on Assassination Nation, witch hunts, and feminine rage

Have you seen Assassination Nation yet? It came out on Friday, and to sum it up, it’s about a wide-scale hacking that happens in Salem, Massachusetts (yes, that Salem — very intentional) and the veritable witch hunt that follows, wreaking violence and sexism all around town. The following absolutely contains spoilers, as well as reference to sexual violence, so proceed with caution.

For me, Assassination Nation took the feeling of simmering, explosive rage that women* have been feeling extra hard since the 2016 election and bottled it up into one kick-ass film. The film’s message isn’t exactly subtle — “don’t dress like that, you’re asking for it; don’t take pictures like that, you’re a whore; come on, show a little skin, you’re such a prude” — as the main character Lily explains explicitly in voiceover several times, but it’s effective and viscerally real. It taps into the rage that women have been feeling so intensely these past 2 years, because we now live under the regime of a sexual predator/overall monster, we now live in a state that is actively defending the election of a r*pist (though obviously many of our public officials have been sexual predators) and we have always lived in a patriarchal, white supremacist state that is violent and oppressive to us, especially non-white, non-cis women.

The young women are so, so clearly the victims here. The more the men in the film hyper-sexualize and de-humanize them, the more apparent it becomes that they are girls, they are children, regardless of what they are doing and how they are dressing. The scariest character in the whole film is *heart eyes*Daddy (the father of a toddler that Lily used to babysit for) who groomed and seduced her, texting her for naked pictures, asking her to play the child/daughter role in their sexual scenarios. Towards the end of the movie — at this point their affair has been leaked and both are dealing with fallout, though Lily much more so — we discover that *heart eyes*Daddy murdered his wife and presumably his baby daughter when they tried to leave him. Running from *heart eyes*Daddy, Lily falls into the corpse of the wife in the bathtub, comes up screaming and drenched in her blood. He’s terrifying because his violence seems senseless, uncontrollable — but actually we know that it’s grounded in his understanding of his power over women as absolute. He sees himself as being the final authority in his relationships with women; he decides when to end them, when to end their lives.

There’s a lot more that could be said here to unpack, as well, the specific type of violence that Bex, a transgirl character, is subjected to. Interesting to note is that Bex was never misgendered, even as a mob of fuck-wad jocks colluded to literally hang her for “emasculating” one of their own who had hooked up with her. Their rage against Bex was a mix of homophobia and transphobia as in, they were reacting homophobically to the boy who hooked up with Bex, which is transphobic in and of itself because it denies Bex her girlhood, and further it represents established cis-male violence against transwomen. I liked that the film itself supported and respected Bex’s girlhood, though the jock mob did not.

This movie is wild, y’all. Essays could and should be written. Towards the end there’s this perfect image of the four main girls in these red patent trench coats with a load of guns and various weapons strapped to their bodies just gunning down their would-be assailants. I loved the aesthetic, which was an ode to Tumblr’s kawaii-sex-baby look — think ringer shirts with pink hearts above the nipples, platform jellies, lots of pink, tiny sunglasses, all washed out pastel lighting.

And then, of course, the ending. Who did the hacking? We know that the hacker used Lily’s family’s IP address — it really could not have been her, and definitely not her luddite parents. Naturally we forget about the silent, almost unnoticeable little brother character; just a geeky little white boy with very little impact thus far, of course the only other person with access to that IP address. He’s the one who did it, “for the lols” — for no reason except his privilege and his inability to see or care about the impact on other people, for no reason except perhaps he felt outshone by his wise-cracking, beautiful older sister. You could just hear in the theatre the chorus of confused murmuring — but honestly, who else could it have been? Like most terrorists in America, the culprit behind it all was a dissatisfied young white man.

 

*and everyone who is not a cis man, though gendered policing is against femininity/femme-ness, perceived or actual, IMO

 

(Also! Can we talk about how Mike Montgomery from Pretty Little Liars played the evil ringleader of the jocks — I screeeeamed.)

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