Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Woman (Lucky Mckee, 2011)

In 2002, Lucky Mckee unleashed May. A concentrated blast of modern social discomfort and disquieted rage at the traditional female roles and portrayals, it's one of the most under rated and under appreciated films of it's generation. We've seen the awkward outcast story done with male protagonists thousands of times, but May takes a unique look at it from a female perspective and has some incredibly interesting things to say, while being a deeply compelling, startlingly intelligent film. Angela Bettis embodies the title character with all of her quirks and ticks in a way that is less about being showy and trying to gain acclaim for her talent than it is about making May human. It's not available for streaming on Netflix currently, but it is available as a streaming rental on Amazon. Click here and go watch it now if you haven't seen it, you won't be disappointed.

 Lucky has made a few movies since then, and directed an episode of Master Of Horror, also starring Angela Bettis. None of that work quite matches the power and effectiveness of May. Red, starring the awesome Brian Cox, is a good film and fun, but it just never reaches the kind of emotional crescendo that was one of the most beautiful aspect of May.

But, in 2011, Lucky Mckee brought a film to the Sundance Film Festival that caused an unusual level of controversy, The Woman. The video to the right shows one particularly perturbed movie goer getting tossed from the screening. In the video below that, the same gentleman makes it very clear to the Sundance staff that  The Woman is offensive, has absolutely not redeeming social value and shouldn't have ever been allowed to be shown at the festival. Reports coming out of the festival at the time were that he was definitely not the only one. The premiere screening apparently included a woman getting up to walk out and falling over in a faint.

It's not unheard of for a film to garner that kind of reaction, especially at a festival like Sundance. The difference being that most of the films that draw this kind of response tend to have an abundance of on screen violence. There is very little on screen violence in The Woman, until the last ten minutes. At that point things get painted red, but even that isn't as graphic and brutal as the kinds of films that usual garner the kind of controversy this one did. A quick Google Search for "The Woman, Sundance controversy," will recall a list of links that will detail the entire sordid affair, including responses from Mckee and his producer.

There may be no better example of what is wrong with the kind of knee jerk reactions that have become the hallmark of the majority of societies self appointed guardians of good taste and the socially acceptable, be they conservative, liberal or self professed radicals. The majority of the complaints about The Woman originate from the idea that it is an exercise in misogyny and exploitation. The first problem with that being that Lucky Mckee began his feature film career with the undoubtedly radical feminism of May. His career hasn't strayed far from that path at any point. The Woods, a film about a girls school in 1965, never gathers the emotional strength of May or The Woman, but it's still a film with a definite feminist bend.

The Woman creates the reaction it does because it is an unflinching gut punch of a film. Mckee is spinning a parable built around a country lawyer (Chris Creek, played by Sean Bridgers)who upon seeing a "feral" woman in the forest near his home, decides he is going to capture and "civilize" her. What it becomes from there is a scathing indictment of the kind of casual misogyny at the foundation of "traditional" domesticity. It is, in a way, taking the casual misogyny that is the bedrock for the "traditional family" to it's furthest logical conclusion.

From the moment Chris Creek brings "The Woman" of the title home (played to perfection by Pollyana McIntosh) his relationship with the other women in his family begins to change. Where he was previously a controlling, anal retentive control freak, he begins becoming a kind of unpredictable menace. Where his wife and daughter are obviously uncomfortable and already so used to blind obedience that they can't bring themselves to say much of anything, his son takes up his fathers cause with zeal. A little too much zeal. Angela Bettis brings her usual talent and fire to the role of Belle Creek, Chris Creek's wife. Lauren Ashley Carter is also outstanding as the daughter who is slipping into the depths of depression living under her insane fathers thumb.

The thing about The Woman is that it doesn't quite come from the same place of active feminism as May  did. It comes from almost the opposite end of the spectrum and is a scalpel sharp indictment traditional domesticity and it's misogynistic overtones. It has some very direct and deeply troubling things to say about anyone who would want to have what is essentially ownership of another human being, what kind of person would want to have dominion over another's will, and what happens to those who are complicit in making those things possible.

Mckee expertly ratchets up the tension, taking things one step further than the audience in comfortable with, and then a few minutes later, doing it again. It becomes the kind of experience where, as a viewer, one begins to wonder just how far this film is going to take them into territory they're not particularly comfortable with, which is one of the ways to effectively make a great horror film.

The Woman is a gut wrenching, unflinching attack on the most deeply held convictions that uphold the kind of misogynistic institutions that have been responsible at points for the idea that men could own women, control them and make them into what they wanted. Like May, The Woman is a film that only barely skirts being obviously and overtly political, but delivers both it's story and it's thesis with such force that both are impossible to discount or deny. If there is a perfect way to make a film in which one has something political to say, this is almost it. It's not quite satire, but it's as biting and brilliantly perceptive as very good satire.

I can enthusiastically recommend The Woman. I'd put off seeing it this long because of it's reputation of being as hard to watch as it is. I wish I'd seen it sooner.

Catch it on Netflix Watch Instant or on Amazon Instant.

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:19 PM

    This is a well-written article that I very much enjoyed, which is why it's a tragedy that I can't quite take you seriously due to your confusion of the difference between "it's" and "its."
    For example: "'s still a film with a definite feminist bend." That's correct. You're using it's as a contraction for "it is." As in, " is still a film with a definite feminist bend."

    However, the sentence "I'd put off seeing it this long because of it's reputation of being as hard to watch as it is, " is using that contraction incorrectly. By putting an apostrophe, you're saying, "because of it is reputation of being as hard to watch." I'm sure you mean "its", as in, "because of the movie's reputation of being as hard to watch." When the word "it" (which in this case is referring to the noun "movie") implies some sort of ownership, the apostrophe is left out. A good way to double-check is to just ask yourself, can I use "it is" here instead of "it's"? If it sounds wrong, then the word "it" is possessive and should not have an apostrophe.

    I know it's weird, cause like every other kind of possessive in the English language uses an apostrophe, but I guess this is why so many immigrants in the US have trouble learning English. Cause it's fucking complicated.

    Anyway, sorry for the grammar lesson, but I really hope you use the information to edit your article, because it's a good one--and this small improvement will make your talents as a writer shine even more clearly.


Comments should be respectful. Taking a playful poke at me is one thing (I have after all chosen to put my opinion out there), but trolling and attacking others who are commenting won't be accepted.