DVA 2013: The Hollywood Victim


DV-Awareness-Month1

*I give away the endings to old movies:
Waitress, Enough, & Sleeping With The Enemy

While discussing the rape scene in the movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the comments for “Rated M for Misogyny” on A Clown on Fire, I remarked, “The scene bothered me because of the gratuitous violence, but also because I feel it sends the message that victims are vigilantes and don’t need intervention. Her revenge took over where we need police and courts to be. It ultimately failed us by relying on the old adage violence begets violence and that a revenge rape is the better option for retribution.”

I went on to say I was disappointed in that the wrongs committed against the men in Stieg Larsson’s series were brought to justice in a courtroom whereas the wrongs committed against the women were brought to justice vigilante style. It’s unfortunately close to the truth. Legal justice for violence against women is elusive. Victim blaming and the financial pliability of the court system make it a daunting task for rape and domestic violence victims to go to the police and face the courts seeking justice. Revenge sometimes sounds easier.

There is a neat little bow tied around the violence as the Hollywood victim takes matters into her own hands and leaves us feeling uninspired to go out and change the culture of acceptance towards violence against women. The clean get-away fails because the audience no longer sees any need to punish the abuser. Revenge fails because it sends the message that victims can take care of the problem alone. Our heroines exact justice, so, we don’t have to.

Imagine a movie with the kind of violence that traps wives in fear and keeps them imprisoned, the kind of violence that often isn’t physical, and leave out the revenge audiences have come to expect as normal course of action for victims of abuse and rape. Put that movie on the big screen, not Lifetime. Show the dichotomy between the public man and the private monster, and the emptiness the victim feels thinking she’s the only one who knows. Let us watch her try to leave 3, 7, 10 times; let us watch her think she’s been caught. Focus on the fear. Sharp focus. No easy get-away, no revenge, no justice, no safety.

Rewriting Violence Against Women

How would we feel if Hollywood wife-beaters won? Walked away punishment free or got their girl back? Would the audience be more inclined to act if more Hollywood victims were left to live with their abusers? What if…

Waitress (2007)

Synopsis: Jenna is married to an abusive man, Earl. I love the name Earl for an abuser. It’s guttural and kinda like the noise you make when punched in the stomach. Jenna is a waitress, pregnant, and having an affair with her married Ob. Throughout the movie the audience gets a sense of the fear, control, and suddenness of abusive relationships. He screams at her, throws things ate her, and drags her out of social settings. Jenna’s original plan for escape is to win a pie-baking contest and use the cash to leave Earl, but that doesn’t happen.

Actual Ending: Jenna gives birth to a daughter and Earl reminders her that she agreed to promise not to love the baby more than him. Jenna looks longingly into his deep brown eyes and tells him, “I don’t love you, Earl. I haven’t loved you for years. I want a divorce. I want you the hell out of my life. You are never to touch me, ever again; I am done with you. If you ever come within six yards of me, I will flatten your sorry ass and I’ll enjoy doin’ it.” Earl is removed from the hospital room. As Jenna’s friends are cooing at her newborn, Jenna opens the card left for her by her boss and discovers a check for $270,000 and a bit of encouragement to start over without Earl. Jenna and her daughter do just fine. Earl is out of the picture. Jenna wins the pie-baking contest and buys the diner. The movie ends with Jenna and Lulu walking home together.

Alternate Ending: Jenna gives birth to a daughter and Earl reminders her that she agreed to promise not to love the baby more than him. Jenna looks longingly into his deep brown eyes and tells him, “I don’t love you, Earl. I haven’t loved you for years. I want a divorce. I want you the hell out of my life. You are never to touch me, ever again; I am done with you. If you ever come within six yards of me, I will flatten your sorry ass and I’ll enjoy doin’ it.” Earl is removed from the hospital room. As Jenna’s friends are cooing at her newborn, Earl comes back in with flowers. He immediately falls to his knees and begs Jenna to come back home and care for him. Jenna ignores Earl and when he puts the flowers on the bedside table, Jenna notices the card left for her by her boss. When she opens the card a check for $270,000 slides out and onto her lap. Earl picks it up and is immediately thrilled at their windfall. Earl tells Jenna to get up out of bed and get ready to leave before the hospital charges them for a full 24 hours. He takes the check and leaves the room. Jenna picks up Lulu and her carseat, walks out of the hospital, and gets into Earl’s car.  The movie ends with Earl speeding out of the parking lot.

Enough (2002)

Synopsis: Slim meets Mitch while waitressing and the two marry and have a daughter. Mitch is scum of the earth and his abuse runs the whole spectrum: Slim is manipulated, controlled, harassed  frightened, and physically attacked. When faced with her escape, Mitch stops at nothing to chase her down and maintain his control over Slim. She moves across the country at least 3 times and he finds her every time until she is forced to live in hiding apart from her daughter.

Actual Ending: Slim goes into hiding in San Francisco to train to kill Mitch. She practices Krav Maga to be able to take the final strike. When she’s ready, Slim breaks into Mitch’s house to take her revenge. When it comes time for that voluntary final strike, Slim is unable to reckon with her moral compass. While she is distracted, Mitch hits Slim and her training takes over. She trips Mitch and kicks him in the chest sending him over his balcony to fall to his death. Slim and her daughter live happily ever after in Seattle.

Alternate Ending: Slim goes into hiding in San Francisco to train to kill Mitch. She practices Krav Maga to be able to take the final strike. When she’s ready, Slim breaks into Mitch’s house to take her revenge. When it comes time for that voluntary final strike, Slim is unable to reckon with her moral compass. While she is distracted, Mitch hits Slim and she falls to the ground. When she wakes, she is tied to a chair. Mitch tells her she will never leave again if she wants her daughter to live. Resolute, Slim refuses to react. Mitch tells her the details of her daughter’s vacation in Hawaii, the name of the hotel and her room number, and picks up his own phone to call the hotel as proof. Slim is desperate to save her daughter. Mitch promises there are men enroute to Hawaii bring their daughter back to his home. Raw power and rage combine and Slim breaks out of the ropes and runs to attack Mitch. He grabs her arm and twists it behind her back. He whispers in her ear, “I will always be stronger.” Slim continues to fight but Mitch breaks her arm. She turns to face him and he kicks her in the chest sending her over his balcony to fall to her death. Mitch picks his daughter up at the airport and the two go for ice cream.

Sleeping with the Enemy (1991)

Synopsis: Laura and Martin have the perfect house and inside everything is perfect. Martin is obsessive about order and it is Laura’s responsibility to maintain his demanding perfection. She must always live up to his expectations, but doesn’t have to actually fail them; a perceived failure is reason enough for Martin to beat Laura. Laura escapes her abusive marriage by conquering a lesser fear of water. She learns to swim, fakes her death, and runs from Cape Cod to Cedar Rapids to start over. There she meets Ben and learns to love again.

Actual Ending: Martin becomes suspicious after receiving a call about his wife’s swimming lessons and starts observing the imperfections he’s overlooked for quite some time. He tracks the clues to Iowa, finds her mother, and then finds her. He breaks into her house and leaves clues for Laura to find. The towels, the food in the cabinet, all the perfection and the heart-racing realization that he found her. Then he appears. Martin talks to Laura and Ben interrupts. Martin threatens to kill Ben and Ben leaves, but then comes around the other side of the house and tries to attack Martin. Martin knocks Ben unconscious. Laura fights Martin and gets him to drop the gun. She holds him at gun point, calls the police to report shooting an intruder, and then shoots Martin three times. Ben revives and Laura collapses in his arms. Laura and Ben hug as Martin bleeds out with Laura’s wedding ring inches from his cold dead hand.

Alternate Ending: Martin becomes suspicious after receiving a call about his wife’s swimming lessons and starts observing the imperfections he’s overlooked for quite some time. He tracks the clues to Iowa, finds her mother, and then finds her. He breaks into her house and leaves clues for Laura to find. The towels, the food in the cabinet, all the perfection and the heart racing realization that he found her. Then he appears. Martin talks to Laura and Ben interrupts. Martin threatens to kill Ben and Ben leaves, but then comes around the other side of the house and tries to attack Martin, who turns, aims, and shoots Ben in the chest. The police arrive to find Martin holding up a distraught and crying Laura who can manage no more than head shakes, shoulder shrugs, and sniffles. She never tries to pull away as Martin explains he arrived from their East Coast home to find a stranger in this home with his wife’s jewels in his hands and pockets. She never interrupts. Martin agrees to come to the station for a more formal statement in the morning, and as he and Laura walk into her house we see the gun nuzzled against her side. Credits roll through Laura straightening the soup cans in the Cape Cod pantry.

The Reality of Violence Against Women

Movies aren’t reality, though many work hard to appear to be. The conversation around rape and domestic violence would reach new levels for a more accurate portrayal of violence against women, not to mention seriously cutting back on the overall denigration, exploitation, and objectification of women.

Hollywood turns reality into based on a true story and the blockbuster true stories involve heroics. Heroics aren’t the norm and the norm doesn’t pay multi-million dollar salaries. As much as I’d like to imagine Hollywood becoming a partner against violence against women, it would require consideration, thought, and conversation and in the fast-paced world of big-buck Hollywood movie franchises, no one has time for that.

The reality is it takes months, sometimes years, to escape abuse. The reality is when there are children you never really can escape the abuse. The reality is rape victims are blamed for rape. The reality is revenge will get you arrested. The reality is abusers and rapists are pitied for their lost futures with no regard for the lost future of the victim.

We will still change the conversation and the perception. Fuck Hollywood. More and more victims and survivors are speaking out. Fewer people are making excuses for rapists and abusers. The reality of it is seeping out there, slowly, but still.

*portions of this post previously published in
Laura Goes Home with Martin and Other Alternate Endings

Laura goes home with Martin and other alternate endings

Rape in Mainstream Movies

I was inspired by Sarah S at Girls Like Giants as she reflected on rape in movies and the trend towards Oscar nominations for the actress victims. One part in particular struck me; Sarah S wrote,

I suspect that makers of these films, similarly to Larsson, believe they are drawing attention to violence against women and/or queer people and that, by showing rape as unequivocally horrible, they may elicit empathy and/or action on the part of the audience. [...] My concern about the violent rape in Dragon Tattoo and others stems from the connection between visceral response and entertainment. Yes, after watching one of these grotesque scenes I receive the message that rape is sickening. But I do not receive the message that I can do anything about it. The passivity of the viewing experience encourages just such inactive responses. I feel something in my body but that does not translate into anti-rape action.

I asked myself, why do these movies, meant to illicit a response, leave us feeling exhausted but uninspired? Why don’t we all leave our viewing of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, go out and buy a tattoo gun, and then start tattooing rapists with the words “I am a rapist pig”?

I propose it’s the neat little bow tied around the violence as the victim takes matters into her own hands. The revenge makes the movie, and it works because we all want to do it, and by we all I mean me and many other victims of rape and abuse. It works because it draws on the popular conceptions and misconceptions of PTSD.

Illegality aside, revenge makes the movie, but it fails because once the victim takes revenge the audience no longer sees any need to punish the rapist. It fails because it sends the message that victims are vigilantes and don’t need intervention (and the total lack of police involvement isn’t screaming its own message either).

Our heroines exact justice, so, we don’t have to. How much more powerful would the experience be if it didn’t end so happily-ever-after? What if Lisbeth Salander had never raped her rapist? What if her rape had gone unpunished? Would you have noticed? Camped out for part 2 to see if it is? Did you notice that a rape went unpunished?

Violence Against Women

How would we feel if Hollywood wife-beaters won? Walked away punishment free or got their girl back? Would the audience be more inclined to act if more Hollywood victims were left to live with their abusers? Let’s rewrite a few endings to some domestic violence movies to make it worse, and see if it sits better.

Here are 3 movies with alternate endings:

Waitress (2007)

  • Synopsis: Jenna is married to an abusive man, Earl. I love the name Earl for an abuser. It’s guttural and kinda like the noise you make when punched in the stomach. Jenna is a waitress, pregnant, and having an affair with her married Ob. Throughout the movie the audience gets a real sense of the fear, control, and suddenness of abusive relationships. He screams at her, throws things ate her, and drags her out of social settings. Jenna’s original plan for escape is to win a pie-baking contest and use the cash to leave Earl, but that doesn’t happen.
  • Actual Ending: Jenna gives birth to a daughter and Earl reminders her that she agreed to promise not to love the baby more than him. Jenna looks longingly into his deep brown eyes and tells him, “I don’t love you, Earl. I haven’t loved you for years. I want a divorce. I want you the hell out of my life. You are never to touch me, ever again; I am done with you. If you ever come within six yards of me, I will flatten your sorry ass and I’ll enjoy doin’ it.” Earl is removed from the hospital room. As Jenna’s friends are cooing at her newborn, Jenna opens the card left for her by her boss and discovers a check for $270,000 and a bit of encouragement to start over without Earl. Jenna and her daughter do just fine. Earl is out of the picture. Jenna wins the pie-baking contest and buys the diner. The movie ends with Jenna and Lulu walking home together.
  • Alternate Ending: Jenna gives birth to a daughter and Earl reminders her that she agreed to promise not to love the baby more than him. Jenna looks longingly into his deep brown eyes and tells him, “I don’t love you, Earl. I haven’t loved you for years. I want a divorce. I want you the hell out of my life. You are never to touch me, ever again; I am done with you. If you ever come within six yards of me, I will flatten your sorry ass and I’ll enjoy doin’ it.” Earl is removed from the hospital room. As Jenna’s friends are cooing at her newborn, Earl comes back in with flowers. He immediately falls to his knees and begs Jenna to come back home and care for him. Jenna ignores Earl and when he puts the flowers on the bedside table, Jenna notices the card left for her by her boss. When she opens the card a check for $270,000 slides out and onto her lap. Earl picks it up and is immediately thrilled at their windfall. Earl tells Jenna to get up out of bed and get ready to leave before the hospital charges them for a full 24 hours. He takes the check and leaves the room. Jenna picks up Lulu and her carseat, walks out of the hospital, and gets into Earl’s car.  The movie ends with Earl speeding out of the parking lot.

Enough (2002)

  • Synopsis: Slim meets Mitch while waitressing and the two marry and have a daughter. Mitch is scum of the earth and his abuse runs the whole spectrum: Slim is manipulated, controlled, harassed  frightened, and physically attacked. When faced with her escape, Mitch stops at nothing to chase her down and maintain his control over Slim. She moves across the country at least 3 times and he finds her every time until she is forced to live in hiding apart from her daughter.
  • Actual Ending: Slim goes into hiding in San Francisco to train to kill Mitch. She practices Krav Maga to be able to take the final strike. When she’s ready, Slim breaks into Mitch’s house to take her revenge. When it comes time for that voluntary final strike, Slim is unable to reckon with her moral compass. While she is distracted, Mitch hits Slim and her training takes over. She trips Mitch and kicks him in the chest sending him over his balcony to fall to his death. Slim and her daughter live happily ever after in Seattle.
  • Alternate Ending: Slim goes into hiding in San Francisco to train to kill Mitch. She practices Krav Maga to be able to take the final strike. When she’s ready, Slim breaks into Mitch’s house to take her revenge. When it comes time for that voluntary final strike, Slim is unable to reckon with her moral compass. While she is distracted, Mitch hits Slim and she falls to the ground. When she wakes, she is tied to a chair. Mitch tells her she will never leave again if she wants her daughter to live. Resolute, Slim refuses to react. Mitch tells her the details of her daughter’s vacation in Hawaii, the name of the hotel and her room number, and picks up his own phone to call the hotel as proof. Slim is desperate to save her daughter. Mitch promises there are men enroute to Hawaii bring their daughter back to his home. Raw power and rage combine and Slim breaks out of the ropes and runs to attack Mitch. He grabs her arm and twists it behind her back. He whispers in her ear, “I will always be stronger.” Slim continues to fight but Mitch breaks her arm. She turns to face him and he kicks her in the chest sending her over his balcony to fall to her death. Mitch picks his daughter up at the airport and the two go for ice cream.

Sleeping with the Enemy (1991)

  • Synopsis: Laura and Martin have the perfect house and inside everything is perfect. Martin is obsessive about order and it is Laura’s responsibility to maintain his demanding perfection. She must always live up to his expectations, but doesn’t have to actually fail them; a perceived failure is reason enough for Martin to beat Laura. Laura escapes her abusive marriage by conquering a lesser fear of water. She learns to swim, fakes her death, and runs from Cape Cod to Cedar Rapids to start over. There she meets a humble college professor, Ben, and learns to love again.
  • Actual Ending: Martin becomes suspicious after receiving a call about his wife’s swimming lessons and starts observing the imperfections he’s overlooked for quite some time. Obsessed, Martin tracks the clues to Iowa, finds her mother, and then finds her. He breaks into her house and leaves clues for Laura to find. The towels, the food in the cabinet, all the perfection and the heart racing realization that he found her. Then he appears. Martin talks to Laura and Ben interrupts. Martin threatens to kill Ben and Ben leaves, but then comes around the other side of the house and tries to attack Martin. Martin knocks Ben unconscious. Laura fights Martin and gets him to drop the gun. She holds him at gun point, calls the police to report shooting an intruder, and then shoots Martin 3 times. Ben revives and Laura collapses in his arms. Laura and Ben hug as Martin bleeds out with Laura’s wedding ring inches from his cold dead hand.
  • Alternate Ending:Martin becomes suspicious after receiving a call about his wife’s swimming lessons and starts observing the imperfections he’s overlooked for quite some time. Obsessed, Martin tracks the clues to Iowa, finds her mother, and then finds her. He breaks into her house and leaves clues for Laura to find. The towels, the food in the cabinet, all the perfection and the heart racing realization that he found her. Then he appears. Martin talks to Laura and Ben interrupts. Martin threatens to kill Ben and Ben leaves, but then comes around the other side of the house and tries to attack Martin, who turns, aims, and shoots Ben in the chest. The police arrive to find Martin holding up a distraught and crying Laura who can manage no more than head shakes, shoulder shrugs, and sniffles. She never tries to pull away as Martin explains he arrived from their East Coast home to find a stranger in this home with his wife’s jewels in his hands and pockets. She never interrupts. Martin agrees to come to the station for a more formal statement in the morning, and as he and Laura walk into her house we see the gun nuzzled against her side. Credits roll thru Laura straightening the soup cans in the Cape Cod pantry.

Domestic Violence in Movies

Would there would be a sense of the trauma a victim feels left in the viewer if the viewer is left with unpunished abuse?

Imagine a movie with the kind of violence that traps wives in fear and keeps them imprisoned, the kind of violence that often isn’t define:violent (marked by extreme force) without the revenge audience’s have come to expect as normal course of action for victims of abuse and rape. Put that movie on the big screen, not Lifetime. Show the dichotomy between the public man and the private horror, and the emptiness the victim feels knowing she’s the only one who knows. Let us watch her try to leave 3, 7, 10 times; let us watch her think she’s been caught. Focus on the fear. Sharp focus. Horror movie, omg don’t go upstairs!, kind of fear except, omg don’t buy the medium eggs!