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A24’s Pearl and the Rise of the Female Anti-Hero

by Susan Moore

Warning: Contain’s Spoilers

On September 16th of 2022, the movie Pearl was released. The prequel to Ti West’s X, it was released mere months after its former, a move that could have easily brought its downfall. However, Pearl was welcomed with open arms, arguably for one main reason: the character Pearl herself.

Ⓒ A24

While its easy to understand how audiences would enjoy the character of Maxine Minx (played by Mia Goth), the scrappy final girl of X, Pearl (also played by Mia Goth) is a bit more of a mystery. She’s erratic, hot-tempered, deluded, cruel and downright insane. However, there are parts of her that filmgoers not only enjoy but love.

To say Pearl has received attention would be an understatement. Despite her movie having been released just a little before Halloween, many still dressed as her for the occasion. There have been many Pearl memes, and many TikToks with audio from the “NOOO I’M A STAR” scene. 

Other than the fact she is played by a gorgeous actress (the halo effect must be acknowledged here), it is baffling why she has received this much fandom.

Ⓒ A24

Already, the media is experiencing a sweep of female antiheroes, an archetype that had previously been in short supply. We have Dani of Midsommar, the protagonist of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, arguably Fleabag of (you guessed it) Fleabag, Cruella of (yup) Cruella, among many, many others. 

It is easy to understand why. Women are tired of seeing themselves be the bigger person on screen when it is still widely expected for them to make “noble” sacrifices in the real world. There is something secretly empowering about watching a woman shunning anything closely resembling being a virtuous housewife in favor of being selfish and petty.

Ⓒ A24

Still, Pearl is possibly the most extreme example of the recent female anti-heroes. While some are morally dubious and others have been pushed to questionable actions, from the beginning it becomes clear that there is indeed “something really wrong about” her. Yet, there is something undeniably charismatic about the way Pearl carries herself on the screen that makes her faults far from unwatchable.

While calling Pearl relatable might be a stretch, the themes in her life can definitely resonate with the modern viewers. After all, with the pandemic and ongoing wars, her world being reduced to her family and small trips to town doesn’t feel that far fetched. While people of today can compare her feelings to being in lockdown, it is her outbursts that make her so captivating, particularly for female audiences.

Ⓒ A24

Pearl throughout the film (and for most of her life, it seems) has been waiting for her life to change. She is waiting for the Spanish flu pandemic to end, for the war to end, for stardom, for her fiance to return and take her away from her dismal farm life. Perhaps it is the waiting that drove her crazy. At the very least, the waiting was the final straw for her, and we see her take charge time and time again. 

Granted, her use of violence does basically nothing to bring her closer to her goals, but as Pearl herself says, she is “making the best of” what she has.

When the man she is sexually involved with disapoints her, Pearl kills him on the spot. She kills her parents, who she sees as having held her back, as well as her best friend in a moment of envy. 

Ⓒ A24

While I’m not attempting to justify her murderous acts, Pearl’s strong displays of rage have been cited as almost relatable - as if we can live out our horrible fantasies through her character. Watching her onscreen allows the audience to, for just a moment, live vicariously through her. In other words, she is unhinged in a way people secretly feel they could also be.

Pearl is a complicated character, both in how she exists in the media and how she exists in her own story. While her story is a cautionary one, what can be done with the fact that she feels so relevant and real? Perhaps Pearl is fated to end up like Tyler Durden, the manifestation of our most harmful desires in a story where the moral is blatantly ignored. Perhaps, however, her relevance does not make her a troubling character. Perhaps, Pearl can symbolize how we felt in this era, an example of the inner turmoil we all seemed to face.

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