The History of the Lizzie Movie and Meaning Discussion

The History of the Lizzie Movie and Meaning Discussion - It's an interesting and really historic reenactment of the true history of the Borden murders, until, that is, it isn't. IMDB
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I’m currently confused. Ultra-bafflingly confused.

“Why are you so confused Taylor?!”

Thank you, your concern for my mental well-being is touching. Really. Well, I’ll tell you why. Because, on this blog, which focuses on little known, Indie flicks, that tend to frolic out in the field of mindjobs and inside out plot twists, Kristen Stewart was becoming a sure bet.

“Wait, Kristen Stewart of the… cough, Twilight fame?”

Exactly the one. And your honor, I would like to submit two pieces of evidence into the record supporting this claim. The first is Clouds of Sils Maria. Which was brilliant in literally every possible way. Not to mention in its inscrutableness. The second piece of evidence? Personal Shopper, a brilliant ghost story like none other. And third-fully, these two posts have accounted for hundreds of thousands of views, on their own. So something interesting is happening there.

So, when I heard that Kristen Stewart would be joining a movie called Lizzie, about the eponymous Lizzie Borden case, I was literally giggling. Of course it’ll be nuanced, and crazy, and freaky. Because, how could it not be? And yet, right now, as I write this, I have no idea what kind of rating I am going to give it. SURE, you time traveled, and cheated, so you can see what rating I will have already been giving it. (Or something.) But as of this moment in time (time-cheater) I am unclear. So, how about this. We’ll do the trailer thing, get rid of the people that haven’t seen it yet, and we’ll walk through the history and what is known about Lizzie, and then we’ll walk through the movie. OK? And then we’ll know how it ought to be rated.

Right, so, there you have it. If you haven’t seen it yet, I can’t really recommend it. I mean, it had some intriguing bits to it. But I’m not going to tell you to go out and see it. If that trailer looks riveting, then sure. But if not, by no means should you go out of your way to see this movie.

Lizzie Borden History Walkthrough

You know the story, even if you don’t actually:

Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks,
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

But what is the actual story of the murder of Lizzie Borden’s parents? Surprisingly, the movie follows the history with incredible accuracy.

Lizzie was born to Sarah and Andrew Borden, in 1860. Three years later, Sarah died of pneumonia. And three years after that, Lizzie’s father married a woman named Abby Gray. It was said that Lizzie and her sister Emma never were very close to their step-mother, and always preferred to call her Mrs. Borden. Andrew Borden eventually became fairly well off through the manufacturing of furniture and caskets. He was an extraordinarily frugal man, but it was the way their father would dispatch his wealth that became something of an enormous sticking point for the girls. It was widely understood that Lizzie believed Abby married her father for his wealth. And Bridget (Maggie) Sullivan, the Borden’s’ live-in Irish maid, noted that Lizzie and Emma hardly ever ate meals with their parents.

Angst was growing in the house over Lizzie and Emma’s father’s real estate donations to their step mother’s family. And it was widely reported that after Abby’s sister received a house from Andrew, the sisters demanded a rental property of their own. Interestingly, just a few weeks before the murder, the sisters sold the property back to their father for $5k, or the equivalent of $140,000 in 2018 dollars.

Andrew and Abby Borden Murder Details

The night before the murders, Lizzie’s uncle on Sarah’s side, John Morse, came to stay for a few days in order to discuss business matters with their father. It has always been speculated that their conversation grew aggravated. The next morning, Andrew, Abby, Lizzie, Morse and Maggie were present. Afterwards, Andrew and Morse chatting in the sitting room for almost an hour. Prior to 9:00 am, Morse left to purchase oxen and visit a family acquaintance. Andrew left for his morning walk about the same time. And Abby, having gone up to clean the girl’s rooms, was caught in the face/side of the head with a hatchet. After which, she was hit with the axe another 17 times.

Andrew, returning from his walk at around 10:30, found the door to the house jammed. Maggie swore when she couldn’t unlock the door, and she testified that Lizzie laughed at her expletive…from upstairs. Which was a key testimonial point during the trial. Because anyone on the second floor would have seen Abby’s dead body, which Lizzie obviously disputed during the trial. Well, after Maggie let Andrew in, she went up to lay down after washing the windows. Lizzie testified that she then helped her father change his shoes (which wasn’t supported by the crime scene photos). And around 11:10 am, Maggie heard a shout from Lizzie downstairs declaring that “Somebody came in and killed him.” (If you want some interesting reading on the topic, this site has a number of newspaper accounts of the Lizzie coverage. This one, in particular, I found fascinating about the search for the murderer in that it deals with morbidity, the possibility of poisoning before the murder, etc.)

The Lizzie Movie Historical Differences

It’s actually quite astounding how detailed and compellingly accurate the movie Lizzie is from a history standpoint. The movie basically follows the details extraordinarily closely. Lizzie’s father is shown as a miserly and uncaring father, which is born out by the public account. The movie also stays close to the public record surrounding Lizzie and Emma’s frustration with their father’s giving so much money away to his second wife’s family. The movie seems to make more out of John Morse’s visit than seems to be reasonable. But he was there, and seemed to be discussing details about money. But in the official transcript of Mr. Morse’s time at the house doesn’t cover what they were discussing…so we will ever know.

One detail that is officially attested to during the trial was that Mr. Borden was intestate. Which seems interesting, in that he was so rich, and so hardcore about his money. Why wouldn’t he have a will? Could his murder be 100% about his money? Maybe. And if so, who would be the only two people that this detail would benefit? Well, Lizzie and Emma of course. So it does make sense that Lizzie murdered her father and step-mother. It also makes sense that she destroyed his will. But there isn’t any historical evidence to support this supposition.

Now, the interesting bit. Inserted into this historical scaffolding was a glorious conspiracy theory that Maggie and Lizzie had been having a sexual relationship. Of which, there is even less evidence than the above assumptions. It is surmised by the screenplay writers that Andrew had been raping Maggie over the course of her tenure at the house. (Zero evidence). And it was Lizzie’s disdain for her mother-in-law that ultimately sent her over the edge to strip, and then kill Abby. And while Maggie watched through the window (she testified that she was washing the windows). And after, Maggie took her cue from Lizzie, and she prepared to murder Andrew for these horrible midnight assignations. But when Maggie couldn’t kill him, Lizzie stepped in and did it for her.

As I mentioned above, court testimony states that when Andrew returned home from his walk, the door was jammed. And when Maggie came to open the door she could not. Upon which, Maggie swore, which made Lizzie laugh…from upstairs. This is key testimony against Lizzie, one that a lover, entrapped by the situation, would never have made. “I heard Lizzie laugh from the kitchen when I swore” would have been a simple enough lie to make. But placing her upstairs, on the second floor, basically stated for anyone that cared to listen, that Lizzie was the murderer. Why? Because there was literally no way to go upstairs without having seen Abby’s body. And if she had seen her stepmother dead, at the hands of someone else, she should have cried out for help. The problem here is simple enough. The mechanics to coordinate a double murder with another person is way too complicated a task to accomplish without massive holes appearing in your testimony. From an Occam’s Razor standpoint, it just makes the most sense.

The Problems With a Lizzie LGBT Appropriation of History

I will not get into a heterosexual/homosexual debate here. It just isn’t relevant. But, it would seem that the Lizzie movie dances delicately into the spaces between facts in order to conjure a modern revisionist retelling of the Lizzie Borden mythos for something of a political/social commentary purpose.

In an interview with Huffington Post, Chloë Sevigny talked about her goals with creating this modern retelling of the Lizzie Borden story, “So much has been said [about Borden]. But I think that we just really wanted to focus on how she went about finding [her freedom] and how important that was to her and what that meant to her,” Sevigny told the outlet. “Whether it was through the relationship with [her maid] or ultimately killing her parents for money ― because money equaled freedom then. It still does. I wanted it to be this rousing, smash-the-patriarchy piece.”

You see? Smash-the-patriarchy piece. Got it. But without distinctly declaring itself as a propaganda piece through distinct artistic queues, it attempts to pass itself off as history. I mean, look at the detail they went through to mirror history perfectly. From the barn details, to the window washings, to the family conflicts, it’s all represented here. Oh, and also, by the way, Lizzie and Maggie were having a secret tryst? Just nestle that in among all the facts? Sure, artistically tell a story against the patriarchy. Fine. I’m literally cool with art being art, and artists declaring an opinion. But to pass myth as history is problematic in my opinion. And this is so obviously myth.

Final Thoughts on Lizzie Movie

Bryce Kass, the screenplay author, and Chloë Sevigny have admitted as much that Lizzie wasn’t the show they were hoping to make. They had envisioned a television series that got taken out at the knees by the Lizzie Borden Chronicles in 2015. So the script was overhauled and condensed into a single 90 minute experience. But I didn’t learn that until after I had already watched the show. And that was when everything started making sense. But that’s just my two cents on a movie that is trying way to hard to say something that isn’t there. Which is funny, because there is a ton that this original story already says about smashing the patriarchy if Lizzie did in fact kill her father. The jury of the day released her after only minutes of discussion, why? Because a woman isn’t capable of such a murder. But, oh she was. And, oh, she did.

Edited by, CY