Archive for April 27th, 2009

April 27, 2009

Toothsome things

I have watched two movies related to teeth and biting in the last ten days or so.

Last saturday night involved Teeth. I was a bit…dubious about this movie, despite the fact that a friend had said she liked it. I wasn’t sure how they were going to use the Vagina Dentata trope.
It turned out, though, that they used it pretty well. The reasons for Dawn’s condition are never made clear – both the nuclear power plant (which may or may not be the cause of her mother’s cancer) and a class on evolution offer potential explanations. What is made clear though, is the way in which the myth works culturally. As Dawn begins to do her research she learns that the vagina dentata myth exists across multiple cultures[1], and that it is frequently seen as a symptom of fear around women’s sexuality.

Dawn’s own society isn’t much of an exception. Pictures of female genitalia in her class’s textbooks are covered by gigantic gold stickers (because women have a natural modesty) and Dawn herself is a member of a group promoting abstinence. It is only after she has bitten off one penis, one set of fingers, and had consensual sex for the first time that she is even able to properly look at herself naked in the mirror. The moment at which she first looks at a diagram of the vagina is accompanied by revelatory music. Her unfamiliarity with her sexual organs is also seen to place her in danger – realising that she has no idea what is happening a doctor sexually assaults her.

I found it rather worrying that every man Dawn meets (apart from her step-dad) is either a rapist or just generally an arsehole. Within the space of a couple of days, she is raped by a classmate and then a doctor, manipulated into sex by a male friend who only wants to brag about it to his friends, has sex with her step-brother, and while hitchhiking runs into a driver who also seems to plan to rape her. Teeth presents us with a universe where there are very few nice men.

Sex is still positive, though, even if the men Dawn could conceivably have it with (the film is entirely heterosexual) are not. She is shown to enjoy consensual sex, and also to admire her naked body in the mirror. Neither of these things happen until she has discovered her teeth.

A few days after Teeth I finally watched Let The Right One In which seems to have released months ago everywhere else. People have been gushing about it all over the world[2] and there’s little I can add, but go and see it if you haven’t yet. It’s beautiful, quiet (we only realised later how sparingly music had been used), and one of the most honest vampire films I’ve ever seen. By which I mean that if you’re in love with a vampire you probably need to deal with the whole killing and draining blood thing, and that the blood-bespatteredness can be really unattractive rather than sexy (Oskar and Eli’s first kiss comes right after Eli has feasted on someone and is dripping with blood. Twilight this isn’t.

I’m told that a lot of what the movie makes ambiguous (the gender identity of Eli, the status of Hakan) is more clearly spelt out in the book. I don’t think I’ll be reading the book, because I don’t want to know. The ambiguity is what made this film for me – like Oskar, the viewer begins to accept all these odd things without questioning. Will you go out with me? he asks Eli, specifying that he wants her to be his girlfriend. “Oskar, I’m not a girl” she replies; a beat later he replies with “but are we going steady or not?”

I will, however be watching the English adaptation of the story, which will be produced by Hammer films. I look forward to seeing what they make of it.

[1] Including our own. (via my PL)
[2] The Bitch magazine review raises the issue of how LTROI fits into a feminist horror tradition (which I think already exists). I think it does, and this is one of the reasons I think the two movies fit together as part of the same post. Besides the teeth of course.