The Light of the Moon movie review: ‘victim’ is not a dirty word

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The Light of the Moon green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A tough, uncompromising depiction of a rape and its aftermath that serves as a formidable corrective for how this subject is typically seen onscreen.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for stories about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I’ve seen some demure descriptions of this movie: its female protagonist is “assaulted,” “attacked,” “her world… irrevocably changed.” But there’s no point in being coy or spoiler-averse about it: The Light of the Moon is about a rape and its aftermath for the woman who is subjected to it. Not being upfront about this could actually be dangerously distressing for some potential viewers: this is a tough, realistic, uncompromising depiction of a crime that is perpetrated upon far too many women, and some of those women may well want to avoid this movie. They may not want to relive it.

Light is for everyone else, for everyone who’s had enough of stories about rape that diminish women, that are exploitive, that make sexual assault look sexy, that turn rape victims into wilting flowers or crazed avengers. (The movie won the 2017 SXSW Audience Award for best narrative feature, which suggests that lots of movie lovers have had enough of these things.) Just the fact that “victim” has become a tainted word laden with negative connotations, in some respects, is indicative of the problem. But this first feature from writer-director Jessica M. Thompson pushes back against that without ever suggesting that a woman isn’t powerfully impacted by a rape. Quite the opposite, in fact: here we see the impact that most stories about rape avoid. I cannot recall seeing another one, actually, that delves this deeply into the psyche of a woman who has suffered such an attack.

Everything changes... including a simple dinner at home.
Everything changes… including a simple dinner at home.

Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz: Ice Age: Collision Course, Short Term 12) definitely would hate being called a victim, and she’s determined not to succumb to a stereotype of victimhood. It’s difficult for her to accept any help after she is raped while walking home from a night out with friends in her Brooklyn neighborhood. (She never sees her rapist, and neither do we. Unlike most cinematic rape scenes, this one is focused entirely on Bonnie’s shock and pain, not on her attacker, and not on making what happens look alluring. The scene is not graphic, but it is very disturbing.) It’s clear she was considering not even telling her boyfriend, Matt (Michael Stahl-David: The Congress, Cloverfield), and perhaps only because it becomes unavoidable does she do so.

Even a strong, smart woman may crumble (and that’s okay!), even if she pretends to be coping well…

Thompson and Beatriz are shockingly straightforward about how this strong, smart woman crumbles (and that’s okay!) even as she pretends to be coping well: her confidence is shattered, she doubts her own judgment (what if she hadn’t been wearing her headphones? what if she’d taken a cab?), her work — she’s a successful architect — suffers. Her relationship with Matt, which had previously seemed pretty solid, takes a huge hit, partly because she cannot abide suddenly being treated differently by him. (Perhaps the most blunt the film gets is in its portrayal of how a healthy sexual relationship can be damaged when one partner has suffered sexual violence; this most intimate aspect of the relationship suddenly has overtones that are far from romantic, far from sexy. This may be the film’s biggest fuck-you to cinematic depictions of rape that have the gall to make that look sexy.) And that’s even before Bonnie starts to deal with the criminal justice system…

This is not a fun movie, or an easy one, but it is a very necessary one, a formidable corrective for how this subject is typically seen onscreen. It’s also a reminder that when women tell women’s stories, they get told in ways we haven’t seen before. Bravo.

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