Unsettling workplace dynamics are a troubling issue that continues to envelop women in a suffocating atmosphere of fear and injustice. While women strive to break through barriers in their careers, they are often overwhelmed by the challenges they encounter. In the midst of this disconcerting reality, certain movies act as a reflection of society’s darkest aspects. Pollen, a 2023 independent horror film directed by D.W. Medoff, not only provides scary moments but also addresses the unsettling issue of workplace harassment against women. Through the manifestation of supernatural elements, such as a demonic tree, the film symbolically reveals the deeply rooted struggle women face under the glass ceiling.
What Does The Plant Symbolize?
Pollen centered around Hera, a young and ambitious woman employed as a data analyst for a company. She aspired to advance her career through diligent effort and determination, but right from the beginning, the corporate sector’s glass ceiling became apparent. Initially, Hera didn’t pay much attention to the teasing from her colleagues or her boss’s inappropriate looks. However, over time, she began to understand the underlying meaning behind these actions, which caused her distress. Hera’s boss, the sexual predator at the office named Zach, showed interest in Hera and asked her out on a date. He even gave her a beautiful plant as a gift. However, during their first date, Zach made it clear that his intentions were not romantic but rather focused on physical intimacy. Despite Hera expressing her disapproval multiple times, Zach disregarded her objections and forced himself upon her without her consent. That night, while Zach was gone, Hera began to feel the emotional impact of the sexual abuse. But at the same time, she felt drawn to the plant that Zach had given her. Its beauty provided her with a sense of comfort and hope for the future. She started to believe that Zach genuinely cared for her and wanted a meaningful connection. However, Zach was only interested in satisfying his own desires, and he even neglected to use protection, forcing Hera to take a morning-after pill against her will despite the potential complications. The gifted plant became a symbol of the child Hera might have had if she hadn’t taken the pill. She nurtured the plant as if it were her own, dressing it in colors that matched its flowers. However, this caused her to face humiliation and mockery from her coworkers and manager in the office. Despite the haunting memories associated with the plant and what Zach had done to her, Hera couldn’t bring herself to throw it away.
Despite experiencing trauma and abuse, Hera’s connection with the plant reflects her innate resilience and capacity for healing. However, her nurturing of the plant mirrors the instinctive care and love she might have directed toward a child. It becomes a bittersweet reminder of the loss she feels due to the traumatic events she experienced. But soon after, the plant began to torment Hera, triggering the unsettling visions and hallucinations associated with it. The pollen from the flowers served as a representation of the toll that the sexual abuse took on her, causing her to lose touch with reality. Gradually, she started experiencing haunting visions of a demonic tree-like figure symbolizing Zach’s presence in her life. Just as she desired to distance herself from Zach’s negative energy, she found herself unable to completely escape his influence, leaving her trapped in a state of psychological turmoil.
Did The Tree Monster Perish With Zach?
Hera wasn’t the sole witness to the demonic tree in Pollen; instead, it represented a visible threat present in the lives of all women, including Hera’s niece, Corey, who could see the tree-monster and was haunted by it. By comparing the existence of trees in nature to the beauty of women, Pollen conveys a deeper meaning through the manifestation of the symbolic tree. The botanical aspect of the film symbolizes the inner strength and empowerment of women. Similar to how a tree grows and stands tall, the female characters in the film, such as Hera, her sister Demi, and her daughter Corey, discovered their own power and rose above the oppressive situations they faced. The plant and flowers represent the beauty of women, which often attracts unwanted attention. However, instead of allowing these unwanted people to harm herself, Hera emerged as a carnivore, consuming the predator herself and leaving nothing behind. For instance, we saw in the film how driven by uncontrollable anger caused by ongoing mental and physical torture, Hera ultimately killed Zach and buried him in her garden. My personal belief is that by concluding the film with Zach’s murder, the film doesn’t suggest that violence is the answer to preventing harassment; rather, Hera’s horrifying action serves as a warning about the potential consequences of such abuse.
Towards the end of the film, when Hera, her sister, and her niece stand before Zach’s burial site, the tree monster confronts them once again, indicating that it was not just Hera who could see it but also Demi and Corey. This highlights that the glass ceiling, represented by the tree demon, is not an issue that can easily disappear from society. Women still have a long battle ahead of them in fighting against predators and overcoming the barriers they face.
Pollen utilizes the embodiment of the tree demon as a representation of the obstacles and suppression women face in their daily lives. The film serves as a poignant reminder that the struggle for gender equality and the elimination of workplace harassment is an ongoing process, demanding society’s unified support to empower and elevate women, allowing them to break through the glass ceiling. It is also important to remember that preventing sexual harassment requires collaborative endeavors from organizations, employees, and society as a whole. By implementing precautionary measures and fostering a culture of respect and equality, we can work towards creating workplaces that are free from the pervasive issue of sexual harassment.