There’s a guy I know that gets very upset when he looks at the modern world.
It’s hard to blame him. There’s people that think that Gamergate is seriously about ethics, as opposed to being about some jilted idiot getting revenge on a girl who dumped him, and a bunch of idiots jumping on his band wagon. Except…
“It’s totally about ethics,” he says. “It’s about ethics in gaming journalism.”
What ethics? Where? There’s no ethics in actual journalism, never mind it’s outliers. Everything is bought and paid for. The best you can hope for at this point is the honesty of advertorial content.
“Advertorial? The hell is that? You can’t just make up words,” he says. “We have enough words.”
Okay. Granted. Where do we draw the line with that one? Do we go back toelbow? Shakespeare made that one up in one of his plays. Computer? That one’s fairly recent and there’s a physical thing attached to it. Kind of important, that one. How about moonbeam? That one’s by Shakespeare again.
“No, no, like names,” he says. “We have enough names.”
Well, there was a huge spike in people naming their daughters Khalessirecently, so I guess I can see his point. Hell, I think someone in Florida named their son Khaleesi, and more power to them, but I can see how some people could think that’s sort of weird. It’s like when people started naming their daughters Wendy after the character in the Peter Pan book. Wendy’s a made up name. Wendy didn’t exist before that.
“No, no, like feelings,” he says. “We have enough feelings. This gender equality bullshit, and all this weird sexual identity bullshit. All that is stupid.”
American Mary is the perfect horror movie for people that subscribe to that sort of philosophy, and that makes it one of the most important movies of the modern age. And, yes, it’s a horror movie. I’ve talked about the importance of the horror genre before. I’ve even talked about the directors of this particular movie, the Soska Sisters, before. So, with that in mind…
Spoilers abound from here on in. You have been warned.
We’re in the process right now of exploring the various shades of being that are available to us as individual persons. We’re becoming increasingly free to define ourselves and our identities, and words are being coined to describe the various ways in which we experience the world – and each of these words tells those that define themselves by them that they are not alone, that they are not broken.
Asexual. Cisgender. Transexual. Demisexual. Agender. Dozens, if not hundreds, of others. The power of internet giving people that identify as such the chance to talk without fear of persecution, to realize they’re not alone, to find comfort and identity and community. There’s power in names, in knowing that other people are experiencing a difference that is kin to one you might be experiencing, and that’s what this movie is all about.
The side characters in American Mary are people that wish to define themselves by who they are, not what they appear to be. Mary becomes a catalyst for that self-definition, a gateway for other characters to change and take on the physical seeming to match whatever they are internally. Those that want to lose their sense of physical shame are able to do so through her. Those that want to become monstrous, beautiful, doll-like, whatever – they get the chance to be whatever they want through her.
And, yes, the society that we’re all trapped in might find these changes horrific, but does it matter what other people think so long as we’re comfortable in our own skin and aren’t hurting anyone else?
That alone would be enough to make this movie worth watching, but that impossibly important theme isn’t even the primary drive of the film. The primary theme revolves around the title character and the horror she’s faced as a future, and the liberties that other people feel entitled to taking with her.
See, Mary is a medical student, top of her class, who ends up running out of money and can’t continue her studies. She’s at her wit’s end and decides to strip for cash, knowing what that might cost her in terms of a future – not because stripping is wrong, but because society likes to shame people for idiot reasons that have more to do with ancient mores and nothing to do with modern reality.
Strangely for her, the club she goes to is run by some gangsters. When one of them comes in shot she saves his life. She’s training to be a surgeon, after all, and she is very good at what she does. She makes a tonne of money right off the bat, and this sends her – and us with her – on one of the weirdest stories in modern horror.
This single incident is what gets her started, introducing her and us to the wonderful world of cosmetic body modification. It’s slow going for her, but the lucrative nature of it has a strong appeal appeal. As she’s become an outlier through her criminal contacts, so she becomes more comfortable with other outliers. The sudden influx of cash doesn’t hurt her, per se, but it does make some people think she’s taken up hooking. So, naturally, one of her professors drugs and rapes her.
She’s in a position where going to the police isn’t going to solve anything for the reasons mentioned above. If something as clear cut as Gamer Gate has caused so many problems, how badly is she going to be maligned for being victimized in this way? This shit happens in real life. It’s why feminism is important.
And so, robbed of any proper way to redress what’s happened to her, she has her criminal friends grab him so she can explain to him, at length, who she has become. To that end, she introduces him to the marvelous world of extreme body modification.
But what is this all about, really? At the end of this movie, what are we supposed to take away from it? What have we learned, and what was this about?
American Mary is study of what people can be driven to: to achieve their goals, to be themselves, to find hope when all hope is taken away from them. When there all no legal alternatives to poverty, to shame, to despair, to self-destruction, people will find and cling to whatever salvation they can. When male entitlement makes a graveyard of trust, well, maybe the only solution looks like making a graveyard out of male entitlement.
It’s a powerful coupling of themes acted and directed to perfection. It’s the second feature film directed by the supremely talented Twisted Twins, and one of those movies that will stick with you and haunt you. It is merciless, unforgiving, and baleful – a howling challenge against the old world mentality that wants to lock people to pre-existing definitions, that doesn’t want change, that says that we have done and progressed and evolved enough.
This is a movie that spits in the face of cultural status.
American Mary is Greek tragedy played out without any sign of divinity, a bleakly hopeful bloodbath where everyone dies at the end because there is no hope, because people like to smother change and evolution, because people like to strangle thought and accept the hell and entropy that is rather than aspire to be anything better.
This is a movie that teaches the best of us that the only way out is to push forward and stitch a body back together and hope for the best, to do what is necessary to survive, to change, to grow. This is a movie that warns those that would stifle the best minds, hearts, and dreams to get the hell out of away.
Any dream can become a nightmare with enough degradation, and sometimes waking up isn’t possible.
The Good: The casting is inspired, the direction is spot on perfect, and the pacing is nerve wracking. This is a beautiful nightmare of a movie. It is harsh, unforgiving, and violent on a level that most people will not be comfortable with.The Bad: See above. This movie errs on the nightmarish side of beautiful nightmare, and it pulls absolutely no punches. The Soskas have no time for your faint heart or bullshit morality, and have no problems telling you so.
The Verdict: Impossible to look away from, this movie will sear your soul and haunt you for the rest of your life. The only other movies I can think of that linger like this one are Boys Don’t Cry, Old Boy, and Fargo. This is a warning – you need to know what you’re getting into here, but the simple truth is that nothing can prepare you.