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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

why movies like Under the Skin and Nymphomaniac are not feminist

underskingpantiesposter

Have a look around the Web, and you will find lots of reviews by lots of critics stroking their metaphorical beards and nodding sagely and declaring that the cinematic orgies of supersexed-up and frequently naked women they just saw in Under the Skin and Nymphomaniac are powerfully feminist. Um-hmm, powerfully feminist. These guys have gone practically Yoda-esque as they discuss the purely philosophical aspects of films that are about watching sexy women be sexy and do the sex with lots of men. (It is mostly male critics who’ve decided this, but since most critics are male, this was inevitable, though some of the minority of female critics agree. Also: some critics, male and female, don’t think these films are feminist. Still, both films are in Fresh territory at Rotten Tomatoes.)

But: Is this the poster of a feminist film? I ask you. Scarlett Johansson’s slim white hairless naked legs (or the slim white hairless naked legs of some anonymous model we’re supposed to believe is Johansson), either engaging in a coy little-girl pigeon-toed stance or, perhaps, about to kick away that bit of silky, lacy nothing we’re meant to take as the panties or some other frilly lingerie she has just dropped. What is feminist about this? This is sexualized female nudity. It literally turns an actual, real woman (the actor or model) into a faceless sex toy. Ah, but wait! In the film, the Johansson character does have power… but it’s of an exclusively sexual sort, the supposedly awesome power to turn men into drooling horndogs who will walk open-eyed and willingly into their very deaths for the chance to bone a beautiful woman.

Not only is this not feminist, it’s misandrist, the notion that men are mindless sex machines. And feminism is about smashing gender-based nonsense for all genders, because it hurts everyone. So that’s another mark against this film. (I think many men — critics, movie fans, and everyone else — tend not to get bothered by this widespread negative stereotype because it doesn’t actually affect them in any way. I mean, no one has ever suggested that perhaps a man shouldn’t be President of the United States because what if his uncontrollable boner accidentally hit the Nuke The World button? The idea that men are being driven around by their dicks doesn’t stop them from getting to be in charge of everything while also, quite contradictorily, being perceived as more rational than women.)

Under the Skin earns, in the eyes of some, its feminist cred because it is apparently critiquing, somehow, the misogynist state of the world. See, cuz the Johansson character is actually an alien in human form who needs human men for some nefarious alien plot that we are never made privy to. And human men are easy prey because they don’t fear women the way that women fear men, and so the Johansson character’s job is made so easy because of this unfair reality. Presto bingo: Feminist!

Except it isn’t.

One of the problems here — and it’s the same problem with Nymphomaniac, in which Charlotte Gainsbourg is a woman relating her lifelong sexual adventures to a man — is that it’s a tad suspicious that male filmmakers have chosen to critique misogyny by engaging in what looks like misogyny. There are better ways to critique misogyny than by crafting stories about women who use their sexual power — the only power they appear to have in these stories — to behave in sexually predatory ways… and then narratively reassuring the viewer that these women feel shame and guilt about it, and will be punished for it. If this is wrong, movies, why are you dishing out more of it?

The larger problem is that these films act like what it means to be a woman is purely about sex and bodies, purely about interacting with men in no other way than a sexual one. (This is not true, any more than it is true that being a man is only about having a male body and having sex as a man.) These movies engage in nothing more than stereotypical male fantasies about women. Nymphomaniac features a sequence in which two teenaged girls roam a train seeking out men to have sex with, when in reality, two teenaged girls on a train would be seeking to stay as far away from horny creepazoids as possible. Overall Nympho is about a woman who wants to have sex without love or attachment, another stereotypical male fantasy. Skin is about random men being promised sex with someone who looks like Scarlett Johansson (that they never get it is beside the point; they die, but in a state of sexual bliss). Oh! And Skin is also about showing that ugly men deserve to be treated with kindness by beautiful women (when this happens, it’s how we know that the alien predator is starting to sympathize with her victims).

And yet, both movies are sex-negative, featuring women who prey on men and don’t even enjoy the sex themselves. In Nympho, the woman hates herself for how she has lived. In Skin, the “woman” is punished for her behavior.

Actual feminist movies about women’s sexuality, on the other hand, might allude to the fact that women enjoy sex, including also women who are not thin, white, and conventionally attractive. (There are plenty of plain, fat, scrawny, and otherwise not conventionally attractive men all over both movies, enjoying sex or the prospect of it enthusiastically and without shame or guilt.) An actual feminist movie about women’s sexuality might offer the small, brief fantasy of a handsome man speaking kindly to an ugly woman for two minutes.

Under the Skin and Nymphomaniac — both made by men, it must be noted again — treat women not as people, but with awe and fear, as weirdly not-men, as inscrutable Other… literally Other, in the case of Skin’s alien. What drives these women? What do they want out of life? Neither seems to know for herself, and we are left to ponder how mysterious they are.

The vast majority of movies are about male protagonists, and yet we don’t see movies that pretend that men’s interactions with other people and the world are only about sex. (The only film — the only one — I can think of that even comes close is Shame. And Michael Fassbender’s sex-addict character there is far more believably a fully rounded human being than either of these films even bothers to attempt.) We don’t see movies that throw up their hands in the face of male motives and male desires — we are shown those motives and desires as perfectly understandable.

A feminist movie would show us women’s motives and desires as perfectly reasonable.

Maybe it seems normal and natural to male filmmakers such as Jonathan Glazer, who made Under the Skin (based on a novel by a man), and Lars Von Trier, who made Nymphomaniac, to see women as only about sex. Maybe, to them, it’s the obvious way that women deviate from maleness. But here’s the thing: Women are more like men than unlike. Maybe male filmmakers need to start noticing the similarities rather than the deviations. Because an actually feminist movie would not pretend that women are mysterious sex monsters, but generally want the same reasonable things out of sex — and out of love and life — that men do.

h/t Nikki Baughan for pointing out that poster to me


  • No no, you see, at the end of Nymphomaniac (SPOILERS) the woman shoots the man. So that’s definitely feminist. Right?

  • Katie

    Coming from a woman, this is laughably the worst attempt at nit picking for something which just isn’t there.

  • Please enlighten us.

  • No.

  • I’m not sure what you’re saying here… your sentence seems to indicate that if a man had made the same critique, it would be valid? Or is it your intent to say that, because you are a woman, these “nit picks” are silly?

    Simply being a woman who is okay with the sexual dehumanization of her gender does not, by itself, give your views credence. You can laugh at MaryAnn’s viewpoint all you want, but without a coherent counterargument that’s all you’re doing: giggling alone.

    Not only is this article about something that is, most definitely, “there”, MaryAnn has provided in-depth analysis of how it has presented itself. Try again, Katie.

  • No one has ever suggested that perhaps a man shouldn’t be President of
    the United States because what if his uncontrollable boner accidentally
    hit the Nuke The World button?

    Heh! And now I have to clean coffee off my keyboard. Thanks.

  • Jerry F.

    I thought the same about Blue is the warmest color: it is a typical male fantasy about two nymphettes and male critics defending their own reviews and tolerance about “homosexuality”. The film made think it would have been less popular, it would not have earn itself any award if it were made with naked men engaging in the very same situations and filmed with the same graphic display of sexuality.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    Off-topic ranting, but.

    I gave up the God concept a long time ago, but yesterday I went with my wife to her church. Minister asks me if we’re not making any more babies, I say 2 is plenty, he looks at our daughters and say “but who is carrying on your family name?”. While I was thinking that maybe a boy would be gay, or not have children, or only have girls himself, he went on to assure me that if I “repent from any past sins to women” sky-daddy would send me a “man” this time (maybe magically making my Y’s swim faster, idk). So, not only baby girls are not the proper gender, they’re actually a punishment.

    And oh yes, we’re in DC, not whatever country you think is less enlightened than the US.

  • RogerBW

    Yes, I was about to write a post suggesting that that should be for the list: even if the female sexuality in the film is not for men in a diegetic way, it’s still shot so as to appeal to a male audience.

    Thank you, MaryAnn, for articulating this. Time to get rid of the worldview that baseline normal human = male, and that “female” is one of the deviations from that.

  • I haven’t seen the film of Under The Skin (sorry everyone, that renders this comment largely irrelevant), but I did read the book after reading press write-ups of the film. I’m not sure how the different processes of film-making led to this adaptation, as the book seems to be a very prescient depiction of universal misogyny and gender subjugation (that still haunts me) going far beyond sexing men to death.

    It sounds like MAJ is right to hold the auteur to account for the choices that were made in bringing this story to film over a period of ten years!

  • But I don’t think that Blue is particularly misogynist, though. It’s a little bit pervy, maybe, but it works as an otherwise very standard romantic melodrama, if one from a male perspective. It does not offend me the way these two films do.

  • Oh my god, that’s horrible.

  • I’m gonna have to read the book. I’ve heard it’s more an indictment of factory farming than anything else! (And apparently the screenwriter did not read the book before writing the script.)

  • LaSargenta

    Yeah, good way to make your daughters feel like crap.

    Edited: Whoops, that should have been a reply to Rod.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    On the plus side, it gave me reason to watch (and discuss) Jesus Camp with my 9-year-old.

  • LaSargenta

    Yea! So, what was her take on it?

  • bronxbee

    did he actually say this in front of your children? i hope you gave him a good verbal smacking. i would also be very concerned about allowing my little girls to attend a church where the guy in charge (not god) is so anti-feminist.

  • Bluejay

    i hope you gave him a good verbal smacking

    I think Buzz’s reply to Woody would have been an appropriate response.

  • Rod Ribeiro

    She’s a little young to understand state-church separation, but it went better than I expected:

    – Kids should never be homeschooled. (Why not?) How would you know if you mother wasn’t teaching you wrong stuff? (Like what?) Like “science has no answers”. It’s a lie, isn’t it? (Sure it is. But how do you know your teacher isn’t lying to you in your school?) She can’t. There are 25 kids and if anybody googles, she’s busted. (Right.) Plus, she’d get fired by the principal. At home, who would fire my mother if she did something wrong?

    – Why are they against abortion law? (They believe babies in their mother’s womb have souls.) Do you believe that? (I don’t know.) Why would anybody not want her baby? Babies are cute! (Yes, but they’re also a lot of work, and time, and money… that not everyone has.) So why they don’t give the baby to some couple that can’t have babies? (That’s a possibility. Not everyone wants that, either.) Why not? (Maybe they don’t want to be nine months pregnant with a baby that’ll go away.) I still don’t think it’s okay. (What if the baby’s very sick and is gonna die anyway?) If you’re very sure that there’s no cure, then maybe.

    – Dad, the boy in the movie said he was trained. I thought we only trained dogs, and horses, and stuff. (Yeah, baby. So did I.)

  • Rod Ribeiro

    I didn’t reply, I saw the guy 2 or 3 times in my life and it’s his church. My older daughter was playing around, and the younger just turned one. I was really hoping that my wife would say something, but she didn’t.
    I guess in some pentecostal churches the fact that Jesus was a man is of some significance. Luckily, my daughter was never interested in going to church.

  • Jerry

    I agree in that that film is not mysoginistic, and I should have made that clear in my commentary. I do think I deviated a little from your text, but as male, I did recognize in that film not an affirmation of free love or gender equality – or a critic about it- but as in Nymphomaniac, a lot of classic male tropes, imagery and fantasies about feminility and female sexual behavior as idealized and represented by many horny men. Thanks for picking our brains. Love your reviews but trully love your text on film criticism.

  • So you didn’t like either film because they weren’t feminist? Can you not put aside your worldview to enjoy art made by someone who may have a different worldview?

  • Katie

    Wondering what changes would have to be made for the film to earn your feminist tick of approval? Besides unshaven, stubbly legs. You mention in Skin that she’s punished for her behaviour…please elaborate? If anything, doesn’t that only emphasise the inequity between men and women?

  • Katie

    I’m saying if a man had made the same critique, it would be less valid, I thought that was pretty clear.

    I’m not okay with sexual dehumanisation because I don’t believe UTS is sexual dehumanisation. I felt the film was more highlighting today’s injustice in gender roles rather than actively waving the flag of feminism. It’s not pointing at the film’s premise shouting “Hey, look a catatonic female serial killer, bet you haven’t seen one of them in a while, look how pro-women we are”.

    The film doesn’t portray the woman enjoying sex because that’s not the story, she’s not human, is she even a ‘she’? Any sense (or false sense) of a feminist undertone is just that, an UNDERtone, not set out to be the sole purpose of the film, and so a bit unfair that Johanson is picking it out as a detriment to its story.

    I understand that this is a reactionary piece to what some critics have labelled it as, but hasn’t it at least shone some light on these issues – correctly or not – seeing as it’s being tediously discussed on countless messaging boards? It’s down to interpretation. I viewed it as a subtle commentary on rape culture; a by-product of its central plot, but ultimately: WHATEVER. It was never intended to be this generation’s art-house feminist think piece, and so why should it adhere to some arbitrary criterion?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Besides unshaven, stubbly legs.

    Know how I know you don’t actually care?

  • Katie

    Pardon.

  • So, she’s not punished, and if she is, that only proves the film is feminist?

  • more highlighting today’s injustice in gender roles rather than actively waving the flag of feminism.

    That *is* “actively waving the flag of feminism.”

    It was never intended to be this generation’s art-house feminist think piece

    Whatever an artists *intends* with a work is entirely separate from what can be taken from it.

    and so why should it adhere to some arbitrary criterion?

    Who said it should?

  • I didn’t like the films because, to my eye, they have repellent attitudes toward women. It’s not merely that they’re “not feminist.” (If I could only enjoy movies that were feminist, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy most of the movies I’ve given positive reviews to.) I didn’t like the films because they are actively anti-woman, to my eye.

    And no, I cannot “enjoy art” that I find repellent. How on earth do you do that?

  • Katie

    I’m confused. Are you referring to the ending as punishment for trying to take ownership of her body?

  • Katie

    Also, I’m NOT saying the film is *feminist*. Just because the tables are suddenly turned to a female protagonist using sex against men, doesn’t mean it’s trying to be either. It might be a shock to the system, but that says more about us than anything.

  • I’m not sure I’d like to get into what is and is not “feminism” — seems like semantics to me. But I must object to one thing quite strenuously… it is not the arguer’s gender that gives strength or validity to his or her criticisms. This is a stance that will undermine everything else you say, and I recommend you rethink including it in your arguments.

    Cheers!

  • LaSargenta

    Wow. Hairy legs!

    O_o

    You’ve got some strange ideas about feminism…unless that was meant as a humorous allusion to various misogynists of ages past. If so, please work on your writing style with respect to conveyance of comic tone.

  • Katie

    Have you read the actual article? I was referring to the author’s critique of the poster with “slim white hairless naked legs.” Wow.

  • Katie

    So a male dismissing female struggles as non-existent has credibility? Cool.

  • I’m saying that in the larger cultural context in which this story exists, it is a story about a woman who preys on men and then it punished for it by being murdered by a man.

  • Are you denying that the poster represents a stereotypical “sexy” image of a woman? That’s what my comment about hairless legs is about. If this is not supposed to be a “sexy” film, why is being sold with sexy imagery?

    Just what is your beef with my description of that poster?

  • “I cannot “enjoy art” that I find repellent. How on earth do you do that?”

    Well I find religion repellent but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy religious themed art. Despite finding communism repellent, two of my favourite movies are Soy Cuba and Battleship Potemkin. Many of my favourite westerns have a bigoted view of Native Americans that I find repellent. I would rather watch a well made film with a message I didn’t agree with than a badly made one that pandered to my worldview.

    “cinematic orgies of supersexed-up and frequently naked women”

    Both movies feature a lot more male nudity than female nudity.

    “Is this the poster of a feminist film?”

    You can’t judge films by their marketing campaigns. The distributor wants to get as many bums on seats as possible and so they find the most reductive means of selling the film. In this case it’s “ScarJo gets naked!” It’s unfair to condemn a film-maker over something they had no input in.

    “Not only is this not feminist, it’s misandrist, the notion that men are mindless sex machines. And feminism is about smashing gender-based nonsense for all genders, because it hurts everyone. So that’s another mark against this film.”

    The first half of the film was shot with hidden cameras. Many of the men SJ entices into her van are non-actors, thus proving the point that many men are actually easily swayed by a pretty girl.

    “it’s a tad suspicious that male filmmakers have chosen to critique misogyny by engaging in what looks like misogyny.”

    What about Julia Arnold’s Sleeping Beauty? That would seem to fall under your definition of misogyny. It’s not just male film-makers that are guilty of this. And why would a female actor like SJ take this role? She certainly didn’t do it for the money or the exposure.

    “These movies engage in nothing more than stereotypical male fantasies about women. Nymphomaniac features a sequence in which two teenaged girls roam a train seeking out men to have sex with, when in reality, two teenaged girls on a train would be seeking to stay as far away from horny creepazoids as possible.”

    Early on in Nymphomaniac it becomes clear that Joe is fabricating her stories, using the ephemera of Seligman’s apartment, and her knowledge of male fantasies, to tell him what he’d like to hear. The movie is practically a remake of The Usual Suspects. Reality doesn’t come into it. Von Trier also engages in stereotypical female fantasies: well endowed black men, Jamie Bell’s Christian Grey archetype.

    “Michael Fassbender’s sex-addict character there is far more believably a fully rounded human being than either of these films even bothers to attempt.”

    SJ’s character isn’t a human being. Even so, she’s far more well rounded than the fanboy eye candy character she plays in the Marvel movies. As for Shame, ask most women what they remember most about that film and I guarantee it’s not Fassbender’s “well rounded character”.

    While I wouldn’t describe either of these films as feminist, I certainly wouldn’t call them misogynist. There have, however, been plenty of horrifically misogynist movies recently: Wolf of Wall Street, Jack Ryan, That Awkward Moment, Cuban Fury, Bastards (made by a female film-maker, Claire Denis), 300: Rise of an Empire (which despicably presents a rape victim as its villain), Labor Day. Even Tracks twists the real life story to make its female protagonist dependent on a male. In my opinion, all of the above are far more deserving of your wrath than the two you chose. It’s not the fault of these films that some critics bizarrely labelled them as feminist.

  • Katie

    The alien takes the body of a woman who is socially deemed as “sexy” perhaps to entice in her male prey. Hence using the injustices of human society to her own benefit.

    The poster shows hairless legs in a stereotypically sexy manner because the body she’s in has hairless legs and is stereotypically sexy. That simple really.

    “If this is not supposed to be a “sexy” film, why is being sold with sexy imagery?”

    That is down to the film’s promotion which is unfortunately being marketed as ‘that flick where ScarJo gets naked’. It’s cheap, I admit, but the filmmaker doesn’t have a say in it, and shouldn’t cloud the actual content.

  • Katie

    “Who said it should?”

    You did. Your article is basically a list of things a film should be before it’s ‘feminist’ enough.

  • Katie

    Exactly. Isn’t that extremely sad? Didn’t it impressively highlight how our grasp of gender remains so backwards? I’m probably giving it too much credit but I found it awfully poignant.

  • Bluejay

    I would rather watch a well made film with a message I didn’t agree with than a badly made one that pandered to my worldview.

    I suspect we all have different tolerances for films with messages we find repellent. And I suspect it’s easier for us to appreciate the craftsmanship of such films if we don’t feel ourselves to be the direct target of their message in our daily lives. As an atheist, I can appreciate religiously themed art, but I’m also lucky enough not to feel harassed or derided for my lack of faith on a daily basis. (I’m also more tolerant of historical religious art — as part of a more general appreciation for the development of culture — than I am of modern works of art that try to proselytize.) I’ve more often been the target of racial bias as an Asian-American, and so I would find it more difficult to like a film with anti-Asian themes, no matter how well-made. I’m not a woman, but I can empathize with a woman who might feel the weight and burden of sexism in the culture she sees around her, and who might therefore have no patience for films she perceives as misogynist. (Of course, not ALL women/Asians/men/humans have to feel the same way about the same films; our individual experiences and histories inform our responses to a film.)

    What about Julia Arnold’s Sleeping Beauty? That would seem to fall under your definition of misogyny.

    Actually, it does. (And you mean Leigh, not Arnold.)

    And why would a female actor like SJ take this role? She certainly didn’t do it for the money or the exposure.

    Scarlett Johansson probably believes in the film and doesn’t find it misogynist. But, again, women don’t all have to agree on what a film says, any more than men have to. And as MaryAnn points out in the comments to her review, what she sees in the film as a viewer and critic doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what the filmmakers intended.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Wow, indeed. That in a 1000+ word essay, you would pick up on that one off-handed phrase, and repeat it mockingly. That’s how I know you don’t actually care what MaryAnn has to say.

  • Katie

    Don’t quite understand how you can regard the phrase as “off handed” when it was clearly intrinsic to her argument.
    Maybe you think I don’t care but I’d rather be apathetic to her views than not read them properly.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    No, it’s not “intrinsic to her argument.” That observation isn’t even about the movie itself, so much as about how the movie is being presented. You’d clearly like it to be integral, so that you could make your snide little comment, and so that you, not MaryAnn, can boil the entire argument down to a checklist.

  • Katie

    She’s using how the poster plays into stereotypical views of woman to colour the whole film as “sex-negative”. How is that not a large part of her argument? You’re suggesting I have some personal agenda against her which is quite spiteful on your behalf.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    1 word in 1 sentence in 1 observation that comes in 1/2 of 1 paragraph out of 10 does not constitute “a large part of her argument.” Again, I see that it would be convenient for you if it were so, but it’s not.
    That you’re keying in on that, attempting to play on the “hairy-legged feminist” to your advantage, indicates that you don’t actually give two shits about MaryAnn, or about having a real discussion.

  • It’s not “intrinsic” to my argument. It’s just one item in a pile of evidence.

  • What about Julia Arnold’s Sleeping Beauty? That would seem to fall under your definition of misogyny.

    Yes, it does, and I hate that movie too. (You could have read my review.)

    It’s not just male film-makers that are guilty of this.

    Where did I say it was?

  • I didn’t.

  • It most certainly is not. The majority of the piece is highlighting stuff that is actually in each film and explaining why *that stuff* is not feminist. One brief paragraph explains a few things that, by contrast, *might* — repeat: might — be considered feminist in a similar context. And those few things are definitely NOT arbitrary but are clear responses to how film gets women wrong (and where it doesn’t get the same things wrong about men).

  • Katie

    What are you even saying?
    I do not know MaryAnn but would gladly “give two shits” about her or anyone regardless if I agree with their opinion or not.
    Stop trying to make out that I’m intentionally skewing her words for my convenience or advantage or whatever bizarre calculative manoeuvre you think I’m trying to pull. Jesus.

  • I look forward to reading your Sleeping Beauty review (I meant of course Julia Leigh, not Arnold) but I’e used up my pageviews. As for the second point, I can’t view your article anymore because of the paywall so I could be mistaken but I recall you repeatedly mentioning how both films were made by males. Hate to come off like a freeloader but I’m struggling to eke out a living in journalism. I’m sure you can sympathise :)

  • Katie

    Yes it’s one item that contributes to your overall argument. Why am I suddenly not allowed to pick up on this.

  • LaSargenta

    Intrinsic means central to an argument. If we took away that one example, the article’s point wouldn’t suffer.

    Also, her use of that was about continual infantilizing of women’s bodies in imagery meant to be ‘sexy’, not about hairy legs being somehow feminist.

    Feel free to ‘pick up on’ whatever you like, but there’s a few of us who think you are misinterpreting this item.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Why am I suddenly not allowed to pick up on this.

    Here’s why:

    Wondering what changes would have to be made for the film to earn your feminist tick of approval? Besides unshaven, stubbly legs.

    You went for the cheap shot, the snide remark, the tired stereotype. And you continually want to break this down into a checklist that you can systematically attack.

  • Katie

    Isn’t the main argument that the film is not feminist but in fact misogynist? Tell me what part of that I am misinterpreting. Her critique of the poster suggests this. Therefore plays into the main theme.

  • Katie

    A ‘cheap shot’ perhaps but even if it was a fleeting remark, as a few of you like to defend it, it’s still a lazy critique to include in her essay.

  • What’s lazy about it? Whether or not the filmmaker had anything to do with it, it *is* a fair representation of the film.

  • You can return to pages you’ve previously viewed without incrementing the page counter. Because I’m still making it easy for people to get free content here and participate in the community. I’m really at the point of wondering why I’m bothering at all.

    Just because I point out that *these* films are made by men doesn’t mean I don’t think women can be misogynist.

  • It only allows me to view the comments portion, not the article itself.

  • You should be able to see the original post as well. Please send me a screengrab of the page, if you can.

  • There you go. The black mask extends down over the article and most recent comments

  • Katie

    Any references to shaved legs on why something isn’t feminist, is lazy in my books. For me it cheapened your other arguments, even if they were well expressed.

  • I’m putting in a support request with Tinypass to find out why this is happening. It shouldn’t be.

  • Tinypass tells me that you should not be able to return to previously viewed pages after the pageview counter has run out. But when I use both Firefox and Chrome, I *am* able to return to previously viewed pages when logged out, even after the pageview counter has expired.

    So you might try using either of those browsers.

    Or you just wait a week for the counter to reset.

    I think I have now done enough work helping you avoid having to pay a minimal price for content that has engaged you.

  • Unfortunately I’m in no financial position at the moment to pay any sort of price. If it wasn’t for the fact I get press screening invites I couldn’t even afford to watch movies. But I’ll keep chipping away and hopefully things will change at some point.

  • sam

    I too am sick of the constant portrayal of one body type, colour and look for almost all women characters ever, while men are portrayed with all kinds of different shapes, sizes, ages, and looks, and unlike women, most aren’t even close to supermodel material.

  • Bread

    “The larger problem is that these films act like what it means to be a woman is purely about sex and bodies, purely about interacting with men in no other way than a sexual one. (This is not true, any more than it is true that being a man is only about having a male body and having sex as a man.) ”

    I don’t think this is the case at all. Nymphomaniac depicts the sexual reality of many women who have a compulsion to have sex, typically to fill some kind of void in their life. I could actually relate to most parts of Joe’s sexual reality in Nymphomaniac, and it is a sad thing for people to feel emotionless but still have the physical, chemical desire. The film “Nymphomaniac” is called so because nymphomania is an actual disorder some women (and men) struggle with. It is about that type of struggle, not making a generalization about women.

  • Monkeyfishfrog

    I was
    homeschooled, my Mother taught me absolutely nothing (regarding schooling)
    during it and neither did my Father (again, regarding schooling). I received
    packets which contained the required materials studied them, took tests on them,
    and returned them. In other words, I taught myself. I took a college level math
    course, college level abnormal psychology course, and a college level
    philosophy course when I was sixteen years old. I graduated with a 4.0. I am
    former Air Force, and I am currently working towards my doctorate in computer
    science. Now to address your statements. Teachers can’t lie to you in public
    school. That is pure unadulterated bullshit, teachers are required to lie to
    you in public school. Ever heard of a little book called a peoples history of
    the United States? The fact that that book is classified as nonfiction and is
    used in public education proves you wrong. Zinn’s account of American history
    is about as historically accurate as the Muppets take Manhattan. As you said,
    open that book and search the truth of its contents online from academic sources
    (not from Zinn) and you will see it is filled to the brim with lies.

    On a more
    personal note, please do me and the truth a favor and stop spouting your
    ignorant liberal bullshit about homeschooling when the truth is you and many
    others actually know nothing about it. I have been dealing with assholes like
    you thinking my education is somehow inferior to the one that you received for
    what seems like an eternity. How about going to a church where the priest or
    whatever it is in your Wife’s religion, isn’t an ignorant dick? Sound like a
    pretty reasonable alternative to condemning an entire faith based on the words
    of one fool. In short to you and anyone who thinks like you, go fuck yourself
    you pretentious bigot.

  • Monkeyfishfrog

    **spoilers…although
    truth be told there isn’t much to spoil** Forgive me I am long winded. Why
    assume that the thing inhabiting the skin of Scarlet is Female, or has any
    sexuality at all? Even if it appears female (even vaguely without the skin) you
    could assume that this is simply an adaptation to the required shape to fill
    out the skin. And something female as we understand it certainly wouldn’t be
    shocked by the sudden discovery of a vagina as in the “love scene”. It is a
    story about a thing, a thing that is at no point during the film defined as
    being any more feminine then the skin it is wearing. It is a thing that preys
    on ridiculously weak willed men. It is a thing (quite obviously after the skin
    shedding) that is killed at the end of the film. I would even go so far as to
    say that to refer to this thing as a woman should be offensive to a woman, is a
    woman nothing more than her skin? One more point, would any of you male or
    female leave a child to die on a beach after seeing both of its parents drown
    in the ocean? This thing isn’t female, it isn’t even remotely human. At best it
    begins to make an attempt to understand humanity in the last fifteen minutes of
    the film.

    This movie is in
    my opinion garbage plain and simple and as much an affront to men as it is
    anything else. Apparently most men would follow a “pretty” woman into a burned
    out building, suddenly appear in a seemingly huge completely black (but still
    somehow well lit) room, take off all of their clothes, (here is the real
    kicker) start sinking into the floor, and remain completely oblivious to any of
    these little details because of the possibility of sex? If you are female and
    you buy into this crap seriously, get over yourself. As a man I find this
    incredibly offensive, the obvious line of questioning used by Scarlet throughout
    the film would have been more than enough to tell me “stay the hell away from
    this person they obviously want to do you harm”. This movie sucks because it couldn’t
    possibly be more transparent every moment is predictable. This movie sucks
    because I could probably write the entire dialog of the movie on the back of my
    hand. But most of all this movie sucks because Jonathan Glazer apparently wanted
    to be Stanley Kubrick when he grew up and instead wound up as the incredibly boring
    Thomas Alfredson.

  • Whyassume that the thing inhabiting the skin of Scarlet is Female, or has any
    sexuality at all?

    I’ve dealt with this in comments following my review of the film, in this thread:

    http://www.flickfilosopher.com/2014/04/skin-review-sex-weapon.html#comment-1329639735

  • Jessie

    I think you missed the point there about the Nymphomaniac: I see a feminist potential in it precisely because it depict a female sexuality that is unrestrained by the social norms. She wants to have sex and a lot of it,and she has the full right to engage in whatever sexual acts she wishes regardless of society`s condemnation. If you say that women are more alike men than unlike, why is it so hard for you to imagine two girls roaming the train to have sex? And when you speak about “reasonable things out of sex” that sounds like moralizing, who determines what is reasonable? And why do you think Joe`s desires were portrayed as unreasonable? I think this particular movie problematizes well the issue of female sexual desire

  • Funny how the sort of sex the girls and women wanted to have conforms totally to stereotypical male desires.

  • Funky Motha Funksta

    Let us know how that marriage works out for ya!

  • Evan Tangum

    I do not think a feminist message is or was intended to be the central message. While it does attempt to make some feminist points, the central message is a humanist one. *Spoilers* I will go over some of the symbolism to make my case. 1) The alien (Scarlet) picks up the ant and examines it, symbolizing her own alien body trapped within the human shell. She is not ready to be human at this point. 2) We see a “human” act of kindness where the man at the beach attempts to save the drowning woman and her dog. The baby left alone on the beach is meant to make us uncomfortable and demonstrate that being “human” is to help other humans. Taking advantage of other humans is purely inhuman. 3) This symbol is repeated with the deformed man, as he is the first person to be visually uncomfortable with the alien’s advances. The alien, by realizing it has done wrong, releases the man and becomes human. The rest of the movie sees her exploring her newly found humanity.

    The conclusion of the film certainly attempts to use irony to drive the humanist point home. It is not meant to be a punishment. The man in the woods attempts an inhuman and alien act, rape. Upon seeing that Scarlet’s inner body is alien, he ironically fears and kills her. “Under the Skin” the man in the woods is an alien.

  • P

    Nymphomaniac: The story of an extremely sexual woman who grapples with the loneliness guilt and self-destruction brought on by hypersexuality, yet positively asserts control over her own sexuality at the behest of a hypocritical man who has supposedly mastered his own sexual weakness.

    Yes, we can simplify this tale into a narrative of “man makes movie about woman who feels guilt for having sex”. That’s not what that movie boils down to though, and it’s almost comical to describe Gainsborough’s character in that movie as a male fantasy. She turns male sexuality and dominance into something empty and powerless, then casts away the mantle of sexuality altogether. Her character embodies both a human being, as well as the twisted fulfillment of the male fantasy (regarding a detached woman) brought to its conclusion.

    This is a frustrating problem with the already frustrating double-bind women face regarding sexuality: any attempt to tell a story which focuses on women as sexual is interpreted as anti-feminist male exploitation, and any attempt to tell a story of women as non-sexual is interpreted as anti-feminist perpetuation of the myth women do not/cannot enjoy sex. Let’s be a little more nuanced and think about what agenda this 4.5 hour long tale of a woman’s life is really trying to fulfill.

  • Danielm80

    any attempt to tell a story which focuses on women as sexual is interpreted as anti-feminist male exploitation, and any attempt to tell a story of women as non-sexual is interpreted as anti-feminist perpetuation of the myth women do not/cannot enjoy sex.

    But those aren’t the only two options. It’s possible to tell a story about a woman who leads an interesting life, has adventures, makes friends and enemies, and also, from time to time, has sex–some of it good, some of it less so.

    There’s nothing wrong with movies about sex, but too many movies focus on women as sexual and never bother to suggest that there’s anything else notable about their lives.

  • any attempt to tell a story which focuses on women as sexual is interpreted as anti-feminist male exploitation

    Citation needed.

  • ewakama

    I disagree with your idea that Nymphomaniac is a male fantasy. First, I know plenty of women, me included, who have wanted sex without emotional attachment. Second, the whole story resonated with me (a woman). I don’t see why the reality of the plight of women who love sex as much as men is not an appropriate feminist plot. I think it’s a story worth telling, if taken to its extremes. And I think it did an exceptional job of fleshing out both the female and male characters beyond stereotypes. But I’m not a film critic- just a girl who likes movies and sex.

  • Danielm80

    I like the way you’ve contrasted film critics with “just plain folks.” Critics like MaryAnn just hate movies and sex.

  • Hey, I’m a girl who likes movies and sex, too.

    A movie about a woman who loves sex and isn’t punished for it would be awesome. This is not that movie. A movie about a woman who *says* she loves sex that *also* shows her actually enjoying sex would be awesome. This is not that movie. This is an ugly, unsexy movie that makes a woman who says she likes sex (but doesn’t show us her enjoying sex at all) look like a monster who hates herself and deserves all the mistreatment she gets. This is not a depiction of a woman who likes sex that I welcome.

  • ewakama

    Hmmm. But why is it not okay to show oppression of women? Because the depiction was dictated by a man? Because it’s not a real-life story? I could honestly relate to certain parts of this movie so much I could swear it was a true story.
    A movie about a woman who loves sex and isn’t punished for it would be awesome, but it would be different entirely. It would be a feminist fantasy, rather than a depiction of oppression.
    And it may not have always shown her enjoying sex, but maybe that’s because a sex addict doesn’t always enjoy it in the way you might think. It becomes a matter of utility rather than pure pleasure. (But I have to disagree with your statement that it “doesn’t show us her enjoying sex at all”, when we watched her climax while being whipped, and her sex with Jerome, etc.)
    I haven’t seen any of Von Trier’s other work so maybe I’m giving him too much credit, and he is a misogynist pretending to be a feminist. But this movie standing alone I really connected with. It reminded me of Tess of the D’Ubervilles. It’s not a happy story and certainly isn’t inspiring, but it’s real.
    Sidenote, I really like your blog and I hope I don’t sound super argumentative.

  • why is it not okay to show oppression of women?

    I never said it wasn’t.

    A movie about a woman who loves sex and isn’t punished for it… would be a feminist fantasy

    Really?

  • ewakama

    Yes, I really think so.
    Women are constantly being punished for their sexuality, explicitly and implicitly.
    There’s still the huge double standard between the perception of the guy that sleeps around versus the girl. Women who love sex, openly, are often stigmatized and given a bad name.
    Then there’s sexual assault: 1 in 3 American women will be, in their lifetime.
    And then lastly it’s often up to the woman to use contraceptives, and if she gets pregnant…
    I’m cynical, I suppose. But when you think about the life of a guy who sleeps around, and then that of a woman, it’s impossible to not think that the promiscuous woman is to some extent punished by society for loving sex.

  • If anything, I thought Under the Skin was more about the male fear of female sexuality, with the second half serving as a reminder that vulnerability is, sadly, an inescapable part of the human condition.

    Also, your comment about the poster completely ignores any possibility that it is (obviously and deliberately) playing with the iconography of titilation. A passing glance at what looks almost burlesque actually betrays a much more sobering undercurrent once you’ve seen the movie.

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