You Can Stop Believing in It, But It Doesn’t Go Away


On Film

The anality of Event Horizon.

Still from Event Horizon.


Oh, God. Do I have to watch Event Horizon again? I’d rather rip my eyes out.

It’s a children’s movie. Let’s get that straight right away. Most movies are children’s movies.

Event Horizon (1997) is the story of a spaceship that has gone beyond our solar system. The ship aimed to get around the laws of physics and travel faster than light using an invention called a gravity drive, which folds two points together in collapsed space-time by means of a miniature black hole. It would no longer take seventeen hours to fly from Boston to New Delhi if Boston and New Delhi were, briefly, the same place.

Here is the problem: when the gravity drive was activated, the ship simply disappeared.

As the film begins, it is the year 2047 and the ship, called the Event Horizon, has reappeared. It is being approached by the Lewis & Clark, a salvage-and-rescue ship.

On its surface, Event Horizon is a haunted-house film in outer space. The ghost ship has returned from its mysterious journey both emptied and populated. “This place is a tomb,” says the captain of the rescue ship, exploring the emptied body of the Event Horizon; then, later, “Are you telling me this ship is alive?” 

It is conventional to refer to a ship as she. The captain of the Lewis & Clark asks, of the Event Horizon, “Where has she been, Doctor?” (The first words spoken in the film Event Horizon are by the inventor of the reality-warping gravity drive, Dr. Weir, as he awakens from a nightmare of his wife’s suicide, the memory of a woman he loved and lost: he says, “Claire. I miss you.”) As the rescue crew kids around, we learn their backstories and their affectionate nicknames. A technician is watching a film of her child, back home on Earth, saying, “Play horsie, Mommy. Play horsie.” She is jostled and says, “Hey, no more ball in the house.” Next is the apology: “Sorry about that, Mama Bear.”

What do we know so far? The reappearance of the ship is the rediscovery of, and reentry into, a missing “she”: an absent but constantly reevoked Mommy or Mama. Just when you think you must be imagining this, or overthinking and projecting it into the movie, the rescue ship moves to connect to the body of the Event Horizon and its captain orders a technician to “deploy the umbilicus.”

What interests me is the unusual frankness with which this unsubtle movie confesses its urgent meaning: the wish to travel outside the boundaries of reality, and to accomplish the impossible: to reconnect to the body of the missing she, the absent mother, by any means necessary. Deploy the umbilicus!


In order to better understand Event Horizon, to understand a specific psychic mechanism for destroying reality and delusionally reuniting with the mother’s body, we turn now to Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel’s Creativity and Perversion (1984).

I should like to examine in some detail the outcome of the process that goes on in the place I have likened to the digestive tract.

It is clear that, for Sade, incest is in no way connected with assuaging a deep longing for the Oedipal object, but it is linked with the abolition of ‘children’ as a category and ‘parents’ as a category. Expressed in more general terms, the pleasure connected with transgression is sustained by the fantasy that—in breaking down the barriers which separate man from woman, child from adult, mother from son, daughter from father, brother from sister, the erotogenic zones from each other, and, in the case of murder, the molecules in the body from each other—it has destroyed reality, thereby creating a new one, that of the anal universe where all differences are abolished.

Emphasis mine. We don’t have to reread the Marquis de Sade to understand these ideas. Only last weekend, I visited a friend whose six-year-old son handed me a picture book. —“You should read this,” he said. “It’s a good book. It shows how grown-ups are just as stupid as kids.” —“Are kids stupid?” I said. —“Everyone is stupid,” he said. —Then he bent face-first into his bowl of oatmeal and began to eat it with no hands, as if he were a dog.

Grown-ups are just as X as kids. Everyone is X. — The boy’s proposed equality of children and adults seemed plainly to be his tool to deal with the immeasurable, intolerable humiliation and frustration that accompanied increasing awareness of the enormous difference between himself and his father. His coping mechanism was the denial of the difference between the generations, a denial of time, through an unrealistic assertion of absolute equality. “It is necesssary to grow up, to mature, to wait, whereas faeces are a production common to adult and child, woman and man,” writes Chasseguet-Smirgel. “All of us are open to the perverse solution which constitutes a balm for our wounded narcissism and a means of dissipating our feelings of smallness and inadequacy.” It is permissible in a six-year-old child.

This, in essence, is the universe of the sacrilege. All that is taboo, forbidden or sacred is devoured by the digestive tract, an enormous grinding machine disintegrating the molecules of the mass thus obtained in order to reduce it to excrement.

This recurring theme of the changing of forms—of man’s ability not to annihilate things but to dissolve and metamorphose them after breaking down the molecules—means that all things must revert to chaos, the original chaos that may be identified with excrement … One basic intention: to reduce the universe to faeces, or rather to annihilate the universe of differences (the genital universe) and put in its place the anal universe in which all particles are equal and interchangeable.

Seen in this beam of intense darkness—the “gravity drive” as a sacrilege that destroys the laws of reality by creating an anal universe, reducing space (difference in location) and time (difference in chronology) to identical excrement—formerly invisible throwaway lines in a thriller like “Holy shit!” and “Man, this shit is everywhere!” become much more interesting.

Event Horizon is only a movie. It has a hero, Captain Miller of the Lewis & Clark, and a villain, Dr. Weir, creator of the reality-destroying gravity drive.

Miller.                What’s in the core?
Weir.                  This is the gateway. Now, these three magnetic rings, when they align, it creates an artificial black hole, which allows the ship to travel to any point in space.
Miller.                A black hole. The most destructive force in the universe. And you’ve created one?
Weir.                  Absolutely. Yes. Because we can use that immense power to bend space-time.

Weir.                 The ship doesn’t really go faster than light. What it does is it creates a dimensional gateway to jump instantaneously from one point in the universe to another light years away … This piece of paper represents space-time, and you want to get from a, here, to b, there. Now, what’s the shortest distance between two points? … The shortest distance between two points is zero, and that’s what the gateway does. It folds space so that point a and point b coexist in the same space and time.

Let’s watch that last scene again, in more detail.

Weir.                 Imagine for a minute that this piece of paper—
Smith.               Uh, excuse me. That’s Vanessa, and that’s mine.
Weir.                 —this attractive piece of paper represents space-time, and you want to get from point a, here, to point b, there. Now, what’s the shortest distance between two points?
Baby Bear.       A straight line.
Weir.                 Wrong. The shortest distance between two points is zero.

When I first saw Dr. Weir tear down Smitty’s pinup for his demonstration—when I saw him punch “point a” through her face and “point b” between her legs, when I watched Dr. Weir illustrate a physically impossible route into a woman’s womb, and then push his pen through the hole he’d made!—I laughed until the people around me thought I had gone insane. They may have had a point.


The crew of the Lewis & Clark investigates the body of the Event Horizon, the missing “she” they have found. As Justin (aka “Baby Bear”) explores her body, the journey to the reality-destroying gravity drive of the ship is a tour of her burning-and-grinding intestine, terminating in Baby’s unreal rebirth via the black hole, or the “brown” hole: the anal-universe that folds space and time.

Baby Bear.         What the hell is this place, Dr. Weir? … Looks like a meat grinder to me.

“The Sadian hero,” writes Chasseguet-Smirgel, “puts himself in the position of God, and becomes, through a process of destruction, the creator of a new kind of reality.”

Weir.                 It’s called a gravity drive.
Baby Bear.       How do you know all this?
Weir.                 I built it.
Cooper.             Well, I can see why they sent you.

Compare Dr. Weir’s speech, late in the film, to Captain Miller—

I created the Event Horizon to reach the stars, but she’s gone much, much further than that. She tore a hole in our universe, a gateway to another dimension, a dimension of pure chaos.

—with Chasseguet-Smirgel’s assertion that, to activate the power of the anal-universe to destroy reality, “all things must revert to chaos, the original chaos that may be identified with excrement.”

Captain Miller is the hero of the melodrama. He wants to grow, to mature, to be born, to escape from undifferentiated unity with an undead-mother’s body and reenter the light of common day, as paltry and disappointing as reality might be; whereas Dr. Weir wants to reunite with the illusory plenitude of his undead mother, at any cost.

Miller.              Vacate. I want off this ship.
Weir.                 You can’t leave. She won’t let you.
Miller.               Just get your gear. Or you’re walking home.
Weir.                 I am home.

Weir rips out his eyes, like the B-movie Oedipus he is. “Where we’re going,” Dr. Weir says, “we won’t need eyes to see.” That is not the whole truth: where Dr. Weir goes, being able to see reality would have been a positive hindrance.

Life is a dream. A movie is a dream. The crew of the Lewis & Clark are prismatic refractions of the desire to reunite with the mother. Captain Miller, as we have seen, wishes to return to Earth, the living Mother held in common with other siblings. Baby Bear investigates the “brown” hole, a choice that destroys him. DJ is disemboweled by Dr. Weir; his emptied body, strung up under a sign reading HULL REPAIR, is a striking correlate to the empty ghost ship. Mama Bear chases her inner child, her hallucinations of her son, into the gravity drive, where she takes a wrong step and falls to her death. Smitty explodes, I think; I’m not watching it again. And Cooper and Starck escape.

But I can watch the climactic project-and-destroy confrontation between the good captain and the bad doctor again. I’ll do that for you. Don’t watch it yourself. It is some of the most stomach-churning gore I have ever seen. You were warned.


Where was the Event Horizon when it disappeared for seven years? In hell, that’s where. Dr. Weir wants to go back, to explore hell and be reunited with his dead wife [!], but Captain Miller has planted explosives in order to destroy the gravity drive before it reactivates and sucks the remaining members of his crew into a burning, fecal dimension. Weir and Miller have a classic dyadic struggle, wrestling with a big stick in a pool of blood surrounded by fire.

Weir.                 Did you really think you could destroy this ship? She’s defied space and time. She’s been to a place you couldn’t possibly imagine. And now it is time to go back.
Miller.               I know. To hell.
Weir.                 You know nothing. Hell is only a word. The reality is much, much worse. Now let me show you … Do you see? Do you see? Do you see?

“Yes,” says Captain Miller to the self-blinded Dr. Weir, “I see.”

Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
—The Gospel According to John, 9:39.

The Gospel According to John is one hell of a book. It is in the Gospel According to John that Jesus says, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And Nicodemus asks Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” —What Nicodemus needed was a gravity drive.

Then, too, it is in The Gospel According to John that Christ says, “I and my Father are one”—more or less as my neighbor’s little son argued, unconvincingly, that he was equal to his own father: a fantasized union of Ego and Ego-Ideal, a little boy’s fantasy that he can satisfy his mother. Disown and crucify that sickness. Outgrow it. Incarnate it and butcher it. Nail it up. Hang ’em high.

“When a book and a head collide,” writes Lichtenberg, “and a hollow sound is heard, is it always from the book?” If a horror movie and a man’s head collide, and gallons of psychoanalytic conjecture pour out, can we be certain those ideas were in the movie itself? Short answer is: no.

I was told once there are many paths up the mountain. Don’t know if it’s true. Not entirely clear if there is a mountain.


J. D. Daniels is a 2016 Whiting Award winner. He received the 2013 Terry Southern Prize for Humor from The Paris Review. His collection The Correspondence was published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.