Thursday, January 07, 2010

Movie Club

Follow the links at Slate to read a group discussion of the year in film. Start here, with this absolute nailing of my problem with Precious.

But what irks me about the movie is how its relationship to these characters, and to the audience, doesn't rise to the performers' level of honesty. Precious is supposed to be about the heroine lifting herself out of abjection, yet the film itself wallows in abjection, hurling the awfulness of Precious' home life in our faces and watching us squirm. I'm thinking in particular of the film's treatment of food: the close-ups of pigs' feet frying on the stove, the congealed lump of macaroni and cheese that Precious' mother, Mary, forces her to eat, or the bucket of fried chicken that she steals, eats, and then vomits into a trash can. I wouldn't go so far as to say, like Armond White, that these scenes are racist. Pigs' feet and fried chicken may be stereotypical "ghetto" foods, but they're also traditional soul foods sold cheaply in the inner city, and it doesn't seem offensive or far-fetched to imagine characters like Mary and Precious eating them. But there's a voyeurism to those aggressive close-ups of greasy-chinned chomping—it's as if the audience is being encouraged at once to recoil from Precious' world and to congratulate ourselves for being brave enough to confront it: a combination that I find complexly icky.

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