This week Joe West goes a bit serious as he discussed the R word…
(There are some *SPOILERS* in this article, but if you don’t think you’ll ever sit through some unpleasant scenes described then it might be worth reading anyway.)
Prior to watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo it had been recommended to me by two friends. Entirely independent of each other they said something along the lines of:
“You should go and see this movie. Although there is a really bad rape scene in it.”
This was clearly the aspect of the film that had stuck with them, and was consequently the only thing on my mind as I sat down to watch it myself. Two things surprised me; firstly the rape was carried out by an almost cartoonishly seedy man, whose beard, paunch and sordid demeanour marked him out as a clear candidate for sex offence.
The second unexpected feature was the fact that the woman who was raped was aware, at least partially, that it could be used to her advantage at a later point. She is allowed her revenge against an abusive figure of authority, but her retaliation feels like an unrealistic fulfilment fantasy. It reminded me of the Fight Club scene in which Ed Norton’s character chucks himself through a plate glass table to blackmail his boss into giving him a decent severance package. Interesting that David Fincher directed both of these films.
Rape is a subject that cinema often shies away from, although there are a few examples of graphic, unflinching inclusions of the act itself. Robert De Niro’s gangster Noodles is the aggressor twice in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. The first time is an almost tongue in cheek transgression that occurs during a robbery. It is admittedly consensual, but encouraged to be enacted as if it were a rape in order to mask the complicity of the jeweller’s secretary in the heist.
The second is brutal and heartbreaking, as Noodles’ attempts to dazzle childhood sweetheart Deborah fail and she announces her intentions to leave for California. He rapes her on the back seat of a limousine, cracking the shell of opulence and civility he has formed around himself via his illicitly acquired wealth. His instant regret is obvious, but it is hard to find any sympathy for him in the immediate aftermath.
The most upsetting rape scene that I have had the misfortune of seeing can be found in 2002 Indian film Maya. It tells the story of a young girl who, upon getting her first period, is forced by her family to take part in a religious ceremony which essentially involves a group of priest ritualistically raping her one after another inside a temple.
As an example of how damaging certain traditions can be it is unparalleled. Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo it demonstrates how people that should be there to protect and guide can easily exploiting their positions to damage and destroy. But in this instance the victim has no recourse for revenge, and presumably will one day encourage her own daughter to succumb to the same practice, just as her mother before her. I don’t feel compelled to describe the scene here, but suffice it to say that it is also one of the only times that I have felt physically sick in a cinema.
This article hasn’t been light and frivolous, like most of the bits of fluff I write. But if it was it would have been incredibly offensive. To end on a semi-light note, I actually saw Maya many years ago as part of what turned out to be a rather ill-advised school trip. The inappropriateness of unknowingly going to see such a harrowing film became a joke in itself, breaking the tension on the bus home.