Sunday, July 17, 2005

She Hate Me

Yesterday I watched Spike Lee's latest 'joint,' She Hate Me, a film that got some of the worst reviews of any film made by a well respected director. The film was savaged and disappeared from theaters, but, it sounded bad in a really interesting way, so I decided to give it a look and what I'll say about the film is that it's never boring, but I would say it's a long distance from being a good film.

A lot of Lee's stuff sufers when he emphasizes his editorializing over the narrative. The 25th Hour is a great film, its one misfire being a sequence in which the main character complains about the various ethnic groups in the city, something that was already done in Spike's Do The Right Thing. According to the commentary, this sequence was in the book, but considering Spike had already done the exact same thing, it would have been something good to drop. Bamboozled is a film that I liked, but the message of the film is so well integrated into the story itself, there's no need for the montage of clips at the end, which gives you the feeling that the film is more a two hour long editorial than a story. Is there anything wrong with making a film just to prove a point? No, but I think the point was conveyed by the story, you don't need to break the artifice to reenforce it.

The film that's widely considered his masterpiece, Do the Right Thing, works because it doesn't tell you what to think. You're left with a moral conundrum at the end of the film, it's frustrating, but forces you to think about what the events of the film mean. Lee doesn't interrupt the film to tell you what to think about things.

She Hate Me is a film that's filled with so many problematic scenes, you're really left wondering what Spike was thinking. The main plot of the film revolves around Jack Armstrong, a corporate executive who gets fired and begins a scheme to impregnate lesbians for ten thousand dollars a *ahem* pop. So, the film goes into a really bizarre sequence in which we watch Jack in the process of impregnating the women, and despite being lesbians, they all seem to be experiencing this sort of sexual ecstasy. So, it's basically Jack having passionate sex with a parade of beautiful women and being paid ten thousand dollars each to do it. I just couldn't imagine lesbians really paying ten thousand dollars to be impregnated this way, the whole sequence feels like the setup for a porn film. A lot of that is do to the editing, rather than present these encounters as a staid business transaction, the women really seem to be enjoying it, basically implying that lesbians really would like to have sex with men. I'm not saying they should be in pain, but only one woman seemed to have any objections about what they have to do to get pregnant.

Then there's a question I'm really surprised Lee didn't bring to the table, which is the fact that these women are all getting a black man to father their child. Maybe this is a really forward minded bunch, but I'd imagine if you could have your pick of man, many of these women would not choose to have a mixed race child. The only reference to this issuecomes with the mafia subplot, and the don seems very cool with the fact that a black man impregnated his daughter. Now, from what I know of the mafia, it's not a very accepting society, so I'd question whether he would so openly endorse his lesbian daughter, let alone agree with her using a black man to impregnate herself. It's not like you couldn't find someone to have sex with Monica Bellucci if this was the route she wanted to take to get pregnant.

Now, maybe all the characters are fine with it, more power to them in that case, but considering Spike's film in particular deal with issues of race in society, I'm stunned he didn't address it in this case, not to mention the fact that he turns this character into the stereotypical highly sexualized black man. Was this done intentionally? I can't imagine Spike is not aware of what he's doing, but the film is so self serious, you don't get any indication that things should be read on a satirical level.

So, besides this problematic plot, we've got a whole bunch of other things thrown in. The opening of the film is an extended riff about corporate scandals, as Jack finds his company becoming the new Enron. There's definitely an interesting film there, about a whistleblower coming under fire from a corporation, but that plot is abandoned for the middle of the film, and when it returns, it's just an excuse for more editorializing. There's no real dramatic tension in the resolution of this plot because it disappears from the film for so long. Then, Spike breaks the artifice to show us a cover of Time Magazine about real corporate whistleblowers, something that's just unneccesary. We get the point, they'd mentioned Enron before, this just takes you out of the story.

Then the ending of the film presents us with a new vision of family, as Jack becomes the father to the children he fathered with a lesbian couple, and they all live together. This seems like an absurdly fantasy ending, everything works out for Jack, he gets the family he wants, gets his girlfriend back, and throws another girlfriend in there.

So much of the film is so absurd, it's got to be considered satire, Spike can't be expecting us to accept this as it is on the surface. The film works best when you look at it as just a journey that goes from place to place and just accept the absurdity that emerges along the way. A flashback to Watergate, a George Bush campaign commercial, a Time Magazine cover cut in, animated sperm, you can't expect this film to be a coherent narrative, but it's still an entertaining film. I was never bored, and despite the array of problems, the film is quite well shot, with a lot of cool handheld, jump cut stuff.

So, you're left wondering what Spike was thinking. This film really feels like he had a couple of decent story ideas and just threw them together into one film. At 138 minutes, the film was a bit long, if he drops the corporate whistleblower stuff, you could bring the film down to 100 minutes or so, and go a bit more in depth into the implications of what Jack was doing.

Another issue I have with the film is the idea that Jack is neglecting his fatherly duties by impregnating these women and then signing away his custody rights. He's basically a live version of a sperm bank, these women aren't expecting anything, and he doesn't really have to give them anything. I could understand being morally repulsed by what he does, just because he's basically selling his body to these women, and that could be degrading, but these kids aren't his responsibility. It's not the same as impregnating a woman you're in a relationship and then cutting out.

But, if you go over every problematic thing about this film, you'd be here until the end of time. Ultimately, there's some laughs, some good ideas, and a lot of challenging content. Sometimes it's better to watch a flawed film that aims high and leaves you thinking than to watch something that's not flawed, but doesn't do anything new or interesting. So, if nothing else, at least Spike created a film that makes people question things, even if that question is only 'What the hell was he thinking?'


Schantzy said...

NY.. hmmm. Intense.

you're a very thoughtfull person.
you must have alot go on in your head everyday.

I like that. Way cool


Patrick said...

Thanks Schantz, definitely a lot going on in my head. Those are some great b/w photos on your blog.