The film adaptation of the book of the same name brilliantly encapsulates the children novel’s creepy concepts, and takes the visuals to a whole new level. The film has so many hidden clues, ideas and little secrets that foreshadow and expand upon the reality of the Pink Palace, and the Other World that Coraline is drawn to at night.
If you haven’t already seen Coraline, I sincerely recommend it; Coraline is unlike any other children’s film you have any seen. Here are some of my thoughts and ideas I had while watching.
First of all, let’s start with one of the most creepiest part of the film: the button eyes. We are first introduced to them when Coraline meets the Beldam. Everybody else in the Other World shares them too: Coraline’s Other Father, the Other neighbours, and even the small animals have them sewn over their real eyes. To join the Beldam’s perfect world forever the Beldam asks for Coraline to allow her to sew buttons into her eyes. It’s interesting that the Beldam simply doesn’t use force to do so, Coraline’s consent is essential, giving demonic connotations. Deal with the devil, much?
Essentially, the button eyes represent the absence of a soul while real eyes represent youth, life and vitality. The Beldam wants to feed on the life force from Coraline, which she can obtain by sewing buttons into her eyes. Without taking this force, the Beldam will die, because she is weak without it. This explains her deteriorating state. At the beginning of the film the Other Mother is lively, loud, with an emotive voice – in contrast, by the end she has no signs of physical humanity left. She is weak with thin limbs and barely resembles a human, she is literally breaking apart as she needs life force to strengthen her powers. The Other World was constructed like a dream to lure Coraline’s consent – to blind her with greed and selfishness.
The contrast between reality and the Other World is very bleak. Reality is presented as excruciatingly normal, with slow movements and grey, monochrome colours. The main colour in the real world is the brightness that Coraline brings, in both personality and physical appearance. Her bright yellow coat is featured prominently, and her search for individuality to break from reality is shown when Coraline wants to buy a new pair of orange glove and her mother refuses. Coraline’s real parents are tired and imperfect, they seem to always prioritise other things over her. All alone, Coraline is drawn to a place where she cannot be limited by the adults in her life, where everybody heeds to her every wish: even the toys.
On the other hand, the Other World is initially portrayed with much brighter and unusual colours like purple and orange, showing its illusive and surreal nature. Her Other parents are both more animated and less plagued by exhaustion. But the magic is short-lived as the Beldam cannot sustain the glory of the Other World forever. She needs to take Coraline’s life force, her soul and vitality to regain control and power to manipulate the matter of the Other World.
The clues about the Other Mother are there all along. When Coraline has dinner with her Other parents, her Other Father eats – but the Beldam does not. Her plate remains empty while Coraline thrives on gluttony, even taking desert. The Other Mother has an appetite for something far more sinister and quietly watches Coraline eat. Or when the Beldam suggests that the Other Father is as “hungry as a pumpkin”, the irony being that his original form must have been from a pumpkin since his eventual figure deteriorates into a pumpkin-like figure with clunky movements.Even the back of the Beldam’s black and white dress resembles a black-widow spider.
The Beldam uses the doll – a copy of Coraline – to spy on her in the real world. Since the doll doesn’t require much energy beyond observation, it doesn’t take up a lot of the Beldam’s powers. When the Other Mother says to Coraline, “See you soon” after their first meeting, she does mean literally, since the next scene Coraline awakens with the doll staring right down at her. The doll’s task is simple: observe what Coraline doesn’t have so that the Other Mother can replicate it, explaining how the Other Mother knows so much about how to please Coraline. For example, with the gloves, and Coraline’s friends, the doll is picking up methods of manipulation to sway Coraline’s choice.
This could explain why Coraline is only able to use the portal to enter the Other World as certain times and why at others it is bricked up. The portal closes while the Other Mother prepares it, designs it and tailors it to suit Coraline’s desires. It simply wasn’t ready when Coraline attempts to open it after she wakes up. As we know from the credit scene at the beginning of the film, the Beldam goes into a lot of intricate preparation.
But why does the Beldam want Coraline specifically? Surely if she just needs life force from a soul to feed upon, her parents would suffice just as well. The ghosts were all children too, therefore it appears that the Beldam targets children specifically. Perhaps this is because children have the most vitality and life force to give, they are the most filling – so to speak. And they have wilder imaginations than the adults in the story, so they would be easily able to manipulate into giving their consent.
But if the beings from the Other World are entirely the Beldam’s creation, there raises the issue of why Wybie and the Other Father help Coraline, they appear to possess some element of rationality – even morality. Or perhaps it is an extension of love. They were made as perfected copies of Coraline’s perception of the characters in reality, but they deteriorate in consistency as the Beldam loses her powers. Perhaps they act out of love to save her, or they are more autonomous because they were closer to Coraline in real life. Perhaps the Beldam simply gave them more life force in their creation.
There is also some evidence to suggest that time is in a fluid state in the Other World. The triangle device that Coraline acquired from her downstairs neighbours worked in the Other World, even though it was derived from “hundred-year-old candy”. And Coraline’s doll certainly looks old, the film’s sequence shows it being sewed before Coraline even moved to the Pink Palace – perhaps many years before. The Beldam could certainly be hundreds of years old then, whether she was always in the Other World and created it herself or whether she was once a human and got trapped there, is another mystery.
Perhaps the Other World connects to other places with other secret doors and portals. It would explain why the mirror in which Coraline sees her stolen parents is time-restricted, and the one-way world of the ghost children, and Coraline’s parents when they are trapped in the snow-globe. The Other World opens up a vast number of questions about other portals, and how the doors are opened. Some require keys, some can be slipped through, and some are only one-sided, like whispers or shadows.
Maybe I’m taking this too far, but now I invite you to check out the film again and look out for the little things like the painting of the small boy above the fire place, or the three silhouetted portraits in the wall of the Other Mother’s house. Coraline provokes so many new ideas and images and I would recommend it to anyone looking to watch something a little different.