After a similar experience to mine—watching the film as an adult equipped to handle its insidious self-centeredness instead of a teenager enthralled with Waters’s countercultural overtures—fellow blogger Sarah Foss concludes, “There’s something insular and myopic about it, as if Waters lacked the introspection to sort through his unhappiness and anger and create a work that actually had something to say about the world” (par. 6). Indeed. Pink, a rocker representative of Waters himself, is ultimately portrayed as shaped—through a childhood dominated by an alternately neglectful and overbearing mother, an education at the hands of repressed schoolmasters, and marriage to a sexual devouring fem fatale—into a murderous fascist leader. While Waters classifies The Wall in Retrospective, a documentary of the film’s making, as a study in human disconnection characteristic of the post-modernist period, I argue that it situates the mother as the impetus behind not only fascism and WWII but also conformity, death, and hatred in general.
Pink’s father dies in service to his country during WWII, his death depicted in a sequence that cuts from the bombing of his bunker in continental Europe directly to the grotesque image of his overweight wife—Pink’s mother—napping in a beautiful British garden, snoring through not only her husband’s death in a foreign land but also the crying of her infant son in his baby carriage a few feet away. The implication, of course, is that the father died to protect the orderly life of this monstrously selfish woman who refuses to even adequately meet the needs of her own child. Pink’s mother is further portrayed as a cold and neurotic woman, in a later scene when she refuses to allow her son to care for an injured animal, a rat that therefore dies of its wounds, and in a repeating flashback of Pink as a skeleton lying snuggled against her grotesque body—again, open-mouthed and snoring. Pink’s isolation from humanity is thus rooted in the lack of nurturance—but also the suffocating maternal attention—that he receives from his mother.
In Pink’s experience, in fact, all women are controlling and punitive matriarchs. His schoolteacher raps young Pink’s knuckles with a ruler in a misdirected expression of his own anger at his—again overlarge—wife who is portrayed as keeping him on the proverbial short leash, even going so far as to spank him in a recurring cartoonish depiction of their relationship. Adult Pink is used sexually by his wife, a woman who then leaves Pink and goes on to ignore his collect call which threatens to interrupt her tryst with another man. Indeed, this film bothers not with subtlety in its representation of women as the root of all evil, repeatedly depicting a fleshy pink flower as morphing into a vagina dentate and then swallowing a phallic-shaped rose bud in a recurring animated portrayal of the hopelessness of withstanding the treachery of female sexual and social control.
Given the misogyny that infiltrates The Wall, it is difficult to see the ending rape scene—on a surface level representative of the evil intrinsic to human disconnection—as anything more than the fulfillment of the fantasies of its creators. In Retrospective, Parker points out that the men who performed in the rape scene—of the only black female character who appears in the entire movie, mind you—were “real skin heads” and that the shooting of the scene was uncomfortable because it blurred the line between art and reality. I can’t help but to wonder why was it necessary to use “real skin heads” for this scene if not to further realize some sort of disturbing rape fantasy that would duly discipline the women responsible for the sad state of post-modernist mankind.
In any case, it turns out that our spontaneous viewing of The Wall was timely, as Roger Waters announced in mid-April that he is planning to revive the music from the 1980 album The Wall during a 35-date tour beginning in Toronto in September of this year. Waters will tour with a full band and perform the album in its entirety at each show. On his website, Waters claims,
. . . it has occurred to me that maybe the story of my fear and loss with it’s [sic] concomitant inevitable residue of ridicule, shame and punishment, provides an allegory for broader concerns: Nationalism, racism, sexism, religion, Whatever! All these issues and ‘isms are driven by the same fears that drove my young life. This new production of The Wall is an attempt to draw some comparisons, to illuminate our current predicament, and is dedicated to all the innocent lost in the intervening years. . . . I believe we have at least a chance to aspire to something better than the dog eat dog ritual slaughter that is our current response to our institutionalized fear of each other. I feel it is my responsibility as an artist to express my, albeit guarded, optimism, and encourage others to do the same. (par. 4-10)
It seems to me that any further idolization of the story told in The Wall—either film or album—is unlikely to lead to the realization of fuller human connection or to bring us any closer to world peace but instead will affirm the insular worldview of a group of spoiled British rock stars and contribute to the continued stereotyping of women as little more than castrating bitches. Certainly, some of the most celebrated lyrics in all of Pink Floyd musical history, from "Another Brick in the Wall" of The Wall album, depict women (and fat women in particular) as the cause of institutional—and therefore national—malevolence:
When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would hurt the children anyway they could
By pouring their derision upon anything we did
Exposing any weakness however carefully hidden by the kids.
But in the town it was well known
When they got home at night, their fat and psychopathic wives
Would thrash them within inches of their lives!
I’m glad that I finally watched The Wall, but, as I told my husband at its conclusion late Saturday night, perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I had seen it while still a teenager like he first had. At least then I probably could have mustered up some vague sense of appreciation for the trippy pool scene and others like it that have gained the film its reputation among Pink Floyd fans. As a 30-year-old mother and feminist scholar, however, I had trouble seeing past the very real social implications of the monstrous snoring mother and devouring vagina flower.
Bibliography Note: See Romero and Cabo a compelling and detailed analysis of the national historical context surrounding both the narrative within and production of The Wall.
Foss, Sarah. "Watching 'Pink Floyd: The Wall.'" [Weblog Entry.] Foss Forward. Dailygazette.com. 12 Apr. 2010 (http://www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss/2010/apr/13/watching-pink-floyd-wall/). 2 May 2010.
Pink Floyd: The Wall. Dir. Alan Parker. Perf. Bob Geldof. Goldcrest Films International, 1982. Film.
Retrospective: The Making of Pink Floyd's The Wall. Perf. Alan Parker and Roger Waters. 2005. Documentary.
Romero, Jorge Sacido and Luis Miguel Varela Cabo. “Roger Waters’ Poetry of the Absent Father: British Identity in Pink Floyd’s The Wall.” Atlantis 28.2 (2006): 45-58.
Waters, Roger. "Why Am I Doing The Wall Again Now?" Official Rogers Waters Site. 2010. 2 May 2010.