ANALYSIS: “I am not a real duck” – A Portrait of Paranoid Marriage in HONEYMOON (2014)

ANALYSIS: “I am not a real duck” – A Portrait of Paranoid Marriage in HONEYMOON (2014)

Spoilers

Before the Fear Street Trilogy, director Leigh Janiak’s debut explored the dark waters of a relationship in freefall. Kim Morrison investigates…

“Before I was alone. And now I am not.” This is one of the first things we hear Bea (Rose Leslie) say on her wedding video in the opening minutes of Honeymoon (2014). Her marriage to Paul (Harry Treadaway) seems perfect: they have cute stories about their first date and their proposal, and Paul refers to her as his ‘Honeybee’. They are sickeningly cute, in fact. 

For their honeymoon, the couple head into the Canadian woods to Bea’s family cabin. This place has a lot of memories for her, and it’s clear how long Bea and her family have been visiting judging by the outdated ‘90s technology and furnishings. “Change is bad”, Bea tells her husband as she excitedly fawns over the VHS player and the chunky microwave in the kitchen.

The house is also full of Bea’s secrets: hollow ducks where she used to hide notes as a child; silly nicknames for each of the rooms; the bathtub where she almost drowned. This is her space. This is where she belongs.

Perhaps expectedly for a pair of newly-weds, Bea and Paul are very sexual when they first arrive. They’re barely able to keep their hands off each other long enough for Bea to finish her tour of the cabin. However, the next morning, Paul slightly ruins the mood by suggesting that Bea needs to “rest her womb” after their night of lovemaking. While he brushes it off as a joke about how hard they had sex the night before, it’s clear it’s a touchy subject for the pair. 

Bea instantly becomes uncomfortable, saying she doesn’t think she’s ready for a baby. While neither of them seems particularly keen on the idea of starting a family at this point in their relationship, it’s considered the next logical step after getting married by society. If Paul hadn’t brought it up, their friends and family would likely have started bombarding them with questions as soon as they returned from their honeymoon. And while this doesn’t seem to dampen Paul’s sex drive at all, Bea seems slightly more reserved after this. 

He tries to talk her into skinny dipping, and his constant pawing at her – whether she seems into it or not – is incredibly uncomfortable to watch. The situation only gets worse when Paul heads out for an early morning fishing trip and discovers Bea has gone missing. After much frantic searching, he finds her naked in the woods, with no real memory of how she got there or what happened to her. 

Honeymoon may have themes similar to movies such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), but if you think Bea is the villain in this story, you’d be mistaken.

The narrative is mainly told through Paul’s eyes as he tries to deal with the aftermath of finding Bea in the woods and the perceived changes he sees in her character. And while it may seem like Bea is turning into a more traditional horror movie monster, it’s the monster that’s been lurking inside Paul all this time that’s the really scary thing. Painting Bea to be the villain is the easy route for Paul, but the audience is invited to imagine what the whole experience is like for Bea as she realises the man she married isn’t the person she thought at all.

At the start of the movie, Paul is the definition of the perfect partner, but as Bea starts to pull away from him we find a truly nasty and controlling person hiding underneath. “I am not a real duck”, Bea writes in one of the ornamental ducks in the cabin, but it seems that Paul isn’t a real duck either: he’s as fake and hollow as the rest of the ducks on the shelf and quickly proves to be a terrible husband for Bea.

After her incident in the woods, it’s clear Bea’s confused and angry at what has happened. She doesn’t know what went on any more than Paul does, and yet he incessantly questions her on the events, demanding answers: he obsesses over what happened to her nightgown and doesn’t offer her the comfort she needs, even though she’s clearly very upset. Rather than listen to her or support her through this difficult time, Paul even accuses her of cheating on him. Her sleepwalking – or not remembering what happened – is totally prosperous to him, but her sneaking out of the house at 4am to have sex with a childhood friend in the woods apparently makes complete sense in his warped mind. 

At this stage, Paul’s paranoia has got the better of him and he’s past the point of reason. He stares at Bea as she sleeps, spies on her in the bathroom and starts to nit-pick every single thing she does. He cannot accept the fact that maybe Bea has changed since the arrival at her childhood haunt, and so he is determined to prove that she’s not even the same person anymore. He wants to believe she has changed into something evil and is ruining their marriage, but he can’t see that the real changes have happened in him. 

Again and again, Paul reverts to the only way he knows how to connect successfully with Bea, which is through sex. Even though he believes she has had sex with another man or may have been attacked by someone in the woods, he still believes sex is an appropriate way to rekindle their flame. From sticking his hand down her shorts to asking for a kiss and immediately pushing himself on top of her, it’s clear that Paul can’t read Bea’s needs. 

It gets to the stage where Paul catches Bea practising her sexual rejections in the mirror so she can find the combination that sounds the most plausible before speaking to him in person. While Paul reads this as Bea struggling to come across as human, it’s clear that Bea is simply trying to counteract Paul’s aggression at being rebuffed. The perceived entitlement to ones body that comes with marriage can be difficult to deal with, and because Bea has been seen as very sexually active at the start of the film Paul cannot understand why she would say no to him now. Clearly, he doesn’t understand the importance of active consent, and can’t comprehend that because she has had sex with him in the past it doesn’t mean he has clearance for all future sexual encounters. 

Paul seems more affronted at Bea rejecting him than he does at the thought she has had an affair mere days after their wedding: he wants to know that he has control over her, and thinks that if they have sex all their problems at that moment are fixed. However, it’s clear that Bea’s problems run much deeper than that, and she requires a different type of connection from her husband to feel better. Bea initiates oral sex on Paul because “I wanna make you happy”, but Paul never thinks about what will meet her needs: if he did, he probably wouldn’t insist on shoving his hand into her underwear at any given opportunity.

Eventually, Paul is unable to give Bea room to breathe. When she goes for a drink in the middle of the night he follows her, demanding to know what she did and where her glass is. He’s desperate to find a bigger reason or an outside influence that explains Bea’s behavioural change, because he can’t accept that the reason might be him and the way he’s been treating her.

“You have to stop,” she begs. “You’re ruining this”. After the perfection of their first date and engagement stories, it’s heart-breaking to Bea that they won’t have that type of tale from their honeymoon. Instead, it’s been filled with anger, hurt feelings, accusations and the couple sleeping in separate beds.

It gets to the stage where Bea has no privacy and no room to think when Paul’s around: he demands to see her journal when she’s writing in it, breaks down the bathroom door when she tries to lock herself away in the only private place in the house, and demands they return to the city because everything feels different at the cabin. He can’t understand that maybe this version of Bea is the real one now that she’s returned to familiar surroundings. Instead, he sees it as a negative thing because it shatters the picture-perfect idea he has of her. Their arguments are constantly interspersed with flashes of Bea from their wedding, or from the start of their honeymoon: this is the woman he wants, and he’s unwilling to accept the new version of her. He doesn’t think for a moment that his wife could simply be trying to find herself.

Bea is given no time to process what happened to her in the woods or what is happening to her marriage just days after the wedding. She isn’t allowed to act stressed or scared or angry because Paul sees it as proof that she’s not the person she claims to be. She mixes up her words when they argue or forgets to batter the bread when making French toast and Paul can’t understand. He even uses their specific way of saying I love you mid-argument as a weapon, and is surprised when she’s confused about what she’s meant to say back to him. Why he thinks she would reciprocate his loving sentiments at this moment is extremely confusing in the first place.

In the last act of Honeymoon, Paul is so confused by Bea’s behaviour that he ends up tying her to the bed. As well as her personality, Bea’s body is changing. Something is living inside her, and she desperately asks for Paul’s help to remove it. This scene, while graphic and seemingly monstrous in nature, seems to reflect Bea’s growing fears about having a baby. Rather than focussing on the pleasant parts of having a child, Honeymoon looks at the grotesque side that threatens to tear their marriage apart. 

There’s a level of fear and mistrust from Paul because he doesn’t understand the changes that Bea’s body is going through, but then neither does she. Instead of working through it together, Paul panics and attempts to gain control of the situation by taking his aggression out on Bea. For her, the alien thing living inside her is draining her personality and changing her body in ways she doesn’t understand – an all too common feeling for new mothers. Paul selfishly only thinks of himself, not believing that Bea would have similar trouble interpreting what is going on. 

As Bea’s transformation seems almost complete, she tells Paul that she needs to protect him from whatever it is that has changed her. She decides she needs to hide him and chooses to throw him in the lake, hoping he will avoid detection. Paul thinks she’s beyond confusion at this point, not fully appreciating the outcome of her actions, but all too late: tying an anchor to his legs, Bea pitches him overboard.

However, instead of being murderous it seems as though Bea is choosing to “hide” Paul so that she can remember the good version of him, and not the version that has been emotionally and physically abusing her for the past few days. Rather than live with the thing her husband has become, she gets rid of him and returns to the cabin to watch their wedding video again. There she can pretend their honeymoon never happened, and she can focus on the loving and caring husband she had a few days ago. 

Once again, Bea is left to deal with the changes that are happening to her alone now that Paul has gone. But considering the level of support he offered to her in life, being alone will potentially give Bea the mental space she needs to work out what is really happening to her.

“Before I was alone. And now I am not.” Those words echo again as the screen fades to black. For Bea, it seems that the thing she needed wasn’t a husband to feel like she wasn’t alone, but to find the true version of herself and be comfortable with it. Now she can hopefully move onto the next stage of her life, and the monster that Paul turned into is just another secret stashed away inside a hollow duck.

Kim Morrison

Interested in more content about Female New Wave Horror? Be sure to check out our podcast episode on this cinematic movement and its key themes.

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