Sociology or exploitation? You decide . . .
17 February 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Like everybody else, the first time I watched _I Spit on Your Grave_ (11 years ago) was because of its notoriety, and on that first viewing, I noticed only its most obvious feminist and revenge themes. However, when I watched it for the second time (on DVD), I noticed several themes and meanings I had missed the first time around. Horror films often carry many subtle psychological and sociological messages, and while the ones in _I Spit_ do not make it a classic, I feel they are worth considering when reviewing the film.

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

Many of these subtle issues deal with the woman, Jennifer, and with her femininity. Jennifer writes cliche-ridden romance stories about submissive women, suggesting that she herself is a model of the traditional woman who is vulnerable to danger and, particularly, to misogyny. We see this when one of the attackers mockingly reads aloud from her manuscript and then tears it up before raping her. However, in accordance with Rudyard Kipling's statement that "The female is the most dangerous of the species," Jennifer's femininity also enables her to lure two of the men to their deaths after she has recovered. So the director is saying that the same feminine qualities that can cause women to be victimized can also cause them to become empowered, which is, after all, a goal of feminism.

As for the men, the director shows them as not only overconfident, but also self-deluded and easily manipulated by society. For example, the retarded man, Matthew, only rapes Jennifer when the others goad him on, suggesting that sexism is not natural, but learned from others. Also, Matthew goes along with the other three men because they are his friends and he wants to please them: sexism, the director is saying, is something men display to impress each other. Since Matthew has limited intellectual capabilities, his actions and attitudes are more natural, showing how the other men's are unnatural: for example, he cannot climax when raping Jennifer, but can later in the film, when she pretends that she desires him.

Finally, the film shows how everybody has both good and bad in him, and how the two often conflict with each other. Jennifer takes revenge on the four men, of course, but goes into a church and asks forgiveness before doing so, suggesting that she has not become completely bad. Also, she witnesses the ringleader spending time with his wife and children; this scene humanizes this character and shows how sexism, as bad as it is, is a part of society. One last example comes when the man has gone missing: his wife curses the other two men and calls them bums, but then walks over to one of her children and hugs them. Love and hate do coexist.

I could go on and on, but you see my point. If I can write a term paper on _I Spit on Your Grave_, it shows that the film is more complex than most people realize. It does have excruciating scenes of rape and murder, but the viewer who can look beyond those things will find many subtle themes and meanings.

(END OF SPOILERS)

I have to disagree with those who call _I Spit on Your Grave_ an "art film" based on the cinematography. If the cinematography in this movie is different from the typical Hollywood film, it's because this is a low budget independent film. Being different from the mainstream does not an art film make. I would call this an "independent film" or even an "alternative film," but it doesn't fall into the "art film" category. Even though the film is well made, the production values are too low. Plus, I'd have to say that _I Spit_ is more a 70s exploitation film with some redeeming qualities than an art film with some sleazy qualities. The rapes and murders are effectively brutal and unglamorized, and they contribute to the film's sociological meanings, but no one is about to believe that the director didn't have the drive-in crowd in mind.

So I'd say that _I Spit on Your Grave_ is both exploitation AND sociological commentary. Of course, this film definitely isn't for everybody, and it may not even be for most people. Many have difficulty focusing on anything in the movie but the violence, but violence is a part of life, and this movie makes that point.
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