I was listening to a podcast about a week ago. The guy started off by saying that what he wanted to say was personal, and that, if you didn't mind, could you listen it by yourself. If you were in a public venue, if others could hear the podcast, if you wouldn't mind turning it down some, because this was a personal thing.
I have to admit that was a great hook. What on earth could he possibly say that could warrant wanting others not to hear about it? What could be so personal that he wouldn't want others to hear about it?
And then he says it.
He was raped.
Now, that's tough to hear. He says he's told people about it before, but people often don't know how to react. He realizes they don't intend to be insensitive, but they seem to want to say "OK" and try to move to another topic.
To be fair, how should one really react? TV and movies are filled with their share of violence. You see people get in fights. Heck, Westerns often glamorized fights. Boxing and wrestling make a sport of it. In football, there's purposeful hitting. If someone said they were beat up, others could see it.
But rape? That's so much harder to imagine. It's rarely depicted in films because it's such a challenging thing to put on film.
The podcast continues by saying that most often, rape occurs with a person the victim knows, and in this case, it was his ex-boyfriend. He continues by saying that not all rape involves sex, implying what he went through did not, even though it was emotionally traumatic nonetheless.
He was fairly young, at the time, in his late teens, and was in love. He eventually had to seek counseling, and the only place he could go for free was a center for battered women. He felt, despite the purpose of the center, that the counselor who helped him saved his life, that she never questioned why he was there, and through it, he managed to say to the counselor what he wanted to say to his ex-boyfriend who was no longer there.
For a while, I've been meaning to catch up with Gaspar Noe's Irreversible. I knew this film had a structure similar to Memento. I also knew, going into it, that the scene that everyone remembered was a prolonged rape scene. Knowing it makes it all the more difficult to watch, because you know it's coming up.
I was watching the film with friends, a guy and his girlfriend. When this scene comes up, minutes go by, and halfway through, he stops the film. He can't watch any more.
And this is interesting, because you begin to question why the director is making you see something so visceral, so painful. Is he seeing how far you're willing to go to watch the film?
At this point, I was thinking of a German film called Funny Games directed by Michael Haneke. This film is about some robbers (what would be a good name for them) who break into a house and hold a family captive. In the meanwhile, they plan to torture the family.
Apparently, they begin to talk to the camera, telling you that you should leave, that you don't want to be entertained by what you're about to watch. Throughout, they pretend to give psychological reasons for why they are doing this, but apparently, it's not serious. You're only curious because you feel their behavior must be explained by something, say, a bad childhood. Something.
I'm planning to watch Funny Games at some point, and hope to catch Cache, by the same director, which is due out pretty soon.
It took until now for me to get back to watching the rest of Irreversible, which means getting back to the scene.
But let me back up some, to the beginning of the film, which I feel I need to watch again. Perhaps that is Gaspar Noe's cleverness as a director, to make the backwards storytelling so compelling, that you must go back a second time to figure out what happened.
The beginning of the film starts off with the camera in wild frenetic mode swinging to and fro, as they head into a gay S&M club known as Le Rectum and starts into a revenge plot, except you don't know why the revenge is taking place.
As you wend back in time to the key scene, it seems almost clear that the actors who are in the scene are really getting it on. If you can tear yourself away from the accuracy of the depiction (although based on the podcast fellow, the situation would not be accurate, since the scene involves strangers), you wonder why does the director show this? Why do the actors participate? But it's also rather clear that the goal is not to glamorize what's going on, and that it's meant to be difficult to watch.
To be honest, I have to commend Monica Bellucci for doing this role, and its not just the harrowing performance here, but really, her performance afterwards, because if you had been watching the film forwards, you would never have thought it could have landed where it did. Indeed, the reverse film structure forces you to think where everything is going to head, and your mind works forwards and backwards.
If anything, her performance after this scene is as good as the scene itself, and I hate to put it in those terms, to say that it is a performance, but this is acting, and it is a film.
It says something, though, that what is shown afterwards is compelling in its own right, for as much as Noe depicts an ugly brutality, he's also perfectly willing to show a sensual reality too, and it works completely at odds with what one is going through. Can you be turned on by how hot a scene is knowing how brutal the earlier (or chronologically later) a scene is going to be?
Are you angry at what's happening? Is it exploitative? Much like Run Lola Run which tells the same story structure three times, but is really about how Lola is willing to do anything to be with her boyfriend, including, it seems, willing time to run again, so she can save him, this story has a kind of foreboding. Alex, the character played by Bellucci, wonders if things are predestined. She relates a dream that you know comes true.
For some reason, despite the emotional nature of the film, I was taken to thinking about Stanley Kubrick. I'm not sure why. And then oddly, late in the film, you see a poster of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And the film ends in a kind of 2001 end sequence, that's more easily seen, than described.
And, then you feel the need to go back, and rewatch it, not because you particularly want to see that scene again, but because there's a need to know what the story was trying to tell, what the plot was really about, how the film ended (or began) where it did.
Now, I had every intention to talk about two other films, and I'll go ahead and do it, but I find it's hard to compare.
Goldfinger is generally acknowledged as the best of the Bond films. It combines a great bad guy ("Goldfinger" himself) with sidekicks (Oddjob), Sean Connery at his mocking best, a brash Bond score, and the least subtle name for a female bad guy ever, Pussy Galore.
There are two parts of the film I remember. The first is the famous exchange "Do you expect me to talk?", "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die", when you think Bond is done for because the bad guy has actually decided he should kill Bond. Of course, Bond is extremely concerned because his death involves slicing him with a laser, with his legs spread apart, suggesting that doing away with his "masculinity" is in effect, killing Bond.
The second part of the film that I really enjoy almost every time I watch it is when Bond explains to Goldfinger that his plot to rob Fort Knox is completely ludicrous, and explains the logistics that would make it impossible to succeed. Goldfinger then says "Whoever said anything about robbing Fort Knox?".
True, the ensuing monetary chaos probably wouldn't really happen, but it's still a devilishly clever idea.
But think about why the plan doesn't succeed. Pussy Galore decides not to fill tanks of gas with poison, and instead, uses something that temporarily knocks out the troops at Fort Knox. And why does she do this? Because Bond has convinced her, in some fashion.
And, if you rewind back in your mind how he did this convincing, think about the scene in the barn. Pussy Galore, as you know, is independent. She flies planes, better than most guys, you know. She can fend for herself. Oh, but, you see, Bond is persistent, and he is going to have his way, and yes, indeed, he does.
In effect, this would be a 60s misogynistic view of a kind of rape, but of course, it's Bond, and this woman who's resisting simply is trying to save her virtue, but truly wants to be taken by her Majesty's best and has yet to see the light.
It's a scene that, unless you're an out and out feminist, wouldn't even warrant a mention. Should this not be more offensive in its own way? At the very least, the scene in Irreversible makes this horror every bit horrible.
I wonder, in fact, if men react to this more viscerally than women. Perhaps the difficulty for men is being unable to save a woman in such danger, and in fact, this drives the first part of the film.
If you can actually force yourself to watch this scene twice, you'll see something interesting in the background. The two people are in a corridor, apparently, near a subway. The corridor is empty, and only the rapist and Bellucci are in this scene.
Or are they? Because a few minutes into the scene, someone enters the corridor. It seems like a guy. He's in there for about twenty seconds or so.
Alas, if you're reading this, I've given it away, which is too bad, because if you're watching the film, your eye is drawn completely to the scene at hand. You almost feel guilty that you have forced yourself to watch this scene, and doubly so, because there's actually someone in the back.
And you wonder, why didn't that person do anything. He didn't yell to stop. Nothing. He's in. He watches a moment. He leaves. Why is that person there? What does Noe want us to think, if we spot him?
As much as one focuses on this key scene, it's perhaps to Noe's credit that the rest of the film holds its own, and in fact, would have made for a completely different film had he chosen not to depict a descent into hell.
And as much as anything, it does seem like an allegory of sorts, of Adam and Eve, and the exit from paradise, though certainly, the film doesn't try to take that too literally.
Would I recommend people watch it? Yes, I think I would. There's something to be said about a film that is fascinating to watch even after the scene everyone talks about.
Ah, which leads me to the other film. Pulp Fiction. Pulp Fiction, as well, has a rape scene. Again, it's hard to remember, but it involves Ving Rhames (as Marsellus) and Bruce Willus, being captured, and then raped by some guys into S&M.
Even if Tarantino did a Noe, and tried to depict this scene for the time that Noe did, would the impact have been nearly as negative? Could you have watched two guys going at it, where one guy is raping the other? Would it have been as painful to watch or not?
Because that, too, ties back to the key scene in Irreversible. If you listen to the dialogue, the man sounds like he is trying to rape another man. It's important to realize that just before this happens, the man has just struck what appears to be a woman, but if you paid attention to an earlier segment, you know that this woman is a transvestite. What does it say about him that he likes men who look like women.
And what is Noe saying about gay sex? Is he, in fact, anti-gay? Was that the same conclusion you'd draw from Pulp Fiction about Tarantino? The film appears to hit all sorts of taboos.
It says something about a film that makes you think, both in time, and about the subject matter, and about the actors who put themselves through this, and about how effective the acting and assured the directing is.
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