and sometimes poetry

Rabbit Hole (2010) & Blue Valentine (2010) | Review by Hannah Brooks-Motl

As we type this it is the end of January, the heap of it: the carcass of fall lies prostrate behind us, the sylvan glory of spring hunches nowhere in sight. Through the wreckage of the holidays wander some women, lamenting the fallen or possibly combing them for bounty. They are hot-tempered and wrongfully accused (The Next Three Days), or whiny and self-absorbed (Tiny Furniture); or two-timing and witchy (The Dilemma); they strive neurotically after the perfect pitch of ululation (Black Swan); though young and feisty from afar, as they near we see that they are one-armed and loveless (True Grit). Leading this harried group of harridans are two of the more beautiful, impossibly damaged females to traipse the recent battlefields of cinema: Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole) and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine). What is the state of women in film these days? Icy and treacherous as the steps to our back porch, it seems. Kidman and Williams should probably split the Oscar for their performances in these movies, like the dueling moms in that Bible story. They are so agonized and angry and, you feel as you are meant to, fucking real, that faced with Solomon’s suggestion, they’d each walk away, stoic and empty-handed, as the camera followed their skinny, ram-rod spines into the metaphorical backdrop of choice. Both BV and RH are serious, seriously sad movies that you should under no circumstances see on consecutive nights, as we did, no matter how desperate you grow in these downpours of snow.

Both these movies work through the subtlest characterization: what you learn about everyone involved is carefully managed, though BV wins in our book based solely on the single most excruciating abortion scene ever (and we’ve seen that Romanian film with all the numbers in its title), when you learn whole pages about Michelle William’s character as the nurse takes her medical history. The secret of some movies is that they transfer their glamor to your own quotidian existence, suddenly making you re-see all your mess and slop and stuttering as cinematic: while wrapping you in their story, they also wrap your own in art. Such is BV’s appeal. But on the heels of that New Yorker article about The Feminine Mystique, we couldn’t help notice how all these females in all these movies are, well, sorta…like…hysteric? Like maybe kinda…essentialized? Granted, Kidman’s dealing with the death of her child, and William’s with a long history of father issues and sexual misfortune, but the newest take on the female seems suspiciously akin to the old one: dankly mysterious creatures who scratch, or shy, at the well-meaning but hapless embraces of men. The men are good in these movies too—actually, they’re great, both as characters and as actors playing those characters. They are “better” than the women, though it’s the women who are up for Oscars. Real pain’s still paying its artistic dividends. Poets take note.

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