Monday, August 26, 2013

I Spit On Your Grave (1978): Woman as Victim and Victor

I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
dir: Mier Zarchi

In 1978, a movie was self-distributed titled Day of the Woman.  Later, it was picked up for slightly wider distribution, and re-released as I Spit On Your Grave. The impact of this film was both solid and null, thanks in large part to its graphic nature. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel rallied against this movie, calling it depraved, and immoral.  They considered the violence to be purely exploitative, and just as damaging to women due to their perception of the exploitative nature of the rape.  They were wrong. Maybe.

I Spit On Your Grave is one of the most disturbing and harrowing movie experiences one could find.  I remember the first time I encountered the movie.  In my film class, we had just finished watching Last House on the Left, the old Wes Craven rape-revenge movie that Americanized and politicized Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring.  I had commented that Last House wasn't as shocking or brutal as I had been expecting, and was softened by the comic relief of the police, the hick music, and that the torture was way more psychological than I had been expecting; the result of the politicization of the subject matter.  My professor handed me a semi-bootleg of I Spit On Your Grave, and this had been the movie I had been expecting.

I Spit On Your Grave is a raw, amateur rape-revenge movie that does not flinch from nor does it glorify the act of rape.  It is a 100-minute movie, but it has no plot development beyond big city female author comes to backwoods, gets gang raped, and exacts bloody revenge.  But, the tonality of the film sets it apart from other files of its ilk, like Last House on the Left, The Accused, and Ms. 45.  

I Spit On Your Grave features a grueling and excruciating 24 minute sequence of Jennifer, the main woman, being repeatedly trapped, raped, and freed by a group of four men.  There is no soundtrack.  There is no joy in this sequence.  There are amplified volumes of the woman screaming.  There is no silly thwaping sound that would reduce the horror, or hint at any eroticism, on screen.  There are distorted close-ups of the faces of the male rapists, not distorted enough to be cartoonish, but enough to be frightening.  It is a harrowing experience from the victim's point of view.

Then, we get a bit of downtime before we get a 30 minute sequence of Jennifer ensnaring the men and then brutally murdering them.  Unlike the rape scenes, this is filled with semi-heroic imagery and are primarily from the perpetrator's point of view: that of the woman.  These are much more filled with victory and resolution than the rape, which is filled with horror and dread.

As such, I Spit On Your Grave is intended to be almost a feminist fantasy tract where it shows how brutal men are to women, and it also shows that a woman is perfectly capable of extracting her own revenge.

It's problematic in its text, but it isn't nearly as problematic as Lucky McKee's The Woman.  In The Woman, McKee is attempting to take a point of view of a judgmental third party, but mainly focuses on the "civilized" family.  We have a lot of point of view shots from both victim and aggressor.  It becomes seriously problematic in terms of how to process the crimes we are seeing on screen.  Are we supposed to be encouraging the misogynist?  Are we supposed to be empathizing with one party over another?  Only by going over the top has Lucky McKee achieved any level of distance between the viewer and the aggressor.

In I Spit On Your Grave, Zarchi never gives us the point of view of the rapist.  We never lust over Jennifer's body.  There aren't long lingering shots that romanticize the woman's body during any of the rape sequences.  These are raw and brutal acts that pierce your soul, if you're watching it right.  On the other hand, due to the nature of film, it is often a third-party camera.  There is a way, if you're sick enough, to enjoy this rape sequence for the act of rape itself.  I'm sure there are people who watch it and say "yeah, that's how it should be done" even though it is another person suffering.

Therein lies a rub.  Should an act be depicted if somebody else can get vicarious pleasure from it?  Should the depictions be more like Natural Born Killers, where we can take the viewpoint of the killers, even as Oliver Stone is trying to condemn our consumption of the act? As in Irreversible, should these brutal acts be depicted in an distant way?  Should it be more like Fight Club's final edit of Angel's face breaking, where the act happens mainly off-screen, denying the viewer any vicarious thrill from it, and leaving it to the imagination?

These are actual questions that will always be up for debate, and have answers that probably differ between people, and between acts, and between movies and intent.  But, in the case of I Spit On Your Grave, Zarchi didn't make this movie for the pleasure of showing rape.  He made it to depict a revenge fantasy.  He wanted a strong woman in it to exact her own revenge.  And, once the revenge is done, the credits roll.

No comments:

Post a Comment