Feminism and “Torture Porn”

There's a great article on Womensenews about "Torture Porn" makers co-opting the word feminism as an excuse for their extreme graphic violence.  Torture Porn, a term coined by David Edelstein in this NYT article, refers to movies like Saw, Hostel, Captivity, Vacancy and The Devil's Rejects, among others, with over the top sadistic violence.  Edelstein notes "Unlike the old seventies and eighties hack-'em-ups (or their jokey remakes, like Scream), in which masked maniacs punished nubile teens for promiscuity (the spurt of blood was equivalent to the money shot in porn), the victims here are neither interchangeable nor expendable...Some of these movies are so viciously nihilistic that the only point seems to be to force you to suspend moral judgments altogether."

Reporter Rachel Corbett reports that filmmakers decry the criticism leveled at their films by claiming they are "feminist".    Hostel director Eli Roth argues that "People are forgetting that it's not real violence" and that because a woman defends herself against an attacker in Hostel II (by castrating him) that "The film is about control in sexual power."  Less convincingly, Captivity director Courtney Solomon (a man) claimed his movie was "feminist because the female victim overthrows her assailant in the end."  Even Captivity star Elisha Cuthbert was convinced. Full article here.

Though people have the choice whether to see a movie with this subject matter, they cannot control the images that advertise the movie.  It just adds more fuel to the "violence against women is okay" fire.  Check out the billboard for Captivity!  Are these filmmakers socially irresponsible?  Does this violence only beget more violence? Or is it merely a response to our seriously f*cked up world? 

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4 Comments Have Been Posted

Courtney Solomon

Just as a note: Courtney Solomon was the Executive Producer on the film, with Roland Joffe as the director. He, however, is a male who has said similar things about the film, so the point doesn't change.

Also, I must say that no matter how you read Black Snake Moan as a film and its depiction of Ricci's character, I really don't see how it adequately fits into the moniker of "torture porn". It may be a failed attempt to buck misogyny in a film about redemption and struggle, but it is certainly in an entirely different category than the other films mentioned.

'Funny Games' -- directed by Michael Haneke

<p>I'm wondering where this film, <i>Funny Games</i>, falls in the genre? It seems to mostly be about an upper class family on vacation getting tortured randomly by 'intelligent' sociopaths. I haven't seen it, but the trailer makes it look like 'cererbral torture porn', which isn't any more appealing to me.</p><p><a href="http://www.apple.com/trailers/warner_independent_pictures/funnygames/tra... title="Funny Games" target="_blank">http://www.apple.com/trailers/warner_independent_pictures/funnygames/tra... </a></p>

Funny Games is supposed to be meta-torture porn.

The film is a remake of the director's own Austrian version of the film. The intention, apparently, is to expose the viewer as the guilty voyeur that s/he is for seeing the film. The "intelligent sociopaths" speak directly to the camera, almost accusing you of enjoying it. Haneke himself says what he's trying to do is "depict violence in such a way that it becomes reality again for the audience." He hasn't denied the idea of the film being a critique of Hollywood violence, in fact, he encourages it. As far as whether this is all a ploy, he has this to say (from Entertainment Weekly, http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20179886_20179893_20183048,00.html)

Do you ever worry that your films will be enjoyed precisely because of their violence?
Well, you know, there aren't really any remedies against misunderstanding.

Some people might argue that one remedy would be not to make the film in the first place.
Then you cannot deal with the subject in a serious manner.

they suck?

I wouldn't say that these filmmakers are 'socially irresponsible' so much as they, um, are obviously not talented? Boring empty people make boring empty movies, dressed up with something to sell them, whether it be sex, violence, patriotism, blah blah blah. It really bothers me that people will WATCH these movies- that's the real issue, not who is making them. They're the same as their audience, they just decided they wanted to make movies at some point in their life, probably because they really liked watching movies like the ones they're making!

I think violence against woman or anyone else in movies IS okay - nothing is not "okay" in art, for heaven's sake. But if violence against women happens in a generally terrible film, it's just another unfortunate incident in a long line of bad art, which again, the success and proliferation of which can only really be blamed on an audience, which can only really be blamed on...their parents??

But look around - our lives are not so peachy, and we grow up with very strange people in charge of warping our innocent little minds. I guess what I'm saying is that why be surprised by torture porn any more than you are by the fact that people are sexually repressed, emotionally stifled, and convinced that they can't do very much with their lives other than find a not totally crappy job and have a not totally crappy spouse and raise not totally hateful children, and somehow put up with it? It's not a big surprise that they will pay to watch totally crappy movies that cater to their understandably twisted impulses and needs, whether its torture porn or a really agonizing romantic comedy.

It is stupid that Eli Roth says Hostel is feminist, but then again, Eli Roth made Hostel. I don't know how you could expect him to be much more clever than that.

But speaking of movies described as feminist for conflicting and confusing reasons, how do any of you think Tarantion's Death Proof fits into the torture porn movement?

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