The Orphanage (2007), directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, is about the unconscious, inadvertent, intergenerational transmission of trauma and it was deftly discussed today by Adriana Novoa, PhD at the Return of the Repressed Film Series. She notes that most horror films place what is horrifying ‘outside’ or into the ‘Other’, but that this film places the horror inside the characters, and inside the audience through its emotionally resonating themes.
Laura (Belen Rueda), her husband Carlos and their adopted, seven year-old son Simon (Roger Princep) move to Laura’s childhood orphanage which she hopes to restore and reopen to care for five more children. Simon does not understand his mother’s need to take in more children. He has been told neither that he is adopted nor that he is HIV positive, but is understandably angry when he overhears this. When Laura and Carlos host a festive garden party for potential wards, Simon disappears. Laura begins to suspect that the orphanage is haunted. Consulting a medium (Geraldine Chaplin), she learns that a number of orphans had been poisoned there. Perhaps Laura repressed any knowledge of Tomas who had drowned, a few days after Laura is adopted, as the result of a cruel prank played on him by the other orphans. These culpable children disappeared soon after.
The audience can speculate that Laura’s dissociation of her early traumas (loss of childhood playmates, for example) made it difficult for her to recognize the losses Simon experiences. Her refusal (out of terror) to recognize her own son behind the mask, as well as his anger at her ‘lies’, lead to his unfortunate demise. His final attempts to communicate himself to her (through banging from the cellar where he is trapped) fail just as his previous communications about his discoveries of Tomas’ anguished world fail to get Laura’s understanding. Her misrecognition of Simon’s world is fatal. Laura’s unconscious wish to restore the lost (murdered) five children by caring for an additional five differently-abled children is thwarted. Likewise her unconscious knowledge of the accidental death of Tomas is recreated, poignantly, in Simon’s accidental death. Only in Neverland, in death, can the lost children be reunited with Wendy, now grown. Nowhere is the return of the repressed more dangerous.