I settled down a few days ago for an old classic film, Chinatown. Great Jack Nicholson performance, fantastic film noire homage, lovely 1940s period LA. And through the whole film I kept thinking two things. The game LA Noire owes a huge debt to Chinatown. And good lord, but is that film a serious product of rape culture.
The obvious: a central plot point is that the female lead (an excellent Faye Dunaway) was raped by her father. That fact is presented sympathetically enough and she’s a little more complex than just a victim. But how do we learn it? Our hero detective literally beats it out of her. It’s a horrifying scene, played to deliver the shocking reveal. But then it’s also this disgusting revictimization. And it passes on without notice, of course the hard-boiled detective had to beat the hysterical girl silly.
There’s another upsetting thing earlier, when our detective and the heroine first meet, where she seduces him. Two days after her husband’s violent death, a death the detective is implicated in. It’s not quite so stupid; we learn later she’s playing him, the seduction is strategically deliberate on her part. But of course the hard-boiled detective gets to bed the beautiful girl.
And then there’s the central unspoken problem, that the director is Roman Polanski. Not three years after Chinatown, Polanski drugged a 13 year old girl and raped her. And pled guilty, and fled the US before sentencing, and has been an active fugitive ever since. I’m normally OK with separating the art from the artists, but in his case it’s just too much. But of course the famous director gets away with raping a child.
Part of what’s so troubling about rape culture is how insidious it is. This kind of victimization of women was mainstream entertainment, without comment, for far too long. It’s an infection.