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Sex in “Straw Dogs”: The remake of a rape

Sex in “Straw Dogs”: The remake of a rape (photo)

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In some ways, Straw Dogs is an odd choice for a remake – for a movie about “asking for it,” it certainly wasn’t. Nor, as Monday’s box office results reflect, was much of an audience asking for it, either. (It came in fifth place).

Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 original was reviled, most notably by Peckinpah champion Pauline Kael, as “sexual fascism.” A key scene – a double rape – provoked arguments about the director’s motivation, since the picture seemed to argue that the woman was “asking for it,” which Peckinpah himself confirmed in an infamous Playboy interview. (In that same interview, he also claimed that most women were whores, and if they weren’t, they weren’t being honest.)

So why remake a film noted for its misogyny? “That’s the very reason to make this film in the first place,” director Rod Lurie explained on the red carpet at a Cinema Society screening last week. He calls it an “intellectual exercise”: “How do you tell the same story, eliminate his philosophy, and put mine into it? Is it possible?”

Let’s see. For starters, both “Straw Dogs” are based on a book – The Siege of Trencher’s Farm, in which there is no rape, and the main violence is a home invasion. The rape comes about, in the original, partly because the female character, Amy Sumner (played by Susan George), has been walking around without a bra on and has accidentally revealed her breasts to some construction workers; but then upon realizing that they’re staring at her through the window, she lingers to let them look.

Her new husband, David (played by Dustin Hoffman), is presented as a pacifist intellectual, who isn’t around to defend her at the crucial moment – because he allowed himself to be tricked earlier, and failed to take a stand when the workers committed their first act of violence: hanging the family cat in the closet. When the first rape happens, Amy barely struggles, and even expresses pleasure. “People often asked, ‘Why is she smiling? Why is she cuddling with her rapist?'” Lurie noted. And the danger with that presentation, he said, is “there were young boys watching this film who went, ‘She said no, but he f—ed her, and she’s OK with it.'”

The rape scene was part of a larger issue, however – a philosophy Peckinpah believed in called the “territorial imperative.” “It said that all men are genetically coded to violence.” Lurie said. “And so the most violent among us are going to be in charge. The woman will not gravitate to the best man for them, they’re going to gravitate to the alpha male — to the biggest bull in the herd.” This is why, after the rape, Amy’s loyalty seems divided – the rapist seems to understand her more than her husband does, and she only seems to respect her husband after he kills several men defending their home.

“I’m not buying into that whatsoever,” Lurie said. “So what you’ll find in my version of the film, it doesn’t go that way at all.”

Lurie changed the setting from Cornwall, England, to the South, to place the action in a small town where football, hunting, and churchgoing are the major pastimes. “They have preachers talking about a vengeful God who will spite you from the earth; and the flood, and Armageddon,” he said. So while Lurie does not agree with Peckinpah that human beings are normally conditioned to violence, in this town, they are, “like it’s no big deal to them.” And his David (played by James Marsden) hasn’t been raised with violence in his life, “except what he reads in history.” (In the movie, David is scripting a film about the WWII battle of Stalingrad, a battle which was partly fought by women with brooms and kids with bricks, “a metaphor for everything that happens in the film,” Lurie said).

“We’re capable of violence if we’re protecting ourselves,” Lurie said. “So when David becomes violent at the end, it’s because he has to, not because, like in the Peckinpah film, there’s a rage being released that was there anyway.”

And when that violence at the end happens in the remake, David is not alone in defending his home. “By the end of the original, everyone jumps ship. Even his wife deserts him,” Marsden said. “In this film, they sort of stay together as a couple, and fight together. And throughout, they’ve had more discussion as a couple, like about the doors being locked.”

The couple also have more discussion about whether it’s appropriate for Amy (played by Kate Bosworth) to go braless, after she complains about men ogling her – which is what prompts her to reveal her breasts in the first place, because this time, it’s no accident. It’s a strange scene – if construction workers were ogling you, and it made you angry, would you take your top off for them in response? And then, the crucial point, even if you did, does that mean you’re “asking for it”? “I don’t know any woman that enjoys that notion,” Lurie said.

“To be honest with you, what intrigued me about the film is how gray it is,” Bosworth said. “I have so many questions about the original. And I have questions about our movie! I have questions about my character, still. It really is one of those films you never quite have the answers to.”

When the rape finally happens in this film, it’s more clear than in the first that Amy and Charlie (played by Alexander Skarsgård) have had a past relationship. “With Charlie, it’s not really rape,” Skarsgård said. “He thinks, there’s this woman, she wants him, and they’re going to be together forever. And when she rejects him, he’s like, ‘I offered you my protection for life. You said no. This is what happens.’ So it’s very primal, on an animalistic level. ‘You didn’t want that? This is what happens.'”

While Amy doesn’t fight back as much during the rape this time, her rapist is also much bigger. (Plus, he’s Eric Northman!) But she doesn’t treat it like ex-sex, either. “I think it’s a little more clear that she’s not enjoying this thing done to her,” Bosworth added. “That was more murky in the original.”

“Our leading lady is certainly much more fierce and more modern than Susan George’s character,” Marsden said, “and a little less ambivalent in that defining scene.”

While it’s commendable to not eroticize rape, as the original does, it leaves the remake without much of a point. Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” had an argument to make – an argument many disagreed with, but an argument nonetheless, about what makes a man a man, and what women supposedly really want. Does excising that leave much of a picture left? Lurie said it does.

“Our Amy is a fierce Amy,” Lurie said. “She’s a feminist Amy. She’s an Amy of 2011.”

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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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