Hell Hath No Fury

Scorned auteurs drag their leading ladies through the mud

The first volume was criticized for its violence. What bums me out is that the violence isn't moving: So often it isn't funny or terrible or even yucky. All Tarantino's stylish visual and aural explosions--the over-the-topness of it all--don't make me giddy, only perplexed: feeling like I ought to be feeling something, but not feeling it. The various humiliations suffered by the Bride look like the biggest pandering (to the audience that enjoys female suffering). I came, saw, shrugged.

And, bored, I looked for meaning. Why does the Bride's blondeness draw constant admiration from man and girl alike, along with the immediate urge to smudge it? Is she supposed to represent America post-9/11? Traditional femininity? (The sentimentalizing of maternity is what's really over the top.) Thurman zigzags between acting and "acting," hitting every off note in between. Carradine stays true to his greasy Henry Higgins. My favorite line is his first--Do you find me sadistic?--because it seems to be Tarantino's question to the viewer. This is me at my most masochistic, the Svengali continues. Why? Because he's messing up what he loves? Does he want a medal?

 

I might have asked the same questions of Lars von Trier, whose orchestrated female submissions (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark) make me want to kick his teeth in. (I guess, given Mel Gibson's very orchestrated male submission, I ought to be happy with equal opportunity martyrdom.) In von Trier's latest, Dogville, the raped and battered woman (Nicole Kidman) goes refreshingly Bridal; unlike Tarantino, von Trier communicates the ugly horror of her persecution and her revenge. (Trust the manipulative von Trier not to provide an easy way out.) All this in a copiously arch style: The small-town setting is a black stage with white markings for buildings; one character is a writer who's into moral "illustrations."

Kidman's Grace, on the run from gangsters, is first sheltered and then abused by the Depression-era townspeople. Then the Mob shows up. For the first time, this female degradation is a means to an end, not some kind of misogynistic tribute. The end being Grace's ponderings: How do we as a society deal with those who hurt others? Do we forgive them, try to educate them because of their impoverished moral backgrounds, or do we hurt them back? It's definitely a post-9/11 question. It's also an arrogant one. (Who set "us" up as morality judges?) I don't doubt von Trier's critique of U.S. society and policy: His arrow pierces, though as usual his movie (like many in the U.S.) willfully ignores complex alternatives to its philosophical crucible. And von Trier can't help condescending to someone: here, to our country's poor, finally pictured in dirty desperation to the tune of Bowie's "Young Americans." You can bet they love being illustrated.

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