Swallow, written and directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis, is a beautifully stylized movie, about Hunter, a young, rich, beautiful married woman whose life looks Instagram perfect. On the outside. It is also a movie that brought me very close to understanding the attraction to want to ingest uneatable objects. Cold, smooth objects. And sharp, dangerous objects.
Swallow brings you close to the experience of bodily boundaries. If you eat a marble, it goes right through you. What you eat only becomes part of you when it can be digested, when it can be taken apart by the acids and bacteria and what have you, otherwise, the mouth is the entrance to a passageway through the body.
What is part of me, what is a passageway? What belongs to inside, what to outside? What happens if you cross boundaries? These questions are part of the horror genre. Mirabella-Davis brings you at times close to horror, but he chooses to go for a psychological portrait of Hunter. Unfortunately, in my opinion, because the psychological perspective hinders the strong points of Swallow. ‘Pica is about control because she had this and this trauma’ is a less interesting position than questioning and experiencing what control is, especially since the director has a talent for making the audience feel and sense. The unnerving elements probably lead to the label ‘thriller’, but this doesn’t do the film justice: it is not a thriller, not exciting in a chase-and-catch way.
Mirabella-Davis at the Psychologist
Since Mirabella-Davis puts Hunter in the chair of a psychologist, I will do the same to him. Mirabella-Davis said his grandmother was his inspiration for Swallow. She was a woman who washed her hands compulsively. His portrayal of Hunter’s obsession seems to me part how a child would look at his grandmother: observing what you see and taking it seriously. The other part of Hunter’s portrayal is the adult’s view: wanting to understand why someone does this or that, looking for the mental illness and the mechanics of a patient’s history and genetic weaknesses. The wondrous eyes of a child versus the judging eyes of an adult. The adult view takes a more cognitive and distanced approach, the child view makes it more magical, and in a way more empathetic to the experience itself.
Swallow succeeds in touching the senses, in other words, it succeeds in the horror part, but, the psychological explanations take the viewer away again from Hunter and limit the movie to a sort cause-and-effect character study.
The female body
Still, Swallow brings up interesting notions about the (female) body. When she is pregnant, the echo pierces through her skin to see the baby. They look inside to see her secret too: various objects are now on view for everybody to see. These objects stay foreign but can hurt her body from inside. The batteries can leak, the pointy bits can cut her open. The objects can interact with her, without her being able to do anything about it. And what about the baby? A part that came loose from his body, entered a passageway in her body. It became one with a part of her that released from her. This new lifeform nestled in an empty space inside her. It takes its food from her body or does her body feed it. Is it his, is it hers? Is his coldness now part of her?
The bathroom scene
The very final scene struck me. It is a strong scene, while I am not exactly sure of the reasons why. Hunter is in a bathroom in a mall. She took her abortion pills before with a fast food meal and she lets it release there. From her secluded and privileged life, she is now part of the world again. She has average clothes, she doesn’t stand out. She swallowed the abortion pills but now she swallowed something with the knowledge of what is going to happen. Not like before, not to feel and experience where ‘her’ boundaries are, who she is as a biological organism, to discover the unknown her. After she leaves, the camera stays in the bathroom and we see women come and go, wash their hands. Not only are bathrooms usually associated with the impure and the washing with the pure, but the women coming and going look in a way like a beehive, or an ant colony. It makes us aware of a bigger organism, of the ‘us’. In similar ways social processes are as unknown as all the bodily processes. Others react to us. Do we let them, do we swallow, or can we act too?