Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Movie Comment: Observe and Report and Date Rape

When a friend told me that she heard that there was a date rape in Observe and Report, I thought the idea was absurd. But apparently, this idea has taken off in the last few days, and the internet is buzzing with conversation about this scene. I still think the notion is absurd – just like I thought it was absurd when people claimed that Superbad was about two teenagers who WANTED to commit date rape, but I’d like to take this opportunity to explain why. A warning to those who haven’t seen the movie – I will discuss in detail the scene in question, so if you want to go in blind, stop reading now.

The scene plays out the following way. Ronnie (Seth Rogen) asks Brandi (Anna Faris) out on a date, that she agrees to, even though she doesn’t really like him. The night of the date arrives, and he sits outside her house for hours, waiting for her to come home. She finally does get dropped off (by a group of guys, where the implication that there was some group sex is made clear to the audience) and she says she forgot about the date. They go out anyway. She orders shot after shot after shot. She asks Ronnie for one his pills that he takes for his bi-polar disorder. He takes her home, she throws up. She kisses her anyway. Flash forward to inside her house, where the two of them are having sex. It’s clear that Brandi has thrown up again, and she doesn’t appear to be moving. Ronnie stops, asks her if she is okay. She says “Why are you stopping motherfucker?”

Let’s set aside, for now, whether or not Ronnie SHOULD have did what he did, and instead ask if this meets anyone’s definition of rape. She willing goes out with Ronnie. She willing drinks all the alcohol she does. She willing takes the pills. Even though we do not see the scene where they start to have sex, we can assume she consents to that. When it appears that she’s not moving, he stops and asks her if she is okay, and she gives her consent for him to continue. That she is impaired, and therefore her judgement is impaired, and perhaps she agrees to do something she never would consent to had she be clear headed is unquestionable. That Ronnie takes advantage of the situation is also unquestionable, but I’m not sure how this scene translates into rape. She consents more than once. She is not a child, she is an adult, who does everything in the film by her own volition. If this is rape, then anytime any guy has sex with a drunk girl, then that would have to be classified as rape as well. Even when Brandi sobers up the next day, and realizes what has happened, she does not appear angry about it. Does she regret what she did? Probably – but she doesn’t consider what happened to be rape.

Lost in all the conversation about whether or not the scene should be considered rape has been what that scene is really about – Ronnie’s delusion. Before he even asks her out, he doesn’t realize that Brandi sees him as a loser. When she consents to go out with him, he doesn’t realize that she’s agreeing to it just to get him to shut up. When she’s hours late for the date, he doesn’t realize that she has forgotten about the date, or just as likely, is blowing him off. When the guys drop her off at home, he doesn’t realize what they have been up to. When she drinks during the date, he doesn’t realize that needs to drink to be able to make the date bearable. He doesn’t realize that when she perks up, it’s not because she has decided she likes him, but because he has pills she wants. When they get back to her place, and they are talking before she throws up, he thinks it is a beautiful shared moment of romance between them, culminating in their first kiss. When they have sex, he thinks it is the most perfect, most romantic end to a beautiful evening, and that he is now her boyfriend. He doesn’t seem to realize the next day that she is not overjoyed to see him the next day. In short, Ronnie is completely delusional. The comedy of the scene, and it is admittedly pitch black comedy much like the rest of the movie, is in seeing the difference between how Ronnie perceives the events of the evening, and how they really are, which is painfully clear to the audience. Ronnie doesn’t so much take advantage of Brandi’s drunkenness in order to have sex with her, as he is completely misreading everything that happened that night.

What I am willing to admit however is that in taking the position that the scene is not date rape, has put me into some rather unsavory company. On many of the websites I have visited where this is debated, people keep bringing up the fact that Brandi is a slut as some sort of justification for what Ronnie does – and to me that is as inexcusable as it unnecessary. As I have explained above, there is more than enough information regarding Brandi’s consent right there in the movie, without resorting to calling her a slut. In cases of date rape, it doesn’t matter if the victim is the Whore of Babylon or the Virgin Mary – if they say no, that means no. That Brandi most likely had group sex earlier in the same evening she has sex with Ronnie, or that later she will sleep with Ray Liotta in the back of his police cruiser, isn’t the point. She’s an adult, and allowed to sleep with whoever she wants to, and say no to whoever she wants to. And just because I don't think what Ronnie did can be considered rape, it doesn't mean that I don't find it disgusting and dispicable.

In the end though, my conscience is clean. The scene in question is both disturbing and hilarious – much like I found the entirety of the movie. Even if Ronnie was a rapist, would that really change his character? He is portrayed as a violent, racist, sociopath, who beats up children, and shoots unarmed If you are horribly offended by the scene in the movie, or by the entireity of the movie, that is your right, and I would understand your opinion. But in the words of Billy Connolly “finding comedy in horrible things is not the same as finding horrible things funny”.

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