Recently I watched the movie Observe and Report. (There will probably be spoilers.)
I don’t want this to turn into me going on an angry diatribe about marketing and why I liked this movie (and for the record, yes: I really, really liked it) and feel like it was cheated by being advertised as a goofy romp. So, just to start out, since this post is about content in context, I’d like to say:
Observe and Report is a dark comedy. With HUGE emphasis on the “dark” part. Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which came out around the same time was (I imagine, I haven’t seen it. I may be way off) a movie about a man working a mall security job that wanted to prove that he could be more than a just “rent-a-cop.”
This isn’t even close to what Observe and Report was about. It was a character movie. And the mall cop job served mostly as a demonstration of Ronnie, the main character’s clear mental instability. He has serious delusions of grandeur. He doesn’t understand social interaction–and not in a funny Napoleon Dynamite-y way. In a “this man is sort of frightening” way.
Also it’s funny. (And it’s really upfront with its problematic virgin/whore complex. One girl is literally a born-again virgin, the other isn’t literally a whore but she does get around.)
Anyway, this movie caused a certain amount of controversy when it came out–not because it ended up being something it wasn’t initially presented as (that already happens all the time), but because it has its main character raping a girl in one scene.
Or “date raping.” Or “potentially raping.” There’s a lot of argument around whether or not it’s actually a rape (or if it is, whether or not it was, as Whoopi Goldberg put it, “rape-rape”).
Some context: Ronnie (Seth Rogen) convinces Brandi (Anna Faris) to go on a date with him. Since he’s footing the bill, she buys a ton of drinks. While they’re eating, Ronnie takes some pills–his prescription for bipolar which he takes “every 4-6 hours.” Brandi asks for one, Ronnie doesn’t get her enthusiasm but lets her keep the bottle–he’s been feeling good lately, like maybe he doesn’t need his meds good. Brandi takes at least two. And drinks some more.
Later he takes her home, she barfs a little, but Ronnie’s still smitten. They have sex. What we see of it: Ronnie, really enthusiastic, Brandi, passed out. Ronnie stops for a second when he notices Brandi’s passed out, she drunkenly slurs “Why did you stop, motherfucker?” but doesn’t bother to move at all. Ronnie goes back to work.
So, when I saw this thing the first thing my mind leapt to wasn’t “OH MY GOD THAT IS RAPE THIS IS SO REPREHENSIBLE.” Which I’m sure lots of feminists would find sad.
But it’s not like I thought that because I don’t actually think that was a rape.
For the record: it definitely, DEFINITELY was. There’s no question here. Surely we all know by now that consent while intoxicated isn’t consent. The fact that Brandi didn’t seem to regret sleeping with Ronnie later doesn’t matter. Legally, this was rape. End of story.
I didn’t automatically leap to “what a disgusting movie, this is rape.” But it’s not like in the moment you think what is happening is good at all. It’s in the context of a movie about a man who doesn’t see the world around him as what it actually is–he’s delusional. What makes Brandi’s “Why did you stop, motherfucker?” line funny isn’t the fact that she’s insanely drunk and passed out while they were having sex, it’s that Ronnie thinks this means she’s enjoying herself and thus he continues.
If we think this movie is condoning rape–and apparently, people HAVE said it’s at least placing the blame on Brandi–then we’re saying that it’s condoning Ronnie’s actions. It’s not. This is a guy who savagely beat a LOT of people at various points in the movie in moments of crazed fear and rage (respectively). And while it’s a little bad ass, it’s bad ass in the context of “this is terrifying, this is what this man who up until now seemed sort of full of himself and out of it but basically sweet and harmless, is capable of.”
I heard similar arguments about Superbad when it came out (and yep, I have heard people say that Rogen himself is the problem. I’ve got a pretty enormous crush on Seth Rogen so I’m not exactly unbiased, but frankly that seems like a ridiculous accusation).
Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill, another big Carrie crush) discuss at the beginning of the movie their ultimate plan is to “get a girl so wasted she can’t say no” (this is a paraphrase).
Which would be rape, obviously. But the point is pretty clearly made that this is NOT a goal someone should aspire to. Evan actually DOES get the opportunity to have sex with a girl who’s so drunk she “can’t say no,” and it’s really, really unpleasant and he clearly thinks it’s the wrong thing to be doing.
Meanwhile the girl Seth wants to sleep with doesn’t drink at all. She even reveals the extent to which (in Seth and Evan’s case) the idea of thinking a girl would need to be so seriously intoxicated that she wouldn’t be able to refuse is just a really, really sad form of self-deprecation on Seth’s behalf–she talks to him because she likes him and thinks he’s funny, but he doesn’t even realize those things are assets. He doesn’t think she would ever have any reason or desire to talk to him. In his case, these are the disgusting words of a rapist, they’re the misguided words of a teenager who doesn’t really understand sex or how to talk to girls and has pretty low self-esteem.
Basically what I think is going on here is sex is being used as a tool. We’re exposed to more of who these characters ARE because of how they relate to sex (this was John Cameron Mitchell’s reasoning for using unsimulated sex in Shortbus–it’s not about the sex, it’s about what the sex says about the person). In Seth and Evan’s case, the date rape-yness of it is played a lot more for laughs. Date rape is essentially the reason to story happens–but we’re not supposed to agree with that as a wise course of action. In fact, we’re told expressly that it’s a bad idea and the boys would have been better off just talking to the girls as if they were normal people.
In Ronnie’s case, rape is used to further demonstrate his “in his own world”-ness. It’s not that it’s okay. It’s that he doesn’t realize it’s not okay because he is 100% convinced that he is in love with Brandi and that she is his girlfriend. If you think he’s a sick, horrible person when watching that scene, then you’re on the right track. Maybe a bit of an extreme track, but the right track nonetheless.
The reason I think it’s interesting to focus on these movies (other than the fact that I literally just watched one of them) as opposed to other misunderstood films (Antichrist comes to mind–the feminist community is busy tearing itself apart over the question “is it misogynist or is it about misogyny or is it both?”) is because I think comedy in particular gets a lot of flack for things like these. It’s easier to take a joke out of context and repeat it and be offended–it happens with Family Guy ALL THE TIME (note: I’m not defending Family Guy, I don’t particularly like it), even when their jokes are those sort of meta-joke things where the joke is that someone’s making an offensive joke (the episode about Judaism has a song in it (I DO like the Family Guy songs. Seth Macfarlane has a pretty heavenly voice) with a (censored when aired) line that went: “Even though they killed my Lord, I need a Jew.” Or, to go further, the things Peter Griffin needs a Jew for?: “To teach me how to whine and do my taxes.” At face value that’s a lazy joke, but it’s not an anti-Semitic joke, it’s a joke on an anti-Semitic joke: look at this idiot and the dumb things he’s saying).
So really, to me, this is a plea: PLEASE don’t get mad about something in a movie if you’re only familiar with it as taken out of context. As in the WHOLE MOVIE. Watch something before you critique it. If you’re still disgusted by it afterwards, that’s fine. But don’t take content out of context.
Think I’m a disgusting person for being pretty okay with the presence of a few rape jokes in movies? I’m far from surprised. Think all my opinions are wrong? Have a question or just general reaction? Want to talk to me about how Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen are bother super-adorable?
If you said yes to one or more of these questions, please, consider leaving a comment. I’d really like it.