Parallel Worlds and Coraline's Ideal Meal
by Abby Kliensorge
Coraline (2009) is the story of a curious young girl who enjoys exploring and who has a tendency to get in trouble. In the film Coraline and her parents move into a new home, where she meets Wyborne, a neighbor. Wyborne eventually gifts her a doll that looks just like her, and this is where the strangeness begins. Her parents, who are seemingly fed up with Coraline’s endless curiosity, set her on the task to explore her new home. In this exploration Coraline finds a door that in the light of day reveals nothing. Yet at night when she awakes and revisits this door, it leads her to an alternate world. In this alternate world she discovers her “other” parents, who have buttons for eyes. The story then follows Coraline’s journey in this alternate world with ideal parents that spoil her with extravagant feasts and all she could wish for, yet, who are not what they seem. Soon enough, the alternate world turns into a nightmare.
In Coraline’s reality her parents are noticeably dismissive and dull workaholics. In contrast, within Coraline’s alternate universe her “other” parents are involved, exciting, and cater to many of Coraline’s whims, especially when it comes to Coraline’s ideal meal. The alternate world seems brighter and more colorful in contrast to the dull reality she lives in every day with her real parents. This contrast can be seen when looking at figures one and two.
In one of the first scenes in the movie Coraline is having dinner with her real parents and they serve her a sort of stew with vegetables (figure one). Coraline is very upset with this meal and refuses to eat it. Her real parents tell her she must eat the meal and to include her veggies. She expresses disquiet asking why her mom rarely cooks, to which she responds that she cleans rather than cooks. In another scene, while the father is busy, her mother is shown looking into their refrigerator but there’s only a few items available to make a rather inedible meal. This could further show Coraline’s parents too-busy-to-pay-attention mindsets.
In the alternate world her “other” mother cooks an extravagant feast just for Coraline (figure two). The feast seems to cater to everything Coraline wants to eat. Coraline asks for a mango smoothie and above the parents a contraption appears to give her exactly what she wished for. Judging by her reaction this could be considered Coraline’s ideal feast. It shows quite a contrast to Coraline’s real parents, who just cook whatever they have available with the time they have to spare as seen in figure one. Food is used in the alternate world as a way to please Coraline and possibly make her even more dissatisfied with her real parents’ inability to give Coraline what she wants in more ways than one. That said, all is not what it seems in this parallel world.
When juxtaposed, these two scenes involving food delve deeper into Coraline’s psyche. Coraline could be viewed as a child who feels abandoned by her parents and feels dismissed at every turn by them. Therefore, within her fantasy universe Coraline has ideal parents who don’t dismiss her and give her the attention she needs and craves. In many scenes throughout the film, Coraline keeps visiting the other realm and is constantly greeted with feasts of Coraline’s favorite meals.
Although the alternate world provides her with the adventure and attention she wishes for, it also wants to trap her there and turn her into a person with button eyes. The “other” mother uses Coraline’s own psyche against her by providing these extravagant feasts, adventures, and attention to trap her there. The motives for trapping her is to steal Coraline’s soul and use it for the “other” mothers’ own power/gain, essentially killing her. Coraline soon realizes these motives and comes to the realization she wants her real parents, leading to a huge battle against the “other” mother. However, the importance of food within the film is present throughout, as food is used to not only depict much of Coraline’s fantasies and wishes involving her real parents but also used as a manipulation tactic to trick Coraline into staying in the alternate world forever.
Coraline. Dir. Henry Selick. Perf. Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Linnell, Robert Bailey Jr. Focus Features, 2009. Streaming.