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April 22, 2004 | by  | in Film |
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In the Cut

A word of advice to guys – do not take a first date to this film. She may end up thinking you, as a male, are scum. Or a murderer. Or both.

The film traces a teacher, Frannie (Meg Ryan) who finds herself getting involved with a police detective investigating a serial murderer. She gets deeper into the relationship, on the one hand, fulfilling an almost masochistic impulse, but on the other hand, trying to extricate herself.

The film opens ominously with a discordant version of Que Sera Sera. The female voice is surrounded by an off-key piano and strings, establishing a dangerous setting for the female characters. At the end, Que Sera Sera is simply a solo voice – has Frannie asserted self-control and dominance and can now stand on her own? Conversely, it could also mean that she is isolated and alone in a cruel male-dominated world.

The plot is purely conventional. Women-in-danger films are nothing new, and neither are films where the protagonist falls for a potential murderer. Nevertheless, Jane Campion moves around the clichéd plot, creating an intoxicatingly intense atmosphere of dread, through barely-focused cameras, cluttered mise-en-scènes, and murky interior lighting. Furthermore, the setting of a post-September 11, New York creates an uncertain atmosphere. However, the sight of waving American flags has the potential to become a New York film cliché.

The film also gains power by subverting the traditional image of Meg Ryan. Seeing the star of such saccharine Hollywood films as Sleepless in Seattle and Joe Versus the Volcano, in this kind of role (and boys she appears naked) adds a heightened sense of vulnerability to the character.

There’s an interesting fantasy sequence that recurs throughout the film. It recounts the story/legend about how Frannie’s mother was romanced by her father. The fantasy becomes disturbingly violent when it recurs (does this attack the institution of marriage again like The Piano and Portrait of a Lady?). Perhaps this is an example of a modern myth that has the power to control a person’s life to their detriment.

The film shows a reversal of traditional male-female relationships. This is a common theme in Jane Campion’s films, and the males are often feminised (eg Harvey Keitel in both The Piano and Holy Smoke). In In the Cut, the pivotal scene is when Malloy (Mark Ruffalo) teaches Frannie to fire a gun (à la Bonnie and Clyde). After she fires successfully, Malloy is unable to either kill or screw her, and thus, becomes subordinate (but not to the extent that Keitel’s characters were). This especially contrasts with earlier scenes of pure ‘jockness’ between Malloy and his partner Rodriguez (Nick Damici), where they reveal themselves to be homophobic and chauvinistic. But her newfound power that doesn’t mean Frannie’s out of danger, highlighted by the climax at the lighthouse (a clumsy phallic object).

This is ultimately, an intelligent, probing film on the nature of relationships, away from a traditional misogynistic gaze of Hollywood.

Directed by Jane Campion
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About the Author ()

Brannavan Gnanalingam has come a long way from being born in the teeming metropolis of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He may be known as feature writer for Salient, but is also the only man in history to have simultaneously donated both his kidneys. He is also an amateur rapper going under the moniker Brantank and hopes to win a Grammy.

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