Abel Ferrara And The Role Of Sex In America Today

Ms .45 began a motif in the long and strange career of Abel Ferrara.  I am referring to his treatment of sex.  Ms .45 tells the tale of a woman who is raped several times in the course of a day and as a result begins killing would be assailants in the most violent of ways.  Since then, most female characters have behaved the same way in all of Ferrara’s films (at least the principal female leads anyway).  Sex becomes a tool for these women to usurp power from male characters, and in many cases dominate and manipulate situations as evidenced in both Dangerous Game and New Rose Hotel.  What is significant here isn’t the inherent chauvinism of Nicholas St. John’s screenplays, but how honestly reflective the tactics of these fictional women are to modern society.  American culture is still male dominated, and things still haven’t seemed to change for women all that much since the 1980s.

However there is a balance in Ferrara’s films.  It’s not all about women utilizing their sexuality; Ferrara is equally interested in the sexuality of his male characters.  The Harvey Keitel characters in both Dangerous Game and Bad Lieutenant are content and unthreatened by women in positions of objectification.  But, once these male characters engage in a sexual act with a woman, they are humiliated or frustrated by their own performance, and sometimes cannot perform at all (Chris Penn in The Funeral).

Ferrara is addressing the polarity of sex in contemporary America.  Examine both observations together: men are content to objectify women yet cannot dominate their own sexuality, where as women manipulate this objectification to realize their goals.  I’m not saying that this is exclusively how things are in America today.  But it is certainly a common symptom of American culture.  And I would argue that since Ferrara never takes a definite stance on the issue in his films, (he’d rather objectively observe the mechanisms of this sociological phenomena) that he negates any accusations of chauvinism in his films.  Ferrara himself doesn’t even always stick to this mold as evidenced in his film Body Snatchers.  Still, the issue is a troubling one in America today, and I believe that few filmmakers rival Ferrara in objectively observing this grim scenario.

-Robert Curry

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Filed under Winter 2012

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