The film The Others (2001) takes place mostly in a large house whose habitants are slowly driven mad as they are ambushed by strange circumstances that leads them to think the house is haunted. The ending is a twist, however, when the main characters find out that they are the ones who are haunting the house after all since they are dead and in a state of limbo. This scene depicts the onset of paranoia by showing what happens when Grace Stewart imagines that her daughter has been replaced with someone else.
The scene begins with the little girl playing with a marionette while dressed fully in white. This vision suggests her complete innocence as a child. You can clearly see her face in the scene, showing the audience that it is really her which becomes important just a few minutes later. Next, Grace is shown dressed in black, possibly to contrast her daughter’s innocence. Her demeanor hints at her unstable mental state because she has a very serious look on her face and then holds her head against her hands as if something was weighing her down. The contrast between Grace and her daughter becomes even more stark by the conflicting sound differences between the daughter’s lackadaisical humming and Grace’s heavy sighs. When Grace goes into the room to tell her daughter to take the dress off, she immediately becomes accusatory when she sees her daughter is sitting on the floor. However, she cuts herself off mid-sentence when she notices that the hand holding the marionette is not her daughter’s hand. When the shot cuts back to Grace’s character as she approaches the person that is there in place of her daughter, eerie music fills the background, very quietly at first to help build suspense and hint at Grace’s suspicions. As she gets closer and closer to “the thing,” Grace’s face becomes almost completely hidden by dark shadows, signaling the drastic change in tone that is happening in the movie as the paranoia starts to creep in. When the camera focuses on “the thing,” and the viewer sees someone else that is not the daughter, the volume of the eerie music rises. Then “the thing” speaks, causing confusion because “it” has the daughter’s voice. While it makes the audience question “the thing’s” identity, Grace is immediately convinced that “the thing” must have done something with her daughter, consequence of the paranoia making her jump to conclusions without stopping to question the things she is seeing first. It does not take long, seconds in fact, for Grace to completely lose it and lunge forward towards “the thing” in attempts to choke the life out of it while the music reaches its crescendo. There is a ceiling shot which allows for full capture of the action, then the shot changes to a profile one which shows Grace’s figure mainly as a shadow. All the viewer can see is her body in a fit of convulsions, the erratic movement also alluding to her decline in mental health. When she finally realizes that “the thing” really is her daughter and she sees what she has just done, the camera seems to whirl in a sweep that suggests Grace has, in a way, snapped back to reality from her paranoic tantrum. In that moment, the music dies.
Thematically, the paranoia in The Others makes a comment on how people will sometimes get obsessed with something, to the point that it consumes the person. J. Hoberman explains it better in his essay “Ciné Paranoia: Conspiracies Unmasked, 1973-75,” when he talks about The Exorcist (1973) as being an allegory. He quotes Jerry Rubin who says “We are all possessed — by our addictions, our loves, our attachments, our habits, our unconscious, our guilts, our needs, our possessions, our social roles….” Grace Stewart became obsessed by the idea that her house was haunted which began to play tricks on her mind, such as the one in the scene above. In a way, the film warns against the dangers of allowing one’s self to be “possessed” by something. It is a reminder to overcome the compulsion to give into certain ideas or feelings in exchange for making more conscious decisions.