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Frights and Feelings May

“May” is an unforgettable empathetic horror film about the desire to be loved and accepted — and the heartbreak of realizing you aren’t.

Frights and Feelings is a special series where empathy horror is dissected with the love and care that it rightfully deserves. 

One of the saddest truths is that we spend most of our lives begging to be seen, begging to matter to others.

Love and friendship are two of the most beautiful parts of life that are oft taken for granted. It’s difficult to go through the world alone without a companion. And there are times when loneliness and self-loathing threaten to swallow us in the absence of love, friendship, and understanding. In the end, we’re all just really begging for a shred of understanding and compassion, as well.

Everyone has experienced the crushing hollowness of being outright rejected at one point in time. Being rejected by those you admire or hold dear is its own kind of vicious pain. While no one’s worth is dependent on another human being, there are times we feel like we cannot assign worth to ourselves if others won’t. It’s all too easy to ask ourselves, “If I don’t matter to anyone, do I even matter at all?”

In many ways, existence is horror. Putting yourself and your heart out there is, too. And being a human that doesn’t quite fit in, trying to live in a world that thrives on conformity, can be an absolute terror.

Many horror films ruminate on the ideas of loneliness and rejection, but Lucky McKee’s 2002 film May might be one of the most emotionally affecting.

It might be worth noting that this is one of the rare horror films Roger Ebert reviewed positively, giving it a four out of four stars and praising its emotional content in the process.

May is horror of the heart and a film that looks straight into the core of the human need to feel wanted and seen by others. The film follows May Canady (Angela Bettis), a woman who has severe strabismus, commonly known as lazy eye, that causes her eyes to cross.

Due to her strabismus, May suffered socially as a child and grew into an even more withdrawn adult. The only notable friend that May has is a doll named Suzie, which her mother made and subsequently gifted to her lonely daughter. May’s life descends into more social turmoil when she becomes romantically interested in a young man, taken with the appearance of his exceptionally beautiful hands. 

The titular May is an outcast, someone the viewer can relate to on one level or another. She is an avatar of human desperation and desire. Even when she’s at her most painfully awkward socially, she’s a reminder that, deep down, we all have a bit of that longing and insecurity within us. We all want to be loved, and we all fear rejection.

While May is the main character of the movie, she’s not the main character in her life.

Like most of us, her intentions start off good. She struggles feeling like a bystander in her own life and is trying to rectify that particular issue.  She’s going through the motions of survival as old wounds from past rejections continue to fester in her heart and mind. 

Adam (Jeremy Sisto), the man with beautiful hands, seems to be a gateway to May blossoming socially. However, May’s general lack of understanding of people and ineptitude get in her way, and Adam proves to be less than gracious with May’s lack of social graces and eccentricities. This leads to him rejecting her, and May overhears him talking to another girl about how glad he is to be rid of May.

As the film wears on, she also finds herself rejected by another potential lover, her co-worker Polly (Anna Faris). May openly admires Polly’s neck and believes her to be the cure to her loneliness. And though Polly has habitually flirted with May in the past, even gifting her a cat named Lupe, she ends up hurting May, who finds Polly with another girl. 

In the midst of her attempts to forge connections with others, May volunteers at a school for blind children, which eventually becomes a catalyst for one of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes. After being rejected by both Adam and Polly, she is reaching a breaking point. She’s lived most of her life in turmoil and rejected by humanity at large for her appearance, and when she’s attempted to bridge that gap in her life, it’s turned out to be a gap that is impossible to traverse.

The children she volunteers with seem to be one last shining glimmer of hope before it all turns to chaos. 

May makes the decision to bring her beloved Suzie to show the children at the school.

This decision has a most disastrous outcome when the children wind up breaking Suzie and getting cut on her glass shards.

Suzie’s breaking represents many elements in May’s life. Her one constant friend she had is gone, her sanity is left in splintered pieces like the glass, and her own self-worth is demolished. When she tries to reach out, she gets cut on the sharp edges of life much like how Suzie’s glass cut the children. Instead of physically bleeding, May is hemorrhaging emotionally, and that is just as painful and as real as physical injuries.  

When presenting May with Suzie, her mother told her, “If you can’t find a friend, make one.”

May remembers this advice, which was meant to comfort her as a child, and is reminded that not only does she always have a friend in Suzie, who was made especially for her, but she can always make friends of her own. May takes this advice literally in adulthood and has the idea to make her own friend out of desperation. She notes that while there are parts of people that she does like and admire, there are parts of them that are ugly. 

It’s a fitting metaphor for the reality that we all hold both good and bad within us. We have pretty parts, but we are not pretty wholes. Perfection is impossible, and we are all flawed. Thus, May seeks to harvest the parts of people that she does admire in an attempt to make a friend that won’t hurt her. 

In the end, May creates her perfect friend with pieces from Adam, Polly, and others.

But of course, this perfect friend doesn’t come without a personal sacrifice.

May needs her new friend to see her, to be able to see the person she is and, to accept her.

In an act of desperation to complete her project, May gouges out one of her eyes, and thus her friend is complete. A distraught May begs for her Frankenstein creature to see her as she has always wanted to be seen. The scene is emotional because, once again, we all recognize that desperation to be seen as we truly are. We all crave acceptance, community, and love — even if we feel like all of those elements of life are out of reach. The heart is its own monster; it keeps beating on and it keeps wanting. We may not resort to murderous venues to fulfill these wants, but we all have felt that spiky feverish want that wells deep within our souls.

May is a film that demands compassion for its main character.

May herself is both the protagonist and the antagonist because, at times in our lives, we have all play both the victim and the victimized, the “good guy” and the bad. We can be chained to various roles due to how society views us. It’s tragedy and horror on an emotional level.

In a world that is seemingly devoid of love and empathy, it’s radical to have a film so boldly ask that the audience delve inside themselves and face their own loneliness and wants in life. McKee takes a character that lives on the fringes of society and makes her the protagonist and uses the story to create an empathetic experience for the viewer.

It makes May a difficult watch, but one that is necessary for those who not only love horror but the absolutely haunting psychological depth of the genre.

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