Depression has no definition. And this is exactly what “The Yellow Wallpaper” tries to explore narratively. The movie is adapted from the 1982 classic short story of the same name, written by Charlotte Perkins. The presence of postpartum depression surmounted by patriarchal oppression throughout the movie makes for a disturbing watch. While many may find the movie slow, others might just find the slowness an outcome of the very subject that the film deals with. Either way, “The Yellow Wallpaper” does appear longer than its run-time.
‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ Plot Summary
Jane (Alexandra Loreth) is taken to a countryside mansion by her husband, John (Joe Mullins), who is also a doctor. They have recently had a baby, and John has brought his wife here so that she can recover her strength as well as from her postpartum depression. However, his care seems to be an excuse for the oppression that was very much prevalent at the time, i.e., the late 19th century.
Jane insists that engaging in outdoor activities will help her more, but John insists that lying in bed is the best cure. She is barred from writing, something she found solace in, by John, who tells her that it would exaggerate her illness further. Moreover, he tells her to rest and recover so that she can put into effect her talents as a mother.
Thus begins Jane’s scribbling and exploring in secrecy. This is when “The Yellow Wallpaper” of the room she is confined to by her husband begins to take its toll. She is devoured whole by the design of the wallpaper, its yellow stains on her clothes, and the foul odor that it leaves in her hair. According to John, the room was once a nursery, but for Jane, it feels like a cage. Soon, she begins to imagine that there is a madwoman trapped behind the wallpaper, struggling to get out of her cage just like she is. Without any way to vent out her disturbing imagination, will Jane be able to cope with herself?
The story is set in a time when patriarchy ruled society. And while “The Yellow Wallpaper” has depression as its primary theme, patriarchal oppression is also dormant, trying to peep through the cloak of care that John has put on Jane. Throughout the film, it is clear that John is more interested in her “talents” as a mother than as a writer. And it is this “care” that adds to the caged aspect of her character.
Even her dream is that of her husband pushing her deep into the ground until she drowns in the dirt, again surrounded by vines and mud. Here again, we get to see how John’s love is nothing more than suffocation for her.
Towards the end of the film, when Jane locks herself inside the room, we see her mocking John for his “calls and pounds,” just another example of his overbearing nature. When she says that it would be a shame to break the door and enter, this too is a clear mockery of her husband’s love for the room, which is clearly more important than her wife.
“The Yellow Wallpaper,” as well as the metal gate, seem to symbolize the artificial cage that she is in. While the wallpaper has the design of a wilderness, the gate too has vines climbing up it. So, it may seem natural, but in reality, they are just “wallpapers” over the real metal cage that Jane is trapped in. That she is trying to get out of it is made evident when she tries to scratch the wallpaper off or when she is shown yelling and trying to open the gate. In both circumstances, she is trying to know what is on the other side; in other words, outside her gilded cage, one that is full of panic.
Again, we see how she is unable to cope with the fact that someone else (Jennie) is taking care of her baby. Moreover, her depression even leads her to turn on her baby, who is, after all, the apparent cause of her postpartum depression. She first throws the baby out of the carriage and then tries to bury him in the garden. This rage again takes shape when she finds a dead mouse surrounded by her squeaking babies. Realizing that the mouse is dead, she kills the babies with her feet (we only see her face while she kills them). This horrifying scene is again a symbol of her rage that results from her present mental state, which in turn is a result of her motherhood, which deprives her of her creativity and the desire to explore.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” Ending: Is Jane Dead or Alive?
To be frank, Jane is dead, but in her death, she becomes more alive than she ever was. The ending of the film is of utmost importance as it shows her utter helplessness and how she gets rid of it in the only way she knew she could. Towards the end of the film, she says that she sees the woman (behind the wallpaper) hiding under the vines when a carriage comes around because it must be very humiliating to be discovered creeping in daylight. And then she says that she too locks the door behind her when she creeps in daylight. This proves that the woman behind the wallpaper, creeping by daylight, is herself. She has just found a way to vent her inner turmoil and given it the form of another woman as a means of escape. But it doesn’t work that much. Only a complete escape could rid her of her pain.
There is a scene where we see Jane scraping the wallpaper off the wall and placing the bits and pieces in the vines outdoors. This symbolizes how the wallpaper and the vines have become one and the same false façade that has her trapped.
In the final moments of the film, Jane hangs herself. Just as John unlocks the door and enters her room, we see the metal gate, which Jane once tried hard to open but couldn’t, open itself, a sign that she is finally free. We see Jane’s feet as she hangs from the ceiling, but what we also see is her creeping by the wall behind her hanging self. This, along with the words “you can’t put me back,” just stresses how she is now by herself. But is she free? After all, she is still creeping, as if to make sure that no one is able to see her or discover her as she roams around. It might be that she is out of her caged life, but now her soul is stuck inside the room. We don’t know for sure. And that’s what the film leaves us with: “creeping” for answers.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a 2021 psychological horror film directed by Kevin Pontuti.