By GRACE DETWILER
Starring Alexandra Loreth, Joe Mullins, Jeanne O’Connor, Clara Harte
Written by Alexandra Loreth, Kevin Pontuti, (based on the novella by Charlotte Perkins Gilman)
Directed by Kevin Pontuti
Having world-premiered at Cinequest in 2021, and following a successful festival run, Alexandra Loreth (writer/star) and Kevin Pontuti (writer/director)’s indie co-creation THE YELLOW WALLPAPER brings the 1892 short story from the page to the screen. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – for those non-English majors in the house – is a classic text of both gothic and feminist literature and condemns the ever-popular ‘rest cure’ for women experiencing mental illness (“female hysteria”) at the time Gilman lived.
The story is narrated from the journals of a new mother (Alexandra Loreth) whose physician husband has confined her to a remote country estate to recover from a vague nervous disorder that may or may not in reality be post-partum depression. Prohibited from all socialization or engaging in any productive activities, the narrator begins to lose her sanity; she blames the ugly yellow wallpaper in her bedroom for her mental state. “I never saw a worse paper in my life,” she writes. “One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.”
It is unclear to the reader and viewer how much John, the narrator’s husband – played here by Joe Mullins, is to blame for her suffering. Is he imprisoning her? Is he making her ill? Or are his intentions purely to help her recover? The answer to this question seems to come in the form of the hallucinations she sees in the wallpaper itself: women trapped behind bars made from the wallpaper’s hideous pattern. There are bars on the narrator’s windows as well…
Pontuti and Loreth’s American/Irish adaptation of Gilman’s story is an undoubtedly faithful one. Apart from a strong artistic liberty taken in their interpretation of the novella’s ambiguous ending, THE YELLOW WALLPAPER even goes so far as to quote direct dialogue in order to preserve the original text’s darkly ironic effect. The filmmaking is stark and simple, the pacing patient and ominous. THE YELLOW WALLPAPER’s strength is in how vividly it portrays Gilman’s vision in living color.
However, THE YELLOW WALLPAPER is certain to be most satisfying to viewers with a deep connection to the novella. What this film adaptation lacks in entertainment value, it makes up for with its dedication to the message of its source material. The narrator’s disorientation and eerily monotonous existence as her husband’s ‘patient’ are perfectly captured by Loreth’s performance and Pontuti’s filmmaking.
Despite its pacing faults, THE YELLOW WALLPAPER is a must-see for long-time readers of Gilman’s story. The film will also appeal to students reading The Yellow Wallpaper in class, as I did, and who are looking for a film to accompany their reading.
THE YELLOW WALLPAPER is available now to buy or rent on digital/VOD.