October 14, 2011
Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum
Angela Bettis as Belle Cleek
Sean Bridgers as Chris Cleek
Lauren Ashley Carter as Peggy Cleek
Pollyanna McIntosh as The Woman
Zach Rand as Brian Cleek
The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) is a wild thing covered in dirt and grime who attacks animals in caves and eats fish raw that she snags from the creek. She is the last remaining member of a band of savages who roam the hills outside of a town somewhere between populated and rural. One day a country lawyer (Sean Bridgers) happens upon the wild thing while hunting and is intrigued by her sleek form, and can do nothing, it seems, but imagine her in a civilized dress… so he captures her and binds her up in his shed. She doesn’t respond well and promptly bites off his finger, but things get better between them.
The lawyer Chris excitedly brings his family to view his captive and inform them all that a family project is about to commence: this savage beast will be cleaned up and taught manners – become civilized – because as a good family comprised of good people it is their duty to help this “poor animal” be all she can be and learn to walk among the more gentile classes.
The Woman is a violent and shocking treatment of women being presented as inferior to men. To say “treatment” doesn’t exactly cut to the heart because this film is so exaggerated in the quest to depict the rightful station of women to their men and man’s responsibility to “maintain order” that it borders on farce, and that’s the point. Interesting how the very overt melds with the day to day on this one though.
The overt is in the capturing and attempt to civilize the barbarian woman herself. She is a woman being treated like an animal, but in all fairness she actually IS an animal in her behavior and even lack of speech. The irony there is not only the reducing of this woman to a status equal to that of a dog (albeit a sexy dog who has other jobs for men) but the idea of bringing order and culture to her as a means to “let her be happy” is ridiculous as she seems perfectly content to roam around killing things andbathing in the creek while eating raw fish. What could be better than that?
The day to day is more complex as there are other women in the picture, namely Chris’ wife Belle (Angela Bettis) and daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter). These women are treated differently, but are they really? Sure there are the general niceties with opening doors and an occasional “yes honey” and “please pass the peas”, but those are apparently rewards for walking the line for the man of the house. Attempts to stray from the clear path laid out for these women are met with swift, violent and shockingly abrupt corrections. Then, back to the task at hand. At times these “corrections” are so swift and immediate that the shock of a simple slap on the face has more impact than Jason ever had on a panty-clad lovely.
The performances in The Woman are so spot on and natural that the entire story is even more chilling. This is real life we’re seeing, and things are just as they are. Sort of the natural order of things with Chris the king of a well controlled and highly disciplined castle. There is no taking control or enforcing control, it is just assumed and everyone simply knows how things are. These people could just as well be Ozzy and Harriet as characters in one of the more gruesome and disturbing horror films on the landscape… except that everyone is absolutely miserable. Well, except for the men. They are content.
The Woman is a great film with an outstanding story, fantastic performances, great script and direction by Lucky McKee that really weaves a story that doesn’t let go. There has been commentary about this film being degrading to women and that it is evidence that Lucky McKee harbors a distaste for women generally, but anything along these lines is hogwash. Not knowing McKee personally or knowing his own attitudes toward females of the human species of course, this film demonstrates quite the opposite to disrespect. By taking the themes of male dominance and reduction of women to a lesser servant of men (or even actual subhuman dogs) in such an exaggerated and over the top way a spotlight is pointed directly at who the real savages are… and they don’t eat raw fish.