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Kate Campbell
CINE 382
Topic 3
5 March 2014
The Fantastic as a Developmental Tool in Paperhouse and The Spirit of the Beehive
In The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, Tzvetan Todorov
characterizes the fantastic as "the hesitation experienced by someone who only knows the laws
of nature, confronting a supernatural event." For children, however, there often exists no
incongruence between the rational and mystical; indeed, many embrace supernatural phenomena
as mere extension of their daily realities through imagination and play. It is not uncommon for
children to use the realm of fantasy as a mechanism for navigating childhood anxieties within a
space unbound by the inflexible laws of the real world. In Paperhouse (1989), Bernard Rose, and
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973), Victor Erice, protagonists Anna and Ana attempt to rely upon
the fantastic realm as a tool for independently negotiating life's challenges and engaging in the
formation of a stable self-identity.
The fractured family provides the primary impetus for the child's reliance on fantasy in
both Paperhouse and The Spirit of the Beehive. In Paperhouse, the young protagonist Anna lives
alone with her mother while her father works away from home on an oilrig. The impact of her
father's physical absence is intensified by allusions to his drinking; the film implies that
alcoholism has caused a rift in her parents' relationship. Though never explicitly stated, this
underlying familial tension negatively impacts Anna's development, particularly by instilling in
her an overarching fear of males. On three separate occasions, Anna faints at the mention or
presence of menmost significantly, while her mother develops a photograph of her father.
Through this sequence, Rose illustrates the ramifications of familial dysfunction on the child's
psyche. A clap of thunder introduces the scene, awakening Anna and prompting her to search for

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her mother. Rose's use of sound seeks to evoke a sense of unrest and foreboding among viewers,
combining the noises of a thunderstorm with suspenseful music that increases in intensity as the
sequence progresses and Anna draws closer to her father's image. The growing apprehension
facilitated by Rose's use of sound reaches its climax as Anna finally comes face to face with her
father's photograph. An eyeline match connects Anna's gaze with her father's, indicating the
latent tension between them, while extreme close-ups of both characters' faces create the illusion
of uncomfortable proximity and the invasion of personal space; the anxiety embodied in this
sequence eventually culminates in Anna fainting. Afterward, the photograph of her father grows
noticeably darker and the features become muddled. This sequence seeks to expose the
destructive forces that implicitly weaken the dynamic of Anna's family and ultimately prompt
her to seek shelter in fantasy.
For Ana, The Spirit of the Beehive's focal character, this familial tension assumes a far
more abstract form. Though both of Ana's parents are physically present throughout the duration
of the film's narrative, their distant demeanors suggest a mental absence that isolates them from
their daughters and each other. Ana's father Fernando spends his days keeping beehives and
studying bees' behavior, while her mother Teresa writes dozens of desperate letters to an
unknown recipient. With each parent effectively consumed by their own private livesa result
of the Spanish Civil War's lasting emotional repercussionsAna and her older sister Isabel are
left to care for themselves. Erice punctuates the emotional distance between parent and child
through his character placement, never depicting the complete family unit in one shot. Even the
breakfast sequence, in which the family dines together, underscores the distinct lack of cohesion
among its members. In this minimalist sequence, disjointed cuts between each character
reinforce the absence of intimacy among Ana's family. The family's interactions become

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ambiguous as the scene's spatial continuity is repeatedly disrupted; without clear indication of
who or what each member is reacting to, each appears to exist within their own separate world.
Lack of dialogue imbues the scene with a coldness and sterility that contradict the warmth
traditionally evoked by images of a family. The characters' relationships are further emphasized
through the use of color: while Ana and Isabel are shown in loud floral patterns and bright
yellow, reminiscent of youth and vibrancy, their parents wear muted shades. Erice's choice of
color in this scene suggests an underlying separation between adult and child that causes Ana to
take refuge in the vibrant imaginary realm.
Pursuit of self-discovery further motivates each girl to embrace the fantastic as a means
of navigating the challenges of reality. At the crux of Ana's imaginings is a search for personal
identitya quest to answer the fundamental question, "Who am I?" Having grown up without
the guidance traditionally provided by parental figures, she relies upon play to discover the
unknown, explore the world around her, and decode her own character. When Ana summons Dr.
Frankenstein's monster, it is through the assertion of her selfhood: the declaration, "I am Ana." In
the film's final sequence, Ana repeats this mantra in the hopes of once again conjuring up her
monster; instead of invoking his presence, however, she succeeds in ratifying her own existence.
The contrast between Ana's first and last attempts at calling forth Frankenstein's monster indicate
how her character has developed in the latter part of the film: her initial encounter, shot in near
total darkness and visually obscured by images of Ana and the monster fading in and out, implies
her need for an external sense of guidance and validation in the absence of conventional
authority figures.
In the film's final sequenceAna's second attempt to summon the monsterher process
of self-discovery is not yet complete. Her white nightgown stands out against the darkness of her

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surroundings, indicating that she still retains much of the innocence and naivet that guided her
initial search for the monster; repetition of the music from her first encounter suggests that the
fantastic realm is still within her grasp. Nevertheless, noticeable differences exist between this
final sequence and her last interaction with Frankenstein's monster. Ana's image remains
unobstructed by visual effects, and she is shot from a head-on perspective that positions her as
the focal point of the scene. Earlier in the film, Ana seems helpless compared to the monster's
enormous frame; her repositioning as the sequence's dominant figure instills in her a previously
unknown agency in how she interacts with her imagination. In the most pivotal moment of the
sequence, Ana turns her back to the window that acts as a gateway to the supernatural realm.
This scene implies that once Ana solely relied on fantasy for guidance; now she understands how
to live without it being necessary. In contrasting the lavishness of Ana's imagination against her
bleak surroundings, it becomes clear that the former was created as a substitute for the latter.
Once Ana succeeds in establishing a sense of personal identity, she no longer needs to depend
entirely on fantasy to guide her development.
Anna, too, attempts to use fantasy as a method of self-discovery. As the eleven-year-old
Anna approaches menarche, she finds herself caught in the liminal space between childhood and
adolescence. Rose demonstrates the physical manifestations of this confusion by contrasting the
childlike aspects of Anna's life with her exploration of decidedly more adult pursuits. Despite her
forays into the world of makeup and physical intimacy, however, Anna still very much clings to
pre-pubescence. Rose depicts Anna's room as filled with stuffed animals, dolls, and other
childish furnishings, indicating an identity crisis induced by the onset of adolescence, one that
Anna attempts to reconcile through fantasy. The confusion generated by puberty's rapid
propulsion toward adulthood necessitates the creation of a world according to Anna's own

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design; through her almighty pencil, she ostensibly gains a sense of control in the supernatural
realm in the wake of her increasingly chaotic reality. The mise-en-scene of Anna's dream world
appears to indicate a place where she may safely explore the transition from childhood to
adulthood: the house's plain, nondescript appearance (perhaps indicative of how Anna interprets
adulthood) is offset by the presence of countless distorted and exaggerated items, such as an ice
cream machine and a dysfunctional radio, undeniably constructed from the perspective of a
child. Anna's dream world begins as a way to guide her self-creation and let her fluidly occupy
the spheres of both children and adults as she struggles to navigate the reality of adolescence.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of both films' treatment of the fantastic is the
questioning of fantasy's effectiveness as a mechanism for combatting anxieties and discovering
the self. In Ana's case, attempts to access the world of fantasy often have potentially fatal
consequences. At one point Ana becomes so absorbed in her imaginative contemplation that a
train nearly hits her; in another instance, it is implied that she eats a poisonous mushroom in
order to summon Frankenstein's monster. Though Erice upholds the fantastic's potential as a tool
of self-creation, he reminds viewers that to live wholly outside the laws of nature is to invite the
possibility of destruction. Rose delivers similar warnings as Anna's haven for exploration and
experimentation rapidly dissolves into a place where her deepest fears are left to grow beyond
her control. Attempts to cope with the realities of her father's absence and the implications of his
drinking cause him to adopt a terrifying form in Anna's dream world, one bent on doing physical
harm to Anna and her companion Marc.
The destructive and often misleading potential of fantasy is revealed through Anna's first
journey back to the dream house after scribbling over its paper counterpart. Once old but
innocuous, the house now appears to be in a state of significant decay: in the absence of sunlight,

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the interior is various shades of black; boards cover the windows, and large cracks have
destroyed the floors. This drastic departure from the pastoral mise-en-scene that once
characterized the house and its surroundings anticipates the arrival of a terrible evilin this
instance, Anna's father. He appears in the dream world as a silhouette on the horizon; Rose's use
of chiaroscuro lighting obscures his features beyond recognition, rendering him an unfamiliar
madman. A reprise of the suspenseful music from the darkroom sequence begins to play as he
approaches the house, this time accompanied by a pounding beat that alerts viewers to his
malicious intentions. In this supernatural world, her father epitomizes the deceptive nature of
dreams as he is distorted into a figure of malice. Through use of asynchronous sound, Rose
further emphasizes fantasy's intrusive potential. Anna hears the sound of her alarm clock in the
distance, presumably originating within the real world, but finds that she cannot wake up to
escape the dream house. Furthermore, the echo-like quality of her father's voice seems to come
from somewhere both inside and outside the dream world's narrative space, obscuring the
boundary between fact and fantasy and demonstrating the dream's ability to distort reality.
Though at first it appears that Anna has complete authority over her fantasy world, every detail
she adds to the paper house actually diminishes her control; in the end, the dream world
essentially controls her.
In both Paperhouse and The Spirit of the Beehive, the young protagonists breach the
boundary between reality and fantasy through imagination and play. Prompted by familial
conflict and the growing desire to establish a self-identity, these girls endeavor to utilize the
fantastic realm as a space for solving problems and confronting their fears of growing up. These
films employ the narratives of Anna and Ana to contemplate the merit of these supernatural

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worlds, ultimately arguing that while fantasy is a valuable tool for self-discovery, it is the real
world that ought to guide individuals through life.