pemmican wrote: I think a much stronger argument can be found for reading STRAW DOGS as misogynist, tho' -- and not just because of the central rape... There is definitely a "she was asking for it" tendency to that scene -- and I think that male audience members are invited to feel an uncomfortable degree of sympathy for the (teased and tormented) rapists...
While I agree that Peckinpah does cast some fault upon Amy within the scene, I don't really think the audience is invited to feel sympathy for the rapists, no matter how much Susan has teased and tormented them. The real achievement of the scene is that the viewer has no real firm footing to make any solid moral judgment of (most of) the characters. I do believe Peckinpah is attempting to convey that Susan has been naive about the consequences of her previous actions. She does display a certain degree of arrogance in relation to the sexual power she holds over David, but at the same time he displays a similar arrogance regarding his own "intellect". While I agree that she has teased the crew of men throughout the film, I'm not really sure she has really tormented the crew. I would actually say she has attempted to torment David by teasing the crew.
The complexity of the scene has a great deal to do with the fact that the initial sexual act is between Susan and her former boyfriend, and stems from the fact that we understand they have a past sexual history with one another. It also feels as if their connection is much stronger (given that they presumably grew up together and that they appear more compatible) than the rather loose bond between David and Amy. Once he attacks her, it happens so gradually and almost casually - in stark contrast to how rape scenes are usually filmed (quick violence, loud screams, and cut-aways) - that we have to make moral decisions we are uncomfortable with. We know the scene probably logically constitutes rape, but the details start to get in the way.
However, once the second rapist appears, I doubt we are supposed to feel any sympathy for either male (or any male within the movie) that takes part in the rest of the scene. It's an overload that Peckinpah almost tortures our own morality with. Amy's previous actions might have provoked such actions, but I doubt we can say she deserved
pemmican wrote:(which resonates against the sympathy shown Kristofferson in ALFREDO GARCIA, which scene also seems to contain Peckinpah's suggestion that a truly good woman will feel this sympathy and nurture and freely give love to her rapist, rather than fighting or just submitting)
Again, I'm unsure that we are supposed to feel any sympathy towards Kristofferson's character. He's not around long enough for the viewer to sympathize with him, and he certainly isn't fleshed out a whole lot. I also don't believe Peckinpah is suggesting that Elita is a truly good woman. i remember being incredibly frustrated with her character once she allows Kristofferson to have his way with her. However in retrospect, it's a rather pathetic action and it's more of an expression of her indifference towards sex. She is resolved to allow this to happen, partially because (I believe, at least from what I remember) she has experience as a prostitute, and partially because her life has beaten her down into accepting her miserable position within the world. She isn't so much purposely nurturing towards this man as it's just another display of the type of life she knows.
pemmican wrote:Still: I think the ENDING of the film requires that we be a little harsher to the film than some people are being. The young girl who leads the known pedophile played by David Warner into a private place is shown as "tempting fate" and playing in dangerous sexual realms, much as Susan George has been, suggesting this is in women's nature; given that there are only two main female characters in the whole damn movie, and both invite a sort of rape in parallel plots, Peckinpah DOES seem to be generalizing.
I agree that many viewers do let Peckinpah off the hook, and I agree that the scene involving Janice is shown to be "tempting fate" and playing in dangerous sexual realms. However, I think the point of the scene is also about youth attempting to adopt adult behavior without the necessary knowledge of the world that surrounds them. Again, I believe this has more to do with Peckinpah displaying how naive we can be towards the potential threat of violence. I believe Peckinpah is making his point using young women, but I doubt we can say he believes all women to be similar, considering Elita's sexual encounter is based around her world-weary viewpoint. In some ways it appears Amy and Janice's problems are a function of their naive nature, while Elita understands how to navigate through a cruel world because she is far more knowledgeable.
pemmican wrote:And again, Warner, despite his sexual history and despite the fact that he kills the girl, is presented as an innocent victim of HER perversity, such that again we're put in a sympathy-for-the-rapist viewpoint;
Again, I don't believe there is a strong sense of sympathy created by the events Peckinpah exhibits. It just seems to be problems associated to circumstances. Henry (Is that his name?) is only considered innocent to a point, because he is incompetent and lacks the mental capacity to understand his own actions. In a sense, Janice dies because of her own curiosity, but it's not really her fault - again, she does not deserve her fate just because she is a teenager curious about sex. Similar to Amy, Janice simply makes the mistake of trusting that she can control the effects of her sexual power. The complexity is created from the fact that we know Henry is a sexual predator and shouldn't be able to roam free within this town given the fact that he cannot comprehend his own actions. Unfortunately, while we do know he killed Janice, we don't know conclusively if he deserves to be killed for his actions, given the fact he is mentally incompetent. David understands that Henry doesn't deserve the fate the town has chosen for him, while Amy cannot resolve the morality of protecting a rapist. The problem for the viewer is that we have no idea who is absolutely correct in this circumstance.
pemmican wrote:the men whom Dustin Hoffman is obliged to kill could also be seen as being victims of Susan George, who engineers the conflict; and, insofar as Dustin Hoffman is the one who rescues Warner and both are presented as fellow travellers at the end, both rendered spiritually "homeless" by the events of the film -- it SEEMS like Hoffman too is to be read as the innocent victim of female perversity, which forces men to compete with each other and constantly tempts them. This seems to be the thesis of the film, in fact, that the violence in male nature comes FROM women, is their fault -- it's a horrible way of presenting the female, and in that light, the rape scenes in STRAW DOGS start to seem just a little sadistic, a little like Peckinpah letting his own dark fantasies off the leash.
We could read the film this way, but to a certain degree, the women are by-standards to the conflict between the men. The tension between David, the towns-folk, and Henry seems to be present even when the women are not around. There is certainly a conflict created simply out of social status and having a foreign presence in what one considers their "home". The violence seems to be present no matter what the spark is. It feels as if these men are waiting for an excuse to destroy one another.
I also think Peckinpah is being critical of this natural male tendency to find an excuse for violence. I don't believe he is saying this is the right action to take, but merely displaying the grotesque methods by which men justify their violence.
pemmican wrote:Surely we feel invited to identify with the men during these scenes, not the woman? Susan George is constructed as so grotesque in the film that it doesn't seem like we're EVER supposed to identify with her, or see her as a victim. She's "getting what's coming to her," isn't she?
On this point I have to disagree. I don't believe Amy is constructed to lack any reason for our sympathy. The problem here seems to be that we are using the idea that we are supposed to sympathize with someone, just because it's our natural tendency to do so. I'm of the opinion that Peckinpah doesn't believe we are supposed to sympathize with one particular party at one point in time. Instead, I think he is constructing a scenario where our sympathy becomes useless and we are instead supposed to finally understand the scene from a distance.
pemmican wrote:Or am I alone here? Don't other men feel revulsion and hatred at the Susan George character thoughout the film? She's presented so unsympathetically and grotesquely that I start to feel my own inner misogynist's blood begin to boil during her scenes (Shelly Duvall in THE SHINING does the same for me -- doesn't Kubrick seem to want us to be rooting for Jack to get her with the baseball bat?).
You're probably not alone on this, but I certainly didn't feel revulsion and hatred towards Amy throughout the film. I'll admit her behavior is annoying at times, but there are many times where I felt she was being treated unfairly by other parties (and not just in the rape scenes). Surely, David is a jerk towards Amy on more than one occasion. (I do agree with you on Shelley Duvall being nails-on-chalkboard annoying in The Shining
pemmican wrote:I think the film incites hatred against women and sympathy towards men who are destroyed by their perversity; I have seen it more than a few times, and looked at it from every angle I could, and I can't see it any other way...
I honestly think the normal conception of "sympathy" is rendered next to worthless in Straw Dogs
. That's not to say that we cannot sympathize with different characters, but simply that our regular conception of sympathy at the movies is that it should all reside on one or two characters, so that morality is rendered overly simple. In Straw Dogs
, Peckinpah pulls our sympathizes in so many directions that our regular concept/tendencies regarding sympathy should be re-examined so that we can get a better handle over our concept of morality in relation to how we use violence.