Is Sharp Objects This Years Feminist Manifesto?
Never in a short film or television series has a director so poignantly illustrated the power dynamics that impact females well-being, psychological sense of safety and fundamental identity than what was done by director Jean-Marc Vallée in Sharp Objects.
Originally adapted from Gillian Flynn’s novel, Sharp Objects, is a story about small rural communities, ritualistic nuances and the consequences of internalized anger resulting in a dangerous murder. The first episode opens with unique and distinctive foreshadowing that taps into the symptoms of Camille’s PTSD with flashbacks that resemble pieces of real and haunting trauma. You can tell Camille is suffering from dissociation regarding her personal trauma due to the shots that pace in and out of her emotional memories and the physical symptoms she is experiencing at the moment. Just in the beginning scenes of Sharp Objects, Jean-Marc Vallée illustrates the complex and multi-layered consequences of trauma by capturing the inverted relationships between an individual’s neurological relationship with time, autobiographical memory and psychosomatic responses. As the show discloses the narrative of Camille’s character and transports her back to her hometown to investigate the tragic murder of two teenage girls, you begin to realize the historical dynamics behind Camillies emotional distress. For years, Camille has hardly spoken words to her presumably high-class, perfectionist and neurotic mother or her half-sister, Amma, a beautiful adolescent girl, who fluctuates through different traditional adolescent female narratives and exhibits behavior connected to adolescent gender roles and its connection to pathology.
Family Dynamics Shed Light on Society, Female Identity and Mental Illness in Sharp Objects
Quickly while watching Sharp Objects common themes around society, female identity and mental illness in the town begin to emerge. In every corner of Wind Gap, Missouri it seems that the relationship between a deep historical history surrounding trauma is eschewed by the nature of story-telling, gossip and family secrets. The dynamics of women’s place in this small rural town is emphasized by their ability to manipulate the system. Social stereotypes of women are examined in this television drama and heightened by each families narratives. For starters, you have the familial perversion of the Preaker family. The Preakers are a staple in the small town and no one knows this better than Adora who abuses her power insidiously throughout the series. Then you have the two families who were impacted by the murder: The Keene’s and The Nash’s. Interestingly enough, the development of these characters is mapped around societies perceptions of violence being a pre-dominantly male characteristic. The murder in this story was especially gruesome with the little girls being abducted and horrendously mutilated. It glosses over the traditional profile of a killer with enough physical and sadistic desire to hurt young girls being predominantly men. However very quickly, Vallée leaves subtle clues that men in this film might be the safest characters. With the depiction of what male suffering, emotionality, and pain look like by characters such as John Keene the oldest brother of one of the little girls. It brings awareness into the biases and judgments individuals have around a healthy display of masculinity. For instance, everyone in the small town believed John must of been the killer because of his display of masculine vulnerability. Juxtaposing these narratives to the character development of the Preaker girls, you can see a darker take on female hysteria and the perception of traditional female behavior. Camille who has chosen to enact her trauma through defense mechanisms associated with acting out and self-punishment is considered “dangerous.” Becoming the films illustration of the traditional archetype of the damaged and ‘fucked up’ female. However, her younger sister who insidiously acts out through forms of internalized violence like bullying, implicit sexuality, lying and manipulating is perceived as “the good girl.” No one performs these tasks better than the sister’s mother Adora, who is the towns leading matriarch and suffers from symptoms of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. However, Adora’s power is not explicitly savory. In the series, Adora is critical, harsh, cold and even ruthless when it comes to how she treats the individuals in her family. Her need for external validation is so encompassing she is constantly performing a narrative of the self-facing hero with complicated mental illness. Each female character is completely devoid of real female identities and is continually unconsciously manifesting behaviors aimed at settling their own enactment of trauma.
Don’t Be Sexist: Who Said Women Can’t be Violent?
The series is a remarkable depiction of women’s unconscious motivation behind achieving power in a society that has left them historically powerless. However, it is a darker view of the ways in which women seek and orient themselves into positions of power. For instance, John Keen’s girlfriend, a stereotypical female from the South who is obsessed with getting her name published in the paper. And then you have Camille’s sister, Amma, who insidiously exploits her sexuality in hopes of gaining social power through her friends, school and town. Even Camille who unconsciously tries to gain power over her emotional past by mutilating herself. Violence is a clear consequence of these women’s need for power in a society that was historically founded by narratives around women’s violence. For instance, in an episode retailing the history of Wind Gap, the viewer learns that the town’s most beloved holiday and the anniversary are based on a story that involves the sacrifice of a young woman’s life. The story is about a young female heroine who sacrificed her life, by way of rape and murder, in replace of her husband who went on to settle the town. It is interesting that the history of Wind Gap has been episodically diluted with female murder and rape. Showcasing how epigenetic transcendence of trauma is prevalent across generations in individuals genealogical timelines. Overall, Sharp Objects carries a deep and powerful societal message concerning the internalized aggression of female violence and hysteria. It unravels stereotypes about females being dangerous and even crazy. Camille’s character is especially important when we look at the traditional definition of the damaged woman versus the dangerous woman like Adora and Amma (the Wind Gap killer). Personally, Sharp Objects felt like an op-ed or some kind of dystopic warning to the consequences of silencing and exerting power over females. It begs to answer the question of whether or not a history of violence against women can create violence in women. And showcases the variety of mental illnesses that women face when dealing with their own personal reclamation of power in a society that has deeply harmed their neurological boundaries with ritualistic episodes of sexual violence, elitism, and silencing. It creates this real and unique question: Is violence an unconscious reaction to women who stop being good?