Dystopian stories can run the gamut. Mad Max isn’t The Road isn’t The Hunger Games and so forth. While they all deal in a society that has crumbled, they are all very different in their approach and in their world building. What they usually have in common is the lack of some sort of a resource. Water, food, clean air, fuel - something is lacking and has become a commodity more valuable than gold. In Kelsey Egan’s dystopian story Glasshouse, that resource is a little more personal. A little harder to define. It’s memory.
Glasshouse tells the story of a family living out their days in a post apocalyptic world from the comfort and safety of their glass sanctuary. In their world, the air has become toxic. Breathing it too long leads to permanent memory loss, which has resulted in the complete shutdown of society. Most of humanity is gone, and much of what remains simply wanders the wasteland with no memory, purpose or destination. Mother (Adrienne Pierce) has raised her three daughters to appreciate the dangers of the world outside of their walls, and to learn to survive within it. They live intelligently and safely and have achieved a level of happiness together.
This all gets upended one day when a strange man enters their space. He is wounded and alone, and one of the girls takes pity and he is brought into their home. His presence quickly upends the balance of the world that they have built and as a result, everything must change.
The easiest comparison is to The Beguiled, but that’s really just a surface level comparison. Guy enters female-ruled space and shakes things up. Plot-wise, you don’t have to think ahead too much to understand where this one will go. But the details that are spread throughout and the world that Kelsey Egan has built are really what makes this story so rich.
Visually, it’s kind of a Jane Austen post apocalypse. The girls wear flowing white dresses, their masks are bonnets fashioned with a breathing apparatus and their mother wears her hair up in kind of a loose, pompadour style. Their glass castle is filled with plants that generate both food and oxygen. The interior is quite elegant and comfortable. If I had to choose a place to spend my post-apocalypse years, this would definitely be in my top 3.
But this family is not filled with delicate flowers; these girls have been educated in the art of survival. They stand guard every day and shoot anyone who crosses the perimeter of their sanctuary, using the remains for fertilizer. They have what they need to survive and they are unafraid to do whatever is necessary to ensure their safety.
What it really examines is memory and ritual. These women create practices and tell stories to help them to remember and honor who they are and where humanity has come from, just as women have done throughout time and history. They keep the record and the memory and everything that they do is in service to that memory and to their own survival in this harsh and unforgiving skeleton of a world.
And the story itself is a meditation on memory and on the events that form and change us. In a world where one’s sense of self and one’s memories are so fragile that they can be gone in an instant, what could be more valuable?
Movie Score: 4/5