‘Captivity’ promises to be a feminist dream

There’s a party at the Privilege nightclub on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood tonight. It’s to celebrate the release, this coming Friday, of the new film Captivity. There’s gonna be cage fighting, Suicide Girls, and a warren of live torture rooms. I was invited, but of course I’m on the East Coast and no one offered to fly me out. I’m heartbroken I’m gonna miss it, though, because the “undisclosed main event” of the party was described recently in The New York Times by producer Courtney Solomon of After Dark Films as “probably not legal.” But ”the women’s groups definitely will love it. I call it my personal little tribute to them.”

How lovely of Solomon! His people know I’m an unabashed, vocal feminist — an unabashed, vocal feminist who isn’t afraid to review films from that perspective — and they invited me to this exciting little feminist soiree! I can only imagine what Solomon and his people could get up to that would be “probably not legal” that would also please feminists. Maybe one of those torture rooms will feature live men actually being castrated! Because we feminists love that, right?
But no: that would be cruel and inhuman. And it’s not like Captivity is a movie about cruelty and torture. I mean, look at that poster! Look at that lovely woman! Look at how her lips are parted in something akin to ecstasy! And she’s crying with joy. This is gonna be a story about a vibrant, sexy woman who, clearly, is metaphorically “captivated” by the love and respect of a fine, honorable, upstanding man. Oh, I know, he’ll be unrealistically handsome, of course — come on: this is Hollywood, after all. Oh, wait! Maybe she’s captivated by the love of a woman! We feminists would love that, what with all of us being lesbians and all.

Oh what a rare specimen is this Mr. Solomon: he’s a man who understands women, understands feminists! He’s so unlike that Neanderthal Joss Whedon, who whined, frankly, like a little girl to the MPAA about the movie:

[T]he ad campaign for “Captivity” is not only a literal sign of the collapse of humanity, it’s an assault. I’ve watched plenty of horror – in fact I’ve made my share. But the advent of torture-porn and the total dehumanizing not just of women (though they always come first) but of all human beings has made horror a largely unpalatable genre. This ad campaign is part of something dangerous and repulsive, and that act of aggression has to be answered.

Sheesh. Listen to him, sounding like he’s on the side of women! I think he’s just jealous because no woman has ever looked at him the way that Elisha Cuthbert gazes out at her unseen lover on that poster. Clearly, Whedon doesn’t get women, and you can take that however you like.

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Tue, Jul 10, 2007 10:55am

Love your sarcasm here. Great! Keep up the good work. (I have no interest at all to see this film. The poster is so degrading I cannot believe they could even print it…)

Rob Vaux
Tue, Jul 10, 2007 11:12am

While I’m full-score behind your anger, M-A, I find Whedon’s comments in that post a little grating. Not the sentiments themselves, but rather the way he presents them as something new and shocking that *he* has uncovered. “Hey everybody! Do you know what I just found out? Sometimes Hollywood treats women like objects! Isn’t that HORRIBLE?!” Yeah, thanks Joss. Thank God you’re here to tell us these things because we never would have figured them out otherwise.

I appreciate Whedon’s commitment to presenting empowered feminine role models, but the man’s self-regard is insufferable. And the grandstanding on display detracts from his otherwise eloquent and passionate argument.

Tue, Jul 10, 2007 11:30am

Go read the two links to Whedon’s stuff I included. He knows he hasn’t discovered these things for himself, and he’s not grandstanding.

Tue, Jul 10, 2007 11:40am

Great post, as always.

And even without coming to it with a feminist perspective, Captivity is still a crock of shit. You’ll love it MaryAnn ;)

Rob Vaux
Tue, Jul 10, 2007 12:12pm

I’ve read them both several times – I’ve been following the whole Captivity ad debacle fairly closely – and I stand by my assessment. The fact that I agree with Whedon’s sentiments and appreciate his eloquence doesn’t change the inherent narcissism on display in his posts. His quasi-anthropological musings and “what’s wrong with women” chest-beating aren’t any less self-indulgent just because he prefaces them with a few faux disclaimers. He’s a pro-feminist and that’s great. But he’s also stood on the shoulders of a number of braver and more daring filmmakers whose advances on this subject frankly dwarf anything he’s ever done. If a few more of them were cited a little more often, then I suspect his comments wouldn’t irritate me nearly as much.

I apologize if this comes across as thread hijacking. And lest I’m unclear on your central point, Captivity looks like a sleazy piece of shit. Shame on the MPAA for not rating it NC-17, and shame on the studio for exploiting its hateful agenda the way they have. Hopefully, it will fail quickly and put the last nail in the coffin of Hostel-esque snuff-porn.

Tue, Jul 10, 2007 12:29pm

I smell bullshit coming from all sides here, including from Whedon and from you, MaryAnn. Has Whedon even seen any of the movies he’s talking about? Has Captivity even been screened for a single person yet? As Whedon pointed out, it’s being directed by fairly acclaimed-for-his-sensitivity director Roland Joffe, so who knows how this will turn out.

And quite frankly, Whedon is far from the last person who I would want to lecture any single human being about objectifying women. For all his supposed sensitivity towards women, none of his female characters ever came close to looking like a human being, although that may be because he chooses actress based on looks rather than if they can act. (Possible exception is Zoe from Firefly, although I’m not completely sold.) I actually think I prefer straight misogyny and sexism to Whedon’s hypocritical bullshit. Dear Jesus, I just hate the man.

Oh no, the HORROR genre is “unpalatable”! I didn’t want my horror to be unpleasant! Look, I’m not even a fan of the torture porn stuff, but the attacks on it are so simplistic and misguided that I am genuinely irritated. So the first thing Elisha screams in the movie is “I’m sorry.” And? What’s the tone of the movie? Is this movie made from the point of the torturers? Or from the point of view of the captive? Is it meant to be sad that she said “I’m sorry,” that the bastards got to her? Can anyone tell me? Maybe all the attacks on “Captivity” will be borne out, but Jesus fucking Christ, let’s watch the movie first.

Rob Vaux
Tue, Jul 10, 2007 12:47pm

I think the question here is less the movie itself than how it’s being marketed. The objections being raised entail the posters, the billboards, the commercials, and the promotional activities during the premiere. Given how distasteful it all is, I think we can be forgiven for thinking that the film may, in fact, be the teensiest bit offensive.

And for the record, Joffe’s other directing credits include the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter. He gets NO slack.

I still think Whedon’s a narcissistic asshat, though. Just a narcissistic asshat who happens to be right this time.

Tue, Jul 10, 2007 3:41pm

Okay, perhaps my response was a bit overheated, owing to my unending, all-consuming hatred of Joss Whedon. I retract the accusations of hypocrisy; he’s not a hypocrite, merely an infuriatingly self-indulgent writer who works with terrible actors. That said, so what you’re offended? So what Joss Whedon is offended? A horror movie that fails to offend is almost certainly a failure, and I consider it particularly disingenuous that Joss Whedon says, “See, I make horror movies so I know from horror.” The only scary thing Whedon has ever done is perpetuate Nicholas Brendan’s career. He’s an action director, not a horror director, he doesn’t know jack about scaring people.

And even if this film is anti-feminist (which we absolutely do not know at this point), I call a big so what? I’m not bothered by those billboards, nor am I bothered that people wanted them taken down, I admit it’s not a pleasant thing to look at for your morning drive. But it’s anti-feminist? What’s your point? I don’t see any getting angry at “Hostel” for being anti-male, which it most certainly is, and if I did see anyone getting angry about it, I’d still respond with a big “so what?”

People getting angry about films being dehumanizing and unpleasant just annoy me. Some of the best films ever made are dehumanizing and unpleasant. “Night of the Living Dead,” for one, “28 Weeks Later” for a more recent example. Even the torture porn stuff is not entirely dehumanizing (Saw III and Hostel Part II for examples).

Parma Violets
Tue, Jul 10, 2007 3:52pm

Hostel is anti-male? It’s made by the biggest fratboy in Hollywood, who I distinctly remember was whining in a recent interview that the MPAA wouldn’t let him include “gratuitous rape”.

Oh, and before he tried his current tack, Solomon (who also directed that timeless classic Dungeons & Dragons!) apologized for the billboards because they didn’t get across that the film was “empowering to women”. He’s talking out of his arse. The film is terrible. I should know. I had the misfortune to see it.

Tue, Jul 10, 2007 5:14pm

That said, so what you’re offended?

Are you suggesting we shouldn’t complain when we don’t like something that’s being thrust in our faces?

Wed, Jul 11, 2007 11:19am

I’m angry, I don’t have to make sense! Graaagh!

Wed, Jul 11, 2007 12:12pm

MBI – not to put words in MaryAnn’s mouth, but no, it’s more like “I’m angry, I get to express it the same way everyone (including the makers of ‘Captivity’) has a right to in this country.” MAJ explains exactly why she is angry, as does Joss Whedon. You may not agree with her position, but it does in fact make sense.

“People getting angry about films being dehumanizing and unpleasant just annoy me.” See? Your opinion. I disagree, as I have a right to. So does MAJ. Until you start to pay for her bandwidth, she can say whatever the hell she wants to.

Wed, Jul 11, 2007 2:31pm

I’m not sure everyone agrees on the definition of “dehumanizing.” To me, what it means is that a movie’s characters do not act like human beings, but merely serve as wheels for the plot to roll on. In the context of horror, that means that they are nothing more than victims to be tortured and killed, and the audience is not given any reason to care about them. This has been a trend in horror movies since Friday the 13th (read Ebert’s review of Friday the 13th Pt. II if you don’t know what I’m talking about), but it seems to have gotten worse in recent years. Maybe it hasn’t, really. Maybe it’s just that the good horror from the past is remembered, while the exploitative crap is forgotten. However, I think the level of gore has definitely risen.

Anyway, by that definition, I don’t think I’d call Night of the Living Dead dehumanizing. I wanted Ben to make it out of the house. He was a real character. Even the Saw movies had people I cared about (well, not so much Saw II). But that’s really my standard for horror movies, or any movies, really: do I care what happens to the characters? A good horror movie makes the audience care about the characters, and then puts them in danger, and the audience is vicariously scared. Torture-porn puts the characters in danger because it thinks the audience will enjoy watching them suffer. I can’t see why I’d want nothing more than to watch someone in pain onscreen.

Wed, Jul 11, 2007 2:38pm

Torture-porn puts the characters in danger because it thinks the audience will enjoy watching them suffer.

What’s much worse: At many of the screenings/showings of torture-porn movies I’ve attended, much of the audience really DOES seem to enjoy watching the people on the screen suffer.

Rob Vaux
Wed, Jul 11, 2007 5:17pm

LA Times article about the soiree:


On behalf of those Angelenos who are not out-of-touch degenerates, I state again for the record: these people do not represent us.

Also, Joss Whedon’s unrepentant asshattedness pales in comparison to the giant-mega-colosso-uber-asshattedness of Courtney Solomon. And this man keeps working because…?

Wed, Jul 11, 2007 6:40pm

Anne-Kari: I was talking about myself, not MaryAnn. I’m a little embarrassed about my glaring logical flaw.

But I ask, why is wanting to watch people suffer a bad thing? They’re not real people, after all, they’re characters, and we’re either lying or boring if any of us say that we don’t have a bit of sadist in us. I reserve the right to enjoy movies that aren’t really good for me the same way I enjoy food that’s not really good for me. Not that I enjoy the torture sequences in torture porn movies, they’re usually pretty depressing to watch. Sometimes that’s intentional, sometimes not. I have to admit, I’ve seen a lot of the Seven ripoffs that constitute the horror porn genre, most of them are pretty bad. But this stuff is more complicated than just saying, gosh, how dare these sick moviegoers enjoy killing? You didn’t enjoy it when that backstabbing politician in 300 got stabbed in the back? You didn’t want to see that whiny metrosexual get eaten in Dawn of the Dead? You didn’t cheer when Nicole Kidman blew away that entire fucking town HAHAHAHAHAHAHA? Granted, none of those are quite the same as the torture porn stuff, but none of the torture porn movies are quite the same as each other (even the Saw movies have major differences from each other). A lot of these movies (especially Hostel, which I hate) have a lot going on under the surface, often unintentionally. I can’t tell if I’m doing backflips to justify this stuff, but I think it’s all worth a deeper look.

Thu, Jul 12, 2007 12:07pm

Bad guys getting their comeuppance is entirely different from essential innocent characters getting tossed into meatgrinders because it’s “cool.”