May is a peculiar sort of movie, part social commentary, part slasher flick. It manages to succeed admirably at both, despite the fact that it's central star is a cute little misfit named May.
May Dove Canady (Angela Bettis) is a sheltered misfit. Born with a lazy eye, she grows up wearing a pirate-like eye patch, only to be teased by children her entire life. Her mother (Merle Kennedy) drives the point home: if you can't find a friend, make one. And May's mother does just that, crafting a doll for her daughter with big, spooky eyes. The catch is that the doll can never be let out of her box.
And thus we have an allegory for May. May tentatively explores her world through her job as a veterinarian's assistant and her interactions with her coworkers, the barely-understandable veterinarian (Ken Davitian) and the oversexed lesbian coworker Polly (Anna Faris). Then May bumps into Adam Stubbs (Jeremy Sisto), a horror movie fan and budding auteur that specializes in gore.
Adam's first film is titled "Jack and Jill," which starts out sweet: two lovers seem to want to devour each other...and then literally do so, biting and gnawing on each other's limbs in an orgiastic frenzy. The movie deeply affects May, who is fascinated with Adam's hands. When May shift gears from foreplay to kink by biting Adam's lip, he dumps her.
All throughout the movie, May tries to connect with people. She struggles with her relationship with Polly, who uses and abuses her. Polly asks May to adopt her pet cat, a seemingly genuine gesture of friendship, only to discover that Polly never wanted the responsibility in the first place. May also joins a school for teaching blind children. When May brings her doll to class, the children are intrigued and frustrated: to a blind child, a glass box may as well be an iron vault. They plead for her to release what's in the glass box, with tragic consequences for the doll.
Bereft of her only friend and infuriated by her inability to connect with the rest of humanity, May decides to make her own friend out of the components of everyone else. Then the killing begins...
All this could be very mundane. But May is so much more. Warning: There are lots of spoilers below!
MAY AS DOLL: Polly calls May "doll," and May is very much a pure, untouched creature with wide, staring eyes just like her doll. Locked in her own glass box, May is always viewing the world from a distance. She even kisses like her dolls, smashing them together with brutal force without any coordination. When the glass on her doll's box shatters, so too does May's universe. Always watching, always a bystander, and never really touching or feeling anything...May is a walking façade, an entity pretending to be a person.
MAY AS SERIAL KILLER: May exhibits all the traits of an organized serial killer; she gets up every day and goes to work, has her own hobbies, and reads a lot. But May is completely disassociated from reality. She was most certainly abused. When May screams at her doll to "face the *** wall" we know it's her mother's voice. She views people as their components parts, alternately admiring and lusting for them. May starts by killing animals, and then escalates her rage until it transforms into murder. Frustrated, she finally releases her revenge by killing those she admires and keeping the trophies afterwards.
MAY AS GOLEM: The monster (named Amy) created from the parts of May's killing spree is animated only when she provides something of herself. But Amy's creation is telling: she arranges the three letters of her name "M-A-Y" into "A-M-Y." This is consistent with the creation of the medieval rabbis creating golems by writing the word "emet" (truth in Hebrew) on the golem's forehead to animate it. By erasing the first letter, "emet" becomes "meit" (dead), thus deactivating the golem. May can be seen as the inverse, finally living only through death, and slowly dying in her own life. Just as Amy is made from Adam's hands, God created Adam from clay--rabbis create their golems in the same fashion.
MAY AS MARY: May's just one "r" away from the virgin Mary of Christianity. May freely admits she's still a virgin. At the end of the movie, May gives "birth" to a creation, sacrificing herself so that her child may live. Most telling, the cover of the DVD portrays May with a Mary-like halo. Closer examination reveals that the halo consists of scissors and scalpels.
MAY AS OUTCAST: For those of us who had an awkward childhood, we've all had our share of being teased. Being called a freak can be hurtful. But more interesting is May's relationship with those who fancy themselves on the fringe; both Polly and Adam say they "like weird," but they really don't. They like to be thought of as weird, but they're not really unique at all. Adam and Polly are very much mundane, ultimately embodying what they supposedly are not: stereotypes. Even Blank (played by James Duval, he of Donnie Darko), who has the weirdest hair-do in the movie, treats May like a total freak. Ultimately, everyone from the blind children she teaches to her pet cat reject May.
MAY AS VOYEUR: May has gone through much of her childhood with one eye. When she finally does get full use of both eyes, she watches everything with incredible intensity. Her fascination with blind children makes her feel comfortable. They can't look at her and judge her, but she can safely judge them. Similarly, May is able to stalk Adam from a distance, watching him for hours at a restaurant. In the end, May sacrifices her eye so that she can watch, in her death, life being born through Amy.
MAY AS POSSIBILITY: The term "may" can express a measure of likelihood, possibility, desire, or fervent wish. May is very much a wistful creature, hopeful about the possibilities of having a boyfriend and of relationships that take fruit only in her imagination. It is the shattering of all those possibilities that makes May's fall so heartbreaking. She's cute. She's innocent. She's a little strange, but aren't we all?
May is one of those rare brand of movies that is both horror and drama, parable and slasher flick. Director Lucky McKee comments that "there's a lot of raw, personal stuff here" and it shows, in bloody, angry, pathetic, beautiful detail, from the spring-loaded fake blade that Adam plays with to the aching loneliness of a blind child in the park. McKee's masterpiece, like Donnie Darko, may well define its own genre.
For anyone who has ever been called a freak, for anyone who has ever been teased because of how they look, and for anyone who has ever become so exasperated with humanity that they despair there's no good left in the world...this movie's for you.