Drag Me to Hell: The First Great Mortgage-Crisis Parable?

Slate's Culture Blog
June 9 2009 11:07 AM

Drag Me to Hell: The First Great Mortgage-Crisis Parable?

As Dana promised in her alternate reading last week , Sam Raimi's marvelous horror throwback Drag Me to Hell spits you out with your brain buzzing (and your clothes phlegm-drenched). Unlike Dana, I saw this movie with friends, and we puzzled out our own theories afterward. Be warned: Spoilers lurk just around the corner, working their moistened gums and preparing to pounce.

Our question was: Putting aside whether Christine's supernatural torment is real or imagined, what point are Raimi and his screenwriting brother Ivan trying to make with it (besides, of course, scaring us silly)? We landed on a sort of mortgage-crisis allegory. Christine works, obviously, as a bank's loan officer—it's in her eagerness to prove to her boss that she is capable of making "tough decisions" that she denies rheumy-eyed, shark-toothed Mrs. Ganush a mortgage-payment extension, and thereby invites upon herself an ancient Gypsy curse consigning her soul to eternal rot.

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This much has been observed, for its recession-era significance: In succumbing to base careerism, Christine jeopardizes her soul. But we can push this further. What I haven't seen discussed is how Mrs. Ganush's curse has the effect of throwing Christine at the mercy of a shadowy, unknowable, bizarro economy: Mediums and spiritual advisers—"specialists" who may, in fact, be con artists weaving an elaborate, greedy fiction—demand various outlandish sums from Christine, both monetary ($10,000 for a séance) and feline ("Here kitty, kitty!"); these prices are free-floating, untethered to any product or service bearing a concrete, determinable value. What better punishment, really, for a representative of the mortgage system, that shadowy, unknowable, bizarro economy full of "specialists" who weaved an elaborate, greedy, and untethered fiction for the ages (of which, it should be pointed out, Mrs. Ganush was a victim)?  

In this reading, Drag Me to Hell operates as a wild, spooky riff on postmodern capital. Note how the plot line is built around a series of (frustrated) transactions: The rejected payment extension, the palm reader's fee, the kitten sacrifice, the medium's fee, the pawn shop, the goat sacrifice, and, finally, the cruel reversal—worthy of O. Henry but especially relevant today—in which a rare coin is rendered profoundly worthless and a cheap wooden button becomes priceless. What is the movie's penultimate scene—the one in which Christine digs up Mrs. Ganush's corpse and shoves an envelope into her mouth—if not a visit to one hellacious ATM to make a deposit?

Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.

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