Monthly Archives: November 2014

Thoughts on the Soskas’s American Mary

Content Warning: the film I am discussing has a rape-revenge underpinning. Please note I will briefly outline the plot and reaction.

In 2012, filmmaking twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska released American Mary. Their previous feature-length entitled Dead Hooker in a Trunk released in 2009. The Soskas create an updated rape-revenge horror film that nods its roots but also re-envisions them. Mary Mason is a medical student, struggling to pay her bills. Answering an online job posting at a strip club, she is pulled into doing underground medical procedures and body modifications. Katherine Isabelle, who plays Mary, may be best know for her role as Ginger in the Ginger Snaps Trilogy and her role on NBC’s Hannibal as Margot Verger.

In her 1992 book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, Carol Clover argues that most horror films assume that the audience of their film is made up of young men. She is speaking about rape-revenge films from the 1970s and 1980s, such as I Spit on Your Grave (1978), foregrounding the manner in which rape-revenge films centralize the perspective of the victim/hero over the rapist (152).  Clover writes, “I have argued that the center of gravity of these films lies more in the reaction (the revenge) than the act (the rape), but to the extent that the revenge fantasy derives its force from some degree of imaginary participation in the act itself, in the victim position, these films are predicated on cross-gender identification of the most extreme, corporeal sort” (154). American Mary establishes a rape-revenge film that does foreground Mary’s experience. It is the manner in which Mary gets her revenge the reframes the rape-revenge plot. She creates horrors through her skills as a surgeon to enact vengeance. Mary ensures that her rapists’ exterior reflects the monstrosity of his interior—his arrogant brutality. He is locked into partial body. Whereas Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein creates a fully functioning monster, Mary Mason constructs a lump of flesh that she can experiment upon. Frankenstein’s experimentation is to preserve and create life, while Mary’s is about destruction.

Mary’s work with her other clients embody the tension between creation and destruction in that her body modification work. She does the most extreme procedures including the ones other modification surgeons refuse. In their guest appearance in the film, the Soska twins play sisters seeking to tighten their bond by having their left arms removed and swapped and have implants in their foreheads. These surgeries and modifications represent for the squeamish and the vast majority of viewers a type of destruction—a glee at deconstructing the human body. But for Mary’s clients, these modifications are creative forces and affirm their lives—they demonstrate the pleasure through pain principle. For Ruby Realgirl having Mary modify her body to appear doll-like, Ruby can have a measure of control in the ways in which other people sexualize her body. So these modifications are not merely release valves but can be a vital mechanism for an individual sense of self.

Essentially, American Mary may be a rape-revenge horror film, but it is also a film deeply concerned with representations of women, female bodies, and sexual violence. It highlights questions of defining monstrosity. Is Mary the monster for her disturbing and brutal revenge on her rapist? In Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (1995), J. Jack Halberstam writes, “The monster, in fact, is where we come to know ourselves as never-human, as always between humanness and monstrosity” (37). What this film demonstrates is that people can and are pushed to the limits frequently by other people and by the circumstances of their lives.

American Mary is worth checking out, even as it will make you cringe, squirm, and incredibly uncomfortable.


I’m working my way back to blogging here because it has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and I swear my next posts will actually be about film, television, and books.

What I’ve been thinking about a great deal is how do we frame our lives in ways that don’t leave us wanting?  How do we do the things that nourish ourselves while also staying on top of all the responsibilities that essentially bind our lives?  So many people say it’s all about making time and setting priorities. In the higher education/student affairs world (field) that I spend most of my professional time in, people talk about “work life balance.”  Frankly that concept frustrates and annoys me.  The various roles of our lives cannot be weigh on a type of scaling system in which they all “balance out” in the end like the scales of measure or balancing a check book.  It is not a zero sum game.  So how then do we integrate all of those roles into one person’s life?

For the past few years, I have been working full-time on a Ph.D. program and working my full-time professional position as a student affairs professional (a hall director to be precise).  I have told myself that once I finished my coursework it would be better.  I’ve hit that marker., and yet . . . I feel no less like I’m dropping the balls that I’m juggling (By the way, let’s hear it for tons of metaphors throughout this post).  Actually in some ways I’m feeling that far more than the previous two years.  

I’ve also been having conversations with other people (authors, faculty, administrators, student affairs folks, classified staff, etc.) about this topic.  Many people say that something’s got to give and usually from what they are sharing it is the things that they do for their own joy and pleasure–such as reading and watching films and television.  Some report periods in which they are hyperfocused on work (their writing, their publishing, their teaching, their fill-in-the-blank job) and neglect the relational aspects of their lives–sacrificing time with their families, friends, partners.  Very few people I’ve talked to feel like they are making all the pieces of their lives work smoothly.  So for those who are making it work, what are your strategies and methods? Does it always boil down to “taking off” one of our hats?  And what if that’s not an option?  How do we reframe this conversation in a way that feels more productive and more helpful?

It’s more than just time and priorities as such.  How do we not get buried under the things around us that impact our emotional, spiritual, physical well-being: our pasts, the traumas in our lives, and  the world around us (from mid-term elections and to work),  and the hot social issues that really push our buttons (from #GamerGate to Sexual and Gender Violence issues, etc.)