Looking for Light: The Others and the Role of Religion In Horror

Responding to: Religion and Gender in Horror Films

By: Tara Jabbari

November 8, 2018

A classic horror or thriller film requires a character or a group of characters to be terrorized by another character or characters, supernatural or real. Many times, there have been religious connotations to it: for instance, the seven deadly sins (the thriller Seven is an obvious example, where two detectives have to catch a killer before he completes seven murders), or keeping purity and chastity. In the past, many films had their characters who engaged in sexual activity die, while those who did not lived, like in Halloween. In more recent films, the idea of chastity is less about being a virgin but rather that sex does come with less than great consequences, such as in It Follows or Teeth.

One film that takes the horror/thriller genre and hones in on the religious themes is the 2001 film The Others, starring Nicole Kidman. The story takes place in a remote country house off the Channel Islands soon after World War II. Kidman plays Grace, a woman with two young children, rebellious Anne and timid Nicholas. The children have a rare condition: they are extremely allergic to light and must be kept in the dark, with only one candle to give them some light to see in a room. When she allows three new people who used to work at the house to help her, things begin to get spooky. 

Grace is a woman of faith. She homeschools the children, teaches them the Bible, and prepares Anne for her First Communion. Grace does not believe in the supernatural even when all the evidence points to the contrary. 

Several themes in the film talk about the role faith and belief take in a person’s life. One is the idea of light; the children are allergic to light, literally kept in the dark and therefore, so is their mother. It is ironic that a woman of such faith is kept in the dark when it is said in Genesis, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” 

When Grace welcomes the new staff, they have this exchange:

Grace: So you say you know this house well?
Mrs. Mills: Like the back of my hand, that is assuming the walls haven't sprouted legs and moved in the meantime.
Grace: The only thing that moves here is the light, but it changes everything.

Another example of testing your faith is the children themselves. They are homeschooled, but they confess to the new housekeepers: 

Anne: I don't believe that the Holy Spirit is a dove.
Nicholas: I don't believe that either.
Anne: Doves are anything but holy.
Nicholas: They poo on the window.

Another theme is death, particularly what happens to us when we die. Grace teaches her children about the levels of hell. When Anne says there is someone else in their bedroom, Grace says she is lying, which is a sin, and therefore she can go to hell, but Anne refuses to recant. 

Grace, just as stubborn and headstrong as her daughter, refuses to believe her daughter, Mrs. Mills, and everyone who tells her that something is changing in the house, that indeed someone or something is there. She keeps reading the Bible, prays, and believes that if you die, you go to heaven or hell. The film forces you to question: if that is true, how do you know you are in heaven or in hell? What if the ghosts are in their own hell or their own heaven? Maybe the Bible is right—just not in the way you envisioned it. In an odd choice of words, Mrs. Mills says, “Sometimes the world of the living gets mixed up with the world of the dead.”

Religion and horror have gone together many times, centered around the idea that if you do something wrong, something bad will happen. How do you know to do something right? Some might say that our moral compass is through religion. The Others shows how several characters deal with right and wrong, life and death, light and dark, and questioning their faith. On top of that, it has the extreme rarity of no violence, sex, nudity, or crude language, yet it can give you big screams and jumps, all the while making you think long after the credits roll.

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Looking for Light: The Others and the Role of Religion In Horror