Hard Candy Dialog (2005): Part 1 Junk, Little Red Riding Hood and "She is asking for it."
Feminist Elizabethan wrote:
Well, when I first saw it I was about 14. My step-mom and I were really bored, and she had just gotten a random DVD in the mail from Blockbuster. We had no idea what the movie was about, and when I saw the title, I just hoped it wasn't a porno.
During the first 10 minutes of the movie, I almost stopped watching it. At the time, there had been several movies about pedophiles seen through the perspective of the pedophile, and I thought that Hard Candy was going to be another one of those movies, and I was just sick of it. I didn't want to see another director trying to be "edgy" by forcing the viewer to empathize with the pedophile (at best) or watching a director romanticize a pedophile victimizing a child at worst. However, once I saw Patrick Wilson pass out, I was instantly interested, and I thought "Hold on here. Is this going in the direction I think it is? Is a potential victim going to switch roles? And a girl at that?"
One moment that particularly surprised me was when the viewer and the pedophile were led to believe that the pedophile's junk had been cut off. It's rare in any horror, slasher or psychological thriller movie for any sort of damage or torture to occur to a man's penis or balls. In fact, men are usually tortured less and killed quicker than women. Girls and women's terror and means of death are almost always more prolonged in horror and slasher flicks.
What I really liked about this movie was that, for once, a young girl wasn't a victim, and she wasn't a final girl trope. Here was someone who is traditionally victimized in both film and reality and is almost always underestimated (even Patrick Wilson initially thought she was just into some sort of amped up version of S & M) taking control and saying what everyone wants to say to a pedophile (e.g. when Ellen Page first tied up Patrick Wilson she went through a checklist of pedophile excuses - that she was "asking for it," that she looked older and then told him what a reasonable adult would do if a child acted flirtatious and then later mentioned how pedophiles often fall through the cracks of the justice system). I get sick of seeing girls being portrayed over and over as a victim and not as a survivor or as a fighter. As someone who has teeth too.
There were three things that really stuck out to me. The first was when Patrick Wilson realized that he hadn't been castrated, and he said "I'm all here" instead of "They're still here." If I had thought that I had undergone Female Genital Mutilation and found out that I hadn't, I would probably start crying and saying "Oh my God, it's still there" so I found it interesting that he thought of his balls as being HIM, his heart and soul, instead of as a part of him. The second part I thought was interesting was when they were on the roof, and he threatened sexual violence against Ellen Page. He could have said anything. He could have said that he was going to beat her or that he was going to call the cops, but instead, he fell back on the threat of sexual violence. Then there's the poster for Hard Candy.
On the cover, Ellen Page is facing away from the camera wearing a red hoodie and standing on top of a giant bear trap. Her red hoodie is reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood who was almost eaten by the Wolf. In this instance, however, Red Riding Hood isn't waiting to be eaten. She is the Wolf. She is the disguise. She is the trap. But there's something about her standing in a trap that I don't like. Maybe it's that I don't like the idea of children as bait or lure. Or that she is the big evil trap that has lured in Patrick Wilson. It suggests that there is something naturally luring about children that pedophiles can't resist despite the grisly trap waiting for them.
What did you think about the film?
When I approached you about collaborating around a movie, and you mentioned Hard Candy, the last time I saw it was when it was released. At the time I was in high school, renting or borrowing from the library on average about 5 movies a week. I was seeking everything interesting, I could find. It was a great time for indie films. But, when I was researching this film I realized my memory was incorrect. Hard candy came out in 2005. I was in the Navy stationed on a ship in Virginia. I'd spend my weekends at the mall reading or catching movies. I saw Hard Candy at this time. I remember the film being a very tense and visceral experience. I remembered the overall narrative, and the surgery scene. What immediately stood out to me when I re-watched the film this week was how dialog driven the movie is, and how uncomfortable I was with the series of serialized innuendos that lace the first third of the movie.
What I like most about the film is its intentional trickery. We enter the film originally around this very awkward story centering around a 30 something guy meeting a 14 year old girl on the internet. Soon we find that Haley is luring him into a trap. We also get the impression that her scheme is not fully planned out. That she originally intended just to teach him a lesson by scaring him. That is until she begins investigating his home and seeking to torture a confession out of him. The way the director plays with what the viewer knows is something else. There is a sense in which, at least a couple moments, where I felt she was taking the torture too far based upon the information she had. We simply weren't given enough information to fully justify siding with Haley until very late in the film.
I agree. The scenes that show men's junk being violated is relatively rare in mainstream movies. But, it’s not all together absent. There was a series of films in the late 70's that had a shared plot of a woman being violated and then turning on her aggressors and torturing and killing them one by one. For whatever reason some of these films were remade in the last couple years. I'm thinking specifically of I Spit On Your Grave. I also agree that in mainstream films men are less often tortured, and for shorter lengths of time. As a whole I am not sure this is the case. Based on my journey thought horror movies (and I really don't have the documentation to back me up) I feel that men are more often killed by the end of a movie than women are. What does get substantially more attention from the media and literature on violence in movies is what happens to women. I think this is due to the huge gap in men studies compared to woman's studies more than anything. People simply don't talk that much about men's suffering, or humiliation, so it doesn't become a central theme in movies. Or when it is its very difficult to articulate. There are a couple exceptions, say for example, with Straw Dogs that focuses around themes of masculinity and the alpha dog logic of shame and humiliation and their relation to being a man.
What really stands out to me in this movie is the violence in relation to gender and the age difference. There are only three strains of movies that play with similar themes; movies where children are evil and attack their parents (most of time in herds of children), and movies were the child who is mostly a boy is possessed or evil. In Hard Candy, we don't get Haley's back story, so there is a possibility that her life has not been entirely free from a moment where she was a victim. I'd argue that there is a high probability that she did experience something or someone in her immediate environment experienced something traumatic. The only other alternative, one that the film hints to, is that Haley is crazy. I find this a little insidious because it is the only justification. It is as if the film is making the claim that women and girls only fight back because they are crazy. This link to a long stereotype that links feminine emotions to hysteria or being nuts in order to nullify their political input.
I'd like to make an uncomfortable point. While Haley argues in the movie against Jeff weird logic that “Girls are asking for it” if they act or dress in some way, in the case of this movie, Haley was betting on the fact that Jeff would act in a specific way based upon her actions. In a very real way she was intentionally “asking for it”. Although, what Haley and Jeff defines as “it” are two different paradigms. Haley was intentionally using a sexualized mode of conversation (aka flirting), and flaunting her body in order to inspire Jeff's advances. The difficulty here is separating out what Haley means by “IT.” On the one hand, she is seeking to inspire Jeff's advances in order to justify her later actions, and on the other hand she simply doesn't want anything to do with his advances. She is asking for “it” and not asking for “it” at the same time.
That is a great point about the aftermath of the fake surgery scene. Here's how I think about it. I think that men and woman have different relationships with their (to use your words) junk. Men are socialized very early on to relate with their junk in a very public way. In circles of boys, the size, shape and every weird detail of their junk is used to justify status. Boy's either find a way to navigate these masculine dialog or they are outcast-ed. I have been reading a wonderful book called Daring Greatly by a social worker Brene Brown, who is a vulnerability researcher, and she found that the most common insult the men she interviewed had thrown at them was “Don't be a P----.” So, while I don't relate with the guy in the scene (because most of my friends through my life have been women. The junk conversation just wasn't that common. I.E. I never learned to universalize my entire existence via my Junk.) I understand the oppressive masculine structure that supports his thinking. Men are taught that without their junk they are nothing, so when he equates his junk with his whole person it echoes the alpha male discourse.
I think it is interesting that you mentioned the Hard Candy movie poster. In a way I think the movie does capture at least some aspects and subverts others of the Little Red Riding hood story. Although, I don't agree with you about the Final Girl, or at least don't in the way I understand the word victim. Most and certainly not all the final girls don't stay victims throughout a film. Most are transformed into survivors or aggressors by the end of the movie. I guess to me a victim is someone who so fully identifies with being a victim that they are frozen by that identification. But final girls do something that keeps them alive until the end of the movie. I'm thinking about Lorie in Halloween. Just some baby sister getting stalked, and when Michael comes into the story she protects 2 children and fends off an aggressor. In the second Friday the 13th movie the Final Girl is a smart and athletic woman simply out runs and outsmarts Jason Vorhees and survives the film.
What do you see as the appeal of the Little Red Riding story? Do you think it taps a deep rooted nerve? Many of the slasher films have this Lumber Jack moment at the very end where some guy (who you usually thought was dead for the last 30 minutes) swoops in to save a woman from the bad guy. Also, I was wondering what do you think was Haley's motive was? Hard Candy was released in 2005 which was a couple years after the Abu Ghraib torture news story broke, and I see a remarkable, at least, visual likeness between Haley and the woman in the photos (short, same haircut, and in shape). I read an article somewhere that linked the Abu Ghraib incident to a trend of woman aggressors in film. It was one of the only moments I know of that told such a public story of a woman torturing someone on the same intensity level as men do. Do you think there is any credence to this? What did your step-mom make of the movie?