The Scream

Munch’s famous picture is ambiguous – who is it that is screaming?

“I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.” Edvard Munch, 1893

I’ve always been ridiculously excited about Halloween ever since my uber-Christian parents first banned me from trick or treating. So, as a child, I’d satisfy my creative cravings for all things scary and mysterious by reading books such as Harry Potter under my bed and patiently waiting for that day when I could finally embrace Halloween! And that day finally came when I started at Durham University. As a fresher, my best friend and I challenged my academic brother and his room-mate to a pumpkin carving competition (we won by default as they forgot to buy themselves a pumpkin) and I turned up to our Halloween bar night dressed up as a Spanish widow, complete with black hair and talcum powder liberally sprinkled over my curls, eager to try out all the foul-sounding cock-taiIs. The year after, I managed to convince our college’s DUCK rep that an annual pumpkin carving competition would be a great idea, and I ended up with 30+ pumpkins taking temporary residence in my bathtub waiting to be gutted out. I was so dedicated to the cause of Halloween that, having gone to a concert in Newcastle, I ran from my house in the Viaduct to the DSU in order to get to the Halloween-themed Revolver of 2010 before midnight struck… I am not a runner. At best, I waddle.

Nowadays, whilst I’m no longer quite as eager to traipse about in the rain dressed up as a black cat (old age, I’ve decided, hits you momentarily once you reach 22), my fascination for all things slightly creepy hasn’t gone away and goes deeper than pumpkin carving and dressing up. As someone who’s suffered from depression I can’t help but look back at the times in my life where my life seemed to come out of an episode of a horror movie: demon-possession in our African village, my sister held at gun-point in Uganda, and myself gazing at the river from Prebends Bridge one summer at 6am with £1.50 to my name and wondering if life would ever get less scary.

Out of all the paintings in the world, I identify the most with Edvard Munch’s The Scream. This collection of four paintings depicts a man gripped by despair, anxiety and fear. He’s stood on a bridge, his back turned against two figures in the distance. The man’s body is distorted and his hands can be seen covering his ears; his mouth is open wide as if responding to the red stormy skies behind him: the scream of nature… and his eyes are terrified. Who is really screaming? Who screamed first? Why? The paintings’ location has been identified as the view from the hill of Ekeberg, at the foot of which was the asylum in which Munch’s sister was a patient. Is it her screams he heard, carried over by the wind? Each time I gaze at the paintings my heart starts beating faster. There is a sense of horror and unease in the ambiguity of the paintings reminiscent of the time I stood on Prebends Bridge, insomniac eyes blinking away at the water. The only difference is that Munch saw a sunset whilst I saw a sunrise. My scream faded away as the sun chased the darkness away. Munch’s Scream remains screaming, a reminder to us all.

There are therefore two Halloweens for me. There’s the Halloween of frivolity – a time for indulgence and partying with friends. Sweets, pumpkin pies, fancy dress and scary films that send us snuggling into the closest person available. A momentary jolt of fear that reminds us of how good and safe a life it is we’re leading. And then there’s the Halloween of our lives, a personal Halloween movie with scenes flashing before us – depression, loneliness, loss of hope and darkness. I sometimes wonder if that’s how my parents view Halloween; if for them it’s a festival in honour of all those dark thoughts we have and succumb to, personified as vampires, black witches and monsters roaming the earth like Devil’s demons.

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