Friday, May 21, 2010


This post is likely to cause nausea, inability to sleep and later nightmares. Readers are advised to take proper precautions. I would not recommend reading to anyone who has been sexually attacked in the past or who fears such attacks.

Perhaps I exaggerate? But it's much better to be safe. Res ipsa sent me a link to the article I'm going to discuss here. We exchanged several e-mails on the advisability of writing about it at all. I'm still not certain what the correct thing to do is. On the one hand, I don't want to hurt my readers and I don't want to give horrible stuff more exposure. On the other hand, I certainly don't want horrible stuff to slip into mainstream conversation without anyone pointing out how horrible it is.

There is still time to stop reading this post!

How very dramatic! And all because of a movie review! But what a movie and what a review:

Long before any civilians had actually seen it, Michael Winterbottom's film "The Killer Inside Me" -- adapted from Jim Thompson's legendary 1952 crime novel -- became a blogosphere target as a purported example of Hollywood's pornographic glorification of violence against women. After the movie's Sundance premiere in January, a female audience member assailed Winterbottom and the festival during the post-screening Q&A: "I don't understand how Sundance could book this movie. How dare you? How dare Sundance?"

There were reports at the time that co-star Jessica Alba, who plays a prostitute who is literally beaten to a pulp by Casey Affleck's deputy-sheriff protagonist, had walked out of that Sundance screening in disgust. Alba later denied this, and on Tuesday night at the film's New York premiere in the Tribeca Film Festival, she and other cast members (including Kate Hudson, whose character suffers a similar fate) mounted an articulate defense of Winterbottom and his movie.

This is a snuff movie. A movie in which women get killed in various ways and not just because the protagonist is a crazed killer: The women want it, too:

Within the first few minutes of the film, Lou responds to being slapped and slugged by Joyce Lakeland (Alba), a hooker he's running out of town, by pulling down her panties and whipping her bare ass with his belt. Is this safe and sane, consensual S/M play? Absolutely not. Is it what they both want? Absolutely yes. The sequence is both erotic and violent, profoundly troubling and potentially arousing, designed to provoke a whiplash of emotional, psychological and libidinal responses. It sets the table for what follows: an exploration of the boundary between Eros and Thanatos, love and annihilation, that's at least as dark as anything found in the collected works of the Marquis de Sade and Georges Bataille.

If you use big words like Thanatos and refer to old-time sadomasochistic porn you can discuss a snuff movie as art, something to do with the desire for sex and the desire for death. Except that it's only women who get beaten to pulp, not men.

Believe it or not, none of the above is the reason why I still have trouble with nausea when I have to re-read the original review. The reason can be seen in the following quotes:

Lou himself does not understand why he does the vicious and bloody things he does (Affleck narrates some portions of the film in bursts of Thompsonian prose), and perhaps the best way to understand "The Killer Inside Me" is as a savage Biblical parable that might be about America, might be about masculinity and might be about human nature.


But make no mistake, this is an extremely tough film to watch, and it's meant to be. Some viewers will surely react with the visceral disgust that woman expressed at Sundance, and that's every bit as legitimate as a more detached and analytical response.


In the worst of several gruesome scenes in "The Killer Inside Me," Lou pulls on a pair of gloves and methodically sets about beating Joyce to death with his fists. (Spoiler police: This doesn't count, I promise.) This scene is shocking in its graphic and bloody depiction of violence, and perhaps more shocking in what it suggests: Joyce's eagerness for unbridled rough sex has opened the door to something much worse, and has even, in some sense, invited a brutal self-destruction that corresponds to her own self-hatred.


This scene raises many unmanageable and explosive questions, and it definitely does not present a politically palatable version of male-on-female brutality in an era when we have been trained to believe that sex is not violence and violence is not sex. Thompson's view (and Winterbottom's) is more fatalistic (and perhaps also more romantic) than that. I would even argue that the book and movie's portrait of Lou Ford pre-echoes some second-wave feminist ideas about men, women and rape: Male-female sexual relations, even in their normal guise, contain hints of violence, and it doesn't take much to tip them into apocalyptic darkness.

We have now moved from snuff movies as a form of erudite (European aristocratic) art to snuff movies as reflecting reality. This is different from the debates Anthony McCarthy's earlier posts on the topic of pornography created. The step taken here is huge.

The writer of the review tries to legitimize snuff movies as art which tells us deeper truths about men, women and sex: Women want to be killed, men want to kill and most normal sex is just one short step from finding yourself either beaten to a pulp or a murderer.

This is what caused my nausea: The writer of this review is out there somewhere.