Despite Its Dark Ending, ‘Ginger Snaps’ Still Made Me Want a Sibling
My preoccupation with suicide was less about actually dying and more about grappling with my own sense of agency in the world.
The Fitzgerald sisters are strange. Always dressed in heavy skirts and oversized sweaters, they sulk together on the high school football field, taking turns dragging on cigarettes they aren’t old enough to smoke. They like to act out their deaths on the perfectly manicured front lawn of their parents’ suburban home—Ginger lying on the grass, her limbs awkwardly splayed, her torso covered in fake blood, and Brigitte peering down at her through a camera lens. You might see them and think a tragedy has occurred. But it hasn’t. This is just what these girls do for fun. The Fitzgerald sisters are not your typical Girls Next Door.
When I watch their story unfold in the 2000 Canadian film Ginger Snaps (directed by John Fawcett), I find myself fantasizing about what it might have been like to grow up with a Fitzgerald sister. On screen, they exude a bond similar to MTV’s Daria and Jane, their snarky one-liners standing in for their uncertainty with growing up in a suburban town. They are a gothier version of Ghost World’s Enid and Rebecca, trading the rubber BDSM mask for matching bird skull necklaces, and their morbid fascination with death colors their world in a similar, lackadaisical way to Jeffrey Eugenides’s suicidal Lisbon sisters. All of these portrayals of female adolescent angst resonate with me, but the Fitzgerald sisters are the only pair of siblings I wish I had.
I am an only child, a detail about myself that still makes me wince when I say it out loud. The term comes with its own set of stigmas. People (usually those with siblings) assume you grew up spoiled. They imagine you a tyrannical Veruca Salt, bossy, impudent, and selfish, but growing up, I was rarely any of these things.
I spent much of my time by myself quietly reading books or making up games to play with my various dolls. In elementary school, I carried a composition notebook with me wherever I went recording the thoughts of my first-grade mind. At the time, I was obsessed with Harriet the Spy, and often in these pages, I reference Harriet who I had turned into my imaginary friend. I also frequently talk about Sally, my Cabbage Patch doll. I describe both of these imagined personalities as if they are real, detailing how Sally annoys me or how Harriet keeps bossing me around. When I read these instances now, they clearly translate into a young girl’s attempts to decipher what sibling life might look like.
Curious as I was about the prospect of having a sibling, though, I was never the kind of child who begged her parents for a brother or sister. I was content in my solitary existence and because I was privileged enough to have two deeply devoted parents, I never wanted for attention. Still, my childhood and adolescence were not without difficulties. If gifted the wisdom of an older sister or the awe of a younger one, I wonder how might some of my own adolescent anxiety have been abated?
At its core, Ginger Snaps is a film about sisterhood. The movie tells the story of Brigitte and Ginger, teenage social outcasts with a deep, sibling bond. At fifteen years old, both girls have not gotten their periods yet, a fact they cling to with pride; seeing this absence as the final thing tethering them to their childhood. When they were eight years old, the two made a pact, complete with a blood bond. They repeat this pact in the opening scene: “Out by sixteen or dead in the scene, but together forever. United against life as we know it.” They are sisters thoroughly bored with their suburban life, and their jaded attitudes frequently lead them to fantasizing about histrionic ways in which they could take their own lives.
The Fitzgerald sisters are not your typical Girls Next Door.
When Brigitte expresses hesitation over killing herself, Ginger reassures her with delightfully teenage rationale. “Us dead’ll be the shit, Bee. Trust me,” she says, exuding confidence about their proposed future suicides, the fantasy of which provides escape from the fear and uncertainty of their looming adolescence more than it actually requires them to die.
I don’t remember how I first learned about suicide, but I do know that the thought of it overwhelmed me for much of my middle school life. Often, I would wake up in the morning and think about death. Or to be more precise, I would think about how death was not just something that happened to you when you got old. It was also something that, if you wanted to, you could make happen to yourself. I did not want to die, but how was one supposed to find a reason to live if it was seemingly so simple to just end things?
Unlike Brigitte and Ginger, I lived in fear of my own demise, especially if that demise came about by my own hand. I tried to explain the fear to my parents, but how does an eleven-year-old find the words to express that what she is truly afraid of is slipping up, of making an irreversible mistake? Unlike Brigitte and Ginger, I was unable to look my death—or perhaps more aptly, my choices—in the face. My preoccupation with suicide was less about actually dying and more about grappling with my own sense of agency in the world. Suddenly, I was a person wholly capable of making irreversible life choices. My parents could only afford me so much in terms of advice, and even though their guidance was comforting, I still had to work through my anxieties alone.
To me, siblinghood itself often seems like an unspoken pact that encourages commiseration over shared parents, shared lifestyles, and shared childhood experience. I recognize that not all siblings are lucky enough to have amicable relationships or to have shared these experiences, but those that do typically seem to exhibit a secretiveness. As if they have an all-knowing sense of their shared family dynamic, a sense that is often outside of or different from the opinions of their parents. Most likely, a parent will never tell you to contemplate your fears of suicide (at least, mine didn’t), but a sibling just might, turning the thing you are most afraid of into something worthy of unpacking. Something you can look upon together, trusting your sibling bond to anchor each other. It is this anchoring that I lacked, and so I was left to free-float with my adolescent fears, a practice that often left me feeling weightless and unsure.
Ginger Snaps is often seen as a wickedly clever feminist critique on female adolescence. The film delivers an impeccable coming-of-age story that toys with the age-old werewolf trope to create an interesting tale about changing bodies and newfound hormonal rage. But it is the Fitzgerald sisters that make the film worthy of its cult status, dazzling the audience with their seemingly unbreakable bond and melodramatic vitality. They are each other’s sole source of support, and anything that affects one, affects the other.
When Ginger unexpectedly gets her period during a nighttime walk through the neighborhood park, she is exasperated. “Kill yourself to be different and your own body screws you! If I start simping around tampon dispensers, moaning about PMS, shoot me, okay?” she whines. Moments later, she is viciously attacked by a werewolf, seemingly drawn to her by the scent of her menstrual blood. With the help of her sister, she escapes just barely, but now her changing body doesn’t just mean the addition of her menstrual cycle.
Puberty for me, like for many teens, was strange and awkward. One day I didn’t have a period, and then one day I did. My mother prepared me well by detailing everything I needed to know about pads and tampons and menstrual symptoms beforehand, but even so, I was adrift in a sea of menstrual incompetence. Time and again I tied sweatshirts around my waist and sat awkwardly in classroom chairs trying to hide accidental bloodstains. Every twenty-eight days, I walked the halls of my middle school feeling as if I was carrying this newly developed secret that could reveal itself to my classmates at any moment, and it terrified me.
But for Brigitte and Ginger, the “secret” of Ginger’s newly menstruating body is shared (and kept) by both of them. In one scene, Brigitte helps a hunched over, cramp-ridden Ginger pick out a box of tampons in the local convenience store, finally deciding on a box simply because it comes with a free calendar. She asks Ginger if her symptoms might be more than “just cramps,” recognizing that werewolf transformation might be very similar to a teenager’s average experience with PMS. These girls would probably benefit from some well-executed child therapy, particularly from someone well-versed in both Freud and lycanthropy, but there is no denying their love for each other. Self-avowed outcasts, anything the world throws at them, they take on together.
When you are an only child, you get used to navigating the world alone, and even though I felt decently equipped with knowledge gifted to me by my mom, my changing female body was not something I always knew how to describe to her or even myself. Sure, I had friends who I confided in, but the taboo of puberty felt vastly outside the realm of things I could talk to them about. I imagine many of us were not alone in this menstrual solitude, but perhaps if I had had a Ginger or a Brigitte to commiserate with as I quietly grew breasts and learned how to use a tampon, my newfound horror with puberty wouldn’t have felt so much like an uncontrollable, onslaught of gore.
Self-avowed outcasts, anything the world throws at them, they take on together.
For me, being an only child is often about isolation. This is not always a negative thing. Mostly what I mean here is that even when I am surrounded by others, I often feel a solitude within myself that I liken to having spent so much of my childhood alone. For me, aloneness is not the same thing as loneliness. My aloneness is always there with me, wherever I go. I am aware of it when I find myself in conversation with people who have chosen to swap stories about life with their siblings. I am aware of it when asked if I have any blood-related nieces or nephews. I recognize it when I think about a future in which the responsibility of my ailing mother will rest solely upon me. I am the only child with a first-hand experience of my upbringing. There is no one, aside from my parents, to which I can turn to fact check my past or my understanding of it. If I were to disappear from the Earth today, my bloodline would be eradicated.
Ginger Snaps is not a movie that ends happily. The sisters are torn apart by Ginger’s increasing desire to succumb to her werewolf curse, and Brigitte, unable to commit to the life of a werewolf alongside her sister, is forced to kill Ginger and watch her die. Their bond, as strong as it is, is ultimately unable to transcend death in the end. Ginger dies. Brigitte does not.
When I think about this, perhaps my fascination with the Fitzgerald sisters is not just with their deep, personal bond. Maybe it has more to do with Brigitte specifically and her journey to becoming the sole survivor, the newly-born only child.
In the final moments of the film, Brigitte’s transformation into an only child occurs the moment Ginger takes her last breath. Earlier, in an attempt to gain her sister’s trust in order to administer the antidote, Brigitte mixes her blood with Ginger’s, infecting herself with the werewolf curse, as well. Now, at the end, when faced with having to learn how to navigate the world without the comfort and loyalty of her sibling by her side, we are left wondering if Brigitte will choose to inject herself with the antidote or succumb to the curse as well, joining her sister in death just as they had always planned.
In the sequel, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, we see the outcome of Brigitte’s life. She has chosen to continue living despite her sister’s death, but the werewolf curse is still coursing through her veins. We learn that it is uncurable, only treatable through the use of a monkshood extract that Brigitte must repeatedly inject herself with each day. She is a suffering sibling, an anti-only child whose awareness of her old life with a sister and her new life without one manifests itself in visions of Ginger, now a phantom limbed sibling who provides her guidance and dialogue from beyond the grave.
Obviously, I do not understand the sibling dynamic in the way Brigitte does, and I also cannot possibly comprehend what it is like to suddenly find yourself the sole survivor of a sibling tragedy. But I do find myself relating to this newly solo Brigitte. Unlike me, her aloneness in the world will always be shadowed by the memory of her sister, but her struggles with aloneness are ones that I am able to recognize.
Like Brigitte, I occasionally long for the perceived ease of a sibling relationship, one in which I never have to explain myself simply because our lives overlap in so many ways—where one of us begins and the other ends is impossible to discern. I am sometimes afraid of my singularity, so unexplainable that I begin to feel mythical, a singular fairy-tale creature, a savage lone wolf for whom there is no cure and no true understanding. I see my own childhood isolation mirrored in Brigitte’s darkness and her fear. In this way, she becomes my cinematic sibling, bound to me through her newfound solitude, together forever, united against life as we know it.
Miyako Pleines is a Japanese and German American writer living in the suburbs of Chicago. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University, and her work has appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, the Ploughshares blog, and others. She writes a column about birds and books for the Chicago Audubon Society, and you can follow her on Instagram @literary_miyako. Links to her work can be found on her website, miyakowrites.com.