Friday, August 23, 2013

The Woman (2011): Text vs Subtext

The Woman (2011)
dir: Lucky McKee

The problem with indulging in the text as you're condemning in the subtext, is that sometimes the condemnation message is lost in the actual commentary.  Spring Breakers suffers from that a little.  Natural Born Killers suffered from the rampant indulgence in lurid violence while trying to condemn it.  And, then, there's The Woman.

Given that the majority of movie goers, especially horror watchers, will rarely indulge in seeking out the back history of a writer or director of certain movies, it is necessary to take movies out of their authorial context, and analyze it on its own merits.  Lucky McKee is a writer and director of many movies that have affinities for women.  May, for instance, is a movie about a girl who is strange, and can't deal with the friends who have masks. If we lean on McKee's strong feminist tendencies, then we have an obvious answer about what the movie is trying to say, but it still requires parsing out whether the subtext of the condemnation supercedes the actual text of the movie.

The title character of The Woman is a feral girl who is found in the woods by Chris Cleek, a family man and lawyer, who is also very controlling and demanding of his family of 2 daughters and a son.  Cleek sets up his backyard cellar to hold The Woman hostage, under the auspices of "civilizing" her.  As per this formula, Cleek sets upon destroying The Woman to try to bring her to his idea of womanhood, which is passive towards men and everybody.

From the outset, Cleek is a raging misogynist, while his wife and teenage daughter are living in mental prisons of passivity.  His littlest daughter is still in the formulation stage, and his tween/teen son has already picked up Dad's bad habits towards humanity.  

And, as we watch the movie, we watch Chris chain The Woman, shoot her, strip her, power wash her, rape her, and otherwise abuse her.  Later, we see the aftermath of his son torturing The Woman with a pair of needlenose pliers while pleasuring himself.  We also see Chris beat women left and right, and his son do petty pains against girls for little reason.  Textually, The Woman is a movie that consistently indulges in men beating or raping girls or women.  It's always presented in a "horrific" tone, but it does little to diminish that almost all of the abuse and violence, except for the final scene of the climax, was perpetuated by a man.

Above, I put two videos of what happened at a Sundance screening in 2011.  I had not heard this before I watched the movie, but watched the movie because I find Lucky McKee fascinating as a filmmaker.  The first video has an introduction by Lucky McKee, an audience member bursting into a rage after the movie ended, and then parts of the Q&A after the outbursting man had been escorted out. The second video is the conversation that happened with the upset man after he had been escorted out of the theater, and he further explains his views to an disinterested third party. Other walkouts had happened during the movie, but this was the most captured and commented on.

The man's visceral reaction to the movie, especially at the end, was based exclusively on the text of this movie.  This man's reaction was all about how the movie was nothing but a vehicle for the steady and systematic abuse of women to be enjoyed by an audience.  And, to a point, he's not wrong.  On the surface, this movie only has two strong women, The Woman and the teacher of the teenage daughter, and even the teacher is destroyed by the masculine forces in the movie.

The subtext is what we're supposed to be reading into it.  The subtext is that men can be, or are, raging misogynists and that this is not OK, and that is why it is a horror movie instead of a comedy.  It is showing us that men can be completely evil, and exposes the masking that people wear to pass through life.  This isn't exactly a new concept.  It almost reminds me of the story of Jaycee Lee Dugard, a girl who had been kidnapped for 18 years, and even worked at the print shop of her kidnapper.  This man was a raging misogynistic control freak, and it was definitely a horror to her.  And, his wife had either been passively accepting of the kidnapping or actively involved in it.

In the subtext, this is a radical feminist film about the evils men do to women, especially since the only two male characters are the ones doing evil and providing the horrors.  This is a film that punishes women for existing.  The teacher is an aggressive but polite woman, and she is punished.  The wife is a passive woman, and she is punished.  The Woman is punished for being an aggressive woman, though at least she survives.  The daughter is the only one who has been spared any punishment, except for the pregnancy she has which may or may not be due to incest.

So, what does this actually say, beyond "men are assholes?"  I can't tell.  It revels too much in the torturing of women, especially since it was written by two men and directed by one of them, in order to make a clear case for its feminist trappings.  It does make a stronger case for a meditation on civility vs feral.  But, it's point, other than to shock, seems to have been lost even on the filmmaker.

In the end, The Woman is a grotesque and offensive film which is well made.  If you're watching to have your stomach churned and your morality challenged, this is a movie that was made for your night.  But, if you want to watch and have an understanding of its commentary, you may be in for more of a challenge.

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