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Artemesia Gentileschi

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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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When Movies Tell Great Stories:
5 Classics from the 19502

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Filed under Actors, Books, Classic Films, Classics, Coming of Age Stories, Crime Drama, Drama, Film Videos, Films, Films/Movies, Historical Drama, Movies/Films, No Spoilers Review, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Official Trailers, Rape, Review, Review/No Spoilers, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence, Violence

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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Filed under #31DaysOfHalloween, Actors, Books, Classic Films, Film Videos, Films, Films/Movies, Halloween, Horror, Horror Films, Movies/Films, No Spoilers Review, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Official Trailers, Rape, Review, Review/No Spoilers, Sexual Violence

When Movies Tell Great Stories: 5 Classics from the 1950s

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Gloria Swanson as Nora Desmond, Sunset Boulevard ©

In the 1950s Hollywood was losing its audience — and its earnings — to television. “Weekly movie attendance declined from 90 million in 1948 to 51 million in 1952… and thousands of cinemas closed.” To recoup financial losses and win back viewers, studios invested in films modeled after the industry’s former successes, but employing the latest technologies, such as EastmanColor, a single-strip film that made color movies less expensive, and Cinemascope, in which anamorphic lenses “stretched” a “distorted image” to fit a wide-screen format that was almost twice as wide as those of previous films. Grand-scale epics like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments appeared. Countless science fiction films, most based on the genre’s classic literature, created the genre’s Golden Age in Hollywood: War of the Worlds,  The Day the Earth Stood Still,  Forbidden Planet, and Them!

Character- and story-driven films resurged. Some were original, some were based on bestselling novels, and some were adapted from critically and financially successful stage plays, including Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Guys and Dolls, Sayonara, and Dial M for Murder. Most 1950s films featured powerful storylines, morally ambiguous characters, and memorable dialogue. Though the less expensive EastmanColor single-film technology was available, many directors chose to shoot their films in black-and-white, sometimes using unique or intriguing camera angles, perhaps imitating the classic Noir films from the 1940s. In many of these now-classic 1950s films, actors, screenwriters, and directors took huge artistic risks, creating some of the best films ever made. Here are five of the best 1950s classic films, presented in the order they were released, since they are all of outstanding quality.

Sunset Boulevard
(1950)


“Mr DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
Nora Desmond

One of the best films ever made, Sunset Boulevard stars a boyish William Holden as Joe Gillis, a struggling Hollywood screenwriter whose financial woes accidentally but serendipitously lead him to what he believes is an abandoned mansion. The neglected property is the home of silent-film star Nora Desmond (Gloria Swanson) who’s spent the last 20 years preparing for her great “comeback.” Intent on using Nora as a quick paycheck — by whipping her Salome into a feasible screenplay — Joe soon becomes ensnared in Nora’s celebrity world of wealth, possessions, and material comfort.

Gloria Swanson as Nora Desmond and William Holden as Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard ©

Though sexually involved with the older Nora, Joe casually and continually tugs the heartstrings on an ingenue (Nancy Olson) with whom he’s secretly writing another screenplay, and who knows nothing of his relationship with the jealous and emotionally unstable film star. Joe’s actions force all the characters to desperation, conflict, betrayal, and, ultimately, murder.

Gloria Swanson , William Holden, Erich Von Stroheim and Nancy Olson, Sunset Boulevard ©

A poignant hommage to Hollywood’s by-gone silent-film era, as well as an unflinching look at professional ambition, Sunset Boulevard was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won three, including one for co-writer and director Billy Wilder. Holden shines as the heel-with-half-a-heart, but Swanson’s brilliant and creepily gothic performance as the melodramatically bad Nora is what makes this film such a classic.

Trivia: Gloria Swanson was a real silent-film star, though, unlike Nora, she successfully transitioned into Talkies: all the photographs of Nora on display in her mansion are from Swanson’s own silent films.

Sunset Boulevard is available for rent from Amazon for $3.99 (viewing time once started is 48 hours, and you can watch it more than once for the same cost).

All About Eve
(1950)

“Fasten your seat belts:
it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Margo Channing

Sometimes Hollywood is at its artistic best when it turns its unforgiving lens on itself, as it does in All About Eve, an intense and brutally honest examination of the Machiavellian ambition in the theatre and film worlds. Bette Davis is New York stage star Margo Channing, who allows a seemingly naïve fan, Eve (Anne Baxter) to “worship” the star while becoming her personal assistant.

Gary Merrill as Margo’s beau Bill, Anne Baxter as Eve, Bette Davis as Margo Channing, All About Eve ©

Soon, Eve is causing dissension among all the characters; Margo, Margo’s longtime companion Birdie (Thelma Ritter), Margo’s beau Bill (Gary Merrill), playwright Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe), playwright’s wife (Celeste Holm), and theatre critic DeWitt (George Sanders). Everyone in the film is forced to re-evaluate their own personal lives, their morality, and their relationships after Eve infiltrates their lives.

Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, and George Sanders, All About Eve ©

By the time a large number of the characters distrust Eve, however, she is already determined to conquer them all, and she doesn’t care how much damage she causes, as long as she herself becomes a star.

Anne Baxter and Bette Davis (foreground), George Sanders, Marilyn Monroe, and Hugh Marlowe (background), All About Eve ©

Filled with snappy lines and memorable performances, All About Eve was nominated for 14 Oscars, winning 6, including Best Picture. It is the only film ever with 4 Academy Award nominations for women: Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for Best Actress, Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actress.

Trivia: Marilyn Monroe’s first important film role.

All About Eve is available for rent for $3.99 from Amazon (48 hours viewing period once started). Note: The original film trailer was a faux interview with Bette Davis regarding the fictional Eve. This trailer is a modern one, since may be more interesting to viewers unfamiliar with the stars of the film.

A Streetcar Named Desire
(1951)

“I have always depended on
the kindness of strangers.”
Blanche DuBois

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire came to Hollywood via Broadway. The production’s theater director, Elia Kazan, brought play to the big screen, using three of the stage show’s original stars: Marlon Brando as Stanley, Kim Hunter as his wife Stella, and Karl Malden as his best friend Mitch.

Vivien Leigh as Blanche and Kim Hunter as Blanche’s sister Stella, A Streetcar Named Desire ©

When Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh) comes to New Orleans to live with her sister Stella, Blanche immediately dislikes Stella’s husband Stanley. The feeling is mutual: Stanley and Blanche clash constantly, causing a rift between husband and wife, and making the marriage erupt in angry, sometimes violent scenes. It is only because Stella is pregnant with their first child that Stanley permits his irritating and condescending sister-in-law Blanche to stay.

Karl Malden as Mitch and Vivien Leigh as Blanche, A Streetcar Named Desire ©

After his buddy Mitch falls for Blanche, intending to ask her to marry him, Stanley begins to investigate Blanche’s implausible stories of her past. As the tensions among the characters mount, Blanche and Stanley are driven to a ferocious confrontation in which each fights desperately for his own survival.

Vivien Leigh as Blanche and Marlon Brando as Stanley, A Streetcar Named Desire ©

Nominated for 4 Academy Awards — male and female Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor — A Streetcar Named Desire won three: Best Actress for Vivien Leigh, Best Supporting Actress for Kim Hunter, and Best Supporting Actor for Karl Malden.

Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, A Streetcar Named Desire ©

Brando, who was nominated for Best Actor but did not win, was relatively unknown to film audiences at the film’s release. The play A Streetcar Named Desire was originally written with only one protagonist: the tortured and delusional Blanche. Brando’s performance as the equally tortured and sympathetic Stanley, a role which he originally “modified” on-stage and subsequently re-created in the film, catapaulted Brando to worldwide attention and critical acclaim.

Trivia: To mimic and symbolize Blanche’s claustrophobia, paranoia, and increasing anxiety, the set of Stanley & Stella’s apartment literally became physically smaller as film progressed, crowding the actors together.

A Streetcar Named Desire is available for rent for $3.99 from Amazon (48 hours viewing period once started).

On the Waterfront
(1954)

“I coulda been a contender.”
Terry Malloy

In his first Oscar-winning role (second nomination), Marlon Brando plays Terry Malloy, a former boxer who dreamt of becoming a champion, now working as a longshoreman. Terry exists on the fringes of organized crime since his brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is the right-hand man of dock gangster Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb).

Eva Marie Saint as Edie and Marlon Brando as Terry, On the Waterfront ©

When one of Terry’s “favors” to Johnny gets a fellow longshoreman killed, Terry begins to feel the pricks of conscience — a commodity he would prefer to live without. After Terry meets Edie (Eva Marie Saint), the sister of the murdered longshoreman, Father Barry (Karl Malden) exploits Terry’s awakening moral principles in an attempt to get him to testify against the members of organized crime on the docks.

Karl Malden as Fr Barry and Marlon Brando as Terry, On the Waterfront ©

Torn between his growing love for Edie and his loyalty to his fellow workers (along with his devotion to his brother Charley), Terry must decide whether it is better to live as a criminal failure than to risk dying an honest man.

Karl Malden as Fr Barry, Marlon Brando as Terry, and Eva Marie Saint as Edie, On the Waterfront ©

Based on a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative articles (“Crime on the Waterfront”) as well as on an original story by Budd Schulberg, who wrote the screenplay, On the Waterfront was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning eight. In addition to Oscars for the co-stars, Brando and Saint, the film won Best Picture, and Best Director for Elia Kazan.

Trivia: Brando didn’t like his dialogue in iconic taxi scene, so he refused to say it. Director Kazan, tired of arguing with Brando, filmed him and co-star Steiger doing the scene improv, resulting in a classic.

On the Waterfront is available for rent for $3.99 from Amazon (48 hours viewing period once started).

Anatomy of a Murder
(1959)

“How can a jury disregard what it’s already heard?”
“They can’t… They can’t.”

One of the first mainstream films to discuss sex and rape in graphic terms, Anatomy of a Murder caused outrage when it was released in 1959. Jimmy Stewart stars as former prosecutor-turned-defense-attorney Paul Biegler, who’s hired by Army Lieutenant Manion (Ben Gazzara) after he shoots and kills a man accused of raping Manion’s wife (Lee Remick).

Lee Remick as Laura Manion, Jimmy Stewart as Paul Biegler, and Ben Gazzara as Lt Manion, Anatomy of a Murder ©

Despite the fact that it’s Manion who’s on trial for murder, pleading “irresistible impulse” — another term for “temporary insanity” — and PTSD-induced “dissociative crisis,” it’s Manion’s wife Laura who is really on trial, in the courtroom and in the small community where they live. What she wore, whether she was drunk, and if she was provocative to the victim on the night in question occupy more of the trial than does the professional testimony of the psychiatrists who examined the war and combat veteran, who claims he unconsciously reacted with violence to his wife’s attack.

Brooke Adams, George C Scott, and Jimmy Stewart, Anatomy of a Murder ©

Attorney Biegler responds with outrage whenever the Special Prosecuting Attorney (George C. Scott) attacks the character of Manion’s wife, but viewers are presented scenes in which the “bored” and “lonely” young wife, who is undeniably attractive and who flouts society’s conventions by not wearing a girdle under her form-fitting clothes, flirts inappropriately with her husband’s defense attorney. Viewers have even more questions about what actually occurred between Manion’s wife and victim than do the jurors.

Lee Remick and Jimmy Steward, Anatomy of a Murder ©

Adapted from the bestselling novel of the same name by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker (under the pseudonym Robert Traver), which was based on a sensational 1952 murder trial, Anatomy of a Murder vividly examines society’s discomfort with sex and sexuality, as well as with victims of sexual violence. Concentrating on the tendency to blame the victim in sexual assault and rape cases while simultaneously exonerating the victim in murder cases, the film is powerful for its morally ambiguous characters, its strong performances, and its groundbreaking handling of the topic of sexual violence. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Picture, Anatomy of a Murder is considered among the Top 10 films in the category of Courtroom Drama.

Trivia: Films “explicit” language caused outrage, getting it banned in Chicago theatres. These words were considered especially offensive: bitch, slut, rape, contraception, penetration, sperm, and — believe it or not — panties.

Anatomy of a Murder is available for rent for $3.99 from Amazon (48 hours viewing period once started).

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Filed under Actors, Classic 1950s Films, Classic Films, Crime Drama, Film Videos, Films, Films/Movies, Movies/Films, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Official Trailers, Rape, Review, Review/No Spoilers, Screenplays/Plays, StagePlays

From SALVATION to HANNIBAL to OUTLANDER: One Man’s View of Men in Film & Television

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Warning: Conclusion May Contain Triggers
(Some Film Spoilers in Post)

UnknownLast week, my life-partner Tom and I watched Salvation, the Danish tribute to Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti Westerns, with Mads Mikkelsen as the iconic “loner” whose wife is raped then killed, along with their young son, in the early scenes, and who then searches for vengeance.

images-4Salvation is also a tribute to the iconic Western “lone, good man,” defending the rest of the town, as in High Noon and Firecreek, although no one else in the place stands up with the “hero” to fight evil until the hero reluctantly fights back against the vicious gang himself.

images-2Salvation is a pretty interesting take on the iconic Western: Mads’ character is an immigrant rather than a stranger, and has already settled and prospered enough to bring his wife and son over. Salvation is also a fair tribute to the “Man with No Name” series as well as to the “good man as reluctant defender” Western icon.

Mads’ character does have a name — John — and is a more realistic shot than the character Clint Eastwood made famous in Leone’s films (i.e., it always takes John several shots to kill someone). John is first rescued from the gang by his brother, and then eventually joined by “The Princess” (Eva Green), who appears to have been the captive “wife” of one of the rapists/murderers and who had her tongue cut out by Indians when she was kidnapped as a young girl. The Princess comes to John’s aid in fighting the gang members after they kill John’s brother, and only one other town member lends his aid: a boy whose grandmother was killed by the gang. At first, John refuses the boy’s help, telling him, “You’re just a kid.” He replies, “I’m almost 16.” John then accepts his offer. The young boy dies helping John. At the end, the Princess leaves the town with John (from which I inferred that no one in the town had ever protected her from the gang members).

This post is not a review of Salvation. Instead, it is about a discussion that ensued after my partner Tom made a surprising comment about Mads’ looks in the film, which led me to an epiphany about how one man — my man — judges male actors’ looks in films and television.

Unknown“Mads is actually quite good-looking, isn’t he?” said Tom in the middle of an important scene.

I was shocked. I’d never heard him say something like that before. Not about a male actor’s looks. At first, I thought it was because we were watching a Western, one of Tom’s favorite genres. Then I thought it might be because John was already seeking “justice” by killing the bad guys. But Tom said it when Mads’ character John wasn’t actually looking his best (above). Not classically handsome or anything. So I wondered what had suddenly made Tom comment on a male actor’s looks: something he’s never done in our 22 years together, but which he constantly does about female actors if he finds them attractive. (I don’t know what female actors he finds unattractive because he doesn’t make comments like that.)

images-1“You just noticed that Mads is good-looking?” I said.

“I guess.”

“You didn’t think he was attractive in Hannibal?”images-21“He was a serial killer and a cannibal,” said Tom, as if he had watched more than the final season of Hannibal, which, by the way, he was really watching for Gillian Anderson, whom he continually called “stunning” and “gorgeous.”images-10“You never commented on Mads’ looks before.”

“I guess I never noticed.”

“You didn’t comment on him in King Arthur.”

“Mads was in King Arthur?” said Tom. “He wasn’t that pretty boy, was he?”

“What ‘pretty boy’?”

“The one with two swords.”

“That was Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd) with the two swords. Mads played Tristan.”

images-14“Which one was Tristan?”

“The one with the hawk.”

Unknown-2“Oh, that was Mads? He was cool. He fought Stellan [Skarsgård, who played Saxon invader Cerdic] at the end.”

images-13“Tristan got killed.”

“Stellan looked over at Clive [Owen, who was King Arthur] to make sure he was watching before he killed Tristan.”

I was stunned that Tom remembered that detail, despite the number of times we’ve watched the film, which is one of our favorites.

“The actor who played Galahad in King Arthur was in Hannibal, too.”

“Which one was Galahad?”

“Hugh Dancy.”

images-7“Oh, that boy,” said Tom after I found a picture. “Who was he in Hannibal?”

“He played the special FBI agent, Will Graham,” I said, showing him another photo. “He was trying to help catch Hannibal.”

images copy 2“I remember that boy now,” said Tom. “They were trying to make it seem like he and Hannibal loved each other, but without their being homosexual.”

By that time, I noticed that Tom was consistently making a distinction between “men” and “boys,” though all the actors we were discussing are grown men. Even if they were playing warrior knights, such as Lancelot and Galahad in King Arthur, Tom was referring to some of them as “boys.” Before I had a chance to ask about this distinction, he made an even more startling comment.

“That boy in Hannibal was about the same as that red-head boy.”

“What red-head boy?”

“That red-head husband in the past.”

By now, I was most sincerely confused, since we were watching Salvation and The Princess’ husband had been dark-haired, and he’d only been killed by Mads’ character a few days before.

“What red-head husband in the past?” I said.

“The red-head husband in the show with the woman who fell through the rocks.”

images-32“You mean Outlander?”

“If that’s the one where the woman has two husbands,” said Tom, “one in the past and one in the future.”

Did Tom really just make a comment about Outlander?

My Tom?

He’d only watched the show twice — the final two episodes — though he knew the premise, vaguely, and had caught a couple of glimpses of Caitriona Balfe (Claire) and Sam Heughan (Jamie) when they were nude (as he was passing through the room where I was watching Outlander, to return to the room where he was watching sports).

“You mean Jamie, the Scottish husband?”images-10“Is he the boy who got his hand nailed to the table by that ugly man in the prison?”

“He’s the man who got his hand spiked…”

“The boy who got raped by that ugly man.”

“His name’s Jamie,” I said. “And he’s the man who got raped by Black Jack Randall.”

“The ugly guy who threatened to rape the red-head boy’s wife?”

images-32“Black Jack Randall,” I said, certain now that we were, indeed, discussing Outlander.

“That’s the guy who raped the boy?” said Tom, persisting in using the word “boy” to describe Sam Heughan’s character.

“Black Jack Randall raped Jamie.”

“That ugly guy,” said Tom, “who raped that boy and then tried to make it look like some kind of love scene or something.”images-8“They were probably only doing what the writers and director told them to do. I think I read that they were trying to make one of the scenes between the two actors look like Michelangelo’s Pietà.

images“That statue of Jesus after they took him off the cross and his mother was holding him?”

“They might have been trying to make Jamie a symbolic Christ figure… I don’t know. It didn’t work for me.”

“None of it worked for me,” said Tom. “It was disgusting and horrible, what that vicious ugly man did to that poor boy.”

images-36He kept calling Tobias Menzies (Black Jack Randall) “ugly,” and he kept referring to Sam Heughan (Jamie) as a “boy.” I thought I was beginning to understand what Tom was unconsciously saying, but I wasn’t sure.

“You know that the actor who played Black Jack Randall also played Claire’s other husband, right?”

“What did he look like?” said Tom.

images-23“It was the same actor,” I said. “Only his name was Frank when he was her husband in 1945.”

“That’s not the same man,” said Tom after looking at the photo above.

“It’s the same actor,” I said, showing him another view. “Honest.”

images-29“That’s not the same guy.”

“It is the same guy.”

images-33“No, it’s not,” said Tom, looking at the picture (above) with Tobias and Cait. “That guy is not ugly.”

“Is he good-looking?” I said. “Like Mads?”

Tom stared at the photo of Cait and Tobias, as Claire and Frank on their second honeymoon in Scotland, before Claire was transported through the stones at Craigh na Dun to Scotland two hundred years in the past.

“No. He’s not good-looking. Just average. But he’s certainly not ugly like the guy who raped the boy.”

“I swear to you, it’s the same actor,” I said. “Tobias Menzies.”images-43After looking at the side-by-side photo (above) for a while, he said, “How’d they make him look so ugly then?”

“All they did, as far as I know, was put a wig or hair-extensions on him,” I said. “And he acted like he had a facial tick.”

“He is not a good-looking man,” said Tom, handing back the picture of Tobias. “He’s ugly. In fact, he’s extremely ugly.”

“Even as Frank? Her husband in the future.”

Unknown-13“Then he’s just average. Unremarkable.”

“Why not good-looking? When he’s Frank, I mean.”

“Because he didn’t save his wife when he heard her calling at the stones. He just cried like a baby.”

images-47Now I was really caught off-guard. When had Tom seen that? Before the final two episodes, which he watched to be morally supportive of me in case I got triggered since I’d heard there were torture and rape scenes in them, I wasn’t aware that Tom had seen anything substantial in Outlander. 

I knew he’d caught a glimpse of nude Sam in the water because Tom said, “You know men didn’t look like that back then, don’t you? Men don’t look like that now unless they work out at a gym all the time.”

images-36I knew he’d gotten a good long look at nude Cait in one of the sex-scenes with Sam because he was standing there staring until the scene ended, when he said, “Her breasts look better when she’s lying down” before walking away.

I guess he’d also seen Frank weeping at the rocks and heard Claire calling to him, though I’d never realized Tom knew what was going on in the show. I never discussed it with him because he doesn’t like fantasy and thought the premise was silly, and he rarely reads my blogs. (I don’t mind: he reads my books, which is a much bigger commitment, and he knows what I blog about.) I was still confused about Tom’s association between Will and Jamie, however.

“Why did you say that Will Graham in Hannibal was just like Jamie in Outlander?”

“Because one didn’t stop a serial killer and the other didn’t kill the ugly bastard that raped him.”

“You think Will should have killed Hannibal?”

“Of course, he should have.”

“He pushed Hannibal off a cliff,” I said.

“No, he hugged him off a cliff and they both fell together, like they were lovers about to have sex or something. And they probably survived for another season. So it was just stupid.”

I was starting to understand this film world-view. A male character’s being “stupid” can make the actor playing him a “boy.” A male character not killing another male character he knows to be a serial killer can make the former one a “boy.” A male character’s not killing his rapist can make him a “boy.” After all, the first time Tom ever remarked about Sam Heughan as Jamie, when he saw him nude in the water, he referred to him as a “man,” saying that “men” didn’t have bodies like that back then. After Jamie was raped by Black Jack Randall, he and the actor playing him became a “boy.”

I wondered what “boys” were —  attractive, unremarkable, or ugly — in the world according to Tom.

“Do you think Jamie’s good-looking?” I said.

“Which one’s Jamie?”

“The red-head husband in the past.”

“The one who gets tortured and raped.”

“Right.”

“He’s a boy.”

“But is he good-looking?”

“He’s a boy,” said Tom. “With a weight-machine body.”

“Is he ‘average,’ like her husband Frank. Or ‘ugly,’ like Black Jack Randall?”

“He’s just a kid,” said Tom.

So, no comments or judgment on a boy’s looks, even if the “boy” is an adult male actor.

“But you think Mads is attractive.”

“He’s a good-looking man,” said Tom.

“But you never thought he was good-looking in Hannibal,” I said. “I even asked you about it.”

“I said I didn’t notice.”

“What about Mads in this picture?” I said.

images-20“He looks good in glasses. He’s very manly.”

“It’s from The Hunt.”

“What’s that about?” said Tom.

“See the little girl? She’s one of his Kindergarten students who says that he molested and raped her. The whole town…”

“Is he guilty?”

“What?”

“Did he hurt the little girl?”

“No,” I said. “She doesn’t even realize what’s she’s saying about him.”

“How can she not realize that?”

I explained that her older brother and his friend had been watching porn on their tablets, and showed it to her in passing, as a joke, saying something like, “Look at that big ugly cock.” Later, the little girl, who was unconsciously jealous that she wasn’t getting enough of her belovèd teacher’s attention, told one of the administrators at the school that she didn’t want to see “Lucas’ (Mads) big ugly cock anymore.”

“So Mads didn’t ever do anything to the little girl?” said Tom.

“No. Never. But everyone assumed she was telling the truth because of what she said.”

“But he was really innocent.”

“Totally.”

“I’ll have to watch that some time,” said Tom. “And he does look very handsome in the glasses.”

Unknown-11

This is our 22nd year together; we love films and watch them all the time, yet I never realized that Tom judges a male actor’s looks by what his character does in a role. Tom’s only one man, so I’m not saying that he’s representative of all men, but he’s my man, and that makes this an important revelation to me. Whether Tom consciously realizes these distinctions he’s making about a male actor’s looks — and I’m guessing that he does not — this is what they seem to be.

If a male actor’s character sexually assaults or otherwise tortures or physically brutalizes children, women, or other men, he’s “ugly.” If the violence does not happen on-screen and the other parts of the story-line are compelling, then, at the very least, Tom doesn’t seem to notice any physical attractiveness or ugliness in the male actor, as with Mads in Hannibal. He played a serial killer but Tom rarely saw any on-screen violence because he only watched parts of the final season, i.e., the episodes containing Gillian Anderson.

If the male actors’ characters don’t save their women — even if it’s because they cannot go through the stones at Craigh na Dun themselves — they’re just average-looking, plain, or unremarkable.

But the most important — and saddest — part of the distinction Tom (unconsciously) seems to be making between male actors as “men” or “boys” is this: if the male actors’ characters are raped (as Tom was, repeatedly, when he was a six-year-old boy, by his father’s best friend), then the actors, no matter their age, are “boys.”

And boys need to be protected from “ugly men” (as my poor Tom was not protected by his own father, though Tom told him, and others, what was happening).

Women, too, need to be protected from “ugly men,” and the women don’t have to be “stunning” or “gorgeous” to need such protection.

They can be ordinary women like me.

That’s why Tom watched the final two episodes of Outlander with me: because when I was a child, I was repeatedly tortured, molested, and raped (by my father, step-father, and mother, the last of whom raped me with implements when I was 11, causing so much internal damage that I could never have children). Tom feared that the scenes of torture and rape in Outlander, though they were happening to a man, would “trigger” me. Just as the horrific rape scenes in Casualties of War or The Accused “trigger” me. (In fact, I’ve never actually seen more than a few seconds of either of the rape scenes in either film: I can’t even listen to them.)

Tom was there to protect me, even if it was from a film or a television show.

He protects me now, in any way he can, because no one protected me when I was younger.

Just as no one protected him when he was a boy.

When I finally realized what Tom was saying during our talk after his comment about Mads’ being “actually quite good-looking” in Salvation, I went into the other room and wept with grief.

For both of us.

Unknown-10Epilogue

As I mentioned in the original post of this topic (above), Tom has long since stopped reading my blogs, though he always asks what I’m writing on. Always. For every single post. When I showed him some of the remarks and responses I was getting to this original post, and told him that it had gotten over 60K unique reads in less than 24 hours, he seemed confused.

“Why does everyone in your Facebook Outlander groups and on Twitter keep saying I’m sweet?” said Tom. “Why do they say the blog is ‘heartbreaking’? I thought you said it was on my view of men in some films and a couple television shows.”

“It is, based on the fact that you commented, for the first time ever, on a male actor’s being ‘actually being quite attractive’. Mads. In Salvation.”

“Mads is good-looking,” said Tom.

You never said Mads was attractive when he was in Hannibal. I mentioned that in the blog. Then I put in the things you said about Jamie… the red-head husband in Outlander… about his being a boy.”

“He is a boy,” said Tom. “He couldn’t protect or defend himself from being raped, just like I couldn’t defend myself when I was raped as a little boy. And no one helped the red-head husband. Like nobody helped me. So he is a boy.”

“Some of the very thoughtful readers who responded wanted you to know that the character, Jamie, heals and becomes more of a man in the later Outlander books,” I said. “They don’t know what will happen in the show, of course…”

“He’s a man already. Or he was before the rape,” said Tom. “Now he’s a boy. And no matter how much healing he does, or how much of a man he becomes, that wounded, damaged little boy will always be inside him.”

“So you intentionally called him a ‘boy’?”

“Did I call him a ‘boy’?” said Tom.

“You did. Consistently. I thought you might be doing it unconsciously.”

“I guess I was, since I don’t remember it. But he is a boy if he gets his hand nailed to a table and gets raped over and over by another man,” said Tom. “He can’t protect himself. He can’t fight.”

“Then you really didn’t expect Jamie to just jump up afterward and kill Black Jack Randall?”

“He was in a prison. In the dungeon. How was he going to get out? He couldn’t have killed that guy,” said Tom.

“Why’d you say that he should have killed the rapist then?”

Tom was silent for a while.

“I guess I said that because I wanted to kill my dad’s friend every single day of my life,” said Tom. “Right up until the day he died. And you know how I feel about my dad never protecting me. Same as you feel about all the people you told, the ones who never saved or protected you.”

Because he’d mentioned me, but I’d never heard him call any female actors “girls,” I asked about Claire’s character in Outlander.

“What about Claire… the red-head’s wife… what if Black Jack Randall had raped her?”

“Look,” said Tom, “there would have been nothing she could have done about it. If she didn’t manage to run away before he caught her, then she couldn’t have stopped it. Rapists are despicable. You can’t fight them. You don’t know if they’re just vicious, disgusting people, or if they’re pedophiles, or if they’re serial rapists, or if they’re serial rapists about to flip over into serial killers. If you fight too hard, you might die.”

“What I wanted to know is this: would she have become a ‘girl’ if she’d been raped, instead of a woman?”

“She’d be a woman, just like you,” said Tom, “with that permanently damaged little girl inside her. That wounded little girl will always be in you, no matter how fierce or independent or sweet or loving or protective you are. That raped little boy will always be in her red-head husband. Same as he’s in me. Even if nobody else knows about it. You can’t go back and make it never happen.”

“So, you were unconsciously calling the red-head husband a ‘boy’. Just like you called the Special FBI Agent in Hannibal a boy, and he didn’t get raped.”images-15“He couldn’t kill Hannibal, even though Hannibal was obsessed with him,” said Tom. “Maybe if he’d snuck up behind him as soon as he’d figured out Hannibal was a serial killer and cold-cocked him, he might have had a chance to cut his throat before Hannibal gutted him like a fish. But you don’t have any chance with serial killers. Hannibal would have killed and eaten that boy eventually.”

“I guess the part that annoyed you, then, was how the shows tried to make the rapes like love scenes, or a serial killer relationship like a love story.”

images-16“Hannibal might have wanted something from that boy, but he didn’t love him,” said Tom. “He had sex with Gillian. But he didn’t love her. Even she said she knew he’d end up killing and eating her. You can’t change serial killers. You can’t change serial rapists or pedophiles. The only thing they love is themselves and hurting other people. You know that. Your own mother was one.”

I sat for a moment, thinking about everything he’d said, and how he’d called the victims “boys” unconsciously, because, in the 22 years we’ve been together, Tom has never come right out and admitted that his father’s friend repeatedly raped him when he was a little boy. He always said he was “only molested” and “performed fellatio” — forced fellatio — on his rapist.

images-31“By the way, be sure to tell them I’m sorry,” said Tom. “The people in those Outlander groups.”

“About what?”

“I know they really like that red-head husband. I’m sorry if they got upset because I said he was a ‘boy’. The actor’s a guy. Even if he kinda looks like a kid.”

“Someone wrote in comments that she thought they might have purposely cast that actor because of his boyish looks.”

“Then they knew he was going to become a boy, too. Because of the torture and rape.”

“Maybe,” I said. “They might have just thought he was pretty.”

“Pretty doesn’t make you a ‘boy’.”

“The actor who played the Special Agent in Hannibal is boy-ish.”

“When a serial killer’s got you in his sights,” said Tom, “or the writers of Hannibal make him act like he loves you, you’re a boy because he’s gonna get you eventually. There’s nothing you can do except run away as fast as you can. If you can’t do that… well, you know… It’s the same as when you were a kid. If nobody listens to you, and no one protects you, you’re gonna get hurt. Bad. And that kind of damage never goes away. Not completely.”

I kissed him on the cheek.

“The person who said you were ‘a good, good man’ meant that you were sweet for watching Outlander’s last two episodes with me, knowing they contained rape and torture, in case they triggered me.”

maxresdefault“You’d do the same for me,” he said, putting his arm around my shoulders. “You’re my Eva and my Claire.”

Unknown

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