How fears shape our reality – Synopsis on “The Hole”

Today is Halloween – So, I thought this was the perfect day to release my very first movie analysis! This is a movie I saw when I was still quite young, therefore being quite terrified by some elements of it. Now I want to take a look on it psychologically and examine what the fears tell us about each character, how they overcome their fears and what this movie teaches us about fears in general.

The story

“The Hole”, directed by Joe Dante, is an US-american thriller movie from 2009.
Single mother Susan Thompson (Teri Polo) moves with her two sons, the little Lucas (Nathan Gamble) and his older brother Dane (Chris Massoglia), from their hometown Brooklyn, New York to the small town Bensenville, located in the Midwest of America. By that, Susan hopes that they can finally draw a line to the past in which the family was suffering from a violent father who is serving time in prison by now. When they arrive at and get settled in to their new home, Dane is sceptical if he is going to like the seemingly boring small town life, with him being miles away from his friends. However, these doubts soon dissipate when he and Lucas discover a trap door in their basement that secures a seemingly bottomless hole. Together with the pretty neighbor’s daughter Julie (Hayley Bennet) they try to find out, what secret is hidden behind that mysterious floor hatch leading into nothingness. But to their horror they soon learn that other-worldly forces emit from that hole. They come to realize that their innermost fears and unprocessed memories manifest themselves out of the hole – confronting them with their own, hidden human abysses.

Why a “hole”?

You might now wonder: Why did they choose a hole as the portal for their fears? Why not simply a dark room or a maze?
This becomes more obvious when we look at the nature of fears. Fears are rooted deeply in human evolution. In ancient times, they were necessary for survival and defence against enemies. When we experience fear now, we experience the same kind of fight or flight response. Our bodies prepare to either fight the proposed threat or run away. But today we don’t live under the same conditions and don’t have to fear for our life, when we take a test or go to the dentist, for example. The book that Julie is reading in one scene (“The Divide Comedy” – Dante Alighieri) even draws an analogy to the theme of the movie. The cover is explicitly making a reference to the people who go inside the hole: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Hope is something that is based on past conditioning. When we want to accept ourselves, we also need to keep hold of our hope because we might not even know what to hope for. But when we abandon hope, we also abandon fear!
In that respect, our fears do have one commonality: They all stem from the primal fear of death. Death is something we don’t know much about, yet we all fear it. Many of us fear that death is this endless nothingness, which we fall into after we die. Moreover, the fear of falling is associated with loss of control. So actually, when we are faced with fear, we are actually afraid that it will kill us and that we will have no control over it. On the one hand, this seems obvious. When you encounter a bear in the woods that could possibly injure you, of course you are afraid. This is one of our so called natural fears. On the other hand, there are conditioned fears, which we developed because of negative experiences in our past and our worry of them happening again. These are the kind of fears “The Hole” is about.

The fears

The movie ultimately shows different kinds and facets of fear. Therefore, the fears of the characters manifest themselves in different, individual ways. Factors that play a role are age, life experience and general emotional stability.
Lucas’ character is shown to be a child that is playful and vibrant. His fear is the one that is first introduced to the viewer, even before the hole is found by the two brothers. After they discovered the hole, Lucas is startled by a clown puppet that is sitting on his bed, looking right at him. A few hours after, he is suprised by it in the basement again and flees after the clown tries to go after him. As a young child, this is an understandable fear. I mean, who wouldn’t be afraid of a creepy puppet who looks at you with a devilish grin? But nevertheless, Lucas also shows character development over the movie. Later in the movie, Lucas is lured in the basement. Lucas tries to flee at first, but it doesn’t work this time. The clown jumps on top of Lucas and starts beating him violently. As they are fighting, Lucas has an idea how to outwit the clown and eventually destroys him.
When it comes to Julie, the viewer is introduced to her as a positive and self-confident person. She is also quite curious which we can see early on in the movie when she comes up to the two brothers in the basement and asks as to what they are spending their time with. She is first caught off-guard when she is out with Dane and went to go to the toilet of the Diner they were staying at. All of a sudden, the lights go out and Julie tries to open the door, which doesn’t seem to work. Then, a little girl steps out of one of the stalls, slowly limping towards Julie. It seems as if Julie is completely paralyzed by what she sees, she doesn’t try to leave or run away. Instead she just looks at the girl, maybe even a little brave in the face of the situation she is in. Julie is also the first of the three who conquers her fear. After she is once more visited by the ghost of the girl in her room, followed by her saying “Save me, Julie”, she realizes something. It is the ghost of Annie, her best friend who died when they were younger. Earlier in the movie she said that she hated funfairs, and that was for a reason. That was the place where her best friend fell to her death many years ago. Now Julie is hell-bent to save her friend, at least spiritually. She runs back to the funfair, Dane following her. She climbs up the side of a rollercoaster where she finds Annie. She is understanding of Julie, but also confronts Julie with her innermost fear. She lets herself fall again, but Julie manages to save her. She admits that she should have saved her and that she couldn’t because she was so afraid. Annie forgives her and then she’s gone.
Danes fear has been hinted at over the first half of the movie, but he is only confronted with it a little later and more gradually than the other two. It begins with a rocking squashed beer can and a belt next to the hole as well as a large masculine silhouette at Julies pool. These little reminders gather up to the moment when Dane finds a letter on their dining table. It is a letter from his father out of the New Jersey penetentiary he is serving at. The letter contains two simple but triggering words: “Hello boy”. To face his fear, he has to literally ‘step into the hole’ because his father has taken Lucas with him. But he manages to face his fear like Julie was.
When we look at Lucas, his primal reaction to his fear is flight. This is understandable, he is still a kid, after all.
Julie and Dane however deal with their fears in the form of repression (Julie) and denial (Dane). They are quite touchy about their wound spots and try to cover them up by changing topics or leaving certain situations. But when they become conscious of their fear, they both face them with bravery. Facing their fears binds them together.

The reason behind the fears

Now we know what each character is afraid of. If one has watched the movie attentively, one can also know why they fear what they fear.

Julie and her trauma of loss

Julie isn’t simply scared of the sight of her dead best friend, she is scared by the feelings that come with her death. She feels remorse for not being able to help her best friend and these feelings shows up in the manifestation of Annie as well (“You let me fall!”). Annie appears to her as she remembered her in the last moment when she was alive. When Annie’s life was on the line, Julie feared that her friend might not survive, and that something might have happened to her herself if she had tried to help Annie. This is a natural fear. But after her friend had died, Julie felt haunted by her feelings of guilt. Over the years, she learned to suppress them. Now Julie is terrified that the memories of the past will catch up with her and she suffers quietly from her conditioned fear. And yet, she faces her fear death-defyingly. The film doesn’t say whether she has talked to trusted people about the incident or sought professional help, but apparently she has never been able to process it all.

Dane and Lucas and their trauma of violence

Dane also never had the chance to process his experience with his violent father. It sits deep in his subconscious and that is why he is faced with it so gradually. Early conversations with his mother and Julie already act as harbingers of his fear, but Dane’s fear itself does not appear until the middle of the film. It begins with the squashed, wobbling can that presumably contained alcohol beforehand. It’s the first hint of his father’s alcohol abuse. Later, it’s the overturned cupboard with the belt and then the huge silhouette of his father when they are in the pool. Like Lucas, Dane feels at the mercy of his fear, even if he doesn’t show or admit it to those around him. In the past, all attempts to protect his brother and himself from his father have failed. Because of this, he felt he couldn’t stand up to his violent father when he was younger. Constantly, the brothers were exposed to beatings and Dane did not know how to protect Lucas. Now, several years later, the family is safe because the father is in prison, but Dane is still plagued by the fear that if the father finds out where they live, it will all be ruined. He is afraid that history will repeat itself.
So Dane and Julie are very similar in that way. They are both afraid of the past and that it might catch up with them.

When it comes to Lucas, I didn’t know the reason behind his fear for a long time. It was only a few months ago, when I watched the film again, that I realized how his fear of clowns came about. The grin of the clown puppet is very similar to the mischievous smile of the brothers’ father. When Lucas and Julie had already conquered their fears and Lucas is about to pack his things for a sleepover, the father appears to him in the reflection of the window pane. The resemblance is frightening! So we can say that Lucas’ fear of his father has been transferred to clowns. The father’s smile must have been one thing that has been deeply engrained in Lucas’ memory… Apart from that, he was, like Dane, abused and beaten by his father. The traumatizing effect this had on Lucas can also be seen in his fight with the puppet. Like the real father, the doll throws things at him, plates, glasses, etc. Lucas felt at the mercy of the father in the past, which is shown by the basement door slamming shut just as he is about to escape after the clown first appears to him in the basement. Why isn’t Lucas’ fear shown in the manifestation of the real father? The way I see it, Lucas, unlike Dane, was too young at the time to be consciously aware of all the events with his father. He probably doesn’t remember everything. What his subconscious did process, though, was his father’s smile. It frightened him so much that he now recognized it in clown dolls. Therefore, the aspect that distinguishes his fear from that of the other two is that of the consciousness.

Fear in the collective context

There is one charater, which I haven’t talked about yet, and that is Creepy Carl. He is the one who used to live in the house Dane and Lucas live in now. His character has the fear, that all humans, including himself, will be sucked up by darkness. After he discovered the hole years prior to the boys’ arrival, he was obviously faced with that fear and couldn’t handle it. He developed a tremendous “fear of the fear” or “agoraphobia”, as psychology calls it. He is terrified of being in the darkness. In other words, he is afraid that fear will overtake his life. Darkness can have many meanings: As I explained above, the fear of darkness could stand for the fear of death but also of being confronted with ones own shadows or of “the things that one can’t see”. There are many possibilities but the fear of death seems to be the most prominent one. Carl remains to be the only character who doesn’t accomplish to face his fear. He never managed to deal with his ‘bain body’, like Tolle called it: “The pain body can only survive if it gets you to unconsciously identify with it. It can then rise up, take you over, “become you”and live through you.” Nevertheless, he leaves behind one final message on Danes sketch-pad before he succumbs to his fear: He draws how Lucas is taken into the hole by the manifestation of his father lateron in the movie. This being something that happens in the future, makes me think that he could represent some kind of medium that is guiding the way of Julie, Lucas and Dane. Carl’s character emphasizes once more that the fear of death is something that is seated at every human’s core: “The ultimate fear of the ego is to die” (Eckart Tolle).

What happens when we overcome fear

Binding together is an important word. There is something that all fears have in common:

The moment everyone has conquered their fear, you see a change in the object of fear.
When Julie admits that she is no longer afraid, Annie’s eyes are no longer bloodshot and the expression of pain in her eyes has disappeared as well. Instead, she now gives Julie a warm, compassionate smile and says “Goodbye, Julie.”
Even when Lucas manages to overcome his fear, nothing more remains of the doll than the costume.
And finally, the appearance of the father of the two brothers also changes when Dane conquers his fear. In the end, he is seen hanging from the precipice at a normal size, the claw-like hands have given way to normal hands, and even his facial shape is now more realistic and no longer resembles that of a monster. You don’t see intimidation in his facial expression now, only deep fear, which he tried to compensate for in the past by venting his anger on his family.
So, when each character has faced their fear, the parts that made them think it was something to be afraid of have disappeared: “Anything unconscious dissolves when you shine the light of consciousness on it.” (Eckart Tolle).
These changes show perfectly in my opinion the psychology of fear cinematically. Because that is what fears are: They are reactions. They are feelings that are entertwined with thoughts and thus make us react to our surroundings in the way our brain has been wired: “I know you’re not this big. It’s just cause I was little.” (Dane)
So, facing your fear, or ‘stepping into the hole’ means facing your fear and staring it in the face.


To conclude: I believe that our experience of the world and of life changes greatly when we face our fears. Psychologically, certain thoughts like “This situation/memory is threatening” lead to feelings like fear or panic. And through feelings, the behavior of us humans is influenced (The CBT triangle). That is – If we don’t face our fears, it will always limit us in our ability to engage with new or good things. This is different for each person, because everyone has a different sensitivity to fears and needs more or less effort to face them.
However, when we manage to face our deep fears, we open up to completely new possibilities that life has to offer us. We acknowledge certain formative experiences as part of our history, but understand that we do not have to be defined by our fears. Only then we will know how strong we really are.
By dismantling of the old patterns, we open the gate to a happier life and can consciously shape it ourselves.

– Dante, J. (2009). The Hole [Film].
The Hole (2009 film) (2009) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: (Accessed: October 31, 2022).
– Buckley, D. (2022) What is the psychology of Fear?, BetterHelp. BetterHelp. Available at: (Accessed: October 31, 2022).
– John Mathews, L.C.S.W. (2022) CBT triangle: A map for understanding how to feel better, Virginia Counseling — Midlothian VA and Online. Available at: (Accessed: October 31, 2022).

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