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In The Cut (2003) | Review

This review is not going to contain spoilers but it is going to talk about the film in detail so if you wanted to watch it and feel like this would spoil it for you, then here is your warning to stop reading and go and watch the film.


Jane Campion's In The Cut (2003) discusses fear and desire in its story of a college teacher, Frannie Avery, as she pursues a police officer, Detective Malloy, believing he has been committing violent murders, slowly becoming drawn into the case itself as well as the man she fears. This film did not get the love it deserved at the time and is still in bad favour with many people now. But I feel like I've been looking for this film. I've been aware of it and its poor reputation but I didn't watch it until recently. And now I'm obsessed. I've wanted to see a film the blends murder and sex in this way, distinctly from a female point of view, and how the desire to transgress the male gaze, in all senses of that word, can lead to actual danger for our protagonist.

In the forground, a woman, Meg Ryan, is looking off-screen. In the background, a man, Mark Ruffalo, looks in the same direction.
Source: Spectrum Culture

In using the male gaze, Campion points out the similarities between female fear and female desire, how they both seem to involve the body, whether that is in passionate love-making or in the dismembered corpse sitting underneath the protagonist's window. Frannie's sexual desire becomes enmeshed with her fear of the man she is very attracted to. She seeks him out for pleasure but also for answers, for a reason to no longer see him, and subconsciously, for closure in her relationship with her estranged father, who has been married four separate times and who we are introduced to in the opening scene as he ice skates a trail of blood. Trauma is interconnected with the fear of being murdered by her lover which is also connected to her desire to pursue pleasure. She attempts to defy the gaze by preventing her death, and she does this by jumping straight into the danger she fears.

This film asks us to view sex and violence in the same image, in the same sentence. They are not separate for Frannie. She becomes attracted to Malloy because he is involved in a brutal murder case, with objects that evoke memories from the past, such as the engagement rings used as symbols in the murders and the engagement between her parents. It does not necessarily evoke her past, as the film makes clear, but an idea of what her relationship to men should be: viewed through a lens of trauma, of abandonment and therefore skewing Frannie so she must decode what it is she is looking for, and whether or not she should be pursuing it at all.

This film does not attempt to portray a sympathetic view of the police. In fact, it paints its members as homophobic, misogynistic and racist, and that includes Malloy. In no way does this film detach the men who work this job from their toxic version of masculinity but instead repeatedly reinforces it. We see glimpses of police violence, though off screen, when Cornelius, Frannie's student, turns up at her apartment with a black eye, citing 'that police officer' as the cause. The tension in the text comes from the fact that Frannie is continuously put in situations where she is made to feel like an outsider, as if she is invisible in a space. This is most evident when multiple times in the film Frannie is brought to the police station, only to be ignored or looked over. When Malloy comes to her rescue on these occasions, it is with the caveat that he is attracted to her and that is why he helps her out. Whilst I feel the film sees Frannie as more than a body, the police force, and often Malloy, don't. This film is full of violent and aggressive men, all of which could be the suspect in the murder case and that makes this all the more terrifying.

The only solace Frannie has is her relationship with her sister, Pauline. We see them talk frankly about who they are dating, sex and the fraught relationship they have with their parents. In being one of the only female friends she seems to have, she is able wallow for a short while in the violence and trauma she has experienced with someone who not only understands this on a family level, but in terms of gender as well. However, it is all the more sad that this is the only female connection Frannie has. She copes with her isolation by retreating into words and stories for company.

A woman wearing glasses, Meg Ryan, is slightly obscured by darkness, looking forward towards something off screen.

She must find meaning in all that is around her, constructing the way she views the world through the word fragments she keeps on her wall as well as the various poetic quotes she sees on subway adverts. Many sequences in this film are made to look dreamlike, where the edges of the screen are blurred, evoking calm moments in what is a stressful movie to watch. The sinister aspect of these shots however is that, in asking the audience to view these as a kind of dream, it is also asking us to doubt what Frannie believes. Much like her mother's engagement story, how Frannie is viewing the various characters as suspects in a crime, particularly one of the only black men in the story, is put into question. In framing this implicitly as a construction, it asks the audience to put itself in the shoes of a woman who is surrounded by violence but who is made to seem crazy for even noticing that it is there. The line between construction and actual violence does not seem to exist, which I suppose is why this film has a cult following of women, many of which feel similar to the way Frannie does.

In pursuing the erotic thriller genre, Campion allows the film to become centered on the blending of sex and violence, that which is common in stories about murdered white women. By giving the audience a myriad of suspects, they are left guessing constantly, hanging on the tension of the reveal of the killer in the same way they are hanging on the tension in the sex scenes. It takes what is very literally hidden in the dark and forces its protagonist to confront what she's repressing, even if it means she is put in great danger.

Some of the time, when I seek out media with a female protagonist, writers will deliberately attempt a feminist slant on the story. It's not that I'm against this, but I'm often disappointed in the failure to make these characters feel like people. In short, they feel like they have their life together a little too much. What I like about Frannie is that her conflict in the story is not to overcome her trauma but to realise that she has it, and that it's not going to go away by knowing the grisly details of a murder or by sinking further into a toxic relationship. She leans into danger and harm in a way that unfortunately feels relatable - with the intent to completely self-destruct.


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