I’ve struggled for a long time to make sense of the constant
violence against women and girls in our society, and its far-reaching
and life-altering consequences. The news is full of accounts of rape,
torture, kidnapping, mutilation and murder, and in most cases the female
victims are relegated to barely a mention. I usually feel powerless
to do anything, except to try not to think about it.
A while ago, I was a juror on a murder trial. The victim was a prostitute,
and I quickly realized that I had certain preconceptions about who this
person was—a stock figure, more or less, and a negative one, if
I’m honest—based on her occupation. On the other hand, I
gradually recognized that another, opposing mental thumbnail pervaded:
that of the innocent—a sainted victim. Both of these mental characterizations
seemed to answer some need to avoid seeing this woman as a real person.
But the testimony of the various witnesses—people who were there
to corroborate the killer’s story, the victim’s mother,
the woman who took care of her children, her johns, other prostitutes
and one woman who had been her lover—forced me to confront the
complexities and the wholeness of her life. She was a series of contradictions:
a passionate mother of her young daughters, and an unmedicated bipolar,
a drug addict and a liar. She was a troubled human being whose complicated
life ended suddenly and undeservedly and without apparent significance
to the world at large.
After the month-long trial, small details stayed with me. An inventory
of what was left of the victim’s life when the police confiscated
her belongings: a ratty duffel bag, a hairbrush, lingerie, a hand puppet
and a hand-written card to one of her daughters, who was too young to
read, telling her how much she loved and missed her. She left her beeper
number. The tremendous waste of her life haunted me.
In The Dead Girl, a mutilated female body is found in a field.
Five different women, all strangers, come into contact with the corpse
and all are transformed by the struggles which that contact provokes.
The victim, it turns out, was a prostitute. A troubled woman with a
complicated life. Her own attempted transformation forms the emotional
core of the story.
While I was finishing the film, the story broke of the young woman in
Austria who had been kept in a cell by a man for ten years before she
miraculously escaped. Recently, a man in Pennsylvania went into a school
house, sent out all the boys and started killing the girls. Sometimes,
when I look around at the state of the world, I’m truly afraid.
Someone more clever than I said that every good drama is an attempt
by the writer to answer a question for herself. My question is this:
How do we carry on in a world in which children are regularly abducted
from their homes, killed in their schools, women are raped as they jog,
stalked where they work, kept in cells hand-dug for the purpose, murdered,
tortured, mutilated, wrapped in plastic, dismembered and dumped like
People ask why I make such dark movies. We live in a dark world, mostly
with our heads down. We go about our business as if everything is fine,
even though almost every single one of us can point to a friend, acquaintance
or family member who has been brutalized, molested, raped or otherwise
traumatized by an act of violence. One of my best friends was raped
by a serial killer. Somehow she escaped with her life, but the life
she escaped with will never be the same.
Living with violence, the aftermath of violence, and the constant threat
of violence scars and numbs us all. The sense of numbness and isolation
with which many of us live our daily lives is worsened each time we
read about people relegated to descriptions like “the dead girl”
or “the wife of a serial killer” or “the sister of
the missing girl.”
I’m not sure that I’ve come up with a definitive answer
to my question, but I no longer feel quite so powerless. My hope is
that people will see The Dead Girl and have a heightened awareness
of what another life might feel like beneath the label of Stranger,
Sister, Wife, Mother or Dead Girl—and, perhaps, feel the tug of
a shared humanity. Or maybe someone I don’t know, someone who
shares my struggle to make sense of our violent world, will leave the
theater feeling that, from now on, she doesn’t have to try not
to think about it.