The Spoiled & the Subversive in DAISIES
by Vincent Bec
“Everything is being spoiled in this world”
“What do you mean, everything?”
“You know, everything”
“In this world…”
“Know what? When everything is being spoiled…”
Despite it’s often whimsical and colorful imagery, the life Daisies (1966) creates for its main characters, two teenage girls both named Marie, is not as joyful as it appears. Under a layer of giggles and cake, the Maries’ thoughts are burdened with existentialism. They are determined to live a spoiled life through pranks, theift, and promiscuity. However, their playful antics and wasteful lifestyle lead to a lack of identity and eventually their own demise. Despite the film’s own condemnation of the Maries they have become anti-heroes in the world of female characters. Their flaws may be numerous and pronounced, but in the context of a patriarchal society their actions stand for more than their own selfishness.
Dressed up in their most attention-catching eyeliner Marie 1 (often seen with pigtails) and Marie 2 (not complete without her flower crown) visit a farming town to wreak havoc in new territory. They start by playing in a farmer’s cornfield. They make annoying, birdlike noises to get his attention, but he walks away without acknowledging them. Disappointed by being ignored they steal armfuls of the farmer’s corn and proceed to walk through the town, leaving a path of corn husks behind them. A group of men from the town ride by them on bicycles without a word or a glance in their direction. The lack of attention the girls find in this town speaks directly to their worst fears. Marie 2 worries that they can no longer be seen at all, that they have disappeared into thin air. However, when Marie 1 points out the destructive path of corn husks the pair has left behind, the two are able to confidently declare that they exist once again. As the Maries sit in a bath of milk, during an earlier scene, they discuss how they can know if they exist. Marie 1 points out that Marie 2 has no record of her living at any addresses and no job. Most of the relationships the Maries create are with men they use for food or fun. These men do not know the girls’ true names, therefore they can not be a record of their existence either.
In one scene, Marie 1 comes home to Marie 2’s failed attempt to commit suicide by leaving the gas on in their apartment. Even Marie 2’s chosen way to die is one that creates a waste of resources. After Marie 1 chastises Marie 2 for her attempt, she asks Marie 2 to confirm that their life is indeed grand. This isn’t the only time the Maries look to each other to confirm their lifestyle as grand or spoiled enough. During one of the Maries’ attempts to send a man they used for free food away they must jump from a train to escape him. With their faces covered in soot and their bodies barely recovered from the jump, Marie 2 claims she is bored. While eating at their apartment, Marie 1 eats a paper cut out of food just like she would eat real food. The line between what is real, such as the rush of jumping from a moving train, and what is fake, such as food that is made of paper, ceases to matter in the world the Maries exist in. Being spoiled leaves their life shallow. The only meaning in their life is found in destruction, attention, and waste. They must continue to seek attention and destruction to have proof of their own existence, but creating more destruction creates more emptiness. When others aren’t looking at them they may cease to exist.
In the end, the Maries’ spoiled behavior is deemed worthy of a death penalty. After a grand feast and food fight, the Maries find themselves drowning. A ship begins to save them, but when they reveal that they are drowning because of their spoiledness they are dropped back into the water like rotten fish. Type comes across the screen as the Maries struggle to stay afloat. The words claim that there was no other fate the Maries could have had because they could never remedy the destruction they have already created. The girls attempt to fix the damage they caused in their food fight. They create elaborate place settings out of broken plates and glass. They scope food off the floor and place it onto fancy silver platters. Their attempt to clean their mess is laughable. After declaring happiness in their new unspoiled life, the two are crushed by a chandelier. Twice a watermelon the girls have cut and left in their apartment flashes on screen in various stages of decomposition. The spoiled fruit is now useless as it can no longer be eaten. The only purpose it has left is to be disposed of. The Maries’ spoiled lifestyle has caused them to rot just like the spoiled watermelon.
In the first scene of the film, the Maries sit together in their swimsuits. They move their arms unnaturally like a machine or ball-jointed doll as they speak to each other. Marie 2 claims she is like a doll and Marie 1 declares she can’t do anything. These opening images of themselves relate to the roles being imposed upon them as young women. They show feelings of lacking agency and movement. However, these images of themselves are false. During this dialogue the image of a collapsing building is connected to the movement of Marie 2’s arm. The girls have strong ability to impact their surroundings.
The Maries go to a to a dance hall to drink. When they enter the room a spotlight is on them. They are lead to a large booth framed by curtains. As they drink more and more they begin to invade the space of other couples. They blow bubbles onto the couple in front of them. The dancers and band begin to be distracted by the girls’ actions. As time goes on the Maries become even more disruptive. A woman points them out to her boyfriend. Eyes that were meant to be on the professional entertainment are now on the Maries instead. One of the dancers stops dancing to watch them. The Maries are subverting the roles of the room. The dancer’s purpose is to be looked at, but instead she is doing the looking. The Maries are now the entertainment. The applause and music meant for the dance act continues to be heard as the Maries are escorted out of the room, dancing as they go along. Everywhere the Maries go, they demand their right to take up space in that location. In the dance hall other couples sit at small cramped tables while the Maries have a more than enough elbow room at their booth. Even then they demand more space from others by invading the area of other couples.
The first time the audience sees the girls trick a gentleman into buying them food, it is made clear that the girls understand the roles they are suppose to be playing. Marie 1 plays the role of the perfect young woman. She is demure. She speaks very little, and when she does talk it is softly. When offered food she acts unsure. She takes small bites of her food. She bats her eyelashes at the gentleman. She removes her scarf to show him more skin while maintaining her feminine innocence by saying it’s because she is too hot. At the train station she frets about her innocent reputation being ruined by being seen with the man. She cries delicately to activate his protective instincts towards her. All these behaviors are very childlike, but in a way that has been deemed attractive. She is soft, innocent, open to control and protection. During most of the film the Maries reject this childlike role-- a role of an infantilized woman. Instead they are immature in a messy way, a way that is unpleasant to society and men. They are loud and silly. They act crude by teasing men and joking about phallic meat. They create filth by blowing their straw paper onto the floor and blowing bubbles in their drinks.
Not only do the Maries demand space, they demand resources. They eat exuberant amounts of food and alcohol. They eat whole chickens and luxurious desserts. The girls acknowledge that young women are not suppose to eat a lot of food. When asked if she wants venison on one of the dates, Marie 2 declares that venison is too much, she just wants a little bite of food. She then rejects this role by ordering enough food for two people. They waste even more than they consume. They bathe in milk and leave uneaten food to rot. However, physical resources aren’t the only thing they hord. They also harvest emotional resources. They are cold, unemotional, and uncomplimenting toward the men they meet. They spend one date chastising a man for being interested in them while they are still developing. They bring up that he is being unfaithful to his wife. When it comes time to leave the girls, this man has tears pouring down his face. He waves his handkerchief out the window of the train to say goodbye to them. This is a feminine gesture. The other people waving their handkerchiefs around him are all women. Marie 2 teases a young butterfly collector. He begs her to take her clothes off. When she seems unwilling, he angrily says he wishes he never met her. As she begins to remove her clothes his mood gets more pleasant. He claims to now know what love means. He declares that his life would be miserable without her. The same man later calls Marie 2 to confess his love again. The girls laugh at his ramblings. When Marie 1 inquires about the man’s name, Marie 2 says she never even remembered to ask it. Another man comes to the girl’s apartment. He knocks on the door looking for Marie 2. They refuse to answer his pleas to open the door. Marie 1 repeatedly makes fun of his assertion that he can’t stop thinking about Marie 2. She jokes that Marie 2 must do what he wants because he can’t stop thinking about her. Their apartment is covered from wall to ceiling in the names of men they have met. While these men’s love for the Maries clearly comes only from a place of sexual desire it is interesting to see them placed in feminine roles during their interactions with the Maries. Being driven by emotion is traditionally assumed to be a feminine characteristic in many cultures. In this film, the young women are cunning and calculating, while the men are both foolish and emotional.
As the Maries creep towards the event that will cause their final destruction, they wander through a basement with dirty tile walls, a concrete floor, and various metal doors. They decide to squeeze into a service elevator to look for food. As they head up to their destination they pass an orchestra performance. Past the orchestra they find a grand room with a feast waiting to be eaten. This feast was not awaiting the poor and downtrodden. The feast existed to feed the elite, the men and women dressed up for a luxurious night on the town. The Maries indiscriminately take from all. They took from farmers and bathroom attendants as well as rich men. However, many of the resources wasted by the girls were already doomed to be over-consumed even without their existence. The rich, old men were willing to pay for lavish amounts of food in order to have a pretty girl on their arm. Their consumption of young women and luxury won’t be stopped by the Maries’ deaths. The feast at the orchestra building was too large even for the 14 people it was suppose to feed. Even if left alone by the Maries it would still be a moment of extravagant over-consumption by a privileged few. The Maries’ actions are a farce. The indulgence of the rich is normalised in society. A group of men and women in fine clothing and jewelry sitting down to an opulent feast is mundane imagery. However, two, young, modestly-dressed women indulging in such a feast looks absurd. The Maries continue their parody of fine culture with a fashion show. Wrapped in curtains and a slip they walk the table like a runway, stomping on symbols of extravagance as they do so. While in the farming town earlier in the film the girls had done something similar. They wore scraps of trash like fashion statements, while women from fashion magazines flashed on screen. The Maries make indulgences enjoyed by the rich, like expensive fashions and feasts, look silly and childish.
The idea that men and women belong in separate spheres of society because of their inherent differences is a long held belief in western societies. One of the reasons women were thought to belong in the domestic sphere is because women were believed to be more caring, and morally guided than men. This made women the better option for child rearing than men. While most people no longer believe that women shouldn’t be allowed to work outside of the home, women’s perceived responsibility in the domestic sphere has not lessened by much. Women’s burden of responsibility in the home has transformed into a belief that women are more responsible in general. We see it in sitcom tropes. The father of the family is a lovable, but clueless, idiot while the mother keeps the home running smoothly. We see women’s burden of responsibility in other areas of life as well. We see it when boys’ actions are excused with “boys will be boys,” instead of just “children will be children.” We see it every time someone spreads the idea that girls inherently mature faster than boys. The archaic notion that women are naturally more caring, morally guided, and responsible even rears its head in unexpected places. In social movements the fight for change is usually put on those without power. Often the voice of activism is a feminine one. Women create social movements for their community, such as Black Lives Matter. Movements like Me Too are created from women’s willingness re-live painful trauma in the name of change. Some social movements, like 2nd wave ecofeminism, propose that the supposed nurturing nature of women make them more connected to the movement’s cause.
Ultimately Daisies is about punishment and responsibility. The Maries are punished with death for their spoiled nature, while the rest of the spoiled world lives on. Who will face punishment for their folly? The foolish and wasteful men twice the age of the Maries face no permanent punishment. The film ends with a dedication to “those who get upset only over a stomped-upon bed of lettuce.” The Maries rejected their responsibility to the world. They used stolen opulence to cope with the weight of the role they had been dealt as young women. They demanded the space, resources, and immaturity their gender had not been afforded. Their selfishness and destructive nature was equivalent to one ruined garden compared to the rottenness of the rest of the world. They were punished the most severely because the world’s problems are often seen as women’s responsibility. They are martyrs for women who don’t accept the world’s problems as their own, and are martyrs for women’s right to be foolish and immature at times.
Vincent Bec is a writer whose sentences are often too long. They hope to one day have a doctorate to back up their ramblings on the representations of gender and sexuality in horror films. They regularly contribute to Anatomy of a Scream and Grim Magazine. Their writing has also appeared on the websites Screen Queens and Scriptophobics. You can follow them on twitter @slasherdaysaint.