There is nothing to fear, but fear itself. This axiom highlights what many people perceive as mankind’s greatest weakness, fear. Fear commonly manifests itself in two forms, tangible and transcendental. For the people who seek the thrilling feeling of fear through movies, this combination can all but guarantee that picture will be a cinematic thriller. In Mike Flanagan’s film, Oculus, fear is portrayed all throughout the movie. The movie tells the story of a brother-sister duo, Tim and Kaylie, in an unique way where it is parallel to events happening in the past and present.
Most importantly, the film’s most prominent symbol is the antique mirror, also known as the Lasser Glass, that their parents bought when they moved to a new home. The Lasser Glass is the cause of the many misfortunes the family goes through which translates into the many fears people in the American society have. In the 2013 movie, Oculus, an antique mirror that possess supernatural abilities represents the fear of losing control, fear of the past repeating itself, and fear of the paranormal. First of all, the antique mirror represents the fear of losing control in various ways throughout the movie.
The Lasser Glass happens to possess supernatural powers where it is able to manipulate people and induce hallucinations. During these hallucinations, the main characters and the audience itself is not able to discern what is reality and what is an illusion. This leaves the main characters and the audience feeling lost and out of control. The word “hallucination” also have the connotation of psychological disorders or “going crazy” which also connects to the fear of losing control. For example, there is a scene in the movie where Kaylie is changing several lightbulb while eating an apple.
The camera pans down and shows her absentmindedly picking up the lightbulb instead the apple and bit right into it resulting in a bloody and torn up mouth. In reality, it was just another illusion. In this scene, the apple could be an allusion to the Bible story of Adam and Eve. The apple in this scene represents knowledge as Kaylie has done extensive research on the history of the mirror and her whole goal during the movie is to prove to the world that the mirror is haunted. Furthermore, lightbulbs can have the connotation of thoughts and ideas.
Since, Kaylie’s hallucination involves her getting an injury from a lightbulb it could symbolize that her thoughts and knd ge are not trustworthy and safe anymore as the mirror is taking control of her thoughts which contributes to the fear of losing control. Another good example is a flashback to the main character’s childhood. Kaylie and Tim decides to call the doctor one day because their mother has been “sick” for quite some time and they want things to go back to normal. For each time they call, they hear the same response of “having their father to call” in the same ominous voice.
As humans, we are supposed to be able to distinguish what is real and what is fantasy. This disorientation that the mirror projects on people and the things around them represents one’s fear of losing control because they are no longer in charge of their lives and their destiny as they only sense what the mirror wants them to see, hear, and do. Ironically, mirrors are supposed to reflect reality. Lacan, a psychoanalyst, uses the term “mirror stage” to help describe the phenomena of babies looking into a mirror to form the first impression they have of themselves.
Lacan claims that the mirror is something that allows humans to decipher the world and everything around them (Lacan). In Bailly’s book, Lacan: A Beginner’s Guide, he says that Lacan states when a person looks into the mirror, what they see is their identity (Bailly). At some point of the movie, each character gazes into the hallucination inducing mirror. When each character is their hallucination, they usually see something that they do not want to see about themselves. Therefore, this alters each character’s identity and all that they believe is true.
The notion of these distortions in this movie makes sense to why the mirror contributes to the fear of losing control. Secondly, we can interpret the antique mirror as fear of the past repeating itself. With common sense, we all know mirrors are not supposed to reflect things in the past. But in this case, it does. Throughout the movie, Kaylie has been tracking down the Lasser Glass in hopes of obtaining it and getting rid of it for good by “killing” it since the mirror ruined their lives. When the mirror is in her possession, events from the past starts to occur and haunt her again.
For instance, when Kaylie was a child, her parents were “murdered” by the mirror. Now that she’s older, the mirror made her kill her fiance by accident. In both instances, she lost people that meant a lot to her. The loss of her parents could symbolize the removal of unconditional love and guidance from her life while the removal of her fiance represents the loss of emotional support and protection. When a person loses something they love, it generates fear and this situation contributes to the fear of the past repeating itself.
On the other hand, when Tim was a child, he had been sent to a mental asylum because he shot his dad to death. Later on, Tim kills Kaylie by accident because Kaylie hallucinates and sees her mother in the mother reaching out to her in an embrace while Tim’s hallucination show that there is nothing in front of the mirror. Tim activates the kill switch and the blade swings down and kills Kaylie instead of the mirror. The purpose of this scene is it reinforce the theme for the fear of the past of repeating itself since Tim kills people he loves in the past and present.
The death of Kaylie could symbolize that the mirror has won again in the battle between evil and good. It could also symbolize that seeing is not always believing since everything both of them saw was not what they thought it was. Most importantly, Kaylie’s death creates fear of getting hurt by someone we love or are close to especially of blood kin. We get this fear because there is a hint of unpredictability. Most people would never expect someone that we love to hurt us because that is out of character. Lastly, fear of the paranormal displays prominently in Oculus.
The Lasser Glass portrays this fear again since it shows supernatural abilities. With that in mind, the mirror causes the audience to generate fear as this is something that is not normally accepted in society. Later, the mirror produces a female ghost with mirrors as eyes that seduces the father. There are numerous superstitions and myths that involve a connection with mirrors and ghost. For instance, a Jewish tradition is to cover all mirrors in the house to prevent the deceased’s soul from getting trapped in the mirrors which prevents them to enter the afterlife (Sanofsky).
Most importantly, it is also said that mirrors are portals for ghost and spirits to reach earth (Harrison). These claims provide possible explanations on how the mirror has a connection to the ghost and the hauntings. Also, eyes are familiarly known as the windows to the soul. Ironically, the female ghost has mirrors in place of eyes. The eyes can symbolize how mirrors can be deceiving just like eyes. The deceptiveness of unaided sight is a phenomena known by some people as “spectacles behind the eyes”. The brain translates what is seen by the human eye based upon previous experiences, which influences the perceptions of different things.
Like the funhouse mirrors, one cannot trust what they see in those mirrors as they are all illusions to trick our mind. This goes back to prove how the ghost contributes to the fear of losing control and the fear of the paranormal. Plus, the connotation ghosts often carry relate to either death or harm to the living which further exacerbates the fear of the paranormal. Oculus is a psychological thriller film that revolves around a haunted antique mirror that causes chaos to whoever owns it. On the surface, this film is just another horror film, but after close analysis it actually reflects some of the fears present in today’s society.
The mirror with supernatural abilities in this movie represents the fear of losing control, fear of the past repeating itself, and fear of the paranormal. The mirror induces hallucinations that causes Kaylie and Tim to have a distortion of reality that contributes to the fear of losing control. Next, the mirror manipulates the past and brings bad memories and events back to the present to represent fear of the past repeating itself. Lastly, the mirror conjures up a female ghost that contributes to the fear of the paranormal. The fears that are present in a certain society give insight to the culture.
Since the movie revolves around an American family, the fears depicts in Oculus show that their society has anxieties towards things that are unfamiliar to them or causes grief which implies that this culture values stability and their identity. If an outside source is disrupting the equilibrium of life, socially and physically, we can anticipate that they will have similar reactions like Kaylie and Tim to where we would want to prevent it from happening again. Ultimately, the film, Oculus, portray fears that could have multiple interpretations to see its underlying meaning to a society.