Monday, January 11, 2010

Precious: The Battered Moviegoer Breaks His Silence

It is the fate of The Man in a relationship to suffer along when the woman (in this case, his "Wife") picks a movie on Date Night. Long ago the Wife acquired a right of veto over the Man, after he selected Plunkett & MacLeane, an MTV-meets-18th century action comedy about highwaymen starring Robert Carlyle, and the Wife, who apparently never saw Adam Ant's "Stand and Deliver" video, walked out during the second act. This Man does not have that right of veto — not necessarily because he hasn't been dragged to some downright brutal movies in the name of love and marital concord, but rather because he always manages to sit through them in their entirety, and in the end he's not too proud to admit that for the most part the movies were pretty darn good.
There's not very much one can say that is new or interesting about the differences between the sexes, but here's something I've hit on: men favor novels and films in which the hero (often, but not always, a man) lashes out, runs roughshod through the landscape, engaging and defeating dozens of nameless and faceless enemies before joining battle with his nemesis in the end and destroying him in a viscerally satisfying way. Women can't wait to tell men how morally objectionable this sort of Man Narrative is. Man Narratives are inhuman and unfeeling; they desensitize us to violence and exploit the basest human appetites. Yeah, fine.

But consider the outright pornography that women favor: consider the hundred thousand books and movies in which the protagonists (often, but not always, women) are threatened, battered, raped, abused, cheated on, imprisoned, humiliated, or afflicted directly or indirectly with terminal or mental illness. They of course never fight back — if they did, the narrative would become a Man Narrative, and the protagonist would likely become something of a sex object to the men in the audience who are silently screaming for the broken woman just to get herself a gun, some numchuks, and a little frickin' payback, for Christ's sake. These women instead soldier on stolidly through the adversity and are cheered for their strength of spirit. It is through (1) suffering, and (2) doing nothing about it, that the Woman Narrative protagonist finds and displays moral courage. It's that very forbearance that confers gravitas and humanity on the Woman's Narrative, and these supply the cover story for the women who, deep in their souls, actually just like to spend their time and money reading about and watching other women get broken right down to the ground. Let's be clear: when woman go on and on about how inspiring it is to watch Character X's forbearance and strength in the face of adversity, they might as well be showing us a Penthouse magazine and talking up the articles.

If you haven't guessed by now, this blog post is a Woman Narrative, and I'm the protagonist (as I said, not all of them are women). Because, you see, I tried to exercise a veto power on Sunday night. I said absolutely no way no how was I gonna see The Lovely Bones. I've waited all week to get out of the house. I'm the father of a beautiful two-year-old girl. So no, my idea of fun and games isn't a movie about a little girl who gets raped and murdered by her neighbor.

So instead, naturally, we saw Precious. Oh, my frickin' God. Eat your heart out, Jodi Picoult. Law and Order: SVU: you've been lapped. Title character Clarise "Precious" Jones is obese, illiterate, and pregnant. She lives in a darkened Harlem apartment with her chain-smoking mother, who farms her daughter's uterus out to her boyfriend, Precious's father, to augment her case for continued welfare support. Precious has been raped by her father since she was three years old. Her daughter has Down's Syndrome and lives with her grandmother. Her mother, far and away the most loathsome character I've ever seen on the silver screen, verbally abuses and humiliates Precious, attacks her with frying pans, and very nearly kills her second child. Boys in the street shove Precious face down on the pavement for kicks. Would it surprise you to learn that Oprah Winfrey co-produced this movie?

Anyone in this world who has a soul has to agree that Precious is a form of psychological abuse. It's the cinematic equivalent of being whacked over the head with a lead pipe over a period of 110 minutes. Every other scene would deliver another concussive blow — Precious, you're in school now and looking to take your GED, you've moved away from your mother into a halfway house, and you're looking after your toddler son. Well, guess what? Your father just died of AIDS, AND YOU HAVE IT, TOO. HOW YA LIKE US NOW? Signed, The Screenwriters. Every new moment of abhorrent violence, each soul-shattering revelation would elicit audible gasps from the women in the audience, Wife included. Audible, gleeful, quasi-orgasmic gasps.

And in the end, does Precious get to empty a machine gun clip into her Mama? Does she get to take her turn with the frying pan and beat Mama into the floor? Expect no satisfaction, Gentlemen. Oh, there's a bit of a mother-daughter rumble at one point, but the joy we might take from that scene is considerably mitigated by the fact that there's a newborn baby pitched in the middle of it, and we're left to believe that the baby's been severely injured or killed for five minutes before the movie lets us off the hook. No, in the end Precious confronts her Mama in front of a welfare case worker (played by Mariah Carey, who, she says, "had to lose all vanity" and "change layers of who [she is]" to play so mundane and plain a character) and vindicates herself basically by shaking her head at her and leaving the office.

I came out of this movie dazed, shaken and upset. Resentful, even, because looking up at the marquee I remembered the surge of hope I felt as we approached the theater, as it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, she had picked The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. This movie broke me. And here's the Turn — that last bit that closes the loop on the Woman's Narrative and makes it something slightly better decorated than straight pornography: it was a pretty frickin' awesome movie. Yargh! Growth through Suffering. Son of a bitch. And I haven't even covered the movie's exploitation of the tired old "teacher inspires inner city kids with [_____]" gimmick, with "journal writing" filling the blank in this instance. I saw that old standby coming a mile away, I saw it loosening its belt, reaching into the Vaseline jar — got a problem with these images? they're taken directly from the movie — and I let it have its way with me and leave me in the dust.

One of these days I'm going to fight back.


Mithridates said...

Bloody F___ing Brilliant!!!

Anonymous said...

too bloody fuckig long.

Phutatorius said...

So let me guess, Anonyme: you're holding yourself to a 23-character limit, so you couldn't include all the letters in "fucking?" Look: you're the one needlessly piling adverbs on one another.

There will be plenty of one-sentence BULLETINs on this site for you to read, going forward. If you don't want to read something long, stop in the middle. But I've covered this already, so I won't go over it again.

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