Monday, November 15, 2010

Speak, the movie

You know what? Fuck it.

Remember the post I wrote about the incredible book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson? (yes I push this thing like it were my bible, but there's something amazing about this book. i think it was the part at the end where the author writes that the most surprising reactions she received regarding the book were all the boys who asked her "what's the big deal?")

I watched the movie this weekend. It starred Twilight's Kristen Stewart, and I'll admit part of why I wanted to see the movie is because of her. I wanted to see another aspect of her acting (next I plan to see The Runaways). My husband remarked during the movie that she had been typecast--another depressed, awkward girl who hates the snow.

But in this case, Melinda Sordino (the character she played) had every reason to be depressed and hate everything. She had been raped by a boy she went to school with and had to see every day. A boy who would pass her by and call her "fresh meat." A boy who literally loomed over her as he spoke with her table-mates. A boy who cornered her in a classroom. A boy who moved on to date her ex-best friend.

I gave the movie 3 out of 5 stars if only because the book is ten times better, if not more, and I had some concerns about logistics. My initial reaction was one of disillusionment, but now I want to watch it again. There were some amazing scenes--the rape scene itself was frightening. The boy ignored her pleas, did his thing, and just left her alone like she was nothing. The scariest thing is that, if you didn't know, you'd think he was a good guy. Hot, funny, charming, easy to like. An older boy expressing interest in a younger, more naive girl, a boy who had a propensity for saying all the right things. And he did ask if she wanted to. That's all you have to do, right? I mean, she went with him to his truck. She kissed him like she wanted to go further. That's consent enough, yeah?

And he was so easy to like. I mean to the point where you even begin to think--after the fact--"maybe he's not so bad."

And that's the point.

Throughout the movie, unlike the book, Melinda has flashbacks to the night. I thought this particular mode of storytelling was incredibly effective in the movie. In the book you don't know what happened until about halfway to 3/4 of the way in. Until that point, she is just a very depressed, weird girl who doesn't talk much and has lost her best friends. I felt for her, because that's how I was. It frightened me to think how I would've reacted had something worse happened to me than what did.

The worst part, though, is how her family and teachers treated her. Her family had their own issues. Her father was jobless, her mother seemed...stressed and depressed herself. They were worried about, though annoyed by their daughter. Her best friends ditched her in anger because she called the cops the night she was raped and they came to break up the party. Nobody knew the real reason the cops were called. It wasn't to break up the party. Seeing it was worse than reading it.

At one point, once the cops arrived (without being told why--they thought it was a neighbor calling to complain), Melinda's best friend, angry, slapped her. Bitch, why did you call the cops? Why did you ruin my night?

SHE SLAPPED HER. After the poor thing had been raped. Shit. You. Not. Her friend didn't know, but Melinda knew. Every single viewer knew. It was powerful.

I think that attitude by so many people who should have noticed, should have cared but rather understandably didn't, struck me as hard as the rape scene did. It was a lesson to be learned. We grow up and we forget so easily. We are so caught up in our own shit that we can’t see past the ends of our noses. I will venture to say this happens to every parent, every friend, every authority figure. We are human. We have ill-timed moments of selfishness and self-centeredness.

Artistically speaking, the movie brought to light a few things I didn't see in the book. Her perceptions of her teachers, how she treated others, how she saw her parents. When she was at her worst, so were they. In the beginning, her English teacher was a mess. By the end, she was a put together woman, someone the kids would respect. Her history teacher was a fucking asshole, but by the end found empathy and treated her softly. The world was evil and unrelentingly hard on her.

Before I realized this, the movie pissed me off. I hate these stories featuring kids with ridiculously stupid adults. I get it--kids think adults are stupid, but this is supposed to be a realistic interpretation of life. I don't appreciate caricatures, but this wasn't like that. This was almost projection of what was going on inside.

The movie did seem to drag on a bit. Not a hell of a lot happened for a good long time, but the flashbacks broke the monotony to keep you interested. Melinda didn't talk much. Nobody expressed a real interest in what was wrong, just told her to get over it. That it was a phase.

The beginning was terribly annoying.

"What's your name?"

"Melinda Sordino."


"Melinda Sordino."

Ad nauseum. I yelled at the television: WE GET IT. For god's sake.

But the point was made early on in the movie. Parents, friends, teachers: if your child goes from happy, functional, and an all-around sociable person with a ton of friends to a quiet girl who does weird shit like drawing stitches on her mouth and doesn't talk much and has no friends within a short, almost immediate period of time, there is likely something very wrong. Don't dismiss it. Don't say stupid shit like "it'll get better" "just smile" or even worse "i understand." Because the fact is, you very well may not.

Or you might and just not know it. Even if you're going through your own tragedies, this child matters more.

And the movie gave girls who had gone through these things someone to relate with. It was incredibly realistic in this way. And again, the rape scene was terrifying. The fact that this boy went on to date others and charm everyone else and just seem like another decent guy was terrifying. Couple it with the fact that too few people see the problem in a rape, that it's almost normalized (how often do you hear the statistics? how often do you hear about how boys will be boys? were you ever a young girl who had older-boy/man fantasies? how often do you hear shit like "she asked for it" or that guys just can't help themselves, that it's up to the girls to control men by the way they dress? How much is the message of what is rape confusing, etc etc ETC)

In all, Kristen Stewart did a pretty slamming job of playing the part. The important basics of the story were kept fairly whole. Nobody ever would have pinned the guy as a rapist. And in every school there is at least one "weird" depressed girl who doesn't necessarily dress in black but is quiet and generally and uncharacteristically withdrawn, the girl (or boy) we dismiss because they're "that age" and everyone is depressed and angsty and they'll get over it. Or, even better, we become frustrated with them because of that. Goddamn teenagers. We have our own shit to deal with, what the fuck, you know? They need to grow up and get over it.

And yes, the rape scene was absolutely necessary, despite what others may think, because too many people don't get it. Again, we forget so easily. We need a good slap in the face. This is where I believe the church and those who gasp at such things are dangerously wrong. In our minds we begin to see the world as too good. It’s not a bad thing to think of people as generally good, but we need to be aware as well for the sake of ourselves, our friends, and our family.

We need to pay attention to our kids and to each other. Period. Treat others the way we’d like to be treated. We need to take care of each other.

In all, I'd recommend you read the book first and yes, see the movie. It's completely worth it.


  1. I love this book so much and until a while ago I didn't even know they'd made it into a movie. I'd really like to see it too, based on your review and a few others.

    I like Kristen Stewart way more than I expected to. I loathe Twilight-the-books and think the movies are pretty insipid, but she's a good actress stuck with bad scripting there. Definitely recommend The Runaways--I rented it this weekend and thought it was a lot of fun.

    It also made me want to wear lots of black eyeliner and denim jumpsuits. Alas, I am a sucker for 70s films.

  2. I am a huge fan of this book as well, but I also really loved the movie.

    You mention how hard it is for everybody to believe that the guy is the rapist, and I think that's done on purpose in both the book and the movie. Rapists aren't just dirty gang members and alcoholics who hand out in dark alleys. And rape isn't just getting jumped by a random stranger. Rape is far more often committed by someone the victim knows, and is far more often the result of someone crossing a blurry line of consensual/not consensual. But in both cases, it's horrifying, traumatic, and more importantly, absolutely wrong. I think the popular, handsome, charismatic rapist is entirely more representative of what the majority of rapists look like.

    I also think the slow, dragging pace is emblematic of the terribly painful life that Melinda is living right now. Time drags on. Even the simplest of social interactions, telling somebody her name, is painfully awkward.

    And I completely agree; the story sends a powerful message to adults, that dismissing someone's pain because they're a teenager is not okay. It in fact can have horrible consequences. I think one of the messages of the story is that adults need to see that their prejudices against the young, just because they are young, are harmful.

  3. With time my opinion of the movie is improving drastically.

    Remember the scene where the art teacher hands out the year's assignment and Melinda gets "tree" and responds by saying "I learned how to draw a tree in the fourth grade"?

    Did you take notice at what her drawing resembled?

    I almost cried.

  4. I read this post earlier and find myself coming back to it. I have not yet read the book (or seen the movie) but both are now on my list.

    Although I am a huge advocate for women and have no sympathy for any man who would ignore a clear and unequivocal "No!", I am feeling a little torn. In my experience, I see more people taking allegations of rape seriously than the opposite.

    I have known a few young men who's lives were destroyed by false allegations of rape. I'm itching a little to get into the fuzzy territory of consent, and how it shouldn't be quite so blurry (either she said "no" or she didn't); and the reasons women make false accusations, particularly when they belong to a religious culture that frowns on premarital sex -- and being a victim is much easier than being stigmatized as a sinner and a whore, especially when she's talking to her bishop the day after consensually fucking the guy she met on LDSSinglesOnline the night before.

    Hypothetically, when a Mormon woman testifies under oath that she allowed and encouraged a guy to touch her breasts and finger her vagina and that she took off her own clothes as passions mutually escalated, yet several hours after intercourse she was herself fuzzy about whether she consented until a police investigator told her she didn't consent, I have a hard time with the fact that her "perp" is sitting in prison, possibly for the rest of his life.

    Anyway, not here, not now. Sorry for the tangent.

    Good post.

  5. CD: No, it's an angle that needs to be addressed as well but is something I wouldn't even know where to begin to address (at least at this moment). As you said, it is fuzzy especially in a venue of religious culture that frowns on premarital sex.

    Even then, though, who is the bishop to believe? all too often i've heard the male is given leave because he is, after all, a worthy priesthood holder.

    That is hardly to suggest this happens every time, however. It certainly does not.

    It hardly stops there. I've a personal story I could share someday, maybe soon.

    But yes, please read and watch and let me know your reactions. Powerful stuff.

  6. I could tell lots of stories. You hit the nail on the head Lisa -- these are almost always he said/she said and the physical evidence is consistent with both consensual and nonconsensual -- simply because the vagina is built for sex and having babies so there's usually no trauma, rape or no.

    Just one example. I had a young guy who was persuaded by his first attorney to plead guilty to a lesser charge with the prosecutor's agreement that he wouldn't go to prison. He and his girlfriend, both Mormons, had been sexually active for 2 years when they decided to "clean up their act" (i.e. no more sex AFTER 2 YEARS) so they could get married in the temple. Long story short, they slipped up and had sex, GF's daddy and Mormon guilt got involved and she claimed rape. Long story but 19 YO kid spent over a year in prison before we persuaded the judge to allow him to withdraw his plea.

    Alleged victim was complete flake, Daddy was a self-righteous asshole, Mormon guilt played a huge role. Even prosecutor knew V had no credibility (even he didn't believe her but, you know, those damn office politics ...) so as we pushed for trial he was forced to dismiss rape charge. But it's very scary b/c rape is pretty easy to prove around here. Some jurors will convict simply b/c "premarital sex is wrong!" No shit.

    I could write a book about Mormon women who cry rape because it's easier to be a victim than a sinner. I had one recently who was borderline and couldn't keep key details of her story straight. You should have seen the prosecutors' faces when we proved she was making phone calls on her cell phone during the time she claimed she was being "raped." It was a precious moment.

    Women who make false accusations for whatever reason do a terrible disservice to those traumatized women who truly are victims. But what they do to innocent men is nothing short of evil. Okay, climbing off my soap box now ...

    Book is ordered. ; )

  7. CD: Re: ordering the book: Yay!

    There are times when there is no evidence of forced penetration, but in a virgin there likely is. My step-MIL told me a horrific story yesterday of a student of my FILs. She went home with a boy she didn't know, tragedy happened, and she washed herself TO DEATH. It was too late to find any physical evidence by the time my FIL got to her the next school day. I love him for noticing something was wrong and taking care of her. I hope they beat the boy's ass something fierce for what he did.

    This is what happens, though. Someone assaults you and you basically grab a scrub brush in a very hot shower. You'd skin yourself if you could and still feel dirty. You tell nobody. You cry in your closet and scream into a pillow. You're never quite the same.

    I'm glad your friend was proven innocent, though. That sort of stuff can seriously fuck up a life on either end. We cannot ignore that.

    The church--all of us--need to recognize that our attitudes toward sex encourage this shit. But it's not just religion. Some girls are just straight up bitches who will cry rape when the guy does something wrong. But I still, even if she has a history of lying and being a straight up bitch, would take her accusation seriously. You have to. Nobody deserves this.

    Also, we have to remember that men can be raped too. MIL had a story about that as well (= why I need a break, post-wise). Many people think men can't be raped, make jokes about it, and as I understand it men are even less likely to report a rape.

    This should be something we go after HARD for evidence. Something we jump on, something that takes precedence. And we should get rid of the sexist fuckers (police officers, lawyers, judges) who think or act otherwise.

  8. It is a tough issue, for sure, Lisa. Tragedy occurs on both sides but women and young girls are still often marginalized and not taken seriously. Your FIL sounds like a gem!

    You reminded me of another case. Local young mentally challenged girl is raped by local police officer's son. She's pregnant but doesn't know, he leaves for Mormon mission. One night she delivers and almost bleeds to death. She leaves fetus/baby (?) on bathroom window sill and passed out on her bed. She was charged with murder. Seriously fucked up, and LDS Inc. plays a prominent role. Here's a link to her tragic story:

    Thanks for a thoughtful conversation, Lisa. You always make me think.