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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…