The exploration of ageing, sexuality, and oppression through Jenna Ortega in ‘X’
(Credit: Netflix)


The exploration of ageing, sexuality, and oppression through Jenna Ortega in 'X'

Jenna Ortega and Mia Goth have become the two most prominent scream queens as of late. Ortega has showcased her versatility by breathing life into a myriad of characters in major films and television series such as Scream and Wednesday. Meanwhile, Goth has solidified her status as the epitome of female rage through her compelling portrayals of Pearl and Maxine in Ti West’s gripping slasher thrillers.

West’s X continues to garner hype two years after its release, with Goth’s depiction of both Maxine and Pearl representing the two perceived extremes of youth and desire. Maxine is an aspiring adult film star who exudes confidence and represents the epitome of youthful beauty. By contrast, Pearl sits at the opposite end of the spectrum as an older lady whose young and spirited moment has long-passed.

Early scenes involving Pearl depict the character as a profoundly unsettling voyeur, intrusively observing the group while they shoot explicit scenes and lingering next to Maxine in bed, caressing her skin. Alongside Goth, Ortega plays Lorraine in the film, a reserved and unassuming camerawoman initially focused on assisting with the filming process. However, Lorraine gradually develops an interest in stepping into the spotlight in front of the camera.

Initially presenting herself as a menacing figure, Pearl gradually unveils her backstory, shedding light on her enduring resentment toward the youthful group surrounding her. Despite her unwavering bitterness, a sense of empathy and sorrow arises when we discover the underlying loneliness and depression that define Pearl’s existence. Maxine, in this context, symbolises everything Pearl yearns for. While having prior knowledge from the prequel provides a deeper understanding of Pearl’s character, approaching her without insight into her tumultuous past paints her as nothing more than an aged, weathered, and violent monster.

These deductions haven’t been too distant from the film since its release, with numerous interpretations viewing it as an allegory depicting the repercussions of yearning for youth and sexual desire, as well as exploring the darker aspects of misogynistic oppression. However, the depictions of youth and adulthood in the narrative extend beyond Pearl and her struggles with jealousy towards Maxine. Ortega’s Lorraine also provides an interesting commentary on the perils of intrigue, especially when it comes to adult filmmaking and the idea that sexual exposure should be reserved for others.

Lorraine’s choices contribute to some of the most unsettling scenes in the entire movie. Despite a series of unfortunate events leading to Lorraine’s eventual demise, her aspiration to become just like Maxine forges a link to repercussions of her involvement in pornographic content. Lorraine, inherently reserved, finds herself compelled to engage due to the influence of the confident youth around her. In the world of X, such actions are punishable.

Even when Pearl’s envious nature drives her to a spree of murderous intent, there’s slight hope that some of our main characters might just make it out alive. Lorraine, who wasn’t as much a target for Pearl as Maxine was, becomes subjected to a long and brutal death after being invited into Howard’s house and asked to find a flashlight in the basement. Lorraine, who up until this point was grappling with her own relationship with religion, becomes Howard’s first victim, a seemingly gruesome fable for diverting from innocence to hedonism, or participation in its cousin, voyeurism.

The ending of X is famous for its gruesome spectacle, with Lorraine making up the first domino in its violent ricochet. Lorraine provides everything the film has been building up to; she is the first chapter in a series of events epitomising the consequences of desire. Ageing is just one string to the bow, and while Pearl commences her relentless rampage after concocting her perfect mix of rage, jealousy, and sadistic intent, youth and desire seam to package up nicely into the devil’s doing.

If Lorraine hadn’t participated in her desire to become a spectacle like the others, there’s a chance she would have met the same fate. Nonetheless, by being one part of a wider group celebrating everything that Pearl has lost, not one of them was going to make it out alive.