‘Pearl’ Plot Synopsis
Directed by Ti West and co-written with Mia Goth, slasher horror Pearl takes place in 1918, as a prequel to the events of X in 1979. Goth reprises her role as Pearl, now a young woman trying to navigate a restrictive farm life while both World War I and the Spanish flu ravage the world. But Pearl has big dreams–like leaving the farm to become a famous dancer–and she’s not letting anyone get in her way.
Why does Pearl want to leave the farm?
Pearl is a young woman who lives on a Texas farm with her strict religious mother, Ruth (Tandi Wright) and her disabled father (Matthew Sunderland). She’s married to Howard (Alistair Sewell), whom she loves, but can’t help but be angry with. After all, he left her to go fight in World War I. Now, she feels desperately alone.
Ruth gives her countless responsibilities and shames Pearl for constantly having her head in the clouds. But Pearl can’t help it. The movies provide a temporary way for her to escape her life, but she dreams of being far away from the farm, of travelling Europe and becoming a famous dancer. And she’ll quickly grow to resent those she views as keeping her from her dreams.
How is Pearl different from other people?
Pearl simply isn’t like other people. While she desperately wants to believe this is due to her own “star” quality, we can see as viewers that she’s deeply repressed–and this manifests in her overtly sexual and violent tendencies.
The young woman has dark urges. In one scene, she’s singing and dancing while doing her work on the farm. Pitchfork in hand, she jumps on and off hay bales while dreaming of stardom. After her big finish, she catches sight of a duck, which she gleefully impales and then feeds to her alligator friend. She also enjoys pinching her father, who is wheelchair bound and cannot move or react.
Pearl, too, has forbidden sexual urges for a woman in this era. As she bikes home through the corn fields one day, she stops when coming across a scarecrow. She takes down the straw-stuffed man and slaps him for “coming on to her,” claiming indignantly that she has a husband–and then proceeds to dry hump the scarecrow as she envisions it to be another man.
Why does Pearl kill, and who does she kill?
Pearl is naturally inclined to violence, but she also loves those around her. Killing people is hardly ever a premeditated and sinister act. Many of her crimes are out of passion–and deep sadness.
Pearl first kills her mother, Ruth, almost entirely by accident. The two get into a fight about Pearl’s unrealistic dreams. Pearl pushes her mother down, and she falls into the fireplace, where she burns.
She then strikes up a relationship with the projectionist in the town’s movie theater. But he withdraws from her when he suspects her violent inclinations. Pearl becomes angry with him for wanting to abandon her like everyone else, and stabs him with her pitchfork.
The only murder that is undoubtedly premeditated is that of her father’s, about whom Pearl has conflicted feelings. On one hand, she resents him for requiring her constant care. On the other hand, she understands that he doesn’t deserve to die. It’s with heavy regret that she suffocates him.
Later, after Pearl is rejected in an audition for a dancing troupe, she vents her frustrations to Howard’s sister, Mitzy (Emma Jenkins-Purro). She confesses everything she wants to tell Howard: how she hates him for abandoning her, how she’s killed people. Assuming that Mitzy won the part in the dancing troupe, she tells her sister-in-law how jealous she is of her. Pearl gets nothing she wants, while Mitzy gets everything.
Just when Mitzy thinks Pearl will let her go, the deranged young woman comes after her to kill her with an ax.
How does ‘Pearl’ (2022) end?
Ti West’s slasher horror ends with a disturbing scene. Pearl–now truly alone–sets a table for herself and her dead parents. Finally, her husband Howard returns home from the war. He’s smiling, excitedly calling out Pearl’s name. But his smile disappears when he catches sight of the bodies of Pearl’s mother and father at the table, joined by maggots and rotting food.
Pearl greets Howard. “I’m so happy you’re home.” She then gives him a big, chilling grin, which lasts three minutes as the end credits roll.
How is ‘Pearl’ related to its sequel, ‘X’?
Spoilers ahead for Ti West’s X, an erotic slasher horror film that preceded Pearl’s release but takes place 60 years after the events of this movie.
Mia Goth stars in both films. In X, she plays an older version of Pearl as well as a young porn star named Maxine. Pearl is still married to Howard, who tries to keep her murderous tendencies at bay. But as he can no longer fulfill her sexually, Pearl has both brutal and sexual urges she will unleash on Maxine and other intruders to her farm.
What are significant themes in Ti West’s ‘Pearl’?
The picture-perfect, technicolor quality of Pearl is evocative of films like The Wizard of Oz, as well as the saccharine quality of old Disney movies.
In Pearl, Ti West subverts the significance that animals often hold to Disney main characters. We’re accustomed in Disney movies for small creatures and Disney princesses to have a wholesome affinity for one another. Such is a stark contrast to the role animals play in Pearl. Pearl slaughters a duck; a caged bird watches and chirps as Pearl kills her father; her own farm animals shy away from her; a roasted pig slowly rots on Pearl’s front porch as she herself delves deeper into insanity.
The only animal Pearl considers her friend after everything is itself a killer–Theda the alligator–which frames Pearl more as Disney princess in thought, Disney villain in action.
West and Goth play more with this good/evil dynamic in the horror movie. Mitzy, after all, is the vision of a Disney princess. The princess has a special quality–the ‘X’ factor which Maxine also possesses in X. Both characters demonstrate the quality that Pearl doesn’t have, reminding her that she can’t escape from her own darkness.
Pearl is also reminded of this as she constantly sees a man walking along the road in uniform: a vision of her husband. Howard represents both the perfect partner (X shows us that he stays with Pearl his entire life) and also what traps her. He’s both abandoned her and been the most loyal person to her. He’s keeping her in dreary Kansas, when she had the potential to explore a more fantastic world. But, at least, he’s providing her with a home. There’s that duality again–of someone walking the line between what is perceived as evil/good.
And of course, we see overarching themes of repression, just as we do in X. The time period, the war, the pandemic, religion–all of these factors work together to quash Pearl’s true desires. That is, until they are unleashed in the most horrifying of ways.