Film Theory: The Dark Secret of Jellicle Cats *CREEPY* (CATS 2019)


(Background city noise) (Laughing) Hello Internet, Welcome to Film Theory a show that DARES to ask: just because Jellicles can and Jellicles do does that mean Jellicles should??? THAT’S RIGHT theater kids put down your copy of “Noises off” and hit PAUSE on that “Dear Evan Hansen” playlist because TODAY we’re talking about the movie that horrified the world. Or at least would’ve horrified the world if anyone had actually gone to see it. (Haha it did bad) CATS!!! The Musical Extravaganza! See I put an exclamation point there because all the good musicals have to have to end end their title with an exclamation point. Thirsty cats, ~thirsty~ cats if you know what i’m saying… Rebel Wilson, unzipping off her skin… Judy Dench, sniffing butts… Cats is a movie experience, that truly has something for everyone. Prompting all sorts of glowing reviews, such as the Boston Globe’s: “My eyes are burning. Oh God, my eyes.” The Beat’s: “Cats is the worst thing to happen to cats since dogs.” and Collider’s astute observation: “Can you make a movie so bad that the Academy takes back your Best Director Oscar?” Then, of course, you have my review which is that Cats is the most I have laughed at a movie in years. “Laughed at” being the operative words there. This thing starts weird, and just as your mind is starting to come to grips of what you’re seeing it just ratchets the weird up in the very next scene. Didn’t also help that I was in a theatre full of people meowing at the screen and also next to a girl who kept asking “Where’s Taylor?!” This thing is like the new family friendly “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Fewer corsets, more hairballs. *bArFiNG* Or you know, maybe I am going in too soon by calling it family-friendly because that doesn’t seem to be the right word. “Cats!” Has a dark, sinister underbelly to it. If you try and put your finger on it, well it just scratches back. True to its name-sake. So today we are diving deep into this uncanny valley to answer the age-old question, “What is a Jellicle cat?” And the response hiding behind those CGI whiskers is that Jellicle cats may better be described as a Jellicle Cult. A group of brainwashed indoctrinated cats lied to by a charismatic leader only to be ritualistically sacrificed. This isn’t even a joke. So today let’s talk about the 4 billion dollar musical that, like toxoplasmosis gondii, brainwashed all us humans into being mindless slaves to our clawed little companions. Let’s look at the facts According to Michael Bluejay, an ex-member of the real life New York City cult, Aesthetic Realism, cults use an 8-step framework in order to recruit and indoctrinate their new members. And those 8 steps map shockingly well onto all the events that we see taking place throughout the runtime of Cats. First though, before we indoctrinate anyone, we have to pick our target. While there are countless examples showing that anyone can fall prey to a charismatic leader with a convincing message, research has shown that people who are the most susceptible to cult recruitment are stressed, emotionally vulnerable, have tenuous or no family connections, and are often living in poor socioeconomic conditions. And that makes a lot of sense, right? A confident, well-to-do person with a lot of love in their life is gonna have a stronger sense of identity than someone who’s struggling to get by. Humans are prone to rush to those with open arms and rational solutions. Apparently the same is true for cats. The movie opens and we’re immediately introduced to Victoria, a wide-eyed, curious young kitten, shoved into a sack and abandoned in an alleyway by her human owners. Let’s say that getting dumped at night in a brand new part of town might inspire some feelings of stress and vulnerability. Even her song, Beautiful Ghosts, is all about feelings of longing, loneliness, and a need for validation. One look at the lyrics tells you everything you need to know. Quote, “All that I wanted was to be wanted” “too young to wander London streets alone and haunted” “born into nothing, at least YOU have something” “something to cling to” “visions of dazzling rooms I’ll never get let into.” Victoria, quite simply, is the perfect target for a cult. Wouldn’t you know it, but the Jellicles are there to greet her with open arms. Open… CGI hand-paw… things? These cats have weird unique names that make them special and different, and part of something bigger than themselves. We’re told that each cat has themselves 3 names: their human-given name, their Jellicle name, and their unspoken secret identity name. And those names are an important detail here. One thing that former cult members talk a lot about is how a cult manages to separate it’s new members from their former identities. Cults encourage cutting off any ties to the past, and that often includes cutting off ties to birth names. A perfect example of this is the Manson family cult, where individuals identify themselves like “Tex” and “Gypsy”. These were new names, nicknames that were bestowed and used by the cult members. So, from the start of Cats the movie, the Jellicle cats are exhibiting classic cult behavior. And that’s without me even mentioning the fact that all this naming stuff was told to her in a chant, like a creed, in that opening song. So with our innocent, naive Victoria as a mark all picked out, it’s time to walk her through the steps. Step 1: inviting her to a non-threatening event, something that’s easy to say “yes” to because it requires a low level of commitment. Now, this first step can take many forms: meeting, informational-gathering, a get-together, a party, a gala, a ball. Ahahaha… the Jellicle ball, where all the cats get together to just, you know, have a night of fun singing, dancing, ultimately sacrificing one of their members… BUT! Well, we’re not gonna talk about THAT yet, that’s later in the evening. Let’s just invite Victoria to the party for now and have some fun, drink some milk, go watch the… hip hop cats in their little tennis shoes… perform. After agreeing to attend, Victoria starts meeting a lot of new faces, and starts getting herself a LOT of positive attention, especially from all the males in the Jellicle group. But of them all, it’s Rum Tum Tugger who stands out the most. You see, his song makes it clear that he’s the hot one. He is seductive, he is the good singer and heck, he’s even got himself backup dancers who wear tennis shoes. And what do you know? In a lineup of cats thirsty for all of that milk of his, his… little milk ’cause they’re dancing at a milk bar, he picks Victoria out from the crowd. This is the perfect example of Step 2 in the indoctrination process: love bombing. This is when cult members shower potential victims with praise and attention in the hopes of creating a positive association between the cult and good feelings. This makes people, or apparently felines, wanna show up for more and deepen their relationship with these groups OR with specific members of these groups. Step 3: dangling the prize. Now, all these cats have presumably followed Bob Barker’s advice and gotten themselves spayed and neutered, so nothing should literally be “dangling” here. Instead, the prize that the Jellicle cats care about is the “Jellicle Choice”. The cats explain that Old Deuteronomy, a wise cat who’s lived herself 99 lives, who is a cookie cutter example of a cult leader by the way, will choose 1 cat to ascend to a higher plane of existence. Or get reborn or whatever, the details don’t matter to us viewers or quite honestly, to the cats either. They’re already drinking the Kool-Aid here, except this time “drinking the Kool-Aid” means “drinking the milk”. Anyway! The Heaviside layer is the prize that goes to the one good deserving Jellicle each and every year. It sounds completely insane right? Especially when you start to pick apart what the promise actually means. You get reborn into a better life, but you don’t get to keep any memories of your former life? And yet Old Deuteronomy claims to have lived 99 lives So did she ascend? Did she keep her memories? The claims just don’t really add up, but unfortunately, this is what cults do. They dangle an attractive prize and because you’re suddenly in a safe space full of love and people that care about you, the cult has created this bubble around you one full of love and acceptance. Opportunities like the Heaviside Layer and the Jellicle Choice seem totally reasonable, totally possible something that you absolutely wanna have for yourself. We see real life cults doing stuff like this time and time again through tragedies such as Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate In both of these cases, members were pushed to sacrifice themselves as a way to “ascend”, or reach the next step in their evolutionary process. Even the language that they use is remarkably similar to how the Heaviside Layer is described in the lyrics of Cats. The Heaven’s Gate cult rallied around the following message, quote: “The comet brings closure to Heaven’s Gate” “Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion” “Graduation from the human evolutionary level. We are happily prepared to leave this world.” End quote. And then over in Jonestown, the night when members sacrificed themselves, cult leader Jim Jones was recorded as telling members, quote again: “If you knew what was ahead of you, you’d be glad to be stepping over tonight.” And all of these examples share one commonality – the use of odd or specialized language. “Evolutionary levels”, “stepping over”, “Heaviside Layers”, and “Jellicle Choices” All of it is odd, specialized language. In both the movie and in real life, it’s yet another tactic to reinforce an “us versus them” mindset. We see this in the final musical number of Cats, when Old Deuteronomy lists off all the ways that a cat is different from a dog. Jellicle cats are different. They’re special. This way of thinking supports the idea that “we Jellicle cats understand things that others don’t”. And it also means that when others criticize the cult and point out its dangerous flaws, members can easily write all that stuff off, because non-members “just don’t get it.” Which, leads us to the end of the movie, where Victoria is asked to complete Step 4, and perhaps the biggest step in the indoctrination process: extracting an agreement from you that you want the prize. Old Deuteronomy singles Victoria out. She embraces her into the family and asks if she’d like to join the Jellicles, even giving her her own Jellicle name. Victoria has met the members, is already romantically involved with at least one, and has just finished watching her first ritualistic choice, and she says “YES”. She is now in deep. And from here on out, she’s a Jellicle. A “Jellicle” is part of her identity now. She’s enlisted into the cult. And while Victoria may complete the movie only having made it through Step 4, we actually see the other 4 steps of this framework taking place throughout the rest of the evening. Step 5 is shutting down dissent with a threat to without the prize. This is in order to inspire good obedient behavior. And THAT is the essence of the Jellicle Choice. Only 1 member can win every year, which means that everyone vies for the prize only to wind up rejected. It keeps that prize dangling tantalizingly close in front of their faces, but always just out of their reach. It keeps them wanting more. I mean, Macavity, this film’s villain, is simply a member of the Jellicles driven mad by how badly he wants to be the Jellicle Choice. Consider this: Why do most of these cats want this prize to begin with? Why do they want to be reborn? Many of them explicitly sing about how good they currently have it. Jennyanydots talks about how she sleeps all day and finds joy teaching mice and roaches about Jellicle cats in the evening. In other words, she’s evangelizing for the Jellicles, spreading the word of the cult. But she is doing fine. Why would she want to be reborn? Bustopher Jones meanwhile sings about how much he loves eating garbage. He is fat and happy like me after an all-you-can-eat buffet. What’s he got to complain about? And then there’s Skimbleshanks the railway cat whose song tells stories of an exciting fulfilling life on the rails. Why would any of these cats wanna die and start again? It’s because they believe that’s what they’re supposed to want. It’s because they’ve been brainwashed by Old Deuteronomy’s teachings. Enter Grizabella, a cat that was once part of the Jellicle tribe, but who’s since been ousted from the group. Through Grizabella we see what happens when someone strays. Heh get it? “Stray”? You know, stray cat? Anyway! The strayer is ostracized. Publicly ridiculed and isolated. Grizabella serves as a warning sign to the other cats. She’s bad because she strayed from the group. Doubters bad. Believers good. Grizabella getting ostracized for doubting Old Deuteronomy and the Jellicles serves as a warning sign for the others. “THIS could be you!” Again, it’s shutting down dissent. It’s meant to inspire feelings of fear in the minds of the other cats. Fear and guilt about any inclinations they might have to doubt the Jellicle life. But to Grizabella, it actually serves a different purpose, and that is Step 6 of the indoctrination process: establishment of guilt. The leader shames recruits, which in turn makes them vulnerable to further manipulation. Grizabella is humiliated, knocking her ego down, which brings her literally crawling back to the Jellicles for her new chance at life. And all of this relates to Step 7, what Bluejay calls “the carrot and the stick”. when the cult leader, in this case Old Deuteronomy, rewards the cats for their good behavior, and punishes the cats for the bad behavior. Again, we see this in the final scene with Victoria. She is given a name, she’s given praise, she’s given high status next to leader on the Jellicle statue. As well as with Grizabella, who’s rewarded for being repented. She regrets her decision to doubt the Jellicles and comes back to the fold. And thanks to her good work, she’s rewarded as that year’s Jellicle Choice. Which leads us to the 8th and final step in this process something we see hints at many times throughout the film: control of identity, information, and environment. By naming them Jellicle cats, the way the cats literally sing a song that lists what lists off all the things a Jellicle cat should and shouldn’t be is how they control identity. The only source of information for Victoria in the film is other Jellicles. They could tell her anything they want. She has no means of fact-checking. And the environment is something that’s also being run by the Jellicles. We see that in every song, in which we discover there’s a Jellicle cat for pretty much every building and location in the city, whether it’s the Milk Bar, the railroad, the fancy homes with lavish bedrooms. The Jellicles control it all. In the, it’s clear that this cult has been successful. The Jellicle Choice is made, Grizabella is sent off to ascend. That’s right, the cat that wins the Jellicle Choice in this case also happens to be the cat that has shown dissent in the past. By sending Grizabella away, the cult eliminates one of its malcontents, a possible future liability, and silences her permanently. All while making her think that it’s her choice and good thing. Gaslighting, anyone? I mean, how could drifting away into the night in a hot air balloon end with anything but eventual painful awkward death? You don’t see ascend, we just see see her disappear all by herself a ritualistic Jellicle sacrifice. And tragically, Victoria’s hooked. Her final versus of Beautiful Ghosts confirm it. Quote, “And so maybe my home isn’t what I had known” “what I thought it would be” “But I feel so alive with these phantoms of night” “And I know that this life isn’t safe, but it’s wild” “And it’s free” “I never knew I’d love this world they’ve let me into” I don’t know what’s worse, the idea this poor cat is being tricked into joining a dangerous cult, or the slam rhymes that are being used in the song’s lyrics. Ugh. Even Virginia Woolf would be cringing in her grave. Look, I can go on and on. The Jellicles hit pretty much every aspect of a traditional cult. At this point I don’t even know if this is a theory anymore. I think maybe this film, and by proxy the musical before it, was always supposed to be a portrayal of a cult. And viewers themselves got too wrapped up into it, and just didn’t notice. I mean, let’s face it, I guess we’re ALL a little bit Jellicle now. But hey, that’s just a theory! A FILM theory. Aaaaand before we close things out today, I wanna send a quick “thank you” to a lot of special theorists out there. So a couple weeks ago in our “How to freeze Elsa in Frozen II” video, I was presented with THIS word, a word that I didn’t even try to pronounce because most of it doesn’t even look like letters to me. So anyway I asked you loyal theorists out there if any of you knew how to pronounce this thing to send me that info on Reddit or on Twitter wherever so that way I can shout you out and I could, you know, understand how to pronounce Norwegian words just a little bit better. So to all of you guys over on Reddit: TrueEscape, danny_the_dog1337, Konki99 On Twitter: Oswald Neppl, Christoffer Loke Wol And on Youtube: M from Norway, TheAdventureKing, Lukas Ladving, and the lightning legend and so many commenters out there who just left me pronunciation guides, like YearlyDogs, Allyson Moore, Nigr Allyson Moore, Nigred- Nigredo YearlyDogs, Allyson Moore, Nigredo Ooal Gown Probably need to ask for another pronunciation guide on how to pronounce some of these peoples’ names. Rosa Del Reigo, Aery Pear, Simple Citrus All of you, thank you so much for sending it in. Here’s what it sounds like, according to you guys: (Sørfugløya) Now here’s me trying to pronounce it the right way: Hold up let me hear it one more time (Sørfugløya) So this, THIS location right here. (MatPat tries his hardest) So having listened to all of your pronunciations, watched your videos, and done my best to fill my mouth with marbles so I can pronounce this the right way Let me try it Sir-foo-lul-yah How’d I do? Let me know in the comments down below. Thank you guys again, for sending all that in. It was awesome to watch all your videos. It was great to see such an outpouring of, not grammatical correctness. Pronunciation correctness? I like learning new things. And when I can’t find something on the internet it’s kinda frustrating. So it’s awesome that we’re sharing our collective knowledge together. That’s why I love this community. That’s why you guys, as loyal theorists, are awesome out there. We’ll have to do this again some time. This was a lot of fun. So anyway thank you all for anyone who sent it in. I apologize if I missed anyone uh, as I kinda came up with this list of everyone that I saw But I wanted to thank you all in person at the end of this very strange, strange episode of film theory. Anyway that’s it for today I will see you all next week with another brand new episode and probably another new pronunciation challenge for ya. Thank you all so much for watching! Aaaaaand cut.

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