Blindness (the movie), and a comment on women

4 10 2008

There are spoilers here, so move on if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book already.

Last night C, M, and I went to see Blindness. I had heard such great things about the book from both M and G, and the trailers looked promising. Everyone mysteriously goes blind except for one woman, and it focuses on a large group that has been quarantined. Sounds interesting!

First of all, this movie had some of the worst pacing. It was almost agonizing. And I understand that it was probably mimicking the pace of the book, but it just didn’t translate well to the screen. Some of the acting was a little over the top, and the whole thing just kept, on, going.

And then, and then, the rape scene. The extended, prolonged rape scene. One group has taken all the food and they are trading with other groups for it. Money doesn’t mean anything, possessions have already been bartered, what’s left? The women. And while in the context of the story, which is examining the degeneration of society, it makes sense . . . it was repulsive. It made me physically ill. I was more disturbed by that than most things I’ve seen in any other movie.

And I just couldn’t stop thinking about this. About all the issues it brings up. It’s a sad fact that the destruction of women’s bodies is a common war tactic. Rape the women to demoralize the men. In this instance, rape the women to feed the men. It at once brings women down to a commodity but also, it oddly highlights exactly what a women’s body is worth. And that worth is what seems to bring about the most punishment. This sounds strange, and maybe it is, but I almost wonder if . . . if women suddenly all realized this worth and used it, what could be accomplished? Is this what the second wave of feminism and “consciousness raising” was all about? My god, sometimes it is astonishing to realize the power that women hold. Which makes it all the more depressing to realize that it goes unused, ignored, or stolen.

Yeah, this is me having a feminist moment. I used to have a theory: It is a general rule that women have a higher pain tolerance than men. It may not seem so, but when it comes down to can’t-escape-it-no-getting-around-it-grit-your-teeth pain, women can last longer. Perhaps it’s a biological response to the pain of giving birth. My theory was that men know this, even on a subconscious level, and some are jealous. So jealous that they try to test the limits of what we can take.

I don’t know. But I know that I hated that movie for a whole bunch of reasons. I know that the rape scene was intended to be disturbing, to show how far they had fallen. I know that half the point is that the blindness is a blessing. The curse falls upon the one woman who can still see the atrocities around her. And I know that this movie is supposed to cause this kind of thinking. But I also know that watching that rape scene was like a punch to the gut and instead of making me feel angry and self-righteous (which is how I feel today) I felt a little scared and ashamed of being a woman. I felt nervous. I felt expendable. And that’s not what I want when I go out to see a damn movie.

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12 responses

4 10 2008
A.Y. Siu

It is a general rule that women have a higher pain tolerance than men. It may not seem so, but when it comes down to can’t-escape-it-no-getting-around-it-grit-your-teeth pain, women can last longer.

Thank you for saying this. Very few people I know recognize the difference, and they say instead that women have a higher pain threshold. It’s not a higher threshold, based on what I’ve seen, but it is a higher tolerance, just as you have put it.

Most women I know have a lower threshold for the onset of pain. Once the pain sets in, though, they can take it. Most men I know, however, have a higher threshold for the onset of pain. Once the pain sets in, though, they cry like little babies.

And I know that this movie is supposed to cause this kind of thinking. But I also know that watching that rape scene was like a punch to the gut and instead of making me feel angry and self-righteous (which is how I feel today) I felt a little scared and ashamed of being a woman. I felt nervous. I felt expendable.

If that’s really how you felt, I don’t think you should keep giving this movie the benefit of the doubt. You seem to want to justify the rape scene as possibly being intended to have some noble literary effect, but if this the real effect it has on audiences, then perhaps they didn’t do a very good job, did they? Or maybe their intentions weren’t so noble to begin with?

17 01 2009
katriona

hi,

i found your blog by searching for a “feminist review of blindness.” I watched this film a couple nights ago, and I found it so incredibly upsetting. The rape scene, that is. As a survivor of sexual violence, the scene was more triggering than anything I have ever seen in a movie before. I agree with the commenter above, that you should not keep giving this movie the benefit of the doubt. the rape scene may have had a purpose in the eyes of the (male) director but it was done in such a way that is, i think, ultimately very hurtful to women who watch

this scene was so bad, to me, that i sobbed the whole night after watching the film, had shakes, vomited. I get it, Blindness, rape is bad. you dont have to stretch out the scene and make it as brutal and graphic as possible to make that point.

thank you for your review,

kat

24 02 2009
Eleanor

Hi everyone,

I’m so glad to hear that other women had similar reactions… though I’m also sad that our shared reaction is feeling angry, upset, and disgusted.

I just watched the video at a (male) friend’s house; neither of us knew much about it; he said he picked it because he liked Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo.

For me, the movie got progressively more disturbing:

I think having the husband cheat on his wife was bad enough, but I was both disgusted and confused when the wife seemed to have no anger at either of them and went over to talk to the woman who had just had sex with her husband. On one hand, I was like, “that wife is a saint.” On the other hand, I was like, “what’s wrong with her that she’s not angry?” I think there was definitely this theme of female-bonding in the movie, starting here and continuing to the women huddling together after the rape and then at the end of the movie when they shower together at the wife’s apartment. I guess we women in the audience were supposed to feel all, “yea, sisterhood,” but it felt more like, “men are awful, so we women need to stick together.”

When the sexual-trading/rape scene seemed imminent I asked my friend to fast forward past that whole section, and after reading everyone’s comments, I’m really glad I did. Even with the fast forwarding I looked a few times and was sorry I did. I can’t fathom how upsetting and awful it must be to watch that scene as a sexual violence survivor. Did it really serve any purpose?–Would it really educate or open the eyes of men in the audience? And if rapists or potential rapists did see the film– if they are incapable of empathy with a real woman they are with, why would feel any empathy with a woman onscreen?

One more rather trivial thing that annoyed me about the movie– why didn’t she just take the gun right at the beginning when the dictator-guy was sleeping?!

-Eleanor

6 03 2009
Hien

Hello,

Thank you for this post. It was very insightful for me to hear it like this. I was pretty horrified with that particular scene especially as a male. I kept wanting something to jump in to save the scene, but it never came. And I wish the men did something or put up some kind of resistance instead of just feeding them to the dogs… I never want to see this movie again and warned my female friends of the scene in the movie. Call it artistic or whatever, it’s just not within my personal taste.

Hien

13 04 2009
Sarah

oh god, thank you so much for pointing this out.

Why the F did no one, not any of the reviewers, point out the horrifically graphic rape scene? Rated R for sexual content was all I said. Well thanks a lot, but consensual sex and this mass rape are NOT the same thing.

I’m a victim of rape, and had the same reaction as yall did – crying the rest of the night, feeling vulnerable and like a piece of shit. It was genius filmmaking if the point was to relive the whole thing over again.

After that, I looked a bit and found NOTHING decrying the awfulness of this movie. So I tried to repress it. I only came looking at it today, because I was reading about the controversy in Observe and Report. Everyone is up in arms about an ambiguous date rape scene by the main character, who is delusional and insane. I saw that movie and I actually wasn’t bothered.

But what does bother me is how BLINDNESS somehow went under the radar, I suppose because it was considered this intellectual, meaningful and insightful movie.

But really it was just exploitative, sickening crap.

16 05 2009
liz

Thanks for the intelligent review and posts. I too am a rape survivor and I almost saw this film. For female survivors “entertainment” is a mine field – you never know when you are going to be assaulted with some male director’s “lesson” in “human nature” or “gritty reality”.

Director Lars Von Trier said in an interview that he writes the scenes where his female leads are brutalized and degraded as a metaphor for his own sense of marginalization.

I sure wish that directors who slam us with graphic rapes scenes would have the experience themselves, then we’ll see how comfortable they are with this “metaphor”

23 09 2009
Male Viewer

I just watched Blindness on cable. Blindness would’ve been a good movie if all sex and rape scenes were removed.

So many movies could be better without graphic sex or rape scenes. The Crow, Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall come to mind.

Forrest Gump’s mom (Sally Field) used sex to get him in a regular school. Funny scene, but could’ve been left out for the younger audience.

The House Bunny’s main character is from the Playboy mansion. There was no nudity or graphic sexual innuendos. Movie critics called it “cute” and I agree. I would allow my 12 year old daughter to watch it.

23 09 2009
Sharon

Thanks for reading, Male Viewer.
I don’t agree that all sex scenes should be taken out of movies. Movies for young kids, sure, but I don’t even think that all rape scenes should be taken out of movies. To remove them entirely would be pretending that they don’t exist, and that is just as dangerous. I just think they need to be presented responsibly and as part of the story. Not graphically, not sensationally, and not for shock value.

8 11 2009
Julie

I watched this last night and I am still emotionally raw.

Blindness, like all “End of the World as We Know It” films, was extremely disturbing. I watched most of this film in horror….because it shows what people can become in the absence of social controls such as police, fire & rescue, supermarkets, doctors’ offices / hospitals, pharmacies…and the general deterioration of morality under these circumstances. I also wondered: What would I do? Does anyone else have that feeling with films like this?

Anyway…I was utterly disgusted by the rape scenes, but I am truly hoping that was the point the writer was trying to make….I just wonder if the rape scenes needed to be SO graphic – as other have said. But then I think…everyting else in the film about how human beings degenerate was graphic too…There was sex out in the open, feces in the halls, people laying nude because they just didn’t care, the behavior of the guards…..the rapes were ugly and so were all the other things too….

Thinking about the tsunami in SE Asia, tales from war torn African countries, and Hurricane Katrina…It seems to be true that when social order is removed, men will rape. Do we know why this is? Can you look @ your husbands, boyfriends, sons, brothers, and male friends and imagine that they too would turn to this behavior in the absence of social order? I hate these questions, but they come into my mind.

I’ll be 100% honest and say that I had quite a bit of trouble sleeping after I watched the film.

15 02 2010
Just saw the movie

Who said movies are just for enjoyment ? It is a strong scene, my stomach was more hurt than on Requiem For a Dream, but this is *life*. People do nasty things, this kind of thing happen every day, in a sistematic way. The world can be quite ugly, and the movie shows exaclty this. Turning the face away won´t make the world better. If no one have the guits to look into the eyes of despair and outcome it, all of you will behave like the person who said they just should handle the killer of the ward 3 leader as a peace offer.

26 08 2011
Trevor

Hello, I have yet to see the movie (because I heard it was boring and tasteless) but I have read the book several times, which is just as graphic if not more than the movie.

The rape scene is disturbing, but very important. While the women seem to simply accept this form of payment too easily, the point of this is just as important. Yes its horrible, rape is something that most people would never volunteer for under normal circumstances. He isn’t trying to glorify rape, isn’t even trying to defend rape. Its disgusting and cruel. But this scene shows several of saramago’s views on humanity, when stripped down to moits bare essentials. That there has always been a ruling class, and then the subordinate class. Those at the top are the minority, but hold the majority of the wealth. While the others are a vast majority, but have little wealth. that when given the opportunity, evil is easier that good. That its easier to allow rape to happen, than to fight it. That its easier to rape and take, than to share just because its the right thing to do. But in the end people are good, overall, and they will fight for goodness. Its part of the curve of justice, and what not.

Since when has a movie had to be a pleasureable thing? Especially when the movie is based on a novel which discusses the disgusting nature of humanity. Just my two cents.

About a woman’s threshold vs tolerance of pain vs a man’s, I’m not sure about either, since I’ve never been a woman. But I do know that I can’t be in extreme pain for too long, not sure how some women wear high heels for hours while in pain. I could wear uncomfortable shoes for hours, unless I had no option.

1 06 2012
C

Thanks for writing this review. Just watched the movie and googled for a feminist review. As a budding filmmaker myself, and as a male in general, it’s great to read a female perspective. I was a bit surprised about the overall reaction against it though. While I am like everyone in that I found the rape scene extremely disturbing and hard to watch, I felt the rest of the movie did quite a lot right. I am myself a victim of sexual abuse, from a woman, as a child. While my experience was nothing like this, nor what many sexual abuse victims survive, I consider myself pretty sensitive to the topic. It seemed to be a logical event in the course of the movie, and I think they were right to not have some last minute heroics save the day (because this almost never happens, and really would be a fantasy), but I do agree it could have been done less graphically and for much less time.

Other than this scene, how did this movie do from a feminist perspective? I would love to know more thoughts on this.

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