We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
Writer Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) takes a break in a rural cabin to start on her next book, but is brutally raped by local thugs. Surviving the ordeal, she then kills them as gorily as she is able.
Violent movies about sensitive subjects attract disagreement, and the remake of 1978's I Spit On Your Grave is no different. This exceptionally slight narrative - a woman is gang-raped, then exacts brutal and/or just (delete according to preference) retribution on the rapists - is once more the focus, in a small, controversy-hungry way, of two intertwined strands of debate, one around censorship and the other around misogyny.
The censorship debate is dominated by two main schools of thought. One suggests that adults should be free to choose what they watch and thus a work of fiction at the highest level of classification ought to be made available without alterations, as its creators intended it to be seen. I Spit On Your Grave has been subjected to 43 seconds of cuts, which may please those who take the opposing position, which feels that there are certain things that are too horrible and morally objectionable to be seen by anybody at all - either because they're just too horrible and morally objectionable full stop, or because people might copy the horribleness and moral objectionableness in the real world.
Feeding into this is the criticism that a film depicting rape in the way that this film depicts rape (these men enjoy rape collectively, filming it and egging each other on) is both misogynistic in itself and may also tend to encourage or validate misogynistic behaviours in the real world. It's a difficult call. Some may find the way the rape is filmed here unequivocally misogynistic because it is seen largely from the perspective of the perpetrators.
But does point of view imply agreement, endorsement or identification with that character? Not always - nobody would argue we're meant to be on Michael Myers' side in the continuous POV shot that infamously opens John Carpenter's Halloween - but it's certainly a technique that can easily be employed to that effect and one which is used in an at-best-ambiguous way in I Spit On Your Grave.
That said, the perpetrators are characterised as vile throughout, and others may find it in themselves to trot out the logical misfire that this film is not misogynistic and may even have a feminist subtext because we are left in no doubt that these men are very bad sorts indeed and are encouraged to relish their gruesome deaths. In fact both labels - feminist and misogynist - resist application to this grotty (but undeniably tense) film, and should not ever be misappropriated as terms somehow depicting the extreme ends of a single spectrum.
Feminism is not the opposite of misogyny. Feminism, lest we forget, is a philosophical position, standing for equal rights for women based on the theory that both genders deserve equal opportunities in life. It's difficult to argue with a straight face, though many have tried, that feminism might also encompass graphically-depicted revenge on rapists as entertainment.
Misogyny, on the other hand, is not a philosophical position or a movement (though it can underpin both), but a prejudice encompassing a potentially wide range of negative attitudes about women. Misogyny undoubtedly characterises the men depicted in this film, but arguably not the attitude of the film itself, because if anything, the film is irresponsible in this area, rather than hate-driven.
I Spit On Your Grave isn't driven by a philosophical or political agenda, and it isn't driven by a base need to showcase contempt for women - it simply wants to shake you up and grab your attention via the depiction of terribly emotive acts. This describes a good proportion of films released in any one week, but unlike most of those films, the subject here is a sad and sensitive one meriting more considered treatment. This, more than other charges levelled at this technically slick film, is its failing.
I Spit On Your Grave doesn't appear to actively set out to eroticise rape, but equally doesn't care if eroticising rape is a by-product of its aim to provoke an emotive reaction - any reaction - in the viewer. Rather like a multinational corporation disposing of waste products, any toxic pollution that results isn't the goal: the goal is maximum profit with minimum accountability.
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