Through The Looking Glass and What Helen Found There
Candyman Candyman Candyman Can-
Don’t worry, you have to say it 5 times for the ultimate Sugar Daddy to show up. 🙂
I’ve been thinking about Candyman lately. Quick recap: Candyman was the son of a slave who fell in love with a white woman–who’s father showed his disapproval by gathering a posse to kill him. The lynch mob cut off his hand, covered him with honey and chanted “Candyman” as the bees stung him to death. Residents of Cabrini Green housing project believe that if you call his name 5 times, he shows up and kills you.
Actually, I haven’t been thinking about Candyman so much as I’ve been thinking about Helen–the one who calls him. She’s a white grad student studying urban legends who hears about the Cabrini Green version of Candyman from older, black janitorial staff at the college. Unlike the other “call the killer in the mirror and he will kill you” stories, it’s tied to a current, unsolved murder and Helen is intrigued. Immediately, she goes into urban archeologist/explorer mode. Helen is going into Cabrini Green (interact with the actual residents) and introduce the story of Candyman to academia.
Well, Helen is naive on two fronts.
1) Turns out that someone else in academia had already done Candyman research. Lucky for the movie, this doesn’t deter her.
2) As a young, educated white woman, she thinks her status/place in society is secure–and she is untouchable.
The real horror of Candyman isn’t the murders – it’s Helen learning how easy and quickly one can lose perceived place/status/privilege.
The first reveal of this comes early on when Helen learns that the very condo/apartment building she is living in was originally built to be a Cabrini Green like housing project. Because of the location of the building, the powers that be decided to put wallpaper over the cinder block, upgrade the lighting, and charge unsuspecting yuppies and arm and a leg.
Like peeling back wallpaper, Candyman just pulls back the fancy exterior of Helen’s world/life. Over the course of the movie, she gets sucked into the criminal justice system, institutionalized and, in one way or another, loses everyone she loves. (Alas, poor Bernadette.)
Helen doesn’t feel the full brunt of these systems – their money does have some influence – but it’s still devastating. She goes from arrogantly walking into Cabrini Green feeling no one would dare touch her because they think she’s a cop* to being pursued by the cops.
What’s interesting about the movie is that her redemption comes in not giving in to despair. Though her life has been devastated (good bye marriage, potential career, freedom, etc), she’s still willing to save someone else. If this movie were made today, Helen would somehow magically get back everything she’d lost. But it wasn’t, so she doesn’t.
Helen sacrifices herself and becomes a saint of sorts. Just don’t say her name 5 times.
Lesson: In the wave of a hook, you can go from being one of “us” to being one of “them”.
What you summon in the mirror is really what you are calling forth from yourself.
*She’s actually wrong about this, too.