In Kate Chopin's The Awakening, the protagonist Edna Pontellier learns to think of herself as an autonomous human being and rebels against social norms by leaving her husband Leónce and having an affair. The first half of the novel takes place in Grand Isle, an island off the coast of Louisiana. Over the summer it is inhabited by upper-class Creole families from New Orleans who go there to escape from the heat and to relax by the ocean. During the week, the women and children stay on the island, while the men return to the city to work.
During the summer, Edna Pontellier meets a young gallant named Robert Lebrun, whose mother rents out the cottages on the island. The two spend almost all their time together, and Edna greatly enjoys his company, especially since her husband is generally preoccupied with business. Due to Robert's constant presence, Edna starts to experience a change within herself: she begins to develop a sense of herself as a whole person, with unique wants, interests, and desires. She realizes that she is not content to be simply a wife and a mother, and she begins to assert herself to her husband.
Edna's moments of self-discovery are closely tied to the ocean. At her great moment of awakening, she suddenly learns how to swim, after being frustrated in her efforts before. She and Robert also spend a lot of time in and near the ocean. One day they take a spontaneous day trip to another island in a boat, and Edna undergoes a metaphorical rebirth when she falls asleep for hours on the island.
When Robert realizes that he and Edna are becoming too close, he suddenly departs the island and goes to Vera Cruz for business prospects. Edna is upset when Robert leaves with only a few hours' notice, and she becomes depressed after he leaves. That summer Edna also befriends the pregnant Madame Ratignolle, who is the epitome of maternity, and Mademoiselle Reisz, an eccentric, unmarried old woman who can make Edna weep by playing the piano.
The Pontelliers return to the city, where Leónce busies himself with making money and purchasing extravagant possessions for their home on Esplanade Street. At first Edna settles into her usual routine, receiving callers on Tuesday afternoons and accompanying her husband to plays and musical events on other nights. Soon, however, she stops taking callers, much to her husband's displeasure. She begins to take up painting and starts behaving in what her husband considers an uncharacteristic manner. A little bit confused, Leónce goes to Doctor Mandelet, an old family friend to ask for advice. The doctor advises him to leave his wife alone, and even though he suspects that Edna may be in love with another man, he says nothing.
Edna is simply deciding to do what she wants, regardless of what her husband or society may think. She continues to think about Robert, and on some days she is happy and on some days she is sad. Edna discovers that Robert has been writing letters to Mademoiselle Reisz about her, and she starts to visit her frequently to read the letters and to listen to her friend play the piano.
Edna's father, the Colonel, comes to visit the Pontelliers for awhile. Although Edna is not particularly close to her father, she finds him entertaining and devotes all her energies to him when he is there. They leave on bad terms, however, when Edna refuses to attend her sister's wedding in Kentucky. After the Colonel's departure, Leónce and the children also leave Edna on her own. Leónce has extended business in New York, and the children go to stay with their grandmother in the country.
Edna enjoys her new-found freedom. She eats solitary, peaceful dinners, visits her friends, and does quite a bit of painting. She also goes to the racetracks to bet on horses and begins spending a lot of time with Alcée Arobin, a charming young man who has the reputation of being a philanderer. She wins a great deal of money gambling, and her relationship with Arobin starts to border on the sexual.
While visiting Mademoiselle Reisz one day, Edna decides that she is going to move out of the Pontellier house on Esplanade Street. With her gambling wins and the sale of her paintings, she has enough to support herself and intends to move to a smaller "pigeon house" just around the corner. She wants to be independent and doesn't want her husband to have any sort of claim on her. That same day she hears that Robert is returning to New Orleans, and she admits for the first time that she is in love with him.
Later that day Edna sleeps with Arobin for the first time and feels a medley of emotions, but no shame. In a few days she throws a small dinner party to celebrate her birthday and her moving out of the house. The event is very pleasant and elaborate, and the guests all have a good time. Edna enjoys her new abode: it makes her feel free from the usual social constraints. She continues her affair with Arobin, yet she does so without forming any real attachment to him.
One day she runs into Robert at Mademoiselle Reisz' apartment, and their meeting is somewhat strained and awkward. Robert keeps himself at a distance, much to Edna's frustration, and afterwards she is alternately happy and sadunsure whether or not he is in love with her. She runs into him a few days later at a suburban garden, and he returns home with her. While he is sitting with his eyes closed, Edna gives him a kiss, to which he passionately responds. They profess their love to each other, and Robert expresses his desire to marry her. Suddenly, a message from Madame Ratignolle arrives, saying that she is in labor. Edna has promised to go to her, and she leaves Robert, who promises to await her return.
Madame Ratignolle is in great pain, and Edna masochistically remains with her, even though she feels that it is torture to do so. Before Edna leaves, Madame Ratignolle warns her that she must always consider her children in whatever she does. Edna is slightly depressed at her friend's words, but is excited to rejoin Robert. Sadly, however, she finds Robert gone forever.
The novel closes with Edna returning to Grand Isle. Having already decided on her course of action, she walks down to the beach and stands naked in the sun. Without really thinking, she begins to swim out into the ocean. She thinks triumphantly about how she has escaped her children and their claim on her and continues to swim until she is exhausted. Memories of her childhood flash before her eyes as she slowly drowns.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
I’m sad to say that this article brings an end to my attempt at revisiting the Species franchise - today my mission concludes, as I not only revisit the final film in the series, Species: The Awakening, but look back at my previous reviews, and finally make up my mind about where I felt the franchise lost its spark.
After the disastrous last outing that was Species 3, it seemed the Species films had run their course, and the franchise had been officially confirmed dead.
But then a new hope appeared on the horizon, called Species: The Awakening, and it seemed like a final attempt to resuscitate the franchise.
Awakening was a film that didn’t really seem to promote itself, and I only discovered its existence after having a sift through Amazon one day.
The film was, like Species 3, a straight-to-DVD release, and therefore, my expectations were extremely low upon my purchase. However, Species: The Awakening proved to be an extremely pleasant surprise.
The film opens with the introduction of yet another Hybrid - 'Miranda' (nothing particularly original, but by this point, I wasn’t expecting anything too different from what I had already seen in the previous films). Miranda is played by the second actress to take Natasha Henstridge’s place as the lead role, Helena Mattsson. It isn’t long before we are introduced to her “Uncle” Tom, who appears to be some sort of cheap Harrison Ford alternative.
Shortly after we are introduced to these characters things take off when Miranda is discovered naked in a field the night after a hot date. By this point I had become aware of something which had never been explored in previous films: Miranda didn’t know she was a hybrid. This was a brilliant idea, in my opinion, and really got me intrigued. Miranda’s uncle is quick to whisk her to the hospital in order to get her checked out. As things unravel it becomes clear that Tom knows more than he’s letting on, after he gives Miranda a couple of mysterious injections which seem to keep her sedated.
In typical Species-style, Miranda’s head becomes covered in big green veins, and she transforms into her alien form. I was surprised how quickly all this had happened, I was only 15 minutes in, and I had already seen Miranda’s alien form, something normally preserved until the end of the film. The alien design in this film is probably one of the strongest; it takes H.R Giger’s original design and really expands on it. Giger’s design was clearly absent in Species 3, and I feel this was really trying to compensate. There are a couple of pretty dodgy special effects in this scene, and I won’t deny that (one of the most notable is when Miranda’s tongue pierces through a doctor’s eye), but luckily the lighting rescues them, and keeps them above the standards of the effects in the third film.
It becomes clear after Miranda transforms back into her human form that the injections Tom provided her with are keeping the alien side of her under control; however, they really don’t seem to be doing the job, as they only last a limited time.
What happened next could have been a truly disastrous moment in the movie: the explanation. The previous films have a habit of over complicating things with scientific babble, and explanations that even Gibson Praise from The X-Files would struggle to understand. This film however, manages to steer clear of all of that, it keeps things simple, and doesn’t try explaining things that simply can’t be. Tom tells Miranda in dramatic fashion that she is in fact one of three original embryos created way back in the first film (The first two embryos being Sil and Eve) and that he is not her uncle, merely one of the scientists who created her. He then reveals that for all of her life he has been injecting her with a special serum which keeps her alien half under control; however, recently it has lost its effect. The line “You're half alien, half human” would bring on tears of laughter if I had read it on paper, but the delivery actually manages to convince me that this is a serious situation.
Anyway, Tom then tells Miranda that one of his former colleagues, a man named Forbes, may have the answer, and without any hesitation they head to Mexico in search of him. In the last two films, the characters had contracted some kind of disease which made them constantly do things without explanation or reason; this film was proving to be a breath of fresh air. As outrageous as the whole situation was, it did make sense.
After a particularly frightening encounter with a Hybrid named Azura, who insists on dressing as a nun, Tom and Miranda check into a hotel while they try and find out where Forbes is.
Tom eventually locates Forbes; portrayed by Dominic Keating (Malcolm Reed from Star Trek, anyone?). Forbes performs a number of tests on Miranda, and Tom is quickly thrown into a truly chilling situation. Forbes tells Tom that Miranda needs a blood transfusion, and in order to perform it, he needs another woman. After a tough decision and lots of arguing Tom gives in, and pays a visit to a nightclub in order to find an appropriate donor. It isn’t long before Tom finds the right woman, but he is interrupted when she pulls a knife on him.
Azura quickly shows up and surprisingly helps him by taking the woman back to Forbes with Tom. By this point it was becoming increasingly clear that this film was massively different from the previous films on so many levels. Awakening was not a sequel, but a re-launch.
Forbes completes the transfusion, and much like Sara, Sil and Eve, Miranda cocoons herself before emerging as an unstoppable force. A notable difference between her transformation and that of previous hybrids was that they entered their cocoons as children, and emerged as adults, Miranda entered as an adult, and emerged as one as well, emphasising the delay Tom had put on her transformation with the injections.
It was at this point the film really gets going, as it quickly becomes obvious that Forbes’ transfusion has only made things worse. Miranda’s instinct takes over, and she leaves Forbes’ Labs in order to find someone appropriate for fathering her child (things were becoming reminiscent of that very first film back in 1998 where the plot was simple, “find her, and stop her”).
Tom goes in search of Miranda, who is busy having lots of sex and doing lots of killing. Miranda eventually ends up encountering Forbes again (who reluctantly joined Tom’s search) and it isn’t long before he is disposed of (the way in which these characters are so easily tempted into having sex is a worry). Tom also has another encounter with Azura who has once again switched sides, luckily however, he manages to come out triumphant, and he assumes she’s dead.
Why do they never check the bodies just to be sure?
Anyway, it’s only a short while before Tom and Miranda finally come face to face again at Forbes’ labs. Azura shows up again however, and engages with Miranda in an action-packed fight sequence, something that can only be described as probably my favourite moment in any of the films. Azura is killed by Miranda, and Miranda collapses in Tom’s arms.
This film was proving to be amazingly different from the previous films. If I hadn’t been told, I don’t think I would have thought it was from the same franchise. It’s not particularly original or anything new, but it's entertainment, and surely that’s what matters?
Back to the finale: Tom destroys the labs in a fiery explosion, and any hopes of a sequel are surely destroyed.
So what did I think of this as a way to finish a franchise? I thought it was bloody brilliant. After two particularly frustrating sequels I really didn’t think this film was going to be any good, but it’s clear the producers really addressed the problems in previous films, and either altered them, or wiped them out completely. The acting was surprisingly good, the writing (although not particularly original) was more than acceptable, and the overall "feel" of the film was a lot scarier than previous instalments. This is how a Species film should be done, and this is what I sat through the previous two films waiting for. This is actually a film well worth watching, and had this been the third entry in the series, things would be a lot different.
So now for my final answer on my original question: "Where did things go wrong?"
As simply as I can answer this question, things went wrong when bridging the gap between the second and third films, and I fear the franchise still hasn’t completely recovered from this. The final instalment, although good, was no breakaway financial success, and I urge anyone who hasn’t seen these films to at least give them a chance. If you’re like me, you’ll find a small space in your heart for them.
So what are the chances of yet another sequel? It’s been two years since the last instalment, and there’s been no word yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out completely.