0 13 2011

The Violation of Representation: Art, Argento and the Rape-Revenge Film

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas


Considering the moral controversies surrounding films such as I Spit on Your Grave (Meir Zarch, 1976) and Baise-Moi (Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh-Thi, 2000), the rape-revenge film is often typecast as gratuitous and regressive. But far from dismissing rape-revenge in her foundational book Men, Women and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1992), Carol J. Clover suggests that these movies permit unique insight into the representation of gendered bodies on screen. In Images of Rape: The 'Heroic' Tradition and Its Alternatives(1999), art historian Diane Wolfthal demonstrates that contradictory representations of sexual violence co-existed long before the advent of the cinematic image, and a closer analysis of films that fall into the rape-revenge category reveals that they too resist a singular classification. Despite the broadness of the rape-revenge category, however, these films predominantly involve some kind of visceral skirmish between victim/villain, good/evil, female/male and right/wrong, and the desire for vengeance upon which their narratives rely provides a widely shared melodramatic foundation. The ideological leanings, thematic cores and moral messages of any given text hinge upon its representational mechanics-in this instance, how film formally constructs meaning-and can thus shift radically from text to text, despite the uniformity of the trope itself.

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ISSN 1749-9771

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