The transition from child to adult is a topic that has fascinated storytellers for generations. From the time of the very first bildungsroman up to the present day, some belief has persisted that a story of becoming mature, framed in the correct way, could shape adolescents into better adults.
Stoker does not do this. Stoker allows the process of losing childhood innocence and entering a world larger than your own to flourish in it’s full fear and gore. Mia Wasikowska plays India, a girl who loses her father on her 18th birthday. From this point onwards she must deal with grief, fear and sexual experimentation on her own. She has literally outgrown the vestiges of her childhood but is not yet ready to become a woman.
What is bizarre about this transition is that it seems to happen in the course of a few days, at most a few weeks. Placed into close contact with her uncle, an embodiment of temptation and darkness, she starts to discover herself. The use of blood in this film speaks volumes. Each stage of India’s sexual journey is accompanied by a release of blood. She matures as a woman at each stage, shedding her demure, uptight clothes for progressively more attractive and freer-styled attire. Her journey is twisted incestuous, sensual and violent. An appropriate styling for the female experience. In a world where women are consistently taught that sexuality is a sin, it is not over-dramatic to render this journey in terms of murder and terror.
The film’s depiction of family presents a division between India’s maternal and paternal bloodlines. India connects emotionally only with those on her father’s side of the family, leaving her mother (Nicole Kidman) confused and shocked by her own daughter. Eventually she even grows to fear this girl who has clearly chosen the opposite side of the family. Every member of the father’s bloodline, however, displays enduring love despite incredible, torturous circumstances. India is once again caught in the middle of these forces as she tries to become her own woman, taking what she was taught as a child and applying it to her own reality. In the end she is faced with a choice, but even then it is difficult to know whether she chooses to avenge her father or save her mother. This seems to be the only way she can accept both influences; to interweave them to the point where they seem to be the same goal.
The film is unique in its editing and cinematography, more resembling a comic book than any form of moving media. Time is distorted as memories, recollections and storytelling merge into one. Each important moment in fact seems to be happening at the same time. In one scene this even goes so far as to place past present and future into one short sequence of taking a shower. Oblique camera angles and negative space dominate and lend the film a surrealism which counteracts the shocking immediacy of the action. It seems to be set somewhere far off from reality yet in a place that is universally accessible to the viewer. This is what many artists have striven for over the years, to translate the specific plot to a universal experience. This is what Stoker excels at.