The self-aware critic does not relish in writing a biting takedown of a lone piece of media, as she’s aware that, in doing so, she’ll be fulfilling the oft-criticized role of the critic as a cannibalistic one-who-cannot-do. The self-aware critic would ideally like to write solely about, and thus promote, those things she believes are good. The reflexive critic recognizes, however, that it is often easier, and pervertedly pleasurable, to write with bite.
This critic wants to eat Simon Killer alive. She craves its castration. Hang him by the ankles and leave him in the basement, as her father used to say. But this critic will aim to be fair, sensitive. Because the self-aware critic knows that the only thing more reviled than a cutthroat critic is a militant feminist.
Simon Killer is a new film from writer-director Antonio Campos (Afterschool), scripted in collaboration with its lead actor, Brady Corbet (Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene, Funny Games). We ran an interview with them last week. The story is what Jean-Michel Basquiat and Al Diaz called “SAMO,” as in, “the same old shit”: an Oedipal American in Paris (Corbet) meets a hooker with a heart of gold (Mati Diop), poses as her white knight until she falls for “love,” and then murders her when she (Whore) threatens his relationship with a nice, educated, well-heeled Parisian (Madonna). It’s neo-noir, neo-Haneke, neo-sexism, i.e. nothing new at all.
Starting at Sundance, the film has fronted attacks for its misogyny, the defense to which has been, “it can’t be misogynistic because it is so obviously misogynistic.” Simon Killer, its makers contend, reveals the misogyny of its title character so blatantly, that we viewers would be wrong to confuse his hatred towards women as belonging to the film. In fact, this revealing misogyny may even be feminist, according to Corbet: “I think that a film that acknowledges an issue as prevalent as misogyny in our culture is, in and of itself, at least my version of a feminist effort,” he told reporters at Sundance.
Simon Killer does expose new angles of the old narratives it rehashes, literally. The titular Killer character is shown ass-not-cock-naked: jerking off to a Caribbean sounding camgirl (“didja cum, baebee?”), prematurely ejaculating on a sex worker’s thigh, being sodomized by said worker’s tiny, spit-lubbed thumb, and generally sucking at heterosexual sex, which means not sucking, or licking, or giving in any way.
Simon takes, that’s what he does. He is a classic American colonizer, cuming in a foreign country, and then fucking off back to the land of the free, home of the brave, after having brutalized everything he could get his hands on abroad. His flaws are evident, cringe-worthy, what propels the narrative tension. His misogyny is the film’s central conflict, but its evidence alone does not makes for what Corbet proudly called, “a love letter to women from me.”
One can adjust the conventional subtly to subvert it; genre and gender bend from a norm. For that, with regards to young girl sexuality, see Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. For that, w/r/t/ monstrous masculinity, see David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.
Simon Killer is not subversive. The only thing neo about the film’s noir is the soundtrack. The white hangdog lead still grapples with the mid-century binary of the femme fatale (who must be converted or killed) and the good girl. The anti-hero still gets away with it all. His mommy issues are as dated as Freud’s therapeutic cocaine use. His portrait of the prostitute is as old as Manet’s Olympia, which he stares upon in one scene at the Musée d’Orsay. His entitled sexuality is the one contemporary: straight out of Steubenville.
The problem with Simon Killer is not the film, in and of itself. The film is well acted with thoughtful turns and stunning stylistics. The problem is in the SAMO.
How many stories are there in the world? By my count it’s infinite, as infinite as the variations that a life can take. So why do we keep telling the same ones? Interviewing Derek Cianfrance on his latest film A Place Beyond the Pines, another sensitive-guy take on SAMO archetypes and genres, the filmmaker mentioned that he hates guns, that he doesn’t understand or appreciate cinema’s obsession with violence, especially gun violence. And yet here’s his latest “auteur” offering—a heist movie where all the heroes point guns before using words.
Here are some words to the dudes: just because you claim you don’t want to glorify something in your representation of it, doesn’t mean you’re not; your mirror to society (but not even society, to pre-existing media), distorting as it may be, still reproduces those things you’ve holding up to it (re-present). I get it, you’re grappling with your masculinity, so is a large, movie-going audience, but why not give that audience something useful? Instead of showcasing how contemporary masculinity is ugly, why not try and imagine ways it can be beautiful? Be brave, make something up. I double hangdog dare you.
The problem with SAMO masculine movies, like Simon Killer and Pines, isn’t those movies, in and of themselves. They can be thoughtful, complicated, entertaining. The problem is that they are the norm because film industry is still dominated by the same ol’ privileged men.
Earlier this year, I was persuaded to watch Roman (son of Francis) Coppola’s A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, so that I could interview Roman and co-star/cousin Jason Schwartzman about it. That movie—please do not pay to see it—is everything that is wrong with Hollywood: nepotism, patriarchy, and all the money (so much money) being circulated through nepotism and patriarchy. Charles Swan III is utterly self-indulgent, ignorant of audience experience, and a waste of a superb budget and cast (also, it’s misogynistic).
Whatever, who cares, it’s a bad movie—I thought, as I debated writing the gimme of a scathing review it incited—no, forget it, let it pass into the Rotten Tomatoes low-list, write about something great instead, except—except I kept thinking about how, imagine—imagine if just one-tenth or one-twentieth of the budget of this movie (or how about even just its press budget, which got me and dozens of other journalists out to meet with Roman and Jason) were given to a talented outsider. Imagine if the camera’s gaze in Simon Killer, which sticks insistently with its anti-hero, was shifted ever-so-slightly, giving face to Mati Diop’s Noura, a sex worker who ended up in the trade, we’re told, after leaving a husband who raped her as she was bleeding out with a miscarriage. Imagine if it was her story Campos and Corbet tried to tell or any-fucking-one-else’s besides the SAMO.
Simon Killer‘s misogyny matters, not because it represents the misogyny of contemporary society, but because it represents the misogyny in contemporary filmmaking. It is a film about a privileged young man by two privileged young men who seem more interested in romancing their cinematic forefathers than the women of the world. “[A] love letter to women from me”? Well, Brady Corbet, here’s my reply: suck it.
In keeping with sentence number two of this review, the reflexive critic would like to suggest that, if you’re wanting to go to the movies this week, please forgo Simon Killer, despite how hotly alluring I may have just made it seem, and instead go see any of the following more imaginative films: Adam Leon’s Gimme the Loot, Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, Sally Potter’s Ginger and Rosa, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills, or Pablo Larraín’s NO.
Militant Feminist #969