A Woman’s Torment

      Comments Off on A Woman’s Torment

Filmmaker Roberta Findlay has always maintained that her film A Woman’s Torment (1977) was not feminist. Yet the film lends its self to such a reading very easily. Immediately A Woman’s Torment comes across as a feminist re-imagining of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965). A Woman’s Torment is part pornography, part psychological thriller, and part melodrama. All these various facets of the film are centered around the female experience; the experience of characters trapped in marriages, in the lonely spaces of domestic life, or in a deadly tailspin.

Findlay does something unique in A Woman’s Torment by taking advantage of the pornographic scenes to demonstrate in physical terms the power dynamics between characters. In this way the sex scenes become essential not only to the plot, but to its subtext. The first scene of the movie is one such moment in which Jennifer Jordan mutters the line “You just masturbated inside of me”. This line tells the viewer everything that is necessary to know about these two characters and their relationship.

The way that sex is wielded as a tool of social subjugation seems eerily close to Roberta Findlay’s reality at the time. A cheating husband and an abusive relationship defined Findlay’s approach to sex in her films. Findlay loathed having to make pornography and yet she found away to make that element of her film indispensable to the overall experience. Sex, for Findlay, is an extension of the melodrama.

Tara Chung’s hallucinatory kill spree is executed cinematographically as interruptions to the scenes of pornography. Suddenly porn gives way to aesthetic flourishes like rapid jump cuts and still frames that Findlay has lifted from her work in genre pictures. Death, as it is implied, comes as an interruption to sex and the power dynamics it represents. The ultimate power in a relationship comes with killing and the return to solitude or shall I say, normalcy.

A Woman’s Torment, like Lurkers (1987), is a film that weaves in and out of the objective and subjective realities of both the central female character and the spectator to whom she is a proxy. A Woman’s Torment gives the spectator a society rendered in the microcosm of a sleepy beach town that is oppressive in its solitude. There is no escape for either Tara Chung nor the audience from the images of sexual annihilation.