The response to my Lorna's Silence misogyny rant has been awesome in its fury. My humble blog has never seen the likes of it. My comments section lit up like a Winnemucca one-armed bandit that's been sweatily pumped by a retired bus driver for six hours straight. I've become a mini-lightning rod, which is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. But I don't regret sticking my neck out. Even though I didn't like the film, I have to give it credit for getting me worked up enough to examine it in this detail. I love movies and love discussing movies, so I have to thank the Dardennes for pissing me off enough to make this blog conversation happen.
I want to respond to everyone who argued with my point, but it's gonna take some time. In deciding to reply in chronological order, I found that my rebuttal to MD'A's comment took much longer than I anticipated to write up and many more typed characters than a single comment box could contain. So I decided to put it up as a new post (as in this one). I will reply to the other critical comments as soon as I can.
I would like to thank everyone who took the time to read that rather lengthy rant of mine and appreciate the thought and passion they put into their comments.
So now, my reply to MD'A. I've cut and pasted his feedback regarding my previous post from the comments section and replied to each of his points one-by-one below.
Please note: MANY SPOILERS FOLLOW.
MD'A: Well, this is just as off-base as I'd anticipated. It's fine that you didn't like the movie. I think it's terrific, but it's your right to bored, annoyed, and any number of other negative emotions, just as I was mostly bored and annoyed by, say, your beloved Synecdoche, New York.
Nictate: Yes, it is my right to be all those things. It is also my right to identify something as misogynistic if that’s how it impacted me. Outside of the professional critics' realm, reactions to filmed pieces of art are wholly subjective and personal. This blog post represents my personal reaction to this film.
MD'A: However, the vast majority of your argument about the film's misogyny is simply based on the fact that Lorna is an unlikeable character who does reprehensible things. We can have a legitimate debate about just how horrible a person she is, but even if she's worse than freakin' Hitler, that does not in any way constitute misogyny.
Nictate: First off, I automatically deduct points from anyone who drops the H-bomb into an argument. That is second only to name-calling in revealing someone is not confident enough in their argument to stick to the issue at hand.
You criticize my argument in that it’s based on Lorna’s unlikable characteristics and reprehensible behaviors. How else, I must ask, does a storyteller convey a misogynistic/misanthropic attitude without somehow using his or her character’s traits and behaviors? By making a character wear a scarlet letter for the entire running time?
MD'A: In order to make that claim, you'd have to make the case that had this character been a man, he would have been portrayed in a radically different manner. And there's zero basis for that assertion.
Nictate: Radically different? No, not necessarily. Notably different will serve the purpose, if the notable differences are something along the lines of a hysterical pregnancy linked with a descent into madness and the sudden introduction of magical realism.
MD'A: Granted, you haven't seen any of the Dardennes' other films, but had you seen, for example, L'Enfant, you'd know that these filmmakers are perfectly willing to show male protagonists behaving equally badly (and then, like Lorna, attempting to atone).
Nictate: The comparison to a man behaving in similarly negative ways in their other film is interesting, but I feel that the three key elements of Lorna’s story mentioned above make that comparison insufficient. From what I understand, the magical realism element is new to the Dardennes body of work, so the male character in L’Enfant would not have endured this plot device.
Introducing the element of magical realism lifts this story into another realm of interpretation, in my opinion—into the realm of alternate interpretations and possible symbolism. This is vital to my argument in that I feel this character Lorna is “punished” for her bad behavior in a way that echoes negative portrayals of “mad women” throughout history.
The added element of magical realism gives credence to my argument in that it opens the door to extrapolation—an extrapolation in which I can now interpret Lorna as something more than just a down-trodden chick in Belgium, but as a possible symbol of Modern Working Poor Woman or just plain, old Womankind. Now that the possibility of Lorna representing Woman is considered, in theory any hatred/mistrust/dislike witnessed towards her can be interpreted as Misogyny.
MD'A: Basically you just spend umpteen paragraphs listing all the reasons you despised this character—which, again, is a legitimate response so far as simply disliking the film is concerned—and then at the end you conclude that the film itself is misogynist because some of the particular things Lorna does are female-specific, e.g. a man can't experience pseudocyesis. Sorry, but that's just nutty. In fact it's pretty much exactly the same kind of nutty as Andrea Dworkin's belief that all intercourse is rape because it involves the male penetrating the female (whether consensually or not; in her mind it's still an invasion and that's dictated by anatomy).
Nictate: I felt the umpteen paragraphs of dissection were important in illustrating that Lorna is portrayed in a myriad of negative ways from end to end. It becomes like the banging of a drum—finally wearing down into her madness. Time after time, in the most mundane of interactions, she is shown to be an appalling individual.
As for the “nutty” comment—ahem. This smacks of name-calling, as mentioned above, which should lead to more points deducted from your score, but I’ll let it slide this time.
What I will NOT let slide is the comparison of my heated critique of one film to being “pretty much exactly the same kind of nutty” as a fringe element’s gross generalization of human intercourse at large. Nice blog commentary theater, but fuck that baseless charge (though consensually, tenderly).
MD'A: There are differences between men and women; some of those differences (particularly those involving pregnancy and childbirth) create potential dramatic situations that apply solely to women (unless it's Billy Crystal); and the fact that a filmmaker employs such situations in the story of a female character you find despicable does not entail misogyny.
Nictate: Indeed. But when it’s a hysterical pregnancy melting into madness, we start to veer into a different territory. The pregnancy is symbolic to Lorna, which allowed me to make the leap of it being symbolic of something larger in terms of the storytelling, which allowed me to make the leap that Lorna is in herself symbolic of something larger (see Lorna as Woman point above).
MD'A: Nor does Luc Dardenne's statement that he and his brother started out wanting to make a film about a woman, or that they sometimes viewed their protagonist with hatred. In other films they start out wanting to make a film about a man and they sometimes view him with hatred. Nothing about their treatment of Lorna can possibly be enlarged to encompass Woman herself, and that's reflected in this rant, which (as I predicted) makes a strong case for why you think this movie sucks but utterly fails to demonstrate that the film as a whole hates, dislikes or even mistrusts women as a gender.
Nictate: I think it’s VERY important that the Dardennes began work on this film with ONLY the idea that it must be about a woman. They had no other detail in their minds at the start, as Luc described it. Looking through that lens is what informed their story-crafting process. I find that significant. Not damning, of course, but definitely significant.
I heartily disagree with your statement that “Nothing about their treatment of Lorna can possibly be enlarged to encompass Woman herself….” Oh, yes, oh, yes, it absolutely can! Of course, I’ve already made that point above, but there are other storytelling elements that underline this. Lorna dominates almost every frame. The only other female presence in the film occurs in tiny roles. The nurse who wipes the blood off of Lorna’s wounded head represents the lengthiest interaction with another female that Lorna has in the whole film. This is important to note. Even the nurse’s compassion towards Lorna in being willing to serve as a witness is very professional. There is no feminine softness in Lorna’s life. No friends or family she confides in. Sure, that’s not a prerequisite for any film, but it represents an interesting choice by the filmmakers. They’ve surrounded her with men who either mistreat her or do not give her what she wants.
But back to your point that to accurately accuse a film of being misogynistic, I have to demonstrate that it represents a hatred/mistrust/dislike of women as a gender. To me, that means you’re limiting me to using the term only in a relation to a film that operates in a world of strict symbolism or shows a large group of women a negative light. I reject that limitation in that using individuals to represent larger groups of humanity is a long-held dramatic tradition. Maybe you don’t think Lorna is representative of more than just herself. Maybe the Dardennes never dreamt of that. But it’s as clear as day to me and not even a personal phone call from the brothers telling me I’m totally off-base would change my opinion.
MD'A: Oh, and on the ending as somehow punishing her: Would you also say—I don't know if you've seen this film, but hopefully you have—that Terry Gilliam is punishing Sam Lowry at the end of Brazil? The mere fact that a character goes mad does not automatically constitute contempt on the part of the filmmaker(s), and I submit that it only seems that way to you in this instance because your own personal opinion of Lorna is so overpoweringly negative.
Nictate: I have seen Brazil and remember loving it, but it’s been too long for me to remember details (except for Robert De Niro drowning in shit?). I don’t think a character going mad automatically constitutes punishment, but it’s one hell of a good way to punish a character if you’re looking for one. It’s also a lazy escape for a storyteller.
MD'A: That nobody else has interpreted this ending as ‘punishment’ for that ‘crazy bitch’ ought to be giving you pause.
Nictate: It gives me pause like it gave Madame Curie pause that no one else had yet discovered radioactivity.
MD'A: I respect and value your opinion on matters cinematic and other, as you know, but you're out to lunch on this particular issue.
Nictate: Thanks for the respect, MD’A. I return it wholeheartedly. As for lunch, I’ll have the pastrami.