‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ (2022) Review: The Many Facets of Depression and Motherhood
Kevin Pontuti’s The Yellow Wallpaper is based on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, which deals with the postpartum depression, motherhood, child loss, and patriarchy of a young mother. The narrative is an emotional drama that shows how the young mother deals with the trauma by fixating on the yellow wallpaper and its intricate designs. The movie takes place within the character’s mind and yet, it seems as though Pontuti had a difficult time capturing the emotional aspect of her depression and motherhood.
The film centres on Jane (Alexandra Loreth), her husband, John (Joe Mullins), and their baby who move into a new home for the summer. The new house is meant to help his wife’s postpartum depression get better and John’s career as a doctor — which the nearby town needs desperately. John decides to take the room with the yellow wallpaper, but Jane senses something dark inside the walls. After they get settled in, Jane’s mental health starts to deteriorate and John prescribes that she stops writing and rest as a cure for her depression. Since her husband is away most days on end, she passes her time by walking around the garden. Despite John’s objections, Jane begins to start drawing and she becomes increasingly fixated on the yellow wallpaper and begins to slowly peel the paper while her health deteriorates to a dangerous level.
The Yellow Wallpaper’s greatest weakness is that it isn’t an emotionally driven movie. The themes and the source material focus on the mental health of a young mother and yet, it doesn’t find any moment to connect with the audience. The movie does spend a lot of time showing the physical toll that it takes on a woman, but emotionally it doesn’t lead anywhere. It’s one of the many instances where the source material and the adaptation don’t work. Perhaps it could have been Loreth’s line delivery, which falls flat sometimes, or the foundation is not strong enough to stand out on its own.
The movie unfolds from the perspective of Jane and in one of the earlier scenes, the audience gets a taste of her unreliability as a narrator. When John, Jane and their baby are in a horse-down carriage on the way to their new home, the baby begins to cry. Annoyed by the sound of his child’s cry, he asks her to make it stop but instead, she throws the baby out of the carriage. These kinds of unexplained events keep happening throughout the movie, one of which includes the maid, who happens to take care of her child. Jane begins to feel a bit of closeness to her, only for the audience to find out that the maid was never alive the whole time. Jane’s unreliable narrative can only be explained due to her coping mechanisms: child loss. The film suggests that the couple moved to the house due to child loss, but the baby was never with them, only a figment of her imagination. The reason why John entraps her in the room is that he hopes it would stop her from having another breakdown.
The Yellow Wallpaper is filled with the infantilization of a young mother being infantilized by the control of men, patriarchy, and domestic captivity. Jane’s freedom is limited. She is not able to enjoy writing — the one thing that gives her peace — and she is constantly under the watchful eye of the maid. In one of the scenes, Jane walks around the garden and comes across a gate, which symbolises her imprisonment. Also, the room’s wallpaper is meant to show how Jane feels trapped and isolated, causing her to become unstable. John believes that isolation will cure her. The gates and the wallpaper are symbols of patriarchy. Despite John’s strict rules, he doesn’t wish to understand how his wife feels and instead, trusts that his methods would work wonders for her. The Yellow Wallpaper visually speaks on Jane’s inescapable and uncontrollable instability.
This is a slow-burn feature-length adaptation that has some issues, particularly when showing Jane’s deteriorating mind and also its lack of commentary on patriarchal society’s control and treatment of a young woman. Perhaps the movie attempts to present them visually, but the overall fundamentals aren’t conveyed properly in the adaptation. The story is weak, solely relying on showing Jane’s guilt of motherhood and child loss instead of how patriarchy and men control women.
Pontuti’s The Yellow Wallpaper adaptation has made the horror elements of the source material non-existent and that’s a flaw. Even though the wallpaper is meant to symbolise the entrapment, there isn’t any feeling of a sinister creature beneath the walls. All of the horror elements are reserved for the gate and it feels as though the purpose of the titular element is not relevant and has been rather diminished. Loreth’s line delivery was weak and flat, but she becomes more interesting and stronger when she turns animalistic. The Yellow Wallpaper recognises the many facets of depression and if the movie had worked more on the emotional side of Jane, the audience might have felt connected to her and the story. Nevertheless, the movie is endearingly slow, poorly written, and fails to recognise the real horrors of patriarchy.