A Dark Social Commentary on America

A Dark Social Commentary on America

This article contains spoilers for PearlWhen X released in March of this year, it quickly earned itself a ranking as one of Ti West’s most imaginative, sensual horror flicks. It paid homage to other slashers of its set time-period, such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. With such a high success rate, it wasn’t shocking to learn a prequel was already in the works. Only months after its predecessor’s release, Pearl made it to the big screen, and with it came a gory and heartbreaking origin story. Pearl explores the youth of X’s villain, Pearl, and how she becomes a bloodthirsty killer. Pearl is psychologically unsettling while bringing sympathy to its villainous protagonist. Nevertheless, there’s a greater message hidden within its narrative: Pearl is a Dark Social Commentary on America.

Generational Trauma

As a first generation American, Pearl contends with both the American values system of the early 1990s and that of immigrant parents clutching onto their native culture at all costs. Her mother, Ruth, refuses to allow Pearl to be anything but an extension of their life circumstances. The First World War, a pandemic, and extreme poverty are only some calamities Pearl and her family endure. Ruth has the burden of caring for an invalid husband while knowing her daughter is a rebellious psychopath in the making. Pearl refuses to settle for a simple farm life; she wants to be a singer and dancer known world-wide. Pearl’s goals and ambitions not only contradict that of her mother’s–but that of an entire society that at that time period still viewed women, regardless of nationality or wealth, as second-class citizens. In a climatic scene between Pearl and Ruth, the latter heatedly confesses to her daughter that she, too, had dreams she wanted to achieve, but that she eventually succumbed to the philosophy of “It’s not about what you want, it’s about making the best of what you have.” Ruth and Pearl are ultimately parallels to generational shortcomings and their toxic cycle.

Related: Ti West Shares Origins of X Trilogy

Underlying Mental Illness

Pearl is undoubtedly a psychopath. She enjoys hurting defenseless beings; befriending predatory beings excites her; she relishes in the idea of her parents demise to perpetuate her goals, and she impulsively destroys anything obstructing said goals. In an unforgettable monologue from Pearl to her sister-in-law, Mitsy, she confesses to every misdeed, lie, and murder she’s committed. This emotional rollercoaster shows the mental instability Pearl has been harboring her entire life–and the most horrifying aspect is the lack of empathy mixed with rationality when referring to each of her murders.

Repressed Sexual Expression

In an era when women couldn’t even vote, Pearl’s psychopathy is intertwined with her repressed sexuality. Pearl longs for the expression of her body and mind. When Pearl meets the projectionist, he immediately entices her with salacious compliments. As a woman who has only ever interacted intimately with her father and absent husband, Pearl is immediately aroused by the sheer idea of a man talking to her. As their relationship unfolds, the projectionist shows Pearl clips from an X-rated movie, a cathartic experience for anyone devoid of any sexual contact in months. In a scene paying homage to The Wizard of Oz, Pearl has a sexual encounter with a scarecrow which, while left up to the viewers’ interpretation, is implied as a substitution for Pearl’s desire to sexually engage with the projectionist.

When Pearl finally has sex with the projectionist, she feels momentarily liberated–until the projectionist discovers Pearl’s darker side, one riddled with lies and relentlessness. Feeling sexually rejected by the projectionist as he flees her farm during a brief visit, Pearl resorts to her psychopathy as a coping mechanism, ending his life without a second-thought. Just as the scarecrow serves as a sexual placeholder for the projectionist, the projectionist serves as the placement for Pearl’s psychopathy; she couldn’t have him sexually, so he becomes an outlet for murder.

Related: Martin Scorsese Has High Praise For Ti West’s X and Pearl: ‘I Was Enthralled.’

The American Dream

The American Dream is a key component of every character in this movie. Ruth is an immigrant who presumably left Germany for better opportunities in America. The result is the opposite, leaving her with an invalid husband and a morally decrepit daughter. Pearl’s husband, Howard, is born into wealth but rejects it, opting to live a humble and hard-working life on Pearl’s farm. Pearl’s sister-in-law, Mitsy, accepts her privilege of being born into the “American Dream”, but, unlike Howard, uses her wealth to help Pearl. Pearl embodies the ideology of the American Dream distorted by her psychopathy: she wants success and prosperity but rebukes its working-class mentality; she will take from everyone around her and destroy anyone in her way. Combined, these characters become a social commentary on America’s destructive nature towards its most vulnerable citizens.