Ornamental gates are some of the most symbolic fence materials. Portland’s Jungian psychologists would point out that gates are the ultimate thresholds. Mythologists such as Joseph Campbell have found that, in stories across cultures, gates represent the line between the known and the unknown. In Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey, a sort of recurring plotline in myths throughout history, the hero must often cross a gate in order to begin his or her own transformation.
In our everyday lives, ornamental gates function as announcements of just what type of person lives in a certain home, or what type of business operates in a certain building. Gates can also represent safety and security – just think about so-called gated communities. Finally, gates can also represent a movement from one defined neighborhood into another; this is the function of the ornate gates to Chinatown in Portland.
Fencing materials aren’t usually imbued with so much meaning. Around Halloween, gates take on extra meaning – as the barrier between the living and the dead, for instance. Hollywood certainly understands how to play on Americans’ complex feelings about gates. Here’s a look how spooky ornamental gates have been used in films:
The Gate in Hocus Pocus
Hocus Pocus opens in colonial Salem, Mass., where we watch the three Sanderson witches sucking the life energy out of an innocent little seven-year-old, stealing her youth. Thanks to the efforts of the girl’s brother, the Salem townspeople capture and hang all three sisters, but not before they can cast a spell to come back from the dead. To make the spell work, a virgin must light a certain black-flamed candle under the full moon on Halloween night.
Flash forward a couple of hundred years, and high schooler Max is eager to impress his crush Allison. Allison is clearly a true believer in all things Halloween; in fact, her mom was the caretaker for the Sanderson home, which was a museum until several frightening occurrences shut it down. Trying to show Allison that all of the stories about the Sanderson sisters are complete “hocus pocus,” Max lights the fateful candle and sets the rest of the film in motion. He must defeat the Sanderson sisters in order to set things right.
The ornamental gates to the home in Hocus Pocus serve a protective role. As Max, Allison and Max’s little sister approach the gate, Allison remarks that, according to rumors, the bones of hundreds of children are buried behind the stone walls of the Sanderson home. The gate, then, is a barrier between the evil ways of the Sanderson witches and the innocence of the rest of the world. Once Max crosses through the gate, he steps into a new world. The gate to the Sanderson sisters’ home is more ominous than any Portland fencing materials we’ve ever seen.
The Gate in The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas follows the adventure of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, who feels unfulfilled despite being the undisputed scariest citizen of Halloween Land. As Jack laments his inner emptiness, he walks through a frightening pair of ornamental gates into the cemetery. Eventually, Jack’s wanderings lead him to discover a grove where there are doors leading to other holidays. He wanders into Christmas Town and is inspired to take over the Christmas holiday.
Jack enlists the help of every Halloween Town ghoul and goblin in his endeavor to play “Sandy Claws” for one night, but their frightening gifts (shrunken heads, snakes, etc.) only horrify the children of the world. Eventually, everything is set right. Santa Claus is able to make his Christmas Eve trip around the world, and Jack settles back into his role as the king of Halloween Town – only this time he knows that this is the right job for him. In the end, Jack’s sense that something is missing from his life disappears – perhaps thanks to the new love in his life, the rag doll Sally.
For Jack, the gates to the graveyard separate the rest of Halloween Town from the space where he can be entirely himself. Joseph Campbell might say that Jack’s hero journey began when he walked through those chilling fence materials. Portland’s children, however, would be more likely to notice that the frightening cemetery gates feature creepy, crooked wrought iron and mysterious designs on top.
The Addams Family Gate
Few creepy ornamental gates are as iconic in film and television as the one belonging to The Addams Family. In this classic TV-show-turned-movie, Morticia and Gomez Addams head a wealthy, eccentric family of macabre individuals who live in a dilapidated mansion and are deeply misunderstood by the outside world.
In the movie version of The Addams Family, the gate securing the mansion from the outside world is more than just a wrought-iron monstrosity – it’s a character itself. It opens and closes of its own accord, as evidenced by a scene in which it closes prematurely on the family’s attorney, catching the end of his coat. Later in the movie, after the Addams family members have been evicted from their mansion (by the same lawyer) a scene shows Gate chained shut against the family and rattling futilely against its constraints, attempting to open. In the case of this movie, the ornamental gate symbolizes more than simply a threshold; it is a guardian that protects the Addams family from the unfriendly outside world.
As we have seen, Hollywood loves ornamental gates. And no wonder – with all of the symbolic power that gates carry, any character that walks through one must clearly have a fascinating stretch of life ahead.
[Photo by: AshleyLovesPizza]