**SPOILER WARNING: There are very minor spoilers (no plot reveals, though) about X in this piece. If you haven’t seen the film yet, consider this your warning before proceeding.**
Ti West has been one of my favorite filmmakers working in the realm of independent cinema for so long now, that initially, when I thought about writing something personal about his latest project, X, celebrating how the film is such a beautiful and engrossing love letter to the world of indie filmmaking immediately came to mind. But the thing is, the more time that I’ve spent with X in my head, the more the film’s emotional themes tied to aging and mortality are what have been hitting me hardest over the last month. Truth be told, there are a lot of reasons why I love X as much as I do, or why it’s definitely the frontrunner for my favorite horror movie of 2022, but the reality is that I think the real reasons why it affected me in the ways that it has is because it’s tapped into some very real things that I am currently facing in my life. And sometimes, it’s the art that holds up a mirror to things going on in your own life that ends up mattering the most to you in the long run.
Last month, I turned 44. Yeah, I know that technically, that’s not supposed to be considered to be “old,” but tell that to someone who is very keenly aware of her age these days. Also, I know that turning 44 definitely beats the alternative of not making it to 44, but somehow that fact hasn’t exactly made my brain feel any better as of late.
In any case, the first time that I saw X, I found myself completely enthralled by Mia Goth’s extremely motivated character Maxine, and how dedicated she was to not only surviving the ordeal that unfolds throughout the film, but to become the bright and shining star that she knew she could be if given the opportunity to capture the world’s attention. And while I may not have ever embarked on an adult entertainment-related career myself, I completely understood the desires that Maxine expresses throughout X because that was something that motivated me very early on in my career, especially when so many people told me I was being unrealistic, or that I should give up, or that there was no place for my voice in this online space. So, yeah, Maxine does rule and so does Mia Goth (this is also my friendly reminder that A Cure for Wellness is legitimately great, and a big part of that is due to Goth’s performance in the film).
But with the second viewing of X, something changed. Maybe it was because I could really settle in with West’s story this time around because I knew what was coming and thus, I could dig into some of the themes in a way I was unable to do with my first viewing. But there was this moment during my second time with X where I just got hit by all these emotions, and I broke down in tears in such a manner that I had to take a moment just to compose myself before moving forward. And that’s when it hit me: I was at a point in my life where I related more to Pearl, the movie’s elderly villain, than I did to Goth’s final girl, Maxine.
Typically, such revelations don’t result in such extreme reactions on my part, but I think that’s due to how beautifully West was able to create not only a slasher movie that subverts expectations, but it also becomes this haunting exploration of how aging and our own sense of mortality can bring out the darkest aspects of ourselves. And before I go on, I just want to state for the record that no, I’m not some completely oversexed old bitty who goes to the violent extremes that Pearl does in X or anything like that. But there is a huge part of me that feels like my best days are behind me in so many ways, and I am doing my best to deal with these feelings.
Of course, a key moment in X that brought all of this on is the “Landslide” scene, which probably isn’t much of a surprise to anyone else out there who saw and loved this movie, too, because it’s such a beautifully unexpected sequence that is not only masterfully edited (kudos, Eliot Rockett!), but it also becomes this visual representation of where Pearl is psychologically at this point in her life and how her current state of mind is directly juxtaposed against where the rest of the younger characters are at when we meet them in this story. As Brittany Snow’s character, Bobby-Lynne, flawlessly sings the gorgeous lyrics of the Fleetwood Mac song while Kid Cudi’s Jackson enthusiastically plays the guitar, we also cut to glimpses of Pearl at a mirror as she tearfully wipes away the makeup that has failed to sexually entice her husband, Howard (Stephen Ure), who suffers from a heart problem which causes him to abstain from having intercourse with his spouse.
Like many, I couldn’t help but be enamored by the sequence because of how well it ties into everything that follows in X, but also, because of just how lovely that scene ends up being in a movie filled with cruel violence (that’s not a criticism, either) that helps further endear these aspiring creatives looking to make a great movie together to viewers before Pearl’s sadistic streak is revealed and all hell breaks loose. But in that second viewing, as I watched Goth’s portrayal of Pearl in those moments, a dejected old woman who longs for human connection that realizes her better days might be well behind her at that point, I couldn’t help but feel immense sadness for her character because I understood her.
Maybe not Pearl’s murderous tendencies or her unquenchable hormones, but those feelings of realizing that perhaps your time on this planet is winding down and being wistful for the days in your past that you took for granted because you didn’t realize just how quickly all of this (imagine me waving my arms wildly around me at this point) would pass you right by. That’s the depressing stuff that has been rolling around in my brain for quite some time now, and that’s precisely why X hit me so hard on an emotional level.
Something else that popped into my head in the last few days was that way over-quoted phrase that Aaron Eckhart says in The Dark Knight about either dying the hero or living long enough to see yourself become the villain. And yeah, I know it’s not exactly revelatory to explore that quotation at this point in time because it’s pretty much overstayed its welcome in pop culture. But what I will say is that what it did make me think that for some of us, maybe we live long enough to see ourselves able to empathize with the villain, and that’s very much the case as far as my experience with Pearl and X thus far. Don’t get me wrong—Pearl is a very bad person who does brutally horrible things in this story, but considering where she’s at in this point in her life, I find that somewhat relatable as I reckon with my own feelings of invisibility and relevance these days.
At one point in “Landslide,” Stevie Nicks ponders, “Can I handle the seasons of my life?” and I think that’s a profound question that not only perfectly illustrates the motivations of Pearl throughout X, but also reflects the struggle that many of us face as we get older and are unsure of just where we fit into the world that we have built for ourselves as we age in a society that, as a whole, values us less and less the older we get. I’ve often thought about whether or not I’m handling this particular “season” of my life very well in the last few weeks, and honestly, the verdict is still out there.
But if nothing else, I did see a strength in the character of Pearl that I found oddly inspiring in some ways, as she is a woman who isn’t going to let societal expectations of her hold herself back (akin to the “Landslide” lyric that states that “time makes you bolder”). And that is something that I’ll continue to use in my own life as I do my best to try and be bolder and not let my own “landslide” get the best of me before my clock officially winds down, whenever that may be.