Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Woman

The Woman is getting some strong press out of Sundance and causing some equally strong reactions from its audience.  Hype?  Maybe.  Worth checking out?  I will be.  That's not issue, though.  What I do find interesting is that people are saying it degrades women (I haven't seen it, but I have faith in Lucky McKee (who directed) and Jack Ketchum (who wrote the book it is based on) to make sure that it is far beyond a mere piece of degradation.  Yes, the idea of a feral woman held captive by a family with a twisted patriarch who puts her through all kinds of abuse does cause one to take a few steps back, but degradation?  No, I'll leave that to Jersey Shore.

This also leaves an unasked, but equally important question: What's wrong with degradation?  Men have been degraded in film, but we usually look at that as though they had that coming to them.  (Think Hard Candy, which was an excellent movie.  Maybe he had some of that coming, but I urge you to rewatch it.  Did it have to go that far?  Was it warranted?)  Hostel is another one.  Why shouldn't there be some equality?  Playing devil's advocate here is easy: violence happens in real life more to women than men, so it shouldn't be seen on screen.  I don't agree with that, as in art anything goes, but I do think this leads to why we have such a visceral reaction to it on screen.

Violence against men in cinema is often justified, acceptable and sometimes even funny.  When it is done against women, however, we tend to extend our sympathies and get enraged (watch the footage of the man escorted out of a showing of The Woman to see that in full effect).  Because we often see them as victims in real life, we can more easily relate to them as victims on screen.  It makes the story more compelling, and that is something art should strive for.  (By comparison, Haute Tension takes its female lead and makes her a hero that goes through some pretty rough stuff and eventually makes her a nasty villain, but the audience can forgive all that because she is ape shit crazy.  If that had been a male in the lead role, the audience would have wanted him to suffer at the end.)

I'm sure The Woman is not meant to be a study of degradation, but that of power.  Who really has power in a realtionship?  How far can you push things before they push back?  Is violence justified in confronting violence?  Important questions, and from the reviews I've read, this film investigates them.  Yeah, it could have been a male that was captured and abused, but let's face it -- would you want to see that and, more importantly, would this even be an issue?  Hardly.  It wouldn't even be a blip on the radar.

So, who's the real sexist here?

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