I had never read the books or seen the other films. I knew very little about the movie except that David Fincher (whose work I respect) directed it and the person I live with wanted to see it. Someone warned me there was a rape scene, which was kind of them. I’m a rape survivor (weird term, but it does the job) and I generally avoid seeing movies with rape scenes. If you don’t know ahead of time, it generally means it’s a small plot point and it’ll go by very quickly and stupidly. But I heard David Fincher tell an interviewer that he deliberately made the rape scene more graphic than it was in the book. I should have heeded my better instincts and not gone to the film. But because social plans were made around seeing the film on New Year’s Eve, I felt uncomfortable asking everyone to change the agenda. I felt likewise unable to say I couldn’t go. I was apprehensive but decided to tough it out. How bad could it be?
Very bad. It was, without question, the most brutal rape scene I’ve seen in an American movie. It was agonizing. It wasn’t just a rape; it was a particularly violent and sadistic rape involving hand and ankle restraints, a mouth gag and vicious anal penetration. The victim is screaming. The chains that attach her to the bed rattle as she tries to free herself. It seems to go on FOREVER.
Then, as if that weren’t enough, there’s a Clockwork Orange-style revenge-rape scene, in which the victim returns to her rapist and restrains him, gags him and anally rapes him. She also tattoos him. It’s great to imagine she gets revenge, but frankly, if you’re disturbed by images of rape and sexual violence, it doesn’t much matter if it’s happening to a man or a woman. It’s still going to be traumatic. One rape scene was really hard for me. Two was almost unbearable.
Then there was the overall plot, which focuses on the investigation of a serial killer who disfigures women’s corpses in the most gruesome ways. Photos are shown.
It’s a funny thing about trauma, the way the body remembers. I went through several stages of feeling when I saw that rape scene, and even writing about it now I can feel my body responding: my heart rate is up and my legs are shaky. In the theater, when it was happening, I started to feel so panicky. My muscles got tense and it was hard to breathe. Tears filled my eyes. I kept squeezing my toes together and reminding myself to breathe. I found it hard to focus on the rest of the film. I tried, but I kept hearing her screams and then I’d have to squeeze my fists and toes and breathe. As soon as the credits came up, I fled to the bathroom. I was overwhelmed with nausea but didn’t throw up. It was hard to pee because I was starting to dissociate and leave my body. I felt so angry too. I sent some really evil text messages to a friend who’d texted something benign. I was furious. I wanted to tear down the stalls and kill people. It was such a fierce anger.
As the evening went on, the anger got less and the distance between myself and my body got more acute. By the time I got home, I was completely gone. Nothing was real, I wasn’t real, I wasn’t there. I sat staring into space for a really long time, but it wasn’t a long time because there was no such thing as time. My hands, when I looked at them, were freakish bony protuberances just sitting there on my lap. What were they? I knew there were things in front of me, but I couldn’t see them.
I tried to talk about what was going on, but it made me too sad. Then I started to get weepy. After all, after I was raped, my life went to hell. I blame it for everything. Nothing was ever the same because it brought on the illness. I can’t think of it separately. I lost my mind after that rape. I was a lost girl.
Trigger warnings can’t be placed anywhere and everywhere. The world is a hard place and we just have to take our chances. But I’m still feeling the aftereffects of the film. So I would say if you’ve been a victim of sexual violence, DO NOT SEE THIS FILM. It’s just too hard.