Love is in the glare
of the rearview mirror,
a fork slices through
a ganache or two
she twinkles her eyes
into a canid’s playroom
My pretty, young things
at the behest of starlet donors,
around and around they roam
proffering souls for eternity
before the lensman, to choose
Up for pretty, young things
down for just watching
so Love dowses him
with reality, bound and oft gagged,
a threat to his identity
Love’s chimera of attractions
dolled for grounds of retaliation
hoists up a clear-view revision
for a girl gone missing
–yiqi 4 feb 09 8:36 AM
The first time I’d ever heard of David Slade’s suspense nugget “Hard Candy” (2005) was in the form of a theatrical trailer, which set up the film’s premise as a teenage girl who meets a thirty-something male at a coffeehouse, goes back to his house, and realizes that he’s not as harmless as he might have made her think. And, a couple of montage sequences indicate that he may not be the real predator. I saw the film several months later, in the spring of 2006, at an advanced screening–with producer David Higgins and star Ellen Page present–at a movie theatre in midtown Atlanta.
On the surface, “Hard Candy” is a cautionary tale about why it is unwise for internet chatroom participants to meet each other offline–appearances are deceiving. Thirteen year-old Haley Stark (Page) and thirty year-old Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) have been chatting for about a month and finally decide to interact in person. In another culture (now) or in centuries past, an eighteen year age gap would be acceptable for a marriage or a betrothal. But in the 21st century dominant Western culture? A resounding no.
While the topic of pedophilia composes a substantial portion of the narrative as well as why the initial predator becomes prey, “Hard Candy” is a subversion (or inversion) of Little Red Riding Hood. Popular renditions of this story present the Big Bad Wolf as a metaphor for a man’s libido. Red Riding Hood should be careful in the forest because she may encounter a man who will charm and then (forcibly) dismantle her virginity. But, the Wolf is clever enough to know that he must disguise himself as someone Red can trust: enter Grandmother. The internet is the universal Grandmother in “Hard Candy” because it capitalizes on a melange of anonymity, fantasy, and disembodiment. Hayley is visually analogous to Red on account of the red hoodie that she wears. Significantly, though, in this re-interpretation, it is the Big Bad Wolf that ultimately fears losing something.
“A love story” may not be the first, second, third, or sixth term one would think of to categorize Slade’s film. The way that the characters, their conversations, and their actions are depicted suggest that “Hard Candy” is a psychological thriller, a revenge film, or even a dark comedy. Underneath all the male suffering portrayed in the film, though, there is a love story. Hayley and Jeff are both in love–just not with each other. Hayley is consumed by her self-appointed quest of enlightening pedophiles. Jeff is preoccupied with his own curiosities and tastes–no matter how morally questionable or deviant.
Ellen Page remarked during the q & a session that she liked the script because of the ambiguity of viewer identification with the characters. Richard Higgins noted that there are no protagonists in this film; there are two antagonists. What an astute observation. Stick with a love story long enough, and it eventually becomes a “loathe story.” Two antagonists indeed.