The Psychosexual Subtext of Resident Evil: Village

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

 

Resident Evil: Village is centered around Ethan Winters's nightmarish journey to find his abducted daughter Rosemary, however there are several other themes explored in the game on a secondary level that, however, add a lot to the story and the development of its characters. While Mother Miranda is the prominent evil mastermind, her four "children", the four lords of the village, are in fact the characters who give the tone of the adventure and the ones who, in the end, are the most memorable. When it comes to sexual imagery in particular, the obvious thought would be Alcina Dimitrescu, but in fact she is a red herring on the matter, as the essence of this subject lies somewhere else.

As Ethan is about to enter the Castle Dimitrescu, he is captured by Carl Heisenberg and brought to a peculiar council consisting of Miranda and her four children. It is the only time when he has the chance to see all the villains gathered together, and moreover while they are arguing about who is going to be the one to carry out his execution. Sounds like an evil child's game, which isn't random if we consider that Miranda, by having condemned these four individuals to be a part of her experiments, she has essentially shattered their personality and their own free will, and while they feel super powerful thanks to their unusual abilities, in fact they are just puppets in the hands of their "mother".

The whole scene looks like a grotesque act performed by a circus of freaks, and it would have been marginally hilarious if it wasn't so chillingly creepy. Alcina and Heisenberg are the most loud; each one of them makes it very clear that they want to be the one to kill Ethan. Their over-confidence is more than obvious and they feel much superior to their other two siblings. The badly disfigured Salvatore Moreau limits himself to getting close to Ethan to have a better look at his potential prey while whimpering like a whiny baby. And then there is Donna Beneviento. She can be seen sitting in a corner, her face covered with a black veil, never speaking a word while her creepy puppet Angie, controlled by her, rushes forward to have a look at Ethan as well, in a bold, unafraid and sadistic way. Donna looks like a silent stalker, patiently waiting for her prey to fall in her hands.

Donna Beneviento is an extremely intriguing character, one that definitely deserved more game time and more details revealed about her past and her family. But even what we do know about her and, mainly, what we see, understand and decipher as the story unfolds, is enough to make her stand out among the villains and end up being one of the most iconic characters in the Resident Evil saga. On first look, she is not easy to read. In her notes, Miranda characterizes Donna as mentally underdeveloped, which is the main reason why she could not be a good host for her daughter, Eva. Donna has the appearance of a grown woman, but mentally and sentimentally she is still a child. An insecure, lonely child, but at the same time a child with vicious, twisted instincts. Donna's backstory is a tragedy, something that can be reflected in her overall appearance and attitude. Born an aristocrat, she lost her parents at a very tender age, when they both committed suicide. Her mental health issues prevented her from becoming more social in her teen and early adult years, finding solace strictly in making dolls, a craft that she had learned from her father. Her only companion was a girl named Claudia, who belonged to Donna's bloodline but no one knew for sure whether she was Donna's sister or maybe her daughter, most probably an illegitimate one, if this was indeed the case. Claudia is buried in the Beneviento Flowerbed, a private cemetery just outside the entrance to the grounds of the residence.

Growing up, Donna's obsession with dolls and doll-making became even stronger. She also studied a lot in her mansion's rich library, and she became an expert on the local plants and flowers, learning to locate those that were poisonous, and use them to create mixtures that caused heavy hallucinations. As a side-effect of Miranda's experiments on her, she developed the ability to control inanimate objects with her mind, something that she took advantage of in order to manipulate her dolls around. She especially became attached to Angie, a very special puppet / doll, which looked like a skeletal figure, was dressed in bridal rags and the architecture of her face resembled a lot the Beneviento family's crest, the sun / moon complex. 

Donna's obsession with dolls is a major element of her character and an axis around which her whole personality revolves. According to Sigmund Freud, children subconsciously use the dolls as a means to indirectly express erotic and aggressive fantasies. The doll is a small object, therefore is much closer, as an image, to what the child sees in the mirror and, subsequently, much easier to identify with. With the dolls, children create an imaginary world where they hope to feel satisfied and happy, while at the same time attempting to explore aspects of the adult world. According to Rainer Maria Rilke, however, the doll acts as a safety belt for the child who would feel lost and alone if cast out in the wild world. But exactly because the doll is an object with which the child can easily familiarize, their identities get mixed and the erotic element becomes prominent again. Sometimes children treat dolls with viciousness and this, from the aspect of psychoanalysis, is an aftereffect of the subconscious, premature yearning for a sexual partner. Donna's attitude reflects all this, adding a most powerful sexual imagery in the story. Alcina and her daughters may look promiscuous and revealing with their seemingly saucy attitude towards Ethan, but in reality they only want blood. Donna, on the other hand, neither speaks nor moves, but the way she traps Ethan in her twisted, morbid game is overloaded with psychosexual nuances.

Dolls were prominent in yet one more Resident Evil game, where again they were linked to a disturbing sexual behavior: Alfred Ashford in Code Veronica had his secret palace filled with vintage dolls, plus one giant and very creepy dismembered one hanging from the ceiling at the entrance hall. Although the house used to be inhabited by a girl as well in the past - Alfred's twin sister Alexia - it is rather clear that, now at least, it is Alfred who is obsessed with dolls, given how he keeps them around the rooms standing like silent guardians: seemingly harmless but not the least terrifying. Being very close to his sister as a young boy, he developed an unhealthy obsession with her as a teenager. After her supposed death, Alfred took on the habit of wearing her dresses and a wig that resembled her hair and strolling around the house pretending to be Alexia. To be more precise, he did not only pretend to be his sister, but he would actually "become" her when in female disguise. The dolls kind of substituted her actual presence in the house, while at the same time they maybe signified Alfred's hidden desire to have his sister as a living doll instead of her obviously being the dominant and omnipotent twin when she was alive.

Being Donna's literal creation, Angie is a medium that is used to express her master's mood and feelings. While Donna is silent and motionless, Angie is talkative, sassy and restless. Here we have a peculiar inversion: the puppet acts like a living person, while the human adapts the attributes of a doll. Donna identifies with Angie on multiple levels and the way that she chooses to express herself through the doll is different every time. For Donna, Angie mainly acts as a substitute for Claudia but on a second - and maybe much stronger - level, the doll represents a complex combination of Donna's primitive maternal instinct and her carnal attraction to the opposite sex. The most obvious manifestation of the combination of these two symbolic attributes in Angie is the doll's appearance: she looks like a little kid, but she wears a grown woman's bridal gown.

In the secluded and spooky Beneviento residence, Ethan becomes the forbidden fruit. He is pretty much like McBurney in the iconic movie The Beguiled (Don Siegel, 1971). Deprived of his weapons, he becomes a victim to whatever sick plans Donna has in mind. She begins by trapping him in her workshop, in the basement of the mansion, and there she creates a haunting string of hallucinations where Ethan's wife, Mia, appears as a giant wooden doll with several items hidden in parts of her body. Ethan hears Mia crying or talking to him, he finds her wedding ring, the music box that was a gift from a relative for their wedding, a photographic film including snapshots connected to his family life, then a baby's cradle, which subsequently breaks, hidden even deeper at the bottom of a well in a second basement. Donna attempts to sentimentally and psychologically break him by bringing up painful memories connected to his family, while at the same time she makes sure that the atmosphere in the house is scary enough to keep him under control. Eventually she creates the hallucination of a giant, cannibalistic embryo, a morbid and horrifying mockery of Rosemary, which is chasing Ethan around the house threatening to kill him. 

And this is when Donna shows up and it's the one and only time when she speaks to Ethan directly, telling him that she can't let him leave. At this point, she still appears with her head covered, although she is on her own grounds and there is a portrait on a wall depicting her holding Angie, where her face fully shows. By choosing to appear like this in front of Ethan, she avoids eye-contact with him which would possibly lead to her not feeling secure enough to go on with her game. Determined to keep him there, she makes him chase her in the residence's rooms, although Ethan is actually seeing Angie floating around and hiding in several places in the mansion, forcing him to take part in a morbid hide-and-seek game. The only thing that Ethan can do to attempt to defeat Donna is to stab Angie with a pair of scissors; but in reality, he is actually chasing and stabbing Donna herself.
 
 
The scissors is again a strong sexual symbol with many nuances and Ethan's action of using it as a tool to overpower Donna works, for her, as a substitute for the sexual act. This sequence can potentially become even more intense if Ethan fails to find Angie in time; if this happens, the dolls around him grow blades which make them look like mechanical spiders, and stab him with mania, and of course it is in fact Donna again who attacks and stabs him, once more creating a hallucination involving the dolls. Notably, the first time that Ethan finds and stabs Angie, the doll bites him. Knowing that it is actually Donna who does this, the whole scene takes a completely different perspective, seen through the prism of Freud's theory about children using the dolls to express aggressive erotic fantasies. Donna may not be technically a child anymore, but her psyche is stuck in a problematic and sad childhood, something that obviously keeps defining her actions even in her adult life.

Up to the point where Ethan arrives at Donna's house and after he escapes from there, his role is standard and specific: he is the protective father figure and Rosemary's rescuer. But for the time that he spends inside the Beneviento mansion, his role changes dramatically. He becomes a potential game partner for Donna who, due to her emotional clinging to childhood, employs childish tricks (the hide-and-seek game) and objects (the dolls) in order to lure him towards her, which subsequently leads to Ethan acquiring one more role: that of the object of Donna's sexual desires. Donna's sick inner child views Rosemary as an antagonist, something that is intensified by Angie's reactions every time that Ethan grabs her and stabs her, but Donna as a grown woman also views Mia as an antagonist, and this is manifested mainly in the way that she chose, in the workshop hallucination, to present Mia as a grotesque giant puppet. After Ethan kills Donna by stabbing Angie with the scissors and all hallucinations are gone both inside and around the Beneviento estate, the basement of the mansion still remains off-limits to him. From a freudian aspect, the basement represents the memory storage: a place where past images are stacked and remain there abandoned and seemingly forgotten but still affecting the person involved.

The whole stage that takes place in the Beneviento residence is on a much different pace from the  rest of the game, and it is several levels creepier and scarier because it is built around psychological horror. It is pretty similar to The Evil Within's chapter "The Cruelest Intentions", not only as far as its atmosphere and setting are concerned but also because in both cases the memories of the protagonists are mixed with those of their stalkers. This is a feature that is always present in The Evil Within, but in that specific chapter it reaches its climax because memories become more personal for the stalker, just as is the case with Donna in Village. Story-wise, Donna  has many things in common with Ruben Victoriano, Sebastian's stalker in The Evil Within. She is playing with Ethan's memories by infiltrating them and placing herself in them by force. By presenting to him the human-sized Mia doll, it is as if she is implying that she, being a doll-maker, actually created Mia for him, and because it was her (Donna) who, as the creator, would breathe life into the doll, she would turn Mia into a host for her own manifestation and, indirectly, her own suppressed and undeveloped sexuality. From the moment when Donna appears in front of Ethan and establishes her own role as Angie's puppet master and, in a wider sense, as the one who pulls the strings in her domain, the child's play begins to transform to a sexual game, at which point Ethan stops being Donna's game partner and his role as the object of her sexual desire is the one that prevails in the end.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Uncanny Dolls: Images of Death in Rilke and Freud

2 comments:

Mar Lox said...

Amazing observations and in-depth analysis, as usual! Angie always made me think of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (another archetype of arrested sexual/emotional development). Also Donna using Angie as her "representative" in her twisted games with/against Ethan brings to mind The Portrait of Dorian Gray and the practice of sympathetic magic. Wonderful article and as always, a pleasure to read! <3

hisbrokenbutterfly said...

Thank you!!! Actually I have already made the Angie / Miss Havisham connection in another article about Village!