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Nicholas McCarthy, The Game of Redemption, Part 1

“I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.”
– Revelation 3:8

Nicholas McCarthy has directed three feature films —The Pact (2012), At the Devil’s Door (2014), and The Prodigy (2019)— each of which builds upon its immediate predecessor to form a distinct and evocative repertoire of images.  The main purpose of this essay is to situate these films and their images within a narrative framework that I call the Game of Redemption.

The Game of Redemption is a metaphysical dialectic that unfolds across multiple levels of reality.  The thesis and antithesis of this dialectic are represented by a League of Sisters (modeled after Laura Palmer) and a Diabolical Conspiracy (modeled after the Satanic cult of Rosemary’s Baby).  On a personal level, the Game of Redemption works to overcome the effects of sexual abuse perpetrated by the Diabolical Conspiracy.  On a cosmic level, the Game of Redemption works to reverse the effects of humanity’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

Part 1 of this essay will provide a general overview of the Game of Redemption and describe it as an outgrowth of Twin Peaks, Rosemary’s Baby, and the Christian Bible.  It will also analyze The Pact, At the Devil’s Door, and The Prodigy as successive stages of a single heroine’s redemption.

Part 2 of this essay will describe the system of cinematography and mise-en-scène that McCarthy uses to depict the inner workings of his Game of Redemption.  This system has its roots in the films of David Lynch.

Fire Walk With Me: A Description of a Struggle

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:12

This essay’s main contention is that The PactAt the Devil’s Door, and The Prodigy depict successive stages of a single heroine’s redemption.  McCarthy’s heroine is modeled after Laura Palmer, and she assumes different forms as she ascends through different levels of reality.  While this notion may may seem fanciful, there is precedent for it in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Fire Walk With Me, Laura Palmer bathed in blue light

Laura Palmer’s ascension is made possible by an innate psychic ability and an extraordinary strength of spirit.  Unfortunately, Laura’s spirit is turned against itself as a consequence of long-term sexual abuse perpetrated by her father Leland and the demonic entity BOB. Fire Walk With Me depicts Laura’s struggle to liberate her spirit from BOB’s control.  Her struggle goes through four distinct stages: 1) Pursuing the Killer; 2) Seeing the Killer Within; 3) Refusing to Kill; 4)Ascension.

The first stage of Laura’s struggle (pursuing the killer) begins when Laura resolves to answer the question, “Who is BOB?”  Laura’s investigation is aided by messages and magical objects, and it is hindered by her reluctance to face the truth.  Laura is finally able to unmask BOB when she stops asking him to reveal himself and instead relies on her innate psychic ability.  This act of self-reliance allows Laura to see that Leland and BOB work together when perpetrating their abuse.

Leland Palmer inspects Laura's fingernails

Once Laura learns of Leland’s relationship with BOB, she poses a threat to them both.  They make one last attempt to co-opt her spirit: setting aside their favored tactic of gradual erosion via abuse, they present her with an impossible choice.

BOB, through Leland, brings Laura and her friend Ronette to an abandoned train car.  He places a mirror before Laura, and when Laura looks in the mirror, she sees BOB’s face instead of her own.  This begins the second stage of Laura’s struggle (seeing the killer within). 

Leland Palmer leads Laura Palmer and Ronette Pulaski crying, to the Train Car in Fire Walk With Me

The mirror helps Laura realize that  BOB has contaminated her spirit, but it also misleads her by implying that it’s too late to overcome him.  The third stage of Laura’s struggle (refusing to kill) begins when Laura ignores this deception and uses her psychic ability to counteract BOB’s contaminating influence.

By refusing BOB’s invitation to kill, Laura assumes control of her spirit.  This act of defiance connects Laura to previously untapped reservoirs of power. She calls down an angel to free Ronette, and she wields the Owl Cave Ring to offer herself up as sacrifice.

Ronette's angel arrives for her in the train car with her eyes closed peacefullly

Laura’s act of self-sacrifice allows her struggle against BOB to transcend itself (ascension).  After Laura dies, she becomes who she is.  It is this “ascended Laura” who intercedes through visions and dreams to bring BOB’s violence to an end.  In Season 2 Episode 9, Laura even offers succor to her tormentor Leland, understanding him to be a victim like she herself once was.

Laura Palmer and Dale Cooper in the black lodge. Laura's angel appears to her

The films of Nicholas McCarthy expand the basic template of Laura’s struggle into a hierarchical League of Sisters. Like Laura, these Sisters ascend through levels of reality as they free themselves from cyclical violence.  McCarthy’s heroine is a lower-ranking member of this League of Sisters.  Since she resists seeing the killer within, her struggle proceeds in fits and starts.

The League of Sisters

“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”
– Hebrews 1:14

McCarthy’s League of Sisters is a veritable army of Laura Palmers.  The more advanced among them have, like Laura, ascended to a higher order of being by freeing themselves from deception and violence.  These “ascended” Sisters then intercede to help their less advanced counterparts.

The Sisters’ primary means of intercession is the transmission of messages.  These messages may take the form of visions, dreams, intuitions, or happenstance.  In At the Devil’s Door, for example, one Sister (Leigh) sacrifices herself to deliver a message to another (Vera).  The resulting dream or vision warns Vera against perpetuating the Diabolical Conspiracy’s violence.

When intercession via messages proves insufficient, one Sister may voluntarily descend to a lower level of reality so as to take on another’s burden.  The opening scene of The Pact, in which the protagonist’s right eye inexplicably changes color, depicts this sort of voluntary descent.

The existence of a League of Sisters can be inferred from The Pact.  Only one song (“Seven Sisters,” by Sarah Lee and Jonny) is featured in the film with any prominence, and its lyrics allude to a hierarchy of Sisters like the one just described.  The song’s opening verse makes explicit reference to a mission of redemption that unfolds across multiple levels of reality:  I try to catch a falling star / Wanna hold him in my arms / Still I wonder what you are / To make me fall, fall this far.  The singer calls upon the titular “seven sisters” to intercede as she herself has done.

The Diabolical Conspiracy

“Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.”
– Isaiah 13:16

McCarthy’s League of Sisters is opposed by the Diabolical Conspiracy.  Just as The Sisters are modeled after the story of Laura Palmer, The Conspiracy is modeled after the Satanic cult of Rosemary’s Baby.  Like that cult, The Conspiracy is a confederation of seemingly normal individuals who serve The Devil by orchestrating an illicit breeding program.  This breeding program is implemented via the ritualistic rape of women and girls.

There are three key differences between McCarthy’s Diabolical Conspiracy and the Satanic cult of Rosemary’s Baby.  Firstly, The Conspiracy aims to breed human vessels for The Devil rather than a human/demon hybrid.  In this respect, its strategy is similar to that of BOB in Fire Walk With Me.

Secondly, The Conspiracy purposefully targets underage girls, and its breeding program is implemented on a mass scale.  In this respect, it resembles the urban legends that characterize  the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.

Lastly, The Conspiracy uses a Roman Catholic parish as cover.  In this respect, it recalls the reports of widespread abuse by Catholic clergy that have come to light since the 1990s.

The Diabolical Conspiracy in The Pact

“And our adversaries said, They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them, and slay them, and cause the work to cease.”
– Nehemiah 4:11

The existence of a Diabolical Conspiracy can be inferred from a number of clues sprinkled throughout The Pact, most of which are incredibly subtle.  For instance, while investigating her sister’s disappearance, Annie (the film’s protagonist) gains access to the birth certificates of her adoptive mother, Judy, and of Judy’s brother, Charles.  These birth certificates are almost certainly forgeries —but their true significance is revealed only when one compares them to the various photographs that Annie encounters during the course of her investigation.

The birth certificates shown to Annie are crisp and clean, as if they were created much more recently than is claimed (1947 and 1950, respectively).  They bear official seals, which suggests they were created by someone within the local government.  They list “St. Baptist’s New Hospital” as the siblings’ place of birth, despite the fact that no such saint and no such hospital exist.  Whoever created these documents was unwilling to so much as type the name of a Christian saint– a sure sign that they were in league with The Devil!

Why would The Conspiracy go to the trouble of creating such forgeries?  It seems that participation in The Conspiracy’s rituals allows its members to prolong their youth and even magically reverse the aging process.  Annie’s biological mother, Jennifer Glick, appears to be decades older in 1989 than she is in a subsequent newspaper story covering her death.  Annie’s adoptive mother, Judy, appears to be in her mid-twenties in 1989 —a fact totally at odds with her documented year of birth.

Judy’s appearance in 2011 is much more in keeping with that of a woman in her sixties.  Since Judy is absent in the parish group photos taken between 1989 and 2011, she may not have benefited from The Conspiracy’s black magic during that time.  This would account for Judy’s rapid aging, and her return to the fold in 2011 would account for her newly minted birth certificate.

Several clues in The Pact suggest that the Diabolical Conspiracy deliberately targets underage girls.  For instance: the group photos in Judy’s Catholic parish show a congregation that is drastically diminished in size every few years, only to be temporarily replenished by young children and adolescents.  Bill Creek, the detective who assists Annie in her investigations —and who shares Annie’s complete heterochromia —has a similarly absent daughter.  This daughter moved away with her mother some time ago, on account of “a sad story” that Bill refuses to go into further.

The abuse Annie herself endured throughout childhood was almost certainly sexual in nature.  Annie tells one of her friends that Judy used to punish her by placing her in a hallway closet.  This closet is connected to a secret bedroom by a trap door, and the only furniture in this bedroom is a bed frame.  During the film’s climax, a spiritual force pulls Annie into the secret bedroom through its trap door —which implies, however obliquely, that Annie has experienced this particular form of abduction before.

a house blueprint in The Pact

The Pact also suggests that Annie’s sexual abuse was ritualistic in nature.  Soon after discovering the secret bedroom in her house, Annie learns it is connected to a subterranean chamber.  Judy’s brother, Charles, has been living in this chamber for years.  One might expect that Judy would permit her brother to live above ground once her daughters had moved away.  The fact that this secret bedroom has remained vacant all these years suggests that it was reserved for a particular purpose.

Given the prominence of religious themes and imagery in The Pact, it is reasonable to conclude that the secret bedroom was set aside for religious or ritualistic activity.  This conclusion is supported by the house blueprints, which show a porch connecting the secret bedroom to the house’s exterior.  A point of ingress such as this would be perfect for allowing a Satanic congregation to gather for its Black Mass.

The Diabolical Conspiracy: An Anti-Church

“Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.”
– Matthew 27:4

When The Pact‘s clues are considered as a whole, the picture that emerges is that of a Satanic inversion of the Catholic Church.  This “anti-church” is the Diabolical Conspiracy, and Charles Barlow (a.k.a. the Judas Killer) is one of its priests.  Given Charles’ arrested aging (his appearance hardly changes between 1989 and 2011) and his propensity to murder, it is reasonable to conclude that Charles is a descendant of Cain.  His complete heterochromia (one green eye and one blue) supports this conclusion—this trait is none other than the legendary mark of Cain.

When the direct connection between Charles Barlow and Cain is kept in mind, the parallels between the Diabolical Conspiracy and the Catholic Church become clearer.  Just as the Catholic doctrine of Apostolic succession connects papal authority directly to St. Peter, without conferring divine status on the pope, the Diabolical Conspiracy serves The Devil through an uninterrupted succession of intermediaries descended from Cain.

These parallels suggest that The Conspiracy’s Black Mass includes an inversion of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, according to which the priest’s ritual blessing converts the Eucharistic bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.  It is in this context that The Conspiracy’s fluctuating size and its targeting of underage girls begin to make sense.

When The Conspiracy’s priest—a descendant of Cain—commits ritualized rape, the victim’s body and blood becomes those of The Devil.  When The Conspiracy’s adherents participate in that same crime, they too partake of The Devil. Those who become pregnant by a descendant of Cain provide The Conspiracy with candidates for priesthood.  Those who who become pregnant by someone else provide The Conspiracy with victims.  Those who rebel are ritually sacrificed, and their body and blood consumed.

The Diabolical Conspiracy and The Game of Redemption

“And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.”
– Mark 3:26

McCarthy’s League of Sisters is composed of women and girls who were victimized by the Diabolical Conspiracy and who subsequently escaped.  Because they are aware of The Conspiracy’s existence, they know that inaction on their part would endanger girls just like themselves.  The Game of Redemption is primarily comprised of The Sisters’ efforts to rescue their counterparts from the Diabolical Conspiracy.

The Sisters’ work is complicated by two main factors.  Firstly, any victim of The Conspiracy’s ritualistic rape becomes contaminated by The Devil.  This makes the victim her own worst enemy: The Devil, that prince of lies, will thwart any attempt on her part to resist The Conspiracy.  The Devil will prevent her from remembering the abuse clearly —and it will also cause her to perpetuate abuse and then forget that she has done so.  This means that, as often as not, the victim will advance the cause of The Conspiracy, either wittingly or unwittingly.

Secondly, as a Sister begins to rise above The Devil’s mental obfuscation, she will come to realize that everyone involved in The Conspiracy is a victim of The Devil.  Charles, for example, lives in captivity for decades —in all likelihood, he is essentially a slave.  His captors, meanwhile, were contaminated by The Devil when they were mere children.  If a Sister truly wishes to bring The Conspiracy’s violence to an end, she will therefore have to forgive its trespasses.  This would require of her an almost superhuman capacity for compassion and wisdom.

The Pact

“He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.”
– 1 John 3:8

McCarthy’s League of Sisters first begins to take shape in The Pact.  Annie, that film’s protagonist, is a direct cinematic descendant of Laura Palmer.  Like Laura, she is a young waitress whose remarkable spirit has been set against itself by long-term sexual abuse.  Although never stated outright, it is heavily implied that Annie’s abuse was more severe than she is willing to remember. When Annie uncovers the secret bedroom in her childhood home, she claims to have no memory of it.  Her behavior, however, suggests otherwise.

Annie, The Pact, Heterochromia, Caity Lotz

Annie finds herself drawn to the secret bedroom’s many peepholes, returning to them as if picking up an old habit.  This sense of familiarity is indicative of Annie’s spiritual bond to Charles Barlow, who in all likelihood was the abuser who transformed her as a part of the Black Mass.

While peering through the secret bedroom’s peepholes, Annie’s speech regresses to that of a child. Her articulation becomes imprecise, she stumbles over her own words, and her diction resembles that of a kindergartner (e.g. “That’s me and Nicole’s room!”).  This suggests that some part of Annie knows more than she herself is willing to admit.

Like Laura, Annie calls upon spiritual forces during the course of her struggle.  The green crucifix that Annie uses to communicate with these forces is an analog of the Owl Cave Ring from Fire Walk With Me.

Annie uses a cross and a candle to contact the dead through a ouija board

Like Laura, Annie discovers that her abuser is almost certainly her biological father.  Because Annie is unable to see The Devil in herself and the victim in him, she reacts in terror when Charles appears, and she ends up shooting him dead.

In short, Annie fails where Laura succeeds: unlike Laura, Annie cannot or will not see the killer within, and so she too becomes a killer.  Whereas Laura was able to free her spirit from BOB’s influence, Annie inadvertently strengthens her ties to The Devil.  The Pact’s ominous conclusion is a direct consequence of her violence.  Because Annie’s spirit has been contaminated by it, she has become an unwitting accomplice to The Conspiracy.  Eva, the niece entrusted to her care, is therefore in grave danger.

At the Devil’s Door

“Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”
– Acts 2:27

At the Devil’s Door and The Prodigy depict the League of Sisters’ attempts to redeem Annie’s failure.  Hannah, the protagonist of At the Devil’s Door, is essentially an “ascended” version of Annie that volunteers to intercede on her behalf.  The film’s opening scene depicts Hannah’s assumption of that responsibility.  Annie’s green crucifix is present at this meeting, as are the red drapes and Venus statuette of the Black Lodge.

Hannah’s efforts to redeem Annie are complicated by Annie’s resistance.  There is another pertinent factor at work: Annie’s abusers—Charles and Judy—are inextricably bound to Annie’s ascendant trajectory.

Because Charles and Judy committed their crimes while indoctrinated by The Conspiracy, they —much like Annie herself— are victims as well as perpetrators.  By intervening on Annie’s behalf, Hannah is duty-bound to help them as well.

At the Devil's Door

Judy is present at Hannah’s meeting, in the form of an unnamed woman who watches silently as Hannah plays three rounds of three-card monte.  In the first round, the game token points towards this unnamed woman —thereby communicating to Hannah that Judy, too, must become a part of her rescue mission.

Charles, for his part, actively assists Hannah even as he benefits from her intercession.  He first appears as Hannah’s California sweetheart, and later he watches silently as Hannah approaches the threshold between worlds.

Hannah, in a road with a dark figure behind her in At the Devil's Door

When Hannah descends, her mission begins.  She receives Annie’s spirit and undergoes Annie’s trials.  First, Hannah is pierced by the black demon and The Devil enters her just as it did Annie.  Then, Hannah is tempted to harm a child who’s been placed in her care.

Hannah successfully resists this temptation, but Annie’s spirit nevertheless reacts violently.  Thanks to Hannah’s intercession, Annie has begun to realize that The Devil is a part of her.  Annie’s violence therefore takes the form of Hannah’s death by suicide.

Hannah's reflection shows her eyes white and neck bruised

After Hannah dies, a whole other chapter of the Game of Redemption begins, involving two supposedly different Sisters named Leigh and Vera.  By the end of it, Charles has passed through multiple forms to become Vera’s unnamed “baby” and Annie has passed through multiple forms to become Vera.

This game of cat-and-mouse allows Annie, as Vera, to overcome her desire to strike out violently at Charles.  When the film concludes with Vera and her baby driving off into the distance, they ascend together to a higher level of reality.  Judy, however, has been left behind—and so the Game of Redemption continues in The Prodigy.

The Prodigy

“It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”
– Luke 15:32

The Prodigy begins with Margaret, another version of Hannah, breaking free from captivity.  She runs off as if desperate to cross paths with the unnamed woman she eventually encounters.  This unnamed woman, another version of Judy, resists the temptation to ignore Margaret’s pleas for mercy.  This means that Judy, too, has earned the right to ascend: she’s redeemed herself by overcoming the lack of compassion that led her to abuse Annie.

Just when Hannah’s mission seems complete, Margaret’s captor intervenes.  He is a serial killer —a descendant of Cain and a vessel for The Devil— but Hannah’s mission will remain incomplete if he is left behind.  He therefore grips Margaret’s severed hand as the police shoot him dead.  This desperate gambit attaches him to Judy’s ascendant trajectory, even as it contaminates the ascension process with the stain of violence.

Sarah Blume (another form of Annie) gives birth to Miles soon after.  Miles contains within himself the accumulated momentum of Annie’s ascension process, along with all its contradictions. Despite his young age, Miles has a dim awareness of his role in the Game of Redemption.  He obsessively draws the severed hand that had attached him to Judy, and he deliberately uses dream states to “make room” for all those bound to Annie’s ascendant trajectory.

Like Laura and Annie before him, Miles’ spirit is set against itself.  His complete heterochromia marks him as a descendant of Cain.  His superior knowledge and wisdom are inherited from Hannah, while his ancestral memories of Romania most likely stem from the blood-drinking Judy.

Like Annie, Miles strikes out violently at those who complicate the ascension process.  When a fellow student ignores his desire to “work with Hannah,” Miles attacks him with a monkey wrench.  When Miles’ father tries to separate him from Sarah, Miles stabs him in the torso.

Despite the best efforts of Sarah, Miles, and Margaret, the Game of Redemption becomes contaminated yet again by violence.  In the final scene, Sarah sees The Devil in Miles, and she raises her gun at him.  Although she is killed before she can pull the trigger, the damage is done: Annie has once again failed to ascend, and the Game of Redemption is sure to begin again.

The Christian Roots of the Game of Redemption

“I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me.”
– Song of Solomon 8:2

The cosmic aspect of McCarthy’s Game of Redemption’s is best understood against the backdrop of three events that the Christian Bible regards as the beginning, middle, and end of humanity’s present state: the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Christ’s Crucifixion, and the emergence of New Jerusalem

These three events mark culmination points in an ongoing dialectic between the human and the divine.  When humanity is expelled from the Garden, the contrast between the human and the divine is maximized.  Christ’s Crucifixion makes possible a reconciliation between the two.  The emergence of New Jerusalem transforms them both so that they meet face-to-face.

By striving to bring The Diabolical Conspiracy to an end, The League of Sisters works towards the emergence of New Jerusalem.  The Game of Redemption, with its countless cycles of ascension and sin, is the means by which they achieve their goal: since humanity’s expulsion from the Garden cannot be undone, it must be overcome.

Eve and the Serpent

The struggle between The Sisters and The Devil goes all the way back to Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”   These same wounds reappear in The Pact —first when Annie steps on broken glass, then when Annie shoots Charles in the forehead.  While the wounds’ recipients are seemingly reversed, this discrepancy actually points towards a deeper truth.  Annie secretly harbors The Devil that will pull the trigger, and Charles’ redemption has allowed him to realize that he is a descendant of Eve.

Annie (Caity Lotz) picks up the pieces of a broken picture in The Pact

As a result of the curse of Genesis 3:15, The Sisters and The Devil fail to recognize one another.  They are nevertheless bound together by mutual fascination —when one glimpses the other, each dimly recalls a time before The Fall.  The Game of Redemption is made up of their various permutations of approach, withdrawal, rejection, and remembrance —and its players are led to their various roles by a disconcerting blend of fascination, hatred, and love.

Cain

Just as humanity was expelled from the Garden in Genesis 3:15, Cain was expelled from humanity in Genesis 4:11-12: “And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand […] a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.”  This curse is suffused with bitter irony, since Cain’s murderous rage was aroused when his own sacrifice, free of bloodshed, was rejected as unworthy.

The Diabolical Conspiracy arises when The Devil promises to assuage the heartache produced by these two acts of banishment.  The Conspiracy’s adherents receive from the Black Mass a pale imitation of the fruit of the Tree of Life.  The descendants of Cain are promised respect and a human community to which they belong.  Their place within The Conspiracy affords them a pale imitation of what they truly desire, but it is enough to persuade them to reproduce their ancestor’s crime.

The crime of murder, like the serpent in the Garden, is an essential component of a cosmic dialectic.  This is not to say that the Game of Redemption sanctions bloodshed, only that it understands cyclical violence to be the birth pangs of a divine reality.  Cain’s murder of Abel occurs in the immediate aftermath of humanity’s expulsion from the Garden.  Christ’s Crucifixion coincides with the act of murder and transforms it into a gateway between the human and the divine.  The emergence of New Jerusalem is preceded by murder on a mass scale, and it brings an end to the curse of Genesis 3.

The Crucifixion

Because of humanity’s expulsion from the Garden, The Sisters will inevitably find themselves set upon by The Devil and his Diabolical Conspiracy.  It is only right that a Sister would intervene to counteract this process —but if she succumbs to her desire for revenge, she and her allies will suffer.  Only the act of self-sacrifice, as exemplified by The Crucifixion and recreated through The Sisters’ countless rescue missions, is powerful enough to bring the cycle to an end.

The bitter truth of the Game of Redemption is that it is an all-or-none proposition.  That’s why the intervention of an “ascended” Sister, such as Hannah, inevitably offers mercy to those who perpetrated The Conspiracy’s crimes.  The enmity between woman and serpent opened a rift between the human and the divine.  The rejection of Cain’s sacrifice caused this enmity to metastasize into the Diabolical Conspiracy.  Only by turning the other cheek and welcoming The Conspiracy’s high priest as the prodigal son can the League of Sisters restore reality to its divine status.  

New Jerusalem

Although they do not understand one another, all the players in the Game of Redemption are seeking the same thing: love, recognition, and life everlasting.  The films of Nicholas McCarthy depict each faction’s gradual approach to this underlying unity.  New Jerusalem presents a symbol of this underlying unity, and it represents the overcoming of humanity’s expulsion from the Garden.  In it, the Tree of Life that was previously forbidden is proffered twice over.

The description of New Jerusalem that concludes the Book of Revelation emphasizes the perfect, unmediated coexistence of the human and the divine.  This raises an intriguing possibility: since humanity needn’t be removed to make way for divine reality, perhaps the Game of Redemption is less about establishing New Jerusalem and more about bringing exiles through its extant gates.  If that were the case, McCarthy’s films would represent lower-level realities that are ignorant of the perfection that awaits them.

According to Revelation 21:8, those who are exiled from New Jerusalem must endure “the second death.”  Since New Jerusalem contains two Trees of Life, however, it would be possible for the League of Sisters to remedy this second death by bringing fruit from the second Tree of Life to the remaining exiles.  There is precedent for this gesture in Genesis: it was Eve’s passing on fruit to her husband that led to humanity’s expulsion from the Garden.

“Seven Sisters,” the unofficial theme song of The Pact, lends credence to this interpretation.  The song’s Sisters likely correspond to the seven angels of Revelation, who assume peaceful and wrathful forms as they gradually unveil New Jerusalem.  New Jerusalem itself as referred to as “the bride, the Lamb’s wife“—so is she the highest Sister of all?  And how separate is she from the heroine of the Game of Redemption?

Conclusion

Nicholas McCarthy is a filmmaker whose artistic and philosophical sophistication remains under-appreciated. Through his principled engagement with Christianity and Twin Peaks, he poses difficult questions concerning violence, forgiveness, and the nature of reality.  McCarthy’s Game of Redemption, which follows a relatively small cast of characters through multiple permutations of identity,  allows him to explore these themes with versatility and rigor.

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Written by Andrew Kersten

Andrew first became interested in "Twin Peaks" while studying at The Evergreen State College.

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