Straw Dogs has long been used as an example of the director Peckinpah’s poor treatment of women on screen. In his version, Amy actually seems to enjoy being raped by her ex-boyfriend at times. Though she resists Charlie and screams at first, by the end she’s kissing him, clasping him and then tells him to hold her. The two are practically cuddling when Norman storms in, aims a gun at Charlie and forces him to hold down Amy while he rapes her. During that assault, she is clearly not enjoying it at all. When the movie was released, some versions cut out Norman’s rape, to make the movie overall less violent. But leaving out the second part complicated matters by making it seem that Amy was enjoying herself. Women actually enjoying being raped is one of the many misconceptions held by the public about rape, along with, “She was asking for it.”
Interestingly, the updated version of Straw Dogs does touch on the “Is she asking for it?” theme, even before the rape occurs. One of the first notes I took while watching the movie was, “Kate Bosworth should wear a bra.” Minutes later, the movie showed Amy out for a morning jog wearing only shorts and a thin tank top. No shoes. No bra. As she passes the workmen, including Charlie, she is visibly ogled. When she goes inside the house and tells David, he responds: “Well, maybe you should wear a bra?” Furious, Amy snaps, “Are you saying I’m asking for this?”
Then she goes into the upstairs bathroom and starts unbuttoning her shirt while Charlie and his friends watch — slamming the shutters before they can see any of the goods.
But even if she’s not wearing a bra and undressing provocatively in front of them, Amy is definitely not asking to be raped. No woman deserves to be raped. And when it comes to the big moment, the new version does a good job, in my opinion, of portraying an attack on a woman being assaulted against her will. Charlie forces himself into her house and pins her down on the couch. There is a point in the rape where Amy stops fighting, but I did not think that she was enjoying herself at all. In fact, at the end of it all, right before Norman enters, Amy’s eyes are closed and Charlie yells at her to open them and look at him. The whole time, he’s thinking she’s enjoying herself because of the history they share. But when she keeps her eyes clamped shut, he explodes.
And that is where the rape scene in the updated Straw Dogs took a horrific turn. Although he is carrying a gun, Norman doesn’t have to threaten Charlie to get him to release Amy into his clutches. Scorned, Charlie sits in a chair watching Norman hold Amy over the back of the couch. Although Charlie’s attack is shown to exact detail, the camera focuses mostly Alexander Skarsgard’s cold stare with Amy’s screams in the background while Norman is doing his worst. It is that stare that has been haunting me since I saw Straw Dogs. It is giving me nightmares.
Though I grew to love Alexander Skarsgard while watching him commit unspeakable crimes against humankind on True Blood, the violent acts he commits on HBO haven’t seared my retinas in the same way, probably because his character is a vampire. Humans shouldn’t do this to other humans. And even rape is treated harshly on True Blood (see: Tara’s plotline at the end of Season 3). It’s because of this that I don’t know if I can ever look at Alexander Skarsgard in the same light. Rationally, I know he’s just playing a role but emotionally I’m scarred.
And, I won’t even get into what happens at the end of Straw Dogs. That will really eff you up. If you make it that far.
(Photo via the movie’s official website. Tellingly, the critic’s quote featured is, “One of the most frightening moviegoing experiences.”)