Ti West’s prequel ‘Pearl’ helps viewers to truly understand the motives behind the mayhem in ‘X.’
Ti West’s new film Pearl is the unforeseen prequel to his horror film X, which was released only six months ago. Kept a tight-lipped secret until its release, Pearl is the origin story of X’s villain, the old lady, who is played by Mia Goth in both films. Pearl gives an unforgiving look into the isolated upbringing of the titular protagonist. It provides such earnest and gruesome details about Pearl’s life as a young woman, that when viewers reflect on the rotten and unsettling elderly woman she is in X, it becomes crystal clear as to why she harbors such envious and spiteful feelings towards the provocative youth that are showcasing their sexual liberation on her farm.
Pearl is the only child of her mother (Tandi Wright) and father (Matthew Sunderland). The three of them lived on a farm that was miles away from their small town. Growing up, Pearl had nobody to talk to except her beloved farm animals for whom she would put on one-woman shows in the barn. In addition to living an already confined farm life, Pearl is at an especially lonely stage in her life because her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) was shipped off to fight in the war.
Pearl spends much of her time re-reading letters he had written her, and daydreaming about his return. Unfortunately, Pearl’s mother never fails to snap her back to the grim reality that she asserts onto Pearl. This consists of forcing Pearl to single-handedly care for her paralyzed and incapacitated father, who is hanging onto life by a thread.
‘You’re Only Young Once’
Despite her mother’s dictatorship, Pearl remains a character with a strong sense of self-awareness, specifically regarding her age and place in life. Arguably, she even has a bit of a phobic mentally towards her age, more so in X as she is closer to the end of her life than the beginning. But in both films, she is desperate to create and feel something in her life that is worthwhile, knowing that time is of the essence, both when you’re young and old.
In Pearl, one of the driving forces of inspiration to finally start going against her tyrannical mother and follow her heart is David Corenswet’s character, “The Projectionist.” When Pearl opens to him about her oppressive home life, “The Projectionist” tells Pearl, “You’re only young once.” This sticks heavily with Pearl, becoming a sort of mantra for her and her decisions to come.
This line is one to be remembered when reflecting upon X, as Old Pearl murderously takes her pent-up rage out on the young film crew that come to stay at her farm, which is the same emotionally haunting farm that she grew up on and never left.
A Lonely Life
After witnessing Pearl’s desolate upbringing, it can be understandable to see how a happy-go-lucky, confident group of young people would be triggering to Pearl from the get-go, regardless of what they are even doing. For starters, a majority of the conversations that Pearl had in her life were one-sided, either to farm animals, or her debilitated father, both of which could physically not respond to her.
More importantly and formatively, the one time that Pearl went out a limb with full force confidence, was at a dance audition in town that her sister-in-law, Mitsy (Emma Jenkins), told her about. At the audition, Pearl was brutally rejected, being told that she wasn’t young enough or blonde enough, two things she physically could not be. This is a core moment in her story, for it solidifies her animosity toward the ages that she possesses, whether it be young or old.
Circling back to the X crew, not only did Pearl never experience anything close to group camaraderie with people her age, but to witness a group of people that combine both kinship, with the fearlessness to create something together, especially something as risqué and titillating as pornography, was the most extreme icing on the cake for Pearl’s deep hatred towards them.
Exploring her youth and identity is something that Pearl always yearned for, yet instead her whole life has revolved around her sacrificing herself in nearly every way, based on the physical state of those around her. This could be applied to her mother too. Despite having full bodily autonomy, her mother was always physically occupying herself so that Pearl had to be the one responsible for the demanding care that her father required.
Even when Pearl no longer has to care for her father or obey her mother, she is still held back by her husband, whose heart problem has kept them from having sex for what seems to have been years, based on a scene in which Pearl expresses a deep sadness and desperation about the issue to Howard.
All the while, she must witness the young film stars freeing themselves in ways she has always wanted, while she is in her old age reckoning with still not having found that freedom in her life. The only freedom she has found thus far is to let her wrath out on those she feels are tormenting her, by having all that she wants and never got.
Pearl serves as an intimate and profound character study in which Goth’s impeccable performance perfectly conveys the intense and excruciating range of feelings that Pearl is afflicted by. Pearl thoroughly explains the actions taken in X by Old Pearl and greatly elevates the content and subject matter of the film X, making X a much juicier film to reflect on, and making Pearl a character with far more depth than originally met the eye.