Monday Movie: In the Cut, by David Bax
I suppose there are a number of reasons In the Cut seems to be the least appreciated – or maybe just the most ignored – film of Jane Campion’s career. It’s not a stately period drama like The Piano or The Portrait of a Lady or the also underrated Bright Star. Neither is it a live-wire statement of virtuosic independence like Sweetie or “Peel.” Mostly, In the Cut has been dismissed as overheated, lurid trash, a Skinemax movie with pretentious aspirations. Really, though, it’s a startlingly uncommon, female take on just those sort of sexploitation thrillers, one which understands that, for many women in our male-dominated world, sex carries as much danger as allure.
Campion makes good use of the diminutive Meg Ryan in the lead role of Frannie, repeatedly framing shots so that men tower over her. One such man is Detective Malloy (Mark Ruffalo), whom Frannie meets while he is investigating the murder of a beautiful young woman in Frannie’s neighborhood. Seeing as “the murder of a beautiful young woman” is practically a de facto plot point in these types of movies, there’s good reason to believe Campion is employing the trope with some kind of metatextual intent. Add to that multiple assaults, dismemberment, rough intercourse and at least one explicit blowjob (in the unrated version) and you’ve got a grisly, steamy cocktail of sex and violence loaded with metaphor and portent.
In the Cut succeeds in precisely the same ways that it most deeply unsettles, which may help account for its poor reputation. It’s a female-centric film that doesn’t upend woman-in-peril tropes so much as embrace them, dial them up to an oppressive degree and then treat them with terrifying seriousness. It’s also beautiful, with cinematographer Dion Beebe drenching the film in lush reds and sultry blacks. With the renewed public awareness of the harassment and danger women face while simply walking down the street, it’s time to reevaluate In the Cut and its heightened but vital depiction of what can happen to the female psychological landscape in a culture where male sexual dominance is normalized.