Empower Ballad, by Sarah Brinks
There are certain films that – even without the dated clothes, music and aesthetics – you can tell when they were made just by the way women are treated. Ms. 45 was made in 1981 and you can absolutely tell. Women were both asserting their power but also still fighting engrained sexual stereotypes. Ms. 45 both highlights and condemns men’s behaviors and actions towards women in the early ‘80’s. There are many scenes of men catcalling women on the streets or being overly aggressive in public. You see how inappropriate it is and how uncomfortable it makes the women receiving the attention. You also see how this leads to the decision the main character makes to eventually to kill men who prey on women.
Ms. 45 is about a mute girl who works for a New York clothes designer. Within the first twelve minutes of the film Thana is brutally raped twice, once in an alley by a stranger in a mask with a gun and then immediately after that in her apartment by another man with a gun. The first guy gets away with it. The second rapist she beats to death with a decorative glass apple and an iron. Thana doesn’t tell anyone what has happened to her. Instead she hides the second rapist in her bathtub eventually chopping him into pieces and storing him in her refrigerator. She proceeds to drop off bags filled with the rapists body parts all over Manhattan. She also takes his gun (and seemingly endless supply of bullets) to hunt down predatory men in New York City and kill them. Of course murder is wrong but in the world of the film you are kind of on her side. But she also kills some innocent men and that is harder to accept.
One of my biggest struggles with the film is its muddled tone. This poor woman lives through every woman’s worst nightmare, twice within an hour. She then takes fate into her own hands but the film seems to say that Thana is raped into empowerment. Not only is that an awful idea but also she is raped into murderous empowerment. It reminds me of both Sucker Punch and I Spit on Your Grave in that respect. The first murder is justifiable homicide; she kills a man who is in the process of raping her and he gets what he has coming. However when she goes on her killing spree the morality goes right out the window and it becomes vigilante justice. On the other side of the spectrum the movie does seem to have a sense of humor. Some of the best parts are when she goes out into the city with bags full of the dead rapist and disposes of him in creative ways. She puts bags in various trashcans, in alleyways, and even in a guy’s trunk who is on his way home to Georgia.
To say that the performances in the film are uneven is an understatement. Thana is played by Zoë Lund. Lund doesn’t speak a word in the entire film. She does have an expressive face, but she emotes in that very ‘80’s over-dramatic way. The worst actor in the film is Thana’s neighbor/landlady. She never delivers a line naturally and is all over the place in every scene. As a result all the scenes with the landlady in them feel very manic. The best actors in the film would probably be a tie between the women Thana works with or the dozen or so men they get to catcall at the women. They were all really sleazy and convincing.
This is a very 80’s movie. The music in particular dates the film. There is a blaring, repetitious trumpet right before every time she kills anyone. The fashions and the hair are also very much of the time. One thing that drove me crazy in the film were Lund’s eyebrows. I know it is a very nitpicky criticism but she has big, dark eyebrows that are beautiful and they were always brushed up like she had just taken off a turtleneck. It wouldn’t be a big deal but there are a lot of extreme close-ups on her face in place of dialog. Every time there was a close-up there were those messed up eyebrows on display. The special effects are very much of the time. The blood in the film iss way too orange and the squibs are way too big for the caliber of handgun she iss using. She shoots someone in the chest a few times and it cuts to that person looking like their chest was almost exploding.
I think you know if you are the audience for this film. If you like over the top 80’s films then you will probably like Ms. 45. Besides that I think most people can give this film a miss. There are much better films from the ’80’s to watch and certainly much better films about female empowerment.