Friday, April 10, 2009

"Observe and Report"

A lot of people are upset about the implications of a scene in the new film "Observe and Report," in which a drunken woman played by Anna Faris appears to be unconscious during a scene in which Seth Rogen is having sex with her.

You can see part of the scene in this trailer:

The trailer is probably all the people who are upset about this have seen. To view this as a date rape ignores everything that is going on in "Observe and Report." This is a film about someone who has a grandiose self-perception leading a life that is squalid and pathetic. It's an ugly movie about an ugly person. Jody Hill, the director, compares it to "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy," films in which disturbed protagonists with delusions of grandeur commit sickening acts.

The sexual relationship portrayed isn't Harry and Sally meeting cute; it's a funhouse-mirror distortion of the traditional rom-com coupling. The Anna Faris character is a self-centered, boozy idiot. The Seth Rogen character is a violent, creepy bipolar psycho on a power trip. Obviously, when they get together, it is not going to be the Platonic idea of romantic love. "Observe and Report" isn't that kind of movie.

The joke is that the Sethe Rogen character thinks it is. He thinks he's Prince Charming and she's Sleeping Beauty, when we see that he's really a creepy stalker and she's a trashy idiot. He thinks he's rescuing her, but she's really settling for him because she's afraid to be alone.

When they go out, and she chases pills with shots until she pukes all over herself, he refuses to allow that to alter his idealized view of her, even as the audience is encouraged to be disgusted by the pair of them. The Rogen character also craves approval from his mother, who is a trampy blonde alcoholic, so that adds an extra level of weirdness and discomfort to the whole proceeding.

The suggestion that what transpires between them is a rape doesn't seem to flow organically from the characters; it's interposed by people bringing their own context to the situation, and the people who are most upset about it probably have not seen the movies. There is certainly a grossness at the core of the situation, but in the context presented, it seems pretty clear that she is offering herself sexually, and that he probably would not intentionally force himself on a nonconsenting partner (which would be inconsistent with his approval-seeking and his heroic self-image).

Rather, she's already been the victim of a sex crime; she was assaulted by a flasher in the mall parking lot. As a result, she feels vulnerable, and she concludes that she must protect herself from further victimization by initiating a relationship with the mall security chief, a man she has previously had no interest in. In that context, she's consuming the drugs and alcohol because she has decided to participate in a sex act with the Rogen character, and she doesn't want to do it sober.

The New York Magazine Vulture blog presumes that, because she's severely intoxicated, whatever happens is, therefore, rape. But the Rogen character's designs on the Faris character are completely unambiguous. She isn't getting ambushed while she's unable to resist; she's getting wasted in anticipation of the sex. She may not be enthusiastic about this guy, but that doesn't mean she isn't consenting.

The punchline gag encapsulates the relationship; she is consenting unambiguously, but it nonetheless resembles rape. This is the director's comment on the events leading up to the sex act; the ugliest moment is presented in the ugliest light. We are encouraged to view the characters as uncharitably as possible. It's not apologia, but condemnation.

To construe it otherwise misses the entire point of the film. Unlike typical comedies which encourage the audience to identify with the characters, "Observe and Report" maintains a cold distance. The audience is never supposed to like the Rogen character or share his worldview; his triumphs are revolting rather than cathartic, and his humiliation is mocked rather than shared. The central irony of the movie is the disparity between how the character sees himself and how the audience is encouraged to view him.

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