Considering that it is Women's History month here in the beloved United States I have taken it upon myself to dedicate the blogposts this month to all things related to women in film. I, of course, realize that this task will shape up much differently than the manner in which my horror film fest did, since the topic is far more obtuse and certainly more problematic. I will use this time to explain what I mean by women in film, in the cases of some of the films I plan to view, they will be considered for their place in cinema history as "women's films," while others will specifically focus on films directed by women or involving pivotal moments in the history of women in films. In many other instances I will look at a film for its positive portrayal of women as cinematic subject, and as will be the case with the first film I review, I Spit On Your Grave, I will also consider the problematic moments in the realm of women in film, specifically the rape-revenge film, a genre that lasted far too long in the late seventies and all too unfortunately appears to be making a come back in the past few years. This is not to say that rape is always problematic in film, considering that it is often used as a political statement, or as a reflection of historical realities, so much so that it is necessary for viewers to be made viscerally aware of its existence. I picked out I Spit On Your Grave specifically, because it has proven to be a decidedly divisive film within film theory circles, some stating that it is an absolute story of radical feminism destroying the patriarchy, while others are certain that it only exploits female sexuality at the expense of real rape victims, in so much so that the main character is naked for most of the film and seems driven by sexual desire to engage in the violent acts. I would argue that, while the film is certainly not void of problems, it also manages to tap into a few moments of truly revolutionary cinema intended to vilify, and deservedly so, the act of rape and make clear its context as a means of power politics and not sex. The X rating slapped on this film is both unfortunate and understandable considering that its graphic nature is absolutely necessary for the subject matter and were it not for the existence of Cannibal Holocaust I would say this is one of the most captivatingly grotesque films ever realized.
I Spit On Your Grave centers on Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) an aspiring writer from New York who finds herself a cottage in a reclusive small town with the hopes of churning out her first novel. However, her arrival as a single and considerably attractive young female sparks the interest of a handful of young men, particularly the mentally troubled, Matthew (Richard Pace) who becomes obsessed with the sexual openness of Jennifer. Matthews three friends begin to mock him for his clear infatuation with the girl from New York insinuating that he only likes her because she flashed her breasts at him. Regardless, the group sees this as an opportunity to help the troubled young man get laid and use their motorboat to trap Jennifer while she is canoeing. What follows is a series of degrading rapes in which the individuals take their turns with Jennifer, allowing her moments to escape only to trap her again and have their way with her, even Matthew partakes in the activities, although he becomes embarrassed by the presence of his friends and becomes impotent in the process. After the guys lose interest they send Matthew to attempt to kill Jennifer, but, yet again, he fails to do so leaving Jennifer to survive. At first it appears as though Jennifer will just deal with her drama by internalizing it and putting it into her writing, yet something changes when she discovers a gun, leading her to exact her revenge out upon the various men, beginning with the hanging of Matthew, followed by an intense castration of another in the group and eventually ending by running one of the men over with the motor of the boat. Jennifer is then shown using the motorboat to ride away from the entire event, likely as a means to escape, but also a means to move beyond and transcend her terrible past.
The statement of this film is considerably hard to navigate, because it is very much about destroying the act of rape by making the individuals engaging in such acts disappear, but as any humanist would argue the answer to acts of violence is not another act of violence, which clearly seems to be the suggestion within I Spit On Your Grave, hell, a solid hour of the film is committed to these violent moments. Yet, the film also draws attention to the lack of fulfillment Jennifer receives from simply pouring her pain into writing, especially when she is aware that the men, for all intents and purposes, are walking the streets capable of doing the same acts. It is at this point that one must carefully make a statement about what the metaphor of the film evokes, it is possible that the murders are to reflect a activist stance, in that action is always more viable than words, however, the larger reaching effects of Jennifer's actions are called into question, when one man's wife and children dismiss him, completely unaware of his being castrated only scenes earlier, perhaps it would have been better for Jennifer to simply make his wife aware of his terrible behavior, at the very least, the film offers that venue as a viable alternative. I am not completely prepared to give this film a pass, because it does have a heavy degree of exploitation within its narrative, the amount of time Jennifer is naked is somewhat unnecessary and aside from a few moments of brilliant cinematography it is uncomfortable, the film fails to provide an equal amount of male nudity as a means to disavow the exploitative element. Where I do want to focus praise is in the films very real acknowledgement that rape is classless, in so much, that Jennifer is a considerably well-to-do individual and even her class safety does not afford her sexual protection and the domineering, working class men, will use their masculine, phallic privilege as a means to contest her empowerment. It is one of the few blatantly well-done moments in the film and at the very least deserves mentioning.
Key Scene: The cleansing scene about midway through the film is both disturbing and masterfully shot and causes a dismissive viewer to pause in their refusal to embrace the controversial narrative.
I Spit On Your Grave is a Netflix watch instantly film and is probably the best means with which to view this film, although be warned, the volume is awful. Also, I promise some of the future installments for the month will be more in the positive.