Tuesday, June 30, 2015
MS. 45 (1981) - Abel Ferrara
If you set out to watch any number of movies about women taking revenge, you eventually (unfortunately) will have to contend with that most unpleasant of sub-genres, the rape-revenge film. I Spit On Your Grave. The Last House on the Left. Thriller: A Cruel Picture. Etcetera, etcetera. I've never been much of a fan. I'm not a prude when it comes to exploitation films, but films in this particular sub-genre often attempt to ride that very queasy line between titillation and condemnation in portraying a very touchy subject (i.e., rape). The directors (generally male) seem like they're trying to have their narrative cake (a justified revenge) while eating it too (rampant female nudity, wanton sexuality). By film's end you're feeling like the director is as much a rapist (visually, conceptually) as whatever lascivious backwoods rednecks or urban street thugs he relishes enacting so much bloody comeuppance upon through the hands of a wronged woman. The means simply don't justify the ends. Was it worth putting this fictional woman (not to mention the very real actress) through all this onscreen torture? Just so a couple of peckerwoods get their due?
Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45 is a standout in this most maligned of sub-genres and has already been written about extensively by a number female film critics, feminist theory professors, often in a laudatory way. Take a look around Google...you'll find it even provides the cover jacket for one or two such books. I'll keep my own (apologetically male) commentary brief and defer to the ladies with a link below to a lively roundtable discussion on the film's merits and provocations...
All in all, I agree that Ferrara's film is one of the few in the sub-genre that's self-aware in its manipulations (director Ferrara actually cast himself as mute seamstress Thana's initial attacker). For an '80s vigilante flick, it's unusually attentive to the victim's post-trauma psychological trajectory (from victim to vigilante to misandrist to straight-up serial killer).