The brutal awakening

14 / 100

October 23, 2022


We live in a post #MeToo era. Since the movement there’s been copious amounts of dialogue that has been churned out on rape, assault and consent. Movies have also no less reflected that. We’ve seen screen adaptations based loosely on #MeToo related scandals such as Bombshell and The Morning Show. And then we’ve had fictional stories such as The Assistant and Promising Young Woman.

Promising Young woman in particular stood out as it managed to avoid a lot of tropes we often see in rape-revenge movies in particular. A New Yorker article reviewing the rape-revenge movie Promising Young Woman aptly pointed out that most rape revenge movies that centre around a male protagonist driven to exact revenge on the behalf of his wife, daughter or girlfriend who has been ‘wronged’ usually centre around violent versions of masculinity and it is by no means an accident that such movies are often by male filmmakers. “The genre lends itself to gritty accounts of good guys who are morally required to do bad things in the service of justice—a kind of story that mostly men, I think, want to tell,” writes Carmen Maria Machado. ‘The good guy hagiography’ as Machado puts it.

When I first read this review a year ago, I found Machado’s perspective altering to say the least. Since then, I’ve viewed rape-revenge movies from a difference lens

This leads to me Luckiest Girl Alive. The novel of the same name is by Jessica Knoll and while fictional, draws on her own experiences of being gang raped and bullied. The screenplay was also written by Knoll herself and directed by Mike Barker. Like many rape survivors themselves, Knoll had trouble coming forward and talking about her own experience. In fact, even after the release of the book, for a long time she told fans that the rape plotline was entirely made up.

I have for a time become increasingly bored of Netflix movies. And more often than not, it’s become a kind of last resort for me in terms of viewing options. It’s use serving most as a platform for repeat watching of tv shows such as Gilmore Girls or admittedly more embarrassing binge watching reality shows such as Love is Blind and Bling Empire. Therefore, I didn’t necessarily have high expectations for said movie. In fact, even less so, when I saw that Mila Kunis was starring in the movie. I’ve only vaguely followed Mila Kunis’s career trajectory since her That 70s Show days so my memory immediately flits back to her more recent roles in cringe comedy movies such as Bad Moms and Friends with Benefits – not exactly a ringing endorsement for her acting repertoire.

However, Kunis surprised me in Luckiest Girl Alive. From the very beginning, she has a presence on screen. She embodies confidence but also conveys an underlying darkness. She executed the scenes with a mastery I haven’t seen from her since her Black Swan days over a decade ago. In fact, this movie single-handedly makes an iron clad argument for why Kunis should focus on taking on more serious movie roles and maybe consider retiring from her comedy career for good.

In the movie, Kunis’ character Tifani, goes by many names: Tafani, Tif, Finny and Ani. Perhaps indicating how many different roles, she is playing depending on whom she is trying to please. This is journey is seen throughout the movie is the main crux of the story. She is trying to please her mother, her class mates, her fiancé, his family, her editor, her readers and even her rapists. She is giving everyone what they want and each time she does that, she loses some of herself. Miring her in resentment and bitterness, till she is completely depleted. While all the time, a darkness lurks barely underneath the surface.

Once scene in particular stands out in this regard, when Ani’s fiancé complains that she used to be so fun. Waking Ani up and finally disclosing that she was pretending for his sake. Like she has for so many others, her whole life.

However, the film’s strong points and the virtues of Kunis’ acting aside, Luckiest Girl Alive unfortunately does fall prey to some of rape revenge tropes pointed out by Machado. We for instance, get the do-gooder teacher who stands up for her and quits his job afterwards. We’re also gifted with a violent shoot out on her behalf by her friend who of course, teams with another guy who is also looking for vengeance for himself too.

There’s also another aspect of rape-revenge movies that Machado accurate identified. Male filmmakers tend to fixate on portraying a graphic rape scene. Violence somehow takes centre stage in these movies. As Machado puts it, such movies revel, often at great length, in horrifying depictions of sexual violence.” This is regrettably the case with Luckiest Girl Alive too. A graphic gang rape scene with young Ani and her school mates, which has also set off a backlash from viewers. The film is an 18-certificate and comprises a brief warning at the beginning of the film that it features “sexual violence and “threat”. However, viewers are urging Netflix to add a trigger warning too. “Netflix really dropped the ball on not adding a giant trigger warning for Luckiest Girl Alive,” one viewer wrote on Twitter.

And they are not wrong. The scene is by turns, traumatic, triggering, graphic, scarring and horrifying to say the least. The lack of a trigger warning also lends to the argument made over a decade ago by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas as quoted by Machado that there is a “broader cultural confusion” about tackling rape-revenge in films.

Criticism aside however, Luckiest Girl Alive is still a worthy film for a few reasons. It captures the essence of the aftermath of rape for a woman: the denial, the bargaining, the shame and ever-lingering darkness and anger thereafter. As Chanel Miller put it in her memoir Know My Name, “An unclipping from the world where up was up and down was down…Gone is the luxury of growing up slowly. So begins the brutal awakening.” This bifurcation of self is captured magnificently by the film and portrayed flawlessly by Kunis.

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