Through ‘X,’ Jason Scott was able to better understand their parents.
“Can I handle the seasons of my life?” wonders Stevie Nicks. The prolific Fleetwood Mac singer, songwriter, and musician wrote “Landslide” when she was 27, two years before she officially joined the band. “You can feel really old at 27,” she once remarked. Both waves of change and pressures in the music industry, especially as a woman, felt crushing. Through delicate guitar, she basks in nature’s crisp beauty and relates it to her own journey as a human being, forever at the mercy of time.
“I’m getting older, too,” she later muses. The song, a benchmark to the group’s 1975 record, encompasses what it means to be alive and know how fleeting it all is. Time is merciless. It’s futile to fight back 一 but we fight against it anyway. We fight it until we have nothing else to give, and our bodies crack, wrinkle, and collapse into itself. “All were formed of the dust, and all will return to dust,” reads Ecclesiastes 3:20.
When it comes to horror movies, slashers have been the most discerning in the examination of this inevitable conclusion. Most splatter flicks simply bury life’s fluorescent impermanence with schlocky characters, gratuitous violence and gore, and sex, sex, sex. It makes sense; humans have never been good at talking about the hard stuff. Thankfully, filmmaker Ti West fearlessly confronts aging, death, resentment, and regret with his horror feature comeback, X. He also wonderfully combines gooey slasher conventions and gives the audience exactly what they paid for.
Underneath its late-70s lacquer, X in its most bare-bones format is a rumination that life is downright devastating and sad. Things we all frequently take for granted, even sex, will slip from our grasp eventually. No one will escape it. Our own sands of time will deplete and the only thing we will be left with are questions about the life we lived and the kind of person we were.
When my mother died last fall, sorrow and resentment accosted me almost immediately. My brother and I sorted through her belongings, divvying out who would get what. I held it together in the moment. It was only later that I was nearly catatonic in my grief and began wracking my brain with the questions about her life. She was an alcoholic, so our relationship was… complicated. I was sad because the good memories that remain are now coated in blue. And I was resentful because the bad memories that remain grew hotter and redder. I was dealing with extremes with no way out.
The biggest part of my grieving journey has been the questions. Did she have any regrets? Did she desperately clutch to being young in her final years? What plagued her mind? Was she able to accept the life she had lived and the people who’d suffered for her decisions?
My father died seven years ago, and I thought I had put to rest those feelings. Now that both parents are gone, the ravaging cyclone has picked up speed all over again. I have been trying to address trauma, cope with the past, and forge a brighter, healthier future. Some days, I make leaps forward, it seems, and on others, the darkness is suffocating. And I begin spinning through the Rolodexes of their lives, seeking answers so I can finally rest.
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I hadn’t been able to find any answers一until X. The porno-slasher is the emotional key I desperately needed. It’s turned something crucial inside of me. It’s like shuffling through a stack of skeleton keys and getting to the very last one, and everything clicks into place.
I finally understand my parents.
It took a group of filmmakers and porn actors, heading out to rural Texas, to make me see what’s always been right before me. Once Wayne (Martin Henderson), Maxine (Mia Goth), Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), Jackson Hole (Kid Cudi), Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), and R.J. (Owen Campbell) arrive at Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl’s (Goth) secluded farm, all hell breaks loose. Youth is both cherished and resented, as the elderly couple’s beauty has long sagged and faded. They harbor a peculiar reverence for it, too, and it only serves to fuel their desperation even more. An inability to have sex is their greatest torment. Perhaps it will be for us, too.
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Bobby-Lynne affirms as much with the film’s standout monologue.
“Everybody likes sex. It’s a gas. We’re just not afraid to admit it. Queer, straight, black, white 一 it’s all disco. You know why? ‘Cause one day, we’re gonna be too old to fuck. And life’s too short if you ask me,” she says between puffs of a cigarette.
Moments later, Bobby-Lynne launches into a soft, moving rendition of “Landslide,” with Jackson strumming gently on guitar. West and collaborator David Kashevaroff work wonders in the editing room, placing images of Pearl, the 80-something antagonist who struggles with her body’s ailing health and a yearning to feel young again, side by side. Snow’s pinup beauty contrasts against Pearl’s deep lines, tired skin, and crumpling back. “Even children get older,” sings Bobby-Lynne. “And I’m getting older, too.”
Her voice trails off, and the audience is left wallowing in thick emotions. It’s within this moment that I began to understand, not only Pearl and Howard, but my parents’ behavior in the last decade of their lives. Both fought against aging as best they could; mom wore brighter makeup and drastically changed her diet, while my father went through his late-life crisis in every possible way. Their youth (or maybe the memory of it) was an elixir scooped out of the proverbial Fountain of Youth. They took big gulps whenever they could.
Earlier in X, Pearl invites Maxine inside the farmhouse for lemonade and drinks her in. “I was young once, too,” she croaks, gazing into her wedding picture taken before the first world war. Her reflection pierces the screen, with the actual photograph blurred out. “Not everything in life turns out how you expect,” she goes on. She then details how she was a dancer in those early years. But life brought the war and her ambitions vanished.
The life she had so desperately wanted was no longer an option. Now, in her old age, she resents herself for letting it happen and projects that anger onto the younger generation. It’s punctuated later when Bobby-Lynne runs to her on the dock and believes she needs help finding a way back up to the house. But Pearl is clear-headed. She spits her disdain for Bobby-Lynne. “Why do you get to have it all,” she seethes. To which Bobby-Lynne responds, “It ain’t my fault you didn’t live the life you wanted.”
And there it is.
I noticed a similar vein of regret and resentment steaming from my mother over the last few years. It mostly reared its head in subtle, passive-aggressive ways一in the way she changed the subject when I talked about something exciting happening with work or my love life. Or when she turned everything into unnecessary competitive victimization. Here’s the thing: It was never about me. I realize that now.
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Pearl’s bloodlust is a high concentration of regret and resentment. After she makes the first killing, stabbing R.J. in the throat with a rusty blade, she relishes the act and seems to regain vitality in some small way. With “Oui Oui, Marie” (performed by Chelsea Wolfe) seeping into the soundtrack, Pearl loses herself in the moment and begins twirling in the blood-red hue.
Her dancing, deranged and beautiful, is short-lived. Snapshots of the life she once knew and loved poke through the slasher fabric like 100 brilliant bulbs bursting at once. It compliments something Howard confesses to Jackson after luring the Marine out into the woods to look for Pearl. “You don’t understand what it’s like. You can still do as you please,” says Howard. There’s a striking heaviness to his words, and he quickly grinds them into a shocking bit of violence, leveling the shotgun at Jackson’s chest and pulling the trigger. Jackson falls lifeless into the lake.
My father was a similar man of few words. He largely kept emotions bottled up, and when shaken too much, he blew his top. He certainly had his way of expression, of course. It was always in the little things, like a grin or a laugh. On the rare occasion, it was larger things, from helping me move for college or expressing his support for me being queer. Well, what he actually said was (this is not verbatim) that he liked lesbians. So, I guess, you take the wins where you can.
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In later years, he turned back to alcohol and swirling cycles of toxic behavior. He divorced his then-wife and was diagnosed with ALS shortly after. Drinking and drag-racing on the highway were his ways of coping. He knew what was coming. Who can really blame him when the inevitable is barreling for you, full-steam ahead?
I don’t blame him much these days. I get it. Youth was gone, and he needed to feel alive again. Even if drinking numbed his senses, well, at least he was doing it on his own terms.
Pearl and Howard lived the only way they knew how. The only way they knew to cling to the past was through a fixation on youth. They were willing to go as far as murder to get their fix. I can’t say I understand it. As Wayne berates R.J., “You haven’t been 42, but I have been 23.” There are things we aren’t meant to understand until we’re ready, Most of the time, that requires us to get older and gray.
We do get a rather vivid, panoramic view into what’s to come, however. From other musical moments, including “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and “Too Sweet to Be Forgotten,” to Howard and Pearl finding each other again, Ti West’s film weaves a complete tapestry of living and dying. X not only reframed my own existence but helped me unlock answers to the many questions that have been tormenting me for years.
Indeed, my parents resented time’s cruel hand and did their best to feel young again. And maybe they found even temporary comfort in that. But for their sake, I hope they, much like Pearl and Howard, were able to reclaim a part of themselves in their final hours and make peace with things. I think that’s all any of us can really hope for in the end.