Hard Candy (2005) Dialog: Part 2 Final Girls, and "She is asking for it."

Dear Readers. You have come to part 2 of the hard Candy Dialog . A couple weeks ago I ran across a cool blog called Feminist Elizabethan, so I asked the author if she would like to have a discussion about a movie in the context of pop culture critique and feminism. We decided on a film called Hard Candy which stars Ellen Paige. Check out the first part in his series here: Hard Candy Dialog (2005): Part 1 Junk, Little Red Riding Hood and "She is asking for it."

Feminist Elizabethan wrote: A final girl trope is when the only person who survives a bad situation is a girl, but to be the final girl she must first be terrorized, and then fight back once she or her friends have been thoroughly terrorized. And if she does fight back, then she usually uses the killer's weapon or some sort of a phallic weapon.
Even though these tropes often occur, it is still supposed to be a surprise that a girl is the survivor instead of a man.

Final girl tropes are one of the very few instances that girls and women are ever allowed to be physically aggressive. By their very definition final girls have to survive some sort of giant life ending ordeal so for physically aggressive girls to primarily appear only within this motif indicates that it's not socially expected or accepted for girls to be violent unless it's in an extraordinary situation (i.e. there almost no female action heroes) such as avoiding death, enacting revenge against the villain that has been terrorizing her or saving a child's life. As to whether craziness was used to justify Ellen Page's actions, I don't think I agree with you.

Though Ellen Page did say she was crazy, I never felt like she was actually serious or that she completely believed it. It felt more like she was just voicing what she thought Patrick Wilson thought of her, almost as if she was mocking him and his sense of rationale. As if the only possible reason for her to torture him was because she was crazy. On my part, I never once considered her as being crazy. I didn't completely understand the motivation behind her actions (but like you said she or someone close to her was probably attacked), but she was deadly smart, and I could only see her as an extremist vigilante. To me, she was no different than any other action movie leading man who killed, maimed or tortured people in the name of his "just" cause. People usually don't think anything of a male action hero's extremist actions besides that his actions are highly unrealistic, expected or cool. I can see how some viewers would just cough up all of Ellen Page's actions to craziness (especially since she herself said that 4 out of 5 doctors said she is -though really, what doctor labels someone crazy? There's no such diagnosis which just, again, makes me think that she made it up). Especially when you don't usually see little girls engaging in such extremist actions all in the name of justice (presumably).

I don't think there's any question of what "She was asking for it" meant for either of them. She was talking about victim-blaming and slut shaming. And as to Ellen Page "asking for it," how was she "asking for it?" By dressing as a child? By acting, like many young girls, older than they are because they are taught by pop culture that the ideal is to be an adult woman, but that to be an adult woman they need to be sexual, sexy and child-like? By experimenting with her sexuality (by flashing her bra)?

None of this "inspire[s] Jeff's advances in order to justify her later actions" because, quite frankly, he's a pedophile. You say "inspire" as if she seduced him, but a child cannot seduce an adult. By saying that Ellen Page's actions were "inspiring" you are implying that children who act similarly are "inspiring" and seducing their pedophiles. That the pedophiles couldn't help themselves because for heaven sake! the girl flashed her bra at me! She made sexual innuendos! She lured me in with her feminine wiles! It takes all responsibility away from the pedophile. The point is that when an adult is faced by flirting and sexual advances from a child, he either completely ignores it or addresses it instead of encouraging the child's actions. The adult knows better.

Ellen Page didn't act like that in order to justify her actions, but to see whether he was a pedophile because if he was, instead of acting like a normal adult, he would flirt back and invite her over to his house. If he was a pedophile (which just from those initial messages only, he was) then she probably thought that it was even more likely that what the other man had said was true, that Patrick Wilson was involved with the death of the missing girl. And if he was a pedophile, and did invite her back to his home then she would have both the opportunity to find confirming evidence in his home and to psychologically torture any other evidence out of him.

As to Ellen Page's appearance in the movie, I watched the DVD extras, and she had shaved her head for a previous movie so she had short hair because she was in the process of re-growing it. They also talked about how before they actually did any casting they drew up story boards and it looked like they were aiming more for a girl with shoulder length hair than cropped hair. Plus, it's hard to say whether Abu Ghraib made any impact at all because while the movie came out in 2005, it's not known when the script was written, how long it took to get the cast together, produce the film and actually film. The film process could have been occurring during or before Abu Ghraib. I also know that the basic movie concept was originally inspired by shows like To Catch a Predator, and then the idea of a pedophile and child interaction was introduced to a playwright, and the playwright decided that he wanted to write a smart, dynamic girl who was not a victim because of his own daughters.

I think the Little Red Riding Hood comparison was meant to remind the viewer that Ellen Page is playing a small child (despite her very adult-like intellect), and that Hard Candy is defying the norm of child-centered stories. Little Red Riding Hood is a well-known story where a little girl wanders through the woods in order to visit her grandmother and is ultimately confronted by the big bad wolf in disguise. Red Riding Hood is supposed to be the hapless victim who doesn't know what or who's lying in wait, but in the case of Hard Candy, while Ellen Page is Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. She knows exactly what is and what will happen because she is the one with intention and control. The Little Red Riding Hood is meant to be a motif that reminds us of what we expect from little girl story lines with predators - that the little girl will be helpless and powerless, but Hard Candy is turning these expectations upside down.

I guess it would be better to say that Ellen Page isn't actually both Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Patrick Wilson is the Wolf because he is in fact a predator who is expecting to take his prey by surprise (and wants to groom her). However, Ellen Page plays the most dangerous predator, the predator who hunts wolves - a human.

As to the use of "victim" is describe someone, there's both good and bad to the use of the word. The bad would be that when one labels someone with that word she is taking that person's sense of power and autonomy away, but by not using that word one is also not acknowledging that someone has purposely attacked another human being. It is taking responsibility away from the attacker.

As to what my step-mom thought, she didn't say much, but I know that she loved it.

izombiheartzoey's wrote
You make some great points. I hope what follows is not too jargon-y. One of the first questions that came to me is why would anyone fight back unless they were provided with something to fight against? Isn't a terror inspiring event a prerequisite to fighting back? Many, if most people, given small inconveniences in their life will do nothing about it, and sometimes have a very difficult time articulating what bugs them. In Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan she argues that the way in which women are living their lives alienate them from the powers that that structure the way they are living. She suggests that woman (and she is mostly talking about the white middle class stay at home mom type) feel a sense of frustration, and don't know how to put words towards to their frustration. With Final Girls the grievance is much more explicit, and easy to recognize. Someone chases you, wearing a mask and carrying a machete is terrorizing no matter who you are. Although, it is a gender specific fear in the way slashers carry it out. I'd like to cite a paragraph from a great book called Men, Woman and Chainsaws by Carol Clover:
Halloween's final girl is Laurie. Her desperate defense is shorter than Sally's (referring to Texas Chainsaw Massacre), but no less fraught with horror. Limping from a leg would, she flees to a garden shed and breaks in through the window with a rake. Neighbors hear her screams for help but suspect a Halloween prank and shuts the blinds. She gets into her own babysitting, house - by throwing a potted plant at the second story window to rouse the children- just as the killer descends. Minutes later he comes through the window and they grapple; she manages to fell him with a knitting needle and seizes his butcher knife- but drops it when he seems dead. As she goes upstairs to the children, the killer rises, takes the knife and goes after her. She takes refuge in a closet, lashing the two doorknobs together from the inside. As the killer slashes and stabs at the closet door- we see this from her inside perspective- she bends a hanger into a weapon and, when he breaks the door down, stabs him in the eye. Again thinking him vanquished, she sends the children for the police and sinks down in pain and exhaustion. The killer rises again, but just as he is about to stab her, Dr. Loomis, alerted by the children, rushes in and shoots the killer. (Clover, 1992)
One of the points that Clover makes is that Laurie (and this is by no means a universal statement for all Final Girls, but it is meaningful because Halloween became so popular it structured set rules for these types of movies) doesn't use phallic weapons, but instead discards phallic weapons for weapons could be seen as more feminized weapons; clothes hangers, potted plants and so on.

What I do see is that the type of terror is gender specific. Stalking women through the streets of suburbia, or some urban location are not common fears for men. Although, there are situations where men feel this fear its take on in a non-sexual purely aggressive vibe and the assumed threat is another man. Let me give you an example, as a community organizer working with religious institutions and I find myself in all types of communities at many different hours during the day. When I am traveling through the poverty and crime ridden communities my head is on a swivel as soon as I exit my car. I'm seeking out potential threats, and my imagination simply doesn't come with triggers that assume this threat is going to be female.

Let me see if I can clarify my point about “She was asking for it.” What I personally don't believe in the concept of universals. What this means is that I feel, and I am specifically talking about the context of this film, is that accountability for choices is a reductionist if either party is given 100% responsibility for the totality of their choices for the whole duration of the film. I see two problems in universals; first they assume total responsibility is possible, and they don't fact in structural violence. Let me see if I can provide an example. For instance the Cafe scene in the very beginning of the movie. I don't buy that Haley was totally ignorant towards the context she was making her choices in. Mostly because she had had a lot to do with framing the context of her actions. She was active and intentional participant in shaping the possibilities of how Jeff thought about her. She is an intelligent girl who knew and bet on the fact that Jeff would respond to a specific set of ways to her actions. I don't buy that Haley was experimenting with her sexuality due to the fact we find that she had alternative motives to acting sexuality that had nothing to do with sex. I'd argue that the moment where she opens the door and show's skin to Jeff wasn't even a sexual moment for her, but more about experiment with intentionally seeking to shape how Jeff viewed her. Let me draw a sharp contrast here. This situation is radically different from a situation where for example a Woman wear's some specific set of clothing to draw attention to herself when she goes to the bar with friends. The difference is where the intention travels. One involves vigilante justice and one is for attention. Let me pin this down to a specific example. I was at a bar with some acquaintances. One of them was a woman who intentionally wore a low cut shirt to get free drinks. I know this is intentional, because she told everyone at the table. Many woman can be smart and tactical with the clothes that they wear. A woman can think about fashion in three directions; what do I look like to myself, what do I look like for others, and what has society coded this to mean? I know there is an argument that a woman should never be judged in a direction based upon what they wear. It’s a wonderful idea, but we would have to completely ignore the fact that we are born into a world were specific ways of dressing have already been culturally encoded to mean a specific set of things. I think the bone to pick here is not with Haley or Jeff (well there is a legal issue with Jeff), but with socio-political-sexual ideology that one set of possible interpretations over another. One of the lesson's I've learned since I started blogging about horror is that the solutions to problems that many of the movies provide aren't systemic changes. While Haley's solution does an address a singular case, it doesn't address (well she does give some critique of systems) the systemic issues that are a constitutive force towards people like Jeff.

So on the one hand in our minds, we have the rational agent who feels totally in control of how he/she views the world. On the other, hand part of why we do things are purely biological chemicals fire off and reinforce or de-enforce a thought or set of thoughts that the rational part of us are making. And on another level, the subconscious has been coded by the world in a way we don't have access to, and plays all sorts of games. So what this means to me is that while it is easy and comfortable to think in universals, I don't buy the idea that any given person is completely in control of why (and I mean, why not what) they do what they do, but on the other hand I think we are freer than we give our self-credit for. Because there are choices that we can make that restructure reality, our biology and unconscious. There's a key thesis of Narrative Therapy that I side with; People are not problems. Problems are problems. I think the instant that we give total responsibility to any given actor in a situation, we lose track of the systemic violence in play.

An aspect of violence that I don't feel I was clear about is the way in which “romantic-like” engagements are structured in such a way that are easy for people involved to use and manipulate. What I mean is that both characters were exploiting the dialog of flirting to meet opposite goals. Of course, both parties’ goals have very different ethical value. If I am understanding your point, I think you are saying that Haley's age frees her from ethical inspection. On the one hand, I buy into this and on the other I don't. Kids can do some stupid things because they don't know any better. But they can also do some stupid things even if they know better. Personally, I feel on a whole most toddlers are more ethically consistent than adults because they haven't been tainted by how complex the world is. I think Haley knew what she was doing (the film backs me up here). Maybe she didn't have her whole scheme planned out, but she knew how to manipulate the situation to put Jeff into a situation where he would respond in the way she was seeking. Yes, a stupid choice to make, but on the other hand it requires a lot of conscious emotional intelligence on her part. Is there a direct causal relationship between Haley's actions and Jeff's actions? No. there is no causal relationship. Haley did not cause Jeff to act in a certain way like the moon causes tidal waves. But they are also not completely loose that have no relationship at all.

One of the reasons that I give Haley credit is that I never really understood the code of flirting. I began reading a book that seeks to help men initiate and build better relationships with women. What I have been awestruck so far is the critique and advice around how to use body language to support people feeling more comfortable around you. For instance, as an organizer, I use handshakes as a tool to inspire people like me more, and if people are in a room I try to shake everyone's hand. I also want other people in the room to view me as a confident person. So I stand taller, I shake hands more firmly, and smile more. Albeit, this is an example of a more or less purely ethical good, but it still is a manipulation of my environment with the goal to shape how people think about me, and I feel I have a role in why people treat me the way they do.

I'd almost say that Haley also the grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood. Something seemly innocent and ready to bite. I think you are right about the male action stars. But I think one of the difficulties in say writing about the movies is that most of them are so crappy they are hard to watch. Although, I do believe there has been at-least a little critique of the James Bond. Hmm, I think where I see the similarity between Hard Candy and Abu Ghraib is that pedophiles and terrorists are treated about the same way by America.

Clover, Carol : Men, Women, and Chain Saws Google Books,. (2014). Men, Women, and Chain Saws. Retrieved 20 August 2014, from http://books.google.com/booksid=x4fLaCLD11MC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false


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