Freaks came to theatres in 1932 and the story of circus performers and their lives terrified audiences; Freaks is about the bond between a group of “different” people and the consequences when an outsider tries to take advantage of one of the freaks. Hans is initially engaged to Daisy, but when beautiful trapeze artist Cleopatra realizes the diminutive Hans has a crush on her she decides to pursue him for laughs. However, once Cleopatra learns that Hans is an heir to a fortune her tune changes and she decides to reel Hans in and once they marry she and the circus brute Hercules plot Hans’ murder never suspecting that by trying to take down one of the freaks they must face all of them.
I have known the concept of Freaks since film school but I can honestly say I was not prepared for Freaks. I think there were two reasons for this. The film was made in 1932, I think I expected it to be much more docile than it was; also, as a child of the latter part of the twentieth century I was raised in the era of political correctness – people are not “freaks”, “retards” or “handicapped” – they are “special”. Freaks is not politically correct. The film wants to point out the differences in these people and make sure you see it, it doesn’t want you to understand it, just to be hyper aware of it. It was a difficult view point for me to see past since I have grown up in a much more conscious era, but I really think that the reason Freaks is not horrendously offensive is because as the title implies it is told through the eyes of the freaks; in this world you’re a “freak” not if there is something different about you, but if there is something normal about you. The only people that escape this are the ones that have accepted the freaks completely.
While I am not sure that my brain can fully process Freaks (because of the afore mentioned hang up) I can say that the final climax took my breath away. Near the end of the film when the revenge is taken on the performers who attack Hans the cinematography and shot choices are at once startlingly beautiful and absolutely haunting. I did not think that these silly, goofy, hot headed characters could be frightening but by hiding the intensity of their close knit brotherhood until the end of the film the filmmakers managed to play the ultimate card last and really bring the shock and horror to bear in a very playable way.
I can safely say that I have never seen a movie like Freaks and I think I will have to see it at least once more before I can have a full and complete opinion on it.
Director: Tod Browning
Hercules: They're going to make you one of them, my peacock!