by Julian Holt
"Sometimes it feels like I have a zipper somewhere. If I'm brave enough to pull it, there's a different body underneath that's the real me."
Girls Lost (2015, dir. Alexandra-Therese Keining) is a surreal, Swedish, coming-of-age film about the exploration of gender and sexuality.
Three high-school girls – Kim, Momo and Bella – experience daily homophobic bullying and harassment. They fantasise about becoming boys and having the power to fight back against their attackers.
One day their wish is answered when they discover a magic plant, the nectar of which temporarily transforms them into boys. For Momo and Bella, this is an opportunity for them to have fun performing as male before returning to normal, and applying this newfound confidence to their daily life.
For Kim, the experience reveals a yearning that was lying dormant within her all along.
“Sometimes it feels like I have a zipper somewhere. If I'm brave enough to pull it, there's a different body underneath that's the real me. I can't explain it. It just doesn't feel right.”
Kim’s epiphany about his gender identity is foreshadowed alongside the discovery of the plant and its power.
The plant acts as a catalyst for his precipitous freefall, but Kim had been skirting along the cliff edge of discovery for a while. In the transgender community (and by extension, the LGBTQ+ community), there is an analogy of an egg to refer to a person who doesn’t realise they’re trans yet.
Over time, cracks start to appear in the shell, and once the egg is hatched, the pieces can never be put together again. Once you know the truth, you can’t unknow it.
“If you are blind to what is different, this story is not for you. But if your eyes are open, you will see.”
The cracks in Kim’s gender identity are already apparent, appearing distressed when presenting as female and burdened by this indescribable feeling of inner discomfort, later associated with gender dysphoria.
But the arrival of the mysterious plant propels him in a new direction. He is eager to try something new and to leap blindly into the unknown, whereas the other two are more cautious.
It is this openness to new possibilities and simultaneous fatigue of his current circumstances that open up this new path. There, he discovers feelings of joy and peace previously unknown to him, shattering his egg once and for all.
“When I’m with him, I feel like I’m drunk.”
In a physical form that presents as male, we begin to see Kim experience gender euphoria. Where he previously described himself as having a hidden person zipped up inside him, he says he doesn’t feel that anymore, “now it just feels… right.”
Emboldened by his new appearance, Kim pursues his love interest, a troubled boy named Tony, who involves Kim in his wild world of criminal activity and underground parties. Momo asks Kim if he likes Tony or wants to be like him. Kim replies that he likes Tony because “he doesn’t know who he is, either.”
The exhilaration Kim experiences as male is seen akin to addiction; the disappointment every morning when he returns to female is palpably unbearable.
His desperation alienates Momo and Bella as he wrings more nectar out of the dying plant to revive his male persona over and over again.
“I do not know who I am, do you not get that? I fell into the abyss."
Kim’s splintering relationships come to a head when Tony violently rejects Kim when he tries to kiss him and when Momo burns down the greenhouse containing the plant after Kim rejects her in turn.
Kim, feeling like he has nowhere left to turn, flees driving to the margins of society and pauses on a country road in the middle of the forest, appearing to contemplate suicide as he toys with a gun.
For trans people, when they realise who they are, it seems as though they are faced with two paths: to pursue transition and become who they were always meant to be, or not.
Kim has realised that there is no meaningful future for him if he cannot live as his authentic self.
At a precipice
Girls Lost is a film about hidden truths that were already there, and once you plunge into their depths, there is no coming back.
As we sail along the horizon of a post-pandemic world, emerging unrecognisable to the world we knew before, we observe a plethora of uncomfortable truths that have floated to the surface.
We find ourselves asking if we can ever return to what we used to perceive as ‘normal’ when we know what we know now about the world we live in.
Julian Holt is a creative trapped in a critic's body, based in Greater Manchester. He watches a lot of existential films, tweets and promotes writing @julesburn_