just leave it at that.  We need more.”

Scriptwriter:  “I know.  Their mother found out that Thomas and Lucille were having sex when they were children.  When she tried to stop it, they murdered her.”

Producer:  “Good.  Matricide is a nice touch.  But why stop there?  Let’s have a bunch more murders.”

Scriptwriter:  “Uh, Lucille murdered Edith’s father, who objected to the marriage.  Moreover, Thomas has been married to several other rich women before, all of whom were murdered once he and Lucille got their hands on their money.  And now they are planning to murder Edith by slowly poisoning her.  And Edith’s friend in America, Dr. Alan McMichael, has gotten wind of all this and has come to England to save her.  He and Edith are almost killed, but they get the better of Thomas and Lucille, who are dead by the end of the movie.  Edith and Alan live happily ever after.”

Producer:  “Now we are getting somewhere.  If this were still the late twentieth century, we would finally have enough for a movie.  But something is missing.  I can feel it.  Maybe if we added a plot element that required some special effects, that would get this story on its feet.”

Scriptwriter:  “I’ve got it!  We’ll put ghosts in this story.  Edith’s dead mother can warn her about Crimson Peak.  And the ghosts of some of the other people that died along the way can be added in.”

Producer:  “Ah.  That’s nice.  But there is just one thing that still worries me.  A lot of people don’t believe in ghosts.  They might regard that part of the movie as just so much silly superstition.”

Scriptwriter:  “No problem.  We’ll have Edith be an aspiring author when the movie begins, of whom it is said that she doesn’t write ghost stories, but rather she writes stories that have ghosts in them, as if to say they are not really that important.  And this will apply to the very that movie people are watching.  If they don’t believe in ghosts, they can just disregard them.

Producer:  That’s a little like saying a movie is not a Godzilla movie, but a movie that has Godzilla in it.

Scriptwriter:  Well, she can also declare that the ghosts in her stories are just a metaphor, which means the ghosts in this story are just a metaphor.”

Producer:  “A metaphor for what?”

Scriptwriter:  “Who cares?  Just as long as it flatters the intelligence of the audience.”

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