As the post-Weinstein era ushers in a disturbing surge of sexual assault revelations
at the power centres of the film industry, one hopes that this cathartic vindication of
abuse and suppression will lead to more female voices at the movies.
It may not be something we’d like to be thinking about right about know, as the streets get draped with twinkling lights and Christmas songs begin to blare out of the streetcorners and we’re all encouraged to enjoy some good cheer, if not express our solidarity with our fellow man (and, crucially, woman) in a more substantial way.
But the subject of systemic sexual abuse – of women, minors and even buff-and-burly Alpha Male actors like Terry Crews – is in the air and, like a giant monstrous cat let out of the proverbial bag, it’s highly unlikely that its waft, now let loose and exposed in a stark diorama for all to see, is going to go away just because of our annual dose of celebratory seasonal ritual.
But whatever the final upshot of these allegations ends up being – is actual jail time, coupled with a sincere reassessment of the culture of complacency and complicity
too much to ask for, incidentally? – one thing that will really do justice to the changed landscape in the long run is if we get more art made by those who subvert the conversation.
By that I of course mean yes; more art by women, by minorities and whoever else may have suffered under the yoke of the system in some way (and of course, systemic abuse extends way beyond Hollywood either way). This kind of art will always come under fire at first – by those threatened by the encroachment of ‘different’ people into their own territory. A fear that they will, of course, do their utmost to disguise as legitimate complaints against ‘political correctness’ taking over the scene and the discourse.
But the more varied array of stories we have at our disposal, the less likely we are to gloss over the whispers of abuse – now, thankfully, swelled to a bona fide and undeniably loud
chorus – because the one thing stories do is remind us to linger on the specifics. This is where books, films, television series, and all other forms of art, really, have the upper hand
on, say, political rhetoric. Instead of flattened-out platitudes, what we get with the kind of art that really hits the spot is a true investigation; an immersion into an emotional and
intellectual landscape. Instead of being pummeled over the head with promises, you’re invited to go on a journey.
Increasingly, however, this journey has tended to take a distinctively masculine shape. And if anything, the Weinstein revelations may just invite you to pause and think about just how much of what you take for granted at the movies – especially when it comes to matters of sexual politics – has not only been devised, crafted and promoted by artists and creative teams composed almost solely of men… but men who have no qualms about treating women and other vulnerable individuals as mere objects. It’s a tendency that comes out even in films that have come out as recently as the past year, and which may even have the “best intentions” at heart when it comes to gender equality. One film that almost certainly fits this category, in my books, is Darren Aronofsky’s grotesque symphony of torture-cum-Biblical allegory, the blistering ‘mother’!
In it, we are made to follow the ordeal that an unnamed protagonist – unnamed, like the rest of the characters in Aronofsky’s shamelessly archetypal-and-allegorical high-concept drama – played by Jennifer Lawrence and who is keen to make a “paradise” out of the ashes of a burnt out house. A paradise, we are led to believe, which will mainly exist for the benefit of her Great Poet husband (Javier Bardem) who is struggling with writer’s block at what appears to be the midpoint of both his career, and his life.
A precious but fragile jewel, the barging in of two barely invited guests – a dying doctor (Ed Harris) and his spiky wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) – ring the experience of this movie, which works like a dark fable in which the many impositions suffered by the Lawrence’s home-carer collapse on her like a ton of toxic bricks, locking us into her ordeal with numbing consistency.
There’s a lot to be said for Aronofsky making the camera linger along with Lawrence all the way, with masterfully calibrated and sensitively staged tracking shots ensuring that she’s our main emphatic point throughout this hellish journey. At no point is her suffering trivialised, and we are led to believe, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that this suffering
is in fact what should be the main point of our condemnation of the Poet, the guest-couple, and then, the torrent of people that swarms into the house to shatter the fragile peace this
woman has so achingly tried to construct around them.
But there remains something innately victimising about the whole endeavour – a fact that is brought to bear to its fullest extent at the film’s denouement – which entirely cheats
Lawrence’s ‘mother’ of all agency.
Sympathise with her as we might, the film’s thematic core suggests that there’s something inevitable to this toxic relationship – and it is clearly gendered, and made entirely universal by Aronofsky’s decision to tell his tale in an entirely archetypal register that recalls timeless, even religious, narratives.
This is yet another signal as to why we should let more women tell stories across the spectrum of the Hollywood mainstream. We are, of course, seeing trickles of it emerge
as the media net widens. The by now self-evident ‘television, renaissance’ has led to the landscape widening to include some more voices. Even the Marvel-Netflix collaboration – a
beacon of the mainstream if there ever was one – has given us the female-produced, female-starring Jessica Jones, with Kristen Ritter’s kick-ass and no-shit-taking anti-heroine
gumshoe detective giving us a protagonist with whom we can both sympathise and root for. To say nothing of the fact that one of the most successful films of the past year, box office
wise, was Wonder Woman – DC’s first true cinematic hit, and a brash celebration of pop-feminism that was also directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins).
And meanwhile, back in TV-land, The Sinner, executive produced and starring Jessica Biel, offered up a neo-gothic dissection of the anatomy of abuse in the shape of a gripping
‘whydunit’ which doesn’t skimp on the nuances of the female experience and – crucially – is populated by a varied array of female characters with equally varied wants, needs and
strategies to tackle their individual problems.
Speaking personally, female-centric films made up some of my favourite releases of the last couple of years. One of these was Oliver Assayas’s meta-ficitional exploration of
the film industry and the dynamics of ageing within it, Clouds of Sils Maria, in which tender, sensitive performances by Juliet Binoche and Kristen Stewart (the latter unshackling
herself from the waft of the Twilight franchise once and for all) gave way to an on-point, bullshit free approach to how two women from different age groups and life situations can
truly bond. The other film was Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, which feels as though it’s practically directed by its star, Isabelle Huppert, and which masterfully carries a shocking premise
– ‘rape-revenge comedy’ – to its conclusion without putting one foot wrong (an achievement akin to running a marathon while balancing a plateload of spinning plates laced with explosives).
Now, I would like to see the next batch of similarly memorable – even searing – films and television experiences actually directed by women, please.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Teodor Reljic