Sunday, August 27, 2006

Taking Candy From Strangers

The Japanese had a word for it. Although I've forgotten the original word, it's translated as "Irrestistible Attraction." It was used to describe the feeling Japanese salarymen have towards young teenage schoolgirls. It's not just in Japan that the phenomenon happens. Everywhere in the world men are attracted to youth and beauty.

I had reservations seeing this film. I had heard it from some time ago and wondered how the issues that the film was going to tackle would be addressed. Well, after watching Hard Candy, a film from music video director David Slade, now I know.

The movie begins and we are treated to a meeting between two people, orchestrated in an internet chat room: a 32-year old photographer named Jeff (Patrick Wilson, Phantom of the Opera) and a 14-year old teen named Hayley (Ellen Page, X-Men 3, in what is probably one of her best roles yet) meet. The man looks at the girl with a gaze I found disturbing; she innocently eats chocolate cake and he tastes some of the icing on her lips with his finger. After the initial exchange we see the visual metaphors coming: Hayley with her red jacket and hood, much like a Little Red Riding Hood, and our photographer, a wolf. Predator and prey.

At first we see Hayley as a nervous, talkative teenager. She's shy and seemingly naive. But soon we see a change in her as the movie goes on. The predator-prey roles are reversed. And slowly, the layers that cover Jeff's true nature are revealed, one by one, in painful scene after painful scene. Here is where the division in reactions to the movie are divided.

Who do we sympathize with, if at all? Can we justify the actions taken in this film? Is there any sense of realism in this film at all?

I was surprised to learn that many people, after watching the movie, sympathised with Jeff more, even though we know that somewhere, somehow, although its true nature is never conclusively revealed in the movie, that he did something bad. To them it's a question of how far Hayley went with what she did, and how 'realistic' it was for them. To me Hayley, with her one-dimensionality, is not a real person or character; instead, she is a representation, a driving force of nature. In her own words, she is everyone who Jeff has exploited in the past. We cannot judge her because we know so little about her; indeed, I doubt if she even spoke one true thing about herself at all, even if Hayley is really her true name. She is only an instrument that reveals Jeff - she is like a magnifying glass exposing every aspect of that man.

The film itself may be classified by some to BE exploitation, with its psychological violence and harrowing scenes. To his credit, the director and the actors involved made it so that we sympathize with a character that is by all means, despicable. Throughout the movie, as Jeff is broken down more and more, and as we see the ugly facets of his true nature, we still pity him. He makes attempt after desperate attempt to save himself - all of the begging and pleading and groveling was for HIS sake, and no other, even when he says he is thinking for her sake. We view him as the victim when he is actually the victimizer - and that, in the end, makes me reflect about our own nature. Who are we to judge?