Flower Symbolism in The Empire of Corpses, aka “I am still not over it and I need to find new ways to suffer”
So I’ve recently watched The Empire of Corpses and since I loved it to pieces I decided to do some research about symbolism of one specific scene that caught my attention. As I am heavily into hidden meanings and usually Japanese movies make a good use of these tricks, I thought that something interesting might come up… And it did.
Most of the following is spoiler free, but I suggest to watch the movie before you decide to keep on reading.
Right, for starters. Remember the bunch of flowers Watson removes from Friday’s grave before digging him up? Here’s a picture I screencapped:
What we see:
- 12 white roses (or what APPEARS to be 12 roses, see below)
- 1 magnolia alba (aka white champaca)
- 1 white chrysanthemum (or white carnation, see below)
- 4 white lilies
In Victorian times, sending flowers was a discreet way of sending messages to each other, as every flower has a very specific meaning and conveys a message. I have done a lot of research about the flowers that appear in Watson’s bunch for Friday and this is what I found around the internet and books.
- White roses in general are a very strong symbol of purity and spiritual love, expressing enduring love for the deceased. In Scotland (Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, was born in Edinburgh), the white rose is often given to newlyweds as a symbol of loyalty. White roses evoke reverence, humility, innocence, and youthfulness.
More specifically: giving somebody 12 roses - known as “the perfect dozen” - is a traditional message to signify love all year round, “12 months a year”. It literally means “be mine forever”. BUT, there is a but…
When we first see the bunch of flowers, it looks like this and we can definitely count a dozen roses:
But then, when Watson removes the flowers from the grave, a 13th rose appears…
13 roses mean exactly the following: “Forever friends. Also indicate that there is a secret admirer waiting to be discovered.”
- Magnolias traditionally symbolize dignity, nobility, splendid beauty and magnificence. They are often used as a way to “empower” the general message conveyed by the flower composition in which it’s contained - it means “certainly” when used at the beginning of other sentiments along with other symbols. The magnolia is also a very tough, hard flower, unlike other delicate flowers. This is owing to the fact that it has had to adapt to changing climactic and geological conditions in order to survive, and it is precisely due to this feature that the flower represents endurance, eternity, and long life. In Japan, the magnolia is used as a medicinal and ornamental plant and has very powerful symbolism of "healing on a spiritual level”.
(I wasn’t too certain if the one we see in the screencap might be a chrysanthemum or a white carnation as the design is a bit unclear; I’d personally think the first option is more accurate because chrysanthemum has a stronger symbolism in relation to mourning and losses.)
- Pretty much everywhere in the world BUT Japan and United Kingdom (and some other countries in Asia), the chrysanthemum is symbolic of lamentation and grief; in both Japan and UK - heavily featured in the movie - it is instead a symbol of rebirth and good omen, to the point that is given as a gift to new borns and newlyweds. The white chrysantemum also symbolizes truth within sorrow, the authenticity of a strong bond between two people during hardships, and literally means “you are a wonderful friend”. Because it is associated with rebirth, it also represents patience and perseverance, eternity, and immortality of the soul after death.
- If considering the carnation over the chrysanthemum option; the white carnation has for a long time been associated with acts of love - its meaning is often given as “true mutual love”. The presence of one single flower translates into an idea of uniqueness of the bond. It is also a traditional flower to signify eternal loyalty and innocence.
- White lilies are traditionally given at funerals when the deceased person was really young, and in general it is the flower most commonly associated with funeral services as they symbolize the innocence that has been restored to the soul of the departed. When you are giving a white lily you are meaning to say “you are my queen or my king”, and that your loyalty defies death to become sempiternal. The white lily has a number of symbolisms during the Victorian times - virginity, purity as well as majesty. It’s also a flower that says “it’s heavenly to be with you” - a strong sense of recognizing one’s love towards another, usually for the first time. An even number of white lilies represents balance and completion, quite literally translated into “You’ve made my life complete”.
And this is it.
Yes, take a moment to let it sink in…
THIS SHIP IS SO BEAUTIFUL AND PERFECT AND CANON AND I WILL FIGHT ANYONE WHO DARES TO SAY OTHERWISE
This is a scene from one of the flashbacks showing Friday when he was still alive. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but considering all of the above, please take a look at his desk: one single red rose (we all know what it means, right? RIGHT? YES IT MEANS LOVE MY DEARS) and a skull, which are a strong pair of opposite symbols translating into a “carpe diem”, “life vs death” and “protection/destruction”.