Thoughts on ‘Teeth’ – a crosspost.

Obviously, there aren’t too many dudes anymore who’d be deterred from having casual sex by a “biting vagina” urban legend, but far too many men still think of the vagina as a labyrinthine, untamed wilderness better left unexplored. The vag, apparently, is an icky sticky mysterious place to be touched mostly by one’s cock, occasionally with one’s fingers, and never with one’s mouth. If most hetero guys are to be believed, they absolutely adore pussy; but I think the high fellatio-cunnilingus ratio in most hetero relationships would belie their claims.

Most men apparently don’t know (or even care) how to navigate a freakin’ 4-sq-inch patch of flesh, and neither do some women. Too many women are squeamish about or just plain don’t understand their own bodies, and the main character Dawn O’Keefe (I hope I’m not the only nerd who got a good laugh out of her last name) is emblematic of that problem.

She takes one of those notoriously unsuccessful ‘abstinence pledges’, spending a hefty chunk of her time discussing the evils of hot, sticky, lustful sex with similarly-minded friends and devising ways to stay “pure”. Dawn explores her relationship with Tobey with a sort of tentative, wide-eyed innocence until their first unsupervised “date” at the cove when Tobey attempts to rape her. He forces himself inside of Dawn and her fanged vagina involuntarily reacts, completely emasculating -both literally and in the colloquial sense- him. At that point, Dawn is shocked; Tobey (who subsequently bleeds to death) is shocked; I was shocked. The only thing that stopped me from retching on my keyboard was the very darkly comedic nature of it all – Dawn is lying horrified on her back watching blood spurt from the place where Tobey’s cock used to be, Tobey’s detached cock is lying on the ground beneath his feet, and…I can tell that it’s meant to be somewhat funny. I don’t know how I feel about that.

I don’t know how I feel about infusing humor into rape scenes, and this happens in the film more than once, since Dawn -the prototypical innocent white-blonde virgin womanchild- often stumbles in and out of dangerous situations without much agency at all, simply to poke and prod the plot along. At one point, Dawn visits a gynecologist to explore her problem, and he turns out to be a predator, as well. During Dawn’s examination, he tries to jam his ungloved fingers into her vagina; and she involuntarily clamps down, trapping his hand inside of her. The doctor shrieks and thrashes his arm to and fro, trying to free himself as Dawn hysterically kicks her legs in the air like she’s doing power aerobics. There’s much twisting and yelling before the doctor finally frees his hand, minus the fingers. Again, this scene is supposed to be funny in a goofy, slap-stick way; and I laughed a bit, but it wasn’t a comfortable laughter.

There’s a key difference, I think, between making a joke about something awful and staging something awful and infusing humor into that scene (e.g. making a joke about rape versus filming a rape scene that’s supposed to be read as dark comedy). The latter is far more problematic to me because I think it invites the audience to make a joke of an issue rather than about it. Verbal jokes often allude to something that either isn’t physically there in front of us (e.g. rape jokes about celebs I’ll never meet, like Michael Jackson or Gary Glitter) or can’t exist in a threatening way (e.g. tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendo aimed at me by a female or gay male friend); but scenes push the physical fact of the act to the fore. Dawn’s legs frantically pumping in the air while the doctor screams and violently thrashes his fist inside of her – that’s the joke. The act of rape itself is “humorized”.

I realize that the humor is supposed to be confined to the few moments when the man is injured instead of the rape scene itself, but I don’t think there’s a clean break between the two. Both Tobey and the doctor are obviously still penetrating Dawn when bitten, so the rape is still taking place during whatever scene that the audience is supposed to find amusing. Plus, given the darkly comedic tone of the film as a whole, it’s unrealistic to expect an audience to shift from “oh, no, rape. awful!” to “teehee, the little lady’s taking revenge!” a few seconds later over and over again. It simply won’t happen; and it’s impossible to separate the humor from the “dismembered rapist” angle, because Dawn’s body only reacts this way under pressure. During the film, she’s able to have pleasurable, consensual sex without the boy’s penis being chewed to bits; the fangs only come out during unwanted encounters, which I found interesting. Most vagina dentata folk tales I’ve heard don’t involve that little detail.

I don’t know how I feel about the film as a whole. On one hand, making it a dark comedy works. This couldn’t possibly be filmed from a serious angle; if the filmmaker even tried to do that, it’d end up being perceived as a joke, anyway. On the other, I think including actual rape scenes in that comedy was a mistake.

…but the fact of rape was a cornerstone of the film because of the distinction between rape (when the fangs come out) and the sex Dawn actually wants; thus, the rape scenes are tinged with comedy.

…and that makes me uncomfortable. So, yeah. I don’t know how I feel about the film. I’m ambivalent. Maybe I’ll watch it again in awhile and love it; maybe I’ll hate it (this is more likely). Who knows? At any rate, it’s quite possibly the closest thing to a ‘feminist horror film’ I’ve seen since Ginger Snaps or The Company of Wolves.

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~ by fistfulofsunshine on March 21, 2009.

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