Fear and loathing in the Silent Era.
Editor's Note: The following contains spoilers for the new film Pearl. Continue at your own risk.
The closing moments of Pearl, the new surprise prequel to Ti West’s grindhouse crowd-pleaser X, feel as thematically trapped as the main character of the same name. On one hand, you have this bloody fun experience that’s to be expected from the usual A24 fare; a crazy throwback slasher starring Mia Goth (reprising her role from the previous film) as this wannabe-Hollywood golden girl who loves to poke anything with farm hooks. While on the other hand it serves as this bleak inverse to the ideas made in its sequel; whereas X makes a case for how the independent scene of the 70s influenced its youth to break from convention, Pearl acts as a bleak inverse to those ideas with the silent film era of World War I serving as this cruel and unattainable chance for escape that only drives some towards insanity. The ending to Pearl presents a semi-serious look towards that in a way that may not have the effect the filmmakers were hoping for, but nonetheless evokes the feeling of heartache and loss that is only more personal than the farm girl soaked in goose blood. Spoilers for Pearl follow.
Up until the half-way point of the film, Pearl plays out like a typical technicolor romance film you’d come across on TCM from the 40s and 50s, with Pearl dreaming for a better life outside the one she currently has in her family farm. With the ongoing news of the war as its backdrop, Texas in the year 1918 is filled with paranoia towards any potential illness in the midst of the Spanish Flu (with more COVID imagery than you’d expect from a period film), and Ruth (Tandi Wright), Pearl’s mother, is the most tense of them all. She consistently berates any lollygagging she spots from her daughter, is always worried about any German persecution, and pressures Pearl to follow the same life she’s imbued for herself in caring for Pearl’s disabled father (Matthew Sunderland). But Pearl wishes to be seen by all and heard by all, and wishes to someday be in the picture shows that she’s loved her entire life. It’s a fairy tale setup that reminds us of films like The Wizard of Oz and classic Walt Disney films, the difference being that our leading lady is also a narcissistic animal killer. But we’ll get to that shortly.
It’s made clear to the film's audience that Pearl suffers from anxiety from her life as an army wife to her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell). She hopes for the same sense of escape he currently has, but also seeks a physical longing for someone who can sweep her off her feet and take her away from her cruel home. This is when she quickly falls for David Corenswet’s character, a theater projectionist, who tells her that the dreams she seeks can come true in Europe. At the same time Pearl gets word from his sister-in-law Mitzy (Emma Jenkins-Purro) that a local church is holding auditions for a dance troupe, which encourages her to finally pursue what she’s been after. Ruth gets word about her daughter’s exploits and demeans her place in this world as nothing more than a caregiver for her husband and family, something that Pearl does not react to kindly. This is when the film takes a much darker turn than expected.
Pearl and her mother physically argue with each other before she accidentally pushes her to the active fireplace, causing Ruth to catch on fire. Pearl quickly puts out the fire while her father watches in immobile terror. Seeing this as her one-way ticket out of the farm, Pearl hides her badly-burned, nearly-dead mother in the basement and runs off to see the projectionist in hopes that they can run off to the sunset together. By the time he drops her off at the farm so she can get ready for the dance audition, he’s immediately disturbed by the look of the house, spotting spoiled food laid across the floor and rotting pork roast on the porch, to which Pearl thinks nothing of. Pearl quickly catches his disgust and murders him in a fit of rage, and feeds the nearby alligator his corpse. Before she heads off to the audition, she decides to smother her father to death, now feeling positive that she will get the happy ending she so desires.
Pearl takes Mitzy’s place in line for the audition and performs her routine in a visually captivating sequence, but is bluntly rejected by the judges, seeing as they were looking for someone younger and blonder to take in. This drives Pearl into hysteria, as her one-way ticket was now cruelly taken from her, and is forced to take in the reality she’s now responsible for. Mitzy takes Pearl back to the farm, where Pearl confesses to Mitzy everything she’s been wanting to say to Howard since he left for war. Pearl reveals that she was pregnant with Howard’s child when he left, and felt that it was unfair that he got to leave when she couldn’t. She hated him for having the life that she always wanted. Pearl ended up having a miscarriage with the baby, and saw it as an opportunity to lash out when things didn’t go her way through killing animals. She off-handedly admits to several other, human murders, but promises she will make a good home for Howard. Mitzy is obviously shocked by this and tries to politely leave before Pearl asks her if she got accepted to the dance troupe, to which her younger and blonder sister-in-law admits to. Pearl decides to murder Mitzy in response, and heads back to the farm to rest with the corpse of her mother, who says that she still loved her. Realizing that this is her fate, Pearl props up the corpses of her parents to reenact one of their normal dinner sessions in the hopes that Howard has something homely to return to. To the surprise of no one, that isn’t the case once Howard returns, who is chilled by the grisly dinner scene and Pearl’s protracted, painful smile.
The ending to Pearl is ultimately a cold one. Given her murderous tendencies (briefly) aside, Pearl was a girl who shared the same sense of direction and freedom that the crew from X had, but chose to stay due to a mix of fear and guilt over both killing her family and being rejected for being someone that she wasn’t. It begs the question of who’s to blame for the way she acted (and also how these themes will carry on with the next film in the X franchise, MaXXXine). Whether it’s the societal prejudices that bogged her down, her own disillusionment, or something else entirely is up for interpretation, but it makes for a story that is, in itself, a pre-Hollywood tragedy. Not so much for the people who died, but for the killer herself, who decided to stay in normalcy instead of going for her own happily ever after.
Raul Cruz has had a knack for writing ever since he could grasp a pencil with his tiny baby fingers. His professional writing experience dates back to 2018, with reporting and transcribing news in the media industry through Collider, CBR, Looper, and his own independent channels. A music and communications graduate from the University of Miami, Raul is currently developing a YouTube channel while also hosting his podcast American Nerds. A go-getter and aspiring thinker, Raul hopes to be the best there is at what he does, and what he does is simply okay.
Pearl Ending Explained: Mia Goth's Boulevard of Bloody Dreams – Collider
Fear and loathing in the Silent Era.