Literalize That Metaphor!

by wjw on July 11, 2017

220px-Hotel_Beau_Sejour_titleWhen I’m teaching at Toolbox, I talk about literalizing metaphors, but it’s always hard to come up with a concrete example of how that works.

No longer.  I’ve watched Hotel Beau Sejour on Netflix.

This ten-episode Belgian-made mystery series, with dialog in Flemish, opens with teenage Kato waking up in a hotel room, to discover her own bloody murdered corpse lying in the bathtub.  Kato escapes the room and shortly afterwards discovers that she’s a ghost, albeit one who can ride her own motorcycle and move stuff around.  Because she can’t remember anything the day of her death, she sets out to solve her own murder.

Kato discovers that only certain people can see her.  The rules for who can see her, and for manipulating physical objects, are a little inconsistent. (But then so are ghosts in general.)  But invisibly hanging around Kato’s large, complicated, conflict-ridden extended family reveals secret after secret, and the tension between apparent and real connections grows from episode to episode until it breaks out into even more heightened examples of crime and violence.

It’s very well done, and I recommend it to any fans of depressing European detective fiction.  If you’re a fan of Lisbeth Salander or Harry Hole, this might be just what you’re looking for.

But the reason the series works is because of the literalized metaphor at its heart, which is the ghost of Kato itself.  (Autocorrect insists the word I really want is “liberalized.”)  For a family or a community in mourning, or experiencing intense grief, it’s very much as if the ghost of the departed is standing in the room, staring at you and listening to everything you say.

It’s real and it’s not real, and it preys on the imagination. and that’s what makes it powerful.

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