By Bill Arceneaux
“Chocolate… with SPRInkles!”
That awfully hilarious line (and reading) from Keanu Reeves kicks off the new trailer to Eli Roth’s Knock Knock. Without getting too far into spoilers, the preview involves the unmaking of a male fantasy—a horrific unmaking. It’s also, in a way, a reverse Human Centipede, where the female characters we assume will be the victims turn out to be the aggressors. Horror movies make me laugh mostly, rarely actually getting under my skin. Knock Knock doesn’t appear to be an exception, but the two minutes we see do pose some interesting questions within the themes of gender roles, representation, and the war on women.
This teaser came at just the right time.
Recently, the editor-in-chief here at DIG published an editorial on the Joss Whedon/Twitter/Black Widow controversy, which I felt I needed to rebut. Upon revisiting a second and third time, I found myself at a loss for argument when it came to the Age of Ultron opinion. This was pre-Mad Max: Fury Road.
An extended car chase of a movie that pushes equality and even makes comment on the insanity of female treatment in media all the while fighting back against it? Yes, it exists. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa—her actions, her personality, her backstory and her conflict—is the embodiment of the heroine’s that are under-seen in our movies. When Hollywood tells an actress in her 30s (Maggie Gyllenhaal) that she’s “too old” to play someone dating a 50-year-old man, a Furiosa is born. She is the formation of all the voices trying to make waves against the current of male domination. And she’s ruthless. She’s persistent. She’s got the will to survive and thrive.
Too much badass estrogen in one movie? I say not enough, what with all the over saturated shots of leather covered butts and hyper sexualized looks. Not that these can’t be used for strength of character—think Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, who turns the tables with her body. Black Widow? Indeed, she totally uses her looks as a weapon, and rightfully so. The male temptation becomes the noose we hang ourselves with. Black Widow just provides the rope.
Age of Ultron showed Widow in a vulnerable light, along with her other teammates, who were equally exposed by either villainous deeds or revelations. Her relationship with Hulk rubbed some the wrong way I think because A) People didn’t feel the build up to it and B) Widow opened herself up romantically and sexually. Instead of using her body for attack, she charms the monster back into his human form, which inevitably leads to an infatuation. I felt it was played very cautiously, with both Hulk and Widow not wanting to get much closer for fear of harm, but still maintaining the attraction. It was actually sweet.
Not so sweet was Tony Stark’s constant ribbing, making a “hide the <food item>” joke with them at one point. This can be extended to the actors of Hawkeye and Captain America, who in an interview, called Widow a slut and laughed. It’s an odd situation, where the content doesn’t support the behavior, but the behavior still hurts the content. I don’t feel Age of Ultron supports or encourages the “slut” shaming, but it’s still happening anyway.
Is it Widow’s sexy looks and the fact that she simply goes for a relationship? Is that really enough to tell a woman off? Tony Stark can lay with reporters, assistants, and others all day and he’s just heroically flamboyant. But far be it for Black Widow to attempt harmless companionship. The problem isn’t Whedon, the problem is us.
We’re wearing goggles that see the world incorrectly. Goggles that were put in place with years and years of media bombardment. And when directors like Joss Whedon go for a story where characters are treated and exhibited equally, or when George Miller goes for a killer aggressive fist in the air statement, name calling and stereotyping ensues. We bring it to the art, not pull it from the art. We’re sick, and it’s gonna take time to get well. And in that time, filmmakers will continue pushing back and moving forward. Even if it’s torture porn like Knock Knock. Hey—gotta reach the sick somehow, right?
For more from the author, follow him on twitter @BillReviews and visit his website CriticalNO.com.