This review was originally published on January 23, 2014…
“Meet My Rapist” is, as the title suggests, not a light film. There are some “jokes” in it, but they’re more smiles through gritted teeth than they are belly laughs. It can sometimes feel satirical to the point of mocking. But it also transcends satire.
The story begins at the farmer’s market, where the jovial and chatty Jessie (her character in the film doesn’t have a name) happily samples the wares and chats with the vendors. But then she runs into a familiar man shrouded in a red hoodie and bushy beard. At first, she can’t remember where she knows him from, but then it hits her. This is the man who raped her. She recovers quickly from the blow, however and follows him to the car where she asks for a ride.
From that point forward, the red-hooded man is everywhere she goes, sometimes actively tormenting her (popping bubble wrap and flicking her ear during a job interview), and sometimes just lurking in the background. Everyone meets her declaration of having been raped with varying degrees of faux concern or dismissiveness. The man who interviews her for the job warns her, “no one around here wants an angry woman” and instructs her to “leave [her] problems on the coat hanger”. Her best friend turns the conversation around to herself and then asks for some water. Her therapist tells her to “get the f**k over your s**t.” In the film’s most absurdist scene, she takes her rapist home to meet her family, and her parents question him as if he were a potential suitor.
Talk about artistic catharsis. Jessie Kahnweller wrote, directed and stars in “Meet My Rapist,” a short film that she made as a way to catalog her own feelings about being raped. You might think that rape is a black and white issue (it’s bad, m’kay). But as the recent national controversy over rape jokes in stand-up comedy proves, the only thing that everyone agrees on is that their feelings about it are very strong. Some say it’s OK to make rape threats as long as you’re “just joking.” Others think that rape jokes are only OK if they aren’t at the expense of the victim. Some (still!) believe that women are sometimes “asking for it” or “bringing it on themselves.” If a baby is conceived during the rape, there are even people who consider that “God’s will.” It’s no wonder Kahnweller was confused.
In a recent interview, Kahnweller says that she never really knew how she was supposed to react to the incident and in many ways, still doesn’t. Clearly, it’s something that left an indelible mark. But is it trauma? Is it OK to move on or should she still be really angry? It’s helpful to have that small bit of back-story before watching the film because without it, Jessie’s constantly shifting attitude and the way she interacts with her rapist can be a bit confusing. Occasionally, the rapist reacts as though she is stalking him. Other times, it seems like they are dating. At one point, Kahnweller’s character describes her rape as “not a big deal.” She doesn’t want to be a “problem”, but she clearly wants (and needs) to talk about it.
This isn’t the easiest film to stomach. I certainly needed repeat viewings to process it. But you don’t have to be a rape victim to know that this is an important film. There are doubtless many women (1 in 6, actually) who could benefit from seeing “Meet My Rapist”. At the very least, it tells them that it’s OK to feel how you feel even if it’s not what others expect of you.