Giving Way to murderous rage

by Jake Jakaitis

from Jump Cut, no. 32, April 1987, pp. 49-52
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1987, 2006

Rape and vengeance. U.S. cinema from Sam Peckinpah's STRAW DOGS (1971) to Michael Winner's DEATH WISH I and II (1974, 1982) to the recently released DEADLY FORCE promotes suspense through rape tension, images women as helpless victims, and defines a society in which retribution through vigilantism is a decidedly male option. In Peckinpah's and Winner's violence-themed films, mild mannered pacifists and liberals become vigilantes fighting for a cause, and the audience is manipulated into glorifying these male heroes' murderous rage. In DEADLY FORCE, Stoney Cooper uses deadly force "when the cops can't and the courts won't" give him justice. Audiences are routinely manipulated into emotional identification with the hero or with the victims of criminal acts in these films.

Most often these victims are imaged as defenseless women. Even if they survive assault and rape, they function merely as evidence, as justification of a male hero's vengeful acts. Routinely excluded from expressing their own murderous rage, they are silenced. Consequently, women in the audience must also be silenced, victimized, denied any venting of their anger except through male vigilantism. Emotionally manipulated into identifying with and feeling compassion for these female victims, women viewers must then transfer their feelings to the male hero, acknowledge the male right to vengeance, and deny their own right to such expressions of murderous rage.

It is interesting to view Gaylon Emerzian's 20-minute fictional film GIVING WAY in this context, for Emerzian uses suspense built through rape tension and the traditional image of women as defenseless, silenced victims to make a feminist statement. In this film, the Tenant (the principals are not named, further emphasizing the film's ideological statement; these are not individuals but representative types) gives way to her rage, to her suppressed desire to lash out at all male intruders and at an urban existence which denies her the freedom to move about in comfort and security without being physically or verbally molested. For the viewer who is manipulated by the preferred reading of the film, who responds to a political message on a purely abstract level, GIVING WAY is a satisfying experience. On this level, the film develops an abstract statement that addresses the restrictions confronting women in an urban environment, rape and the proper punishment for such a crime, and the inability of women in our society to openly express their rage.

Other viewers, though, respond to the literal events of the film and are disturbed by their own implicit emotional support of vigilantism, of murderous rage. I first became aware of thee disparate responses to GIVING WAY while enrolled in "The Ideology of Domestic Space in Film," a course taught by Julia Lesage during a summer 1983 conference on Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture held on the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois. Lesage suggested that I attempt to reconcile these conflicting responses by showing the film to a group of women, discussing it with them afterward, and incorporating their comments in my analysis. After providing a brief plot summary and discussing the principal techniques and concerns of Emerzian's film, I will draw on the responses of a small group of professional women to demonstrate that despite its limitations, GIVING WAY has the potential to move beyond the current violence-themed cinema, making a significant feminist statement.

The film's plot is simple, involving only two principal characters: the Tenant and the Intruder. In the opening shot, we view the Tenant through the frosted plate glass window of a grocery in Chicago as she stands outside reading the signs announcing the day's specials. Throughout the film, we will see the Tenant through glass, through doorways into lighted rooms. We become prying observers, voyeurs. The Tenant enters the grocery, walks by the Intruder (who clearly watches her every move), buys a few vegetables, and is teased by the clerk. She has bought only one onion and the clerk teases her about her husband or boyfriend who must also like onions. He (and the eavesdropping Intruder) learns that she has no husband or boyfriend. She never speaks; the clerk does all the talking. She is timid, shy. She tilts her head, smiles, looks at the counter or the floor while he speaks.

After she leaves the grocery, we see her through the window of a second floor apartment as she walks home. A cat sits in the window watching her walk. It is dusk. She walks, not on the sidewalk, but down the center of the street. We cut to the Tenant's kitchen, where she is chopping vegetables. As she stands at the stove frying vegetables, we see her and her two cats in a long shot through a doorway. We recognize one cat as the one in the window in the previous shot, and realize that we entered the apartment before her. The camera is positioned in her darkened living room, once more establishing us as peeping toms, as alien presences. Emerzian positions the camera similarly as we see the Tenant eat while typing at her desk, bathe, and get into bed. As she falls asleep, the camera pans her darkened apartment, then cuts to a shot of the Chicago el and the dilapidated, boarded up buildings in her neighborhood.

We return to her kitchen, where we see the Intruder block the light which was coming through the kitchen door's keyhole. He smashes the door's window, reaches in and works the lock, tries the door, finds it held by a chain, and kicks it open. He enters, confidently kicks the broken glass aside and stops, legs apart, establishing a wide base, taking up considerable space. Removing the rags which protected his hand as he smashed the window, he tosses them back through the doorway and begins slowly walking through the apartment. Intercut with this sequence are shots of the Tenant started and sitting up in bed, fumbling through dresser drawers, dialing the police on the telephone, and furtively looking down the darkened hall.

Just as we hear the police answer the phone, the Intruder enters her bedroom, commands her to hang up, emphatically flips open his switchblade. She hangs up without speaking. He promises not to hurt her if she doesn't scream, sits on her bed, and begins talking about her body, about how he has been watching and planning for some time. We recall his possessive look at the grocery store. The Intruder toys with her. Slowly removing the covers from one leg, he describes her calf, her thigh; resting one hand on her exposed calf, he comments on her "nice lips" and "tits." He clearly enjoys his power over victims. Boasting of his previous victories, the Intruder tosses the covers aside and reveals the Tenant's handgun, which she has been holding between her legs. Surprised but still cocky, he announces that she is not the type to actually use a gun and lunges for it. She shoots him in the gut, knocking him to the floor.

Shaken and crying, the Tenant backs into a corner as far away from the wounded man as possible. Finally, she stands up and walks over to him, then bends down to touch him, apparently to see if she can help. He slaps her hand away, continues to insult and verbally abuse her. When she announces that she is calling the police and that he "won't do this to anyone again," he laughs and promises to be back to "do it right next time." He rambles incessantly, promising to "spread those legs," to "lick that pussy," and claiming "that's what you all want isn't it?' He refuses to relinquish his power while she repeatedly tells him to "shut up." She looks at the gun, then at him and smiles. Bending down, grabbing him by the shirt and straddling him, she now opens up, uses broad gestures, while he brings his arms to his chest, curls up.

Once more she tells him to shut up, this time emphasizing her point by running the gun barrel along his upper lip, slowly circling his mouth. He obeys. She commands him to open his mouth, slowly inserts the barrel, cocks the trigger, and shoots. The force of the shot knocks her back on her seat. She inches away from him, looks in his direction, gags, and begins to cry. Finally, she composes herself, stands, walks into the kitchen and closes the door, turns and leans against it. She is expressionless, in shock. The film's final medium shot is a very long take of her blood-splattered face and gown. We hear police sirens as the image fades to black.

While Emerzian's film does not condone or glorify vigilantism as overtly as STRAW DOGS or DEATH WISH, it does use rape tension techniques common to current vengeance films. And it does emotionally manipulate us into identifying strongly with a victim, thereby seeming to justify the final violent act. Is GIVING WAY, then, an attempt to make a feminist statement about rape and women's rage simply by plugging a woman into a Bronson scenario? Perhaps by carefully analyzing the techniques used to establish rape tension and to encourage close identification with the Tenant, and by considering two possible readings of the film, we will see that GIVING WAY attempts much more than simple role reversal.

From the film's opening shot, gestures and posture identify the protagonist as a traditional defenseless victim and encourages an emotional link between us viewers and the shy, young, attractive Tenant. However, an entirely different but not contradictory response is also elicited by the opening interaction between the Tenant and the grocer, by her behavior in public space. In a presentation titled "Using Urban Space in Film," Julia Lesage discusses the characteristic behavior of women in public space. A woman in public

"exaggerates her gesture to indicate that she has a clear and socially sanctioned purpose for being there. She tries to avoid eye contact with an intruding man … shrinks, trying to manage her behavior and appearance so as to avoid potential trouble … she is the object of intrusive stares while keeping her own eyes cast down … Her posture must speak above all else the message, 'Please, I want to avoid trouble.'"[1][open notes in new window]

As the grocery clerk teases the Tenant, she tilts her head down and to her right, away from him. Clasping her hands below her waist, she instinctively pulls her elbows and shoulders in, smiles shyly, and innocently sways side to side, keeping her eyes cast down. The clerk continues to tease her while withholding her sack of groceries. Although this interaction seems at first to establish the Tenant as the standard defenseless woman, whom we have been conditioned to respond protectively to by so many of the current violence-themed films, our initial image of her is countered by information presented later. She is independent, for she lives alone. She is aware of and prepared for the dangers of living in an urban environment, for she owns a handgun and keeps it loaded by her bedside. She is not the stereotypical sweet, shy, innocent young thing of Hollywood cinema, but an adult woman surviving in a depressed urban environment. Her actions at the grocery, then, are defensive, representative of a role she is forced to play. They speak the message, "Please, let me go, I want to avoid trouble." Unfortunately, the Intruder has been eavesdropping and now both knows that she lives alone and believes her to be a perfect mark. We saw him eavesdropping in the grocery, and we later hear him admit that he always "checks his girls out pretty good."

Emerzian's emphasis on the roles imposed on women in public space is further developed by the shot of the Tenant walking home. This high angle shot looks past her cat sitting in her apartment window down at the Tenant walking home in the middle of a deserted street. The trees are leafless; it is dusk, cold and dreary. She walks briskly, eyes straight ahead, clearly depicting the necessary posture of an unescorted woman. The notion that she is in danger is enhanced by her hurried pace, her decision to walk down the center of the street, and the subjective feel of the shot. It feels as if we are a menacing presence gazing down at her. This voyeuristic camera posits us as the intruders and will, until the final sequence, show most of the action through the eyes of an intruder, a potential rapist, the viewer. It also helps us to distinguish between her public and private roles.

From our first view of the Tenant at home, in private space, our perception of her changes, but a clear, unambiguous response to her is intentionally muddled by Emerzian's use of two distinct cameras: the subjective, voyeuristic camera already defined, and an objective camera which uses overhead shots and slight high angles. Through the latter camera, we see close-ups and medium shots of her efficiently performing routine tasks. Chopping and frying vegetables, typing a paper and eating a few bites while composing the next few lines, soaping her hands and knees while sitting in the bathtub — all these activities are presented objectively with little or no emotional or sensual overtones. In these shots we simply see an individual performing daily chores. The accompanying diegetic sounds support our response to these mundane tasks, as does Emerzian's use of close-ups and medium shots to depict these activities, shots which contrast to the voyeuristic camera's long views through doorways and windows. As a private individual, she no longer adopts a defensive posture, no longer "shrinks" to take up as little space as possible.

These images build neither rape tension nor suspense; instead, the sound track assumes this function. The absence of background music and the amplified sounds of frying vegetables, typing, and dripping water contribute to the building suspense, for we know (or at least feel) through the voyeuristic shots intercut with these sequences that she is being watched, that terrifying sounds will at any time interrupt this routine. While she is exposed and vulnerable in the bathtub, our fears are almost realized, for we hear a dish crash to the floor in another room, followed by a series of sounds which appear to indicate footsteps moving toward her. The noises, of course, are produced by one of her cats. These image and sound devices, common to television scenarios and horror films, and build suspense and enhance our identification with the victim. But Emerzian's most impressive technique, the voyeuristic camera, successfully manipulates and prepares us for the film's final sequence, and therefore for its departure from the commonplace message of vengeance films.

This camera establishes us as a silent presence standing in the darkened living room of the Tenant's apartment, as prying intruders observing her daily routine. Far more sensuous and evocative than the objective camera previously discussed, the voyeuristic camera both presents her as a vulnerable, attractive woman and implies the presence of a menacing outsider who constantly makes her the "object of intrusive stares." Its tendency to identify us as the outsider amplifies the power of the film's conclusion. This camera always shoots from darkness through a doorway (except in the previously described window shot) and into a lighted room containing the tenant. By the bath scene, intercutting clearly attempts to separate the objective and voyeuristic cameras, preparing us for an anticipatory set up. Of course, this separation of points-of-view is difficult to establish or maintain.

Some critics — Jean Louis Baudry, for example — argue that a purely objective camera does not exist. Nevertheless, Emerzian certainly tries, with varying degrees of success, to distinguish between the subjective, voyeuristic perspective of an intruder and the objective presentation of everyday tasks. First we see the Tenant through the doorway from the subjective, voyeuristic perspective. Emerzian then cuts to an overhead shot of her in the tub. When we hear the dish knocked to the floor, the objective camera cuts from the overhead shot of the Tenant to a slight high angle close-up of her startled expression. She calls to the cat, but hears only the footstep-like sounds moving closer. The ensuing reverse shot anticipates the presence of an intruder, for it looks down the hall directly at the established position of the voyeuristic camera. The cat's appearance then denies our expectations and dissipates the immediate tension.

Yet, Emerzian refuses to let us relax completely, for she soon re-establishes the subjective camera, which once more shoots from the living room, down the hall, and through the doorway into the lighted bathroom. We see the Tenant, her back to us, standing outside the tub and sensuously sliding her gown over her head, letting the hem fall slowly to her ankles. Once more, she becomes the object of our intrusive stares. To strengthen the feeling that the Tenant is not yet out of danger, Emerzian has her walk down the hall directly at the camera and into darkness, where she turns on the television. We do not see the television image, but we hear the running water of a shower and strained, distorted violins reminiscent of PSYCHO. This sound/image combination and the final uses of the voyeuristic camera re-establish the tension dissipated earlier.

A subjective shot looks through the doorway of her bedroom at the Tenant preparing for bed. She grabs one of her cats, gets into bed and tries to coax the animal into staying. It bolts and she turns off the table lamp and goes to sleep. The camera cuts to an objective overhead shot of her asleep, then to the final voyeuristic shot, which slowly pans her shelves, inspecting her belongings, her private possessions. Again, we sense the violation, the alien presence of an intruder. By establishing the Tenant as a vulnerable, attractive woman and implying the presence of a menacing outsider, this camera conforms to the techniques standard in vengeance films. However, it also sets us up for the significant reversals of the film's final sequence, the reversal of the Tenant's personality and the dramatic reversal of the voyeuristic perspective which serves to diffuse male notions of female rape fantasies.

Once the camera exits the apartment to show the el, employing the passage of time, the voyeuristic mode is completed. When it returns, we see the action from an objective third person point-of-view. From this point on, the camera is always positioned in the room with the subject(s). Most of the shots are two-shots of the Intruder and Tenant, or reaction shots. Now that the actual assault is about to occur, now that the Intruder will appear, Emerzian must deny us our previously established position as menacing outsider.

Therein lies one of the film's weaknesses. As viewers, we identify with the camera; its eye becomes our eyes. Emerzian effectively uses this viewer tendency to establish us as voyeurs, but then must break that association to distance us from the Intruder himself and from the ensuing violent action. This break is difficult to effect solely through the camera, for no camera is purely objective, all viewers are to some extent voyeurs. However, Emerzian does compensate for this lack of directional control by significant reversals effected through figure expression, action, and dialogue.

The first significant reversal is conveyed through the contrasting gestures of the male Intruder and female Tenant. After the Intruder kicks open the door, he strides confidently into the room. Legs apart, establishing as wide a base as possible, he surveys the room with an aggressive look. Coolly leaving the door wide open, he casually walks into the bedroom and, with a broad gesture, flips open his switchblade, then calmly commands the Tenant to hang up the phone. His gestures and posture contrast markedly to those of the Tenant, for they are gestures of cocky self-confidence, of power and domination. She, on the other hand, reverts to her public image. Once more, she tilts her head and her eyes are cast down, refusing eye contact. Her shoulders and elbows are turned in; she is compressed, shrunken. In short, while the Intruder taunts her, she mimics her own posture during the grocery scene.

This time, of course, her hands are clasped because she holds a handgun beneath the covers. Teary eyed and trembling, she waits for him to force the first shot. Even after he removes the covers and reveals the gun, the power relationship remains unchanged, for she maintains her defensive posture and he remains cocky and self-confident. He continues to smile and taunt her. Although she holds a gun on the rapist, her submissive posture evidences her conditioned response to a male intruder: she continues to adopt an inferior position, to give up space to the man. Once the gun goes off (she does not take aim and fire; he lunges for the gun and as she pulls away it fires) and the rapist falls to the floor, we would expect a role reversal. However, the Tenant, standing over the wounded Intruder, maintains her closed, defensive posture while the Intruder gestures wildly and admonishes her for what she has done to him. At this point, she has not spoken a word. Her only responses have been trembling and silence, sobbing and tears. This is the crucial point of the film, the point at which the real issues addressed by Emerzian surface, and the point of the dramatic reversal.

This reversal, in which the Tenant finally realizes the extent of her power, points to key issues concerning women's silence and what Julia Lesage has labeled "women's mental colonization." In a lecture titled "Women's Rage," Lesage revises Frantz Fanon's "Concerning Violence" from The Wretched of the Earth to draw parallels between the methods used by a native to shed the colonizer's values and the ways and the need for women to break through their own mental colonization. Lesage asks,

"What kind of rage would it be that would effectively contest women's oppression — given all the levels at which gender inequality and women's oppression are articulated in social and personal life?"[2]

She continues to define women's mental colonization and the resultant conditioned behavior:

As I look at women's mental colonization, I see their internalized sense of powerlessness, their articulation into masochistic structures of sexual desire, and their playing out of personae which on the surface seem "passive," "self-defeating," "irrational, " hesitant," "receptively feminine," or even "crazy." Much of this behavior stems from internalized and suppressed rage. Fanon describes such behavior in the colonized and posits active rage, the violent response to violence, as its cure."[3]

Clearly, in GIVING WAY we see the breakdown, the decolonization of a colonized psyche, for the Tenant's passive and "receptively feminine" behavior as well as her "internalized sense of powerlessness" are evident in her response to the Intruder. While the Intruder sat on the edge of her bed, stroking her calf, threatening her with rape, she failed to give way to defensive action or to active rage. Instead, she waited for him to force the shot by lunging for the gun. Even as she stands above the wounded man she assumes her submissive posture. Unaware of the extent of her power, she still refuses to speak.

"You're never going to do this to anyone again." These are the first words spoken by the Tenant in this film (except for a few comments she makes to her cats). They are her response to the following speech by the Intruder:

"Are you nuts? Look what you did to me. You stand there crying while I got a hole in me. I wasn't gonna hurt you. I was just gonna show you a good time."

He has already boasted of his previous successes, has already stated that he checks his "girls out pretty good before he comes to pay them a visit." It is important to note that her first words do not contain the threat of a second, murderous shot. Instead, she threatens to call the police, to have him put away. The power reversal is not yet complete, does not occur until the following exchange:

"Intruder: Jail? Bullshit. I'll be back for you. That's what you chicks like anyway.
Tenant:  No you won't.
Intruder: No I won't? Next time we're gonna do it right. I'm gonna spread those legs. I'm gonna lick that pussy.
Tenant: You won't.
Intruder: You don't like to face it do you?
Tenant: You just better shut up.
Intruder: That's what you want isn't it? And you can't face it.
Tenant: I said shut up.
Intruder: Did you hear what I said? That's what you like.
Tenant: I said shut up. Shut up I don't want to hear another word about it. Got that straight? Huh?"

During this exchange, she becomes progressively more forceful, whispering at first but shouting the final "Shut up!" Finally, she looks at the gun, which she had been holding at crotch level all this time, and registers recognition. Now she takes control. Now she gives way to an active violent rage triggered by his barrage of stereotypical male notions about female rape fantasies. His initial assault, his boasting of previous conquests, not even his promise to return released her suppressed rage or moved her to violence. But his evocation of the male notion that women enjoy domination by men and choose to be submissive and docile moves her to an active rage, to a violent response to violence.

The form her active rage takes further amplifies Emerzian's point and serves to illuminate the second significant reversal of the film's final sequence. The phallic implications of the gun are obvious. The Tenant holds it between her legs beneath the covers, at crotch level when she stands over the wounded Intruder. She runs it slowly along his lips, circling his mouth, then inserts it in a symbolic act of fellatio before shooting. Once she actively seizes power, she turns the symbolic male instrument on the male, reverses the power relation. This symbolic power reversal is supported by changes in the gestures of the characters. Now her gestures are aggressive, expansive, while he takes up as little space as possible.

This power shift explains Emerzian's elimination of the voyeuristic camera in the final sequence, for that camera encouraged our participation as prying observers in the earlier events. Through its subjective feel, it established us as a voyeuristic presence in her apartment. This was necessary to build rape tension and encourage our concern for the Tenant. However, the final sequence requires distance between ourselves and the menacing presence, between ourselves and the Intruder, if we are to accept the second gun shot. This shot diffuses the stereotypical male version of female rape fantasies, for it is the Tenant's active, violent response to the Intruder's, "That's what you like," and it releases her internalized and suppressed rage.

Viewing the film on this level, that is as an abstract statement about power relationships and the suppressed rage of urban women, results in a satisfying and even rewarding experience. This reading, though, ignores a more literal and potentially dangerous response to the film, a response which creates some reservations about how successfully GIVING WAY develops a feminist statement.

"I hope she shoots him again." This statement was made by a colleague at the Marxist conference mentioned earlier. He had not seen the film, but was listening to my summary of its plot. As I was relating the Intruder's promise to return and "do it right next time," my colleague blurted out the above statement. His response points to a reservation I have about the film. The viewers who are not manipulated by the preferred reading of the film, and some of us who are effectively manipulated, are disturbed when we leave the theater. Disturbed because we realize that we have just agreed to a murderous act, just been manipulated to desire, even enjoy the second shot. On this level, GIVING WAY can be viewed as a Bronson scenario with a female protagonist, a female vigilante. The argument implied by my colleague and implicit in our desire for the second shot is coincident with that used by conservative politicians who favor capital punishment. Since the criminal justice system does not rehabilitate criminals, since the criminal will probably make good his threat to return and "do it right," it is best to kill him now.

We are, of course, emotionally manipulated into adopting this stance, just as we are emotionally manipulated through identification with victims in Peckinpah's and Winner's films. But that realization does not obviate our need to reconsider the proper role of such manipulative techniques in filmmaking, nor does it eliminate any reservations we might have concerning this film. Our desire for the second shot and the emotional release that shot provides position us as participants in the act of vengeance, cause us to glorify the Tenant's murderous act. This emotional response to the literal events points to the pleasure we get from certain kinds of revenge and violence, to our implicit support of vigilantism. GIVING WAY, then, functions on two levels which operate at cross-purposes, betraying a certain lack of directorial control. If we view the film solely as an ideological statement presented in abstract terms, it is both satisfying and rewarding. If we consider that we have been manipulated into agreeing to a political stance we don't normally hold, one that aligns us with reactionary politicians, GIVING WAY can be both frightening and disturbing.

The responses of a small group of professional women, all in their thirties and all of whom consider themselves feminists, help reconcile these conflicting readings. Three of these women had been sexually assaulted or mugged, while one, an attorney employed as a public defender, occasionally is asked to represent accused rapists in court. All but one of the women agreed that the second shot was justifiable. The attorney said she was hoping that the Tenant would call the police and extricate herself from the situation immediately after the first shot, but also said that she "was glad" about the second shot and that she thought the Intruder "deserved to die." The others agreed that the second shot was justifiable "after what he said," while one woman, an anthropologist, felt that the Tenant's "need to protect herself and her personal space" was the issue and not whether or not the Intruder deserved to die. The one woman who could not justify the second shot was also unable to accept the first shot, for she felt sorry for the "poor rapist" who, after all, was produced by our society and could not help it. More will be said about her response to the film later. For the most part, these are responses to the literal events in the film, responses which conform to the negative reading just discussed. However, when I raised the issues of vigilantism and capital punishment, all agreed that this film did not involve these concepts, that the Tenant's actions implied neither privately enacted capital punishment, nor vigilantism, for we all know that given time to think, given distance from the situation, she would not have shot him the second time. This caused a discussion of why she gave way to active rage.

The consensus was that the final shot was an expression of rage, but a rage that must be distinguished from the annoyance these women felt toward the clerk at the store. The women finally agreed that she did not shoot the Intruder because of what he said, but because she was doing

"exactly what a rapist does to a woman. After the rape, he gets angry and beats or kills her. She was releasing pent up anger."

This comment precipitated a discussion of the socialization process, of the fact that "women are not socialized to openly express anger." The group concluded that this film really depicted a "symbolic power reversal," involving a male aggressor and a socialized woman who breaks free of the oppression which had routinely silenced her and sublimated her rage. This response, of course, conforms to the positive reading of the film presented earlier in this essay, but it did not satisfy all members of this group, for some said that they "wanted another option." These viewers felt trapped by two potentially conflicting readings of the film. At times they saw it as an attempted psychology of an individual woman, a characterization. At other times, they viewed it as an allegory without characterization, as an abstract statement. This conflict points once more to the cross-purposes inherent in GIVING WAY, to the opposition of a literal characterization and an allegorical statement, which results at least in part from the impossibility of establishing objective and subjective cameras.

A number of women experienced anxiety while viewing the Tenant's shocked expression in the final take of the film, for they felt that she might harm herself. The Tenant, they said, was in some sense "twice victimized": once by the break-in and assault, and again by giving way to rage and committing an unnaturally violent act. Only one woman suggested an out, another option. The women who could not justify either pistol shot decided that the Intruder was

"crazy. I would have just grit my teeth, listened to the stupid asshole talk about what a nice body I have. Just shut my eyes and detached. I felt compassion for him. I wouldn't want to kill anyone."

This "option" seems to suggest that some women in our society are conditioned victims, do possess an "internalized sense of powerlessness," for this option is no option at all. It recalls the "mental colonization" discussed by Lesage and her positing of "active rage" as one means of contesting women's oppression. The lack of options implied by the literal events of the film and the shock and despair depicted in the film's final frames return us to Emerzian's feminist statement, to the real strength of GIVING WAY.

A woman stands with her back to the shattered glass of her kitchen door, her face spattered, her gown soaked with blood. She registers shock and despair. She waits … and waits. This image unifies the literal events and the ideological statement of GIVING WAY, for it points to the dilemma posed by the film, a dilemma which allows the Tenant few or no options. Both levels of the film address the condition of women in an urban society that denies them a means of expressing their rage, and to some degree condones the behavior of male intruders who intend to "give them what they want." These intruders are not only rapists. They are men who disarm women with a possessive look, who by convention deny women the right to freedom of movement in our cities, who persist in the myth that women enjoy a submissive role, enjoy their oppression. Despite the conflicting responses to the film, despite the difficulties imposed by a student director's attempt to control objective and voyeuristic points-of-view, viewers can look beyond GIVING WAY's limitations to discover a feminist message. Read this way, GIVING WAY moves beyond the vigilantism of violence-themed cinema, beyond the conventional use of rape tension and suspenseful sound effects, to present a powerful statement about the condition of women in our society, about women's rage.


1. Julia Lesage, "Using Urban Space in Film," Conference paper presented to the Society for Cinema Studies, April 1981, New York, p. 6.

2. Julia Lesage, "Women's Rage," Conference paper presented to the Institute for Culture and Society, 11 July 1983, Urbana, Illinois, p. 5.

3. Ibid.

GIVING WAY is distributed by Picture Start, 204-1/2 W. John, Champaign, IL 61820.