Tuesday, November 20, 2007

SS: Vagina Dentata: Here We Go AGAIN

So there’s a new movie coming out, called “Teeth.” It’s about a chaste teenage girl who discovers she has teeth in her downstairs area. Yes, it’s an exploration of the good old “vagina dentata” myth.

The film is getting all sorts of advanced high praise, with critics (mostly male) from The Hollywood Reporter to Salon hailing it as a “feminist classic” and genius black comedy. Apparently, it supposed to be some sort of wry commentary on blossoming female sexuality. The lead actress, Jess Weixler, took home a special jury prize in acting for her role in the film at this year’s Sundance festival. Perhaps this was because, according to Steven Rosen, of Screen International magazine, she “…infuses Dawn with a heartrendingly wondrous fragility, reflected in soft yet steely eyes, her dreamy smile and her easy, giggly way of being open about her feelings.”

I haven’t seen the film yet, but I did view the trailer (type in “teeth” on YouTube to access it). In it, we meet the fragile little Dawn, as she prepares for her very first gynecological exam, with a lecherous-looking male OB/GYN. The screen darkens, and the words, “Something is wrong with Dawn O’Keefe” appear (get the symbolism of the first and last name yet?). A short time later we hear some distinctly male screams, presumably because Dawn’s maniac vagina has started chomping on the doctor’s paw. Flash to a shot of a guy from the chest up who looks to be naked and is staring at the area below his hips in horror, some weird sequence showing Dawn lying in a wedding gown (I’m guessing this is the filmmaker’s attempt to harp on her virginal beauty and innocence), her throwing a ring off a cliff, and finally, a rose blooming, with the words “Every rose has its thorns” appearing slowly over it. I am not kidding about this last bit, I promise.

Oh good lord. What to make of this? I’ll have to reserve my final judgment for when I actually see the movie, but something about the entire conceit is really rubbing me the wrong way. Okay, so there’s the sweet and innocent girl, but really she’s not so sweet and innocent because, guess what, SHE HAS TEETH IN HER VAGINA!!! So I guess she’s supposed to be a new kind of superhero, vanquishing potential rapists with a thrust of her hips.

Beyond the obvious shock value of the vagina dentata device, why did the filmmaker (who is male, just saying) choose such a passive type of “weapon” as the agent against male aggression? Don’t laugh, but I could understand if the vagina had a hand that reached out and snatched a bad guy (or at least slapped him upside the head). That gives Dawn some semblance of control over her actions. But here she’s just the vessel, pun intended, for the action. Is this some way for the filmmaker to preserve Dawn’s innocence? By divorcing her from her evil vagina? It doesn’t strike me as empowering at all.

Also, what does choosing to depict a literal vagina dentata on screen say about the filmmakers views toward actual female sex organs? I guess the vagina is still the symbolic opening of hell -- the mysterious, treacherous, smelly place where only brave men may tread. It’s something to be feared. I thought “The Vagina Monologues” was supposed to put this all to bed.

So far, I’m not sold on “Teeth.” Maybe I’ll be proved laughably wrong when I go see it. Maybe it will be the first great feminist movie of the new century. But it’s the film's implicit idea of female passivity that gives me pause. When it comes to women fucking men over in film, I’d much rather see a Linda-Fiorentino-in-The Last Seduction type of character. The woman uses a weapon way more powerful than the region between her legs to cause mayhem and murder in that film. You know what weapon that is – her MIND.

© Sarah Stanfield, November 20, 2007

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