The Conspiracy and Spectacle of The Cabin in the Woods
by Conner Habib
If you don’t believe in a world ruled by secret, unseen forces that control how we think, feel, and treat others, there’s a quick remedy to your delusion: Tear a twenty dollar bill into tiny, useless pieces. Better yet, do it in front of a friend. One or both of you will gasp, feel sick, feel remorse. All over a little piece of paper.
Of course, it’s not the paper itself, but the meaning in the paper (and “in” isn’t the proper word here, since meaning isn’t ever “in” anything, it’s not spatial) that is sacred to us.
If you prefer to spend your money instead of tearing it up, you could learn a bit about these forces by buying a ticket for Drew Goddard’s and Joss Whedon’s Lovecraftian film of horror, spectacle, and conspiracy, The Cabin in the Woods.
In one of its strangest and most potent moments, Marty (Fran Kranz), the nerdy Shaggy-like stoner character points out, when we’re in the sway of these secret forces, which is always, “We are not who we are.”
These forces are always magical and strange in nature – they evade our understanding, because they’re bigger than our understanding. Economy, sexual attraction, race, language, the feeling of a place: all of them invade our being and identity. Most of them aren’t chosen, and there’s no escaping them. Nature itself is the greatest conspiracy – cells conspiring without our say so, weather and elements deciding who lives and who dies. Indeed, nature is such a convoluted conspiracy that there may be no need for intention at the top at all, it may simply act out of habit, taking everyone along for the ride.
We think that science and scientific understanding give us a better handle on these forces, but in fact science is a symptom of these magical forces. Historically, science rose from religion and mysticism, linked to the spiritual at its birth, and even now as it seems distant from its occult ancestor, science pulses with magic. We build airplanes out of a magical impulse to fly, telephones out of a longing for telepathy. We bind chemicals and harness physics through a very limited understanding, demanding the world jump through hoops for us, and then pretend to understand it when it does. But we don’t understand the world, and continue to worship what we don’t understand, albeit implicitly. In labs, when an animal is killed or experimented on, it’s called “sacrificing.” Sacrificing to whom?
This tangling of magic and science, the old and the new, is on full display in Cabin, as five college students are manipulated by a secret (governmental?) organization into a weekend at a sacrificial black room masquerading as a cabin with a lake and some beautiful surrounding woods.
The movie starts by pointing to the unseen forces that rule our lives, through superstition. It’s a disorienting start – you wonder for a moment if you’re in the right theater. Where are the college kids? Where’s the party? The RV being packed full of stuff and the sly innuendo?
Instead two middle-aged men Sitterson (Richard Jenkins), and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) hang out by a coffee machine in some sort of science-looking base. They complain about women and babies, and Hadley, in a foreshadowing you’ll forget unless you see the film again, voices a superstition – if his wife thinks it’s a foregone conclusion that they’re having a baby, if she childproofs the house before she’s pregnant, they’ll never have a baby. (Hadley is right about the baby – though he doesn’t suspect just how right. The movie starts with a small superstition at the coffee machine and in less than 24 hours finishes with the end of the world.)
Cue the title on the screen – so thisis The Cabin in the Woods after all – red and loud, in an homage to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, a film with which Cabin shares much in lesson and idea.
The kids, the lambs to be sacrificed, are introduced in a typical way. They’re getting ready for a trip, they’re thinking about sex, they’re lamenting lost loves, they’re excited. But how much of it is real? Jules (Anne Hutchison), has dyed blonde hair. It’s not just fake because it’s blonde, it’s calculatedly fake – we find out later that the organization, which is never named but has (surprise!) a pentagon as its symbol, has drugged the hair dye to slow down her cognitive functioning and make her dumber than she is. Her boyfriend, Kurt (Chris Hemsworth) is excited to go to his cousin’s cabin. Not his cousin’s cabin, we find out at the end of the movie. Dana (Krisitin Connolly) has just had sex with and been unceremoniously dumped by her professor, revealing her thing for smart guys (the smart guys in the organization will be treating her much much worse later). Her relationship with the professor was probably real, but it was a delusion in itself. How did she think she could maintain it? In walks Holden (Jesse Williams), who we know and learn the least about. He’s smart and nice, and maybe knows a bunch of other languages. He gets stabbed in the throat later.
And finally, Marty, who starts off and remains more knowing than the others. He pulls up in his beat up car, high and smoking a huge bong (that collapses into a thermos and later extends into a zombie-beating club). Unafraid of the police, he’ll foil them with “ancient logics,” of posturing and feigned nonchalance.
The pot keeps his head clear through the rest of the movie, and this is no coincidence. To understand how the world, as one 17th century mystic put it, is “bound with secret knots,” you have to ask big questions. For many, the big questions are too terrifying to ask without pot. Indeed, questions about god, reality, and conspiracy are nowadays ridiculed as stoner questions.
But in Cabin, as in life, these questions are what help you survive, because without the thoughtful interrogation of everything, you can’t see what kind of danger you’re in. READ ENTIRE INTERVIEW HERE
Conner Habib is a gay porn star, essay and fiction writer, and lecturer who lives in San Francisco. He also runs a Rudolf Steiner discussion group, is NewNowNext’s sex expert, writes plays, and is an all-around nice guy. His blog is at connerhabib.wordpress.com , his twitter is @ConnerHabib and his 18+ site is connerhabib.com (warning: Adult Content)