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Film: The Sacrificial Lamb/Wolf Tropes

A Brief Exploration into a Little-noticed Trend in Movies

By Fabianne DeaconPublished 6 years ago 12 min read
Gilly Owens, Sacificial Lamb (Nicole Kidman) and James Angelov, Sacrificial Wolf (smoking hottie Goran Višnjić)

You know, as an avid consumer of fiction, especially shallow fiction that one should really know better than to take seriously, one starts to notice familiar patterns of storytelling underneath seemingly completely different stories, settings, and characters.

As such, I believe I may have spotted two rather interesting character tropes. I don't believe this is a trope specific to gender, but seeing as "chick flicks" is a genre of movie I am more familiar with, I will be exploring the Sacrificial Lamb and Sacrificial Wolf tropes within this genre.

The Sacrificial Lamb is almost self-explanatory—a kind, sweet, and compassionate protagonist or supporting main character. Simply put, if this was a rose, they'd have very few thorns. The Sacrificial Wolf is the other extreme—just a COMPLETE psychopath of an antagonist or supporting main character. Thorns. Thorns all over the damn place.

But while these sacrificial tropes seem extremely different, they share both share a few things in common. The first is that they are authentic. They are completely themselves, embrace who they are and live their lives independent of societal, social, or gendered expectations. The second is that they usually have a defining feature about themselves that makes them unique and stand out. The third is that they are completely battered emotionally and/or physically into conforming or else utterly destroyed. Either something in them dies, or they actually die. But let's start with something a little less dramatic to kick things off.




Cher Horowitz, played by Alicia Silverstone (also a High Priestess trope, which I'll explain in another piece), meets the criteria of having a good heart, having something about her that stands out (virgin status), and knowing who she is (fast-talking, loves fashion, and is concerned with image).

Her humiliation ritual in the movie is pretty lightweight in comparison to some others, but it's still pretty notable. First of all, she is broken down chiefly through emotional abuse by her stepbrother, Josh (Paul Rudd).

Two examples I will give here: one is when Josh accuses her—wrongly—of being selfish (she is constantly concerned for her dad's health) and two, he has the nerve to say this whilst Cher is helping new friend Tai (Brittany Murphy) out with her social status: "You've never had a mother, so you're acting out on that poor girl as if she was your Barbie doll." Even if Cher does shrug him off and give him shit back, that was possibly one of the shittiest things you could say to somebody.

And get this—Cher only did the stuff with Tai to impress HIM in the first place. So, both the movie and Josh humiliate her in THAT way.

Also, whilst she does suffer some needed consequences for her meddling and obviously spoilt behaviour, the movie goes way too far at times. When she did what normal teenagers do and went to a party she wasn't supposed to go to, she was sexually harassed, left on a street corner to be endangered and held up at GUNPOINT; she was forced to resort to calling Josh who, upon hearing that Cher was harassed, robbed, and abandoned relatively far away from her home, treated her like a complete nuisance with no sympathy or compassion at all, and went to go get her begrudgingly. Not even a, "Jesus, are you OK?" but a, "man, you owe me." Not cool.

Josh comes from a long tradition of idiotic, self-important bastards in these types of movies, and in order to break in the young female Sacrificial Lamb, guys like him are important. He provides the core of her emotional distress, the catalyst to successfully turning her into something she isn't.

And in the end, while she doesn't COMPLETELY change into something she isn't, she changes enough to conform to what Josh wants her to be. Because fuck what she wants. She wants to shop and argue her way out of stuff, and the movie could have pushed her towards giving those interests some direction into art and design. Nope. Volunteering and law, because we have to impress Josh.

Cher wants to be in a relationship that is nice, easy, and simple, with a boy that is beautiful, cool, interesting, and fun, who could help her take her personal interests to the next level, which you know is what she imagined dating a college guy to be like. And thank the Gods, there's one her own age, deeper and more intelligent than he appears, and even shares the same first name initial as her...

Nah, fuck that. Christian (Justin Walker) is homosexual. It's all about Josh, remember?

A Sacrificial Lamb like Cher has to sacrifice almost everything she is just to achieve ultimately the most throwaway ambition she had—to save her virginity for a college guy. She barely even thought about it in the movie, yet that's what she gets in the end: a self-important, pompous college guy that is actually just as shallow as Cher underneath his sermonising, but hell if he or the movie is going to admit that.

There is a Sacrificial Wolf in the movie — Amber (Elisa Donovan). She is the antithesis to Cher— looks older than her age, very provocative with outrageous dress sense, clearly very promiscuous already, but while she gets verbally humiliated plenty about her promiscuity and fashion sense, and gets taken down in every argument because her comebacks are weak, we don't really see a journey with her. She just rubbishes everything Cher does in order to copy it later, and anything she can't compete with, she backs down from. I guess Amber's sacrifice in this case is any original thought of her own. I dunno. She's clearly not evil. She's not even annoying, she's just kind of there. At the most, she's petty, and that's it.

'Practical Magic'



This used to be one of my favourite chick flicks because anything involving the craft or the occult is right up my damn alley, for one. And Practical Magic has one of the most realistic depictions of practising that I have seen in any movie, even if it does take some real artistic liberties like any other supernatural flick.

But then, the more I was away from the movie, the more objectively I looked at it and the more I got angry with it. Why is Sally (Sandra Bullock) a complete bitch to her sister Gillian who has been domestically abused? In fact, why was Gillian's flightiness and the acceptance of who she was punished with domestic abuse from a goddamned serial killer in the first place? Did the aunts, Jet (Dianne Wiest) and Frances (Stockard Channing), realise that they manifested all the bullshit that Gillian had to go through, for no other reason than being away from them? And, if they did, were they even sorry for it?

Dear Gilly was my inspiration behind naming this trope. She is the classic female Sacrificial Lamb right down to her hair colour. In the deepest, darkest, most sinister lore of the occult, sacrificed females were often redheaded. No, I don't know why. And whether the casting directors knew this or not, Nicole Kidman was a perfect fit for this character looks-wise. In fact, it isn't even the first time Kidman has played this kind of tragic Sacrificial Lamb (Moulin Rouge).

Gillian is a physical embodiment of sacral and crown chakra energy—she is sweet, accepting, fun, flirtatious, playful and, while naïve and vulnerable, extremely wise and constantly open-hearted. She tends to be subtly intuitive in comparison to her sister's raw power, but it usually never steers her wrong. The only time things mess up for her in the movie is when other, stronger personalities overtake her, or mess up her instructions or suggestions.

Her younger sister Sally is the embittered, tense, and defensive one, yet Gillian was the one who got hit by the stones thrown at them as kids. Gillian was the one constantly at the mercy of James Angelov, the thorns in her open wounds. She was the one who would almost die from a ghost haunting thanks to those fucking aunts of hers. Gillian was the one who was battered emotionally and physically by almost everyone around her, and still there's not one shred of bitterness or abrasiveness from her.

Instead, unfortunately, she shrunk and remembered her place—with her family. Gillian deigned to go out and live her own life on her own terms, independent of anybody's expectations, being the sweetheart that she is, and her aunts unwittingly cursed her just so that Sally could have her sister back home as yet another person to run roughshod over.

Gilly sacrificed her individuality and her freedom for her life. She was ritually abused by the damn movie into being what society expected her to be: if you won't be a housewife and mother, be a stay-at-home aunt. Stay in your place.

Meanwhile, because Sally made every effort to be normal, she was rewarded with a man who wanted to offer her protection where she really didn't need any, and the respect of her peers. Despite Sally being haughty and unlikeable, she followed the rules and got the spoils.

This is how these movies always work: the obedient woman gets everything and if she is not obedient, she must be battered, humiliated, or deprived into being so.

Now let's talk about the Sacrificial Wolf, James Angelov, played by gorgeous Goran Višnjić. His character is the perfect example of an evil person that is sacrificed, just as the good person is, for equilibrium and conformity rather than the greater good. I can't say I feel too sorry for what Angelov gets, though, considering what a piece of shit he is.

The serial killer meets his match in the Owen sisters when Angelov tries to kill Gillian and Sally steps in and not only whoops his arse but accidentally poisons him to death. They then take him back to the aunts' house to resurrect him at Gilly's request (OK, this is the one time where Gilly fucked up, I admit it), and when his behaviour is just as out of control when he comes back to life, they kill him again.

Long story short, this guy keeps coming and keeps getting knocked down in various ways repeatedly until he is ultimately destroyed. He refused to "conform"—stop being a murderous and abusive psychopath—so he eventually had to be destroyed.

This is a common theme of the Sacrifice: the energy of the character is pure and unchanging, and must be sacrificed either literally (Angelov) or in an emotional sense through sustained trauma (Gillian) in order to maintain equilibrium, which, in this case, is thought to be conformity.


See, this is where it gets interesting, because the tropes have counterparts almost in reverse. The Sacrificial Anti-Lamb, Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), starts off as a sociopath living unhappily and inauthentically, having the respect of her peers and the lust of all the potential suitors around her. Now, because she is already following the rules, she's never punished for being fake, and the movie never really seems to punish her for being real and wanting out, either. Instead, it just follows her without judgement or praise.

The Sacrificial Anti-Wolf, Jason "JD" Dean, starts out pretty much the same. He starts off psychopathic as hell but, unlike the Wolf, the cold brutality turns out to be nothing more than a dangerously convincing show, a production show with lethal stunts. There's vulnerability beneath the evil, tragedy behind the pretence. There is actual humanity, and the Anti-Wolf can give respect where it's due. The Anti-Wolf is judged more harshly than the Anti-Lamb is, but only just about. The grandiosity in his destructiveness is satirised, his view of the world pitied.

The "Anti" part is that even though these characters are sacrificed emotionally or physically, it is their FALSENESS and what they want LEAST that is sacrificed, and what makes them who they are is preserved—in JD's case, forever.

In the one scene, they are shown cuddling with each other on Veronica's neighbour's garden (because why the fuck not?), and Veronica suggested absent-mindedly that they should "grow up, turn into adults and die." And through all the crazy shit they do in this movie, that's exactly what they do.

Veronica, despite blatantly being Daddy's girl, behaves like her mother at the start of the movie and JD, despite blatantly being a Mummy's boy, behaves just like his father; through their insane relationship, in which JD manipulates, threatens, stalks, intimidates and even assaults Veronica, and she constantly one-ups him, they both go through this transition where they are becoming their real selves. Beneath this obligation to keep up appearances, Veronica does not give one fuck about what people think of her. Beneath the cold ruthlessness, JD actually cares a whole lot about the world around him, but is too damaged to show that properly.

In that final confrontation between them at the end of Heathers, the fake selves of Veronica and JD have one last showdown, but with their true motivations revealed—Veronica is quite clearly fighting for love, not for the love of romance, but for the love of those she's come to know. JD is fighting for peace, and he only sees people dying as a way to achieve that peace. Love wins out. And it wins out in more ways than one.

By the time Heathers finishes, the transition is complete and the sacrifices have been made.

But again, instead of sacrificing their true selves, these Antis sacrifice their FAKE selves, and sacrifice living with childish notions of life. They both grow up. Jason Dean becomes his true self, wordlessly admits to his deep-seated pain, and dies. Veronica Sawyer becomes her true self, reveals herself as incredibly resilient, and became an adult.

Unlike the Sacrificial Lamb and the Sacrifical Wolf, the Anti-Lamb and Anti-Wolf made those sacrifices by choice. They had the choice to pretend, to lie, and they chose not to do so.

See, this is why I fucking love Heathers.

Copyright (C) 18-10-2017 — Fabianne M. Deacon


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