Thursday, April 4, 2013

Blog Guilt #2

The second round of Blog Guilt. This time I wrote about the film The Last Seduction. Same class, same rules apply. If it's dumb, ignore me.

Disguise in The Last Seduction

Bridget Gregory is not a human being. Human beings have flaws, they’re vulnerable, and they hurt. Soren Kierkegaard once wrote that “Don’t you know that a midnight hour comes when everyone has to take off his mask? Do you think life always lets itself be trifled with? Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?”[1] Yet, Bridget is able to escape the film, all one hundred and ten minutes of it, without ever touching her mask. In the final scene, Bridget rides in a limo, the closest a neo-noir film will allow us to the notion of “riding into the sunset.” And in this scene, Bridget not only flicks her nose up at Kierkegaard but at the two prominent males in the film, Clay and Mike, as well. Throughout The Last Seduction, Bridget uses her sexuality as a weapon, dominates male characters through her knowledge of gender roles, and has no problem donning numerous identities in order immerge victorious. Yet, as Bridget manipulates the male characters in the film, John Dahl, the film’s director manipulates the audience as he uses the thinnest narrative pretense to hide what Bridget truly is – a modern day psychopath.

The Last Seduction opens with Bridget’s husband, Clay, earning $700,000 from a drug deal. But Clay is not the typical “bread winner.” He is essentially unemployed and the funds are supposed to go towards his medical school tuition. Yet, Clay’s panic filled tears underscore the aforementioned deal, which only happens due his medical connections and sheer luck. This man is no hero. Clay returns home, money in hand, and gets into a fight with Bridget. The situation escalates, he slaps her, but the incident dissipates, tensions fade. The two become intimate, but as Clay enters the shower, Bridget hides the rest of the condoms and tells him she’s running out to get more. Yet without hesitation, Bridget grabs the money and leaves. This heist was pulled off with lips and cleavage, no firearms involved. In this way, Bridget uses her femininity as a substitute for violence. However, later on in the film, when Bridget is pursued by a private investigator, she uses her sexuality in a much more sinister way, “using it to distract someone before she commits violence.”[2] In this sequence, Bridget walks out of her house and his apprehended by the private investigator. They climb into Bridget’s car. She drives while he sits in the passenger’s seat. Their conversation is hostile. After some time passes, Bridget makes a comment about the man’s penis, if it’s really as big as she imagines. At first, the private detective resists these advances. He’s a professional, or at the very least, functions under the guise of one. However, after further encouragement, the detective relents. He unbuckles his seatbelt in order to unbutton is pants. In this moment, Bridget pounces. She drives the car into a power line. Upon impact, the detective flies out of the windshield. He’s dead and it wouldn’t have been possible without the distraction enabled by Bridget’s sexuality.

Throughout the film, Bridget uses her knowledge of gender roles to not only get men to do what she wants, but to guarantee her innocence. Upon Bridget’s arrival in Beston, she quickly befriends a local insurance sales man named Mike. Their relationship turns sexual and on one rainy night, Bridget and Mike find themselves alone in the office building that they both work in. Mike, either half-serious or wanting to impress Bridget, demonstrates how he can catch a cheating husband by reading his credit report. This act impresses Bridget, who, taken by curiosity, calls the wife of one of the unfaithful to see if she can sell her on the idea of murder. Afterwards, Bridget tricks Mike into not only thinking that she now works as a part-time assassin, but needs him to kill someone as a way to prove his love for her. And while this may seem preposterous on paper, Mike believes it. Bridget leverages her femininity in order to engage Mike’s masculinity, to force him into a construction of power and strength that both parties know is false. Yet upon further pestering, the illusion of an unfulfilled gender role is enough to have Mike seriously contemplate murder.

Bridget constructs her femininity in order to have Mike believe that he is a failure of a man, that he cannot garner enough masculinity to prove his love for her. And this isn’t the result of bad acting but of design, “everything about Bridget seems slightly off, or faked, because she employs her femininity.[3]” This facade of femininity is again employed near the end of film. Mike, who finally relents to Bridget’s suggestion, sneaks into Clay’s apartment with the intention to murder him. However, the plot goes awry and both men realize that they have been tricked. As the men come to terms with one another as allies, Bridget walks into the door and kills her husband. Any illusion of femininity dissipates as the last drop of tear gas fills Clay’s mouth. After her husband has stopped breathing, Bridget turns her attention toward Mike. She informs him that she knows about Trish, the transsexual that Mike married while he lived in Buffalo. This revelation is enough to send Mike into a blind fury, for “the trauma here comes from the idea that a masculine man is supposed to be able to ‘recognize’ a feminine woman.[4]” Bridget capitalizes on this fury and provokes Mike into raping her while the authorities are on the phone. In the course of a few minutes, Bridget has played both cold-blooded murderer and rape victim. Once the authorities arrive, Mike is subsequently sent to prison as Bridget’s disguise of femininity claims its third victim.

Throughout The Last Seduction, Bridget uses her sexuality as a multipurpose disguise, one that can be used as a weapon, can dominate male characters through established ideology, and can assume many identities. Yet, Bridget’s femininity is not only used to trick the men in the film, but also the audience. Bridget is undeniably the protagonist of the film, yet she unable to have an emotional connection to any of the other characters, they are pawns in her scheme. Given this context, Bridget’s femininity masks her psychopathy, her manipulation along with her tendency to kill. Yes, she is a strong woman, but she is not a woman. She is powerful, she is intelligent, she “kicks ass,” but she lacks the flaws, vulnerabilities, and shortcomings that are essential in not only a character, but also a human.

[1] Kierkegaard, Soren. Either/Or. II. 146. Print.

[2] Neroni, Hilary. The Violent Woman. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005. 95. Print.
[3] Neroni, Hilary. The Violent Woman. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005. 95. Print.

[4] Neroni, Hilary. The Violent Woman. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005. 97. Print.

Larry King Has Fun

Marble Madness

Blog Guilt

Blog Guilt is a thing. You know you have this thing you should update on a regular basis, but just can't find the time, or the thoughts, or the mental bandwidth. So since I haven't updated this things in forever, here are some thoughts I had about the film Speed. I wrote this piece for my Violent Women in Film Class and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. If it's dumb, just act like this was written by someone else or something.

The Man of Action as a Source of Strength

            In his 1864 novel, Notes From Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky writes about how the conscience man is paralyzed by his thoughts, crippled by insecurity. If Dostoyevsky is indeed correct, Jack Traven, the protagonist of the film Speed, may not possess an ounce of consciousness. Over the course of the film, Traven saves an elevator’s worth of people with a crane, tries to disarm a bomb on the base of a moving bus, and frees a hostage from a vest lined with explosives. In the early moments of the film, he even shoots his partner as a way to resolve a hostage situation. This man clearly posses little, if any, self-doubt. And Traven’s status as a “man of action” isn’t limited to his own finitude, as other characters siphon some of his strength. Annie Porter, a spunky twenty something, catches the bus one day just to learn from Traven that the vehicle will explode if it reaches a speed under fifty miles per hour. After the bus driver is shot in an altercation, Annie takes the wheel as Traven thinks of ways to diffuse the situation. At first glance, Porter exemplifies the independent woman – intelligent, witty, and able to drive a large bus at high speeds, an activity one almost always associates with men. Yet, throughout the film it becomes clear that Porter is not truly independent and powerful, as she owes her bus driving skills along with her life to Traven, her man of action.
            In her book, The Violent Woman, Hilary Neroni makes the argument that from the moment Traven climbs aboard the bus, he is there “to protect Annie.”[i] This position is not only indicative of Traven’s role in the film, but also of his place in society. The character of Jack Traven is a white male who lives to protect. He’s a cop, one who likes to party, save lives, and make passive comparisons between his work and sexual acts. In fact, early in the film “after the elevator crashes, Jack and [his partner] Harry sit down and take a breath, and they say to each other, ‘Was it good for you?’ ‘It was great for me.’”[ii] This exchange between not only coworkers, but also friends, illustrates the way sexuality is engrained into the male psyche, how every act of bravery is an act of masculinity. And as an audience we rarely think twice about this exchange, for from Uncle Sam to James Dean to Keanu Reeves, the prevalent cultural ideology has taught us that the heterosexual white male is here to protect. This ideology is evident throughout Speed but discards any veil of subtlety right after Harry has been killed. Jack receives the news, and for a moment, becomes despondent, paralyzed by self-doubt. His masculinity challenged. But Annie pleads with him, “Don’t give up on me. We are really scared and we need you right now. I can’t do this by myself.”[iii] This quote not only affirms Annie as a female who needs a male protector but also establishes that Jack Traven needs to be reminded that people depend on him in order to save the day. After Annie delivers that line, Jack returns to his previous ways. Any blow his masculinity may have taken in the aftermath of his friend’s death is mitigated with the knowledge that people need him. In the world of Speed masculinity triumphs any self-doubt, any consciousness.
            Annie, despite her goofy ponytails and innocent eyes, drives a bus over a gap in the freeway. This physical act, coupled with her sharp tongue and wit, may lead some to argue that she is an accurate portrayal of a young, independent woman. Yet, any illusion of Annie as a feminist icon is undermined in the film’s final minutes. As Traven and the rest of the LAPD close in on the location of Howard Payne, the film’s antagonist, Annie is told to stay inside the van. However, curious about the current situation, Annie ventures outside and is not only captured by Payne himself, but has a vest lined with explosives forced upon her. In the sequences that follow, Payne gets the hostage money that was promised to him, and with Annie in tow, tries to escape by way of the subway. Yet, Traven is privy to Payne’s plan and pursues him underground, the final play in what has been an a hundred and sixteen-minute pissing contest between the film’s two central male figures. However, down in the subway, it is clear that Traven is one step ahead as a paint bomb explodes all over Payne and the money. In this moment, as Neroni points out, “[Payne] realizes at this point that he has lost all possibility of regaining his masculinity. When he realizes this he has a violent fit – punching, kicking, and screaming.”[iv] This outburst is the physical manifestation of Payne’s humiliation, his castration, at the hands of Traven. Payne, frustrated at Traven’s success, leads the young cop to the top of the train. If masculinity is to be reclaimed, Traven must die. Yet, Payne’s eagerness to reclaim his manhood proves to be the end of him, as a low-hanging ledge literally takes his head off. In the aftermath of the battle, Traven returns to the interior of the train, ready to reclaim Annie as his own. However, he finds her handcuffed to a pole and the train out of control. In this moment, Annie argues with him to go, to leave her to her fate. Two people don’t have to die here. This argument is reasonable, it may be cowardice in the realm of action stars, but it at least makes sense. Yet, the ideology of male as protector finds a way to triumph over all. Jack saves both of their lives and the film ends with them on the ground, kissing as people applaud. The hero has not only reclaimed his masculinity, but has also won the girl. The same girl, who a moment ago made a sound argument for her independent death, is in his arms. Her autonomous decision making ability rendered mute by his ability to protect.
            On first glance, Annie Porter may come across as a strong, independent woman. She drives an explosives bus all over Los Angeles and cracks one-liners at the expense of her fellow riders. Yet, at the end of the day, she is at the mercy of two men’s masculinity – Traven’s protective spirit and Payne’s impotence based frustrations. And by the end of the film, she owes Traven not just driving ability but also her life. In this context, Porter is not a true independent woman, just a male construct of one. She is able to engage in both mental and physical give and take, but in the end, does nothing to disrupt the ideology of the male protector, the man of action.

[i] Neroni, Hilary. The Violent Woman. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005. 57. Print.

[ii] Neroni, Hilary. The Violent Woman. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005. 47. Print.

[iii] Neroni, Hilary. The Violent Woman. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005. 57. Print.

[iv] Neroni, Hilary. The Violent Woman. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2005. 53. Print.

Phoenix - Entertainment Homemade Performance Video

Because for some reason, stripped-down Phoenix always sounds better.