The use of horror as a metaphor for the impact of repressed female sexuality in cinema can be found in a range of films, from Julia Ducournau’s arresting debut feature, Raw, to Brian de Palma’s masterful tale of a girl’s unusual coming of age in Carrie. It’s not necessarily a new way of tackling the subject of teenage girls and their first ventures into sexual desire, but it is a deeply effective one and serves as the central theme of Thelma—Joachim Trier’s brilliant meditation on one young woman’s discovery of the wants she has stifled for so long.
The titular Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a quiet, thoughtful freshman who, when we first meet her, appears to be overwhelmed by shyness. As she attends university in Oslo, a sharp contrast to the notably eerie house that she lives in with her parents in the Norwegian countryside, she initially struggles to settle into the student lifestyle with her fellow classmates. Through brief glimpses into her relationship with her parents, often presented in the form of somewhat invasive phone-calls to Thelma after her classes, we learn that they are fundamentalist Christians to whom Thelma can barely admit that she drank a little wine without panic rising. Already, within the film’s first thirty minutes, the repression surrounding Thelma’s life has been established. Once we learn that she has spent the first eighteen years of her life under the thumb of her parents–akin to the way in which Sissy Spacek’s telekinetic lead of Carrie spent hers restrained by her mother–the visible concern that arises whenever she speaks to another person begins to make sense.
I was fifteen. Unsure of myself, unsure of the world around me and deeply uncertain of the feelings I was beginning to develop; I was lost. As my friends began to develop an interest in boys, as first dates began to occur, I found myself isolated; I simply could not relate to their conversations and felt that I had to feign excitement and agreement in order to fit in. Many a time, I felt alone. I knew, even if I had not truly accepted it yet, that I was not really attracted to boys. Although almost everyone and everything in my life said I should be, I was not. I knew that I was the odd one out amongst my schoolmates, whether they knew it then or not. Then, I stumbled upon a film that would change my teenaged life and introduce me to a whole new way of thinking about sexuality. Having been a fan of cinema for a while at this point, I read regularly about movies and I was always trying to keep myself up to date on the most widely acclaimed. When I was fifteen, it was 2013 and Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is The Warmest Colour had just premiered at Cannes to widespread praise. Raw, teeming with passion, and heart-wrenching, this would be the film that my young self would cling to dearly and is one that I still turn to for comfort, despite its flaws, today.
Ryan Coogler is a history maker. Barely a week and a half since its release, his gargantuan Black Panther has already broken various records, with an early box office taking to rival that of Star Wars and a near-perfect score of 97% amongst critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Much like Star Wars, or perhaps Lord of The Rings, Black Panther is the kind of media that transcends ‘film’ and becomes a cultural event; the kind that is impossible not to discuss with friends, colleagues, or family. The reception to Coogler’s contribution to the seemingly endless Marvel Cinematic Universe is well-deserved; Black Panther is phenomenal. It is arguably the most outwardly political film in the MCU’s history (and is all the better for it), features a fantastic cast and utilises every one of them to create likeable, multi-dimensional characters, and also includes one of the most memorable antagonists of any recent superhero movie. Put simply, Black Panther is an incredible film and stands out amongst a sea of tired Marvel features.
When Raw premiered at Cannes in 2016, it quickly became known amongst audiences as the ‘French, cannibalistic horror’ that led some to leave screenings in search of the nearest bathroom to relieve their nausea. To allow Raw to be talked about only as a shocking feature, for it to be remembered solely for the physical reactions it provoked in viewers, however, would be to disservice it hugely. Julia Ducornau’s daring debut is far more than an exercise in body horror. Rather, it is a truly unique take on a genre that has been done hundreds of times before: the coming-of-age drama. The story of a young woman forging an identity for herself is not exactly a new concept, for the Romantic and Victorian novels of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters were often centred around the same subject, but never has it been tackled in the way that it is by Ducornau. With Raw, Ducornau takes the moment in a teenage girl’s life in which she verges on womanhood and uses it to craft a truly horrifying piece, in which carnal desires are explored in the most unexpected of manners.
‘Black Museum’ is the final instalment in the latest series of Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’; which, for anyone that doesn’t know, is one of the bleakest shows around. Often centred around our relationship with technology in the twenty-first century, and often a necessary critique of our obsession with social media and the validation we find in online worlds, it serves up some brilliant nihilism. After five episodes involving various versions of reality, malevolent artificial intelligence, and unprecedented violence, the brilliant fourth series drew to a close with a tale of voyeurism, societal injustice, and twisted curiosity.
The biopic can be a dangerous genre. It is notoriously difficult to get right, and many often fall short of the mark; they regularly find themselves bogged down by dullness, and concern themselves far too much with boring details. ‘Battle of the Sexes’, however, never suffers from such issues. Instead, it presents itself as a thoughtful, warm snapshot into the life of Billie Jean King and a powerful depiction of the turmoil that she faced both on and off court. Set in 1973, and featuring a soundtrack that often captures the best of the era, ‘Battle of the Sexes’ focuses on the historic match between King (Emma Stone) and life-long hustler, and former men’s tennis champion, Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell). When we consider recent revelations surrounding pay disparity between men and women in some of the largest, richest industries in the world, the film could not have been released at a more appropriate time. It may be set in the seventies, steeped in an age of intolerance and conservativism, but it appears to fit perfectly into modern times, as male chauvinists continue to parade around, even in the White House. As Riggs, Carrell relishes the role and has fun as a showman; embittered by the lack of attention he receives in the media. He cavorts around the tennis courts in a series of ridiculous outfits, more than happy to play the role of the eccentric, self-proclaimed sexist. Carrell’s exaggerated Riggs serves as the perfect contrast to Stone’s measured, yet stubbornly defiant King. Both actors give wonderful performances here, and effortlessly bounce off one another in every scene they share; which makes the two hour runtime feel far shorter than expected, and allows us to fully enjoy the film’s exploration of both characters.
‘The Florida Project’ is a film filled with sprawling images of pastel buildings, and drenched in a warmth so intense that it almost feels sickly. Such setting is used to depict an American summer that leads to the devastation of lives and the denial of a fair childhood, rather than one that allows children to enjoy their youth; to live out their early days in the safety of a permanent home, and in the happiness of the sun. Set at an outstandingly purple motel on the fringes of Disney World, ‘The Florida Project’ tells the story of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a six-year-old girl spending a long, languorous summer break wreaking havoc with her friends. In her makeshift castle, Moonee makes herself queen and roams around the land as if it is hers alone, seemingly unbothered by the lack of luxury that she grows up amongst. While other children spend Floridian summers in the company of Mickey Mouse and his fellow cartoon pals, Moonee spends hers helping her mother to sell perfumes to unwitting tourists. What is on display in ‘The Florida Project’ is the same kind of haunting, social realism that is found in Andrea Arnold’s ‘American Honey’. Neither film makes any kind of attempt to hide the striking poverty that ravages modern America, nor does either attempt to romanticise it. Moonee may be able to run around freely in the swampy surroundings of Disney’s outskirts, but she also has to run to the diner at which a friend’s mother works, in order to secure a dinner for the evening. An ice cream, for example, is only guaranteed if she tells strangers that she needs it for her asthma. Meanwhile, on the other side of a fence, thousands upon thousands of kids are given the greatest time of their young lives. Continue reading “The Florida Project: On wealth inequality, childhood and the myth of the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’”→