“There’s a death we don’t see”
I remember exactly how I felt after seeing Acrimony; such utter sadness, a violation of purity. I did not know how to react, so I just switched off my laptop and lay on the bed, still, with crippling thoughts, a nexus of emotional torrents running back and forth. One thing I am sure of is that every other person must have felt the same way. There’s this pulsating rage that comes with seeing the movie; there is also an annoying helpless since you’re not sure who to direct your bitterness to. So it just sits there, inside you, building layers of acrimony.
What I find particularly interesting is Tyler Perry’s use of music in this thriller. Music is the blue print of the structure and procession of the movie. No major event happens without been accompanied by music. No wonder the first sentence we hear is a caveat, a warning not to misunderstand Melinda. The movie begs us, albeit emotionally
“Baby, you understand me now, if sometimes you see that I’m mad. Don’tcha know that no one alive can always be an angel?”
It is important we were fore-warned, because the scene opens with a broken Taraji Henson (Melinda), her eyes eaten by rage. We only see a dark hue of hate, a hate so intense the cornea is darkened; so possessing. We see someone whose skin is ashen, whose colour had been eaten by hate. But before we could conclude that this woman is a psychotic and demented biological configuration – and just like the song had warned us – we were led by her voice, somewhat pained into her life to see the angel she was.
The story begins with water, with rain. One would almost say it was fate. It was raining; they collide, Melinda and Robert. But what is important at this moment is that while most girls would shout, insult or gently pick up their papers from the wet ground, she viciously attacked Robert. I think this is the first hint of the explosive nature of the heroine.
The death of Melinda’s mother plays a huge role in advancing the plot of the movie. Death here signifies a new beginning. The burial marked the consummation of life, the merging of two lives to birth one, little wonder it was on her mother’s burial that her virginity was taken. This is (no) coincidence. Perhaps in Mel’s opinion, it shows how opportunistic Robert is; taking advantage of a girl “desperate to feel, to feel anything at all that would extinguish the grief, the pain that had so upturned her life”. But it is clear Robert had no intention to… he opted and insisted he walked home. And when she drove him home, she also insisted to get in. But does having the intention to or not to take away the fact that he did?
And then there’s music. Nina Symone’s “I Put a Spell on You”. This signifies Roberts’ possession of Mel’s heart. There and then he made her his. He literally put a spell on her, a spell so strong it would take death to upturn. And this death, understandably, is not an act of fading physically.
The most important scene to me is the night after he had put a spell on her. I would like to call this the “Covenant Night”. Here, the Universe bears witness to a bonding, a crossing over, an offering of self to another. The manner with which Mel held Robert that night, as she gave herself to him, would show how their life would be for the next eighteen years. Their lives didn’t belong individually to any of them, they had one life. Living together; having kids staying at the apartment with the beautiful view; Mrs Gayle’s boat; the trip to Paris…this was their life. No one else could have it. Neither of them had the right to enjoy it without the other.
Then again, death comes in (not a physical death) a closing, an end of a chapter. And death is used in such a way as to signify a new beginning. Perhaps Mel had to sacrifice her womb, her children for Robert not to cheat again. Perhaps that death was necessary to ensure their future, because if he had cheated just one more time, it would have been their end, not just to what they had, but an end to their lives, this psychotic offering, this demented side of Melinda, her other side: the Bitch. It was uncontrollable, this fire that could only be quenched after it had consumed something vital.
“…maybe it was time to introduce him to my bitch…”
“My craze, it is immediate, it is not rational. Doesn’t stop.” Mel’s description of her other side
However, it is the rupturing of their covenant that brings this out. Roberts’ cheating ruptured it. But it was sealed back by another promise, marriage. The Bitch was calmed. She was to support him, no matter what. And he was to provide the life they dreamt of. They lived under the weight of promise, each struggling to fulfil their own part.
But Tyler, tired of his fidelity, bored of this loss of colour, of faithfully adhering to their covenant, squeezed it. He seemed to ask: Can you really love? Can you continue to love so fervently when the world puts its noose around your love and pulls tight till you suffocate, till your eyes are about to pop? (Mel’s eyes are this point looked popped) The assaults came gradually intensifying at each challenge, carefully designed to make sure they fail.
First was the order restricting Robert from going anywhere near the Prescott’s building. Prescott was his trump card, his get rich card, thus completely destroying any hope of the Gale Force. Well, they overcame this challenge, if at all it brought them closer, for the first time in a while, they had a ‘moment’. But even that was short-lived by the second wave. The Second wave was the family’s pressure, Mel’s sisters finding out about the mortgaged house and the fact that it was about to be foreclosed. They buckled under this assault; the seal of their covenant began loosening. Robert claimed Melinda didn’t even try to defend him while her sister attacked and humiliated him. Perhaps this was the beginning of another rupture, and they couldn’t see it. Tiny termites eating away their promise. And this was immediately after the first wave. No time to celebrate their victory over the first challenge. They were barraged with another. Diana coming back into the picture, forgetting her purse in Robert’s truck, found by Mel’s sister on the one hand, and on the other hand, Robert on a very important delivery gets called in for a meeting with Prescott. He abandons the delivery to a fatal consequence, and as if that’s not enough, he gets offered 800,000 dollars to sell his business which if he had accepted, the whole tragedy would have been averted.
The music hots up, drums intensifying, the whole atmosphere is charged in anticipation of the imminent failure, like gathered clouds about to be ruptured. This was it, the ultimate test. And their love broke; the covenant completely broken. Robert tells Mel about the 800,000 dollars cheque he turned down. Mel, feeling betrayed, breaks her promise to always support him. And Robert, having failed to provide the life they both dreamt of, had also failed to hold up his own promise. He is kicked out and divorced. He is torn down bit by bit, humiliated and ‘murdered’. Here, there’s a death we don’t see.
Tyler goes on to deal a rude card. Life plays a different music as if to taunt her, to make mockery of her ability to love. Just after she gave up under the weight of pain, and reasonably so, Gale Force becomes a major hit, Robert gets into business with Prescott, and he is rich, filthy rich. Tyler seems to mess with the mind of Melinda. At what point do we break? At what point can we stretch and stretch and stretch no more?
There is a new beginning, and it is raining again, like it did when they first met, but instead of her to be in his shower, filling his ears with her moans, having his hands reach beyond her soul, there’s another woman. Perhaps if it was just another woman and not Diana, she may not have been pushed to the extreme but it was DIANA, she who made her lose her ovaries. This set in motion the “Script of Deceit”. She starts conceiving the idea that all the while Robert had fed off on her money, her life and the best part of her years, that he had simply used her to service his dream, and now, like a broken mirror, he had discarded her, and gone back to Diana.
How would you feel, if you were in her shoes?
And then he begins toying with her, giving her life to Diana, all the promise he made to her, he gives to Diana, as if Mel was never in the picture, as if the Covenant Night was between Robert and Diana and there was no Melinda. She was just a host fed on, till he was nurtured.
She watched as another lived her life, watched as the man she gave her all, gave what was hers to another. Perhaps if Robert had lived in another house, bought Diana a different boat or took her to a city other than Paris or even gave her a ring not exactly like the one he promised her, she wouldn’t have been so convinced of the idea of been deceived, or even the pain would have been bearable. Perhaps she wouldn’t have gone to that place of no return. Perhaps her Bitch wouldn’t have taken over. And worse still her sisters couldn’t understand her, because they were not aware of the promises he made to her. They treated her like she was mad.
Here again music plays an important role. The concept of liminality takes centre stage. I have always been piqued about this, the effect of music on the soul, the way music enables us to take possession of, or to be possessed. Music was crucial in her complete transmutation from Angel to Bitch. Hence the music had to be fast, dance step possessed like a ritual. No wonder the background was red. What is ritual without blood?
The Bitch is out and on rampage. She’s hungry to consume. She seeks blood to appease herself. We see Mel on rampage, persistent even after she gets knocked off from the boat. She gets ready for revenge. Ever relentless. At this point, the pity we feel towards Melinda wanes and is directed to Robert who was getting butchered. But we are scared to hate or channel this anger to Melinda. There’s an infinite helplessness. This perhaps is the greatest effect of the movie, this dilemma to, or not to, apportion blame. Then her tragic death hits us. She’s consumed by her own rage. Everyone got out unhurt except her. Is this a bold statement by Tyler? About anger? About hate? Or is he simply posing a question? Can she be blamed for her actions? I think the answer again lies in the music “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free by Andre day” those are Mel’s unspoken request, a need to be freed form herself, freed from the demon consuming her, eating her up. Perhaps her death wasn’t a death but a liberation from herself?
No I do not think so, I do not think there’s hope for her, she dies stuck with her evil and in her evil, as her manner of death suggests; sealed away with her demons, tied down by a chain and sunken to the bottom of the ocean by an anchor!
About the author
Ugorji Ebube Emmanuel holds a B.ED in English language and currently is finishing up his second degree in Law at Imo State University. He shuttles between case citation and mauling over literary works. He blogs unseriously at hotjollof.com
3 thoughts on “Of Death, Music and Liminality: An Analysis of Tyler Perry’s Acrimony.”
Lit use of words
I feel like I have seen the movie already.
A conscious attempt to retell the story of love. to scrap the happily ever banality. For me, Acrimony and GOT are leading at the threshold of contemporary storytelling. such impeccable haunting Nightmare. Not even a horror Movie can make you feel this way. great review.