A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s characters do not break into verbal metareference as they do in Scream, but the question of how and why we watch horror films is still foregrounded within the horror film itself. Craven understands that the slasher genre is the perfect analogy for trauma, as watching these films we see more or less the same things occurring to the same people in familiar but no less horrifying ways. For some, we revisit traumatic events via film so that we can feel as though we can overcome them. For others, these films stir traumatic symptoms in us and offer death as consolation- trauma is endless pain, and death is the painless return to non-being. For Craven this culture of trauma via cinema is not something to worry about or pity. Trauma emerges where bonds are broken, and our world is a broken one full of abusers that tell us that everything’s relatively okay. His cinema is for the broken and betrayed, and it is necessarily empathetic and affirmative.
Craven locates that betrayal in an uncanny hallucination of our collective attachments. There is an all-American suburb, a neighbourhood baseball pitch, and a group of friends on BMXs riding through the pine forests of the hearts and minds of all who dream this dream. They are present like a ghost is present- as a stand-in for an absence, or a request for a return. Of course this is pathological; these are not our memories, they are evocations of an impossible past buried within layers and layers of violent and exclusionary myth. We know how the dream started, how the ghosts were born, and we can identify the pop cultural artifacts responsible, but this doesn’t exorcise them. It instead imbues them with the quality of triggers to which we consent, and which result in new hallucinations in the form of “old new” originals, remakes, and soft reboots. “We fetishise our own memory,” even when it’s not our own. These repetitions take the form of trauma.
People choose to relive traumatic memories because without them we are left with nothing, and when we have nothing we resort to madness. The insidious thing about the dream of collective attachments is that its repetitions work to override pain and discomfort- we dissociate rather than dealing, and we submit to the dream where bonds were never broken and there was never any pain. We become mad. None of the pop cultural triggers that we indulge ever recognise us and reciprocate our feelings, because they too are looking back in time to their very own triggers. The trauma of the second world war daydreamed its way into consumer capitalism, re-enforced gender roles, and the nuclear family. The constantly enacted trauma of the war on terror leads to commodified memories and the re-re-reoccurence reactionary politics and policy. Nostalgia is a safety blanket of transgenerational psychosis. Our death drive has been commodified and weaponised.
Craven recognises that this dream is dreamt when our death drive is strongest and we most desire giving up. He knows it makes us conservative, and weak, and he wants us to confront our fears so that we can become more open and caring and less alone. The police in Springwood do not listen to people when they say that they are suffering. When young women approach them and tell them that there is a child molester that wants to hurt them, they act annoyed and disbelieving. They won’t take words as evidence, so they demand something that’s impossible to prove. They don’t inflict the violence on these people directly, but they allow those who do to get away with it. They don’t believe that any danger could emerge from the dream they’ve created, the town they’e created, and so dream and dream while Marge remembers everything and chooses to drink instead of dream to make it easier. The silence of trauma is madness, and the acknowledgement of its pain is a burden shared. In the film’s final moments we see every person who has faced and acknowledged their problems, and how life appears now. Their traumatic symptoms emerge and presumably repeat themselves endlessly, but now no one’s going through it alone. The worst thing Freddy could inflict is lonely suffering, and the worst thing he could spread would be silence.