Gender trouble: cinema and the mystery of adolescent girlhood

This essay explores five very different films that all represent adolescent girlhood in troubling and mysterious ways. Two quite recent films, The Falling (directed by Carol Morley, 2015, UK) and The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer, 2015, USA), are considered alongside three older films, Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975, Australia); Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994, New Zealand); and The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999, USA). These films dwell on ‘Gothic’ themes of sexuality and adult repression, and ultimately on sickness, contagion and death. In different ways, and to different degrees, they all blur the boundaries between reality and illusion. In doing so, they challenge the constraints of the conventional ‘coming of age’ movie. They show the development of gender identity as a source of disruption, not just for the girls themselves but also for adults; and in each case, the girls’ transition to adult womanhood is ultimately blocked or prevented.

You can download the whole essay (without illustrations) by clicking here, or if you want to read the illustrated version, click on the subheadings to read the different sections:

  1. Introduction: adolescence, girlhood and the Gothic
  2. Picnic at Hanging Rock
  3. Heavenly Creatures
  4. The Virgin Suicides
  5. The Falling
  6. The Fits
  7. Conclusion
  8. Sources and references