Wednesday, April 30, 2014

'Mean Girls' as imagined by Lars von Trier

Today is a day of celebration and commemoration in Hollywood, as it marks the 10th anniversary of teen cult classic Mean Girls, and the 58th birthday of auteur Lars von Trier. Upon first glance, the hit film and the director may not appear to have much in common. One takes a satiric and fairly straightforward look at female dynamics in the predatory hotbed of a suburban high school, while the other practices a much more oblique form of human ribbing and doesn’t really “do” straightforward. Yet both are concerned with themes of guilt, shame, and the grey area at once separating and blurring into good and evil. Mean Girls and Lars von Trier concern themselves with our baser points of commonality in order to make a fine point about our inescapably common, in the sense of shared, humanness.

Which leads us to wonder just what Mean Girls would have looked like had von Trier brought his heavily referential Nymphomaniac method of directing to bear upon the film, one decade ago…

Mean Girls as Imagined by Lars von Trier:

We imagine a Biblical mishmash of an allegory, with Regina George (Rachel McAdams) meant to represent the fallen archangel Lucifer bent on destroying the good in simple, innocent, kind Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan). Our heroine’s first name gestures to the golf term “caddie,” or a helper, and it's no coincidence her surname is that of a fish, a reference to the famed “loaves and fishes” Bible story. (The ancient tale’s emphasis on the regeneration of materials carries sexual implications as well, furthered by a second interpretation of Cady Heron’s name: Cady could also be a play on "Caddy," a type of Volkswagen pickup truck known upon its 1980s debut in North America as the VW Rabbit Pickup Truck. Rabbits are, of course, a hyperactively procreative species.) In a neat turn of gender reversal, Cady is also an Adam figure, having been cast out of Eden, or Africa, at the beginning of the story for having given into physical temptation and attempted to kiss her childhood crush, Nfume. Later in the film, she will fall prey to temptation once again in the form of her sinfully uncharitable, possibly once again lustful?, quest to take down Regina George.

In addition to the Biblical overtones, von Trier’s Mean Girls would necessarily include a discursive
cerebral element. Regina George henchman Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert) and her obsession with the supposedly British slang term “fetch,” her desperate need to make fetch a popular phrase among her peers or “make fetch happen,” aptly supplies the intellectual heft. Following the de Saussurean model of linguistic semiotics, then, the word “fetch” is used as a signifier for the abstract concept of cool or desirable, the signified. Taken together, signifier and signified form a sign. To where is this sign pointing Cady? To go fetch the desirable Regina George, of course; to bring the fallen soul back into the fold. Taking this a step further, as is the von Trier way, the fact that fetch is a British term may function as an allusion to the Revolutionary War, during which rebels rejected the fold or oversight of the British father(land). Naturally, Cady does not succeed in wholly reforming rebel Regina. This may be a comment upon the futility of her mission or, given Cady's ultimate redemption after suffering the evils that drive Regina herself, the nobility of her attempt. Take it as you will.

Still with us? Don’t worry, in von Trier’s Mean Girls, Ms. Norbury (Tina Fey) has a much larger role, accompanying Cady throughout the halls of North Shore High and commenting upon her doings in order to aid the audience in catching, at the very least, a backdraft of the many references coursing through the film. Ms. Norbury would be the Virgil figure, which is apt, as this would make high school Hell.

Anyway, having covered religion and the intellect, there must of course be an overt sexual occurrence in Mean Girls-by-way-of-von-Trier. Minor character Kevin G raps about copulating with another man’s girlfriend halfway through the film: “I’m Kevin Gnapoor/The G is silent when I sneak in your door/And make love to your woman on the bathroom floor/I don’t play it like Shaggy/You’ll know it was me/Cuz the next time you see her/She be like ‘Ohhh! Kevin G!”  A flashback would depict this scene in visceral detail: The grout-y tile of the bathroom floor beneath the girlfriend’s backside, which is leaning up against, and thus feels the full force of, the door in question when it opens to admit the wronged boyfriend. The woman’s final moan ("Ohhh! Kevin G!") would be equal parts ecstasy and pain, bliss and hurt, violence and love, an aural microcosm of the human condition which, cutting back to Kevin’s performance in the present moment, would culminate in audience applause. What does it mean? Take it as you will.

Finally, in von Trier’s Mean Girls, the film would end, as the original does not, when Regina George
gets hit by a bus. Cady would be forced to reckon with her widely perceived culpability. Students and townspeople would shun and crucify her via rumor. Though Cady comes to feel ashamed of her stint as a mean girl, eventually finding her way back to her old, kind self, the community’s reaction would drive her crazy. Literally. Like Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin, the innately kindhearted Cady would be driven to madness by the evils of the world around her. She would herself jump in front of a bus. Or into a lake. Fin.

Thus, popular reaction to Lars von Trier’s Mean Girls could easily be summarized in the phrase, “a serious downer.” Others would undoubtedly hail it as a masterpiece. Could a von Trier Mean Girls have ever come to rival the Tina Fey-Mark Waters creation? Alas, the world will never know.

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