Jane has been diagnosed with an undisclosed illness. To help her, her husband takes her to a secluded country home, sure that with enough rest she will begin to recover faster. While there, Jane is primarily confined to an upstairs room. It’s a rather unremarkable room, with the only thing of note being the fading yellow wallpaper. But with nothing else to do, the longer Jane stays in the room, the more obsessed Jane becomes with its otherwise banal design. Instead of resting she spends her days studying it’s pattern and how the light flows across its surface, seemingly changing the patterns. But it isn’t until night that the secrets of the wallpaper truly show themselves.
“It really is a lovely house.”
The Yellow Wallpaper is a short 30-minute film by Stuart Hackshaw (not to be confused with the close to 2-hour long Logan Thomas film that came out the same year) and is one of several (fairly recent) film interpretations of the short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman back in 1892. It’s not the only short-film adaptation of the story, and it’s not even the only one to be set in modern times. But I do think it’s one of the better interpretations that manages to get most of the main points of the original story across in a non-taxing time frame.
One of the main purposes of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story is to illustrate the crap way women were treated in society. One must remember that at that time women in the US still didn’t have the right to vote, and a woman’s role basically constituted little more than that of a housewife. Any activity that included some form of independent thought (including writing) was frowned upon and was liable to get a woman labeled as ‘difficult.’ Because heaven forbid she have a thought in her head that didn’t match that of her husband or the patriarchal expectations of society. This of course included having any say at all in their medical care, because women were ‘fragile’ and didn’t know what was good for their own bodies or mental wellbeing.
But it turns out that neither did most of the medical professionals of the time, because a common cure prescribed to just about every ailment attributed to women was a ‘rest-cure,’ which was basically little more than forcing a woman to stay in bed and not do anything for prolonged periods of time. Considering that the typical female diagnosis of the day was hysteria, and that that determination was often a catch-all term for a plethora of more modern illnesses that range anywhere from schizophrenia to depression to anxiety attacks, it should come as no surprise that the common ‘rest-cure’ didn’t cure jack diddly.
And thus, we have The Yellow Wallpaper, a story about a woman who’s trapped in a situation she doesn’t want to be in, but stays there nonetheless, because she’s told it’ll be good for her despite her protestations to the contrary. And it may or may not drive her a little mad.
Yes, let’s put her in the most decayed room in the house. That’ll make her feel better.
With only thirty minutes to work with, this version of The Yellow Wallpaper manages to get all those points across in an artfully succinct manner without the need to add any additional fluff. Hell, they managed to cut stuff out and still get the point across. We meet Jane and her husband. We don’t know what’s wrong with Jane, only that she looks a bit tired (aren’t we all) and that she doesn’t seem to want to participate in her husbands ‘getaway’ plan. Her physician husband seems well-meaning enough, but it’s made clear right off the bat and throughout the film that he doesn’t really listen to her. She doesn’t want to be there, but he insists the air will do her good. She wants to stay in one of the nicer rooms downstairs and not the dank yellow nightmare upstairs, but he says it’s quieter up there. He doesn’t even want her to write because ‘she can be so very imaginative’ (See, there was a reason I mentioned that earlier. I’m not just babbling for the sake of babbling), but at the same time he also seems to leave her alone in the house with nothing to do for hours on end. It takes her a couple days, but she ignores him and writes in her journal anyway. It seems to be the one facet of her life where she defies him. I have a feeling that Gilman would have approved.
Then there’s the wallpaper, which is essentially its own character. For a film made on a tight budget, they did an excellent job of giving it it’s own personality. It starts out innocuous enough, but by the time the Shadow Woman shows up it’s developed its own distinct persona. CGI is used at a minimum to form shapes and shadows, but it’s utilized very well. The pattern on the wallpaper itself is very muted and indistinct, so they were able to use very subtle changes to get the point of the effect across and I think it works fairly well.
The only thing that’s significantly or notably different from the short story is the ending, which ends up being more supernatural and vague. Though I don’t really think that turning it into more of a ‘ghost story’ undermines the point of the story or the ending any. You still end up with a very confused husband and a free wife, she just ends up being free in a different sense.
What the husband sees….
…versus how she feels. Nice job, movie.
So is The Yellow Wallpaper any good? Yes, it’s a solid adaptation that changes just enough to make it it’s own, but still manages to stick to the meat and the point of the original plot. It’s fairly short, it looks nice and the acting is pretty top notch. Puritans of the original may not appreciate the ending, but overall I think they did a pretty good job with what they had to work with. If you like supernatural/horror dramas, feel free to give this one a go. It’s certainly worth the 30-minutes.
The Yellow Wallpaper is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
It is also available for purchase on the iTunes store.