A Meaningful Story
The Yellow Wallpaper is an incredible piece of canonical feminist literature, a short story written in 1892 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman featuring complex layers and themes that, although written in a Victorian era, still resonate with contemporary life and politics. Both story and author are well known in the literary world as early influencers of feminist themes in writing, and to this day the story remains a staple of high school and collegiate reading, raising fundamental issues around women’s roles in society, mental illness, and social expectations of women’s mental and sexual health.
An exhausted new mother, Jane and her family seek solitude in a country home secluded far from busy city life. Restricted from all activities in order to “heal her,” Jane is a woman lacking liberty, agency and a sense of meaningful work; the roles of mother and homemaker are undertaken by others, leaving her idle and contributing to her diminished feelings of self-worth and agency. These feelings, when combined with solitary confinement masquerading as therapy as well as Jane’s underlying and misunderstood postpartum-depression (a condition unrecognized by doctors of the era), evoke extreme behaviors of withdrawal, depression, outbursts of rage and bouts of mania.
Confined in solitude and effectively held captive by her physician husband, Jane descends into deepening depression as the walls close in around her, her thoughts symbolically trapped by patterns of the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom. With a prehistoric understanding of psychology, Jane’s husband identifies such symptoms with the blanket term “hysteria.” Jane’s “hysteria” takes over slowly, and her physician husband John soon learns that he’s done the opposite of help - he's propelled her descent into madness.
One of the earliest diagnosis of “hysteria” in women dates to 1900 B.C., and for the next 4,000 years was variously attributed to “wandering wombs,” demons, sexual tensions and “retained female semen.” A blanket diagnosis for women, for centuries treatments included doctor-performed masturbation, female circumcision, hosing down with cold water, bedrest and abstinence from anything and everything. Gilman herself was treated for hysteria, later vehemently vocal about her physical and mental decline throughout treatment, as well as how it became inspiration for The Yellow Wallpaper.
While medical practices have fortunately advanced and “hysteria” is no longer a concern for the average modern woman, a quick Google search reveals there are still doctors who claim to treat it. Unfortunately, a multitude of stigmas surrounding women’s health persists, especially related to feminine sexuality.
Film and other forms of modern art shed light upon such persistent social gender myths, and one of the best ways we can eliminate them is to continue creating art. The beauty (and terror) of our story is that it can be directly related to our modern era, and for this reason we’ve chosen to set our film in its original Victorian style, with as much historical accuracy as possible to accentuate and intensify these once unquestionable and undeniable misconceptions.