Will You Accept This Rose?: The Bachelor As Contemporary Gothic
His contagious conviction that our love was unique and desperate infected me with an anxious sickness… –Angela Carter
Every season he appears, an apparition with the sunset glowing behind him, impervious to his own irrelevance, his dismal world overflowing with menace, melancholy and luxury.
The Bachelor embodies the contradiction of our fear and longing; he’s part horror and part romance. At the very core of his haunted psychology The Bachelor is a Gothic spectacle. For hundreds of years the gothic has had countless interpretations and examples, making the genre difficult to neatly pin down. Yet there are certain classic characteristics most Gothic stories possess. There’s devious seduction, counterfeit identity, prophecies and indiscretion, to name only a few. Sound familiar?
This tale invokes our terror and summons our laughter. Immediately these two reactions place us in the realm of the Gothic The plot, however scripted, is riddled with hidden secrets that threaten our characters as they struggle with increasing awareness of their senseless world, one ultimately about anguish, power, enchantment and submission.
1-WOMEN THREATENED BY A DOMINANT MALE
(see also entrapment/imprisonment)
We’ll focus on the most recent bachelor, a well-adjusted Texan who holds his integrity dear, a man who wants nothing less than the truest of love. He arranges the activities of his various dates to teach the women important lessons about themselves. Though he doesn’t know them yet, he knows they have lessons to learn, most often about relinquishing control, finding their inner strength, or both. Under this guise of adventure-sports, daring and catharsis, he works his magical subjugation and diabolical allure.
Our 25 damsels undergo physical and emotional isolation, trapped inside a beautiful house, afflicted, awaiting their fate as they vie for one man. The first night of their imprisonment they emerge breathless from limos, eyes apprehensive, gowns sparkling, acrobatics and antics prepared, some already in wedding dresses.
The women’s images are lined up on a shelf in the bachelor’s secret, claustrophobic lair where he gazes at them and wrestles with who to cut each week. Those found worthy are rewarded with the menacing question, “Will you accept this rose?” to which their answer must be, “Of course.” And it always is. They’re meant to mutely observe the rituals of their collective courtship with grace. Nearly every woman’s heart is going to be broken, a small price to pay for our bachelor’s not to be. That implicit deal is the cruelty and darkness at the core of our post-post-post-modern Gothic.
On rare occasion a particularly brave heroine will opt to send herself home. Her eyes un-glaze, and she bravely gets up from the sumptuous couch, tells a producer her decision and she’s free to go. Everyone is free to go, after all, at any time.
2-SETTING, OFTEN IN A CASTLE
(see also foreboding atmosphere)
The mansion where the bachelor and his women stay is moodily lit, columned, billowing with vast tiled rooms, swimming pools, hot tubs, fountains, pillows, candles and lanterns. It’s often nighttime there, saturated with a sensual glow and conducive to foreboding cocktail parties. Despite its glamorous façade, the mansion is foreign and threatening, alive with empty, desolate spaces where no one really lives or finds comfort.
Women wander around, sometimes falling down the stairs, sometimes leaning from high-up balconies. They tip-toe through secret rooms and around corners only to find the bachelor in a clandestine clutch with one of their foes. They linger upon this discovery or interrupt him with fragile excuses, each scene candlelit and fraught. If not a decline from former splendor, the mansion is certainly a facsimile of true splendor and in that way possesses its own impenetrable sort of horror.
When not in the mansion, the bachelor takes the women to closed-down amusement parks, empty concert halls, rooftops, and remote glaciers. They dine in vaguely glamorous rooms, cellars, abandoned trailers and Thai beaches, their glasses of wine forever unfinished.
3-HORROR AND GLOOM
(see also prophesies)
All the women must face their fears, scaling or propelling off great heights, admitting their vulnerabilities, partaking in activities that serve as metaphors for the trust necessary in a relationship. One swims with the bachelor through a dark cave, the camera bobbing in the ocean water before them. She’s also blindfolded and led through a looming hallway. In this way she demonstrates her total love and he demonstrates his dominance.
The women must also explain the origin of their fears with proper levels of passion, setting the stage for the impeccable horror story that will lead to the perfect happy ending. They must portentously relate stories of childhood abandonment, teenage marriage, being born with one arm, watching as their friend is smashed by a tree, living in tents, a father who fought in wars, or a father who attempted suicide. The bachelor listens attentively and thanks them for opening up. He tells little in return. He asks if they’re really ready for the life he has in store for them. As he asks one of the women this, lightning literally splinters down on the ocean water at the horizon.
The women have never felt this way before, as they do now, beholden to this hypothetical arranged marriage. The bachelor is their soul connection. They were broken before but now they’re whole. They can see a life with this man, one of dark caves and one-sided confession, one of being blind-folded and led. They do not question these ominous premonitions.
(see also tendency to rant and reflect)
The women bond or hate one another in narratively essential ways: monologue, dialogue and facial expression cut together with ultimate precision and intent. The villainess appears immediately, and there’s always only one, a dark-haired girl who cannot get along with her rivals. The villainess is forceful, jealous and competitive, someone who doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with this arrangement, one who uses the cameras or lack thereof to her advantage.
The villainess is essential, but cannot stay forever. Many weeks it’s her drama and power, not the burgeoning romances, that propel the story forward. There’s speculation she’s kept around for this very reason. She grows famous in the world outside the mansion. She’s by far the most interesting (though second to the ones who eliminate themselves). The villainess usually doesn’t get the bachelor’s heart in the end. She tricks him for awhile, until he finally heeds the warnings. On occasion, the villainess ends up with the bachelor and his fate is sealed.
5-MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE
(see also inexplicable or supernatural events)
Anyone can fall in love with anyone given the right circumstances and a small enough space. What a mysterious ratio, these delicate odds. True, the women have been pre-screened to his preferences. The independent one is kept despite this irrepressible quality. The one with abandonment issues is kept despite the fact that he will abandon her in the end. It’s a brutal question of who will go. Each cocktail party is smothered by this consuming uncertainty, each woman fighting for her precious moment to explain herself in her entirety.
They get all dressed up, gleaming and jeweled, only to be ceremoniously sent away. He pauses forever before he says each name, holding the rose and surveying his women. Does he really not know? Out with it! They look back at him, impassive, gloating, or truly in suspense. When they’re not chosen they react with sorrow and shock, some appeal to him and others are silent as a curse.
The only thing crueler than the rose ceremony itself is the “two-on-one” date where one woman is sent home at the end. The bachelor turns to tell her how wonderful she is while the other waits and listens. But she’s not wonderful enough, it turns out. He’s sorry for that and she’s sent off into the night.
(see also curses and omens)
The logical world of what’s real threatens these doomed, enchanted few months. Eventually the spell will collapse, the terror averted for all but an unlucky one.
Settle down, he repeats hypnotically and the women nod. They’re ready and they can prove it. They cannot really question him. He isn’t there to be held up to scrutiny. He knows what he wants and the ones he doesn’t want are driven off in limos. Those are my favorite moments, in the limo with those heartbroken girls as they’re driven back to civilization, away from the haunted mansion, leaving behind all that sparkling decay and the ominous ghosts of the wives they might’ve been.
A mistake, they wail mournfully. The limo drives through night on dark, empty roads. In the best instances it’s also raining. “How do you feel?” a producer asks and the scorned women speak into the camera. They’re 24 years old and they’ll never find love like this again. They opened themselves up and this is what happened, they were crushed, ruined. I see the truth through their tears though. They’re relieved. What a near escape. They might’ve actually won. No one really wants to be the winner in this Gothic allegory because everyone knows how dangerous it is to assume a beating heart where there isn’t one.Related