Kelly's Taboo Terrors: The Woman (2011)
Follow Kelly’s exploration into the darkest recesses of horror. Once a month she takes a twisted turn and dissects the most graphic, disturbing, controversial, and obscure films the horror genre has to offer. These are immoral, indecent and offensive; the ugly films that few people talk about and even fewer dare to watch. The films that will stay with you long after the credits roll and infest your nightmares.
Disclaimer: Movies that depict real animal harm for the sake of film making will NOT be watched or discussed (ie: Cannibal Holocaust)
Viewers Discretion is Advised.
It’s April which means it’s time for another edition of Taboo Terrors and this time I was able to go inline with the theme: spooky women! Well, in a way I did. This month’s film is one I have been wanting to revisit after it blew me away a few years ago. It was so very graphic and emotionally distressing. It also portrayed elements that I hadn’t really seen in a film before, so without further adieu, let’s dissect The Woman (2011).
The Woman, directed by Lucky McKee (All Cheerleaders Die, May), premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011 to an intense amount of outrage from viewers. One in particular (see video here) called it “disgusting” and that it’s “not art,” but the “degradation of women in the absolute way.” This man -- so upset by what he had witnessed -- said that the film should be BURNED. Obviously any film that provokes such a visceral reaction from an individual is one meant to be seen!
The Woman, starring the absolutely incredible Pollyanna MacIntosh, is about a traditional nuclear family: a husband (Chris), wife (Belle) and three kids (two girls - Peggy, Darlin - and one boy, Brian), living in Small Town, USA. Chris is a lawyer and Belle is a stay at home mother. In the film, Chris heads out on his usual hunting trip and stumbles across a woman bathing in the river. He comes to the conclusion/realization that she is a woman that lives in the forest, like an animal. He goes home and barks orders at the family to clean out their old cellar for reasons unknown to them yet. The next day he goes back to the woods, assaults the Woman (that of which we will call her), and shackles her in his cellar under the guise of requiring her to be “trained” to become “civilized.” Of course, how one expects to conquer this savage beast of a woman is to torture, rape, and deny her any personal freedoms. At this point, the entire family is involved with the management of this strange woman in their cellar.
The Woman is undoubtedly a rape-revenge fantasy; the Woman tolerates her captors as much as she can and internalizes her torture. As the film moves forward you can see her intelligence and resilience. You are a witness to the upcoming revenge brimming at the surface; as she is patiently waiting, and we are too, with bated breath! The Woman is physically strong -- as a woman of the woods would have to be -- but she is also cunning and perceptive. She knows that Peggy is pregnant and wishes her no harm, but also sees the weakness in Belle, as Belle enables Chris and is unable to stand up to him. The Woman would never allow a man to strike her (oh how I dare them to try!), or subjugate her - she is a woman of the forest, a “wild woman”. Though through patriarchal viewpoints, she is “uncontrollable” and “uncivilized”, and requires taming.
Though the film is graphic in its violence and breaks taboos with the death of a child, a lot of the violence done to the Woman is not shown on screen. We can hear her screams when her nipple is being cut up with pliers, but all we see is the aftermath. It is not exploitative. What we do see is the graphic depictions of violence against the people that harmed her - Belle, Chris and Brian. They are the ones -- in the eyes of the spectator -- deserving of the violence, whereas the Woman is not. It is patriarchal exploitation, not female exploitation.
Despite the violence, what is the most unsettling aspect of this movie, to me, is the portrayal of Chris’ misogyny. It makes your skin crawl. The Woman is seen as a savage in Chris’ eyes, but the definition of savage is someone that is fierce, violent and uncontrolled. Well, we know that misogyny is based on fear and control, and we see that this is how Chris rules his family. It also explains his fascination with the Woman. One of his first encounters with the chained “savage” is where she bites his finger off, chews it up and spits out his wedding ring, a symbol of ownership and bondage (and not the fun kind)!
The defined origin of misogyny stems way back in the days of Plato and Aristotle and worked its way up into Christianity. In “The Philosophical Origins of Patriarchy”, Christia Mercer discusses how the writings of these early Philosophers contained “ideas and arguments that were used to rationalize a particularly virulent form of misogyny. Once these ancient trend-setters devised arguments for female subjugation in the name of a divine good, it became self-confirming in the sense that women were taken to be naturally inferior to men, treated differently from birth, and trained to subjugate themselves, which itself further supported views about female imperfection and the disempowerment that entailed.” The term misogyny even derives from the Greek word misogynia (misein, “to hate,” and gyri, “woman”), therefore misogyny means the hatred, dislike of, or prejudice against women.
Then with the arrival of Christianity, organized religion further instilled the beliefs that women were not equal to men. Here is just *one* example: in the New Testament, Paul states: “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness,” for “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (Timothy 2:12).”
Another way to view the Woman is that she comes from Mother Nature, a place that is also exploited and harmed by patriarchal rule. In the book “The Death of Nature”, Carolyn Merchant talks about how the environment has become something to be “exploited, transformed, and used for profit”. Then in her essay entitled “The Term Mother Nature Reinforces the Idea that Both Women and Nature Should be Subjugated”, Sarah Milner-Barry further goes on to say “looking for justification as humanity began asserting its dominance over the Earth in earnest, Western patriarchal societies saw an immediate connection between nature and the qualities which they had come to expect of women.” Society started using terms like “virgin Earth,” “fertile land,” and “barren soil,” all with female symbolism. Sarah then confirms that the term “mother nature” then “has come to represent the twinned exploitation of all that patriarchal society considers to be inferior to men. As such, both are expected to be perpetually available to them, and to be accepting and accommodating of their desires.” Chris, a regular hunter of wild animals, sees the Woman as a thing of nature, and something that he has the right to harness and dominate.
The Woman is a very powerful film. Pollyanna MacIntosh, in an interview with Syfy, said that she feels like it is a “feminist movie at heart” and likens the representation of misogyny to showing it in its “grotesqueness.” Many films show misogyny as the core of the violence against women but rarely do they show the severe consequences it has on children. Not to mention the women getting revenge and taking back their power. Revenge fantasies can be cathartic for women who have suffered trauma at the hands of men, and I would count The Woman among them.
Now that I have seen more Lucky McKee films, I understand the music choice for The Woman. It’s very confident (which is how Chris acts) and it helps show us what's going on inside of him (this is also what McKee has stated). The style is 90s, indie-rock-band like, which can be jarring when you put it alongside the scenes in this film. It makes for an odd tonal shift, one that you aren’t expecting. I didn’t care for it! Otherwise, it’s a well done film with great performances and a repeat one from Angela Bettis (playing Belle, the mother) from May (where she plays the creepy protagonist). Pollyanna MacIntosh is a goddamn Goddess and she has now played this role three times, including Offspring (first in this trilogy) and her directorial debut of Darlin'. She is a powerhouse of an actor and really turned herself into the Woman, making this one of my favorite roles and performances in recent years. It’s incredibly nuanced.
I would give The Woman a ⅗ on the Nightmare Scale for the “boys will be boys” mentality, painful titty twisters, and sweet bloody revenge.