Category Archives: Sexual Violence

Walking Around in Someone Else’s Skin: The Classic Film, To Kill A Mockingbird

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Usually considered to have originated with Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764), which was subtitled “A Gothic Story,” Gothic fiction is literature that attempts to combine elements of romance, mystery, and horror — without becoming either too fantastic or too realistic. Initially featuring decaying castles, curses, ghosts or other supernatural creatures and events, madness, murder, and “oft-fainting heroines,” Gothic fiction was hugely popular entertainment.

About a generation after Walpole, Ann Radcliffe introduced the brooding Gothic villain in her novel A Sicilian Romance: a tempestuous, moody, sometimes secretive, and extremely passionate male who usually encounters a heroine that completely upsets his life. Later this type of “villain” would be called the Romantic era’s “Byronic hero.” Radcliffe also introduced more independent heroines to Gothic fiction with her bestselling The Mysteries of Udolpho. Though Radcliffe’s heroines are still pretty helpless and faint far more than anyone I’ve ever encountered, they inspired “gothic feminism” which critics claim the author herself expressed as “female power through pretended and staged weakness.” Further, Radcliffe changed the infant genre of Gothic fiction by introducing the “explained supernatural,” where all the apparently supernatural events, from ghosts and moving furniture to strange knocks and cries in the dark, turn out, eventually, to have perfectly reasonable, natural explanations.

Gothic fiction and its various, evolving components spread into the literature of the Romantic era, appearing in the poetry of Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, and Poe. In the Victorian era, Gothic elements were more prominent in fiction, and are found in the work Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), Bram Stoker (Dracula), Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights), and Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre).

Many of these Victorian authors added strong moral elements to their Gothic fiction, producing novels that questioned everything from man’s relationship with newly developing technologies and medical advances to man’s responsibility for feeding and educating the poor. Gothic literature became more than entertainment to pass the long hours of a dark and rainy night: it explored the meaning of life, morality, social responsibility, and man’s relationship to the Divine.

As Gothic fiction spread to authors in America, especially in the South, it became a sub-genre called Southern Gothic. Authors like Faulkner, Caldwell, McCullers, O’Connor, Capote, and Percy examined family relationships, sexuality, poverty, race, and the Southern myths of an idyllic antebellum past. Southern Gothic is filled with

deeply flawed, disturbing, or eccentric characters… ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.

With its particular focus on the South’s history of slavery, Southern Gothic became a vehicle for fierce social critique.

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic of both American fiction and Southern Gothic. A coming-of-age story set in the fictional “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama from 1933-1936, during the Great Depression, the novel examines everything from family relationships and mental health to societal responsibilities, poverty, violence, and crime. The 1962 film version, adapted from the novel by Horton Foote, eliminated some of the novel’s childhood adventures to concentrate on the aspects of its storyline that make To Kill a Mockingbird so important to American literature and film: the ugly and intractable racism between whites and blacks, a bigotry and intolerance that still exists over most of the country.

Mary Badham as Scout (forefront) with author Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

The film’s (unseen) narrator looks back on her six-year-old self and on the events that changed her from an innocent to a more mature child. In 1933, Scout (Mary Badham) and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) live in Maycomb, Alabama with their widowed father Atticus (Gregory Peck).

Mary Badham as Scout, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and Phillip Alford as Jem, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Together with a visiting neighbor, Dill (John Megna, modeled after Harper Lee’s lifelong friend Truman Capote, who spent summers next door to the Lees with his aunts), Scout and Jem roam around the neighborhood and create their own adventures.

John Megna as Dill, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

One of their most exciting “games” is scaring each other with stories about the never-seen Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his film debut),

Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

who lives just a few doors down and who is rumored to be a crazed, scissors-wielding psychopath, once locked up in the courthouse basement jail.

Paul Fix as Judge Taylor, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Late one night, Judge Taylor (Paul Fix) comes over to request that Atticus serve as the appointed defense counsel for Tom Robinson (Brock Peters),

Gregory Peck as Atticus, and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

a black man who has been accused of brutally beating and raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox).

Collin Wilcox as Mayella Ewell (foreground), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Atticus agrees, but despite his attempts to shield his children from the consequences of his decision to represent a black man in a racially charged crime, Scout and Jem soon become involved in the racial “war” brewing around them.

Collin Wilcox as Mayella, and James Anderson as Bob Ewell (both, foreground), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

In particular, the father of the ostensible rape victim, Bob Ewell (James Anderson) tries several times to intimidate Atticus into quitting the case. When that doesn’t work, Ewell threatens violence against Atticus and his children.

Phillip Alford as Jem, and Mary Badham as Scout, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the children continue to find “gifts” in the hollow of a nearby tree, these gifts and their former adventures pale in significance to the events surrounding the crime concerning Tom Robinson and Mayella Ewell.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

By the time the trial starts, most of the town is divided and angry. Though Atticus warns his children to stay away from the courthouse completely, Jem refuses to be barred from the biggest event in the county, and Scout refuses to be left behind at home if Jem and Dill are going to the courthouse.

Phillip Alford as Jem, Mary Badham as Scout, and John Megna as Dill (L-R, foreground), with William Walker as Reverend Sykes (background, wearing suit and tie) To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Without Atticus’ knowledge or permission, Scout, Jem, and Dill sit in the gallery, in the “Negro section” of the court, and watch the entire trial.

William Windom as District Attorney (L), James Anderson as Bob Ewell (center), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background R), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Judge Taylor presides as the District Attorney (William Windom, in his film debut) badgers witnesses and makes his opinions about Tom Robinson’s guilt clear. Despite the fact that viewers can have no doubt whatsoever about the jury’s eventual verdict, the courtroom scenes are intensely riveting, especially when Atticus cross-examines Mayella herself.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the verdict is not in question, Mayella’s father, angry at the Atticus’ not-so-subtle accusations of incest and child abuse, provokes Atticus repeatedly in an attempt to draw him into a physical confrontation. Then, he decides to provoke Atticus by going after his children.

Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, To Kill a Mockingbird won three Oscars:
Best Actor for Gregory Peck, Best Adapted Screenplay for Horton Foote, and Best Art Direction (set design, Black-and-White).

The film also won Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Drama (Gregory Peck), Best Original Score (Elmer Bernstein), and Best Film for Promoting International Understanding (to director Robert Mulligan).

When released, To Kill a Mockingbird was an overwhelming critical and popular success, earning more than 10 times its budget in 1962. To Kill a Mockingbird has gone on to become a classic, with the film listed 25th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2007 list) [#34 on the 1998 list], and taking the top spot in AFI’s Top 10 Courtroom Dramas. Gregory Peck’s character Atticus Finch reigns as AFI’s 100 Greatest Heroes.

Everyone should see this film, though children under 12 may need to be cautioned about the subject matter and the language as this film deals openly with rape, clearly suggests incest, and uses language appropriate to the time and place of its story.

Be sure to watch the black-and-white version of To Kill a Mockingbird, not the colorized one: those who colorized it obviously completely missed the symbolism behind the story’s being filmed in black-and-white instead of in color. Available for rent ($2.99-3.99 SD/HD) from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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If You Dance with the Devil: 8MM (Eight Millimeter), the Film

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Crime films, frequently inspired by crime fiction, concentrates on criminals, their crimes, and (sometimes) on the detection of those crimes. The famed Noir films of the 1940s and 1950s, such as The Killers and Double Indemnity, feature psychologically complex, morally dubious, and world-weary male protagonists who are unable to escape their pasts, even if they did not actually commit any crimes. Contemporary crime films, whether drama like The Usual Suspects and The Godfather, or a dark comedy like In Bruges — all of which were Oscar-winners — often feature protagonists who are hardened criminals themselves. Viewers are sometimes outraged by such sympathetic portrayals of criminals, as some audience members were when they saw Abel Ferrara’s King of New York, in which the protagonist Frank White, played by Christopher Walken, insists to the detectives pursuing him that he is “just a businessman.”

The 1999 crime film 8MM (Eight Millimeter), directed by Joel Schumacher from a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven), doesn’t present viewers with an already world-weary protagonist who is unable to escape his morally dubious past, nor with morally ambiguous criminals. In 8MM, the protagonist is initially a nice guy just trying to make a good living for him and his family, and the bad guys are really terribly bad bad guys, although they have some great lines. This crime film concentrates instead on its male protagonist, a private investigator searching for a missing teenage girl, as he descends into the dark world of underground, illegal pornography, only to dissolve into violence and criminal acts himself.

Nicholas Cage as Tom Welles, 8MM © Columbia Pictures

Tom Welles (Nicholas Cage, in his best dramatic role) lives with his wife Amy (Catherine Keener) and their baby daughter in a totally suburban, midwest neighborhood, from where he runs his home-based “surveillance” business, i.e., private investigations.

Catherine Keener, 8MM © Columbia Pictures

For some reason never clearly explained, the Welles family is having a difficult time financially, despite his steady employment taking photos of adulterous spouses and other misbehaving family members.

Enter wealthy, wheelchair-bound Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter), who has discovered something horrific in her late husband’s safe: an 8mm film that seems to portray a young girl being murdered. Though Welles reassures Widow Christian that “snuff films” — illegal pornographic films where someone is actually killed for the express purpose of the viewers’ sexual titillation — are more an “urban legend” and are usually faked, she offers unlimited funds to prove that the film is fake and the girl still alive. Welles explains that if he treats the girl as a “missing person,” he could gain more access to her identity, family, and whereabouts.

Though the family lawyer Longdale (Anthony Heald) is present at this initial meeting and has already seen the film in question, Welles tells Widow Christian that he will deal directly with her, and only with her. Welles believes that the money he earns proving this horrific “snuff film” is fake will enable him and his family to live comfortably and “happily ever after.”

Mother, Janet (Amy Morton) and Welles (Nicholas Cage) in runaway daughter’s room, 8MM © Columbia Pictures

Unfortunately, this is not a fairy tale, and the illegal porn film leads Welles into the desolate and horrifying world of runaway and abducted children. Once he identifies the girl in the film as Mary Anne Mathews (Jenny Powell), who left home after a fight with her still-grieving mother Janet (Amy Morton), he is able to track Mary Anne’s movements. When he finds her abandoned suitcase in a shelter, Tom begins to suspect that Mary Anne, who wanted to be a film star, may have ended up a victim of the porn industry.

Not the legitimate porn industry, however: the illegal one, where people in the films are actually raped, severely assaulted against their will, and sometimes, apparently, killed.

Joaquin Phoenix as Max, 8MM © Columbia Pictures

In an adult film rental / bookstore, complete with “battery-operated vaginas,” Tom meets the wise-cracking cashier Max (Joaquin Phoenix), who once aspired to be a musician but lost his band, and who reads Capote’s In Cold Blood at work by disguising the book with the cover of another, sleazier work. Max is quick-witted and intelligent, and because Tom looks so much like a law enforcement officer, he quickly learns that it would be impossible for him to learn anything about the darker side of the porn industry without Max’s help.

Nicholas Cage as Welles, and Joaquin Phoenix as Max, 8MM © Columbia Pictures

Even with Max at his side, however, Welles begins to learn just how dangerous the illegal porn industry is: the two are constantly assaulted and threatened with death themselves as they attempt to find “snuff films.”

James Gandolfini as Eddie, 8MM © Columbia Pictures

When Welles finds a sleazy talent scout, Eddie (James Gandolfini), who seems to recognize the missing Mary Anne from a photograph but who denies knowing her, Welles goes after Eddie by insinuating that he knows what Eddie and his pals did to the girl.

Peter Stormare as Dino Velvet, 8MM © Columbia Pictures

Eddie leads Welles and Max, now going by the code-name “Max California,” to New York and to an infamous illegal pornographer Dino Velvet (Peter Stormare). Velvet makes unique films for private viewing for healthy commissions, and his films always include the hooded man known as “Machine” (Chris Bauer), who appears in the 8mm film found in Mr. Christian’s safe and who seems to have killed the missing girl.

Chris Bauer as Machine, and Peter Stormare as Dino Velvet, 8MM © Columbia Pictures

In increasingly dark, sordid, and haunting environs, Welles pursues the missing girl and the men who made the purported “snuff film.” Plunging ever deeper into the dark world of illegal pornography, drifting away from his wife, daughter, and the mundane security of his former life, Welles is changed in ways he could not have imagined. The closer he gets to discovering the truth about the missing girl and disturbing film, the more endangered he is himself, as is everyone connected with him, including his “partner” Max, as well as Welles’ wife and baby daughter.

Many critics felt Cage was “miscast” as Welles, and most professional reviewers disliked 8MM intensely, accusing it of being “nearly as creepy, sleazy, and manipulative as the pornographic films it… condemns” or of being “a relentlessly murky odyssey… [emerging] as a secondhand Seven” (the same screenwriter wrote both films). Janet Maslin of the New York Times found Cage’s character “unrelievedly drab,” but added that “[though the film] includes profanity, partial nudity and ugly violence, its depictions of pornography are “relatively discreet.

Roger Ebert was one of the few professional reviewers who actually admired 8MM, writing that it “raises moral questions that the audience has to deal with, one way or another,” making 8MM a “real film

that deals with the materials of violent exploitation films, but in a non-pornographic way; it would rather horrify than thrill… It is a real film. Not a slick exploitation exercise with all the trappings of depravity but none of the consequences. Not a film where moral issues are forgotten in the excitement of an action climax.

Intense and edgy, 8 MM, is not a film for the faint-hearted. Though the film never graphically portrays the pornographic aspects of its subject matter, the disintegration of its protagonist from quiet and respected family man into desperate and violent avenger is disturbing: it may be uncomfortable for some viewers. Available for rent ($2.99-3.99) from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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At the First Meeting of The Liars’ Club

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#CSA

I stood, mortified into silence, in front of my second-grade class. My teacher, a tall thin woman with size 17 feet, held me so hard by the shoulders that later that day, when I got home from school and changed out of my uniform, I would find bruises from where her fingers had gouged me. The rest of the class was sitting at their desks, hands folded on top, listening to Miss Slewinski, but staring at me.

“This little girl here,” said Miss Slewinski, “is a liar. She makes up stories about her Mommy and Daddy…”

“He’s not my dad,” I said. “My real dad isn’t allowed…”

Miss Slewinski cuffed me on the side of the head.

“I called Sascha’s mother yesterday and asked her to come in and talk to me,” she said. “Her mother is a very nice woman. Do you know what she did when I told her all the terrible things Sascha has been saying?”

The entire class obediently shook their heads.

“What did your mother do when she heard about your lies, Sascha?” said Miss Slewinski, digging her fingers even deeper as she shook me. “What? Say it louder. So the whole class can hear you.”

“Cried,” I said.

“Yes. She cried. Sascha’s mother, one of the nicest women I’ve ever met, sat right here in this room and cried like her heart was broken. All because of this girl. This liar. She’s such a liar that I’m naming her the president of The Liars’ Club.”

She let go of my shoulders and stood there, glaring down at me, her arms crossed over her flat chest.

“Sascha’s going to stand here for an hour. Because she’s such a liar. Because she tells such awful stories about her parents. The rest of you aren’t going to do any work: you’re just going to sit there and stare at this terrible liar. But anybody else who wants to join The Liars’ Club can come right on up here and stand beside her.”

Miss Slewinski sat at her desk. I stood perfectly motionless in front of the class while they stared at me. Some of the girls in the class made faces at me whenever the teacher turned around to write something on the board. My hands were in such tight fists that my bones ached. My teeth were clenched so hard that my jaw throbbed. I wanted to die. I wanted them to die. I was so filled with rage that I wanted to get hold of a knife and stab every single one of them to death. Especially Miss Slewinski.

What were the terrible stories and lies I’d told which got me inducted into The Liars’ Club?

That my father did bad things to me. (I was too young to know the word “rape,” so I called it “bad things.”) That he wasn’t allowed to see me anymore because he’d done bad things to me so many times. That the judge had believed me when we were alone in his office and had asked me to show him, by pointing to my body, exactly where my father did bad things to me. That my father wasn’t allowed to even be in the same room with me when I visited his parents — my grandparents — though he’d gone back to live with them after the divorce.

What else had I told my second-grade teacher after she saw my inner thighs and asked me how I got all those terrible bruises?

That my mother’s boyfriend — who wouldn’t become her husband for at least three more years — did the same bad things to me every single night. That my mother knew all about the bad things my father and her boyfriend did to me. That my mother said it was all my fault, that she said I acted like a “cockette,” but I didn’t know what that word meant. That every time my mother caught one of them hurting me, she hurt me even worse than they did.

Miss Slewinski had promised me that she’d never tell anyone what I told her, she’d said she would help me find a new home, she said she’d do whatever it took to protect me.

Then Miss Slewinski called my mother into school and told her all the things I’d said.

“She’s such a storyteller,” said my mother, as she burst into tears. “She’s been a terrible liar since the day she was born.”

So, next day, there I was, in front of my second-grade class, during the inaugural meeting of The Liars’ Club, where I was the only member.

That first meeting lasted just an hour, yet it haunted me the rest of my life. Liar, said the girls in my ear when we were in line for religion class. Liar, said the boys when I passed them on my way to the locker in the hallway to get my coat after school. Liar, they all said when were out on the playground every day after lunch. Liar.

In that first meeting of The Liars’ Club, I learned everything there is to know about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Probably more than Einstein himself ever knew.

And that’s the truth.

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The World Breaks Everyone: Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

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The world breaks everyone, and afterward,
many are strong in the broken places.

Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms

It all seems so ordinary and banal. Young couple in New York serendipitously gets the chance to rent an apartment in an elegant old building with an enviable upper west side Manhattan address. Because the apartment’s elderly resident died suddenly and the building is rent-controlled, the struggling, somewhat sporadically employed actor and his pretty, enthusiastic wife can afford to move in, redecorate it from top to bottom, and furnish the looming place, which has 18-20′ ceilings, stained-glass windows in its doors, bay windows with window seats, and elaborately carved, working fireplaces.

The Dakota (exterior only) setting for Bramford, Rosemary’s Baby ©

While Hubby goes to auditions seeking work, Wifey decorates, shops, and cooks, both of them dreaming of — and actively planning for — the little family they want to have. With such a great home in such an exclusive neighborhood, what difference does it make if you can sometimes hear the braying, nasal voice of the Old Lady next door complaining to her husband late at night? All apartments have thin walls and a few annoying neighbors, right? Of course, right.

John Cassavetes as Guy and Mia Farrow as Rosemary, Rosemary’s Baby ©

It is this very banality and seemingly ordinary setting — “like it could be a snippet out of your own life” — that makes Rosemary’s Baby (1968) such a great film. It is one of the best in the horror genre, but not for the reason you might expect. The film doesn’t have any scary special effects: except for the brief “nightmare” scene, there aren’t even any ghoulish costumes. No blood, gore, monsters, or masked villains wielding weapons while dopey teenagers run mindlessly about. Instead, Rosemary’s Baby, based on Ira Levin’s bestselling novel of the same name, concentrates its horror on the fact that virtually everything in the film could actually happen. Young, happy, pretty, and soon-pregnant Rosemary begins to suspect that something is wrong with her husband, wrong with her marriage, wrong with her unborn baby. Even worse, she soon comes to believe that there is a conspiracy to kidnap her baby upon its birth. However, it is because Rosemary is completely correct in her seemingly bizarre fears that Rosemary’s Baby — a triumph of psychological terror — is such a horror classic.

Rosemary’s Baby, first edition

This film is one of the few dramatizations that remains almost perfectly faithful to the novel on which it was based. All the foreshadowing about the neighbors conspiring in a group and doing something more than “not quite right”? In the book. Hubby Guy’s sudden emotional distance and Rosemary’s increasing isolation? In the book. Guy’s escalating psychological manipulation, emotional abuse, and ultimately physical abuse of his pregnant wife Rosemary? That’s in the book, too.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby (B&W still) ©

But the true horror of both the book and the film is more than Rosemary’s “paranoia and loss of control.” After all, her paranoia is based on subliminal indications about her reality: she is losing control of her own life — and of her baby’s — and other people in the apartment building are conspiring against her. Limiting us to Rosemary’s perspective with its film angles, its close-ups, and its spooky lighting, Rosemary’s Baby “relies on creating an atmosphere and story that speaks to [society’s] deeper, subconscious fears:” isolation, betrayal, and madness.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Mia Farrow, a soap-opera actress on Peyton Place who acquired international notoriety when she married famous singer/actor Frank Sinatra, 30 years her senior, does an outstanding job as Rosemary, and not just because she’s so young and waif-thin (okay, bony-thin).

John Cassavetes, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Farrow’s Rosemary is giddy and giggly when she and husband Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) first look at the magnificent apartment available in the Bramford (named, by author Ira Levin, in honor of Dracula author Bram Stoker).

Maurice Evans as Hutch, Rosemary’s Baby ©

She’s slightly amused by her friend Hutch’s (Maurice Evans) tales of macabre deaths, suicides, murders, and cannibalism at the Bramford, but continues eating dinner as if he were discussing the weather.

Ruth Gordon as Minnie, Rosemary’s Baby ©

She’s friendly and pleasant to their nosy neighbor Minnie (Ruth Gordon, in her Oscar-winning role), who looks through the mail before handing it to Rosemary, and who examines the price-tags on the canned goods while the two of them are sitting at the kitchen table.

Sidney Blackmer as Roman, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Rosemary is subdued and slightly bored by the elderly neighbors, Minnie and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), when they invite Rosemary and Guy to dinner that night, and is somewhat surprised by Guy’s sudden burgeoning friendship with Roman.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

She’s excited when Guy miraculously gets more important acting jobs, attributing it all to his wonderful skill and talent. She works hard decorating the apartment, cooking, doing the laundry, making cushions for the window seats, trying to make friends with the neighbors, and trying even harder to “start their family.”

Ralph Bellamy as Dr. Saperstein, Rosemary’s Baby ©

When Rosemary finally does get pregnant, the real terror of the film begins. Instead of gaining weight, Rosemary loses it. Instead of bouts of morning sickness, she has frightening symptoms and cravings that the congenial obstetrician Dr. Saperstein (Ralph Bellamy) blithely dismisses, telling her — for months — that they’ll “be gone in a day or two.”

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

The scenes with pregnant-Rosemary are some of the most frightening of the film, as are the scenes where husband Guy begins to be more and more dismissive of Rosemary’s feelings, her concerns, even her basic human rights. When she wakes after a nightmare that she was raped, Guy’s response if terrifyingly abusive and distant.

Mia Farrow as Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby ©

(Guy is undeniably the worst villain in the film, but I won’t get started on any rant about him in this post…)

John Cassevetes and Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Despite the fact that Rosemary’s health seems to improve somewhat mid-pregnancy, her life gets worse.  Guy becomes more and more controlling, resorting to manipulation, psychological battery, and emotional abuse to keep her submissive, obedient, and “nice.” Whenever Rosemary’s friends try to intervene, things only get worse for the already isolated Rosemary.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

When Rosemary finally realizes what is happening to her, she desperately seeks help, only to be betrayed in the most frightening way. Though everything Rosemary suspects is happening to her and around her is, in fact, exactly what is happening, she is threatened into compliance by those closest to her. The very people who are supposed to care for her and her unborn baby terrorize her into submission and obedience.

John Cassevetes, Mia Farrow, Ralph Bellamy, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Still, surprisingly, Rosemary isn’t broken. Isolated and imprisoned, Rosemary begins to rebel.

Ralph Bellamy, Rosemary’s Baby ©

When she escapes the apartment and goes into Minnie and Roman’s apartment, where the entire group of conspirators has gathered, Rosemary is still not broken. Not completely.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

By the last scene, though, which reveals Rosemary’s ultimate reaction to her baby, she is, at last, broken by the evil world that has surrounded her. That is the ultimate horror of Rosemary’s Baby: not necessarily that Rosemary herself is so broken that she might as well have let them kill her. Not that she is no longer naïve, innocent, and trusting. Not that she will never again resist evil. The true psychological horror is not that Rosemary is broken, but how she is broken.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Paranoia, loss of control, isolation, and subjugation. Betrayal and sexual abuse. Emotional and psychological manipulation. Fear of madness. Being irrevocably broken by the world. Rosemary’s Baby shows us everything we most fear in life. Through the “lens of realism,” director Roman Polanski, in his first major Hollywood production, created a “brooding, macabre film, filled with the sense of unthinkable danger,” a danger that becomes reality for its protagonist Rosemary, who is forever “broken” by the world in this horror classic.

Rosemary’s Baby is available for rent — $2.99 (SD) / $3.99 (HD)— from Amazon (free for Prime members), YouTube, iTunes, and Vudu.

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Head-Banger’s Ball: Escaping Abuse the Hard Way

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Trigger Warning
This post, though not graphic,
openly discusses childhood sexual abuse.

Life is unbearable,
but death is not so pleasant either.
Russian Proverb

I was dancing when it happened. After almost four years, I’d just had the braces removed from my legs and, in my joy at being free, I was dancing all around the kitchen and the empty dining room, wearing nothing but my panties and a camisole. My father was there, drinking beer, watching me, following me all around the house. I thought he was impressed with my improvised ballet skills. I don’t remember where my mother was, though I do know that it was late at night.

When my father grabbed me and began kissing me, I squirmed and twisted away. I wanted to dance, not kiss. Besides, I didn’t like the way he was kissing me, putting his nasty tongue all over my face and mouth. I fought hard enough to make him lose hold of me. When he tried to grab me again, I ran to the kitchen and got under the table, trying to hide.

Unfortunately, he found me.

My biological father first raped me when I was 3. My mother walked in when it was happening, and had to beat my father over the head to make him stop. Instead of taking me for medical attention, my mother told me I was a “bad girl” and locked me in the closet until I stopped crying. I don’t know how many days I was in that closet, but it seemed longer than any lifetime. I couldn’t understand what I’d done, but I vowed never to forget.

As soon as I earned my freedom from that closet, I  began telling people that my father had done something bad to me. I told family members, neighbors, doctors, nurses — anyone I thought could punish him. Anyone I thought could make him stop hurting me, which he continued to do. No one listened until I was 4 or 5 years old, when a Judge, in his chambers, asked me to show him — by pointing to my body — where my father was hurting me.

I don’t remember what events led up to that encounter in the Judge’s chambers, only that he was kind and patient, that he actually listened to me, and that after I talked to the Judge, my biological father lost all visitation rights. Furthermore, though I visited my father’s parents each weekend and though he now lived with them, he was not even permitted to be in the same room with me. I never saw my father again.

After my mother divorced my father, I thought I would be safe from men’s violence. Unfortunately, by the time I was 5, my mother was already dating a man who was sexually abusing me in every way imaginable, doing more atrocious things than my biological father had done. At the ripe old age of seven, after an entire lifetime of abuse from my mother, my father, and my mother’s boyfriend (who later became my stepfather), I decided that life was unbearable, so I decided to kill myself.

My only problem was that I wasn’t exactly sure how someone did that. During the last violent fight with my father, my mother had slammed him in the head with a cast-iron skillet. I’d seen him lying motionless on the floor, surrounded by a pool of blood. When the police arrived, my mother told them she’d killed her husband because he’d killed me. Though my father actually survived the assault, he was seriously injured. Because I never saw him again, I thought he was, in fact, dead. Since my mother had “killed” my father by bashing him in the head with the cast-iron frying pan, I decided, at the world-weary age of seven, to become a head-banger.

Swing-sets, telephone poles, brick houses. Fence posts, church pews, marble statues. Bang, bang, bang. Walls, bedposts, porch supports. Basement floors, steel pipes, tree trunks. Bang, bang, bang.

I hit my head so hard so many times in a row that mostly I walked around in a daze. Sometimes I hit my head so hard that I fell asleep. Each time that head-banging numbness rushed over me, I was convinced I’d successfully killed myself, and I was so relieved and so grateful that I could never be hurt again that I slipped into that deadened sleep with something like joy.

Each time, however, I woke up.
Disappointed.
With an unbearable headache.
And with dreadful pressure in my skull.

Although many people know that a baby’s skull plates move — to allow it to pass through the birth canal — they don’t realize that the plates of the skull remain mobile throughout life. The brain and the spinal cord, furthermore, are surrounded by their own pulsing, hydraulic system that does not match the rhythm of the heart, breathing, or any other system of the body. Dr. John Upledger discovered this brain-spinal-cord hydraulic system and named it the “craniosacral system.” Upledger went on to develop a medical massage therapy designed to put the craniosacral system back in proper alignment.

When the plates of the skull are not in their proper position, as from any common injury such as bumping the head hard, then headaches and pressure inside the skull (from the non-circulation of craniosacral fluid) may occur. A severe head trauma, or even a minor fall from a slide or swing, can shift or jam the skull plates, preventing the craniosacral fluid from moving as it is designed to do, creating a tremendous build-up of pressure — and pain — inside the skull. The pain and the pressure will only stop when the skull plates are restored to their normal positions, something that may take many sessions with trained craniosacral therapists, especially if the skull plates have been jammed for years after some serious accident.

Of course, in my case, it was many accidents, some of them caused by my repeated head-banging at age 7, some of those accidents caused by my mother from the time I was born, but one of the most serious head injuries caused by my father during an argument with my mother.

My parents were both drunk the day it happened. They were standing in the living room, quite close to each other, screaming and shoving and hitting each other. My father suddenly shouted something that made my mother jump at him, clawing at his face. Then he began choking her. Since what he’d shouted had been about me, I must have felt, even at three years old, morally obligated to separate them. So there I was, shoving myself between their knees, trying to push them apart so they wouldn’t kill each other and leave me all alone to be sent to an orphanage.

In his drunken rage, my father must have perceived me as quite a pest, something you just fling away from you. So that’s what he did. He grabbed me under the arms, lifted me as high as he could, and flung me away. I remember the sudden rush of air as he swept me upward, the terrible, mind-numbing fear, the choking sensation I felt as he released me and I flew, without a net, across the room.

I remember the horrific jolt of pain as I smashed the upper right side of my head against the marble mantel of the fireplace.

I remember, too, the cold blackness that descended on me in an instant.

By the time my migraines got so debilitating that my family doctor recommended I go to craniosacral therapists, I was over forty years old. As soon as they touched my head, the medical therapists informed me that the right frontal skull-plate was “significantly jammed” under the left one. It was wedged under the other one so tightly, they couldn’t fix it in one treatment. Also, since it was a long-standing injury, they informed me, the muscles of my face and head had gotten used to holding the plate in the incorrect position. They agreed with the doctor that, though my tendency toward migraines was probably hereditary * as well, the jammed frontal skull plate wasn’t making the migraines any better.

The therapists warned me that, as they attempted, over several sessions (which turned into several months), to free the wedged cranial plate from under the other one, my migraines might get much worse before they improved. They were absolutely right. I’d been having about seventeen migraines a month when I went to see them. The first month of treatment, I had twenty-seven migraines. It took them five months of three-times-a-week sessions to get the jammed skull plates back into place.

When the skull plates moved back into their proper positions, the intense and unremitting pressure in my head disappeared. The pressure that I’d grown up with and assumed was normal had been caused by the craniosacral fluid’s inability to circulate freely around the skull plates and the spinal column. As soon as the right frontal plate slid free of the left one, the crushing pressure inside my head disappeared. I lay on the massage table and wept in gratitude and relief.

When I told my psychologist about all the times I’d banged my head when I was a little girl, trying to kill myself, she said she doubted that I’d really been attempting to commit suicide. She said that since I was so determined and so successful in other areas of my life, if I’d really been trying to kill myself, I probably would have succeeded. She said that I’d been in so much emotional and psychological pain that I was merely trying to medicate myself. Since I didn’t have any healthy coping skills, I’d banged my head against the hardest things I could find, to “numb” my pain.

I still maintain that I was trying to kill myself in order to escape the incessant torture from my mother and my rapist stepfather, and to atone for my father’s murder, which I believed I’d caused since my parents had been fighting about me when my mother “killed” my father with the cast-iron skillet.

You see, that day, when my mother killed my father by slamming him in the face with the skillet, they were fighting about me. That day, when my father said the words that sent my other into her uncontrollable rage — making her scratch his face, which then made him choke her — he was talking about me. The words he said were what I myself had been saying to my mother, family members, neighbors, and doctors for some time, though I said it like this: He does bad things to me.

That day, my father said it to my mother himself, despite her already knowing what he was doing to me, but he said it in a way that she couldn’t ignore. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I always remembered his exact words.

“Sascha’s a better fuck than you are.”

Bang, bang, bang.

Related Posts

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Rape is Rape, No Matter the Victim’s Age or Gender

Kevin’s Mother & The Pedophile:
Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse
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I Survived a Serial Killer: My Own Mother
(guest post on RachelintheOC)



* Familial Hemiplegic Migraines (FHM) are caused by a genetic neurological disorder. I have FHM as well as from Complex Migraines.
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Note: a different version of this post was published in March 2017. This version has been updated.

a small portion of this post is adapted from my true crime memoir M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door © 2002, 2007, 2014, 2017 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved. No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author. Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.

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Filed under #CSA, Attempted Suicide, Childhood Sexual Abuse, hemiplegic migraines, Memoir, migraines, PTSD, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence, Violence