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red eye: contemporary feminist classic?

August 10th, 2007     by Thea Lim     Comments

It’s no secret that these days the horror/suspense category of movies has been letting down the ladies. You only need to take a look at the newly formed torture porn (yick!) genre to be assured of that.

Kira Cochrane at the Guardian has a succint analysis of this, saying that, “Horror films have, of course, always been full of nasty, misanthropic imagery…But [in torture porn films] it’s the violence against women that’s most troubling, because it is here that sex and extreme violence collide.” Sexualised violence? That doesn’t sound like a fun time to me.

And torture porn flicks have gone so far as to even offend their brotherly film makers (see Joss Whedon’s response to the ad campaign for Elisha Cuthbert movie Captivity, reported on this very website). In an article by Soraya Roberts, even God of Horror, Wes Craven says “Horror movies were once all about fear and frights…[Today] they’re all about pain and suffering.”

I never knew that Wes Craven was such a proponent for pro-lady films. So imagine my suprise when I saw Craven’s ‘05 film, Red Eye, and found that it just might be a modern feminist classic, the first suspense thriller I’ve ever seen where gender has a starring role. For serious!

Hotel manager and “24-hour people pleaser” Lisa Reisert gets stuck in a Texas airport waiting for a flight. There she meets Jackson Rippner (like Jack the Ripper, haha…) who is unsettlingly charming. Later they wind up sitting next to each other on the plane, and he tells her that he is using her and her father in a terrorist plot to assasinate a politician staying in her hotel (Oh noes!). And then he headbutts her, holds her in a chokehold in the bathroom, and accuses her of relying on female-based, emotion-driven logic. You’ll have to see the movie to find out what happens…

But what really gripped me about this movie is the opening, where Lisa and Jackson first meet. It’s a scene you’ve seen (and maybe experienced) a million times: overly familiar man talks overly polite woman into having a drink with him, condescends to her, repeatedly asks her if she’s all right and acts generally gross. What amazed me about this run-of-the-mill scene is that it was in a movie.

We’ve smited the sensitive male chauvinist on this site before, because usually, at least in mainstream Hollywood, paternalistic, supercilious brotherpuckers are painted as being the ultimate Mr. Right. (Hello Ben Affleck, Kevin Smith, Zach Braff…) The women they approach always fall for their saccharine sweet condescension, leaving the real women in the audience screaming “That’s NOT what I want! R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find out what that means to me!”

The exact same dialogue that Lisa and Jackson have could’ve been filmed in way that made it seem romantic. But in Red Eye, Lisa is visibly uncomfortable with Jackson’s advances. She’s suspicious of him from the outset because he’s just too nice. Like her dad, he keeps on asking her if she’s all right, as if she doesn’t really know how she feels. How many women have been in that situation before?

And yet her discomfort with him is so subtle that it might only be the people who’ve gone through it who’ll be able to identify with it - so much so that my extemely thoughtful male partner who I watched the movie with didn’t quite pick up on it. It’s like esoteric “in-joke” film-making - but the only people who are in on the joke are ladies who’ve been emotionally manipulated before. (Sweet! Finally, payback for 100s of years of patriarchal oppression!) This in-joke is carried out in the amazing trailer, where until the last few seconds of the preview, the movie is marketed as a sickly sweet rom-com:

Without giving too much away, what I loved loved loved about this movie is how much it is about resistance. And how much the resistance is carried out by a pretty little lady with high heels and carefully coiffed hair.

Movies about resistance to male violence like Sleeping with the Enemy or Enough are transformation movies. The plot is that there’s a pretty little lady, and her vulnerability and desire for love are what makes her the perfect target for an abusive male. And she has to transform herself from this soft, domesticated rabbit, in order to be a viable opponent for her abuser. While these movies can be empowering, they do imply that regular femme-y women can’t take a man.

Red Eye, on the other hand, shows that even 24-hour people pleasers can resist and be powerful. Our cover story for the Shameless Spring Issue dealt with such resistance. The writer, Liz Springate says that sometimes we don’t want to talk about ways to resist male violence, for fear that it will make women who’ve been assaulted feel as if they had some control over the situation, and therefore could’ve prevented themselves from being assaulted, and are to blame for not doing so. But Red Eye actually deals with this issue head on, by displaying both how terrifying and impossible it can seem to escape an attacker, and how possible it really is, even for Rachel McAdams.

For a woman like me, who weighs about the same as a sack of potatoes and has the extremely anti-revolutionary need-to-please syndrome, this movie was absolutely thrilling.

Tags: film fridays

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